I first saw a copy of Dr. John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus [John Gray, New York: HarperCollins, 1992] on the last leg of my journey back to the United States this summer. The off-duty stewardess sitting next to me was reading a copy with religious devotion.
The title of the book came as something of a revelation to me. You see, all through my elementary school years, girls repeatedly told me that “Boys go to Jupiter, to get more stupider.” Well, whether or not we are going to Jupiter, at least now we know that we came from Mars.
The book is about relationships between men and women. It opens with a clever illustration:
Imagine that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. One day long ago the Martians, looking through their telescopes, discovered the Venusians… They fell in love and quickly invented space travel and flew to Venus.
The Venusians welcomed the Martians with open arms… Their hearts opened wide to a love they had never felt before…
Then they decided to fly to Earth… the effects of Earth’s atmosphere took hold, and one morning everyone woke up with… selective amnesia!
Both the Martians and Venusians forgot that they were from different planets and were supposed to be different [pp. 9-10].
That’s a good beginning. We don’t often hear people say that men and women are different any more. A professor at Hunter College in New York [Lorna Smedman, “Reimagining Gender”] recently began a class with these words: “My working assumption in this course is that gender is already imaginary in the first place, meaning that it’s a construction—a fiction that we all live and work with in our daily lives.” What Dr. Gray is saying in Mars and Venus is just the opposite, that that there are fundamental and inescapable differences between men and women. Gender is a fact rather than a fiction.
Dr. Gray also has some good things to say about the problems men and women have when they try to communicate. Try this one: “A man tries to change a woman’s feelings when she is upset by… offering solutions to her problems that invalidate her feelings” [p. 23]. Well, what about it, women? Sound familiar? Or try this one: “Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished” [p. 43]. There is also a helpful section on “How to Listen Without Getting Angry” [p. 144-45], and I suppose quite a few of us would benefit from reading it.
Christians sometimes get the idea that it is unbiblical to study psychology. It’s true that secular psychology begins with unbiblical assumptions about what human beings are and what they are for. And it’s true that not everything you read in Mars and Venus is biblical. For example, Dr. Gray doesn’t understand how sinful men and women are. He says that women give selflessly by nature, and that men can learn to be selfless simply by being loved [pp. 45-49]. It’s a lot more complicated than that because our selfishness goes much deeper than that.
But it’s worth remembering that non-Christians are people too. It is possible for unbelievers to have genuine insights into human relationships, because of the way that God has made us. This is common grace, which falls well short of saving grace, but is grace nevertheless.
There are two things that you won’t read much about in Mars and Venus that are at the top of my list of things that make relationships work. It’s been my observation, based on a limited range of experience, that Christians are having very nearly as much trouble making relationships work as non-Christians are having. (I’m talking about both married couples and singles, by the way.) If I’m right, it’s a sad thing, because Christian relationships ought to flourish, no matter what is happening in the culture at large. Out of the richness of your relationship with Jesus Christ, you have all the resources to make a relationship flourish. And yet many of us don’t know how to live the gospel in the midst of a romance, or how to allow the grace of God to bring intimacy and healing to our relationships.
The first thing that makes a relationship work is commitment. We live in a culture that is terrified of commitment. People I met at university often went into shock when they discovered that I’ve been married for eight years, and that I’m a father. I think that was because the prevalence of divorce has had a chilling effect on marriage. Broken families have a way of discouraging young people from trying to start healthy families.
But you see, if you know Christ, then you already know what it means to make a firm commitment. You have made a life-and-death commitment to Jesus Christ. And out of your love for Him—and His love for you—you can have the courage and the confidence to love a Christian man or a Christian woman, making a personal commitment that can grow into a strong marriage commitment.
That’s not going to happen if your primary concern is what a relationship can do for you. The subtitle of Mars and Venus should be a real turn-off for Christians. It says: “A Practical Guide for… Getting What You Want in Your Relationships.” Jesus Christ has taught us to do just the opposite. He has taught us that romance begins with sacrifice [see 1 John 3:16].
The other resource Christians have for making relationships work is forgiveness. Even the best relationships can be destroyed by sin. It’s not easy to live with a sinner, as anyone who has ever lived with you can testify. It becomes even harder when lovers build a wall of resentment out of unforgiven hurts and grudges. But the Bible has the perfect tool for breaking down that wall, whatever planet you may be from: Forgive as the Lord forgave you [Colossians 3:13b].
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org