There are people close to me who have been through a series of broken relationships, where they have moved in with someone, lived together with them for a time, and then for one reason or another, they have broken up. I am really sad to watch them walk through the fallout from it all. I am not writing to stand in judgment of this; I have a stronger objection. I am writing to say that marriage is better. Let’s take this right out of the realm of moral judgements and look at this from a cost/benefits perspective. Which is better, marriage or living together?
If two people decide they want to live together without getting married, it indicates that they want the freedom to enjoy their relationship without the “baggage” of commitment. That sounds pretty good, I know I for one like freedom more than imprisonment. However, what this really means is that there is a constant threat hanging over the relationship. There is always a back door to leave, there remains a clear exit strategy. This sounds good, but what it really means is that judgment and certain expectations remain as threats over the relationship. “Shacking up” is not perfect persistent enduring love, it is imperfect love that expects some level of personal gratification as part of a two-way agreement: as long as we like this, we’ll stay together. That means that as soon as some vague and unspoken rule has been transgressed, it is easy to part ways.
Marriage is different. It says, I drop all threats. It says I have one-way love for you. It says, for richer or for poorer, for failure and success, for fit and for fat, for mess and for neatness, for young and for old, for excitement and for boredom, through everything, I will persist in relationship. I will stay. I will continue however imperfectly to love. It says, you are more important than any of these other things. It says, I see something wonderful and invaluable in you that transcends all of these judgments, and I publicly and flagrantly dispense with my exit strategies. It says that all threats have been dropped. That is the meaning of marriage.
So marriage represents a greater freedom and a greater love than “shacking up”. There is no sense of judgment and no threat of leaving. This is why God uses marriage as a picture of His relationship with us. It is why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and why Jesus says that what God has joined together, let no man separate (Mark 10:9). He doesn’t just morally oppose it – He hates it (which is a heart-level emotional reaction), because it says that two-way covenant and judgment and imperfect love still rule. Divorce says that people are mere things to be used and discarded. God does not share this notion.
This is the real point I am making. Even the legalists, when they maintain a merely moral standard for marriage (that it is what we ought to do, not what is better), they allow the supposed freedom of shacking up to win. If you have to impose morals on the relationship, the heart has not entered, and a moral threat must be wielded. Marriage is every bit about the heart and about love, and the intent of marriage is to give us a doorway into a publicly declared lifelong relationship where all threats of ending have been thrown away.
This is not a diatribe against divorce. If you have been divorced or are going through a divorce, I am sorry that threats and judgments and unmet expectations ruled your marriage. I know you were terribly hurt and damaged by your divorce, because you thought the threats of ending were over but they weren’t. You at least aimed at one-way perfect love, which is the highest goal in the universe according to God. Please be released from your guilt about this; you really are unbreakably loved, and God has tremendous compassion for you.
The real gist of this is that we write these scripts onto God. The person who balks at grace wants to maintain that God keeps a threat of judgement over us — that God keeps an exit strategy in place if we don’t measure up to His expectations. They basically want us to think that God wants to shack up with us, not marry us. However, in the gospel, God has dropped all judgments and all threat of ending, and has entered into an eternal relationship. God has married us; marriage is His ultimate picture of this. God hates divorce. Certainly He will not practice it. Any true notion of “sanctification” has to work within this paradigm. He has perfect persistent unbreakable love for us.
People who are “shacking up” find their safety in maintaining an exit. People who are in a marriage level of love find their safety in finding an entrance and a lifelong abode. The amazing message of the gospel is that God is not looking for an exit from us, He is looking for an entrance, and a permanent abode. He loves us like that.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19 (NASB)
31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32 (NASB)