Do you ever find marriage advice kind of, well, shallow?

I’ll be on Pinterest, and I’ll see something interesting: “What to do when you find your husband watching porn.” And I’ll think to myself, “Okay, that might be really good! Let’s see what she has to say.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

Then I’ll see a post about “What to do when you feel lonely in your marriage.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

And then I’ll see a post on “What to do when you disagree with your husband on how to raise your kids.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

Then I start to wonder why people read marriage blogs at all.

I know I’m being really sarcastic here, and I really don’t mean to be. I actually believe in prayer, after all! It’s just that I finally was able to put into words this week something I’ve been feeling for a few years, and it’s this:

Instead of seeking out God’s will for our individual marriage, too many people think that we must seek out marital stability.

Ironically, we are sacrificing our marriages on the altar of marriage.

I wrote recently that we need to be careful that marriage doesn’t become our idol. Well, I think that applies in a broader sense, too. I think that the reason that there is so little practical help for the nitty gritty in marriage is because we are aiming for the wrong thing. We are aiming to preserve a certain view of marriage rather than trying to see God’s will done in marriage. And we feel very threatened by anything that may rock the boat of what we believe marriage should be.

Let me explain how this works, and it’s going to take a little bit of a history lesson.

In the 1960s, when the feminist movement grew in strength, it was aiming specifically to attack male privilege. And one of the places where male privilege was so obvious was in marriage. Marriage, feminists said, was a trap. Men basically owned and used women, and women were chattel. The solution was to let women choose relationships on their own terms. Abortion was a huge part of that (I have control over my body).

Christians felt like their whole value system was being attacked. In response, the Christian evangelical church started writing more and more books about what a Christian marriage should look like, and started trying to preserve marriage against the onslaught of feminism and secularism.

Whole evangelical movements grew up in the 1980s fighting for “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” and biblical marriage, where a husband leads and a wife submits. The movement tried to position itself as the opposite of feminism. This was the ground we were going to hold at all costs. This was the hill we were going to die on. Christianity was being attacked, and the family, and marriage, became the focal point for that fight. We began equating our faith with preserving a hierarchical of marriage. The two became hopelessly intertwined (so much so that the doctrine of the Trinity was rewritten to promote male hierarchy).

It reminds me of this tweet I saw recently:

We’re promoting marriage over godliness. It’s scary.

Growing up in the 1980s I read less about wives doing a husband’s will than I do now. It’s way more prevalent today. The whole quest for “biblical womanhood” just wasn’t there in the same way in the 1970s and 1980s. And because it’s such a strong Christian cultural current, many people have based their whole identities, and even their faith walks, around living up to this ideal of marriage (just like we talked about in making marriage your idol).

There’s just one problem. It doesn’t work, because it’s entirely the wrong focus.

When you pray the Lord’s prayer, you pray, “Your will be done, Your kingdom come…” You pray for God’s will to be done.

When it comes to marriage, though, we seem to be saying, “the husband’s will be done.” We could look at a given marriage and think, “even though God wants oneness, humility and health, this husband would rather be a workaholic. And since God demands that wives honour the husbands, then God obviously will be pleased if the wife puts up with his workaholism.”

The husband’s will now trumps God’s will.

That is the underlying assumption in so many marriage blogs and marriage books. That’s why when they’re confronted with a problem of a husband’s selfishness or sin, they have no answer. Sure, no one actually wants him being a workaholic. But ultimately, it’s his choice, because he’s the man. That’s how we glorify God, you see–by letting males choose how to live their lives.

But this isn’t just a problem when husbands sin. It’s a problem when wives sin, too.

As I wrote last month, men can be victims of emotional abuse as well. Wives can treat their husbands in horrible ways. I do believe that this is a more acute problem in one direction than the other simply because our theology says that a husband’s will goes, not that a wife’s will goes. But in this quest to make marriage our idol, we’ve put men who are in difficult marriages in a bind, too.

We’ve told those men that their marriages matter more than anything. We’ve told them that if their wife is treating them badly, it’s because they aren’t leading their wives well enough or praying for them properly or loving them as Christ loved the church. If they just did all of those things, then the marriage would be better. And we’ve told these men that marriage is a sacred covenant, and so they need to preserve it all costs.

Then what is a husband supposed to do when his wife won’t lift a finger around the house, overspends so that they’re heavily in debt, or is verbally abusive towards the children?

You know what makes all of this so much clearer? Asking the question: What does Jesus want from this situation?

We tend to ask the question: “How can I fix this marriage?” That really limits our options, because it’s all about not rocking the boat.

But if we ask, “what does Jesus want in this situation?”, the answer is quite different.

Jesus wants God to be glorified. And when is God glorified? When people look more and more like Christ.

How is that supposed to happen?

By loving mercy, acting justly, and walking humbly before our God. (Micah 6:8)

That was what I was trying to hammer home, over and over again, in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. God does not want marriage to look great. God wants GOD to look great, and the way that that happens is by loving mercy (showing love and grace, first and foremost); acting justly (standing up for what’s right and not enabling sin); and walking humbly with our God (getting our relationship with God right first so that we can tell what actions are appropriate in each situation).

When we’re having problems in our marriage, then, the question becomes, How can I look more like Jesus, and how can I act in such a way that those around me are led more to Jesus? It’s not about how can I protect the marriage. It’s about how can I bring God’s kingdom here on earth.

And ironically, that’s the best way to preserve the marriage! The only way to really solve marriage issues is to allow sin and selfishness to truly be confronted. 

When Christian Marriage Advice Doesn't Work: Sometimes our advice is shallow because we're missing the whole point.

Let’s just look at a few scenarios where this plays out.

Let’s say that a husband is watching porn all the time and won’t stop. 

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, the answer is obviously that the husband stops watching porn. So the question becomes, “how can we confront sin and do something about this?”

If we ask, “How can we honor male leadership in marriage in this situation?”, though, there’s really nothing she can do about his watching porn. She’s stuck.

Let’s say a wife is overspending on credit cards and driving the family into debt.

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, the answer is obviously that the wife stops her materialism and selfishness and cares for the family. So the question becomes, “what should the husband do to protect the family’s finances and help the wife stop this addiction?”

If we ask, “How can we preserve the marriage in this situation?”, though, there’s really very little the husband can do. He has to love her and cherish her, and that’s taken to mean that he may be able to talk to her about it, but do little else.

Or what if it’s something more mundane?

What if we’re simply wondering, “I’m better at looking after money than my husband is, and God has gifted me with attention to detail. So is it okay for me to look after the finances in our marriage?”

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, then the answer is, “that each person use the gifts they’ve been given by the Holy Spirit to help build the family, and that each participate as they feel called.”

If we ask, “What preserves a husband’s headship in this situation?”, we may answer, “that the husband bumble through doing the finances while the wife is frustrated.”

You see, the questions we ask matters. If we’re aiming to glorify Jesus, often the whole situation becomes clarified, because we know that Jesus is not glorified where gifts are not used, where sin is enabled, where families move further and further away from him. But if we ask, “how can we preserve a given view of marriage?”, then we’re often left with a very empty and unsatisfying answer of what we should do in many situations.

And that hurts marriage.

Whenever we put something before God, we ruin that thing.

If we’re asking “what does Jesus want here?”, and that conflicts with what you think about marriage, then that is a problem. God does not contradict God. If you know Jesus wants something, and then you choose to work only for marital stability, then you have made marriage an idol. It has come before God, and that’s simply wrong.

Let God be God. Pray for HIS will to be done. Act as Christ wants you to act, not to fulfill a certain role. Let Him in. Until we do that, we’ll never have real answers for the real messiness of life.

And, ironically, we’ll likely never save a marriage.

Can you all do me a favour? I’d honestly love to hear your thoughts on this, because I’ve put a LOT of thought into this post this week. The comments have been a little quiet lately. But I’m feeling a little alone. So let me know what you think and let’s talk!