When I left for work the other day the moon was out.
We know a lot about the moon. We know exactly how far it is from the center of the earth at any given point in its orbit. We know how fast it moves. We know what it’s made of and how it affects things here on Earth. Probes have landed on it or crashed into it. People have walked on it and brought back chunks of it for us to study.
But when I look at the moon it is nothing but beautiful and mysterious. Nothing we discover can change that. It is a divine creation made by God for His own magnificent, unfathomable purposes. I guess He could’ve made it invisible or ugly. Lots of vital scientific mechanical things, some of which we probably don’t even suspect are routinely accomplished by Earth’s only satellite. Beauty is not required but God decided our direct experience of His complex creation should be one of simple awe and profound appreciation.
That’s not so hard to understand, is it? So why is it hard to understand marriage the same way?
Here’s how we’re told it works. Once the fantasy of the honeymoon is over I need to sober up and get down to the serious business of managing life with this other person. Given that everything is quantifiable and predictable in the scientific sense (yes, even Christian “experts” have swallowed this one) it follows that the way to “know” your spouse is to observe her reactions and behavior over a period of time. From this collected data, correlated and analyzed according to methods prescribed by “marriage experts” I can construct a model which will enable me to project her likely future reactions. I can recognize her relative strengths and weaknesses and determine the most advantageous responses. I can map her like the geography of the moon. By doing so I can anticipate all the great, happy, satisfying things that are headed my way.
I can also be prepared for the surprising but inevitable disappointments and shortcomings in her character. You know, the things I could not possibly have suspected until after the lotus-eating honeymoon period because, whether she was aware of it or not pretty much her whole life was devoted to tricking me. Easy enough, since I was out-of-my-mind in love with my idealized fantasy woman!
Once the brutal truth comes out I can decide to be magnanimous because, after all, that’s what Christian spouses do, right? “Yes, my dear, I’m afraid your insistence on leaving the cap off the toothpaste wounds me deeply. How could I be prepared for a face without make-up? But take heart! I have received sound advice from many wise counselors and prepared for this unfortunate eventuality. I shall be a better man than Angel Clare. I’ve decided to be big about it. Let us speak of it… endlessly and call it ‘honest communication.’”
What a load of… rot passes for wisdom these days! What kind of children are we, that we need experts to tell us that all have sinned and fall short? If you don’t know that about your potential “significant other” before marriage shows up on the radar you’re not grown up enough to tie your own shoes, much less impose yourself on an unsuspecting partner for life. “She’s not perfect” was understood before I knew her name. “He’s not perfect” was understood before she knew mine. There. That part’s done.
Let me tell you about my wife. She irritates me like a grain of sand irritates an oyster. She always has. She does this by insisting that I do better and be better. No, she doesn’t nag. On the extremely rare occasions when she actually speaks up about something that ought to be addressed she is respectful and almost apologetic. None of her medicine is hard to swallow. Her real husband-changing secret weapon is… existing. Because she walks the earth I am driven to be a better man.
That’s not so hard to understand, is it? I don’t have any trouble understanding it.
OBVIOUSLY we’re both human beings and therefore self-centered sinners, another one of those breathtaking revelations from the oracles. I can’t speak for her but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like being married to anything but a human. So there is friction sometimes. There is disagreement and conflict. There is difficult, inconvenient humility-demanding work to find answers and restore harmony.
But here’s something you won’t believe. We never fight. Never. As in not ever. No law says we have to. Our conflicts never degenerate into power struggles or scorched earth retaliation. We never go at it until we’re worn out, call it a draw and agree to something that makes us equally miserable. You know, what the world praises as “compromise” and insists is the only foundation for a tolerable relationship.
We don’t want a tolerable relationship. We want marital bliss. We don’t want to fight. We want heavenly peace. Doesn’t everybody? Is that so hard to understand?
Here’s another peek inside. I never badmouth her or make cute little jokes about her adorable foibles. I never diminish her. Not even to myself. I know weeds when I see them and they don’t belong in my garden. Even weeds can look pretty but dismissing them by saying, “It’s just a joke” only gives them cover to continue their mission of choking the flowers to death. To death. This is such a vital principle that the Bible tells us it’s the little foxes that destroy the vineyard. A little leaven leavens the loaf. Forests are obliterated with one match. It’s a matter of kind, not scale. If I’m willing to squash one of her grapes for the sake of petty superiority or a cheap laugh that means I don’t mind inflicting pain or slipping her a little poison.
That’s kind of the opposite of love, don’t you think? Is that so hard to understand?
I know people come in all different shapes, sizes and flavors. Not all combinations work well together. I get that. But to be quite honest, I resent being told over and over that marriage is work, fraught with inevitable disappointment and difficulty. If you’re wise you’ll go into it with “reasonable” expectations and, with some super-human self-sacrificing effort it could turn out ok.
Should we show up at the marriage feast of the Lamb with reasonable expectations? Will it be the start of something difficult and ok? Is that why God sanctified marriage as the model of our relationship with Christ?
I know a lot about my wife. After being in the delivery room six times I know a little bit about her tolerance for pain. After years of saying goodnight because I had to go to bed while she stayed up as long as there was a chance to talk to the kids I know a little bit about her endurance and devotion to raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. After 31 years of marriage, health problems, the loss of two jobs, extended unemployment and financial difficulty I have a few hints about the depth of her resourcefulness and her unshakable, unaffected faith.
But when I look at my wife she is nothing but beautiful and mysterious, exactly the way God made her.
Is that really so hard to understand?