Marriage: The Forgotten Promise
If there ever was a cultural institution that was becoming socially irrelevant, it is marriage. The recent (within the last 40 years) doubling of children born out of wedlock, the same recent doubling of divorce rates, a movie industry that has consistently produced “R” rated movies (more than half since the rating system was created) that typically depict violent sex or sex outside of marriage, and a postmodern culture that bristles at the thought of being “judged” for its relational tastes; all these have made marriage an embattled institution indeed.
But is it only a cultural institution? To be sure humans have legislated it and waxed poetic about it, but is it only of human origin and definition? Did God have anything in mind when He created the 2 sexes? To be sure, He did. And while some will carp about ‘whose god?’ or ‘whose interpretation?’, the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the One who I intend to heed. And His Revealed Word, Bible, is the best place to look for our foundations, rebukes, and inspirations. And The Word Incarnate, His Son, is the best one to bring all our questions, doubts, and prejudices to submit to His lordship and His love.
The eroding of marriage is a sub-set of the much larger eroding of modern morality:
All these and more have played their part in casting us adrift in a sea of ambiguity and indifference and self-centeredness, and have also weakened marriage as well. It should be noted however that the greater contributors to eroding marriage mostly use sexual messages and mostly target men.
We are constantly bombarded with images of beauty. This is not really such a bad thing were it not that many of these images are sexually alluring. And the however brief lustful thought that comes from our being defrauded by looking at a beautiful stranger adds yet another cloud to our forgetfulness of the promise of marriage, namely, the promise of fidelity and purity. Needless to say the tenfold increase of sources for temptation brought by the advent of internet images has further added to our forgetfulness. But have you ever also considered the influence of television, especially cable television, which more often than not finds ample fodder for lust, infidelity, graphic violence, and contrived romances.
With all these outlets veritably assaulting and undermining traditional marriage, and the church, the last bastion of its truth, offering scarce objections, I only foresee pain and heartache and more violence such as the world has never known. Violence? Yes, violence. Because the promise of marriage is also a promise of stability and peace, and not just for the immediate family but for the community as well.
Happily, we do not need the host culture’s endorsement to embrace the promise of marriage. All we need is Christ for finding the commitment to live it. All we need is God’s Word to order our ways. All we need is the Holy Spirit to find unexpected strength for living.
To live for Jesus is to see every relationship in life transformed. When we look thru His eyes, we see others differently. We indeed ourselves have become new people but surprisingly so has everyone else. In relation to us and to our Savior, everyone else has been endowed with an unexpected dignity (God loves them just as much as He loves us) and are also seen as captive to sin as we once were.
But rather than waxing poetic about Marriage or finding biblical proof-texts to confirm my bias, let’s play a game. I love games, don’t you? We’ll call this game “Remember Your Vows” and we’ll use the standard, old-fashioned wedding vow to play it.
“I _____, take you ______, to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife. To have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness or in health; to love and to cherish 'till death do us part. According to God’s Holy Ordinance, this is my solemn vow and hereto I pledge my faithfulness.”
Here’s how we play:
You find a phrase or word that resonates with you and then ask yourself “Is Marriage really supposed to be like that?” Then I will say, “But Marriage today can no longer be like that, can it? These vows are unreasonable and unrealistic.” Then you should try to prove me wrong. When you can’t think of anything to prove me wrong, you lose. You lose your optimism. You lose your commitment. You lose your creativity. That sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Maybe not, but let’s play anyway.
I’ll go first.
“for better or worse” – On the surface this seems to mean in good times or bad times, but it has to mean more than that because ‘for richer or poorer or sickness or health’ seems to cover that. This resonates with me because I suspect that it means that we will stay true regardless if we are happy or unhappy with each other. And even more than this, when later in the marriage we discover additional things about our beloved that delight or disappoint or even grieve us, it will not cause us to consider the option of divorce.
We will stay true no matter what may come. We are pledging to stick with it regardless if our angel picks her nose or our Prince Charming scratches his crotch; regardless if our sweetie can’t cook or won’t clean; if they spend money foolishly or are hoarders; if they love the in-laws or constantly criticize them; regardless, we will stay true, we will persevere, we might have to get counseling but we won’t run away.
Then you say, “How foolish. Of course no one is obligated to remain in a loveless marriage. There will always come a time when we can only stand so much. It is not God’s intent that we make an idol out of marriage. And if He sends a person to whom we are better suited, we should not be so stubborn to cling to a marriage which grates on our nerves nor allows us to express ourselves fully nor gives us satisfaction.”
Then I say – So you’re telling me that we should ‘trade up’ or ‘get out’ if our present marriage is not all we hoped it would be. But have you never considered that when marriage is indeed an idol, it will never be all we hoped it would be. Imperfect marriages are the result of imperfect people. What else should we expect? Ah, but why then use such confident and compelling words when making our vows when we are inescapably creatures of frailties and imperfections? Why make promises that we can never truly keep? Why hope in a dream that is destined to fail or at least disappoint? My answer:
The ‘dream’ remains intact. It’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, we will never know when something is wrong. It’s like that with pain. We know health and well-being. So when pain comes along, we seek a doctor. Similarly, when the dream of a happy marriage is spoiled by disappointment or hurt, we should seek God and the prayers and support of our family, both our church family and our immediate family.
In seeking God we should be ready to change ourselves if change is called for. This includes a willingness to forgive and be reconciled, a desire to forsake sin and our musings over others we are attracted to, and a firm conviction that God created Marriage and wants His Son to be Lord of it. And in seeking our family we should only seek those who are similarly persuaded, but not sympathizers or ‘fixers’ but rather those of peaceful, Christ-honoring marriages.
Here I will need to restrain myself when saying God wants Jesus to be Lord of our marriages. ‘Lordship’ has so many wonderful and fearful directions it can take. Sufficed to say, ‘satisfaction’ in marriage is not found so much in the arms of our beloved as it is in the arms of Jesus as He embraces our efforts and prayers to have a blessed and submitted marriage.
The promise of Marriage is for those who want Christ to be glorified. Peace, purity, joy, achievement, and more are the heritage, or better, the ‘gifts’ of God for those who truly want to honor His Son. Want to prove it? Go look for those who love Him and see. Better still, go seek Christians to whom life has not been so kind, like an Alzheimer’s spouse or the parent of a Downs Syndrome child, and see what they think of their Lord and their life. Supernatural indeed is joy in these kinds of circumstances.
Then you will say – “Are you saying that only Christians have good marriages? Nonsense! I know plenty of non-Christians who are happily married and even a few ‘Alzheimer’s spouses’ who have no regrets or bitterness. Christians don’t have a monopoly on happiness.”
Then I will say – Neither do we have a monopoly on God’s blessings. The truth is God is kind everybody, for
“… he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” We are all blessed more than we know. And happy marriages may even be had by those to
hate God or ignore Him or refuse to believe in Him. This is the message of the Book of Proverbs, namely that God has so ordained the world that wisdom, truth, and mercy will trump foolishness,
lies, and brutality, and, that this is regardless of one’s religion or lack thereof. The theological term for this is common grace, that is, the general blessings of God that are available to
all, even to the ungrateful.
But there is also something called special grace. This is only for those who are God’s people. And altho it is a matter of contention who these are and who is not, it is generally agreed that if indeed God has a people, that He will likely bless them in tangible ways unavailable to those who rebel against or ignore Him. It is this special grace that I am speaking of when I point to Christian marriages that possess such contradictions as calmness in tragedy or happiness in poverty or… “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” 2Cor 6:10
Is there a Promise of Marriage that has been forgotten? I think so. But until we shake off the stupor we have been lulled into by our current culture, we will never pray for the deliverance we so desperately need to embrace its vision yet again. So let’s begin by asking God what he had in mind by creating marriage, and, let’s remember our vows.
1 cp. The 4th ring of Dante’s Inferno… “Why do you waste? Why do you hoard?”
2 cp. The Roman maxim to keep the masses in check: “Give them bread and the games”