Saturday, August 14, 2010

My First and Last Post on Marriage

A few months ago, I read what I hope will be the final book I read on marriage and relationships: Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Boundaries in Dating: Making Dating Work. Chapter 4 detailed so clearly what I’ve seen to be the most prevalent position taken by Christian writers and speakers on marriage, dating, courtship, betrothal, and the like:

In order to cure your fear of being alone, you need to put a boundary around your wish for a relationship. Cure that fear first, and then find a relationship. (p. 73)

How do you cure your aloneness without a dating relationship? (p. 73)

The more you have a full life of relationship with God, service to others, and interesting stimulating activities, the less you will feel like you need a relationship in order to be whole. (p. 74)

It is a curious thing, but the process of spiritual growth itself can help cure aloneness. (p. 74)

Buried under the façade of warnings about making unwise choices and entering bad relationships is the basic assumption that there’s something wrong with seeking a relationship before you cure your loneliness through alternative means. In other words, the God-given cure (an intimate relationship with another person) is inferior to a man-made one (a relationship with God, etc.).

Now for the obligatory discussion of Adam: He had a relationship with God that the rest of us can’t even begin to contemplate. He had plenty of work to do tending the Garden of Eden and naming the animals. And yet, he was lonely.

Did God respond with the above quotes as Cloud and Townsend did to their readers? Did God deliver the “be content in Christ” line heard from the lips of other Christian leaders? Did God distinguish between “healthy” and “unhealthy” loneliness? No, no, and no. God’s solution was Eve.

The Bible appears to provide only two “reasons” for marrying, and neither is directly related to legitimate procreation, financial security, or being better suited to do the Lord’s work. (Those are in verses discussing what marriage should be.) Instead, people should get married so that they aren’t alone (Genesis 2:18-20), and people should get married so that they won’t fall into sexual sin (1 Corinthians 7, 1 Timothy 5:11-15). Is it a mere coincidence that so many people teach that loneliness and sexual temptation are the two reasons not to marry?

This anti-marriage sort of reasoning has got to stop. It’s done a great disservice to the current generation of young Christians, and I hope with all hope that the next generation completely ignores it. I should note that, although this is something that I’ve thought about for awhile, I’m certainly open to debate. If anyone can think of something I’ve missed, please share.

26 comments:

  1. No debating here...your conclusions are excellent. I've never considered how God brought Eve, like you said, in light of today's courtship / dating issue. "It's not good for a man to be alone." Maybe loneliness is a sign to start looking! (With prayer of course.)

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  2. "The Bible appears to provide only two “reasons” for marrying, and neither is directly related to legitimate procreation, financial security, or being better suited to do the Lord’s work. (Those are in verses discussing what marriage should be.) Instead, people should get married so that they aren’t alone (Genesis 2:18-20), and people should get married so that they won’t fall into sexual sin (1 Corinthians 7, 1 Timothy 5:11-15). Is it a mere coincidence that so many people teach that loneliness and sexual temptation are the two reasons not to marry?"

    You know, I'd never looked at it from that perspective...and it's spot on.

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  3. Thanks for the input. I first began to reevaluate these teachings a couple of years ago when I noticed that 1 Cor. 7:36-37 seemed to directly contradict some anti-marriage advice on Boundless.com. I do hope more people look into this matter.

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  4. Hmm...very persuasive, and yet, I'm not sure we can say with authority that Adam was lonely. The bible does say he was alone and that that was not good. Since no suitable helper was found, we can infer that a helper was sought. Nevertheless, I', not totally convinced that we can use "lonely" with all it's connotations) here.

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  5. Also, you should promise this will be your last post on marriage and then close with an invitation for feedback. What if the feedback requires another post in response? :)

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  6. "Alone" vs. "lonely"...Okay, that's a reason to do some word study, I guess. Btw, no, I think I'll just write an extra-long comment if the need arises. :)

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  7. I'm still working on the "alone" vs. "lonely" word problem. However, I do have a partial response:

    If anyone is lonely, that's evidence of being alone. God said very clearly, "It is not good." And the LXX's use of anthropos would suggest "it is not good" for male or female.

    Since marriage was God's solution to a person being alone, why should it makes a difference as to whether or not the person's actually "lonely." As it stands, I still see no reason to tell lonely people that that's not a valid reason to marry.

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  8. ^^Yeah, I meant to write "should not promise." (Sorry about the typos. My keyboard never fully recovered from the water spill incident.)

    ^Great response. Great original post, too, btw.

    Upon further thought, it seems to me that us not really knowing if Adam was lonely (i.e., if he felt a need for a wife) isn't that important to the issue after all. God said his lonesomeness (or his being alone) was not good and Adam would have been alone whether he wanted a companion or not. (Just like how he was naked whether he noticed or not.)

    I'm inclined to agree that Genesis supports the idea that "marriage [is] God's solution to a person being alone." I'm going to nit-pick a little bit more, though. Adam was alone to an extent that none of us will ever be. (Even if one has more liberal views of creation, Adam was at least by himself in the garden.)

    Yet, as you said before, he walked with God, so he wasn't completely alone. Also, since the issue was a suitable/meet helper (i.e., a wife), we can perhaps infer that this principle/idea applies to mankind in general and not just Adam's specific situation.

    You've pretty much convinced me. :)

    I guess loneliness (longing for someone) can be caused by many things and one of those things is not having a spouse. In that case, it would not seem unreasonable to see it as an indication that a spouse is needed.

    Thank you for the thoughtful post on this important subject. KUTGW

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  9. I think Cloud/Townsend's point is that fear of loneliness very often leads to bad relationships. The loneliness clouds (pun intended) their judgment. As a guy, I avoid women when I can smell the desperation. When it's like that, how can I tell if she really likes and appreciates me, or she just wants any man?

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  10. Thanks for your comment. Yes, avoiding bad relationships is the obvious point of that chapter, and I mentioned that (see my 2nd paragraph). But I was digging deeper into the problem of C&T and others insisting that loneliness needs to be cured before a relationship is pursued. I certainly agree that many women chose out of desperation, and it wouldn't be fun to be on the other side of that.

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  11. To preface, I haven't read the book, so I'm conjecturing based on what you've quoted from Cloud/Townsend.

    I think I agree with you, and I agree with Cloud/Townsend. I don't think you are actually in conflict; together you are presenting two sides of the same coin. It seems that Cloud/Townsend are more addressing "fear of being alone" and "feeling like you need a relationship in order to be whole."

    I think marriage is an answer to loneliness. At the same time, I think the one who "fears being alone" and "feels like a relationship is necessary to be whole" has some issues to deal with before pursuing marriage. Often those people will still have those issues even after marriage. Feeling isolated and alone and feeling unfulfilled in a relationship is very common in married couples.

    It's kind of like the second reason to get married: avoiding fornication. If a Christian guy I knew was struggling with sleeping around with every girl, and then said, you know, I ought to get married as the solution, I would recommend that he control his sexual drive to a certain extent before he pursues marriage. The same goes for controlling loneliness.

    I'm single, and I get lonely sometimes, but I've filled that void by building relationships with friends and within the church, and I've learned to be content. Yes, Adam was alone, and yes, a wife did satisfy that loneliness, but Adam also didn't have any other human beings either.

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  12. Thank you for your comment. We need to serve others, grow in the Lord, etc. I'm glad that these have helped you cope with singleness. However, C&T want people to "be whole" without a relationship, when that's what God created relationships to do.

    Is fear and desperation dangerous? Of course! Seek guidence in persuing a relationship and listen to the advice and warnings others give. Not doing so is why people end up in bad relationships.

    Does sexual sin need addressing before marriage? Of course! Stop sinning now! That might mean an immediate marriage (see my first comment above). That might mean addressing other problems. But marriage is still God's prevention method.

    Not every person who is lonely or is tempted sexually will choose to marry or even have an opportunity to marry. And, yes, some marriages don't meet needs. However, I still hold that loneliness and sexual desire are the biblically-supportable reasons for marriage. Christian leaders who tell us to "be content" and look for fulfillness elsewhere have no business doing so.

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  13. AMM, I hope you don't think I'm disputing your main point. I agree, loneliness and sexual desire are biblically supportable reasons for marriage.

    The "contentness" issue is a big one for me. I used to go to a church in which they fostered discontent among the singles by telling them that it was a moral imperative to get married. A lot of women became bitter that not enough men weren't doing their duty by pursuing marriage, or felt like having a husband was a God-given right that they had somehow been denied.

    I think it would have been better if they had been encouraged to wait on the Lord and be content whether or not the Lord brought them a spouse. I don't think "being content" and "seeking to be married" are mutually exclusive. Both can, and in many cases should, be sought.

    So I guess what I'm advocating would be some sort of balance in which loneliness and sexual temptation are legitimate reasons to pursue marriage (Gen 2, 1 Cor 7), that seeking to be married is considered a good thing (Prov 18:22), but contentment be sought in any and all circumstances (Phil. 4:11), and that one can also be whole and satisfied as a single person (1 Cor 7, the life of Jesus).

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  14. I suppose that C&T might be a weak example. Bill Gothard was vague also. And I've eliminated my collection of singles' self-help books, so I didn't have an opportunity to cite clear cut examples.

    I agree that being content is a separate issue, as is growing in one's relationship with God, serving others, etc. Maybe I'm addressing a problem that only pertains to a Christian subculture.

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  15. "Part of the problem is that we’ve disassociated the sex drive with the pursuit of marriage. This is understandably true in our culture but shamefully true in the church. For example, when was the last time you heard a pastor exhort singles (particularly men) to marry young by linking a desire for sex with the pursuit of marriage? I can only think of once in the last six years at my church and it came from a visiting preacher."
    -Motte Brown, "Inextricably Linking Sexual Desire with Marriage", 9/01/2010

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  16. Here's the link to the article from which I got the above quote: http://shar.es/0r8Ys

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  17. There are a lot of good comments here. Not much left for me to say, except thank you for posting this series on marriage. God loves marriage. It is holy. I just went to a wedding ceremony with no mention of God... it broke my heart!

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  18. I had never thought about it like this before, but before Eve, Adam didn't have anybody, just animals. Of course he had God but that's another story. I think the best relationship is to have a spouse, but in today's world, we can have so many lesser relationships that we don't have to feel like we are completely alone. Thank you for sharing this insightful post.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

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  19. Very interesting post and comments. I will spend more time reading and thinking about what was said before I comment directly on what you said. My only thought is that one can be in a crowd and still be lonely. You do not have to be alone to be lonely.

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  20. WOW! I have to agree with Clif, you don't have to be alone to be lonely. I can sure see why people would feel lonely if they don't have the Lord in their life.
    Blessings,
    Ginger

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  21. Whidbey Woman: Yes, marriage is important. That's why it saddens me that so many singles are taught to avoid marriage when they desire it.

    Charlotte, Clif, and Ginger: I only recently thought about marriage like this myself, and I believe I touched upon the issues you raised earlier.

    Yes, loneliness is a sign of being emotionally alone, but not necessarily physically alone. Adam noticed something was missing despite having God's company. That missing element wasn't just having other people around to socialize with. It was not having a wife to be intimate with.

    At any rate, God's cure for Adam being alone was providing Eve. I argue that singles who are lonely (despite a relationship with God and other people) are alone like Adam was in the Garden of Eden. And no one should criticize them for longing for a spouse.

    Thanks to you all for your comments. I'm looking forward to checking out your blogs too.

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  22. Good Morning Sweet Friend...
    This is quite a post this morning. I have been married for 35 years now, and my husband was my best friend before he became my husband. He is still my best friend. I have never felt alone with God in our lives, and I have never been alone with my husband in my life, however I know many people who married for all the wrong reasons, and they are lonlier now than they were single.

    I wish for everyone to find the happiness in their lives that I found 35 years ago. Yes we do long for a special someone in our lives, I believe that is only human. No one should criticize a longing as such.

    Many hugs sweet friend, Sherry

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  23. I was told that if I followed my dreams and kept busy that the right one would come along. He still hasn't. Those who talk this way are married. It's very clear to me. Those who can abide it are very young--no older than 25. Those who are still single past that are most likely having great difficulty with their level of loneliness and are not able to find a meaningful relationship. Unfortunately, Christians have made the standard of perfection so high it's outrageous. Few of us are called to become missionaries and serve the Lord full time.

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  24. @Elwood--- how do you know when you are right? How do you know it's desperation? The woman might really like you!! I have to worry about desperate men who see me as an easy shot because of my weight and conclude that I must be desperate. How wrong they are when I dump their asses for mistreating me.

    I just assume that the guys at church don't ever like me. That way I'm not disappointed.

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  25. SavvyD, I'm inclined to agree. Once I was on the bad end of the "You're desperate" accusation, and I was rather shocked because I genuinely liked the guy.

    Sorry, Elwood, but it's my opinion that both guys and girls use that as an excuse to avoid saying what's really on their minds: "I'm not interested in you." Rather than risk being asked "Why not?" (since there's rarely a nice-sounding concise answer), people use this defensive maneuver so they can feel better about turning others down.

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