Definition of Marriage... “a lifelong monogamous relationship between a man and a women. According to the Bible, God designed marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union.” (The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Grace Keller 2011 p. 16.)
Tim and Grace Keller have given us a great gift in framing what marriage means “according to the Bible”, supported by research in the social sciences, and grounded in their experience as a married couple. The phrase “according to the Bible” might immediately set off fire alarms for many Christian and non Christian alike. Some will quickly discount anything said “according to the Bible”; it is unfortunate that many of us find it difficult to maintain an open mind to things we do not understand. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what marriage is and why marriage matters to our human condition.
This definition of marriage, once considered so obvious no one even had to state it,(even though most probably did not reflect on its deeper meaning), is now a provocative statement for many in our polarized society. To define marriage as a “lifelong monogamous relationship” seems out of touch with what really goes on in our culture yet there are deeply profound reasons and affects on our identity and well being. To even consider that “God designed” means that someone other than you has a plan and a purpose for marriage and for your life. This goes right against the current culture impulse that life is about a personal journey of individual discovery and fulfillment and means we have to listen to something other than our own will and desires.
The idea that marriage is “to reflect (God's) saving love for us in Christ” is a statement so full of meaning and import that we skim over it without comprehension, and yet it is a profound spiritual truth that radically changes who we are. It is so important that we take the time to glean what this means because it directly affects every facet of our lives; our health, wealth, and contentment. Any one that desires to experience His saving love needs only enter into relationship with Him.
That marriage affords us the opportunity “to refine our character” may seem quaint and catchy until we reflect on how much living with and loving another human being of the opposite sex demands. We literally cannot stay the same person we were when we got married if we want to stay married. Marriage demands that we grow and change in ways that do not trample on the needs and desires of another human being. Character, in this sense, is a moral condition that includes trustworthiness, loyalty, respect, fairness, caring and responsibility. Any one of these qualities is a treasure to possess as a part of our nature and has obvious ramifications for how others view and respond to us. Of all the character education programs that our institutions provide, marriage is probably the most effective with its intimate connection to our everyday life.
The importance to “create a stable human community for the birth and nurture of children” is well documented by social science research. Most of us are well aware of the disastrous effects of divorce on our children. The operative words here are “stable” and “community”. It means we provide a consistent, secure and safe place for our children to grow and develop in the company of parents who love them and are there for them. This requires of us to put their needs before ours, that we do this together as husband and wife, and in so doing we reflect the sacrificial love of God. The sense of gratification that parents experience from this is rewarding, even overwhelming.
The thought that all this is accomplished “by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union” is difficult to understand. Complementary here means that male and female are different but equally necessary and provides what the other lacks in a way that completes us. That is a mouthful of meaning. In a simple sense it means that we need each other in a similar way the physical world is composed of atoms. You and I and everything else in our physical world is composed of atoms. .The opposing charges of electrons and neutrons serve to attract and hold each other together forming an atom. Opposites attract and complement each other; the very nature and composition of our universe is based on this principle and so is our marital relationship. An enduring whole-life union
is the result of a successful marriage. To have another person who is different and unique commit their life to you is a blessing beyond expression, it is an experience so sublime, full of disappointment and wonder that poets struggle to capture it.
Get Married and Stay Married
Marriage is one of the best economic decisions you can make. “Less marriage means less income and more poverty,” says Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, who has linked as much as half of the income inequality in America to changes in family composition: single-parent families (mostly those with a high-school degree or less) are getting poorer while married couples (with educations and dual incomes) are increasingly well-off. (The Economist, June 2011).
It also pays to stay married. There are numerous reports, studies, and statistics that show the devastating affect divorce has on families and children. The devastation is across every facet of life; physical health, financial wealth, emotional and psychological well being. No part of life is unaffected. Here are some examples:
Studies show that women experiencing divorce face roughly a 30 percent decline in the standard of living they enjoyed while married and men show a 10 percent decline. The consistency of this finding caused one researcher to conclude: “However ‘prepared’ for marital disruption women increasingly may be, they are not prepared in ways sufficient to cushion the economic cost.” 1
Life expectancies for divorced men and women are significantly lower than for married people (who have the longest life expectancies). 3
A recent study found those who were unhappy but stay married were more likely to be happy five years later than those who divorced.4
The health consequences of divorce are so severe that a Yale researcher concluded that “being divorced and a nonsmoker is [only] slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack a day and staying married.” 5
After a diagnosis of cancer, married people are most likely to recover, while the divorced are least likely to recover,6 indicating that the emotional trauma of divorce has a long-term impact on the physical health of the body.
Men and women both suffer a decline in mental health following divorce, but researchers have found that women are more greatly affected.7 Some of the mental health indicators affected by divorce include depression, hostility, self-acceptance, personal growth and positive relations with others.
Need I say more? Get married and stay married!
I am reading David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage, a self bought Christmas present. It is a timely read in light of California's Proposition 8, that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, constitutional challenge in federal court.
Articles are appearing in the media regarding this, including one by Edwin Meese, President Reagan's former Attorney General, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/opinion/11meese.html and one by Terry Jeffrey, a conservation columnist http://townhall.com/columnists/TerryJeffrey/2010/01/13/do_three_people_have_a_right_to_marry_each_other. Both of these articles support the traditional definition of marriage that Proposition 8 upholds.
The Future of Marriage is a worth reading if you are interested in understanding what in the world all the fuss is about as to why we have to have statewide propositions or constitutional challenges on what marriage is. The fuss is whether we get to define marriage any way we want to, to whatever particular individual preference we have, or whether marriage is a standard greater than our individual preferences that affirms the historical basic organization of society, the family as a mother and a father for every child. As Mr. Blankenhorn eloquently, gently, and completely without gay bashing presents; marriage is between a man and a women because every society in the last five thousand years has figured out it is best for our children to have both a father and a mother. And because it is best for children it is best for that particular culture's ability to survive and thrive.
It is apparent, as Mr. Blankenhorn repeatedly points out, that those of us who are married have done plenty on our own to punch holes in providing children with both a father and a mother in the same home. We really don't need any more help hurting our children by being unable to live together and raise them together. Many heterosexuals live by the premise that my life is my own and I can define it anyway I want and if my partner, spouse, or whom ever I am with, can no longer agree on how to define it together, then we can just move on. It is all about me.
This is an age old battle between self will and a will or purpose that is greater than ourselves. The legal battle over Proposition 8, or the battle that homosexuals are waging for acceptance in society via marriage, or any other battle that pits individuals ability to define standards any way that suits them over and against an external standard that is there because it is the best bet for our "pursuit of (personal and individual) happiness", is really a struggle over what is good for us.
What is good for us is learning to live for someone and something greater and other than ourselves. The most destructive thing we can do to ourselves and to others is to live as if our life is our own. We must learn to balance the freedom of individual choice with what is good for us individually and as a society.