I was thinking recently about one big reason why many people face disappointment in marriage.
To put it simply, life presents many challenges.
Some of these challenges could make or break our marriages. So here’s the thing: we know that the people we marry are not perfect when we marry them and will not become perfect over the course of our marriages. And yet for our marriages to survive, our spouses have to consistently make the right choices when faced with these marital “make or break” challenges, as we also will need to make the right choices when we are equally faced with our own challenges. Sometimes, or even most of the time, I suspect that these challenges will not present once-off decisions, but will rather require ongoing determination. For instance in the topic of lust that I considered last week, each spouse will need to answer the following question: “How am I going to deal with the challenge when I feel attracted to someone outside my marriage?” Perhaps it might only happen once or twice, if at all, in the course of the marriage that one or the other of the spouses might feel irresistibly attracted to someone outside. And yet it would probably happen that there would be a number of smaller cases of attraction on either side over the decades. In this issue as with many others, I believe that the action that a spouse takes over time, or fails to take, can weaken a marriage over the course of the years, until the point where it does not need a lot to destroy the marriage altogether. It is like a tree that is rotting from the inside (coincidentally, remember that Jesus tells us that a tree is known by its fruits – a rotting tree produces rotten fruit). It can rot to the extent where it can be felled by a blow that would not make the slightest impact on a healthy tree.
I think that in marriage, the likelihood is that we will each face not just one big challenge, but rather a succession of challenges, some of them even happening simultaneously. This is especially true if we are serious Christians. We can rest assured that our adversary the devil will assail us with every trial and temptation and hardship he can throw our way, to shake us in our faith and in our reliance upon God. We can expect to be pummelled constantly by different issues. Where these are “make or break” challenges, we have to trust that both we and our spouses will “get it right” time after time. Here is my point in all of this. For this to be true, for both we and our spouses to consistently triumph in godliness in the face of temptation, distraction, frustration, disappointment, and sometimes, more positively, seeming success, it is not going to be an accident. Rather it is going to be the result of desperate, determined, knowledge of and pursuit of God, as well as groundedness in His truth and awareness of the tricks and devices of the devil, and determination to overcome these tricks.
So then you can’t just go and pick a random person to marry and hope for the best. What is the probability that “a random person” is going to somehow just manage to get it right in all these different trials? Remember that it is not just one character aspect that will be tested. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to marry a spouse who just does not “do” lust. All the same the likelihood is that they will be tested in every other area – integrity, financial probity, standing with the truth, remaining resilient in Christ when you are tempted to feel despondent. They could potentially crash in any other of these areas, and thereby pull the marriage down with them. And obviously it is not a one sided thing, it could equally happen on your own side as well.
So in a way we are marrying people with the understanding that they are not perfect, and yet we are hoping or expecting that when necessary they essentially will behave perfectly. This is a huge contradiction. It is when people make those big mistakes that correspond with their imperfect character (that we knowingly married) that marriages get devastated, and hearts get broken.
One important point to make is that if you’re not that desperate for God in the first place, then you are unlikely to face challenges to this extent. Perhaps this is why some Christian marriages seem not to face any challenges whatsoever, but things just sail happily from one high point to the next. However, I believe that it is a very false economy to hold back from full pursuit of God just so that we can escape the hottest fire of attacks from the devil. Remember that God is incomparably bigger than the devil, so ultimately the empowerment that comes to our marriages through being grounded in God and His truth will far exceed the fire that the devil can hurl at us. Sometimes however it feels as if we need to get through that fire to come to that place of empowerment.
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.