Making Marriage Work
Jun 20, 2011 by Craig Blomberg | 8 Comments
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25 NIV)
What part of “till death do us part” do you not understand?
It continues to amaze me as I encounter all the tortuous interpretations of key passages on marriage and divorce in Scripture that people continually invent new ways to try to justify that their promise-breaking behavior is acceptable in God’s eyes. Apparently they want to do God’s will, to be in line with the Bible, but just aren’t willing to do the incredibly hard stuff that it actually takes to be obedient. Or, in some cases, they probably just want to be perceived by others as doing God’s will, even though they know deep in their hearts that they are not.
I once had a good friend look me straight in the face and say, “I know I’m reneging on my marriage vows, but that’s what I’ve chosen to do.” After getting over the shock of someone being so candid, I had to admit I was happy she actually phrased things so honestly and accurately. But it’s only ever happened to me that one time.
We all know the cultural forces to blame. Rugged, Western individualism pervades the church as much as society, especially here in the rugged West. The seminary and I both reside in the county that refused to pass even the mildest form of gun control in the wake of Columbine even against weapons that could never possibly be used for hunting animals! But I digress.
All of the presumably well-meaning privacy laws that this country has passed also affect us detrimentally. Even close, caring friends have less access to what is really going on in others’ lives than ever before, unless people are willing to volunteer that information. And the fact that someone’s marriage is on the rocks is often the last thing people are willing to volunteer.
Of course, we’ve had rampant divorce for a generation now, so young adults frequently have no good models of fidelity to fall back on. Many may not even know that this is an unprecedented epidemic in the history of the world that doesn’t have to be what it is. Society and too many wings of the church just take it for granted. In a recent conversation with a divorced friend in a Bible church struggling with the attitudes of a few people toward her and a friend in a mainline Lutheran church, the Lutheran cheerily inserted, “Just join the Lutheran church. It won’t even be an issue there.” Shouldn’t people at least be interested in the circumstances and how the individual is doing now and not just automatically accepting no matter what? I grew up in that denomination and know how different things are today than in my childhood!
A fair amount of blame also rests with leadership, usually male, in more conservative churches. A woman I know, who left a deeply physically abusive marriage last year finally got enough courage to share the situation with her pastor. His reply? “Oh, that couldn’t possibly be true. ‘Joe’ would never act like that’.” No investigation ensued and Joe continues in leadership in that congregation. Another one in a similar situation was told, even more recently, “I’m sorry, that’s beyond my expertise. You really should see a professional counselor.” But the unemployed young mother has no money for counseling and the church, while generously using a deacons’ fund to provide money to its members for food, utilities and even occasionally house payments will never earmark any of it for counseling!
And, of course, we all know that this is a culture of entitlement, in which happiness has replaced holiness as the biggest virtue. Self-actualization has replaced self-denial, even in evangelicalism, usually to the detriment of us all.
So is this just going to be my rant for the fortnight (as the British would helpfully say, since we have no single word in American English for a two-week period of time, the frequency with which I try to produce these blogs)? Or is this truly a “New Testament musing,” as advertised? It is.
Ephesians 5:25 may be the most underutilized Bible text in conversations like these. It doesn’t matter if you are a complementarian, an egalitarian or a complegalitarian (don’t rush for Webster’s—I just made the word up!). If you believe in the authority of Scripture, then you have to obey it. There aren’t any hard words to translate in it, there aren’t any grammatical ambiguities, and the analogy is painfully clear. Husbands, love your wives sacrificially. Not only if they submit, not only if treat you as an equal, but unconditionally. That’s what Christ did as he went all the way to the cross, one of the most excruciating deaths humanity has ever invented, for those he loved.
With so many disobeying this, why does the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood waste time on writing irrelevant articles in its journal on Bible translation (e.g., trying to refute my proposed rendering of Hebrews 2:6-8 published in an obscure British monograph series that few people will ever read), while refusing to address head on and consistently the biggest area of disobedience among complementarian men today (and no one ever gives me the courtesy of telling me they are producing this and the one complimentary copy I receive after it is published comes in an envelope by itself with no cover letter, no explanation, no source, no personal interaction whatsoever)? Talk about not taking the log out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s. But I digress again.
My main point is that no matter where you come down on the vexed term kephalē, usually translated “head” in verse 23, such headship is never a matter of privilege but only of responsibility. The entire sentence begun in verse 25 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” None of us as husbands will ever come close. But we know our marching orders. And in most cases it means replacing “controlling” behavior with “empowering” behavior.
A brilliant student I taught in the mid-1990s who was complementarian married an egalitarian man shortly after graduation. I’ll always remember the time she quipped, “I can submit to that!” I’ve also met a surprising number of egalitarian women over the years who’ve confided privately to me words to the effect of “Deep in my heart of hearts I’d love to submit to a man who took Ephesians 5:25-27 seriously. I’d stop fighting for egalitarianism then. But because you seldom get all you lobby for, I feel I have to lobby for the whole nine yards in hopes of maybe getting complementarians to pay more attention to what Scripture says to husbands.” I don’t know that it’s the most effective strategy, but I can at least empathize.
I’m sure I’m a pretty mediocre example of all of this, compared to couples I’ve met at home and abroad who’ve endured far more difficult challenges than anything I have. But by God’s grace, I celebrate this Father’s Day, a little over two months shy of our thirty-second anniversary, with a wonderful wife and two grown daughters who give me great joy. And, excluding a few short periods of time here and there over the years, it really hasn’t been all that hard!
But it does require being a promise keeper and taking “till death do us part” very seriously.