When we left yesterday, we said that the overarching purpose of marriage was to glorify God, not to provide personal happiness. This thought is what prompted Gary Thomas to ask the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”
Sometimes to truly understand a question you have to ask it’s opposite. If God designed marriage for happiness, then:
- If you are not happy, then your marriage is a failure. This is what the culture believes. But I warn you, if you’ve bought in to this idea, your marriage is in great danger of evaporating out from under you. Every marriage has difficulty—every single one will go through periods of malaise and/or periods of great sacrifice for the well-being (even happiness) of another.
- If you are not happy, then there is not much you can do about your marriage. If you’re in a damaged marriage, you’ll just have to live with it (or not). Go ahead and try to “will” yourself to be happy. This doesn’t work. Marital success becomes something that you can’t work for, but must just happen on it’s own.
Now before I go further, obviously marriage is a good gift from the Father intended to give us joy. All of creation was supposed to do this and marriage was no exception (Gen 1:18). Your spouse is supposed to be a friend and a lover—someone in whose company you find great delight (Prov 5:18–19, Song of Songs). The problem lies in trying to find ultimate delight in your spouse instead of in God. The horizontal relationship is only fulfilling when you add the vertical relationship. In marriage both spouses should be delighting in God. Isn’t this what we learned in catechetical simplicity: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our goal shouldn’t be to demand complete adoration and satisfaction from our spouses! To do so only invites disappointment and frustration. Rather, we should encourage each other to find complete satisfaction and contentment in God first and foremost (Ps 16:11). Thomas explains, “…[S]ome of us ask too much of marriage. We want to get the largest portion of our life’s fulfillment from our relationship with our spouse. That’s asking too much. Yes, without a doubt there should be moments of happiness, meaning, and a general sense of fulfillment. Buy my wife can’t be God, and I was created with a spirit that craves God…” (Sacred Marriage, 25).
But is all this biblical? I think it is. The terms the scripture uses about the marital relationship are very holiness oriented. Instead of trying to get something from your spouse (i.e. they must delight me, make me happy, etc.) scripture indicates that we should seek to give to our spouses: love, honor, respect, service, and submission. Though these attitudes and actions are played out within the horizontal relationship with your spouse, they are vertically focused in that they are done for God. We do these things to honor God and to be like God, i.e. to be holy! Consider the following verses, look for the pattern—we love, honor and serve because of who God is and what he’s done:
- Eph 5:25 & Titus 2:3–4>>Love your spouse.
- Eph 5:33 & 1 Pet 3:7>>Honor/Respect your spouse.
- Phil 2:3–5 & Eph 5:22>>Serve/Submit to your spouse.
We learn from these verses the relationship between holiness and happiness in marriage. Marriage is a context where one seeks to be holy (to please God) and in doing this he/she has a fulfilling and/or meaningful relationship with his/her spouse.