The World without Marriage
I’ve been combining marriage and church in this series of articles. The reason for doing this was initially a pragmatic one, as I explained in There is the World, and There is the World with Marriage: Exit polls from the recent American presidential election showed clearly that people who were married and went to church frequently tended to vote very morally. So I opted for an evangelization strategy which focuses on a deeper understanding of the desirability of marriage and church.
But I have a confession to make. I would not have chosen to put the two concepts together in the same series had I not already known how closely connected they were in the mind of God, as evidenced by Revelation. Still, the primary point of entry has been marriage, and we’ll hold that perspective here as well. It is time now to consider what happens when God’s plan for marriage is ignored or rejected (which, by the way, most often either arises from or contributes to a weak or non-existent commitment to one’s highly specific personal and communal obligations to God in “church”).
Our culture is so seriously ill that many do not even recognize what a tragedy it is for the potential security, fulfillment and happiness of marriage to be lost. This is certainly true for our nuptial relationship with God—what an immense tragedy if this possibility is lost!—but it is also true in a purely natural sense. Let us start with what Our Lord Himself affirms in answering the Pharisees’ question about whether divorce is lawful. His response summarizes God’s intention and the frustration of that intention by men:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mt 19:4-6)
But the Pharisees object, asking why Moses taught that a man could give a certificate of divorce to put his wife away. So Our Lord makes the critical distinction between God’s plan and the human propensity to trifle with it: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8).
Modern sociological research has demonstrated the wisdom of God, which is in any case recognized by anyone with a firm grasp of reality. Marriage is a prime indicator of social well-being, including economic well-being. Widespread divorce has been a virtual Pandora’s box, leading to a huge number of spiritual, psychological, social and economic problems, including dysfunctional children and impoverished women. Despite our stubbornness, we ought to know from our own paltry grasp of the human sciences that the failure of each marriage is at the very least a personal disaster, and the widespread cultural departure from the stability of marriage is a moral and social disaster of the first magnitude.
Now the proper response to the failures which make marriage undesirable or impossible is that of the Psalmist, who sings of the catastrophe which overtakes “a stubborn and rebellious generation” (Ps 78:8). Among the hardships and even deaths which followed the very popular sins through which God in His anger “utterly rejected Israel”, one stands out in this context with particular poignancy: “Fire devoured their young men, and their maidens had no marriage song” (Ps 78:63).
The first casualty, when fire devours young men (whether literally or figuratively), is the incomparably joyful song of marriage. This evil does not occur because God punishes those who ignore His plan, but because the departure from a proper understanding of reality must necessarily lead to ruin. Try to sense what this means, that “their maidens had no marriage song”. It should bring us to tears, for it is a cause of mourning and, in our contemporary case, of shame.
The disaster which follows infidelity to the LORD, with respect to both church (where we learn His covenants, that is, we learn reality) and marriage (where we keep his covenants, that is, live in accordance with reality), is portrayed with some frequency elsewhere in the Bible’s Wisdom literature. We will consider two compelling passages. The first comes from the Wisdom of Solomon:
Afterward it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace. For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery. (Wis 14:22-26)
It is difficult to find a more apt description of our present state. But we find the same thing in the form of moral instruction in the book of Sirach, written around the same time:
Two sorts of men multiply sins, and a third incurs wrath. The soul heated like a burning fire will not be quenched until it is consumed; a man who commits fornication with his near of kin will never cease until the fire burns him up. To a fornicator all bread tastes sweet; he will never cease until he dies. A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, “Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The Most High will not take notice of my sins.” His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun. (Sir 23:16-19)
The whole chapter is worth reading. It continues with a similar commentary on “a woman who leaves her husband” (vv. 22ff), whose “children will not take root, and her branches will not bear fruit” (v. 25). Alas, how hard it is for the children of divorce! There is a great price to pay for the abandonment of marriage, a price exacted by the very nature of reality, which in its very structure mirrors the creative, fruitful love of Almighty God, whence comes every happiness.
We may, then, take this installment as a warning, but if we persevere we will rise again, for we have still a higher summit to scale—the highest summit of all, where marriage and church are one.
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Posted by: AgnesDay -
Nov. 17, 2012 1:39 PM ET USA
As a religious education teacher, I can tell you how painful it is for me to present the Church's teaching on marriage, and how painful it is for most of my students to hear it. I have had many young people grow angry at me for telling the truth, and I wonder how God will lead them back into the Church.
Posted by: koinonia -
Nov. 15, 2012 10:15 PM ET USA
Thank you for the reality check. There is tremendous pain out there. Disorder among the clergy, disorder among the faithful, disorder among the young. Faith, hope and charity overrun by distrust, despair and broken hearts and homes. The sacrament of marriage elevated to this high state by the Good Lord himself was the occasion of his first miracle. To so many there is no miracle in love. Infidelity and disaster go hand in hand when it comes to our faith and to the sacred bond of marriage.