Okay, so it’s been absolutely BANANAS in the Arndt household. We’re in the middle of trying to buy a house. Enough said. In the next couple weeks I hope to resume my regular blogging by writing about what we’re continuing to cover in the Sermon on the Mount as well as talk about some of the things I’m really hopeful for as we move in to Year 2 at Bloom… and may I say, OH HOW WE LOVE BLOOM! Gosh this past year’s been fun.
Anyway, we wound up losing the audio from 9/19’s sermon at Bloom, which caused a small (and I mean small) uproar with our listening community. One guy in particular, who doesn’t attend Bloom but does listen, wanted to know what I had said. So I wrote him an email in reply, and when I had sent it realized that the notes from that night would actually make a decent blog post. So, for those of you who weren’t there, and for those that were, here’s the summary (thanks Jamal for prompting the email!!):
So I basically worked through Matt 5:31-32 in tandem with Matt 19:3-12… Jesus’ classic articulation of marriage and divorce. I tried to draw attention to these salient points:
1) Jesus brushes the question about the “lawful” circumstances of marriage aside by appealing to the “deeper will” of the Creator, which was that the “one flesh union” would be, as the Catholic church teaches, “indissoluble”, and that conversations about what is “lawful” when it comes to divorce only thinly disguise what Pope John Paull II has called “a systematic defection from the Creator’s will.” That is, monogamy for life.
2) Following from that, Jesus seems to think in Matt 19 that the real reason that marriages fail is not any of the reasons most people today give: “We fell out of love”, “We had irreconcilable differences”, “We realized we were incompatible”, and the like. Rather, he states rather tersely that the reason marriages fail is that people’s hearts get hard… (“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives on account of the hardness of your heart“). That expression, “hardness of heart”, has two levels of meaning: obviously first they get hard towards each other, but secondly they get “hard” in the sense that they grow cold to the Creator’s will, which is that marriages would succeed, despite all the inevitable ups and downs of married life.
3) I also tried to draw attention to the fact that Jesus seems to think that marriage is not for everyone (this was the point that got the most response, especially out of our heavily singled crowd). When the disciples say to him, “In that case, it is better not to be married!”, Jesus doesn’t reply by saying, “Oh no no no, marriage is great and everyone should do it!” Rather, he says, “You’re right. But some have been given the call to be married, and those who have should accept.” This is basically similar to what Paul says in 1 Co 7. “Each has his own gift from God…”
So marriage is a high calling
And so is singleness
Both have an indispensable place in the church
My concluding points from all of this reflection were these…
1) Being single is not evidence of some kind of pathology, which is exactly the way we treat it in the modern church. “Married” is the normal mode of sexual life, and “single” is abnormal. So we create “singles ministries” in the hopes of “ministering to the special needs” of single people. This is exactly backwards from the early church, which understood that singleness was the “normal” mode of life for God’s new people in Christ, since, unlike Judaism, the religion didn’t grow by procreation but by witness and conversion. You’ve heard it said, “God has no grandchildren”. And that’s right. So if you’re single, I said, EMBRACE THE MOMENT. God may call you to be married, but you ought to carpe diem and give yourself over to the purposes of God in the very rich and marvelous way that Paul commends in 1 Co 7.
2) If you do desire marriage, it’s okay. But if you do it, for God’s sake embrace a sort of pragmatics about it. In other words, there’s something to be said for doing away with fairy-tale notions of “God is calling us to be together” when it’s entirely clear to everyone involved in your life that you’re headed for a train wreck of a marriage.
Questions to ask of a person you’re interested in include:
– Is he/she a Christian?
– Do we get along easily and naturally?
– Does he/she have good character?
– Will he/she make a good parent?
– What do I think of his/her family?
That pragmatism keeps us from bad thinking. Moreover, it will help us when times get rough. I’ve seen quite a few Christian couples think that God was calling them to be together and then later concluding they must have “missed God” when their marriage got tough, and then they bail. That’s poor thinking. I’M NOT SAYING GOD DOESN’T CALL PEOPLE TO BE MARRIED. I think he does. But I think the path to discovering and confirming that is a pragmatic one. In much the same way that God “calls” certain people to ministry… that may be true, but that calling needs to be tested through a whole bunch of pragmatic means, to see if it’s “really real.” Make sense?
For married people, I gave the following admonitions:
1) Managing the condition of your heart is of utmost importance. This likely means praying a lot. As Jesus says that marriages fail on account of the “hardness of our hearts”, keeping our souls malleable before God is incredibly important.
2) Worry about yourself. Truth is, our influence of our spouses is something that often happens incidentally and indirectly. Seems to me that couples that try to “change” each other usually fail, and wind up embittering each other. “Take the plank out of your own eye” is actually really good advice. Manage yourself. Assume you probably can’t change the other person, except with love. And be the kind of person that it’s a delight to be married to. That will go a long way towards making your marriage happy.
3) Keep your marriage “public”. Nothing bespoils marriages more than trouble taking place in private. Odds are other people are going through or have gone through exactly what you are going through. You’re not as unique as you think. So if you keep your marriage transparent and accountable to other people, you stand a really good chance of having easily avoidable problems not going to seed and becoming HUGE problems later on. Having transparent relationships with other people “normalizes” the ups and downs of marriage.
And finally, my last point was a word of encouragement to those who have been through divorce… that the Christian gospel, if it is “about” anything, is “about” redemption… that to me means that new life and hope and possibility are always available, even if our marriages failed BECAUSE OF US. God mends what is broken and doesn’t hold our failures over our heads.