Perhaps your first thoughts were financial issues or sexual problems. Maybe you thought about couples who fight incessantly and then choose to separate. Maybe a family member or friend is currently going through a divorce and you are scratching your head wondering what went wrong. At the root of every divorce, there is an element of selfishness. Sometimes the selfishness is one sided, but more often than not both parties could admit to some selfishness if they were completely honest. We want to be happy. When we get married, we expect to be happy. We’ve been culturally taught that happiness is a byproduct of a good marriage. Therefore, if the person to whom we are married is not providing us with said happiness, something must automatically be wrong… right?
Throughout this week, I’ll be discussing various concepts from Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage. If you haven’t checked out Gary’s Sacred Series, I can assure you that you will be blessed by them if you take the time to soak up his words. Eric and I deeply appreciate how Gary takes a topic that is familiar to us all (e.g. marriage, parenting, female influence, etc.) and discusses it from a Biblical, yet often overlooked point of view. It is clear that he puts an incredible amount of time, effort, study, and prayer into each of his books.
Is Happiness is What Marriage is All About?
Perhaps the most memorable concept of Sacred Marriage, and the foundation for the rest of the book, is the subtitle on the book’s cover: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” This may not be true for the rest of you (or, it may be!), but I grew up with an underlying expectation of happiness.
Perhaps it’s my American roots which educate me that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Maybe it’s the teaching I received from certain religious leaders that indicated that God’s will for me was to be happy and healthy all the time. Maybe it was those romantic comedies I loved so much that suggested marriage was about finding your soul mate and living in complete bliss forever and ever. For whatever reason, I looked forward to being happily married.
Happiness Versus Holiness
“What’s wrong with wanting to be happily married?” There’s nothing wrong with that very natural desire… unless it becomes an idol in your life. Gary didn’t ask “What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of making us happy?” He asked “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make up happy.”
If you are like me, you’ve had times in your life when you went against Biblical admonitions, metaphorically drove ninety miles an hour down the wrong path and then crashed into an unexpected obstacle. After recovering, you probably thought, “Why didn’t I just follow God’s directions? Look at the mess I’ve gotten myself into now!”
Holiness and happiness are not mutually exclusive. God knows that if we follow His commands, we will be better off (i.e., happier in the long run) than if we chart our own course. However, His purpose in giving us the gifts He’s blessed us with is not for the sole purpose of our happiness. God fashioned everything He created to bring glory to Himself. God is glorified when we become more like Him… that is, when we grow in holiness. Therefore, when He blesses us with a spouse, children, ministries, and even pets, He designs those gifts to help His children grow in holiness.
Holy and Happy Marriages
Think about the godliest couple you know. Are they older with grown kids? Are they newlyweds who are diligently striving after righteousness? Are they raising young kids or teenagers? I’ve been blessed to know some godly couples in my life and they all have one similarity in common – they have all endured rough seasons.
Whether they struggled through health issues, child rearing heartaches, deaths in the family, or seasons of intense marital discord, all of the godly couples I’ve known have suffered trials. They grew in holiness as they suffered. Yes, their marriages seemed both holy and happy when I knew them, but the happiness came as a result of enduring the fight and surrendering to God’s sovereignty. They weren’t happy because they’d gotten through life with no pain. They were happy because they had endured pain; and, through growing in holiness, they also found joy and happiness in their marriages.
Happiness is tricky. It’s not something constant. We can experience it at 9am when we are fortunate to receive two egg-and-cheese biscuits for the price of one, then when happiness leaves at 1pm when we discover a flat tire, to then having it come back again at 9:30pm when our beloved NFL team scores a touchdown in the final seconds to win the game. Happiness comes and goes… happiness ebbs and flows… happiness is fleeting.
Joy, however, is not determined by one’s circumstances. Joy is a fruit (i.e., evidence) of the Holy Spirit in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23)
So, now what do you think? Do you think God designed marriage primarily to make us happy or to make us holy? After reading Sacred Marriage and considering God’s desire for all believers to pursue righteousness, I think the answer is clear.
God did design marriage to bring glory to Himself, so I would say He did design marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy. However, we see throughout Scripture the joy that followed those who pursued righteousness with their lives. How else could Paul and Silas have found the strength to worship God in a prison cell?
God is faithful, and even though there will be times in your future marriage when you don’t feel happy, you can joyfully continue in your relationship knowing that God is using trials in your marriage to make you more like Him (James 1:2-3). I’ve never met a godly couple who didn’t go through some hard times and I’ve never known a godly couple who didn’t experience seasons of incredible joy and happiness as well.
What are your thoughts on holiness versus happiness in marriage? (Comment below!)