“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." Mark 10:9
It seems to me that the Bible is long on instructions for living, but short on the reasons for those instructions. The response, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” is insufficient for the inquisitive, and rejected by those without faith in the Bible. For most of us, the sure-fire way to find out why Scriptural injunctions are critical is to flout them; cause and effect are good teachers.
In today’s quote, Jesus emphasizes the necessary permanence of marriage. For His reasoning, we have only to look at the chaotic state of marriage in Western civilization and the trauma of children and adults from broken homes, to realize the necessity of stable marriages. Numerous studies consistently show that in general, those from broken homes compete poorly with children of established heterosexual marriages, are less likely to do as well in the market place, or establish stable marriages of their own.
That is not the end of it. Every action has cultural consequences, and fractured marriages threaten a free society. Government steps to “assist” by enacting laws to govern break-up, support single parents, provide daycare and counsel or fostering for wounded children, is both invasive and expensive. Anyone going through divorce will experience the heavy hand of government dictating what he or she can and cannot do.
Yet marriage break-up is a symptom of a greater underlying malaise. Integrity in our current culture is being true to oneself rather than to others. In fact, the argument runs, I cannot be true to others until I am true to myself. I should leave the marriage if I am not content or happy in it; it’s more authentic than living a lie; besides, a fractious marriage is no good for the kids!
This attitude, like the US constitution, is based on a false premise: the pursuit of happiness. In fact, happiness is a by-product: Goodness and mercy will follow me (Psalm 23:6, emphasis mine), suggesting it is the Shepherd’s path that inherits this blessing. In marriage, satisfaction follows service; sacrifice is necessary to ensure both stability and joy in the relationship. That pattern is set in the ultimate sacrifice that God endured to guarantee our relationship with Him.
The loss of Christian faith in our culture has resulted in a deficit of sacrificial care in our relationships, and the prevailing cult of self-obsession will continue to erode marriage and make resolution of failing marriages more difficult. While this attitude, and the ease of divorce that fosters it, persists, marriage break-up will continue. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to break it up. It is the giving of sacrificial love—a practical rather than emotional gift—that is the active ingredient in joyful union.