/ Jeffrey A Stivason

The Nickel Test

In marriage counseling I will often talk about what marriage is meant to symbolize. I’ll tell my counselees that marriage is meant to mirror something. For example, imagine sitting in the back row of a movie theatre. The projector is obviously behind you and the screen is in front. You are alone in the theatre when the lights go out and the projector begins to run. However, there is nothing but a white screen.  While you are waiting for the theatre to iron out some technical difficulties, you decide to make hand puppets. You put your hand up in the air and it casts a shadow on the screen. It’s huge and hideous.  It looks like a five-pronged monster on screen.  However, you jump to your feet and while still holding your hand in the air you approach the screen.  And as you do, something happens. Your once monstrous malformed hand begins to take shape on the screen.  It gets smaller and smaller until it looks like a hand!  In fact, once you place it on the screen the shadow looks very much like the hand itself. So close is the resemblance that your hand covers the shadow! Obviously, the shadow is not your hand, and your hand is not the shadow, but now the shadow resembles the shape of your hand.   

So, what is marriage supposed to mirror? The answer is in Ephesians 5:21ff. The marriage between a man and a woman is supposed to mirror the relationship of Christ to His people. The marriage relationship is not Christ’s relationship to His bride, but it resembles and mirrors it just like the hand is not the shadow but mirrors it. 

Having shared this illustration with the couple I tell them about the high calling of marriage and how we can foolishly make it look monstrous by our actions, rather than bringing out the beauty of Christ’s relationship to His church. So, I give them some advice.  I tell them to always keep a nickel in their pocket. Why? Because it reminds them to keep perspective. Let me explain.

Compare the earth to the sun. The sun is about 109 times the diameter of Earth. What is more, the Sun weighs about 333,000 times as much as Earth. And it is so large, here is the kicker, that about 1,300,000 planet Earths can fit inside of it. After telling them that, I tell them to take out a nickel and hold it at arm’s length toward the sun.  The nickel can cover up the sun! How can something so small and inconsequential cover something so enormous? Well, of course, it’s because the nickel is so close to us, and the sun is so far away.

And that is exactly what we can do when we act unbecoming or foolish in our marriage relationship.  We can cover up the Son and His beautiful relationship to His bride when we lose sight of that relationship due to our own problems. The coin is supposed to remind the couple to keep their problems in perspective and to look to Christ as the problem solver. That’s not always easy, but it is a better thing than allowing our problems to have the spotlight, rather than Christ.

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor (Grace RPC, graceingibsonia.org) and NT professor at RPTS in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also editor at placefortruth.com.

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