Saturday, February 6, 2016

Marriage and History

Marriage is a word we use, but the meaning is a little vague these days.  Is there a definition from history?  How might we arrive at an understanding that's both useful and helpful?

A recent conversation pointed out that mankind has seen a variety of arrangements for life-partnering, all generally categorized as 'marriage'.  So then, depending on where and when you look ...
  • A man might have more than one wife, at least at some times in history. 
  • A king might have had many wives and concubines. 
  • A daughter might be given by her parents in return for some payment by the groom or his family.  
  • Marriage might be forced on some by culture or community, and similarly it might be denied to others.
  • Marriage might be the naive choice of the young or the thoughtful plan of those somewhat older.
Consent?  As for having a choice in the matter, consider the Afghan teen and his girl friend; they were dragged out of their car and beaten in public just for talking. In India, a daughter was strangled in her sleep because the family didn't approve of her boyfriend.

Politics?  In political circles, the relationship of a man and woman might include tremendous drama and intrigue as among the aristocracy and hereditary rulers during the age of empires.  That too was called marriage.

Equality?  In Africa, a couple of Christian gentlemen asked my opinion on wife beating.  Should our wives be beaten from time to time to keep them in line or only when they are disrespectful?  Their concept of marriage is different than mine.

So what is marriage, and whose definition is the right one?  From observation alone, it's difficult to say clearly what marriage might be and how it should work.  We don't find just one set of guidelines.  Such is the natural course of humankind as it accommodates the thinking of the day and place; emphasis on the word 'natural'.

Is there anything more to marriage than just convenience and accommodation, than human nature?

The conservative preference is narrow and simple, one husband and one wife for life, a view that comes from tradition.  The public discussion, however, lacks any particular content other than 'that's the rule'.  Does matching that definition satisfy the inquiry?  Is that the end of the question?

A thoughtful look might uncover that among all the natural ways of mankind, we're offered an extraordinary path that leads to the best possible destination.  "... and the two shall become one ...." There's more, of course, but the suggestion is that there is much more meaning and substance to marriage than just living together, something larger than just a convenient arrangement.  It suggests magnificence and a love not yet known.  It describes being extricated from selfishness and entering a more expansively beautiful place that's approachable only through personal sacrifice.  If true, then perhaps it's worth understanding.

What is it that we might be reaching for?  Is it a natural arrangement, or perhaps something more than what simple nature might offer?

Can a marriage be perfect?  Unlikely perhaps.  But can it be more?  Stunningly amazing?  Absolutely.

Ephesians 5:21-25

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