Notre Dame on fire ...
I’ve been watching, from an appropriate distance, the collapse of still another marriage. Neither the husband nor the wife thinks there’s any future. They’ve tried hard, they say, and they’ve listened to all sorts of counsel from pastors, therapists, friends, and family. But their motivation has vanished.
So is it really true that 50 percent of all marriages in the United States—including those of self-professing Christians—end in divorce? That’s what we’ve been told by the social scientists and statisticians. Other professionals say the actual record’s not quite that bad, but “only” a third instead of half.
By anyone’s standards, but especially from the perspective of the children hammered by such breakups, it’s way too many.
How can it be that something most of us once thought of as permanent (“till death do us part”) has become so fragile? Why have our expectations been so radically lowered that we’re scared, when we meet someone we haven’t seen for 10 years, to ask how the family is doing?
As I first noted in this column some 25 years ago, my own earliest serious thoughts about marriage came in the late 1950s. In spite of the fact that in my parents I witnessed a marriage that was both solid and romantic, I recall getting strangely discomfiting messages from other sources during my adolescence and young adult years. “Marriage is OK,” I heard them say. “But don’t expect too much from it. It’s hardly designed to put you into orbit.”
When a young couple gets close to the excitement of a good marriage, Satan goes all out to spoil the fun.
These skeptical sophisticates meant well. They thought they were doing me a favor. They didn’t want to see me set up for a fall. They didn’t want me to go off dreamy-eyed into the land of matrimony with all its traps and pitfalls. So when I did get married and then discovered those flat spots every married person encounters, my instinctive response was to say to myself: “Oh, this is what they meant. This is what the experts meant when they warned, ‘Just don’t expect too much.’”
So I didn’t. And that was a poisonous concession. Satan has wicked tricks to play—especially on those people who get close to God’s good blessings. And when a young couple gets close to the excitement of a good marriage, Satan goes all out to spoil the fun. He takes advantage of the low spots, taunting the unwary with half-truths. “Did you really think you deserved anything better than this? Remember what you’re like deep down? And you think God owes you perfection?”
Because all those accusations are partly true, we tend to fall for Satan’s bigger and terribly destructive lie. That lie says simply, “This is as good as it ever gets.” In falling for that blunting of God’s good promise, we swallow the seeds that lead first to skepticism, then to distant coldness, then to alienation, then to separation, and too often to divorce itself. For it’s not a very big jump from “What did you expect?” to “What’s the use?” Condemning ourselves—and too often seeing very few good marriages around us to cheer us on—we settle back in resignation, numbed with the discouraging recollection, “So this is what they meant!”
The problem with a lowered “realistic” standard or picture of marriage is that pretty soon people buy into it. The lowered standard becomes what everyone is shooting for, and then they start missing even that.
But that’s not what God had in mind when He designed marriage. Hope rises against all that gloom because as Christians we know that God did intend marriage to send His people into orbit. He specifically meant it to provide a taste of heaven on earth. Marriage, after all, is His own carefully drawn picture of the relationship He wants to have with us.
If that discovery comes a little late for some of us laggards, we ought to work hard to make sure it comes early for our children. We need to stress to them that God means marriage to be the most elegant and satisfying expression of all possible relationships between people—and that if they expect less than that in marriage, at least in some measure, they have diminished God’s glory and shortchanged their own pleasure and delight. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Hard work? Yes, indeed. And worth absolutely every bit of it.