God’s Will and Your Marriage (pt. 2)
(Continued from God’s Will and Your Marriage Part 1)
Do I Want to Get Married?
Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9: “To the unmarried and widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, Do I want to get married? is an obvious, but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation; but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So, to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is actively to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications, of evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young single women who feel that if God wants them to be married, he will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to their doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband.
No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate. On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insist at the beginning of the interview that they have no desire to be married, but simply want to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believe God has imposed upon them.
After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. Isaac did much the same thing. Neither of these patriarchs waited at home for God to deliver them a life partner. They went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. The fact that they were men does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males only. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?
A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based upon the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness is originally one that proceeds from Oriental and Greek thinking where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of Oriental absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. From a biblical perspective the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very much active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based upon freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, certain skills, and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person would have to acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question regarding counseling.
This is part fifteen of R.C. Sproul’s book How Can I Know God’s Will?. If you would like to study this topic further, here are a couple of products that may interest you: Knowing God’s Will CD Collection or Knowing God’s Will MP3 Collection.