Elaine Storkey's Thought For The Day - 2nd May 2001

Marriage For Life

Good morning,

Well, it seems marriage vows are in the news again as a twice divorced ageing rock star calls for their revision. He apparently wants the words 'till death us do part' removed from the traditional wedding ceremony, with the marriage certificate reshaped along the lines of a dog licence and renewed annually. He says it's unrealistic in the 21st century to expect couples to stay together for life.

Rod Stewart isn't alone, of course. There are many sceptics. Advice in a magazine to a young woman contemplating marriage suggests: "Take a long, cool look at the chap and ask yourself: 'is this really the guy I want my kids to spend every other weekend with?'" Cynicism is rampant and it's normal for someone who's been hurt to blame marriage. We can understand why people struggling with pain and rejection want to find some other system: a dog-licence type arrangement, where they won't be so vulnerable.

But it's not that simple. Because entering into marriage isn't like owning a dog, where we're fined if he fouls the footpath or chases the neighbour's chickens. There, all the legal and moral responsibility belongs to the owner, and none to the dog. But marriage is an agreement between two equal partners who come together to make promises to each other as the basis for their love. And the marriage vows aren't something extraneous to the relationship, but define the very meaning of love. Love is to be faithful, trusting, open, forgiving, humble, kind, self-giving. There isn't any other kind of love. For a marriage to be a marriage, it has to be a union of committed, mutual loving. Vulnerability is what it's all about.

Those who want revision often think this New Testament view of marriage is for some ideal world, not the real world of the 21st century where people live longer, complicated lives. But there never was an ideal world. The biblical teaching on marriage was given to people who were every bit as selfish, preoccupied, and lustful as we are today. The wedding vows before God recognize that and create a space for a faithful relationship which can grow closer with the years and offer stability to the next generation. It's not the contract which needs to be renewable, but the marriage; not an annual dog-licence we need, but a daily sharing of intimacy, time and good communication.

Perhaps the real issue for the 21st century is an attitude problem. If we put self-fulfilment at the centre of all relationships, commitment is a chore and vulnerability a threat. And we can never fully recognize the God-given glory of that other person. To do that we need love and acceptance and a faithfulness which continues for better for worse, till death parts us.

Elaine Storkey

Copyright (c) Elaine Storkey 2001.
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