WHY MARRIAGE IS SACRED
If you want to increase your chances of being happy, wealthy, and healthy, get married! This is not some random wishful sentiment. The evidence is clear- people who are married are far more likely to enjoy these blessings than either single people, or co-habiting (de-facto) couples, but especially more so than divorced people.
Marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman for life. It is far more than a social contract (the result of society’s pressure to conform). Marriage exists in every culture, every era, and every religion. In this sense it can be shown that marriage is both original (from the very beginning of human existence) and natural (it has always been). Recent sociological studies into marriage have shown that it produces quite different and definite social and health outcomes to the alternatives of being single or co-habiting – and markedly different health outcomes to that of being divorced.
The list of measurable benefits to those who are married compared to those who cohabit or divorce include-
less domestic violence,
longer life spans,
physically healthier children,
increased earning capacity,
improved wealth accumulation,
decreased likelihood of relationship cheating,
mentally healthier, happier, stronger parent-child bonds, and
a more fulfilling sex life.
These are a summary of findings by University of Chicago Professor, Linda J. Waite in her book, ‘The Case For Marriage (Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially’, Linda J. Waite & Maggie Gallagher, Doubleday, New York, 2000)
Marriage is not only the union of a man and a woman for life, it is also to the exclusion of all others. This means that monogamous marriage is quite different to polygamy (multiple wives) or an unfaithful marriage (where adultery is occurring). Marriage is therefore the commitment of a man and woman in a unique way. It is not like other commitments. It enables certain benefits to be enjoyed that other forms of relationships cannot enjoy. This includes-
- extreme sexual fulfilment,
- deep psychological / emotional / spiritual connection, and
- realisation of certain inner cravings for meaning and purpose,
that other statuses, such as co-habiting or casual sexual activity, are unable to provide.
But marriage is not just the formal union of a man and a woman for life to the exclusion of all others, it is also a covenant. A covenant is the highest commitment that two people can make to each other. It involves a ceremony, witnesses, and a celebration.
Covenant Element #1, The Ceremony
In Western cultures, a couple agrees to marry and forms a preliminary commitment called an Engagement. In ancient Oriental cultures, this commitment to marry may not have necessarily been arranged by the couple. But once entered into it differed in one very marked way to our modern Western concept of an Engagement. This ancient Oriental commitment was called a Betrothal. Unlike an Engagement, a Betrothal could not lightly be broken. In fact, breaking a Betrothal was akin to divorcing. However, both the ancient Betrothal and the modern Engagement was the precurser to the marriage ceremony. The ceremony, which we refer to as a wedding is where formal vows are exchanged. These vows are pledges of lifelong love, devotion and faithfulness to each other, officiated by a minister who serves to mediate God’s grace to the couple. In most modern wedding vows, couples vow to “honour” each other. Nearly every instance of marital breakdown would be prevented if couples simply honoured this vow to honour each other!
Covenant Element #2, Witnesses
This covenantal ceremony is witnessed. These witnesses are no mere spectators to the wedding, they declare formally and legally to society what this couple has done. They can support the couple’s commitment and help to guard them against forces which seek to undermine their marriage.
Covenant Element #3, The Celebration
After the wedding covenant is enacted, there is a two-stage celebration.
The first stage is a feast where the couple and guests celebrate the wedding covenant eating a meal together. Eating is at the heart of fellowshiping with others. This meal is an acknowledgement by the community that they now recognise these two people as a covenant couple.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
The second stage of the celebration is where the couple consummate their marriage through the act of marriage (sexual union). Sex is not a merely physical act. It is a sacred activity. It engages a husband and wife physically, mentally, and spiritually. Interestingly, the Greek word for ‘soul’ is psuche from which we get our modern word psychology. Sexual activity has the potential to cause immense psychological damage. We readily recognise this in rape and pedophile victims but we are less able to recognise psychological harm caused by “casual” sexual activity.
The Origin Of Marriage
There is myth that marriage is the result of ‘social evolution.’ That is, it has evolved through societal pressures over many generations. This actually raises an unexpected argument for the validity of marriage since even this idea acknowledges that marriage is the best social unit for a society. But, anthropologically, it can be shown that marriage is original, ubiquitous, and natural. The reason for this is that it was established with the creation of the first man and woman. When God created Adam, He declared, “It is not good for man to be alone.” He then created Eve from Adam and brought her to him with the words-
¶ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Notice how God referred to Eve? He used the word “wife.” This was the first wedding. It had all of the elements of a covenant. There was a ceremony, a witness, and a celebration. This is God’s design and plan for a couple. This is why marriage is both natural and original.
Isn’t Marriage Just A Piece Of Paper?
“We don’t need all that covenant stuff. After all marriage is just a piece of paper!”
Many co-habiting couples greatly underestimate the value of a covenant as the basis for a relationship with their partner. They might argue that because they ‘love’ each other, that’s all that’s needed for them to be together. But because this couple wants to be sexual active with each other they should consider that sexual union is the highest form of physical love between a man and woman and should therefore demand the highest commitment between a man and a woman. What is the highest form of commitment between a man and a woman? A Marriage Covenant is. It is not just a piece of paper!
In twenty-five years of pastoral experience involving preparing couples for marriage and counseling those already married, I have never met a couple who regretted waiting until they were married before they became sexually active with each other. But the same cannot be said for those who were sexually active with each other before they married. Many many tears have been shed in my office by those who have not respected the sanctity of sex and its exclusive place within marriage. Many tears.
Marriage is God’s gift to mankind. In the pursuit of wanting to show mankind who He is, God has given the gift of marriage. Just as God is Father, Son an Spirit – three yet one – God has given marriage in which He becomes connected with a man and woman – three yet one. The act of marriage is but a droplet of the ecstasy which the Trinity eternally enjoys together. This is why marriage is sacred and not to be trifled with. The penultimate climax of the entire Bible is a wedding which all others weddings are but a shadow of.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
Thus, the Salamanca Declaration states that –
A family is a God-given privilege which establishes an invaluable legacy for those involved and for the benefit of society generally. It is best embodied in the birth and development of children within a stable, loving home built around the marriage of a mother and father, and supported by the wider community.
Because children represent the most wonderful legacy for any community or society, they deserve the best possible upbringing. While children can be raised in a variety of parenting arrangements, we know that they fare best when raised in a loving, low-conflict home by their married biological parents. This should be encouraged with appropriate privileges enshrined in legislation. This is why marriage between a man and woman deserves unique recognition by Government and best fulfils the motto of Tasmania: Ubertas et Fidelitas.
Dr. Andrew Corbett
Pastor of Legana Christian Church