This article was written by Tyler Ward and originally published on tylerwardis.com.
I recently had the gift of sitting across the table from William Paul Young as he beautifully rambles about things like life in God, the superiority of relationship, the misconceptions of modern religious society and much more. It’s a gift I wish I could give to everyone, but considering our circumstances, a blog interview will have to do.
I recently asked Paul a few questions about marriage. To say he’s “rethought” the modern concept of the word would be a trivial understatement. The following is one of my favorite parts of our conversation.
In “The Shack,” you write about marriage not being an institution. In a culture where the religious have taken such a stand for (and the non-religious against) the institution of marriage, what might you say in the midst of the conversation?
Before there was any creation, before space, time and matter, there contained no institutions, no chains of command, no hierarchies, no mixed messages, no roles, no agendas, no darkness, no secrets, no formulas, no shame, no “I am nots,” no flinching, no mistrust, no systems, no organizations etc. So any of these must be, at best, a step away and at worse – a rebellion. What was before is an utter open and free relationship of Three Persons, in a living dance of other-centered, self-giving affection. In this there is kindness, there is music, there is grace, there is enjoyment, there is laughter, there is respect, there is creativity, there is rest, there is peace, there is hope, there is wonder.
We think we like institutions because they provide certainty and power and definition. But in truth, it’s not these things that we chase. We would simply rather have control than relationship, role than mystery, agenda than purpose. So we take a gift that God has shared with us, such as the Sabbath, and we turn it into rule and ritual, dividing the world into those who obey and are therefore “the good,” and those who violate its observations and are therefore “the evil.” The Sabbath has become an institution, with well-defined borders and allegiances, a ‘thing’ that mythically exists outside of the Personhood of God or the human being. Religion then justifies the Sabbaths reality as an extension of God as cause and motivation for obedience. As an institution, the Sabbath now justifies all manner of human agenda, largely fear based, guilt motivated, and power seeking.
So, keepers of the Sabbath laws, approach Jesus one day to suggest that his band of ruffians were not abiding by the cultural and religious demands of the institution of the Sabbath. Jesus’ response in one sentence blows apart the Sabbath matrix with the perspective of God. “Human beings were not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for human beings.” In that one sentence is the ultimate death knell to every institutional system erected in the false imaginations of human beings. Now, insert the word, ‘marriage’ into Jesus’ statement for Sabbath…“Human beings were not made for marriage, marriage was made for human beings.”
(In another conversation Paul spit out a one liner along these lines that compliments his thought above well: Institutions are always initially built with good intentions to serve humans. But, inevitably, they always require humans to serve them and often at the price of relationships. IE, the sabbath was created for humans to rest, so they could live and work more proficiently. We institutionalized it, and now even relationships and human connection are often violated by its rules.)
So, marriage is not an institution where God defines roles and performance. There is simply the reality of two human beings, who together as an expression of their uniqueness, begin to explore and create something for them, a living-moving dance of Oneness that celebrates the personhood of each and emerges as a messy, painful, wondrous, inadequate, limited, process-filled, picture of the way we are loved by God in the midst of all our damage, and a taste of the Oneness Dance of the Three that all of us have been included into. In the same way, singleness is not an institution either, because for some at times of their lives, it is made for them, not her or him for it.
The caveat is this; we live in a world of hurt. We’re surrounded by temporal institutions of every imaginable sort. Some which extend our ability to do good, and others become expressers of overt evil and destruction – but each a mix of both. Our freedom is to learn how to be in them (institutions, matrix, systems, agendas, plans, protocols, principles etc), but not of them. Freedom opens up our growing availability to love and serve. Inside of this part of the conversation rests sensitivity to culture, heritage, ethnicity, religion, politics etc. So the better question with regard to marriage is how are we then to live inside the matrix and institution of marriage but not be ‘of’ it?
Whats one practical tool or “thought” that has reshaped your marriage from day to day?
Don’t apologize. Ask for forgiveness.
Apology does not change the balance of power. An apologist is one who defends, using of course, the nicest possible language. There is a world of difference between announcing that you are sorry, and then leave it as vague as possible but feel like you have done your part, and asking, “Will you please forgive me?” This question is inherently an invitation into a conversation that a statement is not. There is also a change of power. You are giving it to the other and you are entering the messy, real, at times very painful, mysterious and wonderful world of relationship.
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