My son the youth pastor asked me this week if I thought that marriage was on the way out. He wondered, he said, because cohabitation is now widely accepted and many people who do get married don’t stay married for very long. With that being the case, will people continue to marry?
He noted that in recent years, the people most zealous for marriage were those advocating for state and federal laws banning same-sex marriage to be overturned. Now that their cause has succeeded, they too have grown silent about marriage.
Is marriage on the way out? It is a good question and I do not know the answer. After a history of thousands of years, it seems like marriage should have some staying power, but who knows? Coinage, banks, and hand-written letters have been around for a long time too, but some experts are predicting their demise over the course of this century.
I hope marriage does not go away. Marriage, unlike coinage, banks, and hand-written letters, was directly God’s idea. According to Genesis 2, God brought woman and man together. The inspired storyteller puts it this way: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Marriage was God’s idea. The only thing in pre-rebellion Eden that was not good was for the human to be alone, and marriage was part of God’s plan for humanity’s good. The dissolution of marriage in the current environment does not bode well for humanity.
Loneliness is an enormous problem in contemporary society. In 2020, Japan appointed a “Loneliness Minister.” A recent U.S. Surgeon General has described loneliness in America as a “health care crisis.” The internet market research firm YouGov reports a surge of feelings of loneliness among millennials. They state that “the social media generation is the one that feels the most alone.”
Marriage, when “entered into … reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God,” as The Book of Common Prayer puts it, is a counter to this crisis. It might be argued that a bad marriage can increase loneliness, and no one would disagree. But good marriages, which remain a possibility for most people, provide a counter to loneliness.
Marriage also provides a stable foundation upon which to raise a family. For children to grow up secure and confident, it is important that they have parents who are in a secure relationship. According to Scott Stanley of the University of Denver, research shows that only one in three children born to cohabiting parents remains in a stable family until age 12, compared to three out of four children of married parents
There is a widespread belief – which statistics clearly refute – that cohabitation serves as preparation for life-long love. It is rather marriage, “entered into … reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God,” that teaches people how to love.
Marriage helps to foster happiness – married people report greater happiness than cohabiting couples – but it also supports holiness. In marriage, people practice submitting to one another. They learn to trust. They make sacrifices. These are invaluable exercises for the spiritual life. No wonder some Christian traditions regard marriage as a sacrament. It is a means by which God’s grace is experienced in life.
When marriage works as God intended, people learn to be patient and kind. They discover how to overcome obstacles like envy, anger, pride, rudeness, and self-centeredness. They learn to give up their grievance list. Falling in love may be easy (per Buddy Holly) but living in love requires training. Marriage is not the only training ground where this can be learned, but it is a premier one.
It is hard to think of marriage as a training ground because our society sees it as an end in itself. Such a view of marriage leads to the naïve expectation that getting married will bring ultimate fulfillment. It does not. Yet, marriage can bring some people closer to that fulfilment, which is one of “the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”
(First published by Gannett.)