‘Marriage doesn’t work (just ask Bill and Melinda [Gates]) – so let me present some alternatives.’
This was the headline of a recent Guardian article by journalist Hadley Freeman which proved very helpful in demonstrating the ugly ‘fruit’ of a society that abandons the living God.
Last year my book Biblical Marriage: Two Sinners and a Gracious God was published. Foundational to the book was the scriptural teaching that God has instituted marriage between one man and one woman.
However, in this fallen world, relationships are distorted by our sinful rebellion against our Creator. Therefore, I fully understand the summary remarks of the woman writing this secular article when she claimed ‘marriage doesn’t work’. If there is no God and no biblical worldview, then all you are left with is a relationship between two unredeemed sinners.
In the Guardian article, the premise was one of worldly marriage between two sinners and no God. The context was the failed marriage of Bill and Melinda Gates, and the author rightly recognises that even their financial prosperity could not save their marriage. Here are three further highlights from the article:
1. ‘People were never meant to live together for as long as we do now.’
The author gives no thought to God, and so her conclusion is that almost any marriage will eventually fail.
Now, even though she does not diagnose that the heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), she identifies that a marriage relationship will eventually break down. This is a realistic conclusion in a sinful world without God.
2. ‘If you do it, suit yourself.’
The author gives five alternatives to marriage. The first four all consist of ‘radical’ ideas that effectively give you the opportunity ‘to get out when you can’ or ‘get out of it what you can’.
This is the very posture of a sinner without God. We live in rebellion against God, we live for our own glory. Therefore, any relationship, certainly any marital relationship, should be about yourself.
In a society that increasingly embraces and celebrates its self-exaltation, this is the ‘logical’ conclusion in a sinful world without God.
3. ‘Don’t do it.’
The article ends with a personal testimony. The author has been with her partner for a decade and she implies the positive point that, as an unmarried couple, they will never get divorced.
She then proceeds with this conclusion: ‘Every time he goes out to the shop, I have no way of knowing if he’ll ever come back, because he’s not on the marriage leash. He probably will – we have three kids – but maybe he won’t. It’s exciting! Keeps things spicy. And that’s the real secret to longevity.’
It appears that she is promoting a relationship without the ‘baggage of marriage’. They have the commitment of being together in a relationship, and have three children together, but she seems to celebrate the uncertainty and insecurity of whether their partnership will continue by defining it as ‘spicy’. It is difficult to see how this counsel can be the ‘real secret to longevity’.
However, by the time we reach the conclusion of this article, it is clear that, without God, a sinful outlook on marriage and relationships will inevitably lead to incoherence and naivety.
To treat the risk of your partner and the father of your children walking out, never to return, as something that adds ‘spice’ to a relationship is hard to believe. And yet this is the writer’s high note to conclude the article.
Sadly, this article is helpful as an accurate diagnosis of the weakness and uncertainty of marriage without God.
The Christian response
The article does acknowledge flaws in marriage – something believers can agree with. However, the conclusions and solutions offered by this writer are nothing more than foolishness.
A marriage is between two sinners, but that is not a reason to avoid or redefine it. Instead, it should point us to the One who has redeemed it.
God instituted marriage and it is a right and beautiful gift to his creation. The distortion of marriage is but a reflection and evidence of the Fall of mankind. It is only when one is convicted of their sinful nature and rebellion against God that they will be led to true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. In him alone can we stand as forgiven sinners, redeemed by his blood and made acceptable by his righteousness imputed to us.
This truth saves individual sinners. It is also what unites Christians as the church of Christ Jesus. Christ came to rescue a people to be his bride, his church. Christ’s church is made up of unworthy, undeserving sinners who are cleansed and perfected by the Bridegroom.
This truth is central to marriages here and now because every marriage is a metaphor and picture of that relationship between Christ and his bride.
Every man and woman coming together in marriage comes as a sinner: both parties are imperfect, undeserving, and unworthy. We will let each other down. We will cause hurt and pain. But praise be to God, we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we are being renewed and sanctified daily by his Spirit who graciously works in our lives.
Fighting for marriage
Do we need to fight for our marriages? Absolutely. Marriage is not a disposable commodity based on how we feel and how well or otherwise we think it suits us.
Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman in the presence of God. It is a challenge and it is difficult because we are sinners. Despite this, as Christians we can and must rejoice in declaring and affirming that marriage is a blessing from the Lord.
The reason is that Christian marriage is between two sinners and a gracious God. By grace, God has rescued us and he redeems us. By grace, God is at work by his Spirit, sanctifying the life of the husband and the wife, and doing so together in that covenant relationship of marriage. This is the basis of trust, communication, and growth together.
The goal of marriage is the glory of God. The purpose of marriage is to display the beautiful union between Christ and his church. This is a picture of the gospel and it is why marriage and its doctrine is to be adorned, promoted, and proclaimed.
An article that declares that marriage does not work may be the logical conclusion of someone with a worldview without God. However, this worldly conclusion simply highlights man’s need of Christ. And every biblical marriage is a picture and testimony of Christ’s saving and sanctifying work.
With God’s help, marriage does work. It is right, it is life-long, and it is not between two miserable people, but between two sanctified and forgiven sinners, with Christ as Lord.
Upon this foundation, marriage works and is to the everlasting honour and glory of his name.