Why marriage is difficult, and why that is for God’s glory
by Dick Wulf, MSW, LCSW
Marriage was originally designed to be easy, but Adam and Eve forgot the most important requirement of marriage. We also forget.
That’s the bad news.
However, in Christ we can live for God and glorify Him by facing and defeating marital difficulty, family discord and relationship breakdown wherever it occurs. We can turn the disaster of the Garden of Eden back upon Satan and win victories for God.
That’s the good news! Very good news!
Please let me clarify the Bible’s teaching regarding the power of God when Christian marriages understand their purpose.
The Universal Perspective
To properly understand marriage, we have to go back before mankind was created to see that the universe revolves around God, not mankind. God’s purpose in bringing us into existence is a most important consideration. Self-centered and sinful, we think God’s primary purpose in creating us was to bless us. (Nice idea, but it’s not so.)
Before mankind existed, God lived in heaven with His angels — eternal, rational creatures that predate us by eons. Everything was pure and perfect as all the angels worshiped and served the Most High God.
Then an angel named Lucifer decided that he wanted to be served and worshiped instead. Suddenly, all was not well in God’s home.
Lucifer invented “sin,” and God had to do something about it. But, because God is just, He could not say to Lucifer (as I would have), “I brought you into the universe, and I can take you out. Poof!” Instead, for justice to be done, Lucifer’s great pride had to be punished — by great humiliation.
And, so, God decided to exile Lucifer and the approximately one-third of the angels who followed Him in his rebellion. God changed Lucifer’s name to Satan, and the angels who followed Lucifer became demons. Then God exiled them to one specific planet in the whole universe, our planet Earth. (It is quite likely that they were sent here from heaven before Earth had its present form.)
Here’s where the Bible starts. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
The Creation of Mankind
Was for God’s Glory Through Battle
Seen through our self-centered eyes, it appears that God made all things for us. This is a great mistake.
The Garden of Eden was created by God with lots of food for Adam and Eve. But, if human creation was all about us, why would God put a tree in the middle of the Garden that was not for us? And, if not for us, then for whom? And for what?
Remember this: Everything that exists or happens is always first about God. He is and must be the first consideration.
To Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden was paradise. For God it was a theater of war.
Out of the dust of this blissful battleground God created Adam, the first human and the first husband.
And, it was always God’s plan to design Adam so he would need a helper. When God made Adam perfect, he was purposely not created complete. He was specifically designed to be too weak to defeat great evil alone. Only he and Eve together could defeat Satan and his evil plans.
From start to finish the Bible shows that God is more interested in people than in any individual person. God has work to do that requires the power of a team or an army, much more than that of an individual. Therefore, individuals are secondary considerations, while marriage, family and the church are primary.
Eve was created by God to be Adam’s helper and wife. And, Adam was to be Eve’s helper. But help for what task? Why were Adam and Eve created to have each other’s help?
That is such a key question! Extremely important. Let me repeat it. Why did Adam and Eve need each other’s help?
God’s strategy seems to have been to create an interdependent creature (mankind) where individuals would combine their strength to defeat whatever Satan threw at them. This is very clear in the first assignment God gave the first marriage in the Garden of Eden.
In short, God created Adam and Eve to be strong enough together to do anything God asked them to do. And, the first thing He asked them to do was defeat the devil by not eating of one particular tree. Adam and Eve were each created too weak as individuals to do this. But they were created to be more than strong enough to defeat Satan and all of his evil designs — as long as they helped each other.
This is the design for marriage! This is also the design for the church. Individual Christianity is an oxymoron. One of the most overlooked truths about our wonderful walk with God is that it is to be a powerful, interdependent life with each other.
God’s design for marriage is for a husband and wife to help each other so that together, working as a team, whether together or apart, they can do anything that God assigns them to do.
With this in mind, the Garden of Eden situation makes sense. God created the Garden of Eden for a “major showdown” with Satan who had rebelled, invented sin and spoiled God’s heavenly home. God was not sadistic in putting the forbidden fruit in the middle of the Garden and commanding Adam and Eve to not eat of it. It was about God, not about Adam and Eve. The tree was forbidden for God’s sake. As all of life should be for God and His glory, Adam and Eve could have been thrilled not to eat of the tree’s fruit.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was an assignment. The task of not eating of that tree was given to Adam. Then Adam was told he needed a helper. In effect God said to Adam, “To do things for Me you will need a helper. You will seldom be able to do them alone.”
The forbidden fruit was an assignment to defeat Satan. God knew that if Adam and Eve helped each other, they would easily resist the serpent Satan’s power. In not eating of the forbidden tree, God would humiliate Satan through Adam and Eve’s obedience.
Satan, being one of the smartest creatures ever created, figured out God’s strategy. Or, perhaps God told him. Anyway, Satan came to the Garden to get Adam and Eve to follow him, not God — just as he had done in heaven with the angels. The devil would try to get the two humans to eat of the tree in the middle of the Garden.
Knowing that Adam and Eve working together would be strong enough to defeat him, Satan talked only to Eve.
This is Satan’s primary strategy — to divide people from each other and offer them what God does not want for them.
We don’t know when Adam forgot that he and his wife needed each other’s help to live for God. He may have even forgotten to tell Eve of their critical, interdependent design. So, when the serpent spoke to Eve, it seems she had no help from Adam. Nor did she ask for his help.
What a shame that Adam and Eve did not remember that helping each other was an absolute necessity. Because of their failure, we humans have been born in sin ever since.
Adam and Eve’s assignment would have been quite easy if they had worked together and helped each other. But, the assignments in marriage are more difficult now. Not only are they harder by task, but we are not perfect as Adam and Eve once were. As sinful creatures, we need each other’s help more than ever.
We need to be very careful when we think the Holy Spirit is leading us to do anything without our spouse’s help or without the help of other believers. The Holy Spirit cannot and will not go against God’s plan. Let us never think that God’s plan is different now and we no longer need each other’s help. Let’s not be ignorant of this.
Unfortunately for us, the Western world is highly individualistic. If you doubt me, just look at the books written for Christians and see that almost all of them are written about individual Christian growth without the need for help from other Christians. Or try to remember a sermon on the husband’s responsibilities to his wife where the preacher also explained to the wife how she has to help her husband if he is to be successful at these responsibilities toward her.
For over 25 years, I have written much on how the church barely understands how to obey God in 65 things He has commanded us to do together. I call these The Togethers of Scripture.
Satan won in the Garden of Eden, making it necessary for the Son of God to die a terrible death on the Cross to redeem us from sin. Horribly, Satan again was able to dishonor God — only because Adam and Eve forgot the purpose of marriage to work together and help each other.
The Garden with its forbidden tree was designed to humiliate the devil by showing him that he could not do what he had done in heaven. God did not create two independent individuals, but a pair to be one flesh in marriage, with powerful, interdependent helpfulness that would make them strong enough to defeat all of Satan’s evil.
The Garden of Eden situation was made for God. His first two people, working together, were to overcome the evil power of Satan by corporate obedience. By defeating Satan, Adam and Eve would have glorified God and helped him greatly humiliate Satan.
The difficulties in marriage are supposed to be there. It is the purpose of marriage for two people to obediently solve these difficulties — to defeat Satan. And by this obedience, to glorify God and help Him humiliate the devil.
It is still that way. Will you and your spouse commit to do marriage God’s way? Not so much for your enjoyment as for His glory? I hope so.
“It’s All About God!” &
Why Bad Things Happen to Good Christians
If you do not yet believe that it is all about God — I mean ALL — let me tell you about Job. Job lived as perfectly before God as any sinful man ever has. Job was right in the middle of the intense battle between God and Satan.
Later you may want to read Job, Chapters One and Two (found just before the Psalms in the Bible).
The story of Job can make it seem that God does evil. But, if everything is all about God, then what happened to Job makes sense and we see that God was not being evil. This requires that you accept that we are His vessels to use as He pleases for His higher purposes, thus bringing Him honor and glory.
Remember, as a just God, God needed to humiliate the outrageously proud Satan for inventing sin and ruining God’s two perfect societies, first in heaven and then later on earth.
In Job, Chapter One, we learn that God invited Satan up to heaven for a confrontation. Satan entered the line of angels presenting themselves before God. When Satan’s turn came, God told him of Job, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).
Then, Satan, the most vile creature in all of creation, turned the situation around and challenged God that if He would take away Job’s wealth, Job would curse Him.
And, here is where we must open our eyes to see and our ears to hear something very difficult. God said, “Okay.”
God allowed Satan to wreak havoc on Job! With God’s permission but not His design, Satan attacked Job. (Remember as you read — this is all about God.)
As a result, Job lost all his wealth. More tragically, all his children died when a house caved in on them.
This seems absolutely terrible and evil. And it is! But, soon I will shed light on this so that it makes sense to those of us who know God as loving and good. Soon you will know the answer to the troubling question, “Why do bad things happen to good Christian people?”
First, listen to Job’s reply to losing seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and all but four of his many servants — in one day!
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.”
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
(Please try to understand that Job’s children were taken directly to paradise. Allowing Satan to kill them did not end their existence. It merely brought them to heaven sooner.)
Remember the purposes behind both the situation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as well as Job’s situation to understand why bad things happen to God’s people. God uses these difficult situations to punish Satan with humiliation after humiliation.
God is not the author of sin, but He does permit it in order that it might be turned back on Satan. The obedience of God’s people in the face of trouble and difficult situations allows God to humiliate this most evil angel, the creature who has done the most damage to God’s universe.
This conclusion is confirmed by Job, Chapter Two. There we learn that after God ruined Job (the Bible’s words, not mine), and after Job remained faithful and dealt with the horrific tragedy righteously, God called Satan up to heaven a second time. God showed him his failure in Job’s righteousness so that the devil would be tremendously humiliated.
But, Satan still tried to rob God of His glory earned through Job’s wonderful faithfulness. Satan claimed that Job stayed faithful only because Job’s own body was not hurt. Satan challenged God by saying, “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Note whose hand is stretched out.)
Shockingly, God again replied, “Okay.” But God instructed Satan that he could not kill Job when he struck his body. Why this restriction? Because it is all about God and His honor. Job had to be alive to stay true to God — and shame Satan.
With God’s permission, Satan inflicted Job with lesions and excruciating pain. And, the whole universe watched for Job’s response. Would he pass the test of faithfulness as he did the first time?
This time faithfulness came in spite of the bad advice from Job’s wife who said, “Curse God and die.” (I probably would have said the same thing, wanting my wife, Jean, to be without such pain. It’s not the right thing to say, but it is very understandable.)
And, Job stayed true to God with one of the most faith-challenging statements ever. He replied to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’
Job, whom God called “blameless and upright”, understood that God did not just bless His people. Job understood that it was all about God and that the truest praise comes when it is not “earned by God’s good treatment.” It is even clear that being more righteous does not necessarily mean receiving more blessings in this life.
Therefore, to understand why bad things happen to God’s people, consider the following:
1. Everything that happens to us is first all about God.
2. Good things happen to us to honor and glorify God through our thankfulness and righteous responses.
3. Bad things happen to us to honor and glorify God through our faithful obedience and righteous responses.
4. Bad things give us our best opportunities to battle Satan and win big victories for God that He can use in humiliating the devil. Good things that happen to us are less useful in God’s humiliation of Satan.
5. God’s response to Lucifer’s rebellion was to exile him to earth, change his name to Satan, defeat him in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and humiliate him for thousands of years through the victories of God’s faithful and dedicated people. (When the evil one has been sufficiently humiliated, will the time of the Lord’s return come? Let’s hope it is near.)
To me, Christian warfare includes but goes far beyond merely battling in the spiritual realm. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we battle in the spiritual realm as well as in the physical realm. The two intertwine.
God’s way of defeating Satan is through His people acting together on God’s behalf, doing what He has asked and commanded them to do corporately (as the bride of Christ, as the Army of God, as His body, as the family of God, etc.).
Satan’s strategy to dishonor God is to divide Christians (marriages, families, friendships and churches) so that God’s people will not be powerful enough to defeat him or to resist cursing God with their own words and actions.
What is the reason that bad things happen to good Christians? To glorify God by helping Him shame Satan through our faithfulness in difficulties!
We must always keep the big picture in mind. Even though God defeated Satan in Christ, God’s process of humiliating the devil is evidently not over. We have work to do for God, and that is not to just go to Christian events. We are to fight evil wherever and whenever it exists, whether in our marriages, our families, our church, our community, our nation or our world.
Like Job, we are in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and His archenemy, Satan. Let’s “put on the full armor of God so that [we] can take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11).
Applying This to Our Marriages
There is nothing like the difficulties of marriage to help us grow more and more into the image of Jesus. The problems of marriage and our commitment to stay married out of dedication to our Lord forces us to grow into the character of Jesus Christ.
It is not being married but acting married that creates in us the need to seek God’s ways to deal with difficulties. It is accepting God’s primary role of marriage — that of helper — that causes us to change the ways we do things to the ways God does things.
It is important to recognize that being each other’s helper in marriage means much, much more than doing the dishes or helping with the yardwork. Marriage is more about helping one another than enjoyment and comfort and being nice to one another. Being each other’s helper has to do with the assignments of God — all of them.
To start with, there is the assignment from God to be a godly husband or wife. This means that a husband and wife in a marriage are expected by God to help one another deny themselves for each other’s good. (Agape love is “self-denial for another’s good.”) The husband and wife are to grow more and more away from self-centeredness.
Also, a husband and wife are expected to help each other grow more and more into the image of Jesus. Who knows better the imperfections of a person than the spouse who lives with him or her daily? But, instead of complaining about those objectionable attitudes and behaviors, a spouse is to help the other actually overcome those un-Christlike things. To lovingly help definitely requires change into the likeness of Christ.
Seem like a lot of work? It is! Some bad attitudes take years to change. That is why it is in the marital relationship that God assigns such help to be delivered. Husbands and wives are expected to stay together for years and years to help with the big challenges — consistently, a little at a time. If it gets really, really nasty, there are other Christians (the church) to help with the battle.
When a marriage relationship is very difficult, husbands and wives need a reason to stay in the relationship. The reason is God and His glory in the face of challenges from Satan! If they fail at helping one another and at marriage, Satan wins.
What a high calling and privilege to stick with a difficult marriage and make it work in order to thwart the devil and glorify God. What a great accomplishment — to defeat Satan!
Perhaps, after getting married, one partner finds out that the spouse is a whole lot more trouble than thought during courtship and engagement. Maybe the spouse is really disturbed and needs quite a bit of help. It is natural in such a situation to challenge God and ask, “Why did You give me such a big problem to deal with?” And, if you are quiet enough, you might hear Him reply, “Because you are strong enough in Me to help. Not many could do it.” What a compliment, even if we might be tempted to sarcastically answer back, “Well, thanks a lot!” Hopefully, when God’s affirmation sinks in, we will say the same words, but this time with sincere thankfulness.
It is no small thing for God to think you worthy of the most difficult of assignments. There are people He loves who need help from the strongest and most faithful of His people. Yet, there are not enough strong Christians.
But, what if a marital relationship is smooth? Well, the first thing to ask is if it should be a bit harder. Are a husband and wife helping one another to become more and more like Jesus? If so, there will be many times that are definitely not comfortable — not if the big differences from Jesus are being addressed.
The Right Attitude About Facing Problems
to Become More and More Like Jesus
It bears saying straight out: We should welcome problems and difficulties. If we listen to God about how to deal with really difficult things, we will have to become more like Jesus. And, that is what we should live for — becoming more and more like our Savior.
It truly warms the heart of the Father to look down on us and see the likeness of His Son. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
The Right Attitude About the Church
and Our Marriages and Families
Being strong together because we are too weak alone is also God’s strategy for the church. There are many strongholds of Satan to tear down, and this requires all of us working together.
Because it is an essential part of the church, each Christian marriage must be strong for battle. Husbands and wives must fight together against God’s enemies, not against each other.
Furthermore, what happens in a marriage positively or negatively affects the church. Therefore, spouses need to be dedicated to Jesus Christ and work things out between them so that no one in the church is hurt.
This should have caught your attention. Is it really possible that avoiding being each other’s helper and not working things out could bring bad things to other Christians? You can bet your life on it.
Joshua, Chapter 7, tells of 36 Israelite soldiers dying because a man they did not even know buried some of Jericho’s plunder in his tent. And, get this! God said that it was the whole nation of Israel that sinned against Him for allowing Achan to secretly disobey God. Think about that when you wonder how much damage can be done by the sin of a bad marriage. You don’t want to hurt your friends in the church, not to mention your children, relatives and friends.
Every time a problem within the church goes unaddressed, God is dishonored. In the Scriptures, God has commanded us to live together in such a self-denying love that the whole world would be astonished. He requires His people to live interdependently, not privately. And, the purpose of that is to defeat Satan through the strength of two or more. Unfortunately, this is not happening. If you are interested in knowing more about what God expects of His people, see my list of 65 things God wants us to do with one another. These are not only just good ideas on how to live in love — they are commands!
A Professional Psychotherapist’s Recommendation
After 42 Years of Helping Marriages & Families
Every husband and wife should take the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator (MBTI ) and receive a detailed explanation. This is the fastest and easiest way to learn the other’s strengths and weaknesses so that spouses can help each other and work as a team. Then they can stand in for each other when a situation confronts the spouse’s weakness. Or they can ask for help when a situation could be helped by the spouse’s strength.
More important, I have found that 60 to 80 percent of the irritation at a spouse’s behavior goes away when it is learned that this is just how God made that person. Solutions to problems in the marriage begin to automatically have answers. When I give a half-day seminar, people rave about their new understanding and the relief it promises for their marriage. When I counsel a couple in trouble, taking the MBTI and hearing the specific application to their marriage helps immensely.
While the MBTI helps so much with understanding and accepting each other better, it does not help a husband and wife work with God for deeper healing. Satan has damaged each of us as much as he has been able. But knowing the spouse’s background and understanding the incorrect messages hidden deep within will allow a husband or wife to help the partner defeat the most sinister of Satan’s destructive work.
Therefore, I take time with a couple to review what has happened in each spouse’s life, looking for the damage Satan has probably done. Then we create a strategy for defeating the devil by deciding what each spouse needs to do to undo his or her own damage and what the other spouse needs to do to help.
When I counsel a couple, either to save a troubled marriage or for premarital counseling to get a marriage started off right, I fully remember that the success of the marriage is rooted in God’s design for the marriage. And that is for each spouse to be helpful so that together they can do whatever God assigns them to do — for all their lifetime together.
To glorify God.
This is deep worship!