The Puzzle of Marriage

January 15, 2012

It is said that Socrates was asked by a young man whether or not he would recommend marriage, Socrates replied by saying “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you will become happy; and if you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher and the world needs more philosophers.”
Last week I finished my message on family by stating: If there is one word that sums up successful families it is commitment.  And so let’s begin this week by stating the one word that sums up a successful marriage is commitment. 
If a family is going to succeed there needs to be a commitment. And that is why marriage has been so important throughout human history because it is a couple publically saying “We are committed to each other, forever.”  Whether it was an elaborate ceremony or a simple ceremony marriage is public statement of intent.  That is why a segment of the gay community was so adamant in their desire to have the right to marry.  It wasn’t to undermine marriage for the rest of us, it wasn’t because they wanted to make a mockery of the institution it was because they recognized the importance of making that “Lifelong commitment” they wanted to be able to say to their friends and family and the world at large “we are committed to one another.”  For right or for wrong.
(Video of weddings)
What do they have in common?  Not a lot, although the Princess Bride is my favourite wedding movie scene of all time.  But if you watch in each case it was a public statement saying:  We are committed to each other.  Whether vows recited in a grand cathedral, jumping the broom in a slave compound or posting your vows on the door of the staff room, legally I don’t recommend the last one.  Whether that is actually the case or not will be revealed in time but for that moment in time that is their desire and intent.  Do you remember your wedding vows?  When you recited these words or words very similar.  I take you to be my wedded husband or wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law and thereto I pledge you my faith.  And we meant it.  Not one of us went through that ceremony thinking, “I’m going to do this again in 5 years or 15 years or if you are a Hollywood celebrity in 6 months”
Which is why Princess Diana said “I think like any marriage, especially when you’ve had divorced parents like myself, you’d want to try even harder to make it work.”
And in most cases that is what is missing when a couple is simply living together, they have not publically stated “this is forever” and everyone knows that it could end tomorrow if one or the other just walks away.   And don’t let anyone tell you that living common-law after a certain length of time is the same as being married legally.  If you live together for thirty years and tomorrow you decide it’s over, it’s over.  You might have to divide some assets but it is how do you say “tout fini”. 
Sometimes I will talk to a couple who are living together and their rationale is “We want to see if it will work before we get married.” 
The best of intentions perhaps but to quote my favourite philosopher, Yogi Berra “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.”  
Read this interesting article online at www.nytimes.com “Couples who lived together before marrying have nearly an 80 percent higher divorce rate than those who did not and they seem to have less regard for the institution, according to a study of Swedish women by the National Bureau of Economic Research here.”    One of the authors who was involved in the study stated “Swedes were chosen because they tend to precede American social trends by 10 to 15 years.”
So what is this marriage of which I speak?  And why is it so important?
Socially: Marriage Protects the Family Let’s start here with some secular definitions  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language mar·riage (mărʹĭj) noun
1.         The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
www.dictionary.com agrees because their definition is
1.         The social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.
Obviously not Canadian definitions.  
The reason that cultures throughout history have tended to lean toward a monogamous form of marriage was to strengthen society through stable family units.  Without some type of formal agreement, there was nothing to hold family units and thus society together. 
We are starting to rediscover that with men who are paying child support to children from one or two failed relationships, while not really being fathers.
Moms who are left raising children by themselves or ending up in blended relationships where parents can’t really function as parents.  Is it any wonder that the concept of “till death do we part” was an integral part of society up until the last forty years.   Reproduction doesn’t make you a parent it just proves that the plumbing works. 
Whether it is a full blown wedding that cost tens of thousands of dollars or simply jumping the broom, marriage is simply a couple affirming their desire to spend the rest of their life with each other and to raise a family.
Religiously: Marriage was ordained by God.  It’s interesting to note that in a society that is as non-church going and pagan as ours is, church weddings are still the way to go for the majority of Canadians.  They are looking for the scripture reading, the prayers and the god talk. I’m not sure if it’s seeking to reclaim a little bit of religious heritage, if it’s just considered the right thing to do or if they are just covering all their bases.  Something borrowed something new something religious something blue.
And indeed the concept of marriage is the very first human institution.  In the account of creation, after Eve is created Adam says in   Genesis 2:23-24 “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’ “Actually what he said was “Hubba hubba.” The scripture continues by saying This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 1126 words into the bible, as soon as we have man and woman the concept of marriage is defined.  You have two and they come together and you have one.  And that oneness was defined by God.  It happens emotionally, it happens spiritual and in the act of lovemaking the couple becomes one physically.  And that is why within the scripture the act of sex is set apart for husband and wife.  Otherwise how can you become one with this person and that person and another person without giving up a little bit of yourself each time?
And so within the religious sense when God created man and woman he created marriage.  In verse 25 it says Genesis 2:25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.  It doesn’t say Adam and the woman, or Adam and his girlfriend; it says Adam and his wife. And the same as the social reason it was for the good of the couple, the good of the individuals and the good of the resulting family.
But how long has the church been involved in the actual marriage ceremony?  Probably not as long as you would think.  The act of getting married has always involved something even if it was as simple as the couple stating that they were married, you say that sounds like they were simply living together.  No, they had made a commitment to each other and to their family and to their community as being married, it was not a temporary thing it was a commitment.  As society progressed the commitment would often be accompanied by a celebration, remember in John 2:1-2 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The scriptures don’t tell us about the wedding ceremony simply the wedding celebrations.  As a matter of fact if you read through the bible you will see all kinds of references to wedding feasts and wedding celebrations but not to wedding ceremonies.
Up until the ninth century the church was not involved in the mechanics of people becoming married at all, then prayers and blessings were added to the celebration, some by the priest and some by the couple.  Around the twelfth century it became customary to ask the parish priest to take part and he would question the couple concerning their intentions but the church still didn’t take an official part.
It really wasn’t until 1563 that the Council of Trent required that Catholic marriages be celebrated at a Catholic church by a priest and before two witnesses.  By the eighteenth century marriage had become a religious event throughout Europe.
Spiritually: Marriage is an Analogy of God’s love for us. In the Old Testament Israel is called God’s bride. Isaiah 62:4-5 Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.
Throughout the New Testament the relationship between Christ and His church relies on the analogy of a marriage.  In 2 Corinthians 11:2 The Bible says For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.  In Ephesians 5:25-26 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  And several times in the Revelation the church is called the Bride of Christ.
When the prophet Isaiah was looking for a way to describe the salvation of God listen to the words he chooses Isaiah 61:10 I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.
So if Marriage is important how do we make it work?  And that’s a good question because marriage doesn’t have a great success rate, although it getting better.   Back in 1987, it was expected that 50.6% of all marriages in Canada would end before the 30th wedding anniversary.   That’s where we get the stat that half of all marriages will fail.  Statistically it is now expected that only 37.7% of all Canadian marriages will end in a divorce before the 30th anniversary.
There aren’t many things that cost as much and require the commitment of a marriage that we would enter into if we knew there was a 38 % chance it wouldn’t work.  Couple of questions then.  Would you let a Dr. perform surgery if he lost 37.7 % of his patients on the operating table?  Would you hire a lawyer who lost 37.7 % of his cases?  Would you consider your car safe if the brakes worked 63.3 % of the time?   Of course you wouldn’t you’d have to be a complete idiot.   Brad Paisley summed it up in his song “If Love Was a Plane”.  (Play clip)
So are there some things we should be aware of that will help raise the percentage?  Some people say that it’s pre-marital counselling, but I’m not sure. 
Over the past thirty years of ministry I have done pre-marriage counselling with literally dozens of couples and I have come to one inescapable conclusion.  Most of those people were not in their right mind.  It didn’t matter how poor, broke or destitute they were, they behaved like they had the world by the tail.  If you tried to talk budgets with them and explained that finances are the primary reason for marriage break ups why they’d look at you like you were crazy.  “Why pastor, money might come between other couples but it would never come between us.”
If one or the other has a family that makes the Adams family look well-adjusted they say, “So what, we’ll just love them anyways.”
If you try to talk to them about possible sexual issues in their marriage they look at you as if you have come from another world and have a third eye in the middle of your forehead, “what, us have sexual issues in our marriage, I don’t think so pastor.”  I must marry a select group of people because when I explain to them that four out of ten marriages end in the divorce courts they always assure me that they are in the six out of ten group that doesn’t.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to waste my time in premarital counselling anyway.  They cuddle up close, hold hands, make puppy dog eyes at one another give me all the answers that they think I might want to hear.  When couples are dating and engaged they are blind to one another’s faults.  You’ve heard it said that love is blind, sure is I’m convinced of that.  Love is blind and deaf and stupid. 
I am sure of the fact that one of the main reasons why marriages fail is because people don’t know what they are getting themselves in for.  If we could show them where their life will be in five or ten or fifteen years we could cut the divorce rate dramatically, of course that would be because fewer people would actually get married.
Now at this point I should be able to tell you the things that will make your marriage a success and guarantee that you will be one of the couples who will stay together forever.  . .
If I could do that than I would have already written the book that would make me rich and I would never have to worry about those couples that I have married or provided marriage counselling to.   Sorry, I would suspect that my batting average is the same as the national average.    Over a hundred years ago Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, wrote “It is obvious that all sense has gone out of modern marriage; which is, however, no objection to marriage but to modernity.”
No secrets but here are some things I have learned over the past thirty years of marriage and ministry.
There is nothing deep here people.  It Will Take Two to Make it Work.  One person cannot make a marriage work and one person cannot save a marriage. That may sound fatalistic but that is the reality of the situation.  You say “Come on Denn, nothing is impossible.”  You ever try to dribble a football?  In this day and age if one person wants the marriage to end the marriage will end, you may drag it out but it will make two to make it work.
A Wedding is a Point in Time, A Marriage is a Line of Time  Randolph Ray said “Marriage is never finished, the lesson is never learned, and the effort is never at an end.  Marriage like life is a matter of solving the little things, the big things generally take care of themselves.”
Men And Women Are Not The Same.  I think this may be the most important thing you will hear today.  Too many people think men and women are the same except the fiddly bits.  But we are different.  I know that I’m making a generalization and all generalizations are wrong, but in most cases men and women are different.  We think different and we react different.  In Australia they would say “We are as different as chalk and cheese.”
Stephen Hawking is considered by many to be one of the smartest man in the world today, and last week on his seventieth birthday he was asked about his successes and failure as well as regrets he has and then he was asked what he spent a lot of time pondering and his reply was “Women. They are a complete mystery.”
A great book on this subject is “Men are like Waffles Women are like spaghetti” by Bill and Pam Farrel.  The premise of the book, and again it is a generalization, is that with men we put all of our life in boxes with walls around them.  And while it seems we get better at multi-tasking as we get older, we are just getting faster at jumping between boxes.  Women on the other hand everything connects and one noodle touches every other noodle on the plate and where this really comes into play is in communication so I’m going to let Pam and Bill explain.  (Video clip)
There is another difference between men and women and it is defined by the most unusual source.  Albert Einstein is best known for his theory of relativity but this is a lot more practical for us today.  “Men marry women with the hope they won’t be changed, while women marry men with the hope that they will.  Invariably, they both end up disappointed.”
And finally here is the secret, If You Are Both Committed to Making it Work It Should.  Notice I didn’t say it will, only that it should.    A few years ago I was called upon to perform my cousin’s wedding, I almost said marry my cousin but that is just too close to home.    And here was the essence of what I told the couple “at some point you are not going to want to be married to your spouse, and at that point you will have to decide if you are willing to work at it or if you are going to call it quits.”  Often times the problems that people see as insurmountable are only temporary and often divorce is a long term solution to a short term problem.  If we are committed and determined to make it work, it probably will.  Now let me pray for all of the marriages here at Cornerstone.