There are a plethora of Christian books that present strategies for a healthy marriage. Implicit in the arguments of “how to have a better marriage” is that particular authors’ diagnosis of what is potentially wrong with your marriage. Usually the marriage books diagnose the problem by looking at patterns in behavior and offer solutions to help overcome those difficulties. These are usually good strategies for behavior changes, which in some way help to shape our hearts. I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage. But if I may, let me propose that the problem with your marriage is simple and the solution is simple. Now, I know that I just made a huge categorical statement. So let me explain. Let’s begin with the root problem that gives expression in wrong behavior, we find this in Genesis 3.

In Genesis 3 we read that the first husband and wife reject God’s dominion over their lives in an attempt to establish themselves “as God.” Essentially they pronounce independence from God’s established order in an attempt to become “self-existent.” Couched in this rebellion is the desire of dominion over declaring what is good and what is evil. Essentially humans declare independence of God’s rule and establish ourselves as the implementers of rule over our own lives and others; this is the heart of sin. Genesis 3:16 is where we see God declaring the manifestation of sin as it will be expressed in the marriage relationship. God declares;

“Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Now, I acknowledge that the meaning of this passage is often debated by scholars. Just by reading Genesis 3:16 it’s easy to imagine different ways it has been interpreted. Let me offer a suggestion made by D.A. Carson which seems to make logical sense. Carson argues that it is significant that the two verbs used in Genesis 3:16, “desire” (teshuqah) and “rule” (mashal) are used again together not long after 3:16 in chapter 4. This repeated use should be a sign that the latter passage helps us interpret the former. In Genesis 4 we read the narrative of Cain killing Abel, this is the first murder in human history. When God confronts Cain after the homicide he explains to him why He is angry. The 4:7 passage reads:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its [sin] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

This usage of parallel wording reveals the true meaning of 3:16, namely that the overall problem in marriage is sin, which is generally expressed by the woman’s desire to dominate her husband and the husband’s desire to brutally lord over his wife. Again, the problem is the same – the desire for dominion which is expressed against your marriage partner. The result, as Gordon Wenham put it, is that “to love and cherish” becomes “to desire and dominate.” Therefore, marriage becomes a power struggle rather than an intimate, unified, and beautiful collaboration of life as God had designed it. See, the husband and wife were to enjoy the harmonious relationship of marriage (2:18, 21-25). This was how marriage worked before the fall. But this perfect harmony is now broken by the curse of sin and is further perpetuated by inordinate desires and is reinforced by a fallen world.

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