Category Archive: Marriage
What did the ancient Greeks think about women?
Jean-Pierre Vernant, in a brilliant essay on Hesiod’s Theogony, explains. According to Hesiod, Zeus created the first woman to be a “beautiful evil” (kalon kakon) to afflict men. She would be a trap from which men could not escape. Though she appears beautiful on the outside, on the inside she has “the spirit of a bitch and the temperament of a thief” (kuneon te noon kai epiklopon ethos). You might be able to find a good wife, Hesiod admits, but even so, in and through her, “evil will come to balance out the good” (kakon esthloi antipherizei).
Women, according to Hesiod, are like drones: the men do all the work, and women sit at home and feed on the honey. Women are like flaming fire, burning and consuming but never satisfied. Women are stomachs, disguised by outward beauty, gulping down the food the man works so hard to provide. Women are like dogs, gobbling up the scraps.
That’s not just Hesiod. Vernant compares two passages in Homer’s Odyssey: “Is there anything more like a dog than the odious belly?” asks Odysseus, when he’s hungry. Elsewhere, Agamemnon says the same thing, but changes one word: “Is there anything more like a dog than a woman?”
Nevertheless, for the ancient Greeks, men are now stuck having to get married to women. On the one hand, they consume everything you’ve earned. On the other, you need them in order to have a (male) heir. They’re a trap, but one you can’t do without.
It is no wonder, then, that this first woman — whose name Hesiod gives in his Works and Days as Pandora — is the one who opens the jar that contains all the evils in the world and releases them on mankind (on males, that is).
What a difference there is when you turn from the ancient Greeks to the Bible, where the woman, far from being a “beautiful evil” is called “glory,” where the blame for the sin that brought death and misery into the world is attributed to Adam, even though Eve ate the forbidden fruit first, and where men are called, as co-heirs with them of glory, to show honor to their wives.
This morning, I read most of Justin Buzzard’s little book, Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide. The title is somewhat misleading — very little of the book is really about having a “date” with your wife — and I have some quibbles about certain aspects of the content (religion vs. Christianity), but there’s some good, practical, and gospel-grounded stuff here. I could say more, but this isn’t a book review and I have something else on my mind.
The foreword to the book is by Tullian Tchividjian and it contains a line that made me raise my eyebrows. Here it is in context:
I enjoy receiving love from my wife. I’m ecstatic when Kim loves me and expresses affection toward me. Something in me comes alive when she does that. But I’ve learned this freeing truth: I don’t need that love, because in Jesus I receive all the love I need. This in turn liberates me to love her without apprehension or condition. I get to revel in her enjoyment of my love without needing anything from her in return. I get love from Jesus so that I can give love to her (10-11).
The line in question is in the middle of that paragraph: “I don’t need that love” — the love of a wife — “because in Jesus I receive all the love I need.” At first, that sounds right. Jesus is all we need, isn’t he? If we have him, we have everything. Doesn’t Paul say “For me to live is Christ”?
And yet here’s what raises a question in my mind. In the beginning, on the sixth day, God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes the Spirit into his nostrils and Adam becomes a living soul. God then plants a garden in Eden and puts Adam into it. This is not Adam’s garden; it is God’s garden, God’s sanctuary, and Adam is there as a priest to tend and guard it (language associated with priests later in Scripture). God speaks to Adam and gives him permission to eat from every tree in God’s garden, with the exception of one.
But then God says something that ought to surprise us more than it does: “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” How was Adam alone? Didn’t he have fellowship with God? Of course he did! Isn’t that fellowship enough? Apparently not. Shouldn’t Adam have said “I don’t need a wife (or her love or anything from her) because I have God (and His love) and that’s enough to meet all my needs”? No. Adam had fellowship with God, but he also needed a wife. And he needed a wife, not an angel, not an animal, but also not a male buddy or a female friend; he needed a wife, someone who was bound together with him, one flesh with him.
Of course, Jesus’ love for us is the foundation of all our blessings. Certainly Jesus’ love empowers a man to love his wife, even when she isn’t lovely or isn’t loving him in return. But a man who has Jesus and in him has fellowship with God still needs other people. It is not good for him to be alone. And it’s right for him to say to his wife, “I need you.”
It’s ludicrous to believe that successful marriages depend on discovering the one person out of the more than six billion people on earth who is just right for you. — Les & Leslie Parrott, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, 31.
The problem the Parrotts identify here is related to a popular view of the will of God. According to this view, God has a plan for your life that will lead to the greatest possible happiness, fulfillment, fruitfulness, and blessing. The plan is not spelled out in Scripture — Scripture doesn’t say what courses you should take in college or what jobs you ought to accept or whom you should marry — but you are responsible to discover the plan and follow it. And if you miss “God’s perfect will for your life” — if you take the wrong classes, accept the wrong job, marry the wrong spouse — the result will be misery.
Well-meaning people sometimes try to comfort a single friend by saying, “Don’t worry. God has someone out there who is just perfect for you. Apparently Bob wasn’t the one, but the right one is out there somewhere.”
Well, maybe. In fact, maybe there are a thousand men who would be, if not Mr. Right, at least a suitable and godly spouse with whom this single girl would be able to have a marriage that glorifies God and that enriches both partners. It simply isn’t true that God has chosen one man (or, if you’re male, one woman) who would be the right spouse and whom you’ve somehow got to locate and wed or you’ll be doomed to marital misery. And it isn’t true that if you marry someone and then have problems, it must mean that you missed out on Mr. or Miss Right, that you missed out on the person God made who would be perfect for you.
There is no Mr. Right, no perfect spouse, no “perfect will of God for your life.” That’s a truth that ought to give singles hope, an increased hope of finding a spouse without being scared off by every flaw and a hope that goes hand in hand with responsibility. Choose wisely, but know that whoever you choose you will not be Mr. and Mrs. Right. And then work in faith to serve God together in your marriage as Mr. and Mrs. Suitable-and-Growing.
In his introduction to a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams, albeit after his unexpected death, C. S. Lewis writes about the pessimistic side of Williams:
He also said that when young people came to us with their troubles and discontents, the worst thing we could do was to tell them that they were not so unhappy as they thought. Our reply ought rather to begin, “But of course….” For young people usually are unhappy, and the plain truth is often the greatest relief we can give them. The world is painful in any case: but it is quite unbearable if everyone gives us the idea that we are meant to be liking it. Half the trouble is over when that monstrous demand is withdrawn. What is unforgivable if judged as a hotel may be very tolerable as a reformatory” (Essays Presented to Charles Williams, xii-xiii).
I should add that Lewis goes on to say
But that was only one side of him. This scepticism and pessimism were the expression of his feelings. High above them, overarching them like a sky, were the things he believed, and they were wholly optimistic. They did not negate the feelings; they mocked them (xiii).
But I am interested in particular in the first quotation and I invite your discussion. On the one hand, it seems to me wrong to think that we are not meant to enjoy life. I even try to teach my children to like foods that they currently don’t, precisely because I want to increase their enjoyment of their mother’s (and others’) cooking and so enrich their lives. We don’t want our children moping around, nor do we want to mope around ourselves, and so we try to learn to enjoy the chores and tasks we have to do.
But on the other hand, I also see what Lewis (and behind him Williams) means. Consider marriage. If we give the impression that marriage is simply something to enjoy, then we are not preparing people well for marriage. Marriage is often a joy and a pleasure and a delight, but it is also often work. If you focus on your happiness, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you understand that in every marriage there is going to be a certain amount of drudgery, of chores you’d rather not do, of times when you’re called upon to serve when you’d rather not, of times of unhappiness — and recognizing that might go a long way toward helping couples deal with those times. In this connection, I refer you to Lewis’s own excellent essay “The Sermon and the Lunch,” which should be required reading for couples and for their pastors.
But on the third hand … do we really want to say that this world is a reformatory and tolerable as such? That makes it sound as if one day, we’ll be released, when in fact isn’t it the case that our calling is not to wait around and hope to escape to heaven (when the work on us is done) but rather to heavenize the world, to imprint the pattern of heaven on the world, to pray and work so that God’s name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven? And if that’s the goal, then “reformatory” isn’t really the right view of the world, is it?
Now … discuss amongst yourselves.
I’m currently reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. It’s not at all a good book, for several reasons, which I won’t go into here, though it is helpful in making very clear the direction McLaren is going on a number of issues — though McLaren still seems to present himself as more interested in questions than answers and often fails to come straight out and say what he thinks the church ought to believe and teach and practice.
But in spite of the serious problems I have with McLaren’s books, starting with his approach to Scripture, I almost always find something worth thinking about in them somewhere and this was no exception. His seventeenth chapter is entitled “Can We Find a Way to Address Human Sexuality?”, and most of it deals with homosexuality and calls for (well, McLaren doesn’t often “call for” things so much as suggest or imply them) greater openness to homosexuals, less emphasis on heterosexual marriage, and so forth.
But in the midst of this discussion, the gist of which I do not agree with, he talks about how “being a human being at this time in history makes it all the more difficult to navigate our sexual lives. The opportunities for promiscuity may never have been greater, and the supports for chastity and fidelity have seldom if ever been weaker” (187).
I wonder if that’s really so. I suspect that there has been little support for chastity and fidelity and great incentive for promiscuity in many pagan societies. Be that as it may, McLaren goes on to provide a helpful list of various “realities” that we ought to consider when thinking about today’s bent toward promiscuity:
We’ve moved from villages where “everyone knows your name” and where nearly everyone is committed to the same moral standards to cities where we’re all virtually anonymous and where anything goes. So sex and community are less connected than ever before.
We’re the first human beings to have low-cost, readily available birth control, making sex and pregnancy less connected than ever before.
We’re the first humans to have condoms and antibiotics readily available, making sex and disease less connected than ever before.
We’ve created an economic system that increasingly requires both men and women to work outside the home, in company with members of the opposite sex, thus increasing the possibilities for extramarital attractions to develop and become sexual.
We’ve created an economic system that rewards education and punishes early marriage, pushing the average age of marriage higher and higher. As a result, we’ve put the biological peak for sex and reproduction further out of sync with the cultural norms for marriage than ever before.
Meanwhile, a number of factors are bringing the average age of puberty lower and lower, leaving more years than ever during which sexually mature people are likely to be single and therefore likely to engage in sex outside of marriage.
The Internet has made pornography ubiquitous, the advertising industry continuously exploits on-screen sex to sell everything from hamburgers to lawn mowers, and the entertainment industry uses sex to sell movies, books, TV shows, magazines, and related products and services. As a result, sexual stimulation has become increasingly virtualized and universalized.
The print, on-screen, and online ubiquity of “perfect” bodies in “virtual reality” — partially or fully exposed, often cosmetically and digitally enhanced — can create images of sexual perfection copared to which nearly all actual partners will disappoint, thus increasing sexual tension in actual relationships.
The combination of poverty, unemployment, and life in refugee camps or slums puts millions of people together with literally nothing to do, day after day, increasing the likelihood of casual sexual contact among people without the resources to raise the children they conceive (187-188).
More wisdom from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in the form of advice from a senior devil writing to a junior tempter whose “patient” has just become a Christian:
Work hard … on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.Â The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.Â It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek.Â It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together.Â In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants â€”Â “sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liasons with the two-legged animals.Â Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.”
And there lies our opportunity.Â But also, remember, there lies our danger.Â If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt (pp. 17-18; I’ve added paragraph breaks).
Let me first quibble with a couple things in this quotation.Â While I understand what Lewis is saying about getting past dependence on emotion, I’m a little leary about Lewis’s love of reason, which shows up strongly in the first letter here, and his perhaps related distrust of emotion.Â Even when we persevere in the face of dryness, it seems to me that emotion is still involved, not least the emotion we associate with a longing for joy and a memory of past joy.
I’ll quibble also with Lewis’s emphasis on freedom.Â It’s not just freedom God is after, it seems to me.Â It’s maturity.Â God allows the disappointment and dryness at the outset of our endeavours because he wants us to grow to maturity.Â Children have decisions made for them.Â They are carried from place to place.Â When the chair they’re trying to climb into is too high for them, someone picks them up and puts them into it.Â Grown-ups generally have to get into their own chairs, make their own decisions, and so forth.Â And God’s goal for us is that we be mature, that we be grown-up.
To that end, He makes life puzzling, so puzzling we just have to give up trying to figure it all out and go and eat and drink and be merry because God has already accepted our works, as Ecclesiastes says.Â And to that end, God also allows life to be a vapor so that the great art works of the past decay, so that we lose many of Bach’s great compositions, so that great architecture crumbles and buildings fall down, and things we love change.Â That would likely have been the case even apart from the Fall.
Quibbles aside, what struck me as so important about the phenomenon Screwtape mentions here is that it often goes unnoticed.Â Well, we all notice it.Â We all notice that the job we thought we’d love rapidly becomes drudgery.Â As Alexander Schmemann has said, “Every job which has had three Mondays in its history already becomes meaningless, or at least to some extent oppressive.”
We notice that, but we don’t notice it as a general phenomenon.Â We feel the disappointment, the dryness, when we buckle down to doing our new job, the job we thought we’d love.Â We feel it, as Lewis says, when we get married and start learning to love each other in that new situation.Â We feel it sometimes even when we finally start reading a book we’d been hoping to get to for some time.Â And we feel it, as Screwtape points out, when we become Christians and start attending church.
We feel it, but we don’t say to ourselves, “Hey, that’s how it is with everything in life.Â The initial excitement wears off and we go through a dry period or a series of dry periods.”Â Instead, we act as if this disappointment and dryness are surprising (“Oh, no!Â What’s happening?Â This isn’t what I expected”) and that gives the devil a foothold.
Now if only I could remember all of this the next time it happens.
Have you ever seen this?Â A young man starts courting a girl and people come up to him or to her and offer congratulations, sometimes with expressions of great joy.Â From the way people carry on, anyone watching would think the couple was engaged.
But they aren’t.Â They’re only starting the process of courtship.Â They’re still getting to know each other, trying to discover whether they really do want to get married.Â And they’re free to break off that courtship at any time without any shame.Â Courtship isn’t engagement.Â Courtship doesn’t imply commitment.
But tell that to the people who are so excited that you’re courting someone or being courted and who are bubbling over with congratulations as if they’re so glad you’ve finally found someone.Â Well, Doug Wilson tells them here.
Years ago, when I lived in Lethbridge and was still unmarried, I frequented Brewster’s, a microbrewery and pub.Â One of the regulars was a man â€” I think he taught at the college or university, I think his last name was “English,” andÂ I know he himself was English â€” who used to alternate years in which he allowed himself to drink beer and years in which he didn’t.Â There were exceptions, of course.Â For instance, if he was “out of jurisdiction,” as he called it â€” which usually meant if he was in England â€” then he wasn’t bound by the rule.Â But this was his regular practice.Â I, of course, ran into him only on his “on” year.
The reason I mention him now is that, way back then, he mentioned to me once how valuable he had found a book by Harville Hendrix entitled Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.Â Since then, I’ve seen it in used bookstores and at the Goodwill and haven’t bought it.Â But a few weeks back I did finally pick it up from the library.
It’s a mixed bag.Â Hendrix presents a lot of psychological stuff that I find questionable.Â I haven’t considered it worth reading in depth, so I’m only skimming.Â But some of what he says is worthwhile.
For instance, he describes the difference between what he calls an “unconscious marriage” and a “conscious marriage” (pp. 90-92).Â Among the characteristics of a “conscious marriage” are these:Â
You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner.Â In an unconscious marriage, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs.Â In a conscious marriage, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication….
You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own.Â In an unconscious marriage, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically.Â In a conscious marriage, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs….
You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage.Â In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner.Â In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner.Â As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.
All quite basic stuff, right?Â Yes, but it’s still good to be reminded of it.Â
The last point, in particular, is something that I think singles need to hear.Â We tend to think that the most important thing is finding the right partner.Â Certainly that’s important.Â But if that’s our main focus, we’re going to be terribly disappointed when our partner doesn’t act the way we think he should (“This isn’t the woman I married!Â What have I done!Â I’ve made a terrible mistake!”Â Now what!”).Â Having the right partner, as Hendrix says, isn’t as important as being the right partner.
Along this line, Hendrix tells the story of a man named Walter who complained about not having any friends.Â He’d been looking and looking, but he couldn’t find them.Â Hendrix thought he was being childish:Â
He was locked into a view of the world that went something like this: wandering around the world were people on whose foreheads were stamped the words “Friend of Walter,” and his job was merely to search until he found them (p. 93).
Hendrix finally told him that the reason he didn’t have any friends was because there were no friends out there: “All people in the world are strangers.Â If you want a friend, you’re going to have to go out and make one!” (p. 94).
So, too, with love.Â We don’t want to work at it and take responsibility for it.Â We simply want to “fall in love” and “live happily ever after” (p. 93).Â And then, when we discover that our spouse doesn’t make is “happy ever after” we “fall out of love” instead of acting like grown-ups and working at love.Â “We are slow to comprehend that, in order to be loved, we must first become lovers” (p. 95).
Reading further, I see that some of what Hendrix prescribes for healing marriages looks quite practical and helpful.Â So, Dr. English (if that was your name), for this book recommendation which I didn’t take too seriously at first, I’d buy you a pint of good ale.Â Except that I think 2006 is an “off” year for you….