July 27, 2009

I wasn’t surprised to see the cover story on marriage in America in a recent issue of Time magazine. In previous weeks we had learned of two prominent politicians who admitted they had cheated on their wives, and the marital woes of Jon and Kate Gosselin had become a national conversation.

Writer Caitlin Flanagan discussed these events in her Time article, “Is There Hope for American Marriage?” But I was pleased to see that she used them as a springboard to make a spirited defense of marriage, which she wrote can either be “a lasting covenant between a man and a woman can be a vehicle for the nurture and protection of each other, the one reliable shelter in an uncaring world” or “a matchless tool for the infliction of suffering on the people you supposedly love above all others, most of all on your children.”

The article was full of truths that you normally don’t find in a national magazine like Time:

  • “ … the intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life, but the numbers who are moving in a different direction continue to rise.”
  • “There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers’ financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation’s underclass.”
  • “America’s obsession with high-profile marriage flameouts … reflects a collective ambivalence toward the institution: our wish that we could land ourselves in a lasting union, mixed with our feeling of vindication, or even relief, when a standard bearer for the “traditional family” fails to pull it off. This is ultimately self-defeating.”
What’s the purpose?

Flanagan notes that, in the end, we need to ask ourselves what marriage is all about. Is it, in her words, “simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it”? If so, it won’t last. A marriage built only on pleasure will die when the pleasure goes away.

Or, she writes, is marriage about raising the next generation—“to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood”?

And that’s the only place I found myself disagreeing with Flanagan. The vision she casts about the purpose of marriage feels incomplete and a bit utilitarian. Yes, marriage is about raising up the next generation. But it’s also much more.

In FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences, two of the most eye-opening sessions for many couples are on God’s purpose and plan for marriage. Few people know much about what the Bible says about marriage. They are surprised to learn that, as described in the first two chapters of Genesis, marriage is the first institution created by God.

1. God desires that a husband and wife complete each other (Genesis 2:19-22). When God calls you to marry, He gives you a spouse who, by divine design, will complete you.   Together you will be stronger and more effective than when you are apart.

2. God desires that a husband and wife multiply a godly legacy (Genesis 1:28). Children are a key part of God’s plan. It is important to note that some couples are not able to have biological children of their own, part of God’s intent is for every married couple to be ministering down into the next generation—passing on their faith in God so others can pass it on to still others. Psalm 78:1-4 makes it clear that the family is one of the best environments in which this can happen.

3. God desires that a husband and wife experience oneness. Genesis 2:24 says that a husband and wife shall become “one flesh” and God wants us to experience all the excitement and pleasure and romance that is part of a committed relationship. But oneness involves even more. As Dennis and Barbara Rainey write in Staying Close:

A Oneness Marriage is a husband and wife who are crafting intimacy, trust, and understanding with one another. It’s a couple who are chiseling out a common direction, common purpose, and common plan for their lives. A Oneness Marriage demands a lifetime process of relying on God and forging an enduring relationship according to His design. It’s more than a mere mingling of two humans—it’s a tender merger of body, soul and spirit.

4. God desires that a husband and wife mirror His image (Genesis 1:26-27). God chooses to reveal to us a part of His character and being through our relationships. For example, God is love, therefore we can love. When we forgive others, we reflect Him who forgave us in Christ (see Ephesians 4:32).

Why is this important? Because God created us to know Him and to live within the context of His plan for our lives. When a man and woman come together in a marriage with God at the center of their relationship, they will reflect His image. The world will see in that relationship a representation of who God is and how He loves.

Marriage was created by God for our good, for the good of our society, and for His plan to be fulfilled. It’s about companionship, pleasure, responsibility, commitment, romance, raising the next generation—the whole package. It’s the most difficult and yet the most fulfilling relationship we experience during our time on earth. And that’s why it’s worth fighting for.

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