The Purpose of Marriage

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In the debates raging about how marriage should be defined, the argument tends to break into two camps — Procreation vs. Revisionist.  Christians and those arguing for Natural Law often argue that marriage is a legal entity that exists for the procreation and protection of children.  Revisionists put the emphasis on affection, the sexual relationship, and the choice to join lives together –whether children can be created from that relationship or not.

While Natural Law has many valid arguments to contribute to this issue — such as the fact that every society has established and recognizes marriage between a man and a woman and in every culture, –I really don’t want to focus on that angle.  There are others who can address that better than me.  I’m a woman and a wife.

This article by Dr. Abigail Rine, “What is Marriage to Evangelical Millenials?” describes a professor’s experience in teaching college students on the subject of the different perspectives of marriage.  She describes how strongly they struggle with a reading assignment she uses in her class that puts forward the procreationist view.  This is the reading assignment:  “What is Marriage?”

I have to admit, I reacted in much the same way.  At first, I thought it was because I am a Gen X’er, and I was raised with romance, sex, education, and career in an age where birth control had already separated marriage from procreation.  But I don’t think that is why.

First let me say this — When God made all creatures, He made them male and female.  When God made a perfect mate for Adam, before the world had fallen, He created a woman.  For Christians, that resolves the homosexuality issue right there.  God made woman for man and man for woman.  If a person is attracted to the same sex, it is a desire that has gone wrong as so many things in this world have.  A person dealing with this deserves the truth. They deserve compassion.  And should they recognize this, they deserve our love and support in this struggle against these desires.

But I don’t think that marriage is solely about procreation.  I don’t even think that is the primary reason for it.  Yes, I know that God said “Be fruitful and multiply.”  But before He said that, He said “It is not good for man to be alone.”  And Adam said “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  Eve was made as a helpmeet for Adam.

Reading through the article assigned for Dr. Rine’s class,  “What is Marriage?” I cringe at the language, because it is not the language of Scripture.  When I look through the Bible, when God addresses marriage, He doesn’t use the children as reasons for the marriage — they are a result and a blessing of it.  God focuses on the relationship between husband and wife.

We see this in the beautiful, passionate poetry of the Song of Solomon.  We also see it in the encouragement to “rejoice in the wife of your youth..be exhilarated always with her love.” (Proverbs 5:19)  There are so many examples of in the Old Testament and New of God using marriage to describe His relationship with His chosen people.  Of course it is there in the teachings of Paul and Peter — who charge husbands and wives to submit to each other, wives to look to their husbands as to Christ (and yes, obey would fall into that), and husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her.

There are also examples where it goes wrong — whether or not a letter of divorce should be permitted and when (abandonment — physical and sexual, and adultery).  There is not a polygamous relationship in the Bible that is happy — Rachel and Leah, Sarah and Hagar, Hannah and Penninah all show how miserable it is for a woman to be insecure in her status in her husband’s heart.  And what about Hosea, whose marriage was a living illustration of the pain that God feels when His bride, the Children of Israel, seek after other gods?

Marriage is a relationship that God has created to show His love to both husband and wife — and through them, to the children.  If husband and wife take their vows seriously, and realize that they are charged to love, honor, and cherish each other (or any variation on that) with everything they have, even when they don’t feel it — the children will be blessed.  When they don’t, the children will be hurt.

I have read a lot of classical literature from ancient to modern and I have lived in cultures that come to marriage differently than we do, and value children much more highly than we do —  the true universal fear is an affectionless marriage (or worse, one full of hate).  Even in marriages where the couple has never met before the wedding, the perspective tends to be that if both behave well toward each other, love will come, or at least affection and respect.  Examples of rich marriages and painful marriages are present in the literature of the Ancient Greeks as well as the writings of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, or Tolstoy.  Ignoring the need human beings have for intimate affection turns the procreation argument into just as much of a cold argument as an argument for marriage as a means of economic or diplomatic alliance.  No one wants to be a commodity.

I think we lost the final battle for marriage when I was a child, when society finally decided that it was NOT better to stay together for the sake of the children (which research actually contradicts).  But this was an anemic battle, the last sputterings of a war already lost when people stopped honoring their vows and stopped trusting God to sustain their marriages.  To say that it is wrong for children to stay in a loveless marriage ignores the fact that it is the chief responsibility of any married couple to make sure that it does not become a loveless marriage.  If it is loveless, it is not something that just happened.  Trust was violated and husbands and wives did not treat each other with the love and respect that they promised in their vows.  That can and should be repaired, not abandoned. That’s the “for better or worse” we vowed to endure for each other.

At the beginning of a marriage, we stand before an authority and witnesses and we pledge to love, honor, cherish each other.  If it was a Christian wedding, we also heard proclaimed that God made the couple one, and that no one, not even the couple, should break it apart.  He promises to give us the strength to sustain it and forgiveness when we constantly and daily fail.  We lost the marriage battle when promises no longer meant anything because we were hurt, angry, tired, numb, bored, or stupid.

Because God created marriage to meet so many human needs, the strict procreation argument seems cold and dehumanizing. It takes one aspect of a very complex relationship between two very complex human beings and makes it everything.  God created man and woman for each other and to meet each other’s needs in many different ways.  The way that a man and a woman interact with each other in the raising of children is one of those ways, a very blessed and important way, but one way.

The core of this argument probably only applies to Christians because it focuses on why were were made by God.  The only thing that applies to the world in general is the purpose of marriage, and the fact that two people made a promise that they promise not to break.  Marriage between a man and a woman, in which children are raised, is the fabric of any society and always has been, and the government does have a vested interest in protecting this; but in an age where truths are not self-evident, others have to address that issue outside of Christianity.  I am woefully inadequate to imagine sustaining a marriage without Christ.

One thought on “The Purpose of Marriage

  1. I like the way that the Book of Common Prayer lists three reasons for marriage (in the section that is no doubt well-known to fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries):

    “First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

    Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

    Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

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