Before you read this piece, please know that none of what you will read below is meant to say marriage is bad or that it is wrong or sinful to desire or seek marriage. There are plenty of places where you can read about how great marriage can be or how it can be a fundamental part of life.
However, the issue I want to address is our Christian twisting of what God intended as a sacred gift—that of marriage and family—into a God-mandated life mission, the pursuit of which is often elevated above the pursuit of God Himself. Christians often believe three messages that are not only false, but also harmful. We need to recognize these false beliefs about marriage and replace them with truth.
1. Marriage is our life’s mission
The truth: Getting married and/or having children is not anyone’s life mission.
Marriage and/or children may be part of our lives, but God doesn’t set marriage before us as His goal for our lives. Instead, Jesus tells us the greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). How much of our expression of these two commandments is lost when we are obsessed with finding someone to marry?
Our mission as Christians is largely wrapped up in those two commandments, but for further insight, read Jesus’ “great commission” to His disciples in Matthew 28:16-20. Note the absence of, “By the way, don’t forget to get married and have two kids while you’re at it.”
Compare the number of sermons and church groups aimed toward marriage and family with the number of passages of Scripture that actually address these same issues. It is hard to find Scripture passages that fit within our cultural frame for marriage. Here are two passages commonly pushed into the mold of the Christian marriage ceremony:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” This passage (Ruth 1:16-17) is beautiful, no question about it. However, it is not about a married couple. It’s Ruth’s passionate promise to follow her foreign mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her homeland, after all of Naomi’s sons (including Ruth’s husband) have died.
Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude … 1 Corinthians 13 is incredible, and certainly, this description of love extends to all parts of life, including marriage. However, the passage is not referring to marriage; it is referring to something and Someone much, much bigger. As the chapter continues: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide; but the greatest of these is love.”
2. Marriage will fulfill us
The truth: We will never feel completely fulfilled on this earth, and getting married and/or having children is not going to change that.
The ChristianMingle.com advertisements entice, “Find God’s match for you!” while displaying their favorite verse, Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don Miller describes this phenomenon of seeking fulfillment in marriage: “A girl can want to get married and feel euphoric when the man of her dreams slides a ring on her finger … [but] the girl is going to wake up three months into her marriage and realize she is, in fact, still lonely, and so many of her issues haven’t gone away.”
One of the main problems at the heart of this “marriage equals fulfillment” fallacy is it encourages a broken cycle. Getting married and having children is perfectly fine, of course, and doesn’t prevent or even necessarily inhibit having an impact on the world around you. But if getting married and having children is our primary goal or all we plan to do in life, and that’s all our children plan to do, when do we (and our children) engage and impact the world around us as Christ calls us to do?
3. The Church contributes only to marriage, not divorce
The truth: We, the Church, need to take partial responsibility for the divorce rate in our midst.
Many pastors confusedly address the lack of difference between the Christian divorce rate and the secular divorce rate. The lack of a difference is not surprising, as the Church’s message about marriage is often no different from the rest of the world’s: “Your life doesn’t really begin until you’ve found ‘the one’ and had a family.”
If young people enter into marriage believing it is God’s central calling for their lives and it will fulfill their aching for relationship, then it is no wonder they become disillusioned when they realize much of marriage neither helps them live out their calling nor fulfill their aching.
A friend shared an experience she had as a freshman at a well-known and well-respected Christian college. She and a few classmates were excited to be invited to a breakfast with the college president. She was surprised when the president suddenly asked the gathering of students, “So, what’s wrong with the dating scene here? Are you all just wimps, or what?” She thought he really wanted to know—until he called them all wimps. She went through college believing dating was reserved for “pretty girls who attracted handsome men who would escort them out of their dorm and down the aisle.” She realizes now this “marriage hunt” mentality put a lot of pressure on young adults who were serious students and hadn’t completely figured themselves out yet.
If the Church is responsible for marriage, then the Church is also partially responsible for divorce. We cheer young people to take that ring and make those vows, telling them it will fulfill them, then condemn them when what we encouraged them to do becomes a miserable and life-defeating situation that leads them to make the decision to divorce.
We need to remember there are all different kinds of stories. It would benefit us all to let those stories be lived in full pursuit of God’s calling, whether or not that calling happens to include marriage.