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.|
This subject has a place in a book that deals with keeping marriage in honor. Marriage can only be kept in honor when it is seen in the light of God's Word and in this way is guarded against overvaluation as well as undervaluation. It is necessary to speak of the unmarried state when discussing the place and function of marriage as God intended it.
Usually marriage is seen as the only true destination of the life of a man or a woman. Most popular stories end in marriage as do many films and plays. Advertising suggests the joy of marriage in word and picture. The suggestion that only married life is valid life pervades human life unnoticeably. But it kindles a great fear in many girls and women that they will not marry. They fear that they will miss the essence of life, and to prevent that disaster, they take many risks.
Our whole society works hard to emphasize this idea. Those who are married realize only too little the great sorrow and despair that have entered many single lives. Unintentionally and unthinkingly people can often be cruel.
Think of the many jokes about bachelors and of the ridicule and mockery which spinsters have to undergo. People have no idea how difficult life can be for those who stand alone in the world. It is too easily said of them. "What do they have to do? They have no family to look after, no rushing around from morning until night. They have time for everything."
Most people have no idea what it is like to come home after a long day's work to a quiet room, to still have to do the cooking yourself after having shopped with great difficulty between and after working hours, and to have to tidy up your own room quickly after a tiring day of work.
People have too little understanding of what it means to be unmarried. It can be so difficult that it causes acts of despair, and much of the difficulty arises because society teaches that married life is the normal, most important goal.
Scripture speaks otherwise. It teaches that marriage is not the highest goal; rather, to follow God's calling is what matters. The unmarried person has not "missed a chance," unless one would doubt the calling and guidance of God in his life. A person who is um-married misses no more of a "chance" than our Lord Jesus Christ who also went through life unmarried because of His very special calling as Mediator. God not only gives gifts and talents to everyone, He calls everyone to his own calling. Jesus Christ went through life a lone man because of His special calling. He was not allowed to experience marriage because His calling was to become the Redeemer and Brother of all people, not just the companion of one or the father of several.
He has pity on our weaknesses and remembers those who through God's divine providence have to live life as unmarried people. In the light of Christ, that life will become just as much a calling as life in the married state. No one can appoint a task for himself. A married person cannot; neither can the unmarried. The office and task of being married comes from God. We all receive our special place in life from Him.
One who has understood this in faith will be saved from the fatal and sterile self-pity that can threaten the lonely and unmarried. In I Corinthians 7:34 Paul comments: "And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband."
Being a complete woman does not depend on being married or not. Does being a woman not mean caring for and looking after? Women have looked after much through the ages, and have cared for many in God's church. Think of Anna, the prophetess, or of the many women Paul calls by name as his fellow workers in the service of the Gospel.
In contrast to the brassy, insolent type of women portrayed in some advertisements and the cinema, the Bible portrays women of dignity, freshness, and purity; women who have been an immeasurable blessing for many lives.
Christ says, ". . . there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven's sake." Those people who have not married have not missed their chance. Those who live for God have no "missed chances." They are people who, like the apostle Paul, let the sexual call be overpowered by the call of God and His Kingdom.
That does not mean life will be easy. "Living easy means to stop being human," someone once aptly remarked. We have pointed out the difficulties of being unmarried; we may certainly not underestimate them. But being married has its problems, too. In this dispensation there is no state of life which comes easily because it is natural. Sexual passion is just as easy or difficult to handle within marriage as without. Marriage is no remedy for lust, no remedium concupiscentiae, as Augustine taught. In these times when sexual contact is being overrated, it is necessary to state this clearly.
It is true that the unmarried can sometimes be troubled by sexual restlessness, but a similar restlessness can also exist within marriage. Those who "for the sake of God's Kingdom" deny themselves marriage but are constantly tormented by such restlessness must ask themselves whether they indeed do possess the "gift of continence" which Paul speaks of. If such people vainly seek to overpower the sexual call with another call, the question arises whether the word of Paul doesn't apply to them: "For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor. 7:9).
There are various reasons for remaining unmarried. Some cannot marry because of serious physical or psychical disabilities. They remain unmarried involuntarily, and, as we have said, suffer distress because of their state. Only a strong faith in God's Fatherly hand will make them persevere. Remembering God's calling is the only thing that can help them through.
Those who voluntarily remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven have been discussed. However, we wonder whether those words of Christ in Matthew 19:12 are not being forgotten. Do Christians actually concern themselves with this reality? Or has this concern disappeared among Protestant Christians?
There may be people who have the desire to marry and at the same time have a somewhat stronger, hidden desire not to marry. This group is probably larger than one thinks. But we will not pursue this subject now.
But there is a final group, the involuntarily unmarried. Those people have the greatest difficulties. The other groups have difficulties as well, which we may not underestimate, but now we are especially thinking of those who can and want to marry but who remain alone. Their longings are right and in accordance with Scripture. They do not have to be ashamed of them. God Himself said: "It is not good that man should be alone." These people may certainly admit to themselves that they would gladly have a husband or a wife, children, and a family.
As far as the women are concerned, experts claim that physical shortcomings rarely are a real barrier to marriage. The married woman is not always a physically beautiful woman. In fact, it is even said that there is a beauty that hinders marriage. It is certainly no fixed rule that a man chooses a certain woman first of all because of her physical beauty. There is much more to it, especially as he becomes aware of the beauty of the heart.
We have said that the man chooses. Popular opinion has it that women just have to wait until they are chosen. However, a man's choice is influenced by the manner in which the woman approaches him. It cannot be said who is actually "first" in making a bond.
One who acknowledges God's guidance in life, and yet continues to long for marriage does not have to be ashamed. God's guidance does not exclude human responsibility and the use of the means supplied.
No one has sat in God's Council. For this reason unmarried people who regretfully watch the years slip by may make use of the possibilities that are offered. We must be careful that the romantic conception that two people will simply "find each other" does not guide our thoughts. Such a concept is not at all in accordance with the being given in marriage of which Scripture speaks. Earlier we pointed out that the gift of loving a man or a woman does not happen just once. Moreover, even after two people have come together in an arranged marriage, real love appears to be able to spring up and grow.
Unmarried people should take advantage of opportunities to get to know each other. But is correspondence a suitable method for getting acquainted? There are different opinions about this. Some Christians are wary of marriage agencies because many worldly people make use of them as they try to "arrange" their own lives. Yet this objection still seems based on romantic views rather than Christian ones. Are we not allowed to make acquaintances purposely, or must we rely on chance encounters?
Of course, one who "lays it on too thick" will be passed by (especially a woman). With Christian sensitivity a woman will always continue behaving like a woman. Yet no woman should have to be ashamed to admit to herself or to her Lord that she would like to marry. Who may not work and pray?
Besides associating socially and communicating verbally, the possibility of written contact belongs to the working means that the Lord supplies. As long as there are sufficient guarantees that unscrupulous people do not play cruel games with another's feelings, I do not think it wrong to seek a partner in the Lord through correspondence and by means of advertisements.
This method has its drawbacks, but what in our broken world does not? How many girls remain unmarried because they belong to small churches, sometimes house congregations, and yet remain faithful to their Lord? Who would want to prevent young people from using means that are completely justified in order to meet other young people?
On the other hand, a young unmarried woman is just as important to church and society as someone who passes from girlhood to becoming a wife. There are enough tasks for her in households, offices, factories, and job opportunities as nurses, laboratory technicians, and so on. Yet deep in the heart of the unmarried girl lives the desire to marry some day. She may make use of all the possibilities available for this.
How many, though, will still remain unmarried involuntarily? What then? We have pointed out that parents and educators are often too one-sided in tacitly assuming that for girls the only destination is marriage. The possibility of them remaining unmarried is too little reckoned with in their upbringing. This does not hurt in families where the children have received a good education. Unmarried women with secondary or postsecondary education can usually find an interesting and reasonably well-paid job.
In families where the children have had to earn a living as soon as possible, the unmarried daughter has more problems. Factory workers, typists, or salesgirls who remain unmarried are usually not able to develop themselves further as they become older. Many opportunities are lost because of a lack of education. As they become older, these women may become a problem in the business if they let the younger working girls feel their envy and thereby disturb the harmony in the department in which they work.
Unfortunately too many married women are condescending toward single women. All of society tends to ignore the needs and difficulties of lonely people.
Think about those people who have been married but have lost husbands through death or who have been forsaken by their husbands. Now they stand alone outside the life they lived with and through their husbands. The sympathy and concern which friends extend at first tends to diminish with the passing of years. After a while such women are forgotten by the circle of married friends which they shared with their husbands.
We could go on in this vein. There are so many facets to the distress of loneliness that it is simply impossible to put everything into words.
An unmarried woman also faces many temptations. Because her life is lonely and boring, having shrunk to a dutiful fulfilment of her daily work, she seeks "ways out" motivated not by faith but by despair.
There is the temptation of trying to find love in forbidden ways. Some capitulate and have relations freely with a married man. Extra-marital relationships, because of their recklessness, take on a pseudo-romantic character. The dream for a happy marriage is sublimated by these forms of sham love. After their first "love," some women lose courage for their lonely life and have a series of passing sexual affairs that give no lasting satisfaction.
One who understands the circumstances surrounding such relationships will judge them mercifully in the light of Scripture. Nevertheless, this kind of behavior is an egotistical, lawless answer to the trials the Lord sends with His own Hand. As such it leads to death.
Both parties are hurt in a casual sexual affair. Women who fall prey to this temptation are a disruptive, demoralizing element in society because they are not satisfied with their lot and fail to put their trust in the Lord. They are the competitors who threaten the marriages of others, the temptresses who confuse married men. This does not lessen the guilt of married men who are a party to this. They are warned in Scripture against these "strange women."
Much suffering can be brought to a wife and children because of a man's affair. Although one may speak of the "right to happiness" that every woman, also unmarried has, this false "right to happiness" belongs to those who do not reckon with God. Only unhappiness comes from such a liaison. No one can ever justify the disruption of a family, neither before a human court nor before the tribunal of God.
How differently the single Christian woman can accept her lot. She has even more possibilities and talents than the single man. The bachelor's room is often dreary and drab, but with limited means the single woman can usually create an attractive home. She can be a good hostess, a helper in need, a comforter of other lonely people, she can play a big part in church and society life, and do her part in acts of charity and the care of the sick. She can keep herself better informed than the woman with a busy family. She can develop spiritually by increasing her knowledge of Scriptures and studying literature. Through this she can become a power of preservation in society.
We have already pointed to single Biblical women who were of great importance for God's Kingdom. However, it seems to be more fascinating for the average person today to follow the adventures, struggles, conflicts, pain, and happiness of two people who "get each other." Everything suggests that life centers around that!
How poor and narrow-minded such an attitude to life is compared to the life, the struggle, and the sacrifices of those who want to be builders of God's Kingdom. They do not expect blessing only for this life nor do they allow sterile selfpity to sour their lives. These single people know how to work and live for the glorious Kingdom of God in spite of their unmarried state. What greatness and heroism becomes apparent in their lives! They blossom for God and for His new mankind as they bear fruits for eternity.
Does not the promise, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all things will be given unto you" apply to unmarried people as well as to anyone? While seeking the Kingdom of God, one will find answers to other things as well-though certainly not without struggle and difficulty, not without falling and rising again. We must "through many oppressions enter the Kingdom of God." But one will find answers. God's promise guarantees it as long as one has through grace learned the most important fact in human life, namely, that we are God's people.
Is He not faithful when He calls us to the unmarried state? Regardless of the many beautiful and good things that can be said about marriage, like all earthly things it is temporary. On God's new earth it will he done away with.
What will abide are: "faith, hope and love, these three. And the greatest of these is love" kindled by the loving heart of Him who, after we have suffered here a little, calls us to His eternal glory.
Often we hear this question: What is the purpose of marriage -that husband and wife love each other, help and assist each other, or that they beget children? The question is posed incorrectly this way. The one facet of marriage does not exclude the other.
God ties the blessing of children to the mutual love between a husband and wife. A married couple that decides not to have children has murdered its marriage from the beginning. Such a marriage comes to a sterile standstill; it perishes from egoism.
One who says: "I want so many children and no more," does not place himself at the disposal of the God of life but acts autonomously. We have already spoken about how richly blessed are large families. If because of love of ease and egoism, one wants less children than he would be able to handle, he loses nothing less than the blessing of God.
If children are born in a marriage, a new element of responsibility is added to it. The child needs both father and mother. In and through their children the parents are again confronted with the mandate to place themselves in full agreement and at each other's disposal. They have received from God the task of directing themselves completely to their child by loving him, understanding him and giving him his due: attention, sympathy, tenderness, strictness, and punishment.
That calls for self-sacrificing love; it also takes effort. Father and mother do not look for the easiest way. They are responsible to God who asks them: "What are you doing
with My children?" I think of how God once reproached Israel: "You have taken My children and offered them up unto idols" (Ezek. 16:20, 21). God regards the children of His chosen ones as His own. He asks parents to account for what they have done with their children.
Preparation for marriage must be made with the responsibility for a family in mind. The love between husband and wife also encompasses the child. Many unmarried girls are sadly naive about this.
Someone once wrote: They believe that love ought to be forever what they imagined it to be when they were a romantic sixteen. They believe the life of the married woman is an everlasting honeymoon, the life of a princess who has nothing to do but let herself be loved, while her prince charming has no care but to woo her. This is nothing less than a denial of true love which means surrender and selfsacrifice. The woman who only sees what she can get out of love and not what she has to give does not see the world of reality; therefore, her negative attitude denies herself the possibility of a marriage.
And yet, how many girls enter marriage with this foolishly romantic attitude? So much can be spoiled and wrangled about already in the first days of marriage! To romanticize marriage will surely mean that the coming child win not be received with the love and care which an inheritance of the Lord deserves. The sad result is that even a newborn baby has to miss real love.
Perhaps parents are unconscious of this, but, of course, even then it is true. Experts speak of "frustrated" babies. Should this conscious or unconscious lack of demonstrative love continue while the child grows up, it can have a detrimental influence on the formation of the child's character.
It has been said that in some women the maternal instinct can be so strong that she devotes herself completely to her child. But it is also possible that the maternal instinct is weak. Lawlessness does not halt in the face of nature. It does not always take on such terrible forms as were once published in a medical journal called "Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde." It may give us food for thought to see that the editors of this magazine thought it necessary to devote an entire article to the maltreatment of infants and children under three years of age.
In this particular article, doctors say that in many cases parents are to blame for serious injuries for which no cause is reported. The article reports skull fractures as well as broken arms, legs, and ribs, not to speak of bruises and swellings. Frequently the papers report cases of atrocious maltreatment of babies by degenerate parents.
Even though such cases are perhaps exceptions and although lawlessness does not usually take on such extreme forms, it is a fact that many children grow up in an atmosphere that lacks love. Most of today's problems, including the youth problem, are family problems.
The family is the first and formative unit in which human beings grow up. It can also be the stage for many clashes and tensions. From all sides we hear that family problems have repercussions in the whole of society. We hear worries from parents and complaints from youth. Reproaches are made by both. The Church of Christ is built upon the family unit; therefore, it is an ecclesiastical and Christian task to reflect on the family.
A family begins with the husband's and wife's choice for each other. This choice entails the choice for a family. If it does not, husband and wife are concerned only with themselves.
Marriage is intended by God to be a communion between husband and wife which in turn establishes a new communion. For this reason, a marriage proposal and affirmative answer must not be impulsive, but must be a conscious choice. The couple publicly enters a union that involves the state, church, and society. When two people choose for each other, they also choose for the children God may give them.
Love and sexuality exist not so that two people can isolate themselves but so that they may beget children in respon sibility to God. Then the Lord gives us a particular family for which He holds us responsible. That task is appointed to the parents; they cannot refuse it. The children who are born have also been given a place in one particular family.
God's command to "honor your father and mother" comes to a family. Literally this command means to "deem them of importance," that is, to acknowledge them as the ones who, in advice and deeds, in guidance and decisions, are to be considered for the sake of God. All fatherhood on earth is normed after the Father in heaven (Eph. 3:15).
Both the father and the mother have parental authority over their children. The mutual relationship between husband and wife can itself be very educational for growing children. After all, they live in its climate. That has an immeasurable influence on their later life and on their marriages.
Someone has said: "How will children be able to learn what their parents have not shown them?" This is especially true of the relationship to God and His Word. The manner in which parents talk about Christ and His Church, and how they live out of God's Word in times of worry and happiness, will mean more than any preaching to children on their path in life.
It is no great problem for little children to honor their father and mother. To deem them important is more or less a matter of course at an age when they experience their dependence on their parents in many ways. To whom do they run when they are afraid? To their mother. Where do they look for protection against danger? To their strong father. Children depend on the care and protection of their parents. Christ points out that we must all become like little children, acknowledging our dependence on God and seeking His care and protection.
The growing child gradually reaches another phase.. he becomes critical. He starts to compare his family to others. He begins to notice differences of attitudes and lifestyle. Yet God also holds growing children within their family, just as He does the parents.
An ideal family does not exist. It is an unattainable and even rigid ideal which only creates an unnatural attitude. Like a marriage itself, every family is a training school for faith, hope, and love. Every one is trained and tested there for his task within and outside the family.
A distinction can be made between an open and a closed family. The closed family is rigidly shut to the outside world for it wants to be an island. It cuts itself off from all outside influences.
In contrast, the open family is in danger of becoming an open, windy plain. All shelter and safety disappear. Exposed to the draught, one follows every current, whim, and fashion (G. van Lecturer). Both types of families are a caricature of what a good Christian family should be.
The development of society has repercussions on family life. Until this century, three-generation families -parents, children and grandparents - were common. There was a greater unity between generations.
Today we know only the two-generation family. Housing and other circumstances make shared living with grandparents nearly impossible. The modern family prefers privacy. In a village one could just walk into a neighbor's house through the back door. This does not happen in cities.
Although the modern family has become more closed in some ways, it has become more open to outside influences. In the past, town and city reflected one pattern. Families also resembled each other in their behavior patterns. This is no longer the case. Children discover practices at the neighbor's that are completely different from their own family's. Life has become more pluralistic. The earlier seclusion of neighborhood and church has disappeared. Mass communication throws open the doors to the whole lawless, vapid world, with its temptations and luxuries. The power of the world simply breaks apart families.
A closed family cannot survive today. As families we are in the world. This does not mean that we should be wide open to it. In order to handle the events "outside," children must have a good family life to fall back on. The seclusion of a private home is necessary. The family like the church must be a home port and resting place, where one remembers what Kuyper once said: living in a home of one's own does not exclude going out into all fields of life.
The values that growing young people receive at home-primarily the knowledge of God's Word-enable them to test critically whatever they meet in the world. No one can evade this testing. That is why the molding of a family is of first importance. Conversely, what one learns in the home will become a part of one after he has been able to test it on all kinds of thoughts, statements, and opinions around him. Such testing may cause tensions and conflicts, but they are a part of becoming an adult.
The danger of the open family is that young people do not receive any solid values. They go head over heels chasing every new thing. Such young people miss the safety and shelter they so badly need. The tyranny of what "they" say and what "everybody" does threatens to govern every personal choice. Life becomes totally disorganized. Often those young people have no real home, and we find them on the streets or in the pubs. Without values in life, they do not know for what and whom they live; they know merely that they "do their own thing."
A certain seclusion is necessary to strong family life. However, a family may not withdraw into itself and isolate itself. It must be open for others, for the single, the lonely, the aged. The Bible says: "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:1,2).
Everyone, young or old, needs to take part in a living, warm circle of people. In the right sense of the word, our families must be open. If we form families that are too cosy, like little islands in the Church, we forget the Word of Christ: "I was a stranger and you took me in" (Matt. 25:35). This is true of "the least of my brethren." Sharing enriches and deepens family life; it also makes the children more considerate of others.