My wife and I have the privilege of driving to work together most days of the week. In the morning, the radio is often tuned to a local Christian radio station. Depending on what time it is, either Focus on the Family or Family Life will be playing.
Both are evangelical Christian organizations dedicated to helping people bring healing and health to those relationships closest to home. Though our current culture wars have their place on the airwaves from time to time, most of what we’ve listened to (especially on Family Life) has to do with issues of parenting and marriage.
A lot of what they have to share is worthwhile, and I applaud them for their efforts. It represents good advice whether one is a Christ follower or not. And yet, after a few weeks of listening to this material day after day, I have some concerns. Not so much about the details of what they are talking about, but the fact that having (for instance) a healthy marriage seems to be such a persistent theme in the evangelical world.
I know that must sound a little strange…and believe me, I want a healthy marriage myself. I believe that God’s nature is inherently relational and that he wants all of our relationships to be filled with love. But at the same time, I know that God’s main goal is not just for me to have a good marriage. God’s plans are deeper, wider, and more profound than this.
To elevate marriage to such a high and lofty place within the evangelical Christian subculture is understandable in our broken world, but it runs the risk of missing the point. The purpose of Christianity is, after all, not a good marriage. It is about much more than that. I believe that secondary relationships such as those between husband and wife can indeed flow out of our relationship with God, but we should be wise not to reverse this. To do so would be to search for effects rather than cause. Or seek the cause only because we want certain effects.
I have no doubt that my radio friends would tell me that they understand this principle, and would never claim that we are Christians just so that we can have good marriages. They even played a sermon last week that intimates the same thoughts I’ve been thinking in this area. But because of their constant focus on this theme combined with so much of what we hear coming out of the evangelical world, the God of relationships intermixed with our therapeutic culture has the potential to, in a strange theological alchemy, made “God’s plan for marriage” a bigger thing than God in the eyes of some.
This is a problem.
To elevate anything above God–even implicitly–is an idolatrous action. A disordering of our worship. It makes the universe about us in ways that can be awfully self-serving and stagnantly inward focused. We ought to be careful, in light of this, to put first things first. While the holistic nature of God’s love means that all God does is not exhausted in the moment we enter into a salvific relationship with the Lord of the Universe…it does start there. God can heal marriages even as God is concerned about peace, justice, righteousness, suffering, and the like. But this begins as God heals people first.
In the end, I only write what I have to serve as a warning about the implications of an over-emphasis on family and/or marriage. A reminder, in other words, that despite our human inclination to worship things other than God, it is God alone Who deserves our focus. As for my wife and me? We’ll keep listening to some of these radio programs as we travel to work, but I hope that while doing so our focus remains on God who is above all else.