Chances are your idea of marriage could best be described as some sort of ritual union which outlines the rights and obligations between two parties. That the parties are of opposite sex has now been determined, by some, to be an arbitrary idea. Why the number restriction (two and only two) is not similarly arbitrary is utterly illogical – but as is often the case, social norms transcend logic.
Chances are that half of all children born to married parents this year will experience their parent’s divorce before they reach their 18th birthday – Christian faith notwithstanding.
Chances are, if you are still married, some very unfortunate things have happened since your own wedding day. Statistics show that whether you have been married for 30 days or 30 years, marital infidelity happens all too often.
In fact, the institution of marriage itself, after 50 years of dilapidation, is undergoing some unexpected changes. More and more people are choosing not to marry or they are coming together in self-defined unions. Marriage brings enormous degrees of new responsibility and new demands that many people are now unwilling to withstand. Don’t get me wrong, couples are still having children, but they are bringing those children into different contexts and environments.
But before we blithely toss traditional marriage to the junk-heap of history, l would like to take a moment and go back to the beginning where the institution began. For a moment let’s forget everything we have ever been told about marriage, and let’s begin with its initial design.
In Genesis chapter 2 we are given an account of creation, and it centers around the male-female relationship. In this passage God made man and He did a number of things.
First of all, verse 15 ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’.
Here we discover (after creating man and before introducing him to a woman) God made sure Adam was gainfully employed. Ladies, this should tell you something. It should tell you that as you go about looking for a potential mate, you would be better off taking out of consideration any man unwilling to work.
Secondly, verse 16 “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Next we find that God gave man divine instruction. Unfortunately, most men are clueless concerning what God has to say about life, manhood, or how to build a successful home. Yet here we clearly see that God’s definition of manhood involves taking divine truth and making it work within his family.
Thirdly, (after laying the foundation for a healthy home by giving the man a job and divine instruction) God then introduces the woman. Verse 18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
Please note it was God’s idea to make Eve. It was not man’s idea. Marriage is an institution created by God. He alone knows how it best operates.
Also worth noting, the woman is referred to as a helper. She is given one basic responsibility – help. This is why, after Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, God asked, “Adam, where are you?” God doesn’t single out Eve because He put the burden of responsibility for the home on Adam. Eve was never meant to bear the burden of the home. Therefore, when a man shifts the responsibility of the home over to the woman, he has made a cataclysmic mistake. What he has done, generally speaking, is overloaded the circuits of his wife by giving her a task that God never meant for her to have.
Today, tragically, mothers are bearing the burden alone; mom is expected to go out into the workforce to help bring in the money; she does all the cleaning; she does all the washing; she does all the ironing; and men want to know, “Why is she upset all the time?”
The answer is because her circuits have been overloaded. Gentlemen, a wise man will either cease insisting that his wife work, or else, master the virtues of basic cooking. This would not only elevate her mood, it would be demonstrably better for society.
And then we come to the critical part – verse 24. “For this cause a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
The question is for what “cause?”
For the cause of giving back to Adam the missing rib that was used to create Eve. Marriage gives back to the man something he lost; while it gives to the woman the rest of what she does not yet possess. Put more simply, men and women were created uniquely but complimentary. Their differences, when brought together capably, form a completed whole.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom of online dating, unity in marriage is not dependent upon some compatibility quotient of overlapping interests. Unity is the ability to recognize one another’s particularly held needs and being willing to meet them. The greatest challenge to marital bliss is not the existence of differences – without differences there would be no procreation. The challenge is to acknowledge the differences and discover how to bring them together in a complimentary way.
“ . . . a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife . . .”
These words present a stark choice. Marriage requires you to be willing to give up all other human relationships. If the union is going to thrive, you must be willing to make your spouse the first priority of your life. Anything less does not work. Marriage is not creating space for the other person as dictated by convenience or circumstance. It is persistently prioritizing the other person through time, attention, and affection.
“ . . . and they become one flesh.”
There it is. That is marriage . . . but what does it mean?
This mysterious phrase “become one flesh” means being completely united with one another physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Adam and Eve were lovers, best friends, and spiritually open to one another without fear or shame. When a relationship achieves that level of intimacy, a third entity (one flesh) comes into being. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Think of it in this way. Marriage is your first child – you give birth to something that had previously not existed. And, as with any newborn, this new life is depending on you to nurture it into maturity. Consequently, if you enter into marriage expecting it to take care of you – you are in big trouble. Your marriage will not take care of you. You must take care of it. At the outset it will be weak and shaky; it will cry and demand attention and do all kinds of unexpected and funny things. But ultimately it is a responsibility. It is up to you to see it grow and develop.
Today, this time honored contract is being rewritten. And while I don’t condone it, I am not one of those who see gay marriage as the culprit for the demise of traditional marriage. The assault came from within. Marriage has needed no help in managing its own long, slow suicide, thank you. Astronomical rates of divorce and of single parenthood (the deliberate creation of fatherless families) existed well before there was a single gay marriage. The minting of these new forms of marriage are symptoms (not causes) of our culture’s radical individualism.
Don’t get me wrong, over the last century, the good that individualism has wrought in this country is quite incalculable. It gave women and minorities the chance to develop and participate in society – something that had been wrongfully denied for far too long. But like all great revolutions, individualism has its price and its victims.
Regardless of what our culture decides to do with traditional marriage, the institution, itself, will continue to thrive. Truth, after all, has a way of doing that. I only wish I could be as certain about our way of life and the future of our society.