Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream.
- The Impressive Clergyman
Rather than a post On Marriage, this is more of a post On Marriage When it is Suggested That My Life Would Be Better With It.
Note - I hope this will be the start of a longer conversation for many who read this.
I am upset by comments from the well-meaning individuals who tell me that they are "praying for me to find a wife." There is a presumption behind that type of a prayer. It presumes that my life is somehow incomplete or lacking because I am not married.
I was thinking about this presumption today, and only came up with three possible reasons for the presumption. Here are the three reasons I could think of for believing that marriage is better than singleness:
Because the best life is one that has sexual fulfillment in it. Sexual fulfillment can only be accomplished through a marriage. So marriage is necessary in order to live the best life, or at least a life better than I'm living now.
Because in marriage you have the ability to sexually procreate, which is part of God's command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. So you must get married to follow that commandment. And we must follow God's commandments in order to live the best life, or at least a life better than I'm living now.
Because marriage is a beautiful friendship that brings a greater intimacy than can be known outside of marriage. The committed, faithful, exclusive intimacy of marriage is better than any other kind of relationship, and must be obtained in order to live the best life, or at least a life better than I'm living now.
I'm going to address those three reasons for marriage, and will then talk about some general ideas I've had on the topic. This entry can be taken to the extreme in many different ways. I am not arguing that marriage is bad. I am not arguing that singleness is necessarily good for everyone. I am not arguing that sex is unimportant. I am not arguing any of the other extreme arguments you think of while you read this.
If you think I'm arguing something extreme, please give me the benefit of the doubt and send me a note.
Is Life Best With Sex?
No. No. And let me explain why.
The idea that life can be lived without sex is the subject of comedy movies today. The concept of life-long abstinence from all sexual behaviors is foreign to our modern world. Some would even say that teaching abstinence hurts kids.
And that's only teaching abstinence until marriage. The idea of never getting married and never having sex might be so horrific that some people may never have even considered it.
Life is better with sex is the presumption of our world. We have to have sex because our bodies want to have sex. Not having sex would be a terrible thing, right? That is what the world seems to think.
And do Christians think any differently? Sadly I've met many who do not. It's not that they have consciously adopted the idea that sex is necessary for a good life, but they haven't given it any thought. They haven't thought about this.
What should the model be for Christians? Christ is our model. He is the example that we follow.
Christ has never had sex.
He came and lived a perfect life without ever having sex
Note that phrase - a perfect life. You can't improve on perfect. The only perfect life that has ever been lived on earth was a life without sex.
So no, life is not best with sex.
The presumption that sexual fulfillment through marriage is the best way to live ignores the example of Christ. For me, this is the whole answer. Christ is my model, and I need not look any further to answer this question.
It is possible to live without sex, after all Christ did. I am able to live well without getting married. I do not need to have sex in order to live well.
Was Christ sexually unfulfilled?
The way I phrased the first presumption about why it is better to get married was about "sexual fulfillment." I didn't want to straw-man the argument by making it only about having sex. Sexual fulfillment is important.
We are "sexual creatures" in several ways, but we are not creatures controlled by our sexual desires. We are not animals that have no capacity to subject our desires in order to reach a higher purpose. Jesus Christ came to earth and took on human form - including the sexual category of male.
As a man, Christ is not "sexually frustrated." Just because you do not have sex does not mean that you are "sexually frustrated." Frustration happens when you are not able to accomplish the purpose to which something is directed. Sexuality is not exclusively directed towards marriage.
Don't misread that. I am not arguing for sex outside of marriage.
Marriage is the only way sexuality can be expressed by the act of sex. However, sexuality can also be expressed by refraining from the act of sex.
Christ surrendered himself entirely to the Father's will. (see John 5:19, Luke 22:42, and Philippians 2:4-8) His sexuality was also surrendered to the Father's will. He obediently followed the will of the Father by never having sex.
Christ was not sexually unfulfilled. Christ fulfilled the will of the Father in all ways - including by his obedient sexuality.
I can fulfill the will of God by never having sex. I can express my sexuality in a healthy way by subjecting that sexuality in obedience to God.
So no, life is not better with marriage because it is the only way to have sex. Sexuality can be equally fulfilling by obediently surrendering my sexuality to God and abstaining from sex.
Life is best with sexual fulfillment. Sexual fulfillment may be accomplished either through marriage or through abstinence. So marriage is not better than singleness on this basis, they are equally good options.
Must We Have Children?
No. No. And let me explain why.
Demographics are not looking good for the world right now. Several countries, including Japan, are facing the very real possibility of a drastic decline in population by the end of the century.
Every time there is a decrease in population, there is a host of terrible consequences coming right along with it. Infrastructure collapses. Industry fails. The rest of humanity suffers even as the number of humans declines.
That's not the point here. I'm not talking about the impending Demographic Winter. I'm talking about whether there is a spiritual obligation to have children given by God all the way back in Genesis.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
- Genesis 1:28
Many would argue that this command from God - the first commandment - requires biological reproduction.
We must be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth by having children, right?
If that commandment means we must biologically procreate, then there are a great number of people who can never follow God's commandments. Anyone who is unmarried, for example, will not be able to procreate in accordance with God's commands. Those who are infertile will not be able to procreate.
Surely this is not what God's commandment means for us. It doesn't mean that we must get married, have sex, and have children in order to be in God's favor. Daniel and his friends, Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael, never had children. They were eunuchs in the service of their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar. (See Daniel 1:7) Does that disqualify them from godliness because they could never fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply?
No. Certainly not.
Jesus never had biological children. That is all that needs to be said on the topic, really. He lived a perfect life without ever having children. Perfect. You can't improve on perfect.
Being fruitful is not limited to biological reproduction. Jesus Christ has more children spiritually than any person ever could biologically, I don't care how many offspring they have. The fruitfulness of Christ is a spiritual fruitfulness.
We can be fruitful without ever having biological children. The commandment to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it should be fulfilled by spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You don't break the commandment by failing to have biological children. You break the commandment by hiding your light under a bushel.
Let your light shine. Spread the Gospel. Make disciples of all nations. Fulfill the commandment to fill the earth.
Biological children are not a requirement from God.
The best life is lived by following God's commandments. His commandments do not require biological children, they do require us to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Isn't Married Life the Best Life?
No. No. And let me explain why.
I should just cut to the chase on this one and point out that Jesus never got married, and still enjoyed incredible intimacy with close personal friends. I'll do some more writing on this, though I think that covers the point.
Marriage throughout most of human history has not actually been about close friendship. Even today many cultures in the world marry not for friendship, but for political gains or benefits to the families joining together.
Tevye and Golda from the Broadway Musical Fiddler on the Roof encapsulate this idea well.
"Do you love me?" The husband asks his wife, who calls him a fool for asking. Marriage is about sharing chores and suffering together. Marriage isn't about romantic feelings and "love."
Marriage throughout most of human history has been about a joint venture between a man and a woman for propagating children, raising them well, and providing a solid basis for civilized society.
Marriage is a wonderful thing for all of those reasons. It isn't the best way to have a deep emotional relationship that is always happy and filled with joyful cooperation. Those who succeed in marriage are much happier than those who fail in marriages, but there has been no evidence that those who succeed in marriage are much happier than those who succeed in singleness.
(I say that to point out the discrepancy in the way statistics are often used on this issue.)
It would be a foreign idea for most of humanity that you married your best friend. Marriage isn't about that.
When I was first given an opportunity to discuss same-sex marriage I was probably fifteen years old and was at a political leadership camp. The speaker invited everyone there to ask their toughest question to him. He was role-playing as a same-sex marriage advocate. My question was this:
"If your argument is that you should be able to love whomever you want, and you love another man, why do you want to subject the person you love to the most stressful institution that our society has ever adopted?"
He didn't have an answer for that.
Marriage is stressful. It is good when done properly, but no one can deny that it comes with great difficulties and challenges. All relationships come with challenges, but a marriage relationship has special difficulties.
Relationships are hard and difficult. Marriage is hard and difficult. Singleness is hard and difficult. But that is only looking at one part of the equation.
Relationships are also wonderful. Marriage is also wonderful. Singleness is also wonderful.
The ultimate issue in all of this is that there has been an improper elevation of marriage as being higher than singleness. Both marriage and singleness are good. That is the Biblical reality.
Christ had twelve intimate friendships with his disciples. Three of those disciples were especially close to Christ. He was also close friends with Martha and Mary, but cultural propriety in the context while he was on earth certainly limited the avenues of expressing that friendship. We also saw that Christ had very dear friends outside of the disciples in men like Lazarus. (see e.g. John 11, Mark 13:3, Luke 9:28, and Luke 10:38-42)
Love is not exclusively available through marriage. Love isn't greatest in marriage. Here are two more Biblical quotes to substantiate that point:
"Your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing that of a woman." - David said of Johnathan. 2 Samuel 1:26
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13
Jesus was never married, and he had great intimacy with his friends. David and Johnathan were not married, and their love was greater than the love shown in marriage. Jesus says that laying down your life for friends (not spouse) is the greatest form of love.
As creatures made to relate to one another, we cannot live well without intimacy. That intimacy does not require marriage.
My life would not be better married.
My life would not be better if I were to get married.
That might have to be repeated several more times. The idea that marriage is better than singleness is deeply ingrained in my culture.
Marriage is not better than singleness. It's just different.
I do not need to get married in order to experience all the blessings and goodness of God on earth and in the life to come. Paul even says that it's better not to get married so that I can avoid the distractions that come when you have to care for another person's needs. (1 Corinthians 7)
Marriage will not improve my life by providing me an opportunity to have sex. Life with sex is not better than life without sex.
Marriage will not improve my life by giving me a chance to have children. Procreating is not necessary for a better life.
Marriage will not improve my life by giving me greater intimacy. The intimacy of friends, family, and the church are better.
As a man made in the image of God, with friends, family, and my church alongside of me, I am pursuing Godliness.