Category Archive: Marriage

September 19, 2018

Divorce in the Pentateuch and ANE

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics,Marriage :: Link :: Print

David Instone-Brewer’s comparison of the biblical laws relating to divorce and other laws in the Ancient Near East (ANE) reveals that “women have greater rights in the Pentateuch than in the ancient Near East generally” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 21).

What rights? Instone-Brewer points to these two in particular:

(1) While other ANE lawcodes did allow women to divorce their husbands in some cases, few allowed a woman whose husband has failed to provide food and clothing to divorce her husband. A Middle Assyrian law does, but only after the wife has been abandoned for five years.

“The Pentateuch was more generous to the woman because it did not prescribe time constraints while it allowed women to divorce their husbands on the same grounds of neglect” (26).

(2) Only in the Pentateuch do we hear about a certificate of divorce being given to the divorced woman. The certificate would likely have said something like “You are allowed to marry any man you wish.”

“It would have been a most valuable document for a woman to possess,” says Instone-Brewer, “because it gave her the right to remarry. Without it she would be under the constant threat of her former husband, who could claim at a later date that she was still married to him and thus charge her with adultery” (29).

After all, “in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the man could neglect his wife and then reclaim her within five years, even if she had remarried in the meantime” (30; cf. Middle Assyrian law # 36).

It strikes me that the differences Instone-Brewer points out between the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and the laws in the rest of the Ancient Near East concerning divorce indicate that the Pentateuch is not making a concession to the culture (e.g., “The ANE generally allowed divorce, and so the Law goes along with that, but it wasn’t ideal and God wanted to tighten it up later”).

No, as a matter of fact the Law goes beyond what ANE culture normally allowed, allowing speedier divorce in the case of neglect and making it clear that a first marriage really was over and the divorced wife was free to remarry.

Put another way, it’s one thing to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is correspondingly ‘loose’ … for a while.” I don’t buy it, but it makes a certain sort of sense.

But it makes no sense to me at all to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is even ‘looser.'”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:07 pm | Discuss (0)
June 6, 2017

Sticky Tape?

Category: Family,Marriage :: Link :: Print

From time to time, I have come across the following illustration in connection with an exhortation — usually to young women — to “guard your heart.” Here it is:

Your heart is like a sticky piece of tape. The first time you stick it to something, it sticks well. But if you pull it off and stick it on something else, it might still stick … fairly well. But if you keep doing that, pulling it off and sticking on somewhere else, it’s going to get less and less sticky, not to mention a lot dirtier. Eventually it’s not going to stick at all.

And so too with a woman’s heart, or so it is said. If you get infatuated with some guy and “give your heart” to him and then the same thing happens with another guy, your heart is going to get less and less “sticky,” less able to stick to one guy, and if you do try to stick to one guy, you’re probably going to have a wandering eye, always looking for the next guy to come along.

The solution — or so those who use this illustration would have you believe — is to stick to one person, if possible, and to plan for that. So dating is out and some form of courtship is in — aimed, it would seem, at making sure, as much as possible, that the one guy a girl gets interested in is going to be the one she marries. Plus, she’s urged to “guard her heart,” to make sure she doesn’t “fall in love” until she’s sure that this is the one guy she’s going to marry and stay with forever.

I don’t buy it.

I don’t buy the appropriateness of the illustration. Are our hearts really like sticky tape? I don’t think so.

Parents of one child sometimes wonder how they could ever love a second child. Won’t the “stickiness” of their heart become diluted if they’re spreading their love over two children. But as the father of four children, each of whom is different and each of whom I love dearly, I can tell you that that’s not so.

If this illustration were true, a woman who is widowed has a less “sticky” heart going into a second marriage and if perchance she loses that second husband, too, her heart — now on its third “stick” — probably doesn’t have much “stickiness” left. But that’s not the case.

I also don’t buy the solution. There is no form of courtship (somehow distinguished from “dating”) that can guarantee that the first person your daughter is attracted or drawn to is going to be the guy she marries and stays married to for the rest of her life. There is no form of courtship that can guarantee that she will not ever have a broken heart. And the quest for such a “perfect” form of courtship is not only quixotic but seriously misguided.

Sometimes this approach can even result in a girl getting the impression that she shouldn’t feel anything toward a guy until after she agrees to marry him lest she “give her heart” to him and risk losing her “stickiness” if it turns out that he isn’t the one. So she marries him on some other grounds besides attraction … and then finds, even after the wedding, that there’s still no attraction there.

As for the phrase “guard your heart,” it is indeed biblical. Proverbs 4:23 says “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”

But notice that it’s not talking about “guarding your heart” from falling in love with someone or being attracted or drawn to someone. It’s talking about guarding your heart from sin and foolishness. Here it is in context (Prov 4:20-27):

My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your eyes;
Keep them in the midst of your heart;
For they are life to those who find them,
And health to all their flesh.
Keep [or: guard] your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

Young men and women do indeed need to guard their hearts, to learn wisdom, to keep God’s commandments, to put away deceit and evil.

But there is no commandment forbidding them from being attracted to someone else, no prohibition on “falling in love,” no hint that attraction or even love for one person necessarily makes you less able to love someone else in a “sticky” way later, no Scriptural exhortation for their parents to try to ensure that their hearts never get “stuck” on anyone they don’t end up marrying, let alone never get broken.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:57 pm | Discuss (0)
October 13, 2016

Helper & Helpee?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Link :: Print

In Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson quotes Genesis 2:18 (“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him”) and 1 Corinthians 11:9 (“Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”) and then draws this conclusion:

As a result of the creation order, men and women are oriented to one another differently. They need one another, but they need one another differently. The man needs the help; the woman needs to help. Marriage was created by God to provide companionship in the labor of dominion. The cultural mandate, the requirement to fill and subdue the earth, is still in force, and a husband cannot fulfill this portion of the task in isolation. He needs a companion suitable for him in the work to which God has called him. He is called to the work and must receive help from her.  She is called to the work through ministering to him. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him (p. 19).

I’ve read this book several times and have used it in premarital counseling, but as I read it this afternoon this passage stood out to me and a bunch of questions came to mind.

Are we to think here of men and women, in general, or only of a husband and his wife? Presumably it is the latter. Though the opening sentence speaks of “men and women,” it goes on to speak of how they are “oriented to one another,” and in the context that would be in marriage. Still, it is possible to (mis!)read the next sentence (“The man needs the help; the woman needs to help”) as if it were speaking about every man and every woman, as if women exist to help men. One could wish the wording were clearer to guard against that misreading, but a close reading does suggest to me that Wilson has in mind only husbands and wives.

Still, some questions remain. Is it true that husbands need to be helped and women need to help, and not the other way round? Is Genesis 2 making a blanket statement about husbands and wives, teaching us that the husband is to do the work and needs help in doing it, while the wife is only to assist in the work as her husband’s helper? Does a wife never do the “the labor of dominion” directly, but instead takes part in it only “through ministering to” her husband? May she not be involved in some “labor of dominion” that is distinct from her husband’s particular labor, that she does without ministering to him? Is the husband not to be oriented to her? Is she not in any way oriented to the task (or even to a task that is not her husband’s task)? Is this orientation thing an either/or, either an orientation toward work or an orientation to a spouse? Can it not in some way be both?

Surely “the labor of dominion” in Genesis 1 includes procreation. The command-blessing there is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That, as Wilson says on the next page, is something a man cannot do on his own. But is procreation something that the husband does with the assistance of his wife? Is she only helping him do his task of being fruitful and multiplying? Is she involved in procreation only “through ministering to him”? Is he “oriented to the task” of procreation, while “she is oriented to him”?

On the contrary. In the Bible, the mandate given as a blessing in Genesis 1 is given only after the creation of Woman (that is, chronologically after what is reported to us in Genesis 2) and is given to both Adam and Woman:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:26-28).

Both of them are created in God’s image. Both of them, male and female, are blessed. To both of them God gives the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over the fish and birds and animals. There is no hint here that this mandate is given to the man, with his wife in only a helping role. She receives the mandate too.  She is to be fruitful and multiply as much as he is, and they take part in this calling together. He helps her and she helps him. He receives her help and she receives his help.

What is true of procreation, of being fruitful and multiplying, is true of the other aspects of this mandate, subduing the earth and having dominion over the creatures. As James Jordan has written, “The cultural mandate is given equally to men and women (Gen. 1:28). In cultural life, the man is to help the woman as much as the woman helps the man.”

It is not only that “The man needs the help; the woman needs to help.” It is also that “The woman needs the help; the man needs to help.” Both the husband and the wife are involved in carrying out the mandate God gave, and both need each other’s help in various ways.

What about Genesis 2, then? Doesn’t God say that he is making the woman to be a “helper comparable to” Adam?  It certainly does. But a helper with what?

In Reforming Marriage, Wilson links the help with the “labor of dominion,” but that isn’t mentioned in the context in Genesis 2. At the time God created the woman, the cultural mandate had not yet been given; it wasn’t given, according to Genesis 1, until after the woman was created and then it was given to them both. What about procreation? Again, nothing is mentioned about that in Genesis 2.

One might think more generally of companionship. After all, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” There is a certain sort of companionship, a certain sort of help, that the wife gives to her husband, a kind of help that he cannot receive from another man or from one of the animals, a kind of help for which he needs someone similar but different, fully human and “comparable to him” but not exactly the same.

That’s true enough. But note, too, the flow of events in Genesis 2. God created Adam first and then created the Garden and put Adam into the Garden to serve it and to guard it, tasks that are later associated with the work of priests. The Garden is God’s sanctuary, the place where God will meet with his people. Adam does not have dominion over it and is not going to subdue it. It is not Adam’s Garden but God’s, and Adam is in it as a priest, a palace servant, commissioned to serve and guard it. That priestly task is given to Adam, along with the gift of all the trees of the Garden (including, obviously, the Tree of Life) and with the warning not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Only at that point does God say that it is not good for the man to be alone and that he needs “a helper comparable to him.” If we are to associate the Woman’s role as “helper” here with any task given to Adam, it is not the task of dominion or of procreation or of cultural development, the tasks that hadn’t been given yet, but the priestly task, the task of serving and guarding the Garden, the task of worship and care for God’s sanctuary  — and that’s how Paul applies the creation order in 1 Timothy 2: not to all of life, not to cultural work or the “labor of dominion” but to the sphere of liturgy and worship (see the provocative discussion here; my link does not, of course, necessarily imply agreement with everything in this article).

Genesis 2, then, is not talking generally about men and women or husbands and wives and doesn’t indicate that husbands are to be oriented toward their work, while their wives are to be oriented toward them and help them in their work. It’s talking, rather, about a specific sphere, a specific sort of work and help in that work. But the broader mandate, the mandate to fill and subdue and rule the world, God gave to men and women, husbands and wives, alike. Each works, each needs help in many ways, each gives help.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (0)
May 8, 2014

“Beautiful Evils”?

Category: History,Literature,Marriage :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:37 pm | Discuss (0)
December 21, 2012

Isn’t Jesus’ Love Enough?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage :: Link :: Print

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.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:33 pm | Discuss (5)
January 7, 2011

Mr. Right

Category: Marriage,Uncategorized :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (2)
November 23, 2010

“But Of Course!”

Category: Family,Marriage,Theology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:03 pm | Discuss (2)
October 5, 2010


Category: Ethics,Family,Marriage :: Link :: Print

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).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:28 pm | Discuss (0)
June 9, 2007


Category: Marriage,Theology :: Link :: Print

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.  The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.  It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek.  It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together.  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 — “sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liasons with the two-legged animals.  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.  But also, remember, there lies our danger.  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.  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.  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.  It’s not just freedom God is after, it seems to me.  It’s maturity.  God allows the disappointment and dryness at the outset of our endeavours because he wants us to grow to maturity.  Children have decisions made for them.  They are carried from place to place.  When the chair they’re trying to climb into is too high for them, someone picks them up and puts them into it.  Grown-ups generally have to get into their own chairs, make their own decisions, and so forth.  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.  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.  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.  Well, we all notice it.  We all notice that the job we thought we’d love rapidly becomes drudgery.  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.  We feel the disappointment, the dryness, when we buckle down to doing our new job, the job we thought we’d love.  We feel it, as Lewis says, when we get married and start learning to love each other in that new situation.  We feel it sometimes even when we finally start reading a book we’d been hoping to get to for some time.  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.  The initial excitement wears off and we go through a dry period or a series of dry periods.”  Instead, we act as if this disappointment and dryness are surprising (“Oh, no!  What’s happening?  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.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:44 am | Discuss (1)
December 11, 2006

Congratulations Aren’t In Order

Category: Marriage :: Link :: Print

Have you ever seen this?  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.  From the way people carry on, anyone watching would think the couple was engaged.

But they aren’t.  They’re only starting the process of courtship.  They’re still getting to know each other, trying to discover whether they really do want to get married.  And they’re free to break off that courtship at any time without any shame.  Courtship isn’t engagement.  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.  Well, Doug Wilson tells them here.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:20 pm | Discuss (5)
August 28, 2006

Getting the Love You Want

Category: Marriage :: Link :: Print

Years ago, when I lived in Lethbridge and was still unmarried, I frequented Brewster’s, a microbrewery and pub.  One of the regulars was a man — I think he taught at the college or university, I think his last name was “English,” and I know he himself was English — who used to alternate years in which he allowed himself to drink beer and years in which he didn’t.  There were exceptions, of course.  For instance, if he was “out of jurisdiction,” as he called it — which usually meant if he was in England — then he wasn’t bound by the rule.  But this was his regular practice.  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.  Since then, I’ve seen it in used bookstores and at the Goodwill and haven’t bought it.  But a few weeks back I did finally pick it up from the library.

It’s a mixed bag.  Hendrix presents a lot of psychological stuff that I find questionable.  I haven’t considered it worth reading in depth, so I’m only skimming.  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).  Among the characteristics of a “conscious marriage” are these: 

You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner.  In an unconscious marriage, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs.  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.  In an unconscious marriage, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically.  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.  In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner.  In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner.  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?  Yes, but it’s still good to be reminded of it. 

The last point, in particular, is something that I think singles need to hear.  We tend to think that the most important thing is finding the right partner.  Certainly that’s important.  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!  What have I done!  I’ve made a terrible mistake!”  Now what!”).  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.  He’d been looking and looking, but he couldn’t find them.  Hendrix thought he was being childish: 

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.  If you want a friend, you’re going to have to go out and make one!” (p. 94).

So, too, with love.  We don’t want to work at it and take responsibility for it.  We simply want to “fall in love” and “live happily ever after” (p. 93).  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.  “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.  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.  Except that I think 2006 is an “off” year for you….

Posted by John Barach @ 8:23 pm | Discuss (3)