For Better or for Worse: The Real Christian View of Marriage
July 26, 2011 3 Comments
Call me a sap, a romantic, a bleeding heart. I don’t care. Coming down off the emotional high of my anniversary (yesterday) is a slow process. I love my wife, I love being married, and I love reflecting on those two facts. But our anniversary was also a chance to reflect on something else…the slightly uncomfortable fact that I am, in a very real sense, an anomaly.
According to the same Pew Research I quoted in a previous post, 77% of my peers think that more people living together without getting married is either a good thing for society or it makes no difference at all. Fewer people in my generation view having a successful marriage as a primary life goal than in any previous generation.
The popular understanding of the Christian view of marriage has suffered as well. In reaction to the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, much of the Christian church has propagated a message about marriage that sounds a lot like this:
“God says do not have sex until you are married. We agree that sex is nice. So you should get married if you want it.”
If you think that is too harsh a recounting of the popular Christian message, you may be right. Nevertheless, that is what many of my peers have heard from the lips of their youth pastors, Christian school teachers, and parents…and they have rejected it in droves.
The popular Christian message on marriage has been found wanting by a generation that thinks in terms of utility. “Do what works,” is the maxim that is applied to the contemporary American life, and for many Millennials marriage does not seemed to have worked.
Only 62% of Millennials say that their parents were married during the time they were growing up. That compares with 71% of Gen Xers, 85% of Boomers and 87% of Silents. (53, Millennials)
Our culture is full of examples of lives that seem to “work” better as when not married. Ross and Rachel lived together on Friends, after Ross’ multiple failed marriages. Lenny Briscoe, detective on Law & Order, constantly makes mention of his ex-wives’ and their proclivity toward making his life miserable.
In a recent conversation with a Christian person who is living with his/her significant other, I asked the question, “So you’ve been together for years now. Why not get married?” The answer, essentially was this: “I don’t see any good reason. We are happily living together now. We are sharing income. We have had a child. We are committed to each other. But if (God forbid) we want to split up, this arrangement is a much less messy.” It struck me that no one has ever told this person what the real Christian perspective on marriage actually is.
And it is simple. God uses marriage as a symbol of his union with and faithful love for his people. Marriage is a way for Christians to proclaim their faith in a God who is committed to his people “for better or for worse.” Marriage, a covenant (or public promise), is a way of living toward another person like God lives toward us…with full faithfulness and complete commitment. One of the biblical writers, Paul, wrote:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
In other words, God has supremely shown his faithful love to his people through Christ’s love and sacrifice for the church, and he has used marriage to show us what that would look like between two people.
Now, I am not saying that every Christian should be married. Some people prefer to remain single. Some people would prefer to marry but aren’t able to for one reason or another. There are many ways of displaying God’s promise-keeping, unconditional love to others.
But Christians should have a high view of marriage. This view is not the ‘popular Christian’ view proclaimed above, nor the cultural utilitarianism of my peers. While ‘sex within the marriage relationship’ fits into this view, it is not some prudish 1950’s sexual repression stunt. Sexual ethics are a product of Marriage ethics, not the other way around. And when I am making any ethical decisions (including decisions about marriage) instead of asking myself, “What works?” I should ask, “What’s right?”
Marriage is about proclaiming God’s unconditional, promise-keeping love by living a life characterized by that kind of love to another human being. And in doing that, we proclaim that kind of love to a world so desperately in need of our kind of God.