Series: Marriage East of Eden
If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mark 3:25)
“Sorry, but I just don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever loved you.”
“I must have married the wrong man. We bring out the worst in each other.”
“If only I’d married that fun-loving girl instead of my wife!”
What’s gone wrong in so many marriages? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. There seem to be more households divided and devouring each other, than couples who cherish each other. For so many, the dream wedding has turned into a nightmare of blame and shame, erupting rage and simmering resentment. Conversations about money, sex, children and in-laws are landmines to be avoided at all costs. The idol of self sits smugly on the throne while self-sacrifice is out the window. Control and criticism; sarcasm and shame; manipulation and aggression are ruling the roost in many homes. What’s more, lockdown has aggravated troubled marriages, even Christian marriages. It seems that marriage is in a dangerous ditch.
The war between husband and wife may be passive and silent, or aggressive and loud, but in either case, it’s a war with no winners, only losers. And the collateral damage of this war goes far beyond husband and wife, to the bystanders who parrot the pattern for generations to come. Divorce may seem like a necessary truce, but it creates its own special legacy of destruction.
So, what happened to the husband who once took delight in his wife and thought, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh?” (Gen 2:23) Why is it that the marriage vows, once spoken so eagerly by a man and a woman in love, now seem archaic and disconnected from the harsh reality of married life?
Remember the day you said these words:
“I, take you to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part”.
If a mere reminder of this vow pierces your heart with wistfulness for a marriage that is far short of your expectations, perhaps now is the moment to diagnose what has gone wrong and get back to God’s pathway for a godly marriage? Perhaps today is the day to ask the Lord to help you and your spouse build the kind of marriage He intended for you “until death us do part.” Perhaps it’s time to seek godly counseling.
Here’s a candid disclaimer about this series: I’m no marriage guru! In a fit of rage, I once hurled a pot of mashed potatoes at Pete, and we spent the next hour cleaning up the buttery mess, complaining about how mad we made each other! At times, we thought it was a most unsuitable match. In fact, when we first got married, I don’t think I resolved a single problem without throwing something in Pete’s direction! But, after 26 years, there’s no one in the world I’d rather be with than him. Apart from salvation, our marriage is truly the most treasured love gift that God could have given us. It keeps getting better.
The truth is that the best marriages are made, not born.
Marriages are made not born.
Our marriage has grown through trusting the Lord together, through raising four children, through sickness and miscarriages and death, through a fire and financial crises, through walking together as brother and sister in Christ. We have personal experience of those pesky little ‘foxes’ that can kill a marriage (Song of Solomon 2:15). We’ve also counseled couples over the years, not as experts, but as beggars showing other beggars where to find food.
Bit by bit, we are learning how to approach tricky conversations without losing love and respect for each other (or throwing mashed potato)! And we are learning how to prioritize our marriage above other good things, like children, ministry, friends and entertainment. We’ve by no means arrived, but we’re opening up the gift of marriage one wrapping at a time.
With all my heart, I believe that the Lord has given Christians everything we need to build fruitful, faithful, loving, lifelong marriages, which are a blessing to ourselves and those around us. After all, if God invented marriage, He surely intends for us to have success in marriage. And He’s offered us the blueprint to build a house that is not divided against itself– A house that will stand strong when the storms come. But first we must go to Scripture to diagnose why our marriages are under such siege. Unless we deal with the sin in our own hearts, we will never build a good marriage.
Marriage East of Eden
Since the moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s words and defined what is good and what is evil for themselves, marriage has been under fire. The house has been divided against itself. This is how Genesis 3 describes part of the curse:
“To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:16-24).
Genesis 1-3 is an astonishing explanation of why marriage is in such a sorry state. Nothing is as it should be, not even in a Christian marriage. We are living outside of God’s ideal for relationships, and it’s no paradise. We may have thought that getting married would solve all our problems, but every husband and wife soon discovers that we take our sinful, selfish, prideful self with us wherever we go. Everything in God’s good plan has slipped into dysfunctional decay:
The first dysfunctional marriage
Instead of listening to God and leading his wife in godliness, the man listens to his headstrong wife. Then he blames her (and God), refusing to accept responsibility (Gen 3:12; 17). Instead of listening to her husband, the wife falls for Satan’s lies and leads her husband into sin (Gen 3:1). She blames the snake for her conduct (Gen 3:13). Nancy Guthrie paints an accurate picture of the original dysfunctional marriage,
“Eve should have run screaming through the garden to report this rebellion against God to her protector, Adam. Adam should have protected his wife and defended God by confronting Satan’s twisting of God’s clear word…Instead, Eve listened to the Serpent. Adam listened to Eve. And no one listened to God.”
And so, instead of husbands and wives enjoying one-flesh intimacy (Gen 2:23), sex is abused, neglected, used outside of marriage and replaced with pornography. Instead of being naked and not ashamed (Gen 2:25), a husband and wife naturally hurt and hide from each other, and from God. We try to justify our guilt (Gen 3:7). Instead of nourishing his wife as he would his own body, a husband is aggressive and domineering towards her. He treats her harshly, or he passively stands by and allows her to control him like a lapdog.
Genesis 3:16 reminds us that unless the Spirit of God breathes new life into our hearts and our marriages, they’re hardwired for disaster. ‘Shame and blame’ will inevitably replace ‘leave and cleave’. It’s our default position in relationships.
“If only Eve had stood up to Satan’s lies”, we say! “Why did she not just listen to God and trust what He told her?”
Instead Eve “took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6). These are terrible words to read, but is this not the very same temptation that faces us in our own marriages? Is it not easier to take and eat whatever we want, rather than to ‘have and hold’ our spouse, come what may?
Listen to the echoes of the first temptation surrounding our own marriage:
Did God actually say I shouldn’t marry an unbeliever? (2 Cor 6:14-15; 1 Cor 7:39)
Did God actually say I should be faithful to my marriage vows when we’ve fallen out of love? (Mark 10:9)
Did God actually say I’m supposed to forgive her when she’s hurt me again and again? (Col 3:13)
Did God actually say that I should respect and submit to him? (Eph 5:23-24; 1 Peter 3:1)
Did God actually say that I should love, lead and lay down my life for her? (Eph 5:25-28)
Did God actually say that ‘love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’? (1 Cor 13:7)
Did God actually say I shouldn’t go to bed angry? (Eph 4:26)
Did God actually say that our bodies belong to each another? (1 Cor 7:5)
Surely not, Lord! You obviously don’t know who I’m married to!
The reality is that Satan, our culture, and our natures are assaulting marriage from every side, from inside and out. Can you hear Satan’s cunning deceptions behind these trendy slogans and book titles?
You’re you own moral compass! Find your truth! When you love yourself first, life will take care of the rest! Untamed! Fierce, Free and Full of Fire: The guide to being glorious You! Love is love!
The sad thing is that no amount of love and fire and ‘glorious You’ can set you free from the consequences and power of sin in your life. Only Jesus can set us free from its prison cell (John 8:34-36). And even if yours is a Christian marriage, you may be eating the bitter fruit of turning away from God and being ruled by your own wants rather than what God has said. It’s never too late to turn back. It’s never too late to be a godly spouse or to build a godly marriage.
Today, the real question I want to leave with you is this: Are you going to allow God to define what is good and what is evil in your marriage, or are you going to hold the reins and decide these matters for yourself? This is no small thing. It was Adam and Eve’s response to this very question that changed the course of the whole world. It is our response to the same question that will determine the course of our marriage.
Join us next week as we look at God’s laws for a healthy marriage.
Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross to break the penalty and power of sin in our lives. We don’t want to live as slaves to our own desires anymore. Show us the hidden sin of self-righteousness knocking at the door of our hearts. Teach us to forgive as you forgave us. Help us to obey your word instead of deciding for ourselves what is good or bad for our marriage. Fill us with your love, so that we may cherish each other. Soften our hearts, so that we may learn ‘to have and to hold one other’ until death parts us. Amen.