Lindsey asks, “Pastor John, you've spoken before about how you’ve walked through some challenging seasons in marriage over the years. If you could go back in time thirty years to give yourself some of the most important wisdom about marriage that you’ve learned in the trenches, what would you say to a younger Pastor John? What expectations would you tell him to relinquish, and what would you tell him to practice?”
Behold What God Has Done
I would say to him, “John, behold the mystery of this union. Behold the mystery of this amazing God-wrought union. For all the millions of marriages on the earth, none of them is merely human, including yours. None of them, yours included, is merely natural. They are all more. They are all amazing. Lift up your eyes, John Piper — young, newly married John Piper. Lift up your eyes to see what you have gotten yourself into here — an amazing God-wrought mystery.”
“Behold the mystery of this amazing God-wrought union.”
Here is how Mark 10:9 says it: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” This is a God-made mystery. The pastor, when he said, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” didn’t do it. He didn’t do it. God did it: “what God has joined together. . .” Marriage is not man-made; not even for unbelievers is it man-made. God joins people through promise and covenant and union into one flesh. Something new has come into existence.
“So, John Piper, lift up your eyes onto this reality, and realize the unending implications of this for your life. And one of them is it is unbreakable. Only death breaks it. There is no back door to this.” Noël and I said (and I would say to myself again), “Divorce is not a solution to any of our miseries when we have them.” And we have had them. So don’t even look at it. Don’t even contemplate it. Death ends this union that God has created — nothing else.
Look at the Mystery
I would say to myself, “Look at the mystery of marriage, that it was conceived by God in history as a pattern for the church and Christ.”
Sometimes we think the other way around. We think, “Well, look, there is the church. How are you going to describe marriage? Well, let’s describe marriage the way Christ relates to the church.” No, no, no. Marriage came first. Marriage came into history first, and it came into history in the form that it came so that the church could be seen this way and so that marriage could relate to the church and Christ this way.
“This is unbreakable. Only death ends it. There is no back door to this.”
So I would say to my younger self, from Ephesians 5:31–32, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” I would say, “John, look at the mystery of what this means for your love of this woman. This is a bottomless ocean of wisdom for you. Love her like Christ loves the church.”
I sang this morning Samuel Crossman’s hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown,” which has these two lines:
My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me.
Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
Even before you asked me this question, I thought, that is the mystery of marriage. You love her to make her lovely. You don’t love her merely because she is lovely. She is not going to be twenty-something lovely at seventy-something. You better love her into loveliness, which is exactly what Christ does for us.
I would push on the young John Piper, and I would say, “Yeah, you married a very pretty girl here, and you are all excited about lots of things about her. You better not let that be the main way you relate to her. Otherwise, it is going to backfire on you, because you will be constantly drawing your strength for love from her lovableness instead of from Christ’s love for you and in the gospel. You must love her with that so that she is lovely in your love.” I would really push on that.
Then I would say, “Let this, John Piper, be a breaking of your heart, that you do not love her like this. Let this drive you to Christ for forgiveness and for justification and for renewal. Let your high role as a Christlike leader break. Let your heart break that you are not a Christlike leader and so lead you to lead with all patience and humility.”
Let Go of Self-Pity
Then I would say — and this is just real personal, because that is what she asked for — “John Piper, you are young and you need to realize that this is going to be a problem for you all your life. Be done with the little-boy need for pity, for mommy to kiss the owie and dote over you till you get better. Be done with that.
“Divorce is not a solution to any of our miseries.”
“Be done with pouting and sulking when you don’t get what you want, which is so immature and so built in to your wiring. You will be regularly disappointed, because you are an intense perfectionist wanter and, therefore, your wants are not going to be satisfied as often as you would like.
“Instead of pouting and pitying yourself, draw down strength, John Piper. Drawn down strength from Christ to stop being a reactor, and instead, be a strong initiative taker in hope to this family. Bring strength to this family. Don’t use this family, and when they don’t meet your needs go pouting off into a corner. Come from the corner looking to Christ for strength and hope. They need you to be a leader, not to return evil for evil.”
This is the last thing I would say: “Be tenderhearted, John. Be tender-mouthed, John. Be tender-handed with your fingers, John. Even in this woman’s harshest moments. Don’t return harsh for harsh. Don’t return blunt for blunt. Don’t return hurt for hurt. A soft answer may restore her soul.
“Remember, John Piper, this marriage is temporary. It is a shadow, not a reality. There is not going to be any marriage or giving in marriage in heaven, and so it is a parable, John, pointing to something vastly greater.
“Go there to Jesus and his relationship to you. Get all the strength you need and then come back and, yes, savor this gift now. Don’t belittle this gift. It is a real gift. It is a beautiful gift. Savor the sex, and savor the friendship, and savor the mutuality of all of life. But know it is always pointing to something greater, something real with Christ.”
I would say something like that.