How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Marriages.
Marriage to a Difficult Man is the title of the biography of Sarah Edwards, the wife of the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. I am stuck on that title (I never finished the book itself) because I think of Jonathan Edwards as a great man of God, not a particularly difficult man. My husband once joked with me that would be a good title for my life, though he suggested that the emphasis should be placed on marriage rather than the man, as in Difficult Marriage to a Man. We laughed, but honestly, it was kind of true. I’m married to a complicated man. The funny thing is that I had an elder’s wife joke with me that it could be the title of her biography as well. And I started noting a trend. I am married to a wise and loving man. My friend, the elder’s wife, has a wise, faithful, loving husband. And from reading Jonathan Edwards’ writings, I surmise that he was a man of great wisdom who loved God deeply. And, yet, we have all experienced difficult, complicated relationships with our spouse. But maybe it is not that these are particularly difficult men—though they certainly seem difficult to us. Maybe there is something deeper going on that makes it all so difficult.
For me, marriage was the first place I came to recognize that every reasonable person in the world doesn’t think exactly like I do. It was a great, humbling revelation. Applying myself to understand how my husband approaches issues without condemning him for thinking differently than me has been a 10-year battle. Until I got married and my husband rejected (very politely) my favorite seafood casserole, it never occurred to me that every reasonable person doesn’t necessarily like casseroles. I was threatened that he didn’t find my favorite meals particularly appetizing. Who would have thought it would be so hard to readjust how I thought about cooking? There is no place we tend to be more egocentric than our homes, no place where we are more threatened as women by someone who thinks differently than us.
Marriage threatened things in which I found a false sense of security. And when I was threatened, my reaction was to label my husband “difficult”. He is definitely a sinner. But so am I. The easy road is to blame him. The better road is to examine myself. What has God called me to be in my home? Am I reflecting God’s image in my responses toward my husband? Or have I replaced security in God’s plan for me with false sources of security that inevitably fail?
I know from Genesis 2:18 that God has called me to be a HELPER to my husband. Okay. Fine. But I’m egocentric in even how I define the term “help”. I want to help him the way I THINK HE NEEDS HELP. I want to make him the dinners I want to make him. I want to buy him clothes that I want to buy him. I want to decorate our house the way I want to decorate it. I want to give unsolicited advice that I think he needs. And then I make him feel guilty if he doesn’t respond in flowing gratitude for the “help” I gave him. But that kind of help is so self-centered, it is worthless to the person I think I am helping. I wouldn’t take a roast dinner to a family of vegetarians or buy a Barbie doll for the new parents of a baby boy. But that’s kind of how my egocentric view of helping my husband comes across at times. Instead, I have had to learn to help my husband in the ways HE truly finds helpful. And there is a BIG difference in the two. Here’s a practical piece of advice that may seem obvious: ASK YOUR HUSBAND WHAT HE WOULD FIND HELPFUL. Then ask him an even tougher question—WHAT DO I DO IN OUR HOUSE THAT IS NOT HELPFUL? And instead of pouting because he hurt your feelings, really listen to his answer and give him the freedom to be honest.
I’ve been studying how we as women are made in the image of God, and how understanding the image of God prepares us to embrace our role in marriage. Consider the first mention of the first woman in Scripture.
Genesis 2 18The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
If you don’t know God, His Names, and His character, then hearing that woman was created to be some man’s helper is going to sound incredibly condescending and substandard to you. “I’m called to be Help?! That sounds like some 18th century plantation snob referring to their servants. I’m not the Help.” But before we adopt that attitude, we need to let Scripture and not preconceived notions from our culture guide our thinking on this. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer, meaning to help, nourish, sustain, or strengthen. It’s used often in the Old Testament of GOD HIMSELF. Consider Deuteronomy 33:29.
29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.”
God Himself here is called our helper, our ezer, the same word used of the first woman in Gen. 2. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper (depending on which translation of the Bible you use, this is the translation of the Greek word “paraklete” or one who comes alongside in aid.) God is our Help. The Holy Spirit is our Helper. When we understand God’s role on this issue, it puts this in perspective. God, Almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe, is our helper and we, as women, are created in His image. If we hold on to the attitude that being created as a helper is condescending and substandard, we mock the Name of God and His character, for the role of Helper is one God willingly embraces. Christ says in Matthew 10:25 that it is enough for the disciple to be as his master and the servant as his Lord. There is no greater glory for a woman than to be conformed to God’s image on this issue.
So let’s consider God’s example as our Help. Do you see yourself exhibiting God’s characteristics or the contrasting ones? In Exodus 18:4, God our help defends (in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether). In Psalm 10:14 God our help sees and cares for the oppressed (rather than being indifferent and unconcerned). In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our Help supports, shields and protects (rather than leaving unprotected and defenseless). In Psalms 70:5, God our Help delivers from distress (rather than being the cause of the distress). In Psalm 72:12-14, God our Help rescues the poor, weak, and needy (rather than ignoring the poor and needy). And in Psalm 86:17, God our Help comforts (rather than causing discomfort or avoiding altogether). God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for wives as “helpers suitable to their husbands”. We are called to show compassion, to support, defend and protect those in our care, to deliver from distress and to comfort. We are called to be like God Himself.
Often, instead of following God’s example on this, I become the very person from whom my husband feels he needs to protect himself. Rather than expecting compassion and support, he tenses as he enters my presence expecting condemnation and criticism. It’s been painful to see this about myself, but self-delusion is even worse.
Proverbs 21 9 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
I have found there is a very fine line between being the “Helper Suitable” for the needs of the man as God intended and being the Contentious/Quarrelsome wife of Proverbs 21. Consider our spiritual heritage, beginning with Eve. In Genesis 3, Eve, created to be the helper who complemented her husband, believed Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth, and instead of being the help to her husband God intended, she “helped” Adam right into the fall of man.
Later, in Genesis 15, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. In the next chapter, his wife Sarah is barren and manipulates Abraham into getting her servant pregnant. Then, after giving her servant to Abraham and talking him into sleeping with her, Sarah gets bitter at Abraham for the whole situation. Sarah didn’t trust God’s promises, took matters into her own hands, nagged her husband into doing her will, and then was bitter with him over the consequences.
We see this pattern throughout the women of Genesis. In Genesis 27, Rebekah manipulates circumstances in her home, getting her son to trick her husband into giving his blessing to her favorite of their children. In Genesis 30, Rachel and Leah have a fertility war. Rather than looking to the ways they could help, nourish, and protect in their homes, they manipulate every factor they can to see who can have the most sons. They have no trust in God’s Hand to provide for them. And just in case we aren’t yet convinced of the pattern, Genesis 38 gives us the story of Tamar, who manipulates her father-in-law into thinking she’s a prostitute and sleeping with her so that she will have an heir. These women weren’t helps–they were nagging manipulators intent on taking matters into their own hands because they didn’t trust God with their husbands or their situation.
Now, nothing I have said to this point should be mistaken as placing the sole blame for these circumstances upon the women in these stories. Each of the men seriously abdicated their responsibilities. Judah, in particular, certainly set Tamar up for failure, and even commends her after the fact for being more righteous than he. But for our purposes right now, the errors of the men are NOT our focus. God has called husbands to serious responsibility and accountability, and I’m always tempted to focus on others’ responsibilities. It’s easier to hear in a message what my husband needs to do and then watch like an Olympic judge to see if he does it by a specified time. But that’s a destructive mental path that I should not follow. Whether my husband is meeting his obligations or not, that does not excuse me from meeting mine.
So, our spiritual heritage is made up of women who twisted their role as helpers suitable for their husbands and became manipulators who sought to control circumstances out of their distrust of God. The word “manipulate” comes from the Latin for hand. It means to influence, manage, or control to one’s advantage by artful, subtle, or indirect means, i. e. taking things into our own hands. Contrast this with faith. Faith is confidence in a person or plan, a confident belief in the truth, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. The question we must ask ourselves as Christian wives is do we TRUST GOD in our marriages? Do we have confidence in God’s plan and His trustworthiness? Or do we believe, that to protect our interests in marriage, we have to manipulate circumstances, taking things into OUR OWN HANDS?
When I am fearful of accepting my God-given role of helper, I really need to deal with what I think about God, not what I think about my husband. Do I believe God’s Word is trustworthy? Do I trust Him to protect me? Do I trust that His plan for my life is the best? Do I fear that my circumstances have spiraled out of His control? Do I believe He is sovereign? Bottom line–what do I believe about the character, trustworthiness and effectiveness of God and His plan for my life?
Despite our fallen spiritual heritage as women, I find great hope in God’s ability to redeem sinners. Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1.
2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…
Tamar, who tricked Judah into sleeping with her in Genesis, is greatly honored by being one of only 3 women mentioned in the lineage of Christ. And Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, says of Sarah, that “11By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” The last we heard of Sarah and Tamar in Genesis was pretty negative. And yet, in the New Testament, we see God honoring them as a result of His transforming power in their lives. In particular, Sarah goes from being the woman known for manipulating her husband into sleeping with her maid to being commended for her faith in God to fulfill His promises. That is redemption! And we too have the hope of God’s power to transform us from women who take matters into our own hands out of distrust of God’s plan into women who, in the image of God, help, strengthen, and support our husbands, trusting God in the role He has given us.