Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

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Have you ever read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly chapter one?

Because of our fallen nature and natural bent, we have not only rooted our worship wrongly so that now we worship things that are going to lead us into external sin and discontentment, but we often contrarily believe (despite the reality of our lives) that we know what’s going to bring us the most amount of joy, the most amount of pleasure, and the deepest amount of life. We tend to feel like we know what’s best, that we know better than anyone else, and so we make decision, after decision, after decision for our own pleasure and our own joy. Even when we seek advice, we take what feels best to us.

We don’t find contentment for any length or period of time, but we perpetually think that we know how to get there. We only seek help when the illusion of control comes crashing down on the rocks of reality, but even then we aren’t willing to completely give up this sense of control. Instead, we will grab some variation of a self-help book or talk to somebody we think has it a little more together than we do, and we’ll simply try to “do better” or clean ourselves up some, and “try harder” to live our life in such a way that will bring us more happiness and pleasure. But we continue to seek this better life through what we think is best, only taking advice if it fits within our already existing worldview, and only accept something if we think we can still control it.

We don’t really control anything other than how we react to what is beyond our control. And just about everything is beyond our control. God is certainly beyond our control, and no amount of good behavior will control His affection for you, and no amount of distance can separate you from Him. I will contend that every command of God in the Scriptures are not about robbing from you happiness, but rather it’s all about leading you into the fullness of it. Into depth, meaning, and joy that our naturally shallow minds couldn’t imagine without His help. I’m not saying I don’t struggle with living this out myself, or pretending this isn’t written primarily to myself… because it is a truth that I’m constantly reminded of when things don’t go as I want them to.

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow. “

I’ll give you an example out of my own life, a very personal example out of my own life. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, sometimes even a little abusive. It could be a difficult home to grow up in at times, but nothing unheard of as common in this day and age. And praise Christ that He has worked mightily in our family and we’re still one family. However, growing up in a hostile environment like I did, it helped to create and then further develop some baggage. I have some issues. Anyone close to me is aware of many of these issues, my sweet wife more than anyone.

So I’m coming from this, and my beautiful wife is coming from what I would just kind of label a “good girl home.” And what I mean by that is not that everything’s okay there, but at least it all appears that way. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not making any accusations or have any quarrels with her family; I’m just telling my perspective. Anyway, we got married somewhat young by today’s standards, I mean I know plenty who were younger, but the majority seem to be older. So, what happens when you take a young guy who’s not very self-aware, still maturing on a basic level, has a lot of issues and vices he isn’t even aware of, and you put him in a house with a woman who’s not okay, but who wants to pretend that everything is? Well, you get some very difficult years of marriage. At the very least, that’s what you get.

And I want to be real honest with you, with my wife’s permission. There were nights that I would lay in bed… and talking to myself, start to list out all was wrong with her, what all needs to change, what all I do that deserves to be reciprocated more… but really, the issue was me. I had a selfish, self-centered, lazy heart… and am definitely still working on it. And Kat had some issues too, but she couldn’t even begin to see them because mine were so big. I was asking her to satisfy something that she just couldn’t possibly fulfill. She just couldn’t possibly do it. And so my love was very, very, very conditional, which means I would do what was right as long as I got the reaction I wanted. But when I did something nice, and the reaction wasn’t what I wanted, then I would start to lose the motivation to keep doing what’s right.

Anybody else have that experience? Maybe? Or am I really all by myself in this? I doubt it… at least I cannot imagine I’m the only one. Because there were times when I was lying in bed after a few years of frustration, and I’m like twenty-five years old going, “I can’t do 50 years of this. This is marriage?” And you can’t help but go, “I guarantee you this would be easier with somebody else.” I mean those are just thoughts you have, thoughts I had, the whole time being painfully aware of God’s command on me in Ephesians 5: “You love your wife like I loved the church in that I gave My life for her, initiated it, did not expect the correct response to it. I loved freely, openly, unconditionally. That’s how you love your wife.”

I hated that text. That text haunted me. It still does. Because I wanted to be mean. I wanted to jab. I wanted to retaliate when I felt wronged. I wanted to wound when I felt wounded. I wanted to tell her what she was doing wrong. I wanted to receive grace and understanding, but still expected her always do what I felt was right, never get tired, never make mistakes, and live up to an impossible standard. And that went on for months. Years. We’ve be married six years as of this summer. And while I know some of you may be reading this and thinking, whatever rookie, come back to us when you’ve at least passed that 10-year mark… any amount of this pain is frustrating.

And here’s what has happened in our marriage. Over these past couple years, God has been doing what we would call theologically “progressive sanctification.” Which means that, on the throne of my heart, I sat and ruled ruthlessly. Sometimes with honor, but mainlydisgracefully ruthless. And God had to put “king Samuel” to death. And continually crushing my rebellions. Do you know why? Because He loves me. When “little king Samuel” rules, it goes bad. It goes really bad. I will quickly wreck it all. So ignorant king Samuel has to die for their to be true worship, joy, life, meaning, love, and depth. So I had to die. I have to die to myself, my short-sighted wants, my stupid lusts, my ignorant desires, and my foolish cravings.

But how are you going to show an ignorant, arrogant king the error of his ways? Well, God has already done me a major favor, He gave me a wife. The Scriptures even say, “he who finds a wife finds what is good.” And here’s what I mean. Up until that point of marriage, I could make almost anything work. At least I felt that way and perceived life that way. Up until that point, I believed I could fix it. Up until that point, I could motivate. I could move. I could accomplish. I had nobody to answer to on an intimate level, and was free to succeed. I mean, until this moment, I FELT like most things I touched would work well… except now… I was such a failure… and at home…

It took marriage for God to slap the realization into my mind that to the degree I forget how fully I have been loved by God, I will always forget how to love others in my life. So when I am focused on myself and how to control my behavior with the expectation of getting certain results, I am forgetting how to really love my wife. When I am looking for ways to serve my wife to the purpose of getting things I want in return, or having things go the way I want them to, I’m not really serving or loving her. When I’m self-absorbed and focused solely upon my wants and “needs,” I begin to lose sight of the covenant I made with God; that I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions.

Now, nowhere in any of this am I saying marriage doesn’t require a lot of work, and all these issues just went away over night because I read a Bible verse or a marriage book. We sought counseling, older couples to spend time with, and began to work on our own hearts instead of trying to fix one another. I realized the problem was me. And she had the same realization for herself. But don’t assume that I’m saying that every struggle is behind us, and it’s all gonna be easy and painless from here on out. I’m not pretending that every heart issue I have is gone, never to be dealt with again. But I am saying, it’s been a huge relief to let go of some things. It has been extremely liberating to confess my darkest secrets, and to admit where I’m weak and need help. It’s still been pretty painful and scary to be that vulnerable, but in all its difficulties, having a wife is a lot of fun. Marriage really is a lot of fun.

The past year has really been unbelievable in comparison to the years before. I love going home and hate leaving. I love going home. I love walking into my house. When I get home, my sweet bride and cute little man are there waiting for me. I’m get to kiss her and say hello. And be tackled by my son. I love them, and I love going home. The best shot I’ll ever have at deep, sustaining love is not to leave, give up, antagonize her until she changes to what I selfishly want, to start over, look for the non-existent easier/better woman, but instead to stay and fight for my wife, not against her. To understand men should be tired at the end of the day, that the extra effort to do things even when you don’t want to doesn’t make you a super husband, that’s merely living the basic call on your role.
This is what the Scriptures say. That God is leading me into joy, even through pain, sorrow, frustration, and the realization that I’m an idiot, God is leading me, blessing me, correcting and disciplining me for His great glory, and my eventual joy. Because when God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Marriage is a beautiful scalpel in the hand of our great God.

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Feeling a little beat down today?

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How about we just think about now, just right now. Well, today kind of stinks… Maybe it’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, I’ll admit my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going to find a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is back there! Whatever is going on right now was already known about in God’s perfect divine foreknowledge. But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday. That’s earlier today.

So, please don’t sacrifice today, or even tomorrow because of some fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, the anxiety is too crushing, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through whatever you’re going through. And continue to walk with them. Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, like the persistent a widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Jesus never told a living person to depart or get away from Him. Instead, He said we should all be like children, to come to Him like a child (Matthew 18:1-6; John 3:3), and told His disciples to let the children come to Him (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). Jesus never turned away the drunk, poor, prostitute, sick, murderer, liar, thief, tax collector, or any sinner. He went to them, and graciously loved on them. So don’t dwell on false notions of reasons you can’t approach the King. Take strength in your rest in Christ’s already finished work (Matthew 11:28-30; 1st John 5:1-5). He didn’t die so you could worry about your failures, He died willingly to give you life, and life to the full (John 10:10; 11:25-26).

In Jesus Christ, our hearts are marked by grace, grace that exceeds our guilt, abundant grace that is greater than all our sin. Some come all you weary and tired souls, and find the rest that your exhausted heart has been searching for.

Some Theological Implications from Job

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1. Freedom of God:

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. Scripture not only teaches us that God’s whole being is incomprehensible, but each of His attributes – His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, judgments, knowledge, love, mercy, and grace – are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even just one aspect of God’s character or work (Psalm 145:3; Job 26:14; 36:22-23, 26; 42:1-6; Isaiah 40:13-14; 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36). Because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness. God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and many other core teachings of the Christian faith are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

Also, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. The increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is any heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so that we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and to please Him with our lives.

2. Testing of Satan:

The book of Job sets out from the beginning to show that the reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to human beings. Indeed Job’s sufferings come upon him because Satan accused him in the heavenly courts, and the reader never learns whether these reasons were explained to Job; probably they were not. God controls and uses evil, but is never morally blameworthy for it (Exodus 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). However God’s relationship to evil is understood, both His complete sovereignty and His complete holiness must be maintained. In his great suffering, Job says, “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). We are told that Job’s assessment of God’s providence over evil is correct in that “in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). The greatest evil ever done, the crucifixion of Christ, happened because of unspeakable human sin, but all within God’s perfect plan. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; cf Acts 4:27-28). Even human rebellion unintentionally ends up serving the perfectly wise purposes of God. Nothing – not even sin and great evil – can ever ultimately frustrate God’s sovereignty. Christians can be sure that God will one day defeat all sin, evil, and suffering. Until then, God can be trusted because He is wise, holy, sovereign, and powerful and is always working out His plan to perfection (Romans 8:28) – even when in the short term it may not seem to be so from our earthly, human perspective. The picture of Satan being our accuser and God being our advocate is very clear in the book of Job. As a Christian, we are to embrace this accusation, admit that we are weak and we all fall ridiculously short of God’s standards of righteousness, but we are to then find comfort and rest in the fact that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who became the propitiation for our sins (1st John 2:1-2).

3. Retribution and Justice:

The book of Job warns us of following God just for His blessings. We are to love God, our Father, for Himself; we are not to try and use the Father for our own self-centered ends, but rather love, enjoy, and serve Him for His own sake. It’s not often realized, but even careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. Sin is not just the breaking of rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge and thinking that your way is better than God’s way. Job’s friends offer no real help to him as he struggles through his suffering. They come to “comfort” him (Job 2:11), but Job ends up declaring them “miserable comforters” who would “comfort” him “with empty nothings” (21:34). These friends represent an oversimplified “orthodoxy,” based on a misreading of the wisdom tradition to the effect that all troubles are punishments for wrongdoing. Their “comfort” consists largely of applying this message to Job, urging him to identify his sin and repent of it. In so doing, these friends serve as a mirror for all readers who might be inclined to say similar things to people in distress. Astonishingly, the Lord does not take Job to task over his words, instead calling them “right” (42:7). The author does not provide a theodicy in the sense of defending the justice of God. Job’s friends serve as a foil to that end. Their wisdom is a human effort to resolve this dilemma, but as far as the author is concerned, these efforts fail. God also declares that the friends are wrong (42:8). Elihu’s intervention probes further, but neither is he the intermediary whom Job seeks. The author is concerned about the triumph of faith in a time of suffering. To this end his hero succeeds. Job can triumphantly declare, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (19:25). Job’s resolve to love and trust the one who seems to attack him as an enemy is evident throughout. The book as a whole illustrates that a full understanding of God’s reasons for events is not a pre-requisite for faithfulness amid terrible suffering. Further, Job’s deep perplexity and questioning are not a provocation to God.

Job longed for an advocate, an arbiter, someone to plead his case before God in chapters 9-11. “For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay His hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, and let not dread of Him terrify me.” (Job 9:32-34) Like many in the Old Testament, Job longed for the awaited Messiah, and put his hope in the Christ to come. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:1)

4. Strength for Suffering:

The problem of suffering is timeless, whether national or individual. The most important key word in the book is the term “comfort”; the book shows where true comfort is to be found. In 2:11 Job’s three friends come to comfort him; in 6:10 Job takes comfort in not having denied the words of the Holy One; in 7:13 Job claims that God will not allow his bed to comfort him. In 15:11 Eliphaz claims to be offering the comforts of God, while in 16:2 Job calls his friends miserable comforters, and in 21:34 he declares they are trying to comfort him with empty nothings. In 21:2 Job sarcastically offers to his friends the “comfort” of hearing him out. The key comes in 42:6 (where “repented” can also be read as “am comforted”). When Job’s relatives and friends come to comfort him in 42:11, this is probably ironic: Job found the comfort he needed in the vision of God’s unsearchable wisdom.

Evil and suffering may be, if anything, further evidence for God and our eternal need for His grace. The story of Job clearly shows that suffering is allowed by God for our good and His glory. For if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have at the very same time a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know or understand. But you can’t really have it both ways. Most of our modern objections to God are based on poor, warped views of fair play and justice.

As a Christian, we should realize better than others that most of what we’ve needed for success in life comes from us having to go through some very difficult and painful experiences. We should be able to look back on our lives and see that sometimes that illness or extremely difficult period we struggled through was not God turning His back on us, but rather an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth. It is a detrimental mistake to think that if you abandon your faith in God it would ever somehow make the problem of evil or suffering any easier to handle. However, many people claim that “all the philosophizing in the world does not just let God off the hook.” God, however, cripples this complaint by what He has done through Jesus Christ. God deliberately came to earth to “put Himself on the hook” for us and experienced the greatest depths of pain and suffering on our behalf.

Christianity does not provide the reason for every single experience of pain and suffering, but it does supply us with deep resources for actually facing pain and suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. On the cross Christ went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceed ours as infinitely as His knowledge and power exceed ours. In Christ’s death, He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love and there will never be a greater love than that of Jesus Christ.

To suffer for Christ out of love and obedience in the face of pain, rejection, and suffering is the greatest thing we could ever do with our lives. We should, especially as Christians, find joy in our pain and in turn praise Christ through our sorrows. For in the end, the beautiful promise of the Gospel is that even if we lose everything in this world, we still have Christ (Romans 8:18). We still receive the greatest thing there is in our relationship with Christ, because “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We cannot comprehend the immense value and worth it is just to know Him and be known by Him.

Also, as Christians we need to know that our suffering is not in vain. Because for those who suffer, the Christian faith provides a resource not just for the teaching of the Cross, but also for the fact of the resurrection as well. Christ promises a future that is not just a consolation for the life that we suffered through or the life that we never had, but a restoration of the life we’ve always wanted. Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokenness (Romans 8:18-39).

Christ promises that He will not only heal all things, but all that might-have-been will be. Our hope is that in Christ and the restoration that He is going to bring, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.