Book Review :The Meaning of Marriage
Rev.J.N. Manokaran
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Authors:  Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller
Publishers: Dutton, Penguin Group
Place of Publication: New York

Timothy Keller and his wife Kathy write this splendid book drawing from three roots:  their marriage of 37 years; pastoral ministry among millions of single adults and the Bible.  The authors opine that there are three major human institutions:  – the family, the church and the state. The Bible begins with a wedding (Adam and Eve) and ends in the book of Revelation with a wedding (of Christ and the church). Marriage is “instituted by God, regulated by his commandments, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gospel helps us to understand marriage and marriage helps us to understand the gospel.

The definition for marriage is:  monogamous relationship between a man and woman. Marriage is mixture of joy and strength; sweat and tears, defeats and victories and sometimes unsolvable puzzle.  The statistics shows: The number of divorces happens for those who marry before age of eighteen and are school drop-outs and have babies before marriage.  On study showed that individuals who were continuously married had 75 percent more wealth at retirement than those who never married or who divorced and did not marry. Married people experience greater physical and mental health.

Marriage is a shock absorber and provides emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization.  Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal goals. Marriage is two flawed (sinful and fallen) people coming together to create a space of stability, love, and consolation –a “haven in a heartless world”. A marriage based not on self-denial but on self- fulfillment will require a low-or no maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you.  Marriage has been central in every culture and down through centuries.

Paul commands a person to do to his/her spouse what Jesus did for you.  Christian marriage is mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.  Marriage needs radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment or else love is just a sentiment.  Paul simultaneously states the husband is ‘head’, a Christian Brother and bond-servant – serve one another in joy.  ‘Love economics’ means to be able to give and receive love.  When individuals come to marriage relationship with hurtful past, they become self-absorbed, which wrecks the marriage?

Gender roles and achieving potentials are not solutions but selfless love is the key for successful marriage.  When marriage is a consumer relationship, the individual’s needs are more important than relationship; need to impress and enticing daily to show chemistry.  Wedding vows are declaration of present love and binding promise of future love that provides stable identity and stable relationship.  Love is not just emotion; it is action; only action of love could be maintained every day.  Parents bring up children providing care, love and respect even though the child may give nothing in return.  The same applies to husband-wife relationship.

Loneliness was terrible in paradise – Eden as God has created human beings for horizontal relationships.  Companion means: constancy and transparency.  “If you marry mainly a sexual partner, or mainly a financial partner, you are going nowhere together, really. And those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers. (p.120) Looking for a finished stature in a block of marble is helpless quest.  Marriage commitment is to your spouse’s holiness; others like romance, sex, laughter and plain fun are just by-products of this process of sanctification.  However, men overvalues beauty while women wealth in potential mate.  Priority of spousal relationship is established as God put Adam and Eve and parents and children.  Over commitment to anything (even parents or children) other than spouse could destroy a marriage.  Marriage is not just being happy but being holy.  It is spiritual friendship - helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper way.

Marriage reveals traits in you that were there all along but were hidden from everyone including you, but now they are all seen by your spouse. As a divine institution, marriage has several inherent powers that we must accept and use – The power of truth, the power of love, and power of grace. Marriage brings out the worst in you and you confront yourself. The power of love renews the heart, affirms, and heals the deepest hurts and wounds. “The power of truth is marriage’s ability to show you who you really are. The power of love is marriage’s capacity for reprogramming your self-image, redeeming your past, and healing your deepest hurts. (p.161) Power of grace operates two skills:  forgiveness and repentance.

“Genesis shows us that men and women were created with absolute equality. Both are equally made in the image of God, equally blessed, and equally given “ dominion” over the earth. This means that men and women together, in full participation, must carry out God’s mandate to build civilization and culture. Both men and women are called to do science and art, to build families and human communities.” (page 175)  Husband and wife are interdependent; both play ‘Jesus role’ in marriage – Jesus in his authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission.

Christianity was the very first religion that held up single adulthood as a viable way of life. As a result of this revolutionary attitude, the early church did not pressure people to marry. Christian single state that their future is not guaranteed by family but by God. “Marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship.” (p.203)

First, sex is seen as a natural appetite; second view it is seen as degrading, dirty thing, a necessary evil for the propagation of the human race and third as a critical form of self- expression. “Sex is perhaps the most powerful God- created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another.” I belong completely , permanently , and exclusively to you”.  (p.223 and 224) The greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure. (p.233) The Bible gives us a high view of sex. It is a sign and seal of our oneness with each other and with God.

This book is a relevant book for all Christians.  It provides a strong biblical foundation, evaluates contemporary cultural views and dispels misunderstandings and myths about marriage.  The book provides biblical insights that are anti-dote popular cultural values about marriage, sex and relationships.

 


Rev.Manokaran is a gifted Bible Teacher who regularly organizes and conducts programmes and Workshops for Pastors and Chruch Leaders. He could be reached at jnmanokaran@gmail.com.