All truth is God’s truth. There can be good reasons to work on a marriage from a secular point of view that does not involve God. Those good reasons are good because they reflect God’s character and truth. However, the Bible adds to secular advice and gives us a purpose beyond ourselves. Biblical marriage counseling affirms that the purpose, motivation, and power for marriage comes not from within myself, but from God. In this article, I outline three ways in which biblical and secular marriage counseling may differ. I present first the secular view and then the biblical view.
1. What Motivates Your Commitment? God’s Love and Grace in Jesus
You made a promise. Keep it. But why? Secular marriage counseling would reply that you should do so for reasons of personal integrity. You do so because it’s the right thing to do. But what is the origin of that value? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. As you keep your word, you grow and become more solid. You differentiate from your spouse and you stay together. Versions of this perspective are found in the works of personal differentiation therapists such as Dr. David Schnarch.
However, God provides additional reasons for saying “yes” to marital commitment. God loves me in Jesus and has demonstrated this love by giving His life for me on the Cross. This means that I want to live for Him, love Him by obeying Him, choose His ways, and believe in His promises, goodness, wisdom, and power (2 Cor.5:14-5). As I have been loved by God, so I can love my spouse (1 John 4:11-12,19).
2. Why Say “No” to Despair? God’s Power to Heal and Transform You in Jesus
When marital life is hard and one needs to break an impasse, secular counseling will appeal to personal integrity and the need to live in line with your values. This is how you cultivate a solid, flexible sense of self. It points out that you do not need to be at the whim of your spouse’s choice in order to affirm your feelings and needs. You can simply keep choosing to persevere and do the right thing, regardless of your spouse’s choice. But what is “right”? And by whose frame of reference is “right” defined? Sometimes such advice can present two opposing positions, for example, “Stay together for the kids,” vs. “Break it off for the sake of the kids.”
The Bible tells us, “No one whose hope and trust is in Jesus will ever be put to shame (before God)” (Romans 10:11). God is able to heal my wounds, comfort me, and transform me. God has more for me. There is hope for the better from God. He brings beauty out of chaos and takes our messiness, wounds, sinful reactions, dysfunction, pain, foolishness, selfishness, and idolatries and makes us like His Son. Biblical marriage counseling gives us the hope of crucifixion, resurrection, and redemption as the ultimate grounds for hope in a marriage.
3. What is the Purpose of Marriage? Holiness and Blessing
What is the purpose of marriage? The propagation of the species? The creation of deep emotional connections? Personal fulfillment? The benefit to others, such as one’s children, neighbors, and society? I would say “yes,” and God would say “yes, but there is also more.”
God does want us to be happy. But marriage is not God’s only means of happiness. Those who do not marry can also be fulfilled and happy in God’s eyes. Personal fulfillment comes from a personal-relational knowledge of Him. God wants us to be happy in our marriage. He also wants us to experience oneness with our spouse through intimacy, unity, and partnership. However, His heart for those who marry is also for our holiness, our healing, and our refinement through our marriage. This comes by way of our spouse and the struggle of becoming one over a lifetime. Ephesians 5:21-33 asserts that it is in mutual submission to one another, and in submission to Jesus, that both husband and wife are transformed to become like Him and to become radiant.
God’s ultimate purpose for a marriage is blessing as God tells us in Genesis 12:1-3. Through Abram and Sarai’s marriage, all the peoples of the earth were to be blessed and to have life and wellbeing. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise that God made to one couple (Galatians 3:14). The blessing given in a marriage extends well beyond itself. We are able to comfort others with the same comfort that we ourselves have received from God. We can engage in the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do together. A healthy marriage blesses both partners, any children, and many people.
Christian Counseling to Make Your Marriage a Blessing
As a Christian counselor, I am convinced that God intends your marriage to be a blessing. If you are aware that you and your partner need help in making your marriage what God intended it to be, I would love to work with you. God has more for you!
“Happy Couple,” courtesy of Arentas, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Dancing in the Street,” courtesy of werner22brigitte, CC0 Public Domain License;“Couple on Tour,” courtesy of mrhayata, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)