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Marriage makes us better by showing us we’re worse. The Gospel does that too, endlessly more.
When I was single, it annoyed me like crazy if ever somebody preempted a statement with the phrase, “When I was single.” I was also intensely bothered when married people implied marriage was the ultimate summit of everything.
I will somewhat sheepishly report that even as a still-newlywed, one of those two approaches now seems unavoidable. (My apologies.) But already I am certain that marriage is not the ultimate summit of things.
To be clear: it wouldn’t take much for me to start gushing about Nathan and how incredible he is, from his tenacity about faith and his calming sense of humor, to his general ease and the fact that sometimes he grabs my hand lightly while he’s sleeping. It wouldn’t take much for me to gush about this marriage, even on a not-great day.
Yet just over a year in, any awe and magnificence here has little to do with ways that he and I are compatible or even how we’re learning to better get along. No. What stops me in my tracks is that this person, who knows me better than anybody—knows the appealing things, sure, but is also deeply familiar with my obnoxious attitudes, my irrational reactions, my utter selfishness, my vanity, my conceit—chooses to love me still.
It is, every time I think about it, a tiny echo of redemption.
What I mean is this: I am not impressed by my own love for Nathan. Most days, the way I love him seems to fall terribly short of what it could and should be. Of Nathan’s love for me, though, I step back in dumbstruck amazement. This is probably partly due to the fact that he’s better than me at pretty much everything—it should be no surprise that naturally he’s better at love. But mostly I’m amazed because my husband’s love toward me so clearly highlights how little I deserve it.
Love is the gift of the lover; it is an effort and a choice, and it is never earned. We’ve all heard these things before, haven’t we? But how incredible it is, to live in the real-life security that’s found in undeserved love! Secure, because if we didn’t earn it then we can’t un-earn it either. The love exists, not because of the loved, but because the lover’s character is a fire that burns big enough to love-start.
Love-start. There, I just made up the word of the day.
Marriage has a leg-up on other relationships, sure, because uniquely in marriage we’re able to experience love running alongside and in spite of our sin and sinfulness. But marriage, too, is still just a glimmer of the real love-source and summit.
Love in marriage, as with any other kind of solely human love, is at best still hugely deficient: two different parties suffering from the same sin-condition, working in flawed ways to sacrifice for each other.
But in God through Christ, the one perfect Love pursues the hopelessly flawed party. Pursues with all recklessness and abandon. So on one side here is the enormity of my own sinfulness, yet on the other side here also is the love I deserve least of any loves. Here is the source of everything, becoming flesh and embodied love, being pierced for even me.
Only slightly less incredible than all that is this: when God’s love happens to a person, that person becomes capable of loving in a way that points back to the original start. Which is to say that, no matter who or where in life you are, the best kind of love is possible both for you and from you. But “from you” only because of the “for you.”
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:10-12