House, Marriage, and Grace

Over the past few months, Mrs Phil and I have been watching through “House, M.D.” If you’ve never watched the series before, I can recommend it – it is pretty compelling! That said, some of the time it is a bit frustrating: the series as a general rule seems to buy into many of the popular misconceptions about relationships. One which particularly irks me is the idea that relationships seem to be totally in the hands of fate – “let’s get together and see how it works out.” Which is perhaps fair enough for a while, but after a few years – and even after getting married? No, that’s not how it works.

I think all of this has got to me a bit more than usual because last year I read Tim Keller’s excellent book on marriage, and then earlier this year I read John Piper’s book “This Momentary Marriage” (which is also excellent, and currently available as a free PDF from that link). Couple that with the government’s discussions to redefine marriage and it seems that this year I’ve been thinking about marriage quite a lot! What does marriage mean? What does it teach us?

There are two things that pushed me into writing this blog post. The first is these thoughts on marriage by my friend Phil. There he explains that marriage is a sort of picture of what God’s love is like for us. The fact is that God doesn’t promise to love us while it’s convenient for him. He doesn’t promise to ‘see how it goes’ in our relationships. He doesn’t desert us if we change / don’t change / don’t love him as we should. His love is a faithful love, a covenant love which is rooted in his character and not in our deservedness.

The second thing which prompted me to write was reading Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian for class last week. In it, Luther talks about marriage as an illustration of God’s grace. I’m sure I’ve quoted this before on this blog, but it’s worth quoting again because it’s sublime! here, he is talking about the church being presented as the ‘bride of Christ’:

Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace?

Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine;” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” (Cant. ii. 16.)

Isn’t that amazing? Marriage is far more than just two people wanting to spend there lives together. Marriage is the illustration God has given to us of the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is the point the apostle Paul makes in Ephesians 5:31-32: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” And in Revelation, we read this about the end times: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2) The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, symbolic of God’s people, and God dwelling with his people for all eternity.

The point of all this, coming back to what I was originally saying, is that it gets to me when I see terrible relationship advice like that on House. Not only is it not going to be bad for those who take it, but it spoils the beautiful picture God has given us of his covenant and grace.

Seeing marriage as more than just a human thing has led me to working harder at my own marriage, and encourages me to keep going even through difficult times. And it points us towards the day when the marriage of Christ and his church will one day be complete.

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4 thoughts on “House, Marriage, and Grace

  1. Dear Phill,

    I would think that unconditional love between a man and a woman though possible and fully achievable can never be the same as the love that you are intending The love ‘God’ has for us, as this love is meant to be unconditional.

    And to impose on a marriage the fact that your love is unconditional means that there is no flex in your love. This means it is an unrealistic love that rather than flexing when your partner does something that hurts your love can break and break hard when it does.

    I believe you can love someone strongly, but to say unconditionally would mean you were not human and knew what the future held.

    My father and mother were miserable in their marriage and had they continued because of ‘unconditional love’ to be together, it would have been one of the biggest mistake of their lives. They had 30 years together, (24 happy) the last 6 which were very difficult, and now about ten years on… they are happy again happier than I’ve seen them in a long time.

    I think you should think about love in a more flexible way. Take what you want from that. As its a dangerous path to think that ones love is unconditional on either side. Be realistic and happy.

    • Hi

      I agree that the love a man and a woman have is not – and could never be – the love which God has for us, but at the same time I think it is meant to be a picture to us of how grace works.

      I’m not sure what you mean about “flexible” love. Part of loving someone unconditionally means accepting the fact that they are flawed, as God does with us. The number of times we hurt God by rejecting him and sinning against him – and yet he still loves us.

      I’m sorry to hear about your parents. These things are not easy.

      What I was really trying to get at was the advice in House (and other popular TV shows), so much of the time it seems to have such an unrealistic view of love it’s actually frustrating to watch.

  2. Anyway, have you seen breaking bad? That’s a good one and I think they offer up some pretty deep characters. Some shocking scenes though so if your sensitive, don’t watch it!

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