God’s Will and Your Marriage (pt. 3)
by R.C. Sproul
(Continued from God’s Will and Your Marriage Part 2)
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?
Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends.
Marriage is never ultimately a private matter because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Counsel can be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign to our American heritage. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, like a man having a profound need to be mothered and a woman having a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings are repeated daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based upon the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections like these are based upon unrealistic expectations at best and upon petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent can spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?
After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.”
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. The second greatest reason given for divorce is conflict over finances. Financial pressures imposed upon a relationship already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “cleave unto” his wife and the two shall become one flesh. The leaving and cleaving dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
But entering into marriage involves far more than embarking upon new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. I am ready to get married when I am prepared to commit myself to a particular person for the rest of my life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall us.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is again imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it—but he also regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is the sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and his rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what the Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of his children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
Now, while celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state to be in than marriage, we do have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
Ultimately what happens in our lives is cloaked in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as his children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting upon his principles and direction, and the promise that he is with us forever.
This is part sixteen (the final part!) 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.