Why this message
Although this started and ultimately intends to be about marriage, I also touch upon one’s own state and the nature of the world. I ground this in the context of marriage because I think this gives the language, the structure, and the framing for any marriage to have a deeper context. But for those who don’t care about marriage all that much, the same principles can be applied to one’s own condition and help one to frame trends and activities in the world.
All three also help us see a need for Christ in his totality across all of life.
How I write these
In these I try to grasp and connect larger themes without going into deep exposition at this point. I have found in the past when I do go into deep exposition, which is the source of truth and insight, I rabbit-hole and don’t get to the larger point.
But these bigger ideas give me the canvas to go back and either substantiate or course-correct. While it can run the risks of eisegesis and I don’t believe it’s the right way to exposit, I do believe it can be fruitful if built upon blocks upon blocks of close-reading exegesis. This is what I believe I am doing, so this is the caveat.
Why these three and what is the interplay?
Order is one of several attributes of God. I believe it is underplayed and under-appreciated. Certainly it is not taught relative to other attributes of God: love, forgiveness, and all-powerful well top the list. If you are at a church which does have a desire for doctrinal correctness, it will include justice and discipline as outcomes from God’s core attributes.
Order, however, doesn’t get the same focus. Order is not a “feel good” expression, such as the first three; and most people desire an all-powerful God who is loving and forgiving to man. And while this is true, it’s an incomplete picture and, if taught as if it were the complete picture, would portray a false gospel.
In a similar vein, those who lean too heavily into God’s just wrath and judgment would also find “order” to be the side-kick to the “law”. Law and Order are considered pairs; but sin is the breaking of the law, but creating chaos in lieu of order is not seen to be as big of a deal. After all, once you have kids, your life descends into chaos, and so demonizing it would be a tough play.
But Order does matter. And it’s uncomfortable for many.
Order implies constraints and hierarchy; and for those who believe in the permissive God, Order feels like just too much restraint. It begs the question of “whose order?” The quick-lipped response is “God’s order.” But the second we go down that path, we need to look carefully at what that Order means.
But to talk about Order feels too soft or secondary when we’re focused on the utter depravity and justified eternal punishment. It’s just too hard to talk about order in that context; after all, it’s difficult to talk about sin in the first place. Sadly, for too many churches, just being able to acknowledge that all fall short of God’s glory is great sin. When order is associated with things like tidiness and well-organized, those who want us to recognize and repent from legitimate sin wisely and understandably do not include disorder as one of them. It’s not listed in Romans 1, which is enough of a list already.
But I will make the case that Order does in fact matter, and a failure to do so leads one to the two other problems that plague marriages, individuals, and society-at-large: rebellion and deception.
What is my working definition of Order?
Where do I see Order at work in God’s Kingdom?
In some ways, I see it everywhere, but the foundation can be found in a couple of places.
First, God sets forth Order in Exodus 20 -- the 10 Commandments, when he asks that we place no other gods before him. That’s a form of order.
Order requires priority. It requires hierarchy. And it requires obedience. God makes that one of his top commands, ahead of the other sins against others.
However, the emphasis on that Order is often hard to follow, easy to fake, and difficult to fully grasp in its implications. But it’s that important.
The second place where I believe God illustrates that Order is in Genesis with the Garden of Eden. There, in the act of creation, there’s an implicit order in the sequence of creation, as well as the harmony of this creation. Now, perhaps things were chaotic in the creation as seas and trees and animals of all kinds were created. But the essence of God’s creative process is one of Order.
Once depravity rules the world, God’s hand moves to chaos and disorder. Not because he is chaotic and disorderly. But flooding the world, creating all kinds of death and destruction, is both a restoration (at the time) of his order; but the doing so, the cleansing, will feel utterly chaotic. This is unavoidable, and will lead to the ultimate chaos before the ultimate restoration of order found in Revelations.
The third core moment of Order is one such example: chaos and destruction followed by a reset, a foreshadowing of what will ultimately come. This moment is Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
In this act, Jesus proclaims and establishes not only that He is God, but the proper order to reach God is not in accordance to the laws and traditions of the religious leaders, but through Christ himself. He extends and emphasizes man’s need for God in ways that the religious leaders did not, but teaching it comes from grace alone and in faith alone; the works-based and law-based righteousness is a form of disorder because it places the power of redemption into the hands of man, who has nothing but rags to offer.
The fourth element of Order comes from both Paul and Peter, and that’s in regards to marriage.
In the same ways each of those three other elements proclaim God’s order, marriage was intended to do so.
Marriage should reflect the first order, which is that God coms before any other God.
Marriage should reflect God’s creative power in total, the harmonious, generative act that formed all of the world.
Marriage should reflect a new order based on Christ who overcomes the sin of the world, who casts a light on the false order of man-man laws and religious works.
When Marriages do not seek to ground themselves in these basics, they will lead to destruction and disintegration of itself. And the root of this dissolution is the mental and spiritual sickness of the individuals impacted by that marriage. And the failure to preserve and abide will be both reflected by chaos in society; but the chaos of society will impinge upon those marriages that fail to uphold the truth.
Sadly and baffling to me is why churches do not do a better job at cultivating and ensuring healthy marriages.
Why would I argue that churches a failing at developing marriages?
Most churches would argue that they have tons of activities in support of marriage: marriage seminars, married small groups, pre-marital counseling. Tons!
While there could be lots of activities, the issue isn’t about frequency of activity. The core issue is about the accuracy and pervasiveness of quality teaching.
This is why the post is similar to my argument that most eldership fails in its development and operations: the lack of faithfulness in teaching. Just as unqualified men are being elevated to elders with poor doctrine, poor discipleship, and poor teaching, marriages are being promoted, fostered and supported with shaky doctrine, discipleship and teaching.
While it’s frustrating, it’s also not surprising.
It’s frustrating because failure to address will create marriages that suffer and degrade. While some approaches may address the problem, the solutions that do seem to work depend greatly on women.
Since women often are seeking and taking the initiative to improve their relationship, that is a source of hope.
However, increasingly we will see men feeling no choice but to lead on this issue, and the options are limited and for a good reason. This is going to be a challenging and controversial point of view.
But my question is whether you’d rather be right but unhappy; or lay down and be “wrong” but happy.
As with most churches, they are satisfied with the first condition: to let people feel more comfortable in being right, even at the expense of eternal joy. So it is with the case of marriage: for churches to advance unpopular perspectives to the culture, they will make people unhappy.
One way to soften the ground a little bit is to go back to the first principles of order, rebellion and deception.
Because marriage extends God’s order, we must look at Rebellion and Deception
If we can start with the premise the marriage reflect and represents God’s order (perhaps this feels like a leap, and if I have time, would buttress this further beyond Paul and Peter’s writing on marriage)
Throughout Scripture we can see the two attack vectors to God and his Order: Rebellion and Deception.
By definition, Rebellion breaks Order. The moment someone starts to place another God, including themselves, over what God desires, you have Rebellion. Often rebellion is prompted by one’s own heart, which was know from Jeremiah to be deceptive.
Deception leads to rebellion. Successful rebellion fosters and amplifies more deception.
Once this cycle kicks in, how does order become restored?
In a tyrannical society led by a despot, the heavy hand of the authoritarian restores order.
The question is: within God’s realm, in the realities of our own lived life, how is order restored?
Let’s take a look at how order, rebellion and deception play out in the first marriage
Genesis 3: Rebellion and Deception
I and others have dug very deep into Genesis 3, the fall, and it may seem repetitive.
But I think repetition is good because this moment is that important. Here are the key beats:
- God’s order created Adam and then saw it was not good and made Eve
- God’s order declared Eve would be a help-meet to Adam
- God’s order forbade eating of the Tree of Good and Evil
- The serpent deceives Eve to rebel against God
- Eve persuades Adam to rebel against God
- God names the new disorder (his curses)
Naming does not, alone, bring back order in a disordered world.
But it provides clues.
The act of naming is the first step to restoring order. Trying to restore order, especially amongst different players, can be very difficult if there isn’t first naming.
Without naming and being aware of what are the forces of chaos, in the natural world, all order will devolve into chaos. God created the laws of physics.
The forces that are continually fighting against God’s order within the marriage are the same ones: rebellion and deception.
However, God named some specific dynamics in the marriage:
- The wife will seek to control the husband (your desire will be for your husband)
- The wife deflected accountability for her own sin (The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”)
- God holds Adam accountable for listening to Eve instead of to Him (Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree)
- Adam’s suffering and survival will be found in his work (You will eat bread by the sweat of your face because of hard work, until you return to the ground)
These four dynamics have much richness, nuance, and modern-applicability which we can dive into more deeply later.
But as you go through God’s proclamation of what the fallen marriage looks like, I want to highlight that all of these show a sad state of humanity. So far from what God intended. And many marriages, however, rather than looking upon this broken and sinful state wallow in what they know they aren’t to like and enjoy:
A fool who does his foolish act again is like a dog that turns back to what he has thrown up. Proverbs 26:11
How do marriages willfully return again and again to these? And if these are so bad, why do they repeat this fundamental acts that stem from our cursed state?
I believe that in the same way the unbeliever did not want to repent and return to God, so does the weak Christian: they do not see these issues as sinful, and often “enjoy it” in a perverse way. Not necessarily because it gives what we typically associate with pleasure, such as joy and peace, but perversely feeds ego, soothes us with familiarity, and is the alternative which could seem much more painful, which is to allow the Holy Spirit to convict of its sinfulness and turn to God’s word for the counter-behavior.
How does these come alive as rebellion and deception in real life?
Before I dig into the examples, I want to first dispel a belief, which will return as resistance. This resistance, if not dealt with, will make all of this useless, and that is largely the hard part of people desiring to follow God. It’s because self-deception reigns and resistance, in turn, rules. It’s not just in marriage. That is a matter of the heart that will plague everyone on earth. This sickness grows weaker as we grow stronger in Christ, to be sure; but it’s there, nevertheless.
Marriage is not same-same. It is equal-equal in worth, but many make the fallacy that, therefore, it is same-same in weight, role, and responsibility.
Even with the cursory parsing of Genesis 3 as a starting point, it is evident that husband and wife are not the same. They are not interchangeable, which is what sameness would imply.
The challenge is then that when talking about behavior and responsibilities, it will feel there is not equal blame. Everyone wants to disperse equal blame. No one wants to feel more weight on their own shoulders when someone else is in the same boat.
I ask you to set it aside, instead. And ask the question, whether you are going into marriage or in the middle of one, whether you’d rather be right but unhappy because you run counter to God’s desire; or admit defeat and be wrong against God’s word, but experience his pleasure. Because there’s no guarantee that your rightness will always lead to God’s righteousness and the favor that flows from that.
But we often deceive ourselves into believe that to be the case.
So, with this side caution out of the way, let’s see how these four often show up in marriages.
The wife will seek to control her husband
The nature of this control is not pretty.
The other use of the same word that is often translated as “desire” is in Genesis 4:7 as what sin will do to Cain:
Will not your face be happy if you do well? If you do not do well, sin is waiting to destroy you. Its desire is to rule over you, but you must rule over it. Genesis 4:7
The nature of the control can be subtle, and despite my reservations of the secular counseling industry, I did find one example where their illustrations of this were helpful:
- Emotional Withholding
It could be a much more in-depth discussion to reveal examples of this, but hopefully this helps to at least dispel the typical concept of “control” which usually do so through brute physical force or hierarchical power.
Control that cannot use such obvious means will be harder to detect by its definition of being below the surface, by being subterfuge.
This doesn’t make it worse or more wrong. But we do need to call out what is true as true.
Let’s pause: how many married people would describe one or more of those dynamics of control occurring between the husband and the wife? How many of those are by the wife to the husband vs by the husband to the wife?
Husbands aren’t necessarily exempt from these, but my hunch says these aren’t typically the means that come naturally to a husband for control. After all, he has physical strength. But not much more. As we will see shortly.
But this is the core of rebellion. To control the man is to rebel against God’s order. As we will see, God wants his order to be such that the man is held accountable, which he is before God.
But the rebellion continues from the original sin, which was where Eve desired to be God. And if she believes this, she believes she has the right to control her husband.
What’s the deception part?
Ask any wife if she wants to control her husband. What will she first say?
She’s most likely to say, “No, it’s the other way around.”
What’s the deception?
Even corrupted teachers will try to support her and deny the real meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3, that it really means when she does all of those behaviors listed above it’s out of love and a desire to feel connected.
In light of the actual Word, as well as actual experience and common sense, could this be true?
This relates to the second dynamic.
The wife deflected accountability for her own sin
By the vary nature of these tactics, accountability for doing these things will often be deflected.
It’s not her fault. It’s God’s curse, after all.
(This was a joke).