Marriage: Liberating or Depressing?
- Jim Daly President, Focus on the Family
- 2017 3 Oct
It’s fascinating to look back at the many mysterious twists and turns in our lives, especially in the path that leads to marriage. How do two people, often with widely disparate backgrounds, happen to meet at just the right time for both of them? When it comes to the sovereignty of God, I don’t believe in coincidence. The psalmist writes, “His kingdom rules over all” (103:19, ESV) and “He does all that he pleases” (115:3, ESV). Indeed He does.
If I were to make a chart of all the events and relationships that led me to Jean, I would need a sheet of paper the size of a basketball court. To meet my wife, Jean, I had to be friends with Dan, who had to be friends with Tina. I met Dan because we were exchange students together—in Japan. I went to Japan because . . . well, you get the picture. If you’re married, I suspect you have a similar story. As C. S. Lewis famously observed in his book, The Four Loves, “For a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work.”
But the true “mystery” of marriage is not in the meeting of the two people who become husband and wife but in the Maker of the institution itself. In God’s economy, marriage was the final piece to the creation puzzle. Why else would Adam have exclaimed, “At last!” when he first saw Eve (Gen. 2:23, NLT)? He was lonely. “But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him,” we read in Genesis (Gen. 2:20, NKJV). In other words, things just weren’t right until Eve arrived: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Gen. 2:18, NKJV). 4
It's critical we remember marriage is more than a private arrangement between the couple and their immediate families. It is an essential and irreplaceable public institution. Sociologists are in agreement that, with few exceptions, marriage historically has had less to do with “romantic love” than with social responsibility. It wasn’t until the eighteenth-century Romantics began to write about marriage in sensual terms that most people thought of it as a source of emotional and sexual satisfaction.
More often than not, couples married for security, not for “happily ever after.”
The evolution of marriage from an institution that provides safety into a union of soul mates helps explain, I think, the source of some of the classic frustrations between husbands and wives. If I may generalize, men tend to thrive when marriage is more about security than about romance. Early in our marriage, Jean would have preferred for me to be more romantic, sharing candlelit dinners with her and writing love letters that rival a Shakespearean sonnet. I’ll admit that I could have been more thoughtful and responsive, but over time, Jean has come to appreciate that one of the ways I express my love for her is by providing stability in the home.
But in our culture as a whole, the focus on romantic love has taken its toll. Gary Thomas in his book, Sacred Marriage, writes eloquently about this problem: “Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind demanded of a good marriage, must stretch, as the sinful human condition is such that all of us bear conflicting conditions.”
Thomas goes on to pose a provocative but insightful question: What if marriage is more about our holiness than our happiness? Marriage is designed to transform our selfishness into selflessness. As the nineteenth-century English pastor George Hughes Hepworth once said, “The purpose of marriage is the building of the home. If there is any other motive—wealth or social position—we perform an act of sacrilege, defy the laws of the universe and reap a harvest of tears.” Do our actions measure up to this standard?
SOUL MATE SYNDROME
Do you believe in soul mates, the idea that there’s one person in the world without whom your life would be incomplete? The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with coining the phrase back in 1822, “To be happy in Married life,” he wrote, “you must have a Soul-mate.” From the romance writer Faye Hall (“True love is finding your soul mate in your best friend”) to Uncle Rico in the cult-favorite movie Napoleon Dynamite (“I’d be making millions of dollars and living in a big ol’ mansion somewhere, soaking it up in a hot tub with my soul mate”), the belief is perpetuated everywhere. It makes for an entertaining Hollywood screenplay, but is it foolish to build a marriage on it? I think so.
Jim Daly is president of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family.
(Image courtesy of Thinkstock)