I seem to be caught in a loop watching more of the podcasts by the people who interviewed Brandon Hatmaker. I think I linked it last week. I’m only halfway through this particular episode because I haven’t had time to really sit down and concentrate. I’m not saying you have to watch the whole thing unless you are particularly curious. But maybe a few minutes would give you a sense of what they are talking about and why:
Essentially, a man—Matt—was married to one of the women in the podcast, but that marriage broke up, and now he is married to the other woman. That would not be a very interesting hour, though, and not make anyone click on it. The twist is that the two women, Matt’s previous wife, and his current wife, are now best friends. They titled it well enough that I was drawn in.
Being only halfway through, I have two thoughts, neither of which will surprise anyone very much.
First, this is not an entirely alien world to me. I have had to be around what I would call “weak men” before in my life, mostly in more progressive circles. And while there is a certain amount of satisfaction in the sort of easy “equality” that is possible in a relationship like that, it is actually more dangerous than being in a relationship with someone who is, I would say, stronger in character and will.
In this case, the narration by the first wife of the terrible pain she endured when they split up—her newborn was only a couple of weeks old and the toddler wasn’t sleeping through the night—rather appalled me. It seems like she wanted him to get out (I think that’s what she said–she doesn’t say what happened), but essentially, in purely practical terms, she was left completely alone, postpartum, with two young children, and was in overwhelming psychic pain and exhaustion. What struck me about this portion of the interview is that he is sitting next to her as she tells the story, and he betrays no sense of shame, nor horror as the story is unfolding. He is leaning back, comfortable. If he is embarrassed, it is not apparent on his face.
The reason for the lack of shame—and this brings me to my second observation—is that all three people on the podcast, the man and his current wife, and his previous wife, have all “worked it out.” That is, they have gone to a lot of therapy, undertaken to heal their various relationships, and, to use the word that is jangling around in the back of my mind, gotten “healthy.” The current wife in both this podcast and the one with Brandan Hatmaker uses that very current and evocative term—healthy.
One of the greatest values of our age is Health—emotional health, spiritual health, physical health. But the most important context of health is one’s relationships, whatever they may be. So one would do well to look for a healthy workplace, as well as a healthy church, and a healthy family. This doesn’t mean that all the people in the system enjoy physical health or anything. It means that their nexus of relationships are pragmatically functional. They are not all hurting each other all the time. They are able to be close to each other in functionally healthy ways.
Now, I am by no means advocating for “unhealthy” relationships. Toxic situations are, by definition, so painful that they cannot be endured. But in this world of weak men, of men, as Lewis says, “without chests,” the embrace of “health” as a desirable characteristic in human relationships has not been optimal for women. And that is because it has supplanted a more essential characteristic in human society. It has taken the place of goodness.
The terms might be occasionally interchanged—that’s not good for me—but they are not the same, to the detriment of a whole culture of “Christians” who have come to value health more highly than almost anything.
Goodness is adjacent to holiness, and I think that is the problem. Because holiness is dangerous. God, at least the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures, seems only some of the time to be worried about “health” as a category of human happiness. Healing is discussed all the time, of course, and given as a great gift by God. But it never comes alone. It is always pointing to the great goodness of God, which is inseparable from his holiness.
Goodness is a matter of virtue. It is a quality enfleshed by sacrifice. What is good for you might require that I do something that cuts against the grain for me. If it would be good for you to live, I might have to die. Indeed, that is what happened with Jesus. For us to experience the goodness of God, he had to take to himself the immense ocean of our wickedness which was making us sick unto death. He did this because he is good and he wants us to be good. He wants us to be able to taste and see his holiness without perishing in our sins.
What struck me most about the podcast (again, I am only at the halfway mark) is how the passionate pursuit of “health” would make a man comfortable sitting in the presence of two women for whom he has not done the good nor the right thing. Whatever one might say, no matter what happened, the failure of the marriage, in Biblical terms, is his primarily to bear, even if she sinned first.
The second thing that struck me is that the two women seem basically happy with the man. He may abandon a young woman with her two children, he may be unkind to her (no doubt because she has been unkind to him, to apportion blame all around), and that is ok because life is tough and that’s just the way things are now. They are all working it out–the women most of all, to bring about peace and health in the midst of pain.
The problem with the Christian view of marriage, of course, is that it is incumbent upon the man to be willing to die to himself for the sake of his wife. That is the picture Christ draws out by his life, death, and resurrection in the gospels. He marries an unlovely and wicked bride. By his own goodness he makes her to be good. Men are supposed to go first in this. They are supposed to be strong—and good—and when they are not it is a grotesque and embarrassing subversion of the gospel.
I think I wouldn’t have been bothered so much except that they mentioned the word “church” several times. I don’t know if they are Christian, nor anything about them, nor the circumstances of their breaking up and remarrying. My grief is for the loss of honor. My lament is that goodness has been abandoned in favor of something that is too weak to save.