To the unmarried and to the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.(1 Corinthians 7:8)
These are the immortal words of St. Paul, who quite possibly had experienced the pain of separation and divorce first hand prior to penning these words, and who certainly dealt with relationship breakdowns in every church he pastored.
I seem to be at that stage of life now where all my friends are getting divorced. I’ve long passed that stage where all my friends are having their 21st birthdays. And I’ve passed the stage where they are all getting married, and even the one where my friends are all having children. Now I’m up to the “all my friends are getting divorced” stage. I suppose the only one left after this is the “all my friends are dying” stage. Not much to look forward to really.
Of course in terms of divorce I led the way. I managed to stuff up my marriage long before almost any of my peers. It’s nothing to be proud of, but at least it means that no one needs fear that I’m going to judge him or her. Who me? I don’t think so.
The disturbing thing for me at the moment is that it seems to be all the couples that I’ve most looked up to as couples that are now falling apart as couples.
When it come to some of the couples I know - such as where the guy deliberately gets the girl pregnant because he figures that having a child will give him the motivation to give up is heroin habit - I sort of expect those marriages to last only a couple of years at best. And yet it’s not those couples that are falling apart. It’s the marriages made up of men I admire for their integrity and courage, who are married to women who are loyal, nurturing and understanding. And most of these people are good, solid, church-going Christian folk. It’s not supposed to happen this way.
I was talking to a girl recently whose relationship had only just broken up after some 20 years of marriage. She was not a part of the church and said that she’d never be. For her, the final proof of the non-existence of God was the way in which men and women had evolved with an in-built incompatibility. Her analysis was simple but profound. Men have evolved as creatures that need only to eat and mate. Women have evolved as creatures that need to nurture and nestle. Hence, not surprisingly, we find that men can’t handle monogamy and that women can’t live without it. Marriages are thus biologically doomed to failure from the outset and the statistics on modern marriages would seem to bear her out. How could a loving God have created men and women in such a way that they were genetically geared towards their mutual destruction?
It’s a good question. Every male knows that his biological drives are not geared towards monogamy - not lifelong monogamy at any rate. Conversely, it is unrealistic to expect women to settle for anything less than monogamy in today’s society. Does this mean that God is cruel, or is there something in the whole marriage concept that we’ve missed?
I wonder if at the heart of the problem is the assumption that we all make - that marriage is supposed to make us happy. Indeed, I suspect that most of us believe that the institution of marriage was brought into being for the very purpose of making us happy.
Weren’t we all brought up to believe that love and marriage go together like horse and carriage, and that the phrase “they got married” should generally be followed by the accompanying phrase “and they lived happily ever after”? Perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps we need to look beyond musicals and fairy tales to find a basis for our adult relationships.
I don’t think any of us seriously imagines that our institution of marriage came about because some individual had a “bright idea” one day about how he could make everybody happy. Marriage is a social institution, and social institutions are developed because they serve a social purpose, not because they bring personal fulfilment to certain individuals within the community. Whether or not you believe God created marriage makes no difference. If He did, God did it for the sake of the community as a whole and not for the sake of satisfying every individual’s social, emotional and sexual needs.
It makes sense when you think about it. What is the purpose of marriage: To create a stronger society? Strong marriages create strong families who build a stronger community. Marriages contribute stability. They contribute structure. And most importantly, marriages contribute children.