Marriage Is A Radical Act

Paul Earnhart

MARRIAGE AS A LASTING institution was not in especially healthy shape in this country before hand, but the Vietnam War years saw an already rising divorce rate take flight. By 1970 there was one divorce for every three marriages and by 1980 one for every two. There is not much expectation for lasting marriages left among American young people nowadays. Social analyst Daniel Yankelovich has determined that "60% of those marrying in the United States this year do not expect to remain married to that partner." Clearly, "happily ever after" is a dying dream.

There are no doubt many reasons for this social phenomenon. It is evident that the stigma once attached to divorce has long since evaporated. James Dobson has observed that divorce is almost as serious a problem among those that consider themselves Christians as among the general population. Robert J Stout, writing in Christianity Today, estimated that divorce rates among American preachers had quadrupled since 1960. but again, these statistics are probably gratuitous. Most of us have experienced this growing tragedy in our own families, churches or communities.

Social mobility, the anonymity of large cities, the collapse of extended family influence on young marriage partners, have all no doubt played their part in destabilizing the American home. But, as simplistic as it will seem to some, the real cause is a careless ignorance of and indifference to God's law. Our growing lack of reverence for God has made us a nation of self-indulgent covenant-breakers with no sense of integrity or self-discipline. One social force that did much to produce this attitude was the upsurge of individualism that attended the Vietnam War years. Everyone began feverishly trying to "fulfill" himself without regard to the cost to others.

The idea gained vogue in the 1960's that it was a very revolutionary thing to dispense with wedding vows and marriage licenses and to live in a grand, free way, "without benefit of clergy." In this way and others the counter-culture of the times sought to declare their freedom from the traditional values of their elders. Taking up casual liaisons with the opposite sex was held to be a most radical gesture. It was here that the rebellious individualists of the '60's fell into the most egregious blunder. They committed the ultimate conservative and self-serving act. There is nothing more conservative and self-serving than an arrangement without commitment and devoid of risk. When all the rhetoric is stripped away what you have is an instant gratification without responsibility. Human beings are treated as consumable, expendable objects.

Now if you would like to commit a truly radical act, I recommend marriage. It is a human relationship based on a life-long commitment. It is fraught with all kinds of risks and vulnerabilities. It hangs you out naked before the future. But on the other hand, for these very reasons, it opens up the possibility for such an intimate and satisfying union between two people - the melding of two personalities into a profound companionship - that the risks are reduced to inconsequentiality.

Marriage is not the kind of relationship you can "try out." You cannot experience marriage without the commitment that makes it marriage. Unless you are willing to take the risks you can never experience the joys. As God knows, institutionalized affairs will not satisfy the human spirit. The initial romantic thrill will soon be gone, and without the strong undergirding of an unshakable commitment the relationship can never advance to anything more. This is the reason that Hollywood's serial polygamists (and their imitators) move from one marriage to another seeking to renew the adolescent thrill of being "in love" when the former romance has died. They are children playing in the marketplace.

Romance has never been a sufficient foundation for a truly profound relationship between a man and a woman. Feelings are too fickle. It takes an uncompromising commitment to open up the remarkable joys of marriage. Paul speaks to this when he commands husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:254) and wives to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). This love is not emotional but volitional - a deep resolve to live unselfishly for the partner's good. If before God you have promised to love your mate then do so "till death do you part." If you have wavered in your commitment, repent. God does not tolerate the easy abandonment of these vows ( Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 6:17-18); not because He wishes to wishes to rob us of happiness but because He desires to bring us true joy. His rather stringent law protects us from our own lust and stupidity until we learn that real fulfillment in marriage is built on faithfulness to a life-long pledge.

A wife, meditating on why she loved her husband, observed: "I used to think I loved Jack because of certain things about him - his good looks, his winsome personality, his dedication. But it didn't take long to see through all that. I found out over the years there can be only one reason to make me love him. The reason is:" because I want to." Marriage is a radical act, but it is a blessed one if we discipline ourselves to the will of God.


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