Marriage Isn’t for Everyone
Marriage isn’t for everyone. Then again, being single isn’t for everyone either. As Paul said, not getting married can be the best thing for someone’s relationship to God:
I wish that all of you [married people] were [single] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9.)
This passage makes me wonder about this tweet I read over the weekend:
If the tweet had not used the phrase “designed to make” I would have passed over it quickly. But that phrase unfortunately says more than perhaps Mr. Keller meant.
Nothing makes us holy but the work of Jesus. His life, death and resurrection are the means to our being set apart for God, our being made holy to the Lord.
And by [God’s] will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10.)
This is the will of God, that we are holy because of the work of Jesus. To say that “marriage is designed to make us holy” shifts the focus from Jesus and onto our relationships with one another. As important as those marital relationships are to God, marriage was not created (that is, not designed) to make us holy.
God’s will – his design – is that the one sacrifice of Jesus is what makes us holy.
So where does that leave marriage? It exists with the rest of life. In all we do we are to glorify God, whether married or single, working or resting, learning or teaching, nurturing or being nurtured, even eating and drinking.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.)
That’s what marriage – like all of life – is for. Glorifying God.
Life as Designed for Holiness
Some might say that the original tweet isn’t focusing especially on marriage making one holy, but rather on the fact that people can tend to have a misunderstanding about marriage being about the happiness of the spouses. It’s a misunderstanding, they might say, that applies to marriage as in many other aspects of life.
In that case, substitute the word life for marriage. Then it would read:
If we want to be happy in life we will accept that life is designed to make us holy, not happy. Happiness is a byproduct.
But this is not the design of life. Life was designed, or purposed, long before there was a question of not being holy. God created everything, including people, and called it very good. There was no unholiness to overcome.
The same goes for marriage. If Adam and Eve are considered a married couple (is there any other way to see them?) then their marriage is not designed to make them holy since it came into being before the Fall. Thus, marriage itself came into being before the Fall. How can marriage be designed to make us holy if when it was designed there was no unholiness to overcome? It cannot be the original design and there is no indication in Scripture that it was added as a later model of marriage to take over for the earlier model.
Also, if marriage has a design in it to make one holy, what is the comparable relationship for unmarried people? What relationship do single people look to that is similarly designed to make them holy? The answer is that the questions themselves exacerbate the misdirection caused by the original tweet.
The only relationship designed to make us holy is our relationship with Jesus.
Marital Happiness Actually Is in the Original Design
When God created Adam, he made an interesting observation:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable* for him.” (Genesis 2:18.)
Bringing Eve into the picture, then, was a response to the solitude of Adam, not his unholiness. Again, how could it be about making Adam holy before sin had entered the world (see Genesis 3). The answer, as shown above, is that marriage was not designed for holiness.
It was designed for companionship.
This companionship has an aspect of happiness designed into it, but it is the classical definition of happiness (in this case a prospering in one’s relationships) and not the modern version of feeling good about oneself or one’s circumstances in life – marital or otherwise. Here is how the Book of Common Prayer (The Online Book of Common Prayer: Pastoral Offices, The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage) describes God’s design in marriage:
The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. …
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is
intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
What are these “purposes for which it was instituted by God”? Mutual joy, help and comfort, raising children (if children are part of God’s will for the marriage) who will know and love God. This sounds a lot more like experiencing happiness than achieving holiness, although where happiness ends and holiness begins is a nonsensical distinction in God’s kingdom.
The truth is that marriage is not and was not designed to make us holy. That’s not how it was in the beginning at creation and – as the Book of Common Prayer recognizes by referring to Jesus and the wedding at Cana – there has been no change in its design since then either.
*For the meaning of “suitable helper” in the Genesis 2 account of establishing and designing the first marriage, see Oppressing Women – a Coalition Built on False Premises.