A couple of months ago blogger Darrell Harrison posted this blog article (link), which told us our marriages are supposed to kill us. (It was also reposted here and in a few other places.) My thanks to the reader who alerted me to it.
I wrote to the author of the article over a month ago, telling him I disagreed with it and might blog a response, but pleading with him at the very least to add a disclaimer to say that he opposed domestic abuse. I never received a reply, and he hasn’t posted a disclaimer.
Aside from the fact that any blog post with a title such as this should have a disclaimer that repudiates domestic abuse, I believe the basic tenets of the article are incorrect.
So since I also think for myself—as the post author says he does in his website’s name—and especially since I read the Bible, here we go. . . .
Your marriage is not supposed to kill you
There is no place, no place, no place in the Bible that even hints that your marriage should cause your death, physically or spiritually.
Did you get that? NO PLACE.
I can’t even pull up the Scriptures that reference the concept to explain them, because they’re not even there.
You’re not supposed to die in your marriage. You’re supposed to live.
That’s good news, isn’t it?
How can I say that, you might be wondering, when there are all those Scriptures telling us we’re supposed to die to self, we’re supposed to die to self every day?
Well, guess what.
There aren’t any Scriptures like that.
Instead, Jesus said, “I am come that they [His sheep] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
How I decided to stop trying to die daily
It’s been a long journey for me from the “I die daily” sign I posted beside my bed in college in the 1970s. (It didn’t work—people still told me I was proud and condescending. That made me cry, but they were right.)
Along the way, in the 1990s my young children sang a song for my parents that had this line in it: “And we must die a little every day as we live the servant way of Jesus.” But I changed the words of that line, because I had come to the place where I believed that teaching was untrue.
My mother asked, “Why did you change that line of the song?”
I said, “Because the Bible doesn’t teach about dying every day.”
“Why does it matter?” she asked.
I hesitated and finally said, “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it does matter.”
Well, twenty years of water have flowed under that bridge, and I came to see why it matters. About 10 or 12 years ago I started researching on the internet to try to find if anyone else talked about how “daily dying to self” was unbiblical, but I couldn’t find where anyone did. (I also tried to find out where the concept came from, since it wasn’t in the Bible, and it looked like it came through Christian mysticism—possibly from Buddhism—but don’t quote me on that.)
Along the way I studied the Biblical concept of “denying self,” what it meant to “take up your cross,” the “death” of Romans 6:11, the “mortification” of Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5, the “dying” of II Corinthians 4:10, other Scriptures such as “I die daily” in I Corinthians 15:3, and what it means to be crucified with Christ.
About the same time I asked someone with whom I was barely brave enough to have a conversation about this (since my take on the subject seemed to be bordering on heresy): “When do you think you’re successful in dying to self?” The answer was, of course, never. It’s one of those things we have to keep trying . . . and trying . . . and trying to do, without ever having success.
This is not exactly the Christian life our Lord Jesus told us was available to us.
Mustering the courage to tackle a ubiquitous teaching
Back in 2009 when I started this blog, I said to myself, “One of these days maybe I’ll be brave enough to address that daily dying to self that’s taught everywhere except in the Bible.”
It took a long time to become brave enough. A few things had to coalesce for it, not the least of which was my husband’s passion about the topic and my discovery that Tim Fall had written about it two years ago (link). (“Oh good,” I thought. “Someone else has done it first.” Chicken that I am.)
But of course the primary reason I’m ready to talk about it is that I see Christians who are in the category of the oppressed who have tried to be good Christians by dying . . . or letting their marriages kill them.
And yes, I have friends who when they finally got out of their “Christian” marriages, were very nearly dead.
My husband’s thoughts on “daily dying to self”
As I mentioned, my husband Tim became passionate about the topic, not just because we often have abuse survivors in our home and he sees the deleterious effects of incorrect teachings, but also because he knows this teaching has been confusing and defeating in the lives of non-abused Christians like me . . . and himself.
So since he doesn’t have a blog, he wrote a paper on the subject and handed it to me. Though I want to address some of the misunderstood Scriptures (bringing up ten-year-old Bible study notes), for today I just want to quote my husband, Tim Davis:
“The call to continuing death rings more closely with bondage to the Law than with freedom in Christ. And it can be so used to manipulate people of sensitive consciences, very aware of their faults, while excusing those of calloused consciences who cannot see their own sin—or who redefine it as non-sin.”
And, like any extra-Biblical teaching, there’s the potential for it to end up doing the exact opposite of what it was supposed to accomplish.
“Thus it ironically brings about more sin because it focuses upon our own strength. Our flesh convinces us that determination is the key to a Spirit-led life. Christians think that if we discipline ourselves, we will become spiritual. It sounds like a noble quest. The motives are good, but the means are, according to Romans 7, impossible—even hopeless.”
“No matter how well-intentioned, any call to continuing death is confusing, pointing believers in the wrong direction, toward defeat and discouragement. We are called to life—to live abundantly—not in and of ourselves, but in Christ, by God’s life-giving Spirit.
Personally, I do not come to this truth lightly. I freely admit that my own determination, though fairly strong, has never been sufficient for righteousness.
But it was from the other side where this truth was brought to bear in my life. After several years of my family’s caring for my aged parents as my mother declined from Alzheimer’s, in 2006 both my parents died within six weeks of each other.
We had all made many sacrifices during that time in our lives, my wife, my children, and I. At the same time, I was working in an abusive office environment to earn what we needed to support us. All through this time, I heard weekly Christian teaching from a well-meaning and good man imploring us to “die to self.” I felt like this teaching was killing me spiritually. [RD note: Apparently accomplishing what a good Christian marriage is supposed to accomplish, according to Darrell Harrison’s article.]
We’d given up so much in the past seven years, and now in my grief, looking for strength, I was told I just wasn’t giving up enough.
When I was about ready to quit church altogether (though as a pastor’s son I’d attended church all my life), I tried a different church where I’d heard something hopeful. The messages concentrated on the believer’s identity in Christ—as His beloved child. I needed to stop looking at myself (and ironically, dying to self put the focus on me). This was where my spiritual healing began.
I wonder how many others sit under teachings that constantly put their focus on their own inabilities instead of upon God’s ability. Since that time we’ve sat with many who have been over-wracked with feelings of guilt, failure, and insufficiency. Many come from abusive environments where that [“you’re not dying enough”] is constantly reinforced in them until they can stand it no longer. They’ve died a thousand deaths.
We won’t call them to that. Instead, like Christ, we’ll call them to life.
More coming . . .
I’ll be posting three more parts to this series this week, which will address the Scriptures I mentioned above (which, spoiler alert, are not about daily dying to self and certainly don’t mention marriage).
But for now, I’m just tickled pink that Tim wanted to write something for my blog. It’s the first time that’s happened in eight years of blogging, and I might add, in 32 years of a marriage in which neither one of us has ever considered the possibility that we were supposed to be getting killed by it.
One final thought. If your marriage is supposed to kill you, then maybe you can be like the miserable wife of the tyrant (the Law) in the first part of Romans 7, the one who, in Romans 7:4 represents us as getting killed in her marriage, to then be raised to life again to be married to another, “even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Now that’s the way to die!
Update July 21, 2017. All parts of the series are now published (FIVE, not three!). You can read part 2 here, which talks about the “deny yourself” and “take up your cross” Scriptures, and some other things. You can read part 3 here, which addresses the “mortification” Scriptures and some other things. Part 4 is here, which talks about “rest from works” and valuing what is truly valuable. That’s the Christian LIFE!
Part 5 is here, my letter to the man who said your marriage is supposed to kill you.