Marriage, the Great Liberator

For decades, marriage has been viewed with the same kind of disdain as wearing pantyhose. Sometimes it's necessary, but put it off as long as possible; when possible, avoid it; and once it's served its purpose, you can easily discard it. And because of comments like Betty Friedan's (about a woman needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle), over the last 50 years, women have been encouraged to shirk the desire to marry and feel guilty when that desire arises within them. Women on today's college scene often feel the need to 'prove' that they're not trying to get the infamous "M.R.S." degree, so they may express a greater longing for independence than they actually feel.

But Christian thinkers all over the blogosphere-- and the real world ;) -- are encouraging the young Christians in America to resist the world's influence in this area of delaying marriage.

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenges young Christian men to step up to the plate, quit extending the length of their boyhood, and be pursuers:
"From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings. ...
This generation of young Christians must lead the way in the recovery of the biblical vision, and build a Christian counter-culture that puts marriage back at the center of human life and Christian living. ...The extension of a "boy culture" into the 20s and 30s, along with a sense of uncertainty about the true nature of male leadership, has led many young men to focus on career, friends, sports, and any number of other satisfactions when they should be preparing themselves for marriage and taking responsibility to grow up, be the man, and show God's glory as husband and father."

Tim Bayly, a theologically reformed blogger I've recently encountered on the web, has tackled this issue head-on, encouraging his readers to marry young. In a sermon about this very topic, he examined the text of 1 Cor. 7:8-9, in which Paul exhorted the unmarried that "it is better to marry than to burn with passion." In his sermon, he asked this question: "at what age do you burn?" The answer, for most people, is sometime between the ages of 15-25. But with the average American marrying after age 27, that leaves a lot of Christian young people in the predicament of trying to remain pure while burning with passion in a sex-saturated society.

In an excerpt from the book, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us", Danielle Critenden analyzes the cost to women when they intentionally delay marriage.

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So, now that I've referenced the people who have provided the context and framework for this discussion, I now want to beg your longsuffering. Please allow me to enumerate some of the ways that Christian marriage is actually quite the opposite of the jail cell that feminists implied it to be.

#1- It is FREEING in its duration. When marriage is entered into by 2 Christians, "til death do us part" is not just a catchy line in the wedding ceremony. There is freedom in knowing that a problem will not mean a break up, that a personal struggle will not mean rejection, and that a disagreement will not mean solitude.

#2- It is FREEING in its purposes.
What a delight to have a lifelong partner who acts as the iron opposite you (as in, iron sharpening iron). What a relief to be able to be real with another human being. To show your true colors to someone and have them challenge you, wash you (and sanctify you) with the washing of the Word, and understand you. This is why I believe marriage is often the greatest factor in the sanctification of a Christian. This is not true for all Christians, as some may encounter greater sanctifying challenges through children, illness, or other issues. But marriage is, nonetheless, freeing in its ironing/shaping quality.

#3- It is FREEING in its physical oneness. Freedom is not found in the bars in Georgetown, in the strip clubs in Dallas, or in the pay-by-the-hour hotels. There is a freedom that comes, not with pursuing any and all possible sexual partners one can amass in a lifetime, but rather, in being able to explore and relax and pursue and be pursued withing God's healthy boundaries of marriage. What a chore it would be to have to feel like every act of intimacy had better be tip-top, or else your current girlfriend/boyfriend might hit the road! With marriage, there is the opportunity for variety: to be fun, sensitive, playful, serious, pursuing, relenting, teasing, and fulfilling. No other venue but marriage can provide safety and freedom in the sexual arena.

#4- It is FREEING in its commitment. The world gives us the feeling that commitment is heavy, something serious and responsible, only for the old and tired. But commitment is what makes you free. Free to no longer posture in order to put yourself in the best possible light to all possible suitors. Free to be who you are and be fully accepted by another imagebearer. Free to pursue your dreams and even have a sounding board with whom to discuss those dreams.

Marriage is the great liberator. Contrary to what the world offers up by way of commentary on dating and sex, the greatest freedom comes in the greatest commitment: one man, one woman, one flesh.

11 comments:

Kim said...

I think it's important to note though that marriage is NOT the goal of life. I think that the issues that older single women face is that our churches put SUCH a high emphasis on marriage and children that if you aren't blessed in that area, you are considered flawed in some aspect. (Just a comment on the encouragement to marry young. I've actually heard the same thing from Mohler - probably the same article, or else he's regurgitating. At any rate - I know the bigger issue is willingness/preparedness, and that's right. Men need to become MEN.)

I guess I say this (and this isn't a single v. married debate, and my feelings on this are changing, by the grace of God...) just to perhaps add that marriage for the sake of marriage is futile. It needs to be marriage because you glorify the Lord better together than apart. But if God purposes a person to be single, for whatever reason, he will provide the iron sharpeners and the lifelong satisfaction in a relationship with him.

I think that is good stuff, though. I view marriage the same way. See? I just want to be free! :) (Kidding.)

I'm going to email you...

mom said...

That was really thought provoking and so true. You don't hear that sort of thing very much anymore. It would be great if a lot of young men and women could read it. Love you, Mom

Jess said...

Yeah, Kim- I actually thought about putting a little disclaimer, but really, I had already done that by revealing the articles that framed my comments. Al Mohler said the same thing you did-- that marriage for the sake of marriage is no good.

Of course I would not encourage anyone to marry just for the sake of doing marriage.

I think that you would find much comraderie in the biblical world, where it was also seen as some kind of flaw for a woman to be not married, or married without children.

I could spend an additional 2-3 paragraphs in each article, trying to make my article palatable to all the other groups not addressed in it. For example- every time a book is written about children, (almost every single parenting book I've read does this) they put in a paragraph in the introduction like "Of course, we understand the strain on single moms and dads, but because the target audience for this book is the 2-parent family..."

However, I am not writing a book, but rather just a series of scattered thoughts. While I will continue to aim toward sensitivity to those who desire but have not yet been blessed with the things I am writing about, I think that in tackling issues that regard the Christian family and home, it is going to sometimes be uncomfortable for some people to hear and read. I hope people who are uncomfortable with the way I phrase things will speak up and show me if I'm unbiblical or being insensitive.

But, at the same time, marriage is a good thing. And a blessing from the Lord. And I know you agree with that. I have many single women friends who long for marriage and a husband. Of course it's not 'their fault' that they're not married...women aren't to pursue and so therefore have to kind of be passive, even when they'd prefer to be upfront with young men about it. That's why I highlighted two different articles that pinpoint the problem as a male one, that they are not stepping up to lead and pursue.

I did read an intersting article- you may enjoy it- over at boundless.org called "Pulling a Ruth"- talking about a woman who did somewhat take matters into her own hands.

I think I've rambled... but anyway, I hope the point of the article was clear- that marriage is in fact a very good thing. Because it is.

Kim said...

It was. And I agree. I hope I wasn't being too...I dunno. Whatever with my thoughts.

I love ya, and I do love hearing what you have to say. :)

Jess said...

I love you too- and I enjoy your perspective. Hearing from you keeps me from going over the top from my own perspective. I'm glad we have the body to present all different methods that God does His work in this world!

(Thankfully not everyone in the world is as prophet-ish and wordy as me, eh?)

Kim said...

The thing I am feeling these days (and I thought this after I read the entry again) - is that it's a JOY being free in singleness AND to look forward to being free in marriage. You know? I spent a long time being a slave to being single, and God is really working in me. And I can look forward to a lifetime of freedom, either way!

God is so good...

(P.S. Have you heard of the book I mentioned to you regarding Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? John Piper is a contributing author? I was looking at your reading list and thinking you would like it.)

Jess said...

Hey Kim-
That is awesome that God is doing that in you. And I think you're absolutely right to feel the freedom of singleness and enjoy that and look forward to a time of freedom in marriage.

It's just that all too often, people believe the lie that our society and the world tries to tell them: that marriage is a jailcell and once you've got the "old ball and chain" you throw your freedom and your fun right out the window. Sometimes it seems from this side of things that the only people longing to be married are those who are gay.

And I am so thankful that God is doing a new thing in you, teaching you about the joy of singleness. I've been praying for you about that, wondering what God's been doing- I've sensed some changes in your attitude over at your blog and your comments here lately. I'd love to read a blogpost over there about what all God has done on that issue and the process it's taken to get you from A to B.

And yes, we had Piper's book when we were in the States and I didn't get a chance to read it... I think it's packed up there. But we do have it on CD-Rom, which (totally off-topic) I hate. I hate reading things on the computer screen. It's not so big a deal if it's a blog or even a really long e-mail or a position statement on a website. But I can't imagine reading an entire book on the computer.

Anonymous said...

It's Gloria Steinem who was credited with the fish/bicycle quote, but she credited Irina Dunn for the phrase.

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle"

"This phrase is widely attributed to Gloria Steinem, the implication being that many women may well have no need for or even use for men. The humor derives from the fact that sexual and lingustic stereotypes make the brain expect to hear 'water' as the last word.
A web site called The Phrase Finder at http://phrases.shu.ac.uk/index.html quotes from a letter sent by Gloria Steinem's letter to Time Magazine in autumn 2000. Part of her letter is quoted below."

"you credit me with the witticism 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney."

http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=737946

Peter said...

"..... people believe the lie that our society and the world tries to tell them: that marriage is a jailcell and once you've got the "old ball and chain" you throw your freedom and your fun right out the window....."

Lie? "Society" and "The World" do get things right occasionally.

Mr. Moose said...

Jess:

How refreshing. Thank you for another positive post with a biblical perspective.

I've had a very difficult marriage and feelings of sorrow (that I haven't completely figured out yet), when I read Matthew 19:3-11, but when I step back away from my own situation I really appreciate the quality of your post.

So many people need to accept the gift of salvation and so many people need the things that you're expressing here!

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this (along with many of your articles on here!!!) I often times find myself praying to marry specifically when it comes to iron sharpening. It's been very hard for me to find someone in the body that'll be honest with me concerning my weaknesses, biblically even as well as someone I can talk to pray with.

And that's not my primary reason for wanting to marry but I have found myself praying that way as of late as I find myself being isolated often times and not by choice. And I too pray/have prayed to gain that level of accountability within the body as a whole but aside from great blogs like this, great teachings from pastors mentioned on this blog and some blogging friends from a distance I haven't obtained that as a part of my every day life. So it brings to mind to pray that all the more when it comes to a partner in marriage.

Lastly part that guilt you spoke about caused me to miss a marriage opportunity because I kept evaluating rather I was ready, his approach wasn't the best either but looking back now I can see clearly the set backs and again grateful for writers like yourself that bring light to the issue.