Asking a man and woman to live together—to use the same bathroom, sleep in the same bed, share the same checking account—is a request fraught with risk. What if his bathroom habits look and smell like they were learned at the frat house? What if he breaks his back every week only to discover she spent half the money he earned on shoes? But go beyond that. What if a man and woman are asked to have sex with each other, and only each other, and never anyone else, till their dying day? What happens when she opts for sleeping over sex, and his twenty-something, flirtatious secretary keeps dropping suggestive hints about an after-hours tryst? What happens when she can’t remember the last time he got her flowers or kissed her like he meant it, but this guy at the gym showers her with compliments every day?
But there’s still more. What if a man and woman are gifted with children, but as those children grow, so grows the chasm between the two parents? She drives them to school, shivers during their soccer games, claps after their school play, gets them to piano and football practice on time. And he’s busy climbing the corporate ladder, or bouncing from one job to another, making an appearance occasionally at a child’s sporting event, all the while with his phone glued to his ear talking business. And the kids finally leave home, and home is left vacant, except for two roommates who no longer seem to have anything in common.
Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love, by itself, is not enough, never enough, to keep a marriage alive. It will not be love that sustains their marriage; it will be marriage that sustains their love (D. Bonhoeffer).
It is the God-ordained union of man and woman, into a complete and lifelong unity of one flesh, that fosters love. This is no until-someone-better-comes-along mutual cohabitation. This is not an until-we-have-problems sexual partnership. It is not living together but life together—a life begun and sustained by the God who creates it. Marriage is an objective, created reality into which the Lord places a man and woman, not a contractual agreement or emotional bond. It is a gift from heaven, and it is that gift that creates an environment in which love and sharing and life can be enjoyed on earth.
If I merely live with a lover, and tire of her, or she tires of me, we pack our things and go our separate ways. The supposed “love” we shared was dependent upon two weak, selfish people, who all too easily throw in the towel. If I marry the woman I love, I step into something outside myself. I step into marriage. I become a part of something external to myself, created by God, and (when justice and common sense prevail) strongly defended by human laws.
Within marriage, I am free to love. I am free to give myself wholly and exclusively to my wife, and she to me, and we to our children. The love we share will make our marriage not a burden but a delight. And, when hard times come—and they will, they always do—it will be marriage that protects us from ourselves. Marriage will be our strength when we ourselves grow weak. For marriage is God’s doing, not our doing. It is his love, which created marriage to begin with, that makes our love possible.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!