One of the presents we received for our wedding was The Meaning of Marriage, a novel by Timothy Keller. I’d never read any of Keller’s work before, but Nathan was familiar with him and we were both excited to read this book.
A little background info on Keller: He is a Christian pastor and the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. He and his wife, Kathy, worked on this book together and have raised three children. At this point, they’ve been married for about 40 years. The book is primarily his advice and opinions on marriage and what it means to have a Christian marriage. He bases these thoughts on Bible passages, reflection and his own experiences.
Nathan read this book before school started, and I took my turn reading it after that. We decided to split this post into a “he said, she said” style review, so that we can both share the impact the book had on us. We had a lot of great discussions together about the book and will enjoy being able to look back on these notes in the future!
Rachel’s Take-Home Messages
(Based on the book, and paraphrasing some of Keller’s advice…)
1. If you always treat your own selfishness as the biggest problem in your marriage, you will be at a very good place to work through issues. (This will also help you get perspective on a lot of issues/fights/feelings that come up.)
2. “Someone better” is your spouse. We are inherently flawed humans, and it is flawed thinking to believe that you can go out and meet “someone better” than your spouse once their rough spots start showing. Another person will just have different flaws, but they will be just as deeply ingrained and troublesome. It is only as the marriage evolves and you both help slough off each other’s rough edges that the your spouse becomes that “better” person – but only if you give your marriage the time and work it takes to get there.
3. It is important to act loving even when you don’t feel the love. This book mentions several times that God commanded us to love – as a verb, an action. Actions you can control – emotions, oftentimes you can’t. Keller promises that the more loving you act, even when you don’t want to (especially when you don’t want to), the more loving you will feel in return.
4. Do not expect a human to fulfill the needs that only God can satisfy. A man can’t be everything to you. God placed desires in our heart for Him, but often we look to our spouse to satisfy those desires. Another person can’t love you endlessly and as deeply as God can. They won’t be able to fulfill every human need at every moment for the rest of your life, and they will never know you the way that God knows you. It is so easy to expect that of them, though, which is a losing battle from the start. When your spouse falls short, don’t think of it as their failure. Know that your heart yearns for something greater and that that is a good thing. It is good to need God – but make sure you are turning to Him (and not dissing your spouse) for that.
5. True freedom is found through self control. It is when you can overcome the sinful inclinations of the human spirit, when you can control urges and choose to serve willingly, that true freedom becomes yours.
6. Women and men have different gifts ordained by God. Women are interpersonal human beings; men are independent. (These both exist on a spectrum and women and men vary in the degree to which they embody these traits, obviously.) Just as the Holy Trinity was three-in-one, spouses also exist as different parts of a whole. Kathy Keller compares the woman’s role to Jesus’s in terms of the Holy Trinity and the man’s role to God’s. I made the connection between spiritual gifts and the role women play in terms of the marriage because Jesus was sent to have an interpersonal relationship with humankind on the earth, while God remained above. This really resonated with me and is something I will continue to explore and study, in terms of gender roles in marriage/the church and spiritual gifts aligning with our natural tendencies.
7. To be loved and known deeply is liberating. This is what can happen over time in a marriage. Your spouse will know you better than anyone, and to know that you are known but also loved is a powerful thing. “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” In this way, Keller compares the relationship and love of a spouse to the love offered to us through the Gospel. Marriage becomes a reflection of the Gospel and its redeeming grace and power, as long as we choose to nurture our marriage over time.
Rachel’s Favorite Quote:
“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.”
Nathan’s Take-Home Messages:
(Quotes from Keller unless otherwise indicated.)
1. “The gospel transforms us so our self-understanding is no longer based on our performance in life.” This quote seemed to be the foundation of the book, claiming that the fullness of marriage is deeply intertwined with the gospel. It reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis (who is frequently quoted by Keller): “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” Keller gives lots of thought to marriage being the same way.
2. I liked how Keller used the gospel as the foundation from the beginning of a marriage (sneak ahead to my favorite quote below). He wrote a lot about the ways spouses are able to challenge and affirm each other, and how doing so can hold great power, although it can be challenging to do well.
3. The introduction included a sociological look at how marriage, and particularly commitment, has changed culturally. One point that stood out is how our culture downplays the power that comes with willful, genuine promise. “No German shepherd ever promised to be there with me . . . Only a person can make a promise. And when he does, he is most free.”
4. One of the clichés I had heard about marriage is that it shows you your own flaws in ways you hadn’t seen before. And like most clichés, it’s true… In talking about this fact of marriage, Keller talked a lot about the ability it has in forgiveness and freedom – to love and be loved for who you are.
Nathan’s Favorite Quote:
“I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!'”
Up Next: Midwives by Chris Bohjalian