The Meaning of Marriage – Chapter 1 highlights

In the summer of 2018, I started reading Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. It is fantastic. I mean, really, really good. I highly recommend it.

It is also over 300 pages long. Can I just admit here that I wish that books were short? Please, if I ever write a 300-page book, will you please remind me of this. I much prefer to read three one-hundred page books or two one-hundred-fifty page books, than one three-hundred page book. I’m sure there’s some cost-effective reason why authors are encouraged to write one lengthy book, but I have such a hard time finishing long books. Anyway … I digress … You probably hate reading long blog posts and watching long YouTube videos. (Oh, yeah, I generally dislike those, too.)

But back to the subject at hand, this book is so fantastic, I thought I’d share some highlights from each chapter. I hope this would encourage you to buy your own copy and read it slowly and meditatively.

Chapter 1, “The Secret of Marriage.”

Keller begins by explaining the cultural shift that has happened in the American view of marriage. During the Enlightenment Age of the 18th and 19th centuries, people’s attitudes toward marriage began to change. “The meaning of life came to be seen as the fruit of the freedom of the individual to choose the life that most fulfills him or her personally. Instead of finding meaning through self-denial, through giving up one’s freedoms, and binding oneself to the duties of marriage and family, marriage was redefined as finding emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization.” (p. 21)

In a 2002 study by the National Marriage Project entitled, “Why Men Won’t Commit,” by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, the authors discovered that men were looking for the “perfect soul mate,” with whom they were very compatible. There were two key factors in compatibility. Secondarily, attractiveness and sexual chemistry, and primarily, compatibility. Compatibility “above all meant someone who showed a willingness to take them as they are and not change them.” … “If you are truly compatible then you don’t have to change.” (p. 23-24)

Historically, though, men recognized that getting married would demand a great deal of change. Keller asserts that one great purpose for getting married is in fact to change men, to help men to be more interdependent and to grow in communication, support and teamwork skills. Marriage is designed to “change their natural instincts, to reign in passions, to learn denial of one’s own desires, and to serve others.” (p 26-27)

(I would add here that marriage not only improves the man in this way, but also the woman. I have grown more as a married woman, learning to deny my own desires and to serve others, than I could learn as a single person.)

Unfortunately, this desire to be fully accepted exactly how we are has helped fuel the pornography epidemic of America. Pornographic images serve a person’s physical lusts without any of the responsibility and maturity that marriage, by definition, requires. As Keller puts it, “A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put – today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.” (p 30)

“Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations. … At one time we expected marriage and family to provide love, support and security. But for meaning in life, hope for the future, moral compass, and self-identity, we looked to God and the afterlife. Today, however, our culture has taught us to believe that no one can be sure of those things, not even whether they exist. … We look to sex and romance to give us what we used to get from faith in God.” (p. 36)

Keller ends with the beautiful “secret” of God’s design for human marriage. “The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical unconditional commitment to us.” (p. 44)