Let’s face it, marriage is hard work. But that’s different than saying “marriage is hard.”
“Marriage is hard” … we hear that refrain far too often, but it’s problematic. It creates a certain mindset from the outset: it assumes that connection and satisfaction in marriage might not be possible at all. But we know that it’s not true.
Yes, we live in a broken world, so marriage may be difficult at times. But, like anything worth doing in life, intentional hard work is required in order to attain the outcomes we want. In the case of marriage, the outcome desired is a life-long covenant fueled by sacrificial love.
(Spoiler-alert for the Bible: The only person with an infinite ability to love is God in Jesus Christ.)
We find quite possibly Jesus’ first words about marriage written down for the young Christian church in Mark 10:2-12. The Pharisees come to Jesus and try to entrap him with what they imagine to be an either/or question about divorce–”Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus, however, cuts through the Pharisaical trap with an appeal to God’s original design for marriage in Genesis 2, a design that the Mosaic Law acknowledges and provides a response to, because of the hardening effects of sin.
God commands through Moses, specific protections for the vulnerable wife (a “certificate of divorce”), whose divorce could otherwise serve like a “death sentence” in a patriarchal culture of the ancient Near East. In other words, Jesus tells the Pharisees their question about procedural laws about divorce misses the point, as usual.
Divorce was not God’s original plan; it was a result of brokenness entering the world through sin. As the Apostle Paul argues in Galatians 3:19 and Romans 7:7, the Mosaic Law was given as a result of the brokenness of the world and even to expose the sin lurking within every human heart.
Jesus wasn’t ignoring the reality that divorce exists. He never avoided the reality of brokeness and pain. Jesus wanted to show that there was another way entirely, through the antidote of the Gospel, infusing even things that seem dead and making them alive again. But just like death still exists in our world, on this side of the return of Jesus, so does divorce exist, even in the life of the Church.
Yet, the reality of divorce need not send us to believe the lie that marriage itself is hard. I fear that has been what much of the rhetoric has focused on these last couple generations, even in the Church.
Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The popular quip “rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated” misquotes a humorous telegram sent by the 19th century American author, Mark Twain, that corrected the false reports of his death in the media. Similarly, it could be said rumors of the demise of marriage in the church are greatly exaggerated.
We’ve probably all heard the statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Many have even suggested this 50% statistic holds true for the church, too. The only problem is, that is simply not true, for the Church nor for society as a whole. It’s probably never been true, and in fact, divorce rates seem to ride a steady downward slope since the late 1970s.
Shaunti Feldhahn, a researcher and best-selling author, debunks this “myth of 50%” in her book The Good News About Marriage, which argues the number of first marriages that end in divorce probably rests somewhere around 20% to 25%*. To put that positively, up to 80% of everyone who gets married for the first time will stay married until “death do us part.”
These numbers of successful, life-long marriages only increase based off of education level, lack of addictions, financial stability, and maybe most significantly for our purposes as a church community, for couples who take faith seriously. Even for people in second marriages, the odds of a second divorce are significantly below 50%.
This is not to take away from the difficulty of the day-to-day sacrifice a fulfilling marriage requires. Marriage is hard work, but there is much more reason to hope than perhaps you imagined.
Ultimately, our hope as the people of God has never rested in statistics anyway. Our hope rests in a crucified Bridegroom, who loved his Bride so fiercely that he gave his life away for her, so that she might be redeemed. This is the story of Jesus’ love for the Church. And it’s the same story that every Christian marriage is invited to rehearse each and everyday, in the little moments and the big. Every thoughtful complement, every dish washed, and every wrong forgiven is the Gospel story lived out.
So, Grace family, let us do the hard work of building great marriages, but let’s not do it alone. Do it in community groups or your men’s or women’s study. Join a 16 week re|engage session in the fall or in the spring. Pray together and read Scripture. Fight the good fight, because in doing so, we echo the Gospel’s redeeming work in the infinite venue of eternity.
*Shaunti Feldhahn’s work is at least worth a Google search.
Preview of Next Months Grace Marriages Blog Post: Marriage is hard work. Storms will rock every marriage. But is it possible to predict–or at least anticipate–when stormy seasons might come about?