Just to be clear – these thoughts have arisen after talking marriage to half a dozen guys in the last fortnight. I’ve never been prouder or more delighted with my wife. I’m trying to put words to every man’s struggle here. And maybe this will also help wives to see what it is they instinctively (and perhaps quite rationally) fear about their husbands…
Ever since Adam, men have wickedly resented their wives. That’s not the whole story. Not by a long shot. On our wedding day we sing “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”.
But remember how Adam reacted when the honeymoon wore off? He blamed God for the burden of “this woman you put here.”
Every son of Adam has been there – we’re all chips off this old block. At first we wax lyrical, genuinely besotted by beauty. But give it time and self-righteous resentment creeps in: “Doesn’t God realize how she holds me back. Think of what I could accomplish if I went solo.”
But what was God thinking? Consider Genesis 2. “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” He makes a “helper suitable” for Adam. “Suitable” means “opposite to” Adam – i.e. a counterpart. By design, wives are not like their husbands. They don’t naturally pull in the same direction. This has nothing to do with sin. In a pre-fallen state, women are intentionally ‘opposite numbers’ to men.
Therefore to “cleave” together is to form a new unit in which both parties must die to self. And so complete is this oneness that even the death cannot be considered separately. The husband initiates the dying, the wife receives (Ephesians 5:21-33, esp v25).
Remember how Genesis 2 finishes… it’s the man who is explicitly said to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife. Like Christ, husbands are the ones to decisively change their direction and circumstances, and in that change to sweep the bride up into a new way of being.
But in the flesh, the husband refuses to lose his life. Instead he keeps hold of his old ambitions and resents the wife.
I keep thinking of John Wesley in this regard. On the morning after their wedding he saddled up to go on a preaching tour. He wrote to her from the road saying “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.” Unfortunately he lived up to that tragic opinion and had a tragic marriage. He did not die for his bride in order for them both to find new life on the other side of sacrifice. He clung to his single vision and demanded that his bride simply fall in line.
But if it’s “successful ministry” we want, then there’s another way. Because the one-ness of marriage is a fruitful and multiplying reality. Husband and wife are meant to be so much more than the sum of their parts. But it’s not a simple addition. It doesn’t happen by adding her old gifts and desires to his.
Rather than resenting her, when the husband dies to his private ambitions, there will come a new way of being fruitful in Christian service. It will take time and it will take self-sacrifice. But as both seek the Lord for their fullness and as they give it away to each other, they grow in new and surprising ways. Through this good death the Lord brings forth a life-giving home where spiritual and physical children can find rest.
Husbands, “this woman” was indeed given to you by the Lord. Not “put”, “given”. As a helper suitable for you. You can either keep your life, resent your wife and blame God, or you can lose your life, nurture your wife and watch Him bring a rich and unexpected fruitfulness.