the destination of marriage

[the following is a devotional that i did at my friend (& co-worker!) kelly's bridal shower. i had a few people ask for a copy of this, so i'm putting it here. kelly is having a destination wedding, so our co-worker hosting the shower suggested that i tie in the theme of "destination". i'll offer the same caveat on my blog that i did at the shower - i've only been married for 4.5 years. however, marriage experience or lack thereof does not negate truths about marriage. one more warning: this is long.]

The Destination of Marriage

A magnificent marriage begins not with knowing one another but with knowing God. 
-Gary and Betsy Ricucci, When Marriage Meets Grace

When we think about the destination of marriage, some of the immediate things that come to mind are happiness, fulfillment, eternal love, comfort, completion, etc. And yes. A healthy marriage can and should possess and strive for many of those things. The problem is, first, that we become too focused on our own happiness, and second, we want that happiness to come from our spouse.

Understandably, this self-centered approach to marriage causes friction between spouses and diminishes the joy that can be found in a marriage. In addition, marriage should be so much more than just two people trying to find happiness in one another.

The teachings of Tim Keller and Gary Thomas hae really helped me understand more fully God's intentions for marriage and the ways that our culture has misunderstood this intricate relationship. I'm going to briefly address our culture's misunderstandings about marriage, and outline a Biblical "destination" for marriage.

First, I'd like to share an excerpt from... an excerpt of Tim & Kathy Keller's book, The Meaning of Marriage, titled "You Never Marry the Right Person." <article here>

So, when we overlook the presence of sin, we have this false idea that two people in love should have no problem creating a happy life together. Gary Thomas wrote a book called Sacred Marriage, which can be summed up in the question he poses on the cover: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"  The Biblical destination for marriage? Holiness.  Throughout the book, Thomas  explores ways in which couples can use the challenges and celebrations of marriage to draw closer to God.

Thomas quotes 17th-century Christian writer, Francis de Sales, who responded to a letter with questions about marriage by saying that marriage might be the most difficult ministry one can undertake. He writes, "The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other [...] It is a perpetual exercise of mortification [...] From this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life [...] We have to look at our disappointments, own up to our ugly attitudes, and confront our selfishness." [1]

As we're celebrating Kelly's wedding, we can't help but feel excitement about the big day. Weddings call us to our best - creating almost an impossible ideal of marriage. It's what we want marriage to be - excitement, fluttering stomachs, love. But as Thomas points out, marriage reminds us of the daily reality of living as sinful human beings: "Most of us who have been married for any substantial length of time realize that the romantic roller coaster of courtship eventually evens out to the terrain of a Midwest interstate - long, flat stretches  with an occasional overpass. [...] We can run from the challenges of marriage [...] or we can admit that every marriage presents these challenges and asks them to address them head-on. If we find that the same kinds of challenges face every marriage, we might assume that God designed a purpose in this challenge that transcends something as illusory as happiness." [2] Transformation occurs in marriages during the commitment of twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. This is what shapes us into the character of Christ. We are called to a new and selfless life.

If we want, as Paul encourages, to be conformed to the image of Christ, community is essential, and there is no more intimate community than within a marriage. In such close context, much is revealed about our behaviors and attitudes. Thomas continues, "We have to change our views of marriage. If the purpose of marriage was simply to enjoy an infatuation and make me 'happy', I'd have to get a 'new' marriage every two or three years. But if I really wanted to see God transform me from the inside out, I'd need to concentrate on changing myself rather than on changing my spouse." [3] 

Part of this change can occur only when we know where our identity and meaning comes from. As Keller mentioned, we too often look for that in our spouse. Thomas wisely says that marriage is "one of many life situations that help us draw our sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment from God." [4] If we do believe that our primary meaning comes from our relationship with the Lord, then we need to view marriage as another opportunity to draw closer to Him. Because of this, both spouses can, as Thomas writes, "find even more meaning by pursuing God together and by recognizing that he is one who alone can fill the spiritual ache in our souls." [5] As much as we may love our spouses, and they us, we will never love them or fulfill them the way Christ can. Thomas sums it up by saying, "We need to remind ourselves of the ridiculousness of looking for something from other humans that only God can provide." [6]

As I was reviewing this devotion, it felt kind of heavy to me. I do think that marriage is incredibly serious, and worthy of such seriousness, but at the same time - marriage is incredibly beautiful. It is a gift from God as a picture of his relationship with the church, and Scripture is filled with marital imagery (Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation, hello - Song of Solomon?!). Keller writes, "The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is - we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dare hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us." [7]

God didn't intend marriage to be drudgery. He designed it to be a reflection of his intimacy with us - a profound and beautiful mystery. As we pursue holiness through the intimate relationship of marriage, I think we find that by centering our marriage on Christ and His Gospel, and by putting one another's needs first, we begin to experience more happiness and fulfillment as a result - a "holy happiness", as Thomas calls it.

In the book of Deuteronomy, young Israelite men served God by defending Israel in war, with one exception. Deuteronomy 24:5 says, "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." Thomas writes this beautiful passage:

"Although [this verse] addresses just the first year of marriage, every spouse should spend some time thinking about how to make their spouse happy - and celebrating the profound reality that making their spouse happy pleases God. [...] When Jesus said, 'Love the Lord your God... love your neighbor,' he opened up the vistas of love and 'religion' much bigger than we realize. [...] Marriage is designed to call us out of ourselves and to learn to love the 'different'. Put together in the closest situation imaginable - living side by side, sleeping in the same room, sharing our bodies with each other - we are forced to respect and appreciate someone who is very different from us. We need to be called out of ourselves because, in truth, we are incomplete. God made us to find our fulfillment in him - the Totally Other. Marriage shows us that we are not all there is; it calls us to give way to another, but also to find joy, happiness, and even ecstasy in another.

"There are no lessons to be learned when a husband dominates his wife. There are no inspiring examples to emulate when a wife manipulates a husband. But love unlocks the spiritual secrets of the universe. Love blows open eternity and showers its raindrops on us. Christianity involves believing in certain things, to be sure, but its herald, its hallmark, its glory is not in merely ascribing to certain intellectual truths. The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage. Yes, it can be difficult to love your spouse. But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazily, enduringly the fleshly person who put it there." [8]

In light of Kelly's profession as an English teacher, and as a fellow lover of literature, I thought it appropriate to end with the words of T.S. Eliot:

Marriage is the greatest test in the world... but now I welcome the test instead of dreading it. 
It is much more than a test of sweetness and temper, as people sometimes think;
it is a test of the whole character and affects every action.

- - -
[1] Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. 12-13.
[2] Thomas 16-17.
[3] Thomas 23.
[4] Thomas 24.
[5] Thomas 24.
[6] Thomas 25.
[7] Keller, Timother. "You Never Marry the Right Person." Relevant Magazine. 5 Jan 2012.
[8] Thomas 42-43, 50-51.


  1. I'm only 18, and just now starting a relationship (only 3 months in), but I really appreciate this post! I hope to someday have a marriage that can be God centered and glorifying! Every day I'm praying to be the best I can be for God.
    Great devotional!! <3

  2. starred this awhile ago and just getting to reading it. good stuffs! thanks for sharing.