Oct 30, 2014

Why marry someone? Part 2

The Frailty of an Answer

As outlined in Part 1, Jesus offers the foundation of an answer. His vision for the Kingdom of God bolsters my hope that calling and love can be understood together—more so, that they can be lived: interacting in a complementary way that guides each of us toward a life of meaning. That love is real, steadies all the reeling. Soli Deo Gloria.

This orients my heart and purpose, but it lacks something more tangible, more daily, to guide me toward marriage. In John 15:12-17, Jesus shares how the love of God is not only spiritual, but takes on flesh through Jesus himself. Jesus reminds me of a perfect, divine love, as well as the love of a true friend. This is more than a model, it is transformation. As the flawless divine love of God is embodied by Jesus Christ, and then dwells as the Holy Spirit in the heart of every Christ-follower, I am empowered and guided toward loving others in countless tangible ways. In other words, the love of God and Jesus takes on flesh here and now because it can be known through me here and now. God works in spirit and in human form. He has done so Himself. He does so through me. Spirit and flesh are one. We who are His disciples are called to embrace and take part in that union.[1]

Problems arise, however, because we human beings are frail creatures, prone to mistakes. I will falter because my lingering pride, self-centeredness, and insecurity are tempted and preyed upon by a very real spiritual enemy who is ever trying to influence my heart. “Love is spiritual warfare.”[2] So why marry someone when my love will ultimately prove fallible? Yes, the Holy Spirit’s power can work through me to embody God’s love to other people, regardless of my limits, yet I still can willfully ignore and repress His guidance. Could my inability to always love distract, disfigure, or even deter others from knowing the love of God? This possibility is in all relationships, especially in marriage. So what hope is there when failure seems so imminent? Are the trials of marriage worth the incredible investment of time and energy to overcome?

These questions are what drove me to re-examine the subject in the framework of the title question. Again, I can only find hope in God’s love. That is where my response must always begin. He offers the greatest vision. Yet that is a relationship with a perfect Creator, the “I am” of love. He is patient.[3] He can and does work beyond me if necessary. Yet unless I isolate myself completely from other people, I must face the reality that I will disappoint them and that they will disappoint me. Human relationships are frail. Am I to engage the frailty? Can I overcome it—in myself, in others? 

Each person is utterly unique, therefore each relationship is utterly unique. Realistically, I can only discern how to respond to each in turn. As with any adventure, the risk for heartbreaking sorrow is very real. But so is the opportunity for heartbreaking joy. This is the nature of all relationships, romantic or otherwise. This is the call for grace. Hallelujah, God not only offers us mercy, but grace as well. For we deserve emptiness, isolation, and death, yet He offers us healing toward wholeness: renewed identity, belonging, and life. Love is so much more than we deserve. "The truth about marriage is that it is a way not of avoiding any of the painful trials and subtractions of life, but rather of confronting them, of exposing and tackling them most intimately and humanly."[4] Mason goes on to add that "before love can really begin to be love, it must face and forgive the very worst in the person loved."[5] This begins between God and me. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Still, in much of the world, marriage is as destructive as it is productive. Furthermore, success in vocation and relationships are generally difficult enough without allowing one of the opposite sex into the vulnerable intimacy of the journey. As all relationships are spiritual warfare—perhaps none more poignant than marriage—I am led to consider Paul’s admonition:

But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. (I Corinthians 7:33-34)

Why marry someone when marriage can prove so distracting? Is real friendship not enough of a blessing? It is rare itself, and requires immense effort to maintain.

Let us consider friendship. If the foundation of an answer is the love of God, which empowers me to love others as He does, it seems that the frailty of an answer is human friendship. Jesus Christ re-affirms the absolute value of every human being—their absolute worthiness of love. That is the foundational gift of love. Yet a more expressive kind of love can grow from that foundation. What is friendship? Who is a friend?[6] Let us for now simply consider friendship thus: "In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth?—Or at least, 'Do you care about the same truth?'"[7] In simple terms, friendship is about shared insight and interest.[8]
Friendship is important. For me to have hope of a complete and healthy marriage, the love that is friendship must be the seed from which the roots of marriage grow—all the while still finding strength in the rich foundation that is God's love. In terms of friendship, then, what is marriage essentially for? "It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the person God designed them to be."[9] It is about equipping one another. It is about fighting alongside one another, helping each to stand.[10] It is about enduring and grieving together. It is about celebration.

Is this meant to be limited to the marriage relationship? I do not think so. Regardless, it is the essential, tangible framework by which a marriage will stand and succeed. For it is "a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other."[11] It is from friendship that love begins to find deeper expression and strength, where a person can respond to and pursues divine calling with the greatest vigor and focus. Friendship is about growth through communal belonging, accountability, and purpose. "When looking for a marriage partner, each must be able to look inside the other and see what God is doing and be excited about being part of the process."[12]

Read that last sentence again.

Who should I marry? I should marry someone who inspires me; not only because of what God is doing through her—and my desire to support and foster that—but also because she recognizes what God is doing through me, and wants to encourage and cultivate that in me. This must not be overlooked. Its presence harbors the means for peace in relationship. Its absence harbors the potential for collapse.

There is more.

Love is a curious dance of leading and following, serving and being served, selfishness and selflessness. That is the nature of being human, really. In a way, that is the nature of God. Love is not free. It requires something of us. There is both a giving and receiving necessary. It requires death and life. "A marriage is not a joining of two worlds, but an abandoning of two worlds in order that one new one might be formed."[13] Am I willing to release some of my desires for her? Is she willing to do the same for me?

There is tension in this. Like with a stringed instrument, too much tension will snap the strings, making them useless. Too little tension, however, will yield no pure sound and melody. It is a fragile force. Yet with the right tension and practice, it becomes increasingly natural and spontaneous to experience beautiful wonders.

There is still more.

There is an incredible spectrum of choice inherent to relationships, both in friendship and romance. There is a lot of room for variety, beginnings, and endings. Ideally, that choice is covenantal in its love. Though friendship generally lacks the legality of marriage or the same implications if broken, the sacred commitment to love and grace should essentially be the same. Yet marriage does require a greater commitment. Mason writes, "A vow is, per se, a confession of inadequacy and an automatic calling upon the only adequacy there is, which is the mercy and power of God. . . . it is the protection of an inexhaustible forgiveness."[14] In other words, marriage is meant to be protected and fought for more than any other human relationship. If only it was honored that way more often.

Overall, understanding and recognizing friendship is how I begin to perceive who I should marry. It is a frail answer because I am a frail being. It is a subjective choice because each person is unique and God allows me a degree of freedom to choose. Still, it needs discernment of divine inspiration: movement and direction. Furthermore, once that relationship is chosen, it is sacred. It requires dedicated commitment. I choose to commit. God helps me sustain that commitment through his mercy and grace.

Yet this answer is still not quite enough to satisfy the title question with specific guidance. I have a direction, but I do not have enough clarity.

Reviewing what I know so far:

  1. I could marry someone because there is purposeful meaning in sharing the love of God with a human being. This is the foundation of a reason, that which will offer the most life, but it is not reason enough because it does not guide to anyone in particular. It is for everyone.
  2. I could marry someone because there is a transformative gift in sharing the love of friendship with another person. This is the root of a reason to marry someone, that which will draw forth the most tangible sustenance perhaps, but it too is not reason enough. I do not have the capacity to invest in friendship with everyone, but it is not for me to only share with one person.

There is something more that is necessary: something mysterious, beautiful—something that distinguishes marriage from all the rest. The remaining aspect of an answer is riskier: raw, uncertain, and dangerous. Yet it cannot be ignored. One more delicate step farther is necessary.

[1] More on this in the next and final post, Part 3.
[2] Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage 72.
[3] For a detailed examination of the patience of God, read my blog post, "Is God patient?"
[4] Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage 154.
[5] Ibid. 175.
[6] For a more detailed exposition on friendship, read my blog post, "What is friendship?"
[7] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves 66.
[8] See Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage 113.
[9] Ibid. 14-15.
[10] To understand the essence of what it means for a Christ-follower to stand, see Ephesians 6:10-18.
[11] Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage 80.
[12] Ibid. 122.
[13] Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage 103. I appreciate how my friend, Pastor Jay Kim, writes in his blog post, "All the Single Ladies (And Gentlemen): An Apology": “And you, my single friends, some day your gift too might be taken away. Some guy or gal will swoop in and take it. The gift of your singleness will be gone and you’ll be given a different gift. Whatever gift we have at this very moment, let’s embrace and enjoy it while we can. Let’s be grateful."
[14] The Mystery of Marriage 106.

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