Oct 22, 2014

Why marry someone? Part 1

The Foundation of an Answer

Like many raised in American church culture, I grew up assuming that marriage—like a college degree—marked the progression of a maturing, successful life. It was during my last year in college, however, amidst the death throes of a faltering romance and the looming reality that I was swiftly approaching the “career world,” that I began to harbor some serious doubts.[1] It began with a question: How do I choose between vocational calling and marriage?

Down one path was the undoubtedly idealistic, but very real love that had been fostered between my almost-fiancée and me during the previous eight months. Down another path was my undoubtedly idealistic, but very real sense of divine inspiration to pursue a particular career path fostered during the previous eight years. The divergence of my romantic love and my sense of vocational calling exploited cracks in my rationale and emotions. Should I follow love toward the uncertainty of marriage if that meant abandoning or shelving my sense of vocational calling? Should I follow vocational calling toward the uncertainty of successful influence if that meant turning away from that rarest of gifts: romantic love?[2]

I began to see Paul’s admonition in passages like I Corinthians 7:8 in a new way: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” I had been taught—and rightly so, I think—that my relationship with God is the highest priority, that it must supersede all other relationships. Granted, that truth yields nuanced implications. In the end I followed the Holy Spirit's vocational leading.

In the seven years that have followed, shaped by a series of meaningful but heart-pummeling almost-romances, various assumptions about marriage have been further tested, refined, or cast aside. Some have proven deceptive. Others have proven distractible. Most, however, have pointed toward deeper questions, truths, and implications. I still believe that following God’s leading in life must be the absolute starting place. I also trust that a healthy, divinely-inspired romance would not compromise that—for the man or woman. There are some nuanced implications therein, but more on that later. The point is that God’s calling, leading, purpose, will—or whatever word you choose—does not exclusively deal with any one life choice, whether it be vocation, marriage, or something else. Rather, I believe that it has to do with something far more foundational: the only absolute, unchanging truth that I can stand on. Let me try to explain.

In the Bible, Jesus Christ does not seem overly concerned about marriage. But he does seem very concerned about relationships—namely, the love of God: the “I am” love embodied by Jesus himself that defines and guides all relationships and that is transforming this world. There is new life: that which was once asunder can now be reunited in a mysterious and intimate way. Marriage is part of that. It is just not all of that.

The Bible seems to ultimately address marriage in two ways:

1.      Marriage represents the mysteriously intimate, covenantal, divinely orchestrated and blessed union of believers (the Church) with God.
2.      Marriage represents the mysteriously intimate, covenantal, divinely orchestrated and blessed union of a man and a woman.[3]

To understand God’s love is to understand marriage. To understand marriage is to understand God’s love. The two are not mutually exclusive, however. To understand God’s love, I must first trust and allow it to fill and reshape my heart. It is between me and God alone, in other words. That is my first love, my first intimacy. That is how transformation begins, how I begin to harbor the capacity to love others—to obediently respond to the calling of God. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (I John 4:8). Mike Mason writes, "[Love] brings people out into the light, no matter how painful that transition might prove to be. Love aims at revelation, at a clarifying and defining of our true natures.”[4] Or as C.S. Lewis so aptly puts it: "It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others."[5] Or in the spirit of Proverbs 27:17—“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”—Mason adds,

For love is restless by nature, continually searching, probing the depths, seeking tirelessly to enlarge the heart and to exploit to the fullest the endless possibilities of human liberty. . . . God's love is, in a sense, the courage to go on living in the face of our sin, in the full knowledge of who and what we are.[6]

For "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (I Corinthians 13:7). This is true because Jesus Christ, God incarnate, lived and showed that it can be true.

Yet a difficult road remains.

I will never fully comprehend love because I will never fully comprehend God. But as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am called to try to be like him. This is my purpose. Love is about courage. It is about risk. It is about adventure. Like marriage. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). As I share and celebrate that love with others, I recognize the union of all believers together with God. This gathering or unity among believers in purpose is generally called the Church. The Church would fail without love because the Church would fail without God. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1). Love comes to define all: trust, hope, meaning, purpose—everything. “But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13b).

I now begin to grasp my essential calling. I now begin to grasp what it means for my life. It is not exclusive to the human marriage covenant. It is a divine marriage covenant between God and the Church, a calling for all Christ-followers—whether single, married, divorced, or widowed.

Yet what hope is there when my understanding of love will be limited and its expression flawed? And how does that help me answer the question of why I should marry someone?

Let us continue down the path in the hope of finding some answers. It will take patience, perseverance, and no small amount of gumption and faith. For there will remain elements of incompleteness, uncertainty, obstacles, and failures. Like human love. Like human marriage.

[1] That is not to say that marriage cannot in some way signify maturation or success in life.
[2] This state of my romantic relationship was much more complicated than this, but elaborating on it would exceed the intent of this writing. The point is that it began my journey toward the title question.
[3] In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim & Kathy Keller expound on Genesis 2:18, "The Genesis narrative is implying that our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God, was not fulfilled completely by our 'vertical' relationship with him. God designed us to need 'horizontal' relationships with other human begins" (111). This has less to do with marriage than with God's very good design for human beings to be in relationship with other human beings. God's very good design for a man and woman to be in intimate relationship with one another in marriage stems from this understanding. Jesus affirms the design proclaimed in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Matthew 19:4-12.
[4] The Mystery of Marriage 24.
[5] The Four Loves 98. While Lewis is referring to friendship, I would argue that true friendship is one of the most fundamental expressions of human love.
[6] The Mystery of Marriage 65, 95.

1 comment:

Ramona said...

very well said, Joshua. I think your heart for the One, for Jesus is beautiful. Your love for him, your trust in him in this crazy ride of life and love.
Thank you as always for sharing your heart, mind and soul.