We always marry the wrong person, which means — marring the wrong person, or even marrying the right person, doesn’t guarantee the success or failure of your marriage.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18
I don’t know if you have seen any commercials for those online dating service. There is eHarmony, match, be naughty (which boasts, no strings attached), xtian mingle, chemistry, matchmaker and Zoosk and, my favorite, is SNL’s “meHarmony”.
I’m not really commenting on this new form of dating because I have several friends who have met their spouse through such sites. And when I was single this phenomenon was not that popular — so I can’t say how things would have been different if I had all these options at my disposal. So, I’m not, and can not, comment or judge the online dating scene. But what I do find interesting is that they all seem to adopt the same view about finding a mate. And that particular view is a very modern way of thinking about love and marriage. The modern view of love and marriage believes, or assumes, that there is a perfect match somewhere out there for you. When I was younger we would refer to that person as “the one”. That is the common view of love and marriage today. Incidentally, almost all of your favorite love songs and movies promote this view.
Did you marry “the one”? The problem with “the one” is — we’ll, it’s just ridiculous. For instance, what happens if you marry the wrong “one”? First of all – you’ll be miserable, but even worse — you married someone else’s “one” — and now they’re gonna be miserable too. And — if your “one” goes ahead and gets married to someone else, then, obviously, they’re gonna marry the wrong person – not their “one” and someone else’s “one”. And the dominoes are all falling – it creates this ripple effect of everyone marring the wrong person – and all because you didn’t marry “the one”! Pretty soon – we all end up marring the wrong person — unless there is some magical force of love that ends up leading us to our one true love. Then we can meet them on the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Day and live happily ever after.
Today I want to exhibit that all of us married the wrong person.. Some of you already knew that. But for the rest of you, I don’t think it will be too hard to convince you. But before we begin. I want to start with a discussion question?
Why did you marry your spouse. What attracted you to him/her? What lead you to think that they were the one for you? And if you are single, what are you looking for in a spouse?
Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the “stranger to whom you find yourself married”.
Keller adds to this quote and says:
“Many people have bristled at Hauerwas’s statement, and that is to be expected, because he intentionally is looking for a head-on collision with the spirit of the age”
So what does all that mean? Well, the spirit of the age that Keller is referring to is the modern view of love and marriage, that I was talking about earlier, that there is “one” perfect match for you. This view is so unbelievably popular that all the movies, television shows, romance novels, and dating sites operate with that belief even at a subconscious level. We don’t even have to think about it because it has become a perfectly natural way of thinking about love. Therefore, with the right set of algorithms we can find your perfect match. That is why Keller calls it “the spirit of the age”. It is the majority view.
Unfortunately, it is wrong and destructive. It is destructive because right now we have a bunch of people who are unhappy in their marriage – and they assumed that marriage was going to make them happy – but now that they are unhappy, they begin to think that they must have married the wrong person and that there must be someone else out there who can make them happy. Hauerwas states that this view is dangerous because it “overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage.” What is that crucial aspect? “That we always marry the wrong person.” That there is no person out there who is perfect for you and will therefore make you perfectly happy. And even if there were a person like that, because marriage is such a huge ordeal, it will change you both. This change is so dramatic that the person you are married to now is not the person you married. One author said it best, “My wife has been married to six different men… and all of them have been me.” Lewis B. Smedes
So, the thesis of tonight’s message is that you married the wrong person and the point of that thesis is that marring the wrong person, or even marrying the right person, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the success or failure of your current marriage. Keller calls this Hauerwas’s Law, and if it is a law, Keller adds:
“Of course the reverse of the law is also true: namely, that you also always marry the right person. The point of the law is to suggest the inadequacy of the current assumption that the success or failure of a marriage can be determined by marrying the “right person.” Even if you have married the “right person,” there is no guarantee that he or she will remain such, for people have a disturbing tendency to change.”
We will look at two things tonight. We will look at what the Bible says about marriage and then we will look at what our culture says about marriage. In the end, our goal is to some how bridge that gap for a wonderful marriage.
THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE
If we are going to talk about love and marriage from a Biblical perspective it seems appropriate that we start at the beginning. The whole story of the Bible actually begins with a wedding. It was in the beginning that God invented or designed marriage for all future generations. Let’s look at that story and see what we can learn about our own marriages.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
It is often noted that there are 7 “it is good’s” or benedictions, but then there was one huge “it is not good” or malediction. Everything was perfect (7=perfect) yet — not quite perfect because there was one thing that was not good. It was not good for a man to be alone. OK, so which is it Mike, perfect or not perfect? Well, that is the question you are supposed to be asking right now in this story. Specifically, if Adam was living in a perfect paradise and if he enjoyed a perfect relationship with God, then how could it be that things were so bad that God had to call it “not good”? Shouldn’t his relationship with God be enough?
Well, obviously the answer is no. We were created in the image of a triune God. God is three persons living in one perfectly unity. God created us to be in relationships — and so, it is not good for a man to be alone. The solution then was to create a companion for adam to be in a relationship with. God said, “I will make him a helper who is fit for him.” What kind of companion does God create for Adam? We are told that she is a helper-fit for him.
The word helper has probably created a lot of problems over the years – so let me explain. This does not mean that God created the wife to be some one to help out around the house, raise the kids, and help the man so that he can become the best that he can be. This, unfortunately, has been the common assumption. However, the world in Hebrew (ezer) is a military term. It is a term used to describe a more powerful king who “helps” a king whose army is loosing. God uses the same word to describe himself when he was the helper who brought military aid to Israel. It is often translated in the OT as savior or as strength. As in my strength and my shield. So if this word “helper” is used to describe a strong king who helps a loosing army, if it is used to describe God who helps us in our time of need, if it means strong savior, well — what does that tell us about women? Think about that for a moment. Secondly, this helper (or we really should just say strength) is said to be “fit” for him. Your Bible may say “suitable”. The Hebrew word is kenegdo and is most appropriately translated “like-opposite”. So it should read, “I will create a strength who is like-opposite of him.
Well what does all that mean? Some of you know exactly what that means. You’re spouse is not just like you. Like that meHarmony sketch. Instead he/she is a compliment. Keller uses the example of a puzzle piece. In order for 2 puzzle pieces to fit together the can’t be exactly the same – 2 circles – and they can’t simply be opposite – a circle and a square. Instead they must be perfectly complimentary – a circle and a circular space. Your hands are kenegdo. Your right hand is equal yet opposite to your left hand. And this is by design so that they they will work well together.
OK – now the we have dissected the meaning of this very famous verse, lets review and take it as a whole. First, your spouse was made to be a help-mate, a strength and savior for you. That means guys, be definition, that we need help and we need saving. It is not good for us to be alone. We are all created to be in relationship – and what happens in relationships? Conflict! To borrow Keller’s joke, “It’s a military term!” When you are alone, there is no one to fight with or argue with but yourself. And you’re always right – and that is not good. But get into a relationship – with someone who is like but opposite of you – and all of sudden — your not always right – and that is good – because, despite what you may think, you don’t always have great ideas and your jokes are not as funny as you think they are. At least that is what my strength and help-mate keeps teaching me.
Do you see the point? Do you see the purpose in the original design of marriage? Marriage was designed to change you by intentionally placing you in a relationship with some who is equal and like you, yet opposite you at the same time. The constant rubbing against our like-opposite help-mate changes us and makes us better. So, the whole point of marriage is to change you. The problem is that you don’t want to be change. Because you really think all your ideas are awesome and you actually believe all your jokes are really funny.
How is your spouse like-opposite you. How has that been a help to you?
THE NEW TWIST
Now that we have covered the 100% pure, original, unadulterated design of marriage, I want to contrast that with today’s new twist on that archaic institution. And you can probably see how easily this got twisted – because – in the beginning I mentioned that there’s no such thing as the perfect spouse. There’s no spouse that you will find who will be the one who will complete you and make you happy. And yet the original biblical design of marriage was that God created for Adam the perfect like-opposite, compatible partner. You can see how this might lead us all on a quest to find our perfectly compatible ezer kenegdo?
In Keller’s book entitled The Meaning of Marriage he takes a chapter to describe – and sort of document – what has happened to marriage in the last few centuries. Marriage has changed. Specifically in the way that most people think about marriage. Keller refers to the new understanding of marriage as the “me-marriage”.
Recently, New York Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote an article entitled “The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage”: The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first? Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting . . . [who] help each of them attain valued goals. This change has been revolutionary, and Parker-Pope lays it out unashamedly. Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me.
So today folks want to find the perfect spouse. They want a spouse who is interesting and funny, sexy and charming, healthy and ambitious. And none of that is wrong, necessarily. Except that they also want someone who is 100% supportive of their own goals and who wont seek to change them. They’ll say, I want some one who loves for me and who doesn’t try to change me. And if that is the spouse that you are looking for…
“…then you are also looking for a spouse who is almost completely pulled together, someone very “low maintenance” without much in the way of personal problems. You are looking for someone who will not require or demand significant change. …To conduct a Me-Marriage requires two completely well-adjusted, happy individuals, with very little in the way of emotional neediness of their own or character flaws that need a lot of work. The problem is—there is almost no one like that out there to marry! The new conception of marriage-as-self-realization has put us in a position of wanting too much out of marriage and yet not nearly enough—at the same time.”
So then here is what happens. Even if you marry that person – or – if you think you married that person – you will quickly learn that they are not so put together. They do indeed have many character flaws. And you will hate it when they point out that you have flaws. And both of you will begin to think that the other is needy and selfish because she expects him to always make her happy or because he expects her to always be interested and laugh at his jokes. And when that happens marriage becomes really really difficult because you are both really really selfish — because you went into this thing thinking it would complete you and make you happy but God didn’t design marriage to make you happy.
God did not say, “It is not good for the man to be unhappy.” He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” He needs a strong helper – a savior – to butt heads with and make him better. You see, when we approach marriage as a consumer. And we have all been trained to approach everything like a consumer. With out even thinking about we judge a thing’s value by a cost to benefit ratio. We want to know, “How much is this going to cost me and then how much will it give me in return?” And when we approach marriage like that – it becomes very me-centered. It’s a me-marriage. If this costs me more than I get from it — then maybe I need a new one. A better one. One who gives at least as much as it costs.
But that wont solve your problem. That’s what got you into this mess in the first place. Thinking that marriage was designed to make you happy and cost you very little. Incidentally, studies reveal that couples who stick together, even when they’re unhappy, will eventually become healthy and happy marriage. In other words, those couples who fight through the original design of marriage and make it over the hump, will in fact become happy marriages.
This led University of Chicago sociologist Linda J. Waite to say, “the benefits of divorce have been oversold.”
Do you see the gap? That gap between what marriage was created and designed to be and then what it has becoming . It has gone from something that purifies me and makes me holy to something that pleases me and makes me happy.
So how do we conclude? What is the point? The point of Hauerwas’s Law is to radically shift our thinking from a consumer mindset of the me-marriage to a biblical mindset of gospel-like-marriage. What do I mean by that? In Ephesians 5 Paul quotes the exact passage that we read in Genesis and says that marriage is a huge mystery – and then he adds, and I am not talking about marriage – I am talking about Jesus. I am talking about the Gospel.
In other words, marriage exists to teach us more about the Gospel and Jesus. Marriage was designed, from the very beginning, to give us the experience of true love while at the same time a compatible savior. A perfect helper – the perfect one to help us and save us from ourselves. The Bible says:
This is love – that Christ died while we were still sinners. Rom 5:8
“When Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us—denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him—and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.”
Marriage is just like that. We must learn to live with and love the stranger to whom we are married. We must learn to love them even while they are sinners. This is why we make the vow to stay – till death do us part. Jesus sacrificed far more than his happiness. Philippians says he stooped. He lowered himself. He left heaven to walk in dusty sandals and he humbled himself to die as a criminal upon a cross for dirty rotten sinners just like you and me.
*** All quotes were taken from Timothy Keller’s excellent book The Meaning of Marriage.