Looking back on my own wedding day, I was a starry-eyed, dream filled young professional, one year removed from undergrad studies, one year into my first full-time ministry position, and about to enter into the adventure of a lifetime. I had no clue what I was getting into, and I hadn’t really thought about philosophical or theological reasons to get married. All I knew, is that I had found a beautiful girl who had become, and was continuing to become, my best friend, and I wanted to share life with her. I had no real thoughts about what this relationship was going to do for me, or how it would change me, I simply knew, or understood, or had been formed into thinking, individuals grow up and get married. That’s the natural progression in life, and I was thrilled that I had found the most amazing woman in the world to spend the rest of my life with.
As I’ve grown older, as I’ve spent almost twenty years in full-time ministry, as I’ve been honored to stand in the place of God and officiate a few weddings myself, and as I’ve been privileged to read and meditate on theology, I’ve begun to ask the question: why do individuals get married? Why did God design the institution of marriage, and encourage a scenario where a “man would leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and become one flesh.” I’ve not asked this question from a negative sense, but a positive one. What blessing is God hoping to achieve through marriage?
There are multiple reasons, really good reasons, why individuals would choose to get married. There are social reasons involving friendship and companionship, even intimacy that draws individuals into marriage. There are physical, or sexual, reasons for marriage; two people are physically attracted to each other. Financial reasons sometimes play a role; two salaries being put together help to make it easier to pay bills, buy houses, and go on vacation, among other things. Even procreation is a reason. Many of us desire to have children, to love and share life with others, and to even have those who are our own flesh and blood to live on and carry on our legacy after we are gone. All of these are good reasons, even valid reasons, to get married. Not that one necessarily has to get married in order to experience these benefits of companionship or the sharing of resources, but these benefits are easily obtained through marriage.
On a deeper level however, on a philosophical or theological level, why is it that people get married?
A few years ago, Gary Thomas wrote a book Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy More Than To Make Us Happy. The main argument of the book is clearly stated in the subtitle. Marriage is not designed to make us happy. No relationship, no person, no matter how wonderful, can make us happy. If we are looking to a person or a relationship for our happiness we are looking to an idol. Only God can fill the hole inside of us that is seeking fulfillment. Instead of making us happy, Thomas argues, marriage is designed to make us holy. It is designed by God as a type of spiritual formation process in which over the years of marriage we are formed more into the image of Christ.
The reason to get married then is to become like Christ. Love, Christ like love, is sacrificial, focused on the other. For love to be complete, it must be love for the sake of another. Love of self is important, but the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is love for the sake of another. Marriage provides a perfect, daily, opportunity to learn to love like Christ; to love a neighbor (spouse) more than oneself. Marriage is a chance to embrace Jesus’s teaching to always be a servant of another. Marriage provides an opportunity to love outside of ourselves, to submit to another, to seek an other’s best interest. To seek the blessing and welfare of another more than we seek those things for ourselves. There is an intimacy that is formed in this type of love; in which we come to know, and are known by another in ways that only grow over time. In a sense, we get a taste of the intimacy shared in the Triune God; the bond of love shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we learn to love in this way, as we grow in love for others, we become more Christlike. We become more holy.
So why get married? Physical attraction? Yes. Companionship? Absolutely. To have children and a family? Of course. But ultimately, to become Christlike. To become holy. To learn to love like Christ.