We are living in fickle times where fidelity in the broad sense of the word is no longer viewed as the essential component of marriage. Although serial monogamy has become the norm, it is still not the ideal most couples strive for when embarking upon the marital union. The traditional vows still exchanged in front of witnesses go along the lines of "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health... until death do us part...." Indeed, this is a tall order, and one wonders whether it is reasonable for human beings, flawed as we are, to take on such a commitment. After all, marriage is a challenging mix: a private affair which makes a public statement and has a spiritual meaning.
A Private Affair
This week saw the cringeworthy headlines emblazoned across the internet of the supposed separation of the celebrity couple – Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower. They were cringeworthy because they're touching on a subject which is better left private unless the couple themselves wish to divulge it. No doubt press speculation will not end there, but intrusive inquiries will be made of those in the couples' inner circle as to what may have caused this putative breakdown.
Discretion used to be considered a necessary component between a married couple, and this was respected by the press. Nowadays, because many famous couples are keen to open up about the state of their marriages, the press are now prone to prying into the private goings-on between couples as if they have a right to know. When American First Lady, Melania Trump, was recently interviewed on ABC news, attempts were made to probe the nature of her relationship with the President by asking – "Do you love your husband?" and, "has your husband apologized to you since you've been in the white House?" It was to her credit that she gave nothing away whilst maintaining her composure.
A Public Statement
Although couples are to be allowed a large degree of privacy for their unions to flourish, they must also recognise marriage's public dimension. Every Christian marriage is witnessed by family and friends who typically share in prayers of intercession for the couple asking God to equip them to be faithful to their vows.
Marriage creates a sense of hope for the future. Those who witness a strong and enduring marriage are more likely to want it for themselves. By contrast, witnessing or being party to a marriage which ends in divorce can leave one cynical and commitment-shy. Kris Jenner, the famous matriarch of the Kardashian clan, was recently interviewed on the podcast "Divorce Sucks." When asked if she would marry again, she responded adamantly in the negative. At 62 years old, having weathered two divorces, who could blame her for such reluctance.
Marriage fosters hope that love can indeed conquer all, and for that, Agape love is the vital ingredient. It is the Greek word for the type of love which is unconditional and self-sacrificial much like the love Christ showed for us on the cross – "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, NKJV). There is no greater way to demonstrate love for another human being than making the lifetime commitment of marriage. The principle that "love covers a multitude of sins" emphasizes the need for forgiveness; without which, resentment will erode our foundations. The union also fosters hope that the marriage will be fruitful not just in terms of progeny but that together the couple will achieve more than they could ever achieve alone. Conversely, when a marriage ends, a lot of people are affected besides the immediate family – shared friends are often forced to pick sides; the family home may have to be sold and the family move away from the neighbourhood such that community connections are severed.
A Spiritual Meaning
Indeed, if press reports and statistics are to be believed, 40-50% of marriages in the US will end in divorce. Does this mean that increasingly, couples will choose to cohabit rather than marry? Fortunately, however much statistics may threaten to throw cold water on the future of marriage as an institution and whether people see marriage in their future, the desire for most adults to get married remains unquenchable. Ultimately, marriage in this earthly realm is a type and foretaste of the spiritual marriage yet to be consummated between Christ and His bride, the church. Jesus' parting words to his disciples included the promise – "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3, NKJV).
The church in this context is not a brick and mortar edifice or specific denomination but includes all those who entrust their lives to Christ and choose to follow his ways, no matter their background or nationality. As the bride we await the bridegroom, and in the meantime are preparing a bridal gown of pure and holy living (Revelation 19:8).
The public enthusiasm which surrounded the two British royal marriages this year of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank, underscores the idealism and benevolence with which so many still view marriage.
Yet for marriage to succeed, it will require more than a glamorous wedding. Similarly, good looks and desire are not enough to guarantee a happy and enduring union. It requires nothing less than the grace of God, and our humble awareness of how much we will need to rely on His guidance, strength and wisdom, to support the best of our intentions.
—Dr. Carla Cornelius is a Director and Editor at Jesus Joy Publishing. Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counselling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including "Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking," "Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains" and "No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide."