Satan’s Shell Game


Satan may not be intelligent but he is certainly strategic. He strikes at the most vital functions of society. Even then he is not content to get us acting foolishly; he prods us to celebrate foolishness. He is able to do this with even the brightest among us. Let me provide some examples.

A commitment revolution

A few years ago a small group of professors who care deeply about families met to develop a national curriculum for marriage. Some of us suggested that commitment is the foundation to strong relationships. We must have a resolve strong enough to keep us connected to a partner through dark days and stormy nights.

A couple of team members objected strenuously to the idea of commitment: “Too many women have been held hostage in bad relationships by commitment.” One went farther: “I don’t even like the sound of the word.”

They made a good point. There are extreme and unwise forms of commitment. There are women who have been destroyed in the process of trying to rescue a relationship with an abusive partner. That is not right.

But there are also healthy forms of commitment. Commitment is the foundation of trust, of covenants, of growth. We might well ask ourselves, is our overall society suffering from too much or too little commitment?

Many social commentators and scholars have observed that we moderns are a flighty people. I agree.

Built on sand

After hitting a logjam on the idea of commitment, one of the team members suggested a different foundation for our marriage curriculum: exchange theory. You may or may not be familiar with this theory. It is based on economics. It suggests that each person is constantly weighing options, looking for the best bargain for him or herself.

Imagine how marriage based on exchange theory would operate! Every day I would ask myself whether my wife is the best I can do and whether the costs of the relationship outweigh the rewards. When attractive options come along, I investigate. If the benefits seem genuine, I would drop my “commitments” in favor of the better deal.

Does this fit with God’s plan for relationships? Is this how God wants us to learn patience, goodness, integrity, and character? No. It is the perfect antithesis.

There is a good reason that God warned us. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Sacrificing sacrifice

Our group met again a few months ago. Most of us had previously attended an international marriage conference.

At one of the conference sessions a renowned researcher had described an unexpected research finding. He found that people who made sacrifices in their marriages reported higher marital satisfaction than those who made fewer sacrifices. The finding was counterintuitive. Exchange theory would predict the greatest satisfaction when costs are low and rewards are high. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ would predict that satisfaction will be highest when we do what is right even when there is a cost associated with the choices.

As our curriculum team met to refine our work, a couple of team members objected to the word sacrifice as used in our evolving document. They returned to the familiar issue: “Too many women have already sacrificed too much.”

Again, they are right. Partly. Some have sacrificed too much–their dignity, their safety, their humanity.

But the vast majority of us have sacrificed too little. Too many of our decisions are made on the basis of immediate reward over long-term rightness–whether the choice is the number of servings of dessert or the willingness to help our spouse around the house.

Our team had a lengthy discussion about the need to teach healthy sacrifice while discriminating against unhealthy forms. All to no avail. Two or three people out of twenty were quite determined that we not use the word sacrifice. The word was sacrificed on the altar of sensitivity.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in sensitivity. I teach it. I try to practice it. But it is not the only value that God recommends. He also recommends obedience (a part of commitment), and sacrifice. They are foundational to character development.

Where from here?

In making these observations I am not making a resigned shrug. I am not willing to concede the battle to Satan. Rather this is a call to action. I invite myself and all who believe that God is the ultimate source of rightness (even higher than social convention), to speak up for goodness. Our voices should be neither combative nor strident. They should be gentle but persistent. We can invite sensible dialogue.

We can be true to Truth.

2 replies on “Satan’s Shell Game”

I have found this is incredibly true with my own marriage: the more I sacrifice, the more satisfied I give. At the same time, I have learned that it is okay to need things, it is healthy and important that my husband sacrifice for me as well. I can request that of him. It takes effort on both parts of us, but when we both do, it’s worth it.


Wise observation. We gladly sacrifice for our partners. They sacrifice for us. And God ordains our sacrifices to our growth and closeness. Sounds like a divine plan!


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