Disclaimer: I have reservations about Tim Keller. I consider him to be too liberal for my tastes, especially on scientific (intelligent design) and political/economic issues. However, I think he did a good job explaining marriage in the lecture below.
Here’s the the video:
Timothy Keller visits Google’s New York, NY office to discuss his book “The Meaning of Marriage.” This event took place on November 14, 2011, as part of the Authors@Google series.
Timothy J. Keller is an American author, speaker, preacher, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is the author of several books, including “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.”
“The Meaning of Marriage” touches on topics that all readers can relate to, starting with the role of marriage in our culture, its history and the pessimism that is often associated with it. The Kellers also discuss the feelings of and acts of love, romantic relationships, gender roles, singleness, and the role of sex in a marriage.
I saw a lot of things in his lecture that echo my own views. One point where we agree is on not just looking for traits and virtues in the other person, but in seeing how they handle conflict and solve problems with you. You have to give the other person things to do and see if they make progress and work cooperatively with you. Wes, who linked me the lecture, introduced the link by saying that this is the way that Christians should explain marriage to non-Christians. I agree, and I’ve added the book to my cart.
Here’s an article entitled “You Never Marry the Right Person“, that discusses one of the points in the lecture.
In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.
[…]The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “
The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Hauerwas gives us the first reason that no two people are compatible for marriage, namely, that marriage profoundly changes us. But there is another reason. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living lifeincurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love … ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.
When you are courting, don’t worry about appearances and feelings and passion so much, because that is all subject to change over time, and those things won’t help you with the real challenges you’ll face in a marriage. Worry about whether they are the kind of person who can make commitments and love other people self-sacrificially – even if they are unlovable. In the long run, their ability to read and understand issues, to care for others and serve them, to keep promises, to be respectful and supportive, to argue respectfully and reasonably, and to solve problems constructively, will all be far more important than appearances and feelings and passion.
And let me be clear again: give them things to do that challenge them during the courtship and see how they handle being given responsibilities – giving a person hard things to do is a much better way to test a person than recreational nights out with recreational drinking, recreational dancing and recreational sex. Marriage means commitment and hard work, not recreation. And that’s what you should test for – the ability to work hard at the relationship and to keep promises and commitments and to communicate reasonably and to work through difficulties fairly. The most dangerous thing you want to avoid is self-centeredness. You don’t want someone who is primarily interested in minimizing your feelings, and then getting her friends to agree with her that this is legitimate for whatever reasons. You want a person who has had a hard enough life that responsibilities and obligations are natural to her, and who doesn’t try to wiggle out of self-sacrificial acts of love when she doesn’t feel like doing it.