Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Putting the Holy Back in Matrimony

I'm sure it must seem to some people that my rants on this blog stem from a deep-seated resentment against other people. Maybe jealousy. Even a good bit of anger or disdain.

And I'm not going to say that I don't suffer from the odd pangs of envy or resentment. Envy at how well other people write. Or resentment at not being able to convince everybody I'm right!

But what really lights my fire has to do with what I perceive to be subtle - and perhaps even unintentional - attempts to de-magnify the essence of our Creator God. Not that I'm holier than any other mortal.

I just get confused easily.

Why a 38% Divorce Rate Ain't a Good Thing

For example, yesterday I got all bent out of shape because an executive from Focus on the Family seemed more eager to disprove a popularly-held statistic than bewail the sinking integrity of matrimony in the church. Ever since the 1990's, we've been told that little difference exists between the divorce rates of churched and unchurched people. And the inference from this statistical dead-heat is that people of faith have as much disdain for marriage as people who don't consider themselves religious.

This week, Glenn Stanton, with Focus on the Family, wrote an article for Crosswalk referencing new studies which claim to disprove this statistic. Apparently, Stanton is so excited to have finally found this supposed evidence that he failed to realize a 38% divorce rate among churched people still really doesn't prove anything. Yes, this new figure is more than 20% lower than the divorce rate for unchurched people, but what consolation is that? Can a divorce rate of almost 40% for people of faith preserve the sanctity of the marriage covenant?

Remember, that's the main point here: a miserable percentage of divorce among Christians does nothing to demonstrate our supposed embrace of spousal fidelity.

How does having a failure rate of 4 out of 10 marriages prove the moral value of what we claim to be a Biblical commitment? Sure, it's better than 5 out of 10, or 6 out of 10, but it's really all on a scale of degrees, isn't it? Degrees of badness. Of destroyed families. Of our hubris to so publicly break a covenant with God.

After all, marriage isn't just about sex, or having a spouse, or providing two parents of different genders for your kids. It's about a covenantal relationship between a man, a woman, and their Creator. It's a demonstration of faith, a public commitment of trust, a personal affirmation in the purposes of God for the perpetuation of the basic building block for all societies.

Yes, it's going to Kroger at 2 in the morning to buy ice cream and pickles for your pregnant wife. Yes, it's letting your husband keep his favorite sweater, even though it's got more holes than a Kennedy's alibi. But it's also forgiving amid the pain, or maybe seeking forgiveness after a betrayal. And most of all, it's remaining accountable to God for all that you do for, say to, and feel about your spouse.

Just because He's God.

And you're not.

Keeping Salvation in Perspective

Which is what a lot of life comes down to. God is God, and you aren't. I'm not, either. But we try to be. We try to make ourselves more important than we are. We try to ascribe importance to our culture, and let it be for us a greater definer of ourselves than it should be. We try - however inadvertently - to make God's standards relative by comparing ourselves and our faith walks to each other, instead to what He tells us in His word. We trick ourselves into living horizontal lives of hedonistic insufficiency instead of relinquishing ourselves to vertical lives of dependence.

Not that I'm any better than you when it comes to any of this. I struggle with almost everything I write about, and even more that you don't read about in this blog! Believe me. All of this inadequacy that I see in myself makes me cringe when I see it in other people. On bad days, I wilt in utter frustration. But on good days, this reality forces me to seek my identity at the foot of the Cross, gazing up to the only One who can save me from myself.

Even though I often don't act like it, He is my sufficiency. Even though our culture - even our church culture - scoffs, He is all I should worship. Not because He's worthy of my affection - that's the wrong way to look at it. None of us are worthy of His affection, yet through His grace, we believers have been redeemed for His glory.

Our society and economy want us to evaluate what we offer other people. This mindset has extended even into the church, where we think we're helping God out by being available to Him. On our schedule, of course. We're doing Him a favor by worshipping Him. We are so important that our names being written in the Book of Life read like a who's who of Heaven. Except all this is a mirage. It's a farce. It's pure pride.

When we were dead in our sins, Christ died for us. We have been bought with a price; we are not our own. By grace we've been saved, but not by our merit; it is the gift of God, so no one can boast.

We have been blessed with life everlasting because of God's love for us and His Son's perfect sacrifice on our behalf. It's all about God.

Holy Matrimony

I have never been married, therefore I've never had a marriage fail. So maybe I'm not the best person to preach against the evils of divorce. Presumably, Stanton hopes that his new data helps to cast the divorce rate among Christians in a more positive light. After all, having a divorce rate in the church that's statistically tied with the outside world should be plenty embarrassing for all people of faith.

In addition, Stanton has become a nationally-recognized advocate for heterosexual marriage in the face of rising public support for homosexual marriage. Being able to show how the church corners the market on marriage morality would certainly help his argument. Yet, alas, even if those questionable studies he champions are accurate, they still paint a picture of disgrace.

Many evangelicals in North America market our faith as a muddled stew of Biblical catch-phrases and diluted hedonism. Just enough Jesus to comfort us when we're down, and just enough luxury so that we're not down all that often.

Maybe our increasingly dismal record in the marriage department could be used as a wake-up call for the entire Bride of Christ, instead of a statistic to be spun for political reasons.

Commitment. Purity. Sacrifice.

Not just by God. But by us as well.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. What a good time to start over.

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