Over sixty percent of first-time marriages are preceded by cohabitation, according to the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, which reports a 17-fold increase in the practice since 1960.
Cohabitation has become so accepted and commonplace that for many couples it is not the result of a conscious decision or even a conversation. Instead, notes clinical psychologist Meg Jay, more often it "just happens," as a couple slides, ever so surely, from dating, to having sex, to sleeping over, to sleeping over a lot, to moving in together without discussing goals or expectations.
Today, nearly 50 percent of women aged 25-39 admit to living, or having lived, with an unmarried partner. Most do so in hopes that the relationship will move to marriage. For most men, it is a "test drive" that allows them to postpone commitment while enjoying the benefits of available sex.
Predictably, women who acquiesce to an unbinding relationship set themselves up for frustration, disappointment, and objectification. Take "Jennifer," who told Dr. Jay she felt that her boyfriend was never committed to her and that she "was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife." Although they were eventually married, a year afterward Jennifer was seeking divorce.
Counting the costs
Contrary to the hopes of most women, cohabitation actually decreases their chance of getting married in their prime childbearing years, as a 2012 CDC survey reported. For those who do reach the altar, like Jennifer, there are increased risks of marital dissatisfaction, marital problems and divorce -- especially if they cohabited before engagement -- which carry emotional, psychological, and financial costs that far outweigh any economic benefits that might have used to rationalize their "decision."
And there are social costs as well.
As the incidence of cohabitation shot up, the marriage rate plummeted (and is now at a historic low) and the out-of-wedlock birth rate skyrocketed (now at a record high). So, no longer can one assume that a pregnant woman is married or will be married.
Instead, after pregnancy, more couples are choosing cohabitation over marriage according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And that exacts a cost on their children, who, the National Institutes of Health reports, fare worse academically, cognitively, socially, and behaviorally than children raised by married biological parents.
What's more, the cohabiters’ increased risk of divorce transfers the increased risks to children of fatherless homes, poverty, neglect, child abuse, and delinquency. And that's for children whose parents want them. For the rest, it's adoption or abortion.
How did we get here? Continue reading here
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is more than a bracing reminder about our duty to the poor; it is a cautionary tale about misjudging our spiritual condition.
In Jesus’ day, material wealth and well-being were commonly assumed to be divine blessings for personal righteousness: The rich were rich because of their moral virtue, and the poor, poor because of their sin. The rich man had bought that line, only to learn too late that he had been wrong—tragically so.
Sadly, it is a line selling well today, as evidenced by the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel and its various permutations.
Jesus told His disciples that there will be people at the threshold of heaven, claiming to have done great things in his name, only to be told, “I never knew you”—people like the rich man whose spiritual valuation was all wrong.
These warnings should prompt us to consider our own spiritual well-being. If pressed, would we say that we are spiritually healthy, sick, on life support, or, like the rich man, dead men walking? Based on what vital signs?
I can imagine many folks considering themselves to be “healthy” based on some combination of religious activities: church involvement, Bible reading, worship attendance, tithing, keeping the commandments . . . probably the very things the rich man relied on, which, in the end, didn’t serve him well. And it is not hard to understand why.
Since religious activity can be the product of either spiritual formation or behavior modification, it is not, taken by itself, a reliable indicator of our spiritual state. Basing our spiritual health solely on religious activity is like basing our physical health solely on physical activity. While diminished physical ability can be indicative of a serious medical condition, many times it isn’t. Lance Armstrong was competing in, and winning, world cycling championships while harboring a virulent, undetected cancer. In the same way, religious activity alone, despite fervor and effectiveness, may never reveal a moldering interior life.
Understanding our physical risks requires that we undergo intrusive procedures—blood tests, colonoscopies, pelvic exams, and mammograms—involving needles, X-rays, scopes, and probes that can be uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing. Understanding our spiritual risks requires an equally intrusive and sometimes unpleasant procedure: probing beneath the surface of religiosity and moralism to the temper of our heart—the attitudes, affections, and motivations that shape what we are and what we do.
Spiritual formation is an inside-out process. It begins in the head, transforming our thoughts in how we view ourselves and the world; proceeds to the heart, transforming our character as manifested in “fruits of the Spirit”; and flows out to the hands, transforming our activities from works leading to death and works of righteousness to “fruits of the Kingdom.”
I once heard someone say that the most popular time for pastors to leave town is Trinity Sunday. How true that is, I don’t know. What I do know is that, in 50-plus years in the pews I have never heard a sermon on the subject, in whole or part. I suspect my experience is not unique.
Few would deny that the Trinity is one of the most (if not the most) important of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, and also one of the most misunderstood. Whether or not homiletical avoidance is to blame, it is regrettable, because no other doctrine tells us more about God and ourselves.
The nature of God
Were it not for the Trinity, St. John’s claim “God is love” would be little more than glassy-eyed sentiment. Love without an object is frustrated, unfulfilled, and incomplete. Thus, a loving but solitary God is a God who is contingent, a God who must create to satisfy Hs yearning, a God who is less than perfect.
On the other hand, a God who exists in a community of uncreated “One Anothers,” is a God who is complete in and of Himself from eternity to eternity. For him, creation is not a divine necessity, but an extension—an extravagant extension—of who He is.
Although Scripture lays out no explicit doctrine on the Trinity, it contains numerous references to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working in concert. For example:
In the Annunciation, Gabriel tells Mary how the Spirit will come in the power of the Father to produce the Wordmade flesh in her.
At the last supper, Jesus promises the disciples that the Father will send the Spirit to remind them of his teachings.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reveals that spiritual gifts come from the Spirit, in service to the Son, according to the sovereign purposes of the Father.
Then there’s Jesus’ rebuke of the Jews ("No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him”) that, when combined with his response to Thomas (“No one comes to the Father except through Me”) and Paul’s message to the Corinthians (“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit”), reveals that personal salvation is the synergistic result of the Father’s initiative, the Son’s atonement, and the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
Scripture bears witness to a Godhead of three Persons united in will and purpose. One of those purposes is the creation of beings designed for union in the divine Community. For instance, notice how man’s tripartite nature of mind, body, and spirit relates to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the following verses... Continue reading here.
In the 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, a horde of rising zombies kills seven individuals in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. Two years earlier, in real life, a zombie fatally stabbed and strangled eight student nurses in a Chicago townhouse. His name was Richard Speck.
While Speck was not a re-animated human corpse in the mode of modern Hollywood depictions, he was, in a very real sense, one of the walking dead—a person who is physically alive, but emotionally, socially, and morally dead. Even 22 years after the murders, when asked how he felt about them, Speck sneered: "Like I always felt . . . had no feeling. If you're asking me if I felt sorry, no." With soulless detachment, he went on to describe the process of strangulation: "It's not like TV . . . it takes over three minutes and you have to have a lot of strength."
Night of the Living Dead proved to be a groundbreaking film in the horror genre. Zombies, which until then had been depicted as living persons enslaved through the power of black magic, were recast in this film as insatiable cannibals raised from the dead. Numerous spinoffs followed, as well as a raft of slasher films in the 1970s and 1980s, whose villains were zombie-like. Think, Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers.
In a similar way, the Chicago townhouse murders marked the rise of what New York Times columnist David Brooks calls the "spectacular rampage murder." According to Brooks, from 1913 to about 1970, there were no more than two of these types of murders per decade worldwide. After that, the number shot up to nine in the 1980s, eleven in the 1990s, and twenty-six in the past decade.2 Since July 2012, when Brooks wrote his analysis, there have been a half-dozen more, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.
Clearly, the rise in such killings could not happen without the rise of a certain type of killer: a socially isolated person who, psychotherapist Dr. Paul Hannig declares, "can't feel the normal range of human emotions" and has lost "all sense of normal morality and impulse control."3 Think Cho Seung-hui, James Holmes, Adam Lanza . . . zombies.
Whereas Hollywood movie zombies kill to satisfy their hunger, the real-life rampage murderer kills, says Dr. Hannig, in the belief that mass murder is "the solution to his problems." He imagines that the spectacle of his crime will bring wide attention to the injustices he has had to bear. Through mass murder, he will assert his grievances and accomplish what he has failed to accomplish thus far: "to be heard, understood, and accepted."
But whether fictional zombies or real-life murderers, such persons represent something the Apostle Paul warned would characterize the latter days: people "without natural affection" or, as the New Revised Standard Version puts it, who are "inhuman" (2 Timothy 3:1–9). They are not inhuman in the sense of "sub-human" or animalistic, however, but in the sense of "counter-human"—that is, these individuals are set against humanity and even their own humanness, often to the point of taking their own life after taking the lives of others.
Over sixty years ago, Albert Camus wrote a novel about what well could be the proto-"counter-human." He titled the book The Stranger, an apt reference to the central character, Meursault.... Continue reading here.