4.30.2012

Great Comfort in God's Sovereignty

Yesterday's marriage class focused on how marriage exposes our imperfections (our own and our spouse's) but provides a framework for loving oneself and one's spouse through those imperfections.  For those in the class who are not yet married, it was sobering to think of having one's flaws laid bare, and of seeing their partner's flaws laid bare as well. 

Being the "helpful" guy that I am, I upped the ante.  You think it's hard, as someone who is damaged, to commit to someone else who is damaged?  At least these are knowns.  Just consider that there may yet be damage still to come, that you can't possibly account for at the point in time that you are making such a commitment. 

In other words, the words "through sickness and health, for richer or poorer" roll easily off our tongue, but what if we are asked to follow through on them in a dramatic way?  What if a car accident mars your beloved's face or leaves him completely dependent on you to care for him?  What if your life partner suffers a mental breakdown and becomes a shell of her former self?  What if he falls into addiction? 

In other words, as I wrote last week, we are making a commitment to someone based on who they have been in the past, but the actual working out of that commitment is in the future, a future in which it is almost certain that that person will change, and it is possible that that change may be for the worse in a big way.  If that's the case, how can you possibly say yes to marriage, unless you are either masochistic, deluded, or lucky?

Ah, but this is not to be feared or even begrudgingly accepted; it is to be embraced as the gateway to great contentment and joy.  For there is comfort in such a commitment, two people saying that no matter what happens they will stand by each other.  If you want to be a consumer, you're likely to be disappointed at how the "product" you picked out morphs over time.  But if the "product" is not a bundle of goods (good looks, cooks well, laughs at my jokes) but a covenant of fidelity ("I will love you because I will love you"), then it is possible to leap - with however imperfect information - into a lifelong commitment. 

But wait, it gets better.  Because the comfort of commitment is only half of the story here.  The true comfort, for the believer, is in the sovereignty of God over all things that concern us, including all the possible outcomes of our beloved's life.  If we can only be happy in our marriage if all of the things we love about our partner stay just the way they are, we have drawn ourselves a very small circle within which God is good.  But, if God is big enough to encompass any tragedy that may befall us, we can live in the great confidence that nothing can shake us from God's good grip on us.

In my mind, and apologies to any who consider me narrow-minded or simple-headed on this subject, there are only four other ways to deal with the vagaries of life:

(1) Control your own destiny.  Bad stuff may happen, but if I exert my will over the totality of my life, I can fend off as much as possible and minimize what does creep in.

(2) Life is random.  Who knows when tragedy will befall us, and who cares, since life is just one big crap shoot, with no rhyme, reason, pattern, or purpose. 

(3) Low expectations.  It's all about framing, so as long as I expect the worst, I'll always be no worse than prepared.

(4) Karma.  Do good, get good back; do bad, get bad back.


Depending on which of these approaches you believe in your heart of hearts, you will live your life accordingly, but all four are fraught with difficulty:

(1) No matter how competent or prepared you are, life will still seep in, leaving you tired and breathless.

(2) The best you can get out of this is to become a hedonist; life is bleak and purposeless, so I might as well derive a little bit of pleasure while I can.

(3) This is a real downer of a worldview.

(4) I think many Christians are actually here a lot more than we'd like to admit.  Why else is our world rocked when we observe or experience seemingly random tragedies?

There is a fifth way.  It is a way that says that God is sovereign and good.  Things may happen that seem to be inconsistent with those suppositions, things that hurt real bad and for which there are no answers on this side of glory.  The great comfort in God's sovereignty does not shield us from tragedy or loss or sorrow or tears.  But it does serve as an anchor in an otherwise stormy and tumultuous existence. 

As it is in so many other ways, marriage is a metaphor for this profound truth.  No one really knows what they're getting into when they get married.  But they trust that they have given this big decision over to God, prepared themselves as best as they could, found a decent person to commit to for the rest of their lives, and surrounded themselves with strong supporters to keep them solid.  And the rest is up to a good and sovereign God to work out. 

I submit to you that taking this leap, while scary, is not primarily about settling, conceding, or risking.  Far from being a necessary burden we begrudgingly accept as part of the package, committing to another person amidst so many unknowns is the great joy of marriage.  For in doing so, we say to ourselves, to our life partner, and to God, that our love for another has no preconditions.  "I will love you as long as you are physically beautiful" or "I will love you as long as you are of sound mind" or "I will love you as long as you are fun to be with" cannot hold a candle, in true living and depth and joy, to "I will love you as long as you are." 

Best of all, it is the best love not because it is something we have manufactured, but rather it is something given to us by a great God, who Himself loves us in this way, and gives us a sacred institution to manifest that love for all of our days.  He is happy to give you such a love, because it shows off His love.  And so we can take great comfort in God' sovereignty, even and especially in the great gamble of marriage.

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