Sunday, January 29, 2012

Love and Marriage in the 21st Century

This may be a bit out-of-date. Given that we live in an era when the only news that seems to matter is what happens today.  The news that sparked these thoughts happened about a week ago and has been sitting in my head since then, waiting for me to have the time to get it out.

About a week ago, while skimming the headlines on the Google news page, I saw an Entertainment notice announcing that Seal and Heidi Klum were on the verge of divorce.  I don’t read the Entertainment news, not because I’m “holier than thou” but because I’m not interested in virtually everything I see in the Entertainment headlines.  I understand that Seal is some sort of singer, although I’ve never heard his music.  And I know that Heidi Klum is a model and has a TV show, which I’ve never seen but know that my older daughter is a fan of.

So for a few days I saw headlines related to the possibility of divorce between these two people, including one with what I thought was a rather curious comment by Seal on the present state of his relationship with Klum, which inspired me to post this comment on my own Facebook page:

Today's cultural commentary: So Seal and Heidi Klum are getting divorced, yet “We still love each other like we always have,” which brings one of two questions to mind, either “Why are you getting divorced?” or “Why did you get married?”

I don’t claim to have any great insights on human nature but my questions must have struck a nerve, for they generated much more notice than most of the things I post to Facebook.  And as I thought about what Seal said these other questions came to mind: 

What should marriage be based on?  What should hold it together during times of adversity?  What should the purpose of marriage be?

Before I attempt to answer these questions I want to make a disclosure of some things that are known to some of my friends but perhaps not all of my readers.  I have been married, divorced and remarried.  The things I am about to uphold as virtues are things that I have struggled with.  As I walk through life as a disciple of Jesus I continue to struggle with many things and I need his grace, daily, in marriage and all parts of my life.

What should marriage be based on?  Our culture would say that “love” is the be-all and end-all of marriage.  When two people feel consumed by their love for each other, and perhaps feel complete only with each other, then moving into marriage would seem to be logical step.  And while our society has generally held that marriage is the highest form of personal relationship, the Christian intending to enter into marriage needs to remember that as strong as their love for their potential spouse may be, it should not exceed the love that they have for God.  In the first commandment Deuteronomy 5:7 teaches,

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

It is very easy to put our spouse ahead of God, and to put our needs within marriage ahead of God, and either choice is a form of idolatry.  Again, I am not a model of sanctity but as my wife and I moved towards marriage God was gracious to us and moved us to pray that he would reveal his will for us as a couple.  That prayer, that God would make it clear to us if we should not marry, and a desire to be obedient to him even if the answer was “no”, was one of the hardest prayers I have ever made.  And now, being married, I frequently pray that our marriage would be kept in its proper place before God. 

Secondly, what should hold marriage together during times of adversity?  Again, I think the popular answer would be “love,” but love is an emotion, one that can wax and wane.  In some couples it is a strong bond and in others it is very elastic and even fragile.  In the case of Seal and Heidi Klum, he portrays a love that is both unchanged and unable to sustain them. 

I think that the quality that should hold marriage together, the quality that can persist when our emotional attachment wavers, is faithfulness.  The dictionary gives some adjective for faithfulness, which include faithful, loyal, true, constant, steadfast and staunch.

In the Bible God gives us several images of faithfulness, the kind of faithfulness that endures in each and every circumstance.  One is the book of Hosea, in which God demonstrates his faithfulness to his people, despite their persistent and extreme disregard for their own responsibilities towards him.  Additionally, the theme of faithfulness can be said to describe the entire witness of the Old and New Testaments, as God establishes and maintains a covenant relationship with his people, a covenant upheld through the atoning death-and-resurrection of Jesus.

A caveat.  Some people are in marriages or other interpersonal relationships in which abuse is present.  There are very real instances when relationships should be terminated immediately because of the harm being inflicted on those in the relationship or those close to it, such as children.

And thirdly, what should the purpose of marriage be?  Marriage may feel like the “next step” we are to take as we journey from adolescence into adulthood.  Marriage may provide a framework for the raising of children.  Marriage may bring delight to those whom are joined in it.  These may have been among the reasons that Seal and Klum married.  The last of my reasons was very present when my wife and I married.  But there is a higher purpose in marriage, and that is in providing glory to God.

Question-and-Answer 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I think that this statement means that all of our lives should be lived to the glory of God, and perhaps especially marriage, as the Bible, in Revelation 19, uses the image of marriage to portray the consummation of the relationship between Christ and the church. 

Believing in Jesus calls us to push back against the so-called wisdom of the world with the truth of God, to his everlasting glory.  My marriage is not perfect, but is a particularly delightful blessing, which I pray may be kept in its proper place before God, and used by him to proclaim the Good News, known only in Jesus, to the world.  

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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