(The following is an edited version of a paper I wrote in seminary.)
I’m not married, but I am interested in the theology of marriage. I can’t cover everything comprehensively here, but I want to present a theological way of looking at marriage. Hopefully this will deepen the church’s understanding, and thereby glorify God and strengthen Christian marriages.
My basic argument is this: There are two kinds of love in marriage. The first kind of love is called loud love. The second kind of love is called quiet love. It is important for every Christian to understand these, whether married or single.
2. The Loud Kind of Love
Loud love is new, bold, and fundamentally rooted in the passions. It impels lovers to declare their love from the proverbial rooftops. (Perhaps this is why loud love so frequently annoys other people.) C.S. Lewis speaks of this love as the explosion which starts “the engine of marriage.” Loud love puts the train on the tracks. It may not be able to direct the train to its destination or to sustain the train on its journey; but it burns the coal to get the train moving.
Loud love “helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it…is the great conqueror of lust.” It makes a man generous and courageous in that he feels as though he would give anything for his beloved, even his own life. It also opens a man’s eyes to the irresistible beauty of his wife. And loud love conquers lust because it situates sexual instinct within its correct context. Lust is sexual passion gone wrong, but loud love makes sexual passion function rightly in the context of marriage.
Loud love is good, but it should not serve as the foundation of marriage because it is new, bold, and fundamentally rooted in the passions. The new eventually gives way to the old, boldness transforms into complacency, and the passions frequently wax cold as time passes. A love rooted primarily in the passions cannot ultimately sustain a marriage because of the transient nature of such passions. For this reason, another kind of love is needed to sustain a marriage. If loud love puts the train on the tracks, quiet love directs the train to its proper destination, sustaining it over the course of its journey.
3. The Quiet Kind of Love
Whereas loud love is new, bold, and fundamentally rooted in the passions, quiet love is mature, deep, and fundamentally rooted in the act of promise. Yet there is an intimate connection between these two kinds of love, even if one is more foundational than the other. The promise of quiet love actually comes about as an effect of loud love. Lewis argues, “the curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love…those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises.” Though loud love occurs first in time, it produces the quiet kind of love which is the foundation of marriage.
The reason that marriage cannot be sustained by the loud kind of love is because God designed marriage to be sustained by the quiet kind of love, the kind love that makes a covenant commitment to remain together. The phrase “and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) is thus understood in both physical and covenantal terms. The two will physically come together in the act of sexual intercourse, but the more foundational coming together is their covenantal commitment to one another under God.
John Piper argues, “staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant.” Marriage is a reflection of the glory of God in Christ’s love for his bride, the church. God is glorified in the way that Christ loves the church, and Christian marriage is patterned after this kind of love (cf. Ephesians 5:25-33). The ultimate goal of marriage is the glory of God. In Piper’s words, “most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. Most ultimately, marriage is the display of God.” Thus, marriage exists by God’s design and for God’s glory. Marriage is patterned after Christ’s love for his bride and must be fundamentally rooted in the “sacred covenant promise” to never leave or violate that commitment—“the same kind [of covenant promise] Jesus made with his bride when he died for her.”
Matt Chandler provides more wisdom here. He says, “When you get [to eighty years old], you may be ready for retirement from so many things, but you should never retire from romancing your spouse.” Yet he also says, “if we’re going to be faithful to the end, we will often have to lean into the covenant that we made with our spouse and with the Lord. We will need to access again and again, by God’s grace, this devoted ahava [kind of love], which says, ‘It’s not an option for me to go anywhere because Jesus would not abandon his bride.” The thread which holds together the entire garment of Christian marriage is the quiet kind of love, the love which says, “I’m not going anywhere.”
4. The Two Loves and the Issue of Divorce
The covenant commitment between a man and his wife includes the promise to remain faithful to one another for life. One of the reasons divorce is so abominable is that it displays that an injustice has occurred. It violates God’s design in marriage, it obscures the relationship Christ has with his bride, and it fails to glorify God. This applies also in such cases as adultery, abandonment, or abuse in which the divorce itself is not inherently unjust; but the adultery, abandonment, and abuse certainly are unjust. Therefore, in any divorce, some injustice has occurred along the way.
In a secular worldview, marriage is often a fulfillment of a particular felt need, whether romantic, sexual, relational, or something else. It is usually founded upon the loud kind of love. This is why so many marriages, and sadly even some Christian marriages, end in divorce. They are founded on the wrong kind of love. When perceived felt needs are no longer being met, or when those needs can be better met by someone else, it is easier to justify having a divorce. If the loud kind of love fails to produce the quiet kind of love, the music altogether stops. And it is much easier to want to dance to a different kind of music if one’s own music has stopped.
Marriages founded on the wrong kind of love are doomed to fail and divorcing for that reason merely compounds the problem. The failure of the loud kind of love to sustain a marriage is not a legitimate grounds for divorce, precisely because the loud kind of love was never meant to sustain a marriage. Only a violation of the quiet kind of love should be considered sufficient grounds for divorce. The violations include the trifecta from above, adultery (cf. Matthew 19:9), abandonment (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:15), and abuse, because by definition these violate the covenant promise made to one another. Thus, the only genuine grounds for divorce is a violation of the quiet kind of love.
5. Marital Love and the Glory of God
Loud love is a good thing, but it becomes a bad thing when it is the foundation of marriage. It is like a fire which ignites the affections for one another, but it is not meant to sustain a covenatal relationship. This is why the quiet kind of love is so important. Quiet love, shaped after the pattern Christ’s love for his bride, aiming toward the glory of God in everything, is the only thing which can act as an unshakable foundation in marriage. Since the ultimate goal of Christian marriage is to glorify God, marriage must be rooted not ultimately in the passions, which are transient and fleeting, but in the covenant promise of a man and his wife to remain together in order to reflect God’s design and God’s glory. The loud kind of love produces the covenant promise, and the quiet kind of love sustains the Christian marriage as the man and wife fulfill that promise together, for the glory of God.
 C.S. Lewis, The Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2017), 94.
 Ibid., 93.
 Lewis, The Signature Classics, 92.
 John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 25.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 25.
 Matt Chandler, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015), 199.
 Ibid., 200-201.
 Ibid., 203
Chandler, Matt. The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015.
Lewis, C.S. The Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2017.
Piper, John. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.
Thanks for reading. Have any additional thoughts? Leave a comment below.