Let me start out and say something that I think is obvious but seems to be questioned these days. Marriage is good! For those who believe in the Bible, the argument is pretty easy to make, at least superfluously. God created marriage. God declared marriage good. End of story. Of course, this can result in a very superficial understanding of marriage. So lets look a bit deeper.
The question is: Why is marriage good? There are a host of reasons. There have been numerous talks, papers, and articles in the last few years about the benefits of being married. There is statistical data which indicates married couples are generally happier, healthier, live longer, get more sex, and tend to be more successful economically than their non-married peers. This is just the start of the benefits. In the future I will do a post with pointers to this data. These are all good, but I would suggest they are secondary or side effects. Nice, but not the heart of the matter.
Marriage is good because we were designed to be in relationship, community with others. We flourish when there is someone who is committed to loving us, and when there is someone for us to love. Abundance through mutual sacrifice. Marriage was designed to provide a stable and loving environment for growth and nurture, to provide companionship, a primary building block for community. Marriage is intended to change us for the better. All of this is wonderful, but marriage was intended for even more than this. In the book of Ephesians we learn that God intended marriage to be a living model of what Christ’s relationship is like to those who follow after Him. A picture of new beginnings, of lives transformed and purified by sacrificial love. Marriage is intended to help us understand God’s love for us, and as we understand God’s ways more, so our understanding of marriage grows as well.
Marriage is something that is good, and it’s appropriate to desire and seek. This doesn’t mean it will be easy. If fact, anything truly valuable requires work. Want to be a world class runner, you are going to have some painful training. Be a great painter, you are going to spend a lot of time in the studio. Have a great marriage, it’s going to be work.
Here in the USA the path to marriage can be complex and somewhat convoluted. Typically it starts with that awkward dance of asking someone out, dating, engagement, and finally marriage. For many people, this process has several restarts, often involves painful rejection, dating relationship ending, “broken” and then healed hearts, etc. For some, broken engagements, and hardest of all, divorce after a marriage. There are some people who look at this hard road, read statistics about divorce, and think to themselves “being single isn’t so bad”. I might agree with people who reach this conclusion, but in most cases, I think they are wrong. In my experience, there are four reasons people consider singleness, one is healthy, three are not.
Some people have given up on marriage because they expect failure. They have seen how destructive bad marriages can be. Maybe they are a child of a particularly nasty divorce. Maybe they know a number of people who have struggled in their marriages. To these people, I would say “don’t give up”. God created marriage. Marriages can, and do succeed. Don’t let fear control you. Also, the odds aren’t as bad as you might think. The statistic often thrown around is more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. Yet, not everyone has the same risk. There are populations with a much higher risk of divorce: people married before 21 (issues of maturity), who haven’t finished high school (are likely have a very hard time making it in the world), and the people who have divorced multiple times (life choices and patterns). The divorce rate for reasonably mature adults who enter a marriage for the first time is much lower. Divorce is not inevitable. It’s also worth noting that while many marriages struggle, especially in their early years, through that struggle emerges maturity. There have been a number of surveys that have found the majority of struggling couples that keep at it are significantly happier after five years. They worked through hard things to find a real joy.
Some people avoid marriage because they are afraid of losing their freedom, their autonomy, being able to be think only about themselves. In a sense, they are right. A good marriage requires giving up some of your freedom, to give up seeking your personal fulfillment as your only goal, marriage will change you. In a world without a loving, caring God, giving these things up might not seem worth it. In the Christian world view, we are called to embrace God, to desire for Him to change us to become more like Jesus, to become people of love and faith. A good marriage will require letting go of selfishness, giving up some freedom, but it will be a force for good, that transforms our lives, makes us more holy.
Their are some people who would like to be married, but are afraid that they might marry the wrong person, so they have an approach / avoidance dynamic. I won’t spend much time discussion this here, because I will explore this in more detail in a later post. I will just observe this is often because the person has an unrealistic, over idealistic views of marriage. A core truth I will repeatedly touch on in this set of posts is that marriage is between two sinful people. This is the struggle, and also the heart of growth we all experience in marriage.
There is a good reason not to seek marriage. That you feel called by God to devote yourself to something else. Paul taught in I Corinthians 7 that there are advantages to being single. This was a radical idea and very much went against the culture of time which believed that a life wasn’t complete until you were marriage and had children. What are those advantages? That the single person can devote themselves fully to following after God, to a specific task or ministry. Single people have fewer concerns and worries. Often times, this is for just a season of life. For example, when people are very young, it’s likely not a season to consider marriage, or even dating… there is the basic task of growing up, they don’t have the maturity to succeed. Sometimes, people feel called to a specific task or ministry that will be all consuming, for example, a 1-2 year intensive internship just after college or work on a difficult mission field or a ministry that is best faced as a single person. This doesn’t mean marriage should never be pursued, just that it’s not in season.
Sometimes people are called to singleness for more than a season, for all their life. Paul taught that a single person can be more whole hearted in there following God. I know several people who felt called to stay single. Though single, they didn’t feel a sense of deprivation, and they weren’t alone. They were part of a community which provided the intimacy, companionship, and the shared purpose that you find in a good marriage. They were involved in people’s lives, and people where involved in their life.
I loved being married. Libby’s and my marriage was a blessing to both of us, and I believe the community we were a part of. I would love to be married again, but in this season of life I have realized that I am called to be single. I have a teenage daughter who needs my full attention and who needs space to be able to grief the lose of her mother. For this season, I can’t consider dating much less marriage. I have no idea if this is just for a season or the rest of life, and that is ok. I need to live in the present, and not worry about what might be in the future. What ever comes, I am confident that God will provide what I need.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”Genesis 2:18