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Sacred Marriage

There are tons of books out there on how to improve your marriage. It seems that no matter how many tomes are written on love-languages and conflict resolution and communication, no matter how many idealized visions of marriage are put to paper, Christian marriages still struggle. Sometimes there are things about your marriage and spouse that just aren’t going to change — at least not in the foreseeable future. What then? Do we just put our heads down and grind away at just staying together? Or is there something higher we can find even in the day-to-day challenges and struggles?

The premise of Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage is God has designed our marriage relationships — good or bad, happy or hard — as a unique instrument to draw us closer to Himself. The subtitle asks this provocative question: what if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

Seen in this light, marriage becomes less about romance and personal fulfillment. Instead it takes on a deeper meaning, as one of the most sanctifying and God-glorifying tools that He uses to make us more like Christ. This is wonderfully freeing because it shows us marriage is not an end in itself. It has a purpose outside of our own personal fulfillment and pleasure, a purpose that is both eternal and immediate.

The truth is, in marriage we don’t get to hide. The other person gets to see it all — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since our sin thrives in secrecy and darkness, exposure is uncomfortable but ultimately essential if we are to change.

Thomas’s spin as an author seems to be meshing the Christian tradition, Scripture, and our modern experience to intersect with the issues we face every day. In this book he talks a lot about how historical Christianity has largely failed in its view of marriage, traditionally seeing marriage as lesser than God intended and married people as second-class Christians. One notable exception was a sixteenth-century bishop, Frances de Sales, who viewed marriage as a desirable state for spiritual growth. Thomas quotes many of de Sales’s letters to people who were dealing with difficult marriages, and those snippets are both fascinating and practical today.

My marriage is very blessed. I have a godly husband who is striving to become more like Christ daily, and who works hard to lead our family. But Thomas’s exhortations to those in difficult marriages are still applicable to those in easier circumstances, because no marriage is perfect and we all have moments of disappointment, conflict, and pain. It is helpful in difficult times to look beyond the immediate way in which my needs aren’t being met and ask what God wants me to learn from the experience, how I can use this to become more like Christ. It isn’t always easy to do this, but it becomes easier with practice. It gives such hope… because a painful marital situation may be God’s most effective tool for sanctification.

I would recommend this book to married Christians, especially those struggling with difficult circumstances in their marriages. God may not lift that burden, but it is only because He wants to give you something better: holiness and fellowship with His Son. You will be comforted, rejoiced, and encouraged by that to the extent that you value Christ. To sum up, marriage has the potential to draw us closer to God through Christ — and that is why it is sacred. (***1/2)

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