Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Friday, August 5, 2016

Deer Hunting and a Book on Marriage, It's About Hitting the Target

I live in an area where real men kill deer.  One of the lessons I learned early on as the pastor of a church full of deer hunters is to not plan anything special during deer season.  If you can't beat 'em . . . I tried hunting for a while.  The problem is I lack patience.  To be a good deer hunter you have to put in time learning to think like a deer, you have to get up early, and you need to be quiet.  I'm not good at any of that, and I wasn't dedicated enough to learn.
Oh, and there is one more thing.  I don't shoot very well, so on those rare occasions when I did see a deer, and let the lead fly, I generally missed.  I figure I didn't miss by much, but as the saying is, "An inch is as good as a mile."

I was reminded about my ability to propel a 30/30 bullet right by a deer, without damaging so much as a hair, right after I read a book by John Piper, This Momentary Marriage.  We Evangelicals have talked a lot about marriage in the last few years.  Though we have thrown a lot of words at the issue, I fear that our aim is like mine on those cold November mornings.  We have focused a lot of attention on making clear what marriage isn't--it's not a relationship between two people of the same sex.  We haven't paid enough attention to what marriage is.  I'm concerned that in our zeal to protect marriage we, by our failure to hit the mark--truth be told we haven't even aimed at it--have actually weakened our culture's commitment to what marriage really is.  I found Pastor John Piper's little book to be a much needed lesson on straight shooting.
For a long time I've had this feeling in my bones that we Evangelicals were really giving the same-sex-marriage crowd some excellent arguments to support their cause.  The average man or woman in the pew, especially among the younger set within the church, describes heterosexual marriage about the same way as our dominant culture does.  It is roses, and candlelight, and wine, and soul-mate, and earth-moving sex.  I'm not saying that Evangelicals are selfish, some are, but we have done a pretty good job emphasizing that marriage is not about me using someone else for my own pleasure.  It is about me giving myself for and pleasing my mate.  I'll leave aside for the moment the difficult reality that we must wrestle with, that one gains the greatest satisfaction when one gives the most.  Screwtape, and even Wormwood, can play you with that one like a yo-yo in a windstorm, but, as I say, I'll save that one for another day.  The problem is when we make marriage all about pleasing our spouse--putting her or him in first place--we almost hit the target.  Almost.
In his introduction Piper admits the strangeness of beginning a book on marriage with the tragic stories of three martyrs--four really.  When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung by the Nazis he was engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer.  John and Betty Stam were young missionaries with a baby to raise when they were beheaded by the Chinese Communists.  Strange though it may be to use martyrs to introduce a book on marriage it is effective.
The aim of this book is to enlarge your vision of what marriage is. As Bonhoeffer says, it is more than your love for each other. Vastly more. Its meaning is infinitely great. I say that with care. The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people.  (15)
If the pastor from Minnesota begins his book in an unorthodox manner, he proceeds to what is regarded in our culture as madness.  It's right there in the title of the first chapter, "Staying Married is not about Staying in Love."
I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.
The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing. And the ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God’s glory.  (21)
Marriage is God's doing, and it is for His glory.   "Marriage was designed from the beginning to display the new covenant between Christ and the church."  (33)  Marriage is the doing of God, and the display of God--in particular the marvelous covenant love between Christ and His bride, the church.  That is why we should do marriage well.  Displaying such a grand theme is a high and holy calling.  We ought to do it well.
In the middle section of the book Piper helps us explore how to do it well.  He deals with issues like forgiveness and forbearance, the role of husband and wife, and the unique calling of singleness.  I particularly appreciated his framing of childbearing.
[T]he meaning of marriage normally includes giving birth to children, this is not absolute. . . . The decision about whether to conceive children is not ultimately a decision about what is natural, but about what will magnify the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. . . . Marriage is not absolutely for making children; but it is absolutely for making children followers of Jesus.  (140-141)
Piper's last two chapters give his view of divorce and remarriage.  While I disagree with his position that remarriage after divorce is always wrong, I do appreciate the fact that he continues with his theme of what marriage is really about.  "Keep your marriage vows in such a way as to tell the truth about the unbreakable covenant love of Christ."  (164)

Because of the brevity of the book, 192 pages, Piper is selective in choosing the particular aspects of marriage that support his theme.  In the broadest sense, this is a book about what marriage is, and why we should pursue the lofty goal of doing marriage well.  While there are ideas that husbands, wives, and singles will find helpful, this is not primarily a how-to book.

Some of the conclusions that Piper draws are not based on interpretation of scripture, but inference from scripture.  His conclusion that having children is not absolute is based on an extrapolation of the Bible's teaching on singleness.  While I agree with his conclusion, I wasn't impressed with how he got there.

I have already made known that I disagree with his perceived prohibition on remarriage, though I give him credit for humility and grace in admitting that others have come to differing conclusions on this.

Piper begins each chapter with a quotation from Bonhoeffer's writings from Tegel Prison.  These are well chosen and give power to the points Piper makes in each chapter.

The great value of the book is the encouragement it gives us to aim better as we address the issue of marriage.  I wonder if Satan is as pleased with Evangelicals defense of marriage as he is with the attacks that elicit the defense.  When the marriage we defend is a marriage that is about human pleasure--mine and/or my spouses--our argument contains the key points needed to refute what we say.  Why should others be denied the privilege of giving and receiving pleasure?  I fear we have wasted too much ammunition shooting at the who-should-marry target, and failed to hit the Who-marriage-is-about bulls-eye.

Like most of Piper's writings, you can read This Momentary Marriage for free.  Click on the link

(Oh, and about the deer hunting,  I gave it up, and worked on looking pitiful.  Apparently I do that much better than I can shoot.  Thanks to skillful and generous hunters, who are impressed with my hungry look, Kathy and I generally have all the venison we want.}