Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

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Marriage Is Not A Right. It’s A Responsibility.

This past weekend I was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding and as I watched her walk down the aisle it got me thinking about the issue. Marriage is a hot topic in our country right now. Everybody’s worked up about who and who doesn’t have a right to it. I wonder sometimes though if we are asking the right questions. It occurs to me that part of the reason the issue is so muddled and discussion so futile is that we are talking about different things. We do not agree on who has a right to marriage because we do not agree on what marriage is or what marriage is for. To frame the controversy in terms of the nature and purpose of marriage I think will help bring clarity if not resolution.

So what is marriage? If as some believe, it is nothing more than a man-made institution with the purpose of making us happy, if it is only about the two people getting married and has no meaning beyond this life, then I suppose there is no reason why anyone should not be allowed to marry whomever they choose. I suppose we do have a “right” to it. If however marriage is made by God not just to make us happy, but to make us holy, that changes things entirely. If it is meant to be a picture of the Gospel, a temporal union that foreshadows the eternal union of Christ and His Church, then I believe we must change our language. Marriage is not a right at all. Marriage is a responsibility. It has meaning and purpose that goes beyond us and our earthly happiness and we are answerable to the God who created it.

And this is not just about homosexuality and marriage equality. It is about sexual purity before marriage. It is about adultery and divorce and internet pornography (though there is grace for all these things). It’s about loving and serving your spouse as Christ has loved and served us. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in the issue of homosexuality, but that is just one sin among many that is breaking our marriages and marring the image that we are supposed to display, the image of Christ’s love for his beloved church. I am all for defending biblical values, but it seems to me that it will speak more to a lost world if we fought less over marriage and fought more for our marriages, fought to make them more like this picture they are supposed to display.

This picture has become so distorted by the sin of the world sometimes it seems that it is lost. As I stood in the beautiful outdoors last weekend, and watched my sister and her husband make vows to each other, I thought of the first marriage in the garden and how it and every marriage following was marred by sin. I know in my own marriage, I have become all too aware of my sinfulness, of how short I fall of loving as Christ loves. The good news though? Because Christ has come and died and defeated sin, He is restoring all things. He heals everything that sin has broken, including our marriages. He is taking us back, back to the garden. We who know this truth, have the privilege, not the right, but the responsibility, to portray this to the world.

So let us fight, not so much to change the world’s mind about marriage, but to show them the heart of God and the power of grace through marriage. Let’s walk down the aisle arrayed in white, not because it’s pretty, but because it means something. Let’s solemnly vow to love our spouses for better or for worse because the worse will come as well as the better and we must choose to love as God has chosen to love us. And let us keep these vows as long as we live because it shows the supernatural power of Jesus Christ who has committed to never leave us nor forsake us, to love us and be with us in all things and through all things even to the very end.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne, said, ‘I am making everything new!'” Revelation 21:2-5