We are currently in National Marriage Week - the seven days running up to Valentine’s Day. Although sometimes one wonders at the purpose of these special weeks and days – I hope you are rejoicing in the fact that February is both Canned Food Month and National Grapefruit Month – there should be no denying the value of celebrating marriage. Every line of evidence, whether it be from the Bible, history, psychology, sociology or just common experience, tells us that successful marriages are truly good things.
Thriving marriages don’t just simply bring blessing for the husband and wife involved, they bring a blessing that is contagious and which spreads to others, whether family, neighbours or work colleagues. That effect, of course, is not simply confined to the present. Children who grow up in happy marriages are likely to seek the same for themselves. It’s a sobering thought that by impacting today’s children, the effects of a good marriage are likely to persist well into the next century. Unfortunately the opposite is true. Unless healed by the grace of God – and such healing does happen – the fallout from a failing marriage can linger on for decades and be transmitted on to successive generations.
The problem is we live at a time where for many reasons marriage is being increasingly pushed to the edges of our culture. Let me briefly suggest three subtle contemporary trends that contribute to this marginalisation.
First, there is a devaluation of marriage. Whether it be by learned attacks on the 'outmoded social structure' of marriage, another depressing TV drama depicting marital breakdown or the drip-drip effect of a thousand cynical jokes and comments, the value of marriage is constantly cheapened. Those of us who believe in marriage need to affirm it constantly. Even if we may struggle in our own marriages we need to speak up for it. It’s worth it!
Second, there is a distraction from marriage. The emphasis in society is away from preserving the institution of marriage to developing and improving relationships. Now I’m all in favour of improving relationships – who isn’t? – but this shift is significant. The hallmark of the change is the way in which the National Marriage Guidance Council (founded, incidentally, by a clergyman) has now become Relate. Although today’s world offers many alternatives to marriage, this should not encourage us to marginalise it. No other social arrangement for human beings comes with such a long tradition of providing stability.
Finally, there is a discomfort about marriage. One of the virtues of our age is that we value sensitivity. Unfortunately this poses problems in a culture where many people are struggling with the idea of marriage. We are surrounded by those who aren’t in a marriage but wish they were, those who are in a marriage but wish they weren’t, or those who feel guilty about a marriage they were in but aren’t any more. The temptation under the circumstances is to stay tactfully silent about the virtues of traditional marriage. The problem with staying quiet about something is the truths that are not proclaimed soon become forgotten. Although we must acknowledge that the world is a mess, marriage is tough and there are frequently difficulties within it, we must still support marriage as the divinely approved and time-proven foundation of society.
Marriage is being pushed to the edges of our society almost as if it was some social curiosity, a minority pursuit of little value. That’s a trend that must be resisted. Marriage is important and whether we are married or not, and whatever our own personal experience of marriage, let’s affirm it this week and every week.
Marriage belongs at the centre of society not at its edges.