Marriage in Honor - Dr. W.G. de Vries
|Dr. W.G. de Vries (1926-2006) wasa minister in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.He received his doctorate from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen.He was also editor of Petahja, a monthly publication for the Reformed Men's Societies in the Netherlands.|
We have discussed masturbation as a lonely and harmful response to sexual feelings which are aroused by both external and internal stimuli. Something else frequently caused by loneliness is homosexuality. This is the opposite of heterosexuality in which sexual desires are directed to the members of the opposite sex. Homosexual desires are directed towards members of the same sex.
It will be helpful within the scope of this book, to deal with this phenomenon, for it, too, is a matter of sexual tensions seeking an outlet. Here we touch upon a problem that plagues thousands of lives. The exact number of homosexuals cannot be determined because many are ashamed to admit it or dare not because of the often merciless reaction of society.
Most researchers believe that three to five percent of western society is homosexual. Of the Dutch population this would mean about 400,000 to 600,000 men and women. If we calculate further, of the Gereformeerde Kerken (Reformed Churches) which has about 100,000 members, this would mean approximately 3,000 to 5,000 members. In a congregation of 300 members, we would have to count on nine to fifteen homosexuals, if these statistics can be applied to churches. What counts for the world is not necessarily true of the church. Be that as it may, there is every reason to take this matter seriously, especially since the noticeable increase in homosexuality in modem society will not leave the church unaffected.
This form of sexual drive is not something that has cropped up recently. The Bible speaks of it. The men of Sodom wanted to "know" the angels who were staying with Lot, believing them to be men (Gen. 19). They wanted to have sexual relations with them. The Lord in His law had expressly commanded: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lay. 18:22 Ray). Scripture calls these unnatural, unseemly, and indecent passions.
One theory holds that judgment fell so severely upon the men of Sodom because the homosexuality they sought was a willful perversion; apparently they were capable of having relations with Lot's daughters. Though they were not homosexually inclined, yet they sought homosexual relations. This is specifically condemned both here and in Romans 1.
There is a vast difference between someone who fights against a homosexual inclination but fails from time to time, and someone who shamelessly seeks homosexuality although heterosexually inclined. Such shameless actions, springing perhaps from bisexual inclinations, are condemned throughout Scripture. The perversity of such actions are clearly pointed out in II Peter 2:6-8 and Jude verse 7. The propaganda supporting homosexual relations today recapitulates the sins of Sodom which were judged by God.
Yes, say others, but the above-mentioned command of Leviticus 18:22 concerns cultic prostitution which was practiced homosexually as well as heterosexually. Cultic homosexuality is forbidden, but not all homosexual actions are. Cultic prostitution did exist in Israel. However, read in context, Leviticus 18 deals with the regulation of sexual relations in general. If it only forbade cultic prostitution, why is nothing said about heterosexual relations within the cult? Homosexual relations are tersely forbidden with the remark: a man may not have sexual relations with a man as one has sexual relations with a woman. The action is rejected as being against nature. Verse 23 mentions a parallel unnatural form of sexuality: a woman who has sexual relations with an animal commits perversion.
Romans 1 cannot be interpreted as only an indictment of cultic homosexuality. A broader homosexuality existed in Paul's world as well. How many philosophers did not have a homosexual partner, often a younger man? Paul sees in this their punishment for having forsaken God, not only in the heathen temples but in all of life. Paul calls homosexuality unnatural, taking as his starting point God as the Creator who united husband and wife in one flesh.
We agree with the conclusion of Douma: "Both the Old and New Testament express disapproval of homosexual actions. We do not go along with those ... who nevertheless want to condone homosexual relations on the basis of other Biblical statements, namely on the basis of the theme of love. " Those people cross out all the texts in Scripture which strongly condemn homosexuality and then begin to defend the opposite position. But the fact remains: God permits sexual relations only within marriage between husband and wife.
In the meantime we may not close our eyes to the tremendous difficulties homosexuals experience. Throughout the ages, they have often been treated as outlaws with no rights. An expert has remarked: "Socially as well as medically, pastorally as well as scientifically, they form a neglected group, both collectively and individually."
Those who for so long have been treated as social outcasts are beginning to defend themselves against the injustice done to them. They are organizing into clubs, publishing magazines and asking: "Do we not have the right to experience our sexuality as we know it? Why is our love abnormal and that of others normal?"
Today's novels tend to portray the lonely adventure of homosexuals as something legitimate. Homosexuals demand the right to come out honestly and openly, and that they not be considered "unnatural people." Even those who don't go this far experience great needs and deep despair which pastoral care may not ignore.
The questions are not: What does our society say about this? or What do those concerned say about it? They are, rather: What does the Gospel say? What does our merciful and holy God say?
Some Christians have attempted not only to fight against the ageold injustice done to homosexuals-an attempt which must be applauded-but also to legalize this form of sexuality. They make a distinction between a person's physical and psychical structure. Normally the two run parallel, that is, the psychical structure of man longs for woman, in harmony with his physical build and functions. But it is possible that a man's psyche is such that his sexuality is directed to other men.
If a man's psyche makes relations with the opposite sex repugnant to him, what must have priority: his physical or his psychical structure? One might conclude that Christian love does not necessarily demand the physical to be placed about the psychical. Or in other words, just because someone has a male body does not mean that he is bound to express love to a female body-if his psychical nature causes him to long for males. The converse is true of women. The apparent compromise reached is that, in some cases, consent should be given to homosexual contact.
But this explanation of the problem rips apart the unity of man. Sexual urge is never to be directed towards a mere body; it must seek out a fellow human being as a unity of body and soul. Scripture clearly states: ' . . . male and female created He [God] them" (Gen. 1:27). Moreover. both the Old and New Testaments condemn such unnatural relations as an abomination. Whoever has thrown the Biblical qualification of 'unnatural abomination" overboard no longer has a true norm. The simple question remains: "What light does Scripture shed on my path when I discover homosexual tendencies within me?" Like everyone else, the homosexual person is accountable for his deeds.
Is someone born a homosexual or made into one? In one sense, the question is immaterial, for any disruption of life in the area of sexuality, as well as every other area, reveals our guilt before God, our fall in Adam. This is daily revealed in illnesses, abnormalities and mental and physical defects. Even if homosexuality were a matter of heredity and birth, the determining question remains: "What is my attitude towards this? Do I foster these feelings or do 1 fight against them through the power of the Holy Spirit?"
Almost all modem psychiatrists believe that homosexuality is not a congenital, hereditary characteristic but an acquired, psychopathic one. It cannot be compared to a congenital defect like hermaphroditism, a condition in which people have both male and female reproductive organs and sexual characteristics.
There are no typical builds which indicate homosexuality. It occurs as much among boxers and athletes as among men with more feminine physiques. Homosexuality does not depend on sex hormones, for the latter can influence the strength of sexual desire but not its direction.
A baby with a male body does not automatically grow up to be a boy with desires for the opposite sex. The same goes for babies with female bodies. It is becoming increasingly clear that the manner in which a child is brought up greatly influences his or her sexual development.
Homosexuality can arise during puberty due to exaggerated shyness towards members of the opposite sex. Contact is sought then with members of the same sex and later, with those of similar sexual inclinations. Male homosexuality might be caused by the absence of a "mother image" during early childhood. The father image then becomes the object.
A girl's hostility towards her father can sometimes lead to an attitude expressed as: "I do not need a husband." The result may then be homosexuality, in this case called "lesbianism."
Long term separation between the sexes can also result in homosexual practice. This seems to be the case at boarding schools, on ships, in army barracks and in the army during times of war. Lack of family companionship and the neglect and gradual isolation of a child cause within him tensions which, seeking a sexual outlet, may lead to homosexuality.
People living in isolation for a long time without the possibility of heterosexual intercourse may even resort to having sexual intercourse with animals. It is said to have occurred more than once among shepherds. Scripture warns against this after it has forbidden homosexual practice. In Leviticus 18:22 we are warned against the latter and in verse 23 we read: "And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it; it is perversion" (Lev. 18:23). Homosexuality comes under the same heading; it is a perversion.
One person will be more deeply involved in homosexuality than another. Although experts distinguish between chronic and occasional homosexuality, all forms must be fought against. Only when those who are afflicted learn to place their lives in the light of the Gospel of God and realize that their sin is no worse than others before God, can the struggle begin.
All that deviates from or opposes God's creation ordinances renders us guilty before God. Even faults we do not bring upon ourselves show how broken is our fallen condition. Such faults include all sorts of physical disturbances and difficulties. Not only our physical but our mental structure can be deformed as a result of sin.
The big question remains: "What is my attitude towards this? Do I acknowledge homosexuality to be deviant, abnormal and even perverse? Do I fight armed with God's promises and not just with my own power?" This fight will require more effort from one person than another, particularly from those suffering from chronic homosexuality.
Every available means will have to be used in this struggle. A homosexual may have to consult a psychiatrist. Those who are believers as well will bow before the Word of God. Even though complete recovery is possible in only a few cases, psychic relief at gaining self-control will be apparent. God forbids unrestrained selfindulgence for the heterosexual and the homosexual alike. If the unmarried are to avoid anything that arouses normal sexual desire, how much more should this be so for the homosexual and abnormal desire.
Membership in clubs promoting homosexuality must be forbidden, as must be the "masculine nudity" promoted in all sorts of publications. Our sexualized society is as dangerous for the homosexual as for the heterosexual.
People with homosexual tendencies may not form "friendships" with the young. Scripture rages against child violators. Almost daily, newspapers report cases of assault by homosexuals. Unfortunately this sheds a bad light on the many who fight their homosexuality and who would never assault anyone. That all homosexuals are stigmatized because of what some of them do is one of the cruelties of our society.
How would all men feel if they were despised because one of them had raped a girl? But the public is inclined to judge all homosexuals when one has done something wrong. Often the homosexual is forced into loneliness when society finds out, one way or another, that he is homosexual. Many people, even many Christians, are absolutely merciless. It is simply not true that every homosexual is a child violator or is inclined to the very young as his "friends." In fact, few homosexuals are involved in such perversity; Christian homosexuals certainly are not.
Again, the determining factor in evaluating oneself should be: What attitude do I have towards my tendencies? Do 1 seek ways and means of fighting them? Fighting may mean: "I may not work there because he daily brings me into temptation." It may also mean: "Marriage is not possible for me. My aversion to bodily contact with the opposite sex undermines the essence of marriage-that it is a physicalspiritual union."
It goes without saying that such self-denial causes much extra distress and loneliness. But there are other "handicapped" people who cannot marry, including heterosexuals who have certain illnesses, physical defects or mental disorders.
The Redeemer spoke about eunuchs from their mothers' wombs; people unfit for marriage. At the same time the Lord pointed out their peculiar task in the Kingdom of God. The homosexually handicapped may not sit in despair regarding themselves as inferior; they must continue to see their task in life. The homosexual fault has not been singled out by God as being worse than others. After all, who among men is perfect? One has a defect in this respect and the other in that.
To put homosexuality into its proper perspective, we must realize that our entire lives have been disrupted through the sin of Adam. In a world of clashing, discordant fears and desires, the promise rings out loud and clear that all things will be restored and find complete unity in Christ. By virtue of this promise, homosexuals can and will escape from their loneliness to fulfill their tasks as children of God and members of Christ's congregation in the world until His return.
In maturing, young lives, attraction between a boy and a girl awakens. Boys experience these nascent longings immediately and actively. In girls they are expressed by wishes to be noticed, to be desired. And so the game of attracting and repelling, of drawing and resisting, begins.
During puberty, puppy love develops. Puppy love, something between inclination and love, is still undirected. The force of attraction between boys and girls is still vague and groping. Someone "falls in love;" it just "happens" to a boy or girl.
Puppy love is usually awakened by something outward. Boys fall "madly" in love with a pretty girl, and girls "go head over heels" over a handsome, athletic boy. After a while the emotion may pass only to be repeated with a new object.
These feelings don't arise and pass without pain and grief. A young heart must sometimes suffer but in this way it is being prepared for true love. However, in contrast to puppy love with its extremes of gushing adoration and fathomless despair, true love is a love that quietly chooses. Whereas puppy love wanders from one to the other, true love chooses the "one in a thousand."
There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes the budding, timid affection between a boy and a girl deepens into a love for life. There are young people who find each other very early in life and marry early in order to face life together. But this is rarely the case. Even where no deliberately fickle "flirting' is involved, the inconstancy of puppy love is apparent from the fact that the first passionate crush almost always passes.
We must not idealize this youthful, sunny period of life. Even though God made all things beautiful, young people in the spring of their lives sometimes appear to have hearts filled with eviL Through thoughtlessness and frivolity a boy can severely damage a girl's heart. Infidelity and dishonesty
can spoil so much. On the other hand, girls can be very cruel by at first attracting and then repelling boys, by challenging them to cross limits which they themselves are not prepared to cross.
Young love is not always an innocent game, and flirting is not just something to smile good-naturedly about. Young people are no more exempt from the law of God than adults are. 'Love worketh no ill to his neighbor" (Rom. 13:10). Young people are responsible for each other and for the way they treat each other. The youthful habit of unfaithful fluttering from one partner to another, can avenge itself for a whole lifetime.
This warning is not meant to besmirch the beauty of the springtime of one's life. Instead, it serves as a reminder that the earnestness of good faith must be evident in youthful relationships as well as in all others.
During the period of awakening puppy love, God prepares us for true love. Such feelings are not easy to understand, and their motives are unclear. The person in love cannot prove or explain his love. He does not reason or act logically, is not "sensible." The one he loves is without question the one and only.
The person in love writes poems that he allows no one-except the chosen one-to read. His mood is contradictory; he does not know whether to sing or shout for joy, and he does both. Yet he likes peace and quiet; dreamily he gazes at life.
People in this kind of love do not walk arm in arm. They hold hands or link fingers. Puppy love does not tolerate bodily contact; peripheral parts of the body such as the ear, the curly hair, the hand, etc., hold the most fascination. A certain shyness towards each other is erotically, but not yet sexually, defined. Thoughts of sexual intercourse are far removed. This is the time for idealizing. Each places the other on a pedestal; each is blind to many things while at the same time dreaming great ideals.
Although the saying "love is blind" is not true of real love, it does apply to puppy love. That is why this period must pass. It cannot last indefinitely. Young people must step from the twilight of puppy love into the full sun of mature love.
To love is to consciously direct all one's attention to another person. Someone who can simultaneously or alternately love one and then another is not ready for true love. He is an experimenter, not a lover. A Don Juan lover is not a hero but a weakling.
Young people should take note of this, especially at a time when the association between the sexes is very free. Girls who allow themselves to be kissed by many boys give away something precious. Boys who kiss many girls mar something delicate and beautiful. The preparation for a good marriage begins early; youthful coarseness can ruin much.
It has been correctly pointed out that already a certain carelessness exists concerning the preparation for marriage. It's as if God's command for marriage excludes the question of how two come together. The failure of many marriages can be blamed on a failure in the relationship before the marriage.
The story of how a couple comes together can be enthralling, and it will involve much more than a momentary impression or a sudden flame. Whoever marries solely on the basis of puppy love builds on sand. Such marriage is a game of chance, and the odds are poor.
In every choice made by two people, there are elements involved which cannot be judged by others. just as every heart knows its own sorrows, so it knows its own love and motives for loving. It is a matter of free choice. Understanding and wanting each other, a man and a woman give themselves to each other. This decision reflects more than a desire for adventure. Boys and girls who want to go steady should bear this in mind.
It is good for boys and girls to get to know each other. An upbringing that separates the sexes is not good. The dangers of isolated communities of men or women, in which homosexual excesses are not just imaginary, have already been discussed.
To prepare for successful marriages boys and girls must have opportunity to meet each other. They must learn to be together as friends without false shame or forwardness. Coed schools, rallies and meetings under good leadership can help in this respect.
It must not be forgotten that boys' interests differ from girls'. Both boys and girls need their own clubs. The more they are wholesomely and happily boys, and girls are girls, the more likely it is that good relationships develop. When a study club seems attractive only because of the presence of the opposite sex, something is wrong.
Whoever sees someone else as merely a sexual creature does not take that person seriously. It is apparent that those boys and girls who look at the opposite sex in this way are not accepted by the wholesome ones. This holds true in school, at club meetings, and in simple friendly relationships in homes.
Early pairing off into couples is not healthy. Someone once said, "Save your caresses for your bride. Do not touch each other." Although this may be put rather strongly, it is not bad advice. Boys and girls going together should not be always clinging to one another. From observation, one concludes that such advice is badly needed. Why do so many girls give so much freedom to just any boy? Why are boys quick to look for that type of girl?
Although the solution does not lie in keeping boys and girls apart, the dangers of too free and loose an association must also be emphasized. Sensible supervision by adults is absolutely necessary because young people are not innocent and pure and chaste. Like adults they need to pray daily: "forgive us our debts."
Therefore limits must be set. It is foolish, yes, even sinful, for parents to allow boys and girls to vacation together unchaperoned. How many young lives have not been ruined through this? Sunshine quickly vanishes from such lives.
There is something precious worth preserving by boys and girls, so that the great mystery of Christian marriage will not be betrayed. Those who realize this and teach it to young people will be instrumental in establishing wholesome relationships which are stimulating and enriching, relationships that will help young lives become rich and flourishing.
Marriage is not just a matter of "love at first sight." God did give that special power of first attraction, of that first flare of affection. But it is a meeting-if all is well-of two of God's children who deserve more in a partner than a beautiful body.
The first important question should be: Does that boy or girl fear the Lord? This question is not the only or the final one, because marital love is more than brotherly love However, brotherly love is the basis for the true love of a marriage.
Our bodies are temples of God; therefore, one cannot desire a mere body, empty and detached from God and His Spirit. Scripture says: 'What agreement has the temple of God with idols?" (II Cor. 6:16). Those who do not believe in Christ are temples of satan, whether they know it or not. That is why God's Word forbids mixed courtships and mixed marriages.
We have already said that "in contrast to puppy love, true love chooses with open eyes and a dedicated heart. It does not just choose a body, but a person." What kind of person? If everything is as it should be, the choice will be for one of God's children and thereby for God. In other words: true love voluntarily allows itself to be conformed to the norms of the love of God, to His liberating commandments.
Whoever takes marriage seriously can never divorce it from the cause of God and His people. The love of God must govern our life, our body and its desires.
Did not the downfall of the "first world" result from the sons of God applying only one criterion for marriage? They saw that the daughters of men-of unbelievers -were beautiful. Therefore, they took whichever wife they chose from among them (Gen. 6:2). The Lord considered this so terrible that He was " . . . sorry that he had made man on the earth" (Gen. 6:6). He would rather not have made man than see him separate himself from Him, giving his heart to another.
God is certainly grieved when youth of the church, of the people to whom God has revealed His love, choose partners who do not love Him. Anyone who gives his heart to an unbeliever breaks his faithfulness to God. This sin caused God to send the flood to cover the earth. It is a sin that causes God's jealousy to flare up like a fire. No compromise is possible in this respect; it brings destruction and ruin into one's life.
Let no one deceive himself with excuses like: this love is stronger than I am; love cannot be denied; it overwhelms me; I can't help it. This sentimentally romantic emotionalism is not from God but from His opponent, wan Giving one's heart to an unbeliever is something God does not tolerate, for it tramples on the love of His heart. Harmony will exist only when we give our heart to someone who has first given his heart to the Lord. A marriage of two hearts devoted to God will be a reflection of the covenant between God and His people.
Anyone who desires a man or woman in whom the Holy Spirit does not live through faith is guilty of idolatry. He serves false gods. Our body is either a temple of God where the Lord dwells, or a temple of false gods where satan resides. Scripture does not offer a third possibility. That is why Paul writes: "Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols. . . " (II Cor. 6:14-16).
Believers, members of Christ's Church, are called "light" and "righteousness" because, Paul says: "We are the temple of the living God. . . " (vs. 16). Therefore, whoever loves and desires to be united with an unbeliever in marriage, attempts to join light to darkness; he wants to unite the temple of God with a temple for idols. This the Lord expressly forbids.
It is no wonder that this commandment can be interpreted only one way, for marriage is to be the image of the unity between Christ and His Church. This is impossible in a mixed marriage.
But one could still say.. "It is clear that this applies to unbelievers; marriage with someone who is not obviously an unbeliever is then permissible. " We would then point to Ezra 9. In that chapter Ezra expressed his anger concerning connection made with girls who came from people which claimed to serve the Lord. " . . . We worship your God as you do" (Ezra 4:2), they cried out when they wanted to take part in the building of God's temple. They also made sacrifices to the Lord.
The people who spoke in this manner were not outright heathens. A great deal of Jewish blood still ran in their veins. just what kind of people were they? They were deported people brought to Palestine by an Assyrian king. When the northern kingdom was taken into captivity, the king of Assyria filled the uninhabited land with other peoples whom he had conquered.
These peoples did not worship the Lord at first. They did not know Him. However, when they were overrun by a plague of lions, they saw in this the wrath of the "God of the land." They asked the king of Assyria to send a priest from Israel to teach them how to worship this God so that He would no longer be angry with them.
The priest came and taught them. But tragically he was one of the priests who had taken part in the false worship of the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. He instructed them in the religion of Jeroboam who had caused Israel to sin.
Jeroboam's apostate religion continued to be practiced among the foreign tribes who mixed with the remaining Israelites. In the north and south, small, poor groups of Jews had been left behind, and through intermarriage had become mixed in with the newly settled foreigners. In this way a mixed population came into existence that worshiped God in the manner of jeroboam. We can read all about this in II Kings 17. These people became known as the Samaritans who still existed in the days of Jesus. Latterday Samaritans also fell short of true, legitimate worship, causing Christ to say to the Samaritan woman: "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22).
The Lord forbade marriage between Jewish and Samaritan young people. Samaritans did want to serve Him, but in a self-willed way. The primary question must not be whether one serves God but how one serves Him. It is not enough to say: "As long as I do not choose an obvious unbeliever, but someone who believes in a God, then everything is all right!" Everything is far from being all right! That is what the Samaritans said too. But Ezra rejected them, and centuries later, Christ rejected their worship as well.
Today too, many people serve the Lord in any way they please. What counts, they say, is that you do serve Him. After all, we are seeking the same God. God does make known how He wants to be served. When a marriage partner becomes more important than the question of how God wants to be served, then a pretty face, an attractive figure, a kind heart or a noble character, becomes more important than faithfulness to God.
One acts willfully when one changes churches for the sake of a boy or girl just as easily as one changes deliverymen. No one would claim that such a changeover is the result of a burning love for God and His service. When a person gives his heart to another human being rather than to God, he commits adultery against God. His marriage is solemnized in the sin of Jeroboam: self-willedness.
If someone is certain that God must be worshipped in a particular way and church but loses that conviction when a man or woman of a different faith enters the picture, then he must realize that he has changed over merely for the sake of a human being.
We are not even discussing the legitimacy of one's initial conviction, but we are insisting: whatever is not done out of faith is sin. If the first question is not "what does the Lord ask of me?" but "what suits us best?" one stands on the brink of disaster. Indifference and laxity will follow when faithfulness to God has been sacrificed for faithfulness towards a person. God is a jealous God; He will not suffer a heart set aflame for someone else rather than Him.
If only one knew just how much misery has resulted from marriages in which one partner has changed churches without conviction for the sake of the other. Both the couple involved and their life in the church are affected. Whole generations become apathetic about the pure worship of God. Children from such marriages often turn their backs on the Church.
In my ministry I have witnessed this misery. Old people have come to me saying honestly: "We should never have begun the way we did. Our life has been hell because the spiritual alienation became always greater."
Whoever says with youthful optimism, "It can't be all that bad. After all, we both want to serve God and it is not all that important how we do it," falls into the same sin as the Jews did during the time of Ezra. The beginning of such a marriage is unfaithfulness towards God who asks for our whole heart. Often these marriages end in self-reproach: "If only we had never started with it."
However, God is merciful. Many have learned to say, "We began in the wrong way but through God's mercy we have been able to acknowledge and overcome our fault." But we may not tempt God's mercy.
Why do so many young people seek relationships in other churches or in no church at all? Why are they only interested in charm and attractiveness and don't ask first of all: "Do we, free from selfwilledness, want to serve the Lord according to His Word?" Much conflict and sorrow afflicts families who do not wholeheartedly seek the way of the Lord. Estrangement between parents and children may result.
That is not to say that no one from outside the church can become a sincere member of it. Ruth, the Moabitess, whom a Jewish boy named Chilion took to wife despite the law of God, is an example of this. She chose for God's people and was allowed to become an ancestor of Christ.
But it would be unfortunate to conclude from this story that our choice of a marriage partner is not so important after all. Look how God dealt with Mahlon, Chilion, and their father in Moab. They died there trying to escape the death which had threatened them in Canaan.
Those who do not make sure that their future spouse has given his or her heart to God love that spouse more than God Himself. Of them Christ says: "They are not worthy of Me." To those who say that these demands are impossible because love is by nature spontaneous and overwhelming, we say: the love of God surpasses all understanding. The question to ask should be: How can I love someone who does not love God or serve Him according to His Word?
This is no small matter. Once, when God saw how His children eagerly tied themselves to those who didn't fear Him, He grieved that He had made man. Young people preparing for marriage should take this to heart. Let God never say that He is grieved to have made that young man and woman because they are turning their backs on Him in their choice of marriage partner and life-style. If God Himself does not prevent it, the person intimately united with an unbeliever may be forever estranged from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ.
The period of engagement is a very important preparation for marriage. Unlike "puppy love" which can be so transitory, the engagement is a conscious choice for a lifetime partner. Mutual promises of faithfulness are made. During the engagement, the partners get to know one another more thoroughly; their relationship becomes deeper, more intensified and more conscious.
Certainly the way in which two young people find each other varies a great deal. Lasting love can begin with a childhood relationship or a friendship which deepens and changes. It can also spring from love at first sight, as the Song of Solomon sings: "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes" (4:9). However incomprehensible this may be for some, conscious love may begin this way.
Before the engagement, the partners know each other well; affection has already ripened into love. Love is not blind. Already they know that it involves much more than going out together for walks or rides or attending concerts. The period of engagement is so important because it is nothing less than preparing oneself for marriage with one particular person.
True love is not romantic, nor does it look for an ideal in someone else. An ideal is hard, severe and cruel, and it strains a relationship because the idealized person must constantly try to be the impossible. Those who look for the ideal husband or the ideal wife in their spouse-to-be impose merciless demands. The husband or wife of their dreams does not exist. When they begin to compare a spouse-to-be with the idol of their dreams, they meet one disillusionment after the other.
Love conquers all things, covers all things, endures all things, hopes all things. Love sees keenly, and so sees errors and shortcomings. But love does not flinch or turn away. Disappointed idealists and illnatured critics do turn away. They turn away bitter and disappointed, perhaps with scornful mocking, but love holds fast, because many waters-even of disappointment- cannot extinguish true love. Two persons love each other not in spite of their shortcomings and weaknesses, but with them.
There lies the difference between love and friendship. During the engagement preparation is made for a relationship in which everything is shared: church and faith, work and vacation, art and relaxation, struggles and worries, sins and temptations.
In a friendship, people share things like hobbies, interests, or attitudes towards life. They had something in common. However, two engaged people say: "We are for each other and belong together. I am for you and you are for me." They begin to discover more and more about each other. They do not have to pretend-they must not pretend -to he nicer than they really are. Pretending never works. One may be able to put up a cramped and artificial front for a while, but as the relationship develops, the front collapses.
In most aspects of life, in relations with others, in one's profession, and on the job, one cannot be oneself all the time. Too many factors have to be taken into consideration. However, in a good engagement all inhibiting factors fall away, and two people are able to accept each other as they really are.
Engagement is more than a trial period. One does not become engaged without obligations; therefore, two young people shouldn't become engaged too quickly. Their engagement must be preceded by a time of getting to know each other. They must both become convinced in their hearts that they are meant and suited for each other.
The question arises: "How do I know that this person is meant for me?" Many criteria and standards might be mentioned. But an outsider cannot give the final answer to this question. One must also remember that this chosen partner is not the only person in the world with whom a good engagement is possible. The notion that only one person in the whole world is suitable for another arises from a foolish idealism that belongs more to the attitudes of gushing puppy love than to true love. Doesn't it happen sometimes that a person has difficulty choosing between two partners? The special thing about love leading to engagement is that the final choice is made with one's whole heart for one particular person. During engagement, this choice is confirmed.
We have already pointed out that in Eastern countries parents often find a suitable partner for their children. Although the young person is frequently consulted concerning his preference for a partner, the parents make the final choice.
In the contemporary West the opposite is true. If two young people "feel for each other," woe to the parents who may want to say something against them. Individualism reigns supreme, an individualism whereby only one's own impulses and desires are reckoned with. One makes his choice absolutely autonomously. But unlimited freedom is never a good thing.
How many marriages fail because they are based on an impulse or a sentiment that does not last? In my opinion, the disadvantages of parents choosing a marriage partner for a son or daughter-no matter how much we may reject this mode of choice-are often no greater than impulsive and willful individual choices. It is for good reason that the marriage form states: " . . . with the knowledge and consent of parents or guardians . . . "
Recall in this connection the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah. The choice of bride was made completely without Isaac's involvement. Rebekah came to him as a complete stranger. What do we read then? "Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her" (Gen. 24:67). Arranged marriages can lead to love. In countries where marriages are arranged, certainly not all couples are unhappily married; on the other hand, in the Western nations where there is free choice for marriage, there are many who are unhappy in their marriages. I once read the following remark made by a man from India to a European: "You marry the girl you love. We love the woman we have married. "
As has been mentioned, we should beware lest a sentimental concept of love leads us to enter an engagement. In that climate questions can arise like: "How can I be sure that this is sure, undying love? How can 1 know that there is not someone else I could have married just as well?"
The deciding factor is love - love properly understood. Engagement means: "I am bound to this choice; I bind myself to it." Love is based on faithfulness. That is why we speak of someone's "chosen one." Out of many potential partners he very consciously chooses one person for life. He does this with his heart, that is to say, with the center of life from which all else originates. Two hearts are directed towards each other; two living beings meet one another. joining hands, they make promises for a lifetime.