Romantic Love Is a Wonderful Gift — and a Terrible God
This week comes to an end, and it has been a fruitful one with author and speaker Dr. Paul David Tripp filling in for John Piper, who returns Monday. Paul is the author of the book Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do. This week we talked about awe and how it really does in fact relate to everything we do — including spiritual growth, ministry aims, weight loss attempts, parenting methods, and now our expectations of marriage.
What Makes a Good Marriage?
Paul, in my research into the letters of eighteenth-century pastor John Newton, I was surprised how often he wrote to newlyweds to warn them to avoid making their spouse an idol of security. Over and over he does this, and I think partly because he experienced it in his own marriage, an incredible love story in itself. But this concern lives on today through the ministry of, for example, Tim and Kathy Keller, who warn against a consuming fascination with romantic love that shapes much of popular media. The lie tells us that if you find romantic love, then your life will be safe and fulfilling — so much so that marriage becomes a type of salvation, and romantic love takes on an almost redemptive expectation. So what would you say to Christians, either singles or newlyweds, who are in danger of losing awe in God by becoming preoccupied with romantic love?
The first thing I would say to them is that romance is never the cause of a good marriage. Now, I am by nature a very romantic man. I like romance, but romance is actually the result of a good marriage. And if you look to romance to form a good marriage for you, you are going to be a freaked-out, discouraged, disappointed, ultimately hopeless human being.
Why? What is a biblical view of marriage? It is a flawed person married to a flawed person in a fallen world — are you encouraged yet — but with a faithful God. So I am never going to have paradise in my marriage. Paradise is to come. I am never married to a perfect person. That person will never be my Messiah. The person I am married to has no capacity whatsoever to change my heart. That person I am married to has no capacity whatsoever to bring satisfaction and contentment to my heart. They have no ability whatsoever to deliver me from my sin. They just have no ability to do any of that.
And so a good marriage is a good marriage because people in that marriage realize they are not the Messiah to one another. But they don’t panic, because they have been given an adequate and sufficient Messiah who invades marriage by his grace and gives us everything we need to be who we are supposed to be and to do what we are supposed to do in marriage.
Here is what this means, in sort of a bottom-line way: You never get your capacity to love from the person you were called to love. You never get your capacity to love from your spouse. You get your capacity to love at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. You have it. It is God’s gift of grace to you. And so you don’t need to look to the other person for what you have already been given in Christ.
Don’t Focus on the Fallen World
Yes! Specifically, what would you say to a single Christian, whose loneliness feels more real than God’s presence does?
My response to someone who is just overwhelmed by any human experience — whether it is singleness or sickness or poverty — is to examine your meditation. It tends to be that whatever controls my meditation will dominate my thinking and reformulate my desires. And so that is why there is a biblical call to meditate on the things of the Lord, to meditate actually on God himself (Philippians 4:8).
What I would say is that biblical faith never calls you to deny reality. If you have to deny reality to get peace, you are not exercising biblical faith. But if you allow yourself to meditate on the troubling realities of our fallen world, you are going down. And so you face those realities, but you meditate on God’s glory, and, in that way, you can be free from being overwhelmed.
Awe for Eternity
Well, we must end the week. I could talk about God’s glory forever — which is what we will do forever! But for now we must end the week. As we do, I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis once wrote about joy. Lewis said, “All joy emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings,” he wrote, “are wantings.” In a sense, our deepest joys in this life are a sense of our wantings. You close the Awe book by talking about awe as a longing. In a real sense, even in our awe, there is something unsatisfied at the end of the day, a longing that remains. Explain that.
We were all hardwired for eternity. And I think that means that every moment of sadness, disappointment, hurt, or fear is a cry for another, better world. Every moment of joy, happiness, and peace is a taste for another world. Deep in the heart of all human beings is a longing for paradise, and that longing for paradise is, at the center, a longing for God.
I love saying this: Paradise will be paradise because God will be in the middle of it forever unchallenged. That is what we are longing for. And every day, in some way, as I face the brokenness inside of me and the brokenness outside of me — whether I know it or not — I cry out for eternity. The awes of today are drawing us toward that moment when we will live in unbroken awe of God forever and ever and ever. And ten million years into eternity there will be no lessening of that awe.
This is a great place to end. Paul, thank you for your time this week!
Thanks for having me!