empathologicalism suggested that during my limited blogging time I consider posting on several old threads he linked to on Christianforums.com. I took a quick look at one of them (Is Marriage Meant to Make You Happy?) and decided to take him up on the suggestion*. The OP framed the question as:
What do you say? Is the reason for marriage to make you happy. If you aren’t happy, should you just divorce?
Or is there more to it than [that]?
I’ll start with my own brief answer. Lifelong marriage is the cornerstone of Christian sexual morality. It is also God’s design for the family and the structure in which children should be conceived and raised. If you want to have sex and/or have children, lifelong marriage is the only biblically sanctioned way to go about this.
Love and happiness are benefits which very often come with following God’s plan, and there are specific commands to men and women as to how they are to treat their spouse. I also have argued strongly that in our current legal and cultural climate it is wrong to marry someone you haven’t been able to fall in love with. But making marriage about love and happiness inevitably turns it into something different, especially in a world where the law provides direct incentives to wives who manage to become unhaaaapy.
There are as one would expect a range of answers to the question on the forum thread, but not surprisingly quite a few of the Christian women posting have very modern views on what God has in mind regarding sexual morality and the family. For Mkgal1, God seems to be all about the freedom. Her moniker quote is “His perfect way sets me free. 2 Samuel 22:33”, and her view on marriage fits right in:
I don’t see how it *can’t* “be about love”….not when our entire “mark” as Christians is “about love”.
Commenter jennimatts has a different take:
It seems too many have a selfish/lackadaisical approach to marriage. They don’t have a proper sense of commitment.
If someone isn’t happy so they just get a divorce, they are being selfish. This is simply not a justification to break your vows.
Dreamer1982 weighed in with her take, scolding those who frown on frivolous divorce:
I think it’s shortsighted to judge people who divorce because they have been very unhappy for a long time. The unhappiness is the symptom of what is seriously wrong with the relationship…and if that can’t be fixed (because one spouse is unwilling) then it can feel quite soul-destroying to stay, stay, stay. I believe in commitment and working for the marriage in the face of all kinds of adversity, BUT i think there needs to be more love and grace offered to those IN or even LEAVING unhappy marriages. “I’m unhappy” may sounds trivial on the surface, but that feeling is generally just the result of something more seriously wrong.
So now we know, I’m not haaaaapy is a valid reason for divorce. No Christian woman would ever divorce for frivolous reasons, and never mind the cash and prizes she just happened to collect on her way out the door. She follows up with an anecdote of a woman who was happy to learn that her husband was cheating on her which permitted her to exit her “loveless marriage” (no doubt with cash and prizes). We of course have seen this sentiment before. She closes with:
And I can’t emphasize enough that IMO, discounting LOVE as the purpose and foundation of marriage is seriously flawed.
Next commenter WolfGate tried to steer the conversation back to the original question:
All the happiness talk is nice, and I without doubt agree it is good to strive for and have happiness in marriage. Seems that is a different concept for the question initially posed though.
Ask yourself the original question worded slightly differently – “Did God create marriage primarily so men and women would be happy?”
Sapphire Dragon, whose moniker quote is Discovering my True Journey with Him has evidently discovered that God doesn’t want her to follow His commandments if it doesn’t make her happy. She replied:
I think so. After all, women were created because Adam was lonely, so God made Eve… this set a precedent for all pairs afterwards, that women and men would keep each other happy.
I think it’s a more difficult question to answer than it seems to be at first glance.
Marriage vows in the UK for the past 500 years have been : “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part”
So, love actually is stated as an expectation. So is being cherished.
She backs this up with Ephesians 5:31 and then states:
IMO, I don’t believe that people divorce because of “unhappiness”. There may be something in the marriage that is causing people to be unhappy, but that’s not the same thing.
She then seems to suggest that someone being unhaaapy with keeping their vows is a sign that the other spouse is deliberately making them unhappy:
Happiness should come from within – joy from so many other sources. But a spouse deliberately working at making their spouse unhappy – that’s an all other ball game.
Dreamer1982 chimed in again asking what is the point of marriage if it doesn’t make people happy?
So people who don’t think marriage is about love and happiness, what IS the purpose? No one has really answered that.
She is right. While several men and women commenters have suggested that love and happiness isn’t the core purpose of marriage, none so far have managed to point out what possible other purpose marriage might have. She follows up with a comment which momentarily veers towards the crux of the issue, but then recovers and manages to miss the point entirely:
Personally, I think the purpose of marriage is not a simple one-word answer. I think it’s a way for Christ’s love for His people and the Church’s love for Him to be demonstrated in a tangible, here-on-earth way…I think it’s for companionship…to allow us to experience sex and have children and raise them in a home that demonstrates Christ’s love to them via their parents….I think it can cause us to grow and learn to love through adversity…to honour our commitments to God and others….
Is it to make us happy, end of story? No…our TRUE inner joy and peace is to be found in Christ…but a marriage that is functioning as God intended it will certainly contribute to the happiness of both spouses. So I do believe that God wants marriage to be a happy thing, something that is ALL ABOUT LOVE. Love is not a yeah, sure, that’d be nice too, bonus thing…it should be the crux of the whole relationship.
Wolfgate responded with:
God created everything not for us but for His purpose, for His glory, so He would be worshipped. That includes the things on this earth that may have been designed in a way that they could bring us happiness. The primary purpose of what he creates for us was never to make us happy – it was to make us more like Him and therefore more capable of worshipping Him the way He deserves. If making us happy is a means to that end, that is great (from our perspective). But the happiness is not the purpose.
There are other effects. Marriage in the correct design is a great model of the love God has for the church. But even that is part of us growing to worship Him more.
Dreamer1982 was troubled by Wolfgate’s departure from her Jesus wants to be your boyfriend (great post) view of Christianity, and responded with:
Your description makes God sound like a self-centred egomaniac! Honestly I believe that God is as interested in us as He wants us to be in Him. I DO think he cares about the states of our hearts and spirits…not just whether we’re worshipping Him, but whether we’re doing so with true joy and love…as anything without love is empty and meaningless.
So I agree with you to a degree…but I think you left about the part about how He cares about us and wants us to experience peace, joy and love too. I don’t think He wants emotionless slaves who worship Him because He is so awesome…I think He wants a RELATIONSHIP with us…a Father-child relationship. And the truth is, a healthy relationship always brings happiness to those in it. If it doesn’t, something is missing. And that something is probably true love as God created it to be.
JaneFW chimed in again, reinforcing the point that if keeping your promise and following God’s rules isn’t enjoyable, something is seriously wrong:
If God is love, it makes sense that love is important and a vital part of our lives. If we look for Christ in others, we look for their love as we see it shown to others. If we see harshness, judgement and cruelty, we generally do not expect them to say they are Christians – at least I don’t. No, I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect to be able to tell the Christians from the non-Christians to some extent. If not, then what the heck is the point?
I stopped reading after 4 of 35 pages, so it is very possible that somewhere along the line someone pointed out that marriage is the bedrock of Christian sexual morality, and not just a beefed up form of serial monogamy.
As I wrote above I don’t disagree that love and happiness are likely and extremely important benefits of marriage (when done right), but I think statements like the ones above show clearly that Christians as a group have abandoned lifelong marriage as the cornerstone of sexual morality. If you abandon the cornerstone, then any other talk about sexual morality is simply nonsense. If Christians really considered this it would be a sea change. It goes directly back to the problem of seeing marriage as on the same plane as serial monogamy. Marriage becomes just a more formal stepping stone along the path, one to be lingered on so long as it is enjoyable. But if marriage is just a stepping stone then it never was marriage in the first place.
All of this reminds me of Sheila Gregoire scolding me (while making a moral case for serial marriage on flimsy pretexts) for focusing on holding women to their lifelong promise instead of making them haaaapy with actually keeping their promise.
I’ll leave it here and encourage any interested readers to try to make it further through the thread than I was able to and share what you find.
*Way to sucker me into writing a full post empath!