Written in fifth century BC, The Art of War is considered one of the definitive books on battle tactics. Sun Tzu asserts that battles are won or lost due to who controls the terrain. If the terrain does not suit your purposes, then change it to fit your strategy (uproot trees, dam up water sources, create your own high ground using raw materials).
Apparently, Satan has taken a page out of The Art of War.
Since being banished from heaven and cast to earth, Satan has been changing the terrain to fit his purposes. But how?
The Scriptures give us a clue when John shockingly asserts, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). In other words, Satan is changing the terrain of our world, in part by deeply influencing how our culture thinks about God, sex, marriage, love, money, and so on.
The following observations give us a clue as to how Satan has attempted to influence our conversations about marriage by molding the cultural ground we stand on:
Satan’s Lie #1: Marriage is a contract.
Over time, most Americans have adopted a contractual view of marriage as a legal obligation. As in any contract, two parties agree to fulfill their part of the agreement. If one party breaks the contract or violates a key aspect of it, the entire contract is null and void.
However, what happens when the transaction goes bad?
Last summer we had our house painted. In advance, we agreed with the painter on the quality and color of paint, rain contingencies, and deadline. A contract was signed, and down payment given. When the job was completed, we walked around the house to inspect the quality. It was then we noticed that the painter had used a different shade of white—who knew there were so many varieties—from what we wanted.
Our response? We withheld the final payment until he fulfilled his obligation.
Welcome to American marriage.
You do your part; I’ll do mine.
Many couples today operate under an assumption of you do your part and I’ll do mine. However, what happens when one spouse feels the other is not doing their part? And what if I feel I am doing more than you?
An old adage states, a person who says he’ll meet you halfway is often a poor judge of distance.
Psychologists note that a fundamental mistake we make in judging others is that we are biased toward the quality and amount we think we put into relationships. In other words, from my perspective — I’m always doing more!
In a contractual view of marriage, couples are always evaluating each other and, in many cases, conclude their spouse is not meeting them halfway.
Over time, disappointment takes over and individuals look for a way out.
Satan’s Lie #2: Marriage requires multitasking more than focus.
My wife walks into the room and asks if she can get my input. I close my laptop and mute the TV. “Sure,” I respond. As she speaks, I quickly find my attention wandering toward half-written emails or the buzzing of my cell phone in my pocket. I offer a quick response and suggest we talk later. I eagerly return to unfinished tasks.
I justify my distraction by promising to myself that when we further discuss her concern, she’ll have my full attention. Not so fast, suggests researchers. Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford who studies human attentiveness, asserts that continually switching between multiple tasks can hinder your ability to monotask (focus on one thing).
Nass explains, “People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.”
In other words, my assumption that when my wife and I do resume our conversation I’ll be able to give her my full attention may be a promise I can’t easily fulfill.
Nass concludes that through multitasking we “train our brains to a new way of thinking. And then when we try to revert our brains back, our brains are plastic but they’re not elastic. They don’t just snap back into shape.”
A disturbing result surfaces from our proclivity toward multitasking. People who regularly multitask begin to see all distractions as carrying the same weight or significance.
In other words, the distraction of a spouse is on equal footing as the distraction of responding to unread emails. Our ability to recognize or give preference to important issues is slowly compromised.
Satan’s Lie #3: Romantic love can complete us.
In the movie Jerry Maguire, a love-struck sports agent finally realizes he is in love with a single mom and decides to crash a gathering of her and her friends. As he bursts through the door, he utters a line known by millions of forlorn lovers: “You complete me!” To which she responds, “You had me at hello.”
One year after Jerry Maguire, the epic movie Titanic was released. In addition to telling the story of the ill-fated voyage of the RMS Titanic, it introduced audiences to the unlikely romance between seventeen-year-old Rose DeWitt (a first-class passenger engaged to a millionaire) and Jack Dawson (a penniless artist). Standing on the bow of the boat, with Jack securely holding her, Rose proclaims, “I’m flying!” They quickly fall passionately in love, consummate their budding relationship in the back seat of a car parked in storage, and dream of the future.
“Jack, when this boat docks I’m getting off with you!” Rose announces.
“This is crazy!” Jack responds.
“I know,” proclaims Rose. “It makes no sense. That’s why I trust it!”
Researchers at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh sought to determine if a steady diet of consuming romantic fictions could negatively influence how we view love, sex, and marriage. Their conclusion: watching too many films such as Jerry Maguire or Titanic can ruin your love life by creating wildly unrealistic expectations that no person or relationship can fulfill.
A Christian marriage is an outpost for God’s Kingdom.
If Satan’s purpose is to help create cultural terrain that reflects his priorities, then a purpose of your marriage is to counter his priorities by modeling values rooted in God’s kingdom. In short, we offer a vibrant alternative to the world around us.
In the heart of L.A.’s skid row is a five-story, 225,000 square-foot facility that has become a sanctuary. The Union Rescue Mission is the largest private homeless shelter in the United States and provides food, shelter, clothing, medical assistance, education, job training, and spiritual direction for all who walk through its doors. Most importantly, the mission restores dignity.
While encouraging, what do rescue missions have to do with my marriage?
In a world where the fingerprints of Satan are everywhere, we offer marriages that reclaim enemy-occupied territory by being outposts for a different kingdom. In being countercultural, our marriages operate under a different set of values. These values, if applied, not only help marriages flourish but restore a sense of dignity originally bestowed by God.
The following are truths we can proclaim, to reclaim relational territory:
Truth #1: Marriage is a covenant.
In a culture where marriage is seen as a contract, we live out relationships that are covenantal. One of the most well-known covenants, the Declaration of Independence, concludes: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Notice two features of this covenant. First, it is a pledge to others that is not voided if the other person does not follow through. Second, the ability to follow through rests squarely on God’s providence or strength.
In the same way, covenantal marriages pledge fidelity to each other even if one spouse does not keep up their end. And most importantly, the marriage draws strength from God—not merely from each other. In short, spouses in a covenant marriage bear with each other, and forgiveness is given not based on merit but as a natural overflow of Christ’s enduring love (Col 3:13).
Truth #2: Marriage requires focus.
Today, spouses engage in fevered multitasking in an attempt to do more. Each day bleeds into another producing fatigue, anxiety, and restlessness.
Christian marriages—rooted in Sabbath rest—seek to regularly break the pull of culture.
Spouses seeking to love each other according to biblical principles—putting others’ needs above our own, loving unconditionally, offering undivided attention—keenly understand that they need to rest deeply in God’s love, grace, and provision. As the psalmist suggests, strength is found in being still (Psalms 46:10).
In today’s multitasking culture, Christian couples need to learn to be still by placing priority on their spouse’s needs and learn to give focused attention to each other. To use Nass’s terminology, we need to retrain our brains to focus on what is important. Sabbath rest is a deep reservoir of God’s grace from which we can draw to extend grace and focused attention to one another.
Truth #3: Only God can fulfill.
Regardless of what romantic movies promise, Christians understand that no imperfect human spouse or child can give us what we long for—pure, unconditional love.
Only after rooting ourselves in God’s perfect love will we be able to accept the highs and lows of human love.
Simply put, I do not expect my spouse to love me in ways only God can.
Why is my marriage a target? Like the Union Rescue Mission, which serves as a vibrant alternative to the inhabitants of skid row, we too offer glimpses to our neighbors of what a covenant marriage can look like when modeled after kingdom priorities.
Every time our marriage reflects God’s values, we take back a little of the terrain shaped by human rebellion goaded by spiritual influences.
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