I Do ... But Just Not Anymore

Wedding season is in full swing—but with divorce rates on the rise, we have to ask ourselves why it's so easy to end our marriages.

It is wedding season, and by the time this summer is out I will have attended six weddings. They are all of couples that have recently graduated from college and simply cannot wait to settle down with their significant other. Discussions of floral arrangements and caterers fill the air and love reigns supreme in this happy scenario where marriage is the promised land of milk and honey.

Statistically, two of those six couples will end up divorced. Most of us are familiar with the data that was first published in 2001 and then reconfirmed in 2008: 33 percent of born again Christians have gone through a divorce, a number identical to the national average for all adults. It is one thing to hear statistics, however, and another to sit through a wedding ceremony and wonder if this is the couple that will not make it. Having been married barely a year myself, this question is all the more pressing. How can we as young Christian couples guard ourselves against this deeply pervasive problem?

The Catholic and Anglican Church traditions give us an answer that may not be palatable to all, but is marvelous in its profundity. It takes matrimony out of the realm of romantic love and places it squarely in the realm of the sacred. According to these traditions, marriage, like baptism and communion, is a sacrament.

A sacra-what?

It is surprisingly radical amongst evangelical Christians to believe in marriage as a sacrament, but in a world where the process of divorce is almost as common as the institution it denies, such a view can be our saving grace. Marriage cannot merely be a legal binding of two entities. It is not a secular celebration of love and expensive parties in which you get to show off your good taste. Marriage is no mere human union, but a sacrament that God uses for the sanctification and multiplication of his people.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you and your spouse are embodying a sacrament? The Book of Common Prayer defines a sacrament as an “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.” So if you understand your marriage as sacramental, it means you and your spouse are both ministers of a sacred bond. Rather than looking at each other simply as companions or lovers, spouses can see that each has been given a special grace from God to love and complete the other in a way no one else can. The ultimate goal of marriage, then, is not happiness but holiness, as husband and wife spur one another along in mutual joy toward Christ-likeness.

In the very beginning of the Bible we are told an almost mystical story of Eve being created specifically for Adam, and God blessing their union. Such an institution is by no means ordinary, and Jesus confirmed this at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11 (the miracle where He turns water into wine).

Pope John Paul II, in a talk he gave on marriage, put this miracle in a beautiful light. He called the new wine a “symbol of new love,” and pointed out that in giving the couple this symbol, he was showing them that Christ will always provide for a marriage when love is in danger of running out. This first miracle that revealed Christ’s power “is a sign of the importance marriage has in God's saving plan and the formation of the Church.” From the very beginning God created marriage to be a sacramental foundation to society that must be valued and protected. Indeed, its very power to heal and be a positive force in the world is what makes its breaking deeply tragic, and this gives us a greater burden to protect it as a sacrament.

More than a natural union

This means that marriage is both natural and supernatural. It is natural in that it is a uniting of two people that is meant to be lifelong and exclusive. This is the way most of society understands matrimony, and in the first flush of love and excitement can feel like enough to support a marriage. However, as Christians we are told that marriage is also supernatural—that when two believers say their vows to one another in front of God and His people, they are creating an entity that exists beyond the bride and groom individually. This supernatural aspect is what makes Christian marriage truly powerful. When we are responsible not only to each other and our children but also to the Living God, the words “I do” take on a whole new significance.

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Ultimately, the uniting of man and wife is a living image of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Just as Christ’s love is full of forgiveness and redemption for his errant Bride, so should Christians understand their relationships to their sinful spouses. Once entered into, matrimony is a vocation, not an arbitrary choice that can be casually walked away from. Failure and disappointment are inevitably going to be part of two humans interacting on a regular basis, but because the bond of marriage is covered in the gift of grace, these very hurdles can become the means for a couple to grow closer together.

I will be praying for all of the couples I see get married this summer, even as my husband and I pray for God’s protection over our relationship. Lord willing, none of us will become part of a divorce statistic. Instead, I pray that we will all grow in closeness to our spouses and to the Lord as we live out our sacramental bonds. Once the wedding day is past and the initial blush of love is gone, we can rest assured that we are part of something greater than ourselves that will ultimately mold us into the image of our loving groom, Jesus Christ.




Brandon commented…

Dana, I thank you for your comment toward the body of believers. But remember you are talking to sinful people, restraint for sinful people is extremely tough. especially for two people living together. Perhaps encourage couples to spend more time dating/courting/engaged and getting to know each other that way, that is what it is for. I have spend my last half a decade in a Bible Camp based setting where people start dating after having met just a few days previously and are engaged within 6 months. it is extremely quick and not healthy in my opinion, and I agree with you completely there, these quick relationships are not Good and not generally based upon any decision by God. But you can easily get to know someones quarks without living with each other and without bringing in the extra level of temptation toward possibly having premarital sex. on another note I have seen too many relationships (christian and non) fall apart because they started living together before their weddings. It is true that the bible doesnt say that couples cannot live together before marriage because it was never something that the cultures did, the woman would go to the house of the father of her husband where they would have added on a section for them to live. and that never happened before marriage. but the bible does talk about causing others to stumble, and that correlations directly with what we are talking about.
I have been engaged for almost a year now (getting married in a month and a half) and have spent my first few years of knowing my fiancee living 5 hours from her, have spend 4 months of our engagement 5 hours away from her and the rest 4 hours away from her because I got another job. It was only last week when she moved home to her parents house (45 minutes away from me). But we have been doing a wonderful job getting to know the weird things about each other because as we have spend time together, whether on the phone or visiting one another we have spent time with each other and have desired to get to know each other better.
I also have to disagree with people getting to know themselves. nowhere does Jesus say go and find yourselves, in fact, He says the exact opposite (Luke 9:57-62 & 14:25-27). it is about us getting to know Jesus and what He wants in life.
I most definitely agree that too many people in general get married too young because they believe it to be the next thing on their check list to do after graduation.



Matthew commented…

The bible does give a valid reason for divorce: unfaithfulness of one of the partners. But I do not and cannot believe that unfaithfulness only includes sex outside of the marriage.. It is also unfaithful to withhold yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically from your partner for years, or to abuse a partner. Christianity Today had a good article on this awhile back. My partner left me in all those ways even though she didn't have sex with another man. And in the end after trying counseling she just didn't want to try to save the marriage. Will I remarry? I hope so and I do not believe it a sin. My wife was unfaithful to the marriage and my divorce was justified and not possible for me to avoid.



Matthew commented…

No you can remarry. Your husband was unfaithful to you and the Bible recognizes that as a legitimate reason for divorce.



Matthew commented…

Statistically, people that live together have a higher or the same rate of divorce. It doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work is that there is always the option to leave. You have made no vows or commitment so your guard is up and you are on better behavior.


Dave commented…

Why do people even still bother to get married anymore???

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