by John Bishop, Director of Spiritual Formation
The formula for building a satisfying and life-long marriage does not primarily hinge on picking the right person.
If that sentence causes you to bristle a little, I get it. It directly contradicts a popular idea about relationships that suggests there is someone out there who perfectly “fits” you, and all you need to do is find them and you will know, “They’re the one.” We all long for a, ‘happily ever after,’ and it would be awesome if it could simply be found. This romantic idea makes for a touching movie plot, and maybe a sentimental anniversary card, but it is not biblical; it is not even realistic.
Here are some statistics about marriages in the U.S.: 41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. For second marriages it’s 60%, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. And yet, no one shows up at the altar to get married because they’re hoping to suffer a lot of pain! What’s going on here? Most of us have been deeply affected by broken marriages. It is painful, disruptive, and costly on every level.
Here’s the sobering reality: you cannot enter the most important human relationship you will ever have with a short-term, shallow, romantic, fleeting, ideological sentiment. And you cannot experiment with sex and sexuality, the glue that is intended to hold this most central relationship together, without consequences. It’s going to take everything you and your future spouse have to make it work, and it will still be hard. The Bible does not pull any punches on describing the level of commitment required in marriage.
Genesis 2:24 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
You cannot get anymore committed than, “one flesh.”
Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce, in Matthew 19:2-9, here’s what He said,
“Some Pharisees came to test Him. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they inquired. “What did Moses command you?” He replied. They answered, “Moses permitted a man to write his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
But Jesus told them, “Moses wrote this commandment for you because of your hardness of heart. However, from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
So, what can we take from Jesus’ teaching about the answer to our issues in marriage and intimacy, i.e., what is the thing that a satisfying, life-long marriage primarily hinges on? Well, it is NOT some squishy idea about finding the one. All human relationships and interactions have the potential to be enriching, fulfilling, enlightening, fun, challenging, satisfying etc. The thing that moves any relationship in this direction is commitment! This is most essentially true in marriage where we take it all the way to the level of a spiritual covenant with vows and everything.