This post is an excerpt from the mentoring manual that accompanies the upcoming “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Intimacy” seminar.
Encouragement does more than teach and motivate; it writes, or at least reinforces, a story. To come full circle, back to where this chapter began, the marital sound bites that we use to tell our “marriage story” (most often without realizing it) are our compliments and our grumblings.
During neutral or good times it should now be clear how to reinforce the gospel narrative through our words and thoughts. We give God the credit for the good things in our lives and we train ourselves to notice and give weight to His blessings even in the midst of mundane events.
What remains to be done in this chapter is to demonstrate how the gospel narrative is able to allow us to be honest about each other’s disappointments and failures while not detracting from an ever increasing closeness within a marriage. Let’s examine each of the four major themes of the gospel in order to see how they can still generate an encouraging story when the topic to be addressed is unpleasant.
1. Creation: We realize we only have the standard and expectation of “good” because God is good and He made our world (including marriage and our spouse) to be good. If life were random or built purely on a “survival of the fittest” evolution, then the expectation that life would be “good” would be irrational.
Allow your points of failure or disappointment to be a reminder that it is a blessing that we have a good God who created us to be good people and live in a good world. The fact that our hearts are calibrated to want and pursue good is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. Praise God the compass of our conscience is set to desire to the true North of God’s goodness.
This is part of God’s grace which should shape the story of the disappointments and failures we face and perpetrate in our marriage. Even when we disagree on how love could/should be expressed in our marriage, we are blessed to want love more than power, unity more than dominance, and relationship more than isolation.
2. Fall: But the preceding paragraphs are not always true. They may represent what we know to be right and what we want to want, but we do not have to look outside ourselves to see that life does not match the ideals of our own conscience. This is where many of us get appalled and draw back from relationships because of the fear of being hurt or insecurity of being found out.
For Christians the presence of sin should be expected, not a surprise. We do not believe that people are good, and there must be a reason people do selfish things. It is when we are surprised at sin that increases our sense of being threatened. You can see an unknown man in a mask with a knife in a haunted house and the experience is much different than if he’s in your home. The first you expect and are merely startled. The second you don’t expect and are traumatized.
The absence of shock gives you the opportunity to respond to sin differently. Whereas the “rose colored glasses of love” would mean your ideal marriage story is crumbling; the gospel allows us to grieve the presence and be hurt by the impact of sin without feeling like the narrative has turned tragic. It also reminds us that the presence of sin is not the final scene in our story; it’s only the second of four.
3. Redemption: We see a greater goodness of God in His redemptive work than we do in any other aspect of creation or history. We can take good things and make lesser good things; turning trees into paper or used paper into recycled paper. Only God can take bad things and make them good. For this reason, Christians believe that broken things restored by God can have a greater glory than something that has never been broken.
That begs the question of Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” and is met with the answer of Romans 6:2, “By no means!” That would revel in the brokenness instead of celebrating redemption.
Relationships, especially marriage, afford us the opportunity to do more than witness God’s work of redemption; we also get to participate in it. We are not fans in the stands of God’s grace, merely cheering on what is going on “over there.” We are in the huddle participating in the play being drawn up by our great Player/Coach who graciously involves us in the restoration of those we love; and them in our restoration.
4. Glorification: If the story stopped with perpetual redemption it would eventually become dissatisfying. Being forgiven is wonderful; the thought of inevitably needing to be forgiven is discouraging. Forgiveness can be powerfully romantic (hence the adage “fight hard and make up hard”), but the expectation you’ll unescapably be hurt in a way that requires forgiveness becomes a turn-off.
The gospel does not leave us in the hamster wheel of redemption. We will enter eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-9). God will not exhaust us with a good thing we cannot sustain; He is the Good Father who does not provoke His children until they become discouraged (Col. 3:21).
As we maintain encouragement during times of disappointment and failure by contextualizing these experiences in the larger narrative of the gospel, we can rest knowing these are momentary struggles – the short chapters before the gloriously eternal concluding chapter (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Do these four points tell you how to respond when sin or disappointment affect your marriage? No. Not if you want a script to read to yourself or your spouse for every potential unpleasant circumstance the two of you will face. We can begin to see the question is not realistic.
Do these four points alert you to when your thought life is going off-script with the gospel narrative for your marriage? Yes. When you can discern when you are leaving the gospel narrative you can reach out for help before the new-false narrative becomes entrenched. The earlier you can root out a false-narrative the easier it is to resist.
Which of the four themes of the gospel tend to get distorted most when you face hard times?
What are the areas of your life, that when negatively impacted, most tempt you to leave the gospel narrative
Part of what we see in the gospel narrative is that it begins and ends in paradise – the Garden of Eden and Heaven. These are two pictures we see of life and relationships as God intended. The goal of every narrative is to lead people somewhere. Let’s look at Genesis 1 to learn one more thing about where the gospel narrative intends to lead us.
Read Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 25, and 31. Notice the restraint of God’s language. He was content to say His creation was “good,” even for the pinnacle of His creation He only said “very good.” There is no use of words like better, best, or other superlatives. God was not competing with other creators. God was not even competing with Himself. We often get lost wondering, “Is our marriage better than [name]? Are we doing better than [name]? Does [name] do conflict better than we do?” We lose the basic question – is what we’re doing good? When this happens we invariably leave the gospel narrative for either pride or insecurity.