Tag Archives: marriage

#217: The Sexual Harassment Scandal

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #217, on the subject of The Sexual Harassment Scandal.

I have been, let’s say, peripherally aware of the burgeoning collection of male celebrities either accused of or confessing to inappropriate behavior toward women over the past, let’s estimate, half century.  In the back of my mind I felt like something needed to be said about this, but at the same time realized that almost anything I said would either be the same pablum everyone else is saying about these men, or would be viewed as chauvinistic villainy.  I do not think that the actions in question are in any sense “all right” or “defensible” or “excusable”.  However, I think they are understandable, and I think that our reactions are a bit over the top in many ways.

I happened upon the first episode of a very old television series, what I take to be a British spy drama from the 1960s very like similar shows of the time.  It featured a dashing hero on the order of John Steed or The Saint or James Bond, and of course one of the tropes–well, Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine fans will remember the episode Our Man Bashir, in which Doctor Julian Bashir is playing such a hero in such a story on the holodeck, and he famously uses the trope that all women will instantly fall for the hero if he smiles at them to obtain the key that gets him out of the shackles and back in action.  It was the daydream of boys and men everywhere to be that James Bond character, that dashing debonair spy whom women adore, who need say nothing more than, “Your place or mine?”

Of course, in reality no one was James Bond.  Well, maybe Sean Connery, and maybe Roger Moore, but in reality women were not falling into bed with every man who imagined himself irresistible to women.

On the other hand, it was the sixties.  It was the decade that coined the term “sexual revolution”.  I won’t say that sexual liasons of all kinds were not happening prior to that, but in the mid fifties that kind of thing was hidden, and at least disapproved by (possibly jealous) peers, while in the sixties we decided to be open about it and pretend it was normal and everyone was doing it.  I have already said that not everyone was doing it then, but a lot more people were, and at least partly because they were being told that everyone else was.  My parents–an earlier generation–were flirtatious at bridge parties and cocktail parties; it was how adults in the neighborhood interacted.  They were also completely shocked and flabbergasted when one of the men from the neighborhood ran off with one of the other women.  It was not expected; it was not done.

However, in the corridors of power–Hollywood, Washington, state capitals, New York–there was a lot more pressure to conform to the new world image, and a lot more men who thought they were irresistible, and a lot more women who believed them, feeding that egotism.

There was another layer of complication, though.  For generations there had been this dance, this untaught approach to courtship.  Women generally had to express their interest in men through body language–the right smile, the right eyes, the right posture, even the right blush and the right pupil dilation (the reason for a lot of makeup–eye shadow reduces glare on the eyes and so enhances pupil dilation, suggesting arousal)–and men had to recognize the interest and make a move.  That was still residually true in the sixties and beyond.  There is a joke in the movie Tootsie, in which the gorgeous girl Julie confides to elderly Dorothy Michaels that she just wishes the nonsense would go away and a guy would just walk up and say he found her attractive and would like to sleep with her, and then Dorothy Michaels transforms into her true self, Michael Dorsey, catches Julie at a party, and says exactly what she said she wanted the guy to say–and gets a drink in his face (or maybe slapped, it’s been a lot of years).  That was 1982, two decades after our supposed sexual revolution began, and it was still expected that a girl would keep silent about her interest and show signs by body language, and a guy would recognize the signs and make an approach.  Faint heart never won fair maiden was the old saying, so boldness was expected.

There’s another complication that gets everyone in trouble, and that is that it is not at all unusual for human bodies to want one thing while human minds want something completely different.  So you see a guy, and something inside you says, “That guy is hot.”  You answer.  You say to yourself that you’ve heard he’s a creep, he’s not your type, you’re in a relationship, this would be a very bad idea–but your body isn’t listening, it’s busy sending signals to that guy inviting him to make a move.  It is of course an unwelcome move–your mind will very quickly put him in his place, and leave him wondering how he so misread you.

Most of the men who have been accused come out of that generation.  They believe that women want to have sex with them because their positions of power and wealth have inflated their egos (not to mention having brought women out of the woodwork for whom that actually is an aphrodisiac), and they are looking for the signs.  Women, meanwhile, have learned to flirt a bit when they want something from a man–a job, a loan, a dinner invitation, a sales contract–and those smiles and friendly words are at least confusing.  So a man approaches a woman looking for something to happen, the woman inadvertently sends something that looks like a signal, the man moves in boldly, and we have a sexual Harassment claim.

And the world has changed.  I don’t know how it works now, but thankfully I’m too old and too long married to need to know any of that.  Some other system has fallen into place–but these men who grew up under the old system don’t know the new one, and they’ve been using the old one for so long and getting it wrong so often that they have a trail of sexual Harassment incidents in their wake.  What back in the sixties and seventies probably would have been written off as “that’s just the way it works” (I’m not saying it should have been, only that it was) is now completely unacceptable behavior and you should have known better despite the fact that there is no one to teach you the new rules.

A lot of what some of them did was beyond the boundaries always.  Bill Clinton certainly thought himself irresistible, but he also apparently raped a woman.  Sometimes the lines are clear; sometimes they are less so.

I’m not going to speak to any specific case, but it seems to me that a lot particularly of older men are being charged with acting in ways that were probably not thought inappropriate in the times and places in which they came of age.  We would like them to learn behavior we consider appropriate now, but to expect them to have known it retroactively over the decades is a bit much.  Probably more than half the men in the United States over the age of twelve have at some point or another acted toward a woman in a manner she considered inappropriate and harrassing.  We can’t really incarcerate all of us.

#215: What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #215, on the subject of What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means.

About a week ago I posted on Facebook announcing our forty-first wedding anniversary.  The post drew a reasonable amount of the Facebook equivalent of applause, some of it from people I did not realize would see it.  So I wondered:  what are they applauding?  What do they think forty-one years of marriage means?

Well, I do not know what they think it means, but I have some idea of what it does mean.  I wrote web log post #65:  Being Married almost two years ago, and commented at the time that I was sure there were some things I was forgetting, so in a sense this is an addendum to that–but in a sense it is a separate observation.

Thanks to Kyler for this photo.

I suppose it should be said first that forty-one years of marriage probably means a lot of occasional doubts and suspicions, but fundamentally means learning to trust and to forgive–and there is something below that which gets in the way, and something above that which helps enormously.

What most people do not understand is that marriage is a covenant, not a contract.  People do not understand this, and they don’t generally know the difference, but it is important:

  • A contract is an exchange of mutually contingent promises.  That means I promise to do this, and you promise to do that, but if either of us fails to keep his “end of the bargain” the other is no longer obligated and does not have to fulfill his part.  This is typical in commercial transactions:  if I order something from you and you fail to deliver it, I am not obligated to pay for it even though I promised to do so.
  • A covenant is an exchange of mutually independent promises.  That means I make a promise to you, and you make a promise to me, and I am obligated to keep my promise because I made a promise, and you are obligated to keep your promise because you made a promise.  The part that is missing, that distinguishes it from a contract, is that our obligations are based not on the exchange but on our own individual integrity.  If you renege on your promise, I am still obligated to keep mine; if I fail, your obligation remains.

This is significant to the matter of trust and forgiveness.  I promised to be faithful, to love and cherish, pretty much to the best of my ability.  I did not promise to do so as long as she keeps her end of the bargain; I promised to do so as long as we were both alive.  If she fails, that has no impact on my obligation.  I still made that promise.  If you recall your own wedding, or weddings you have attended, I doubt you have ever been to one in which the vows included the words “as long as you do the same”.

That means that I don’t have to worry about whether she is keeping her promise, only about whether I am keeping mine.  I trust that she is, and were I to learn that she is not I forgive her, because it is irrelevant to my obligation to her.  It is not a contract, in which the failure of one party negates the obligation of the other.  Should either of us fail to keep our promise, even should we both fail, the promises still exist.  We pick ourselves up, forgive, and move forward trying to be and do what we promised.

Forty-one years of marriage is thus a long string of trust and forgiveness, of learning what it means to love someone and to keep a promise to do so even when it is not easy to keep it.

That’s what a forty-first wedding anniversary means.

#192: Updating the Bible’s Gender Language

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #192, on the subject of Updating the Bible’s Gender Language.

The Southern Baptist Convention, presently the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, created a bit of a stir when it announced that it would be working to update the gender language in the Bible.  Among those outside the church who post on article reaction forums, there were two general types of reactions, the one that it didn’t really matter what one did with texts that were written millennia ago by ignorant peasants and repeatedly altered since, the other that it made no sense to claim that something was a communication from God but that it could be revised by people.

The former group might be excused their ignorance in a field in which many ridiculous notions have been promulgated as if they were true, among them this notion that the writers of the Bible were all ignorant uneducated peasants.  That status was so rare among Biblical authors that the Prophet Amos makes a point of asserting it about himself, as a difference between him and all the other prophets.  As to the New Testament writers, they were generally educated members of the middle class–a tax assessor, a son of wealthy parents, a medical doctor, the owner of a business large enough that he was able to leave it in the hands of subordinates for several years and return to find it still profitable.  Indeed, Paul was a rabbinic scholar, trained by Rabban Gamaliel I, who is one of the scholars whose teaching is included in the Talmud.  They were not ignorant peasants.  As to the alleged alterations of the text, our scientific textual critics have established the original text of the New Testament to within ninety-nine-point-nine percent using sources dating into the first century; very few “intentional” changes were ever made, and those which were were obvious and easily restored.

However, the latter group has a point, which is based on a very subtle misunderstanding of exactly what the Bible is and how we regard the Bibles we read.

The problem is that the Bible is not written in English; it’s written largely in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (which is a language closely related to Hebrew commonly spoken by Jews in the New Testament age).  When we read English translations of the Bible, we are reading the best renderings of those original texts which translators thought they could produce–but it means that decisions are made regarding the best way to represent the ideas in our language.  Dr. J. Edwin Orr spoke of a man telling a story through a translator.  The speaker said, “My friend was tickled to death.”  The confused native translator told the audience, “I do not understand this myself; his friend scratched himself until he died.”  Translations can be tricky.  And on the subject of gender, four things should be noted about Greek to English translation that will illustrate the overall problem.

The first is the use of the word anthropos.  It means “man”, and it is a masculine word.  (Gender of words is also one of these four things.)  However, there is another word for man, andros, and the words are different.  Anthropos means man in the general sense, the way we use the word “man” to refer to humanity.  In many contexts it would be better to render it “person”–but there are contexts in which it is obvious that the person or persons in question are men, that is, males.  In that sense, anthropos refers equally to men and women; andros refers to men only.  But we tend to render anthropos as “man” because we don’t usually use “human” that way, and because philosophers and theologians sometimes use the English word “person” in something of a technical sense that has nothing to do with whether you’re a human.

So it makes sense that we might want to revise our translations such that the word anthropos is not usually rendered “man” but something more generic like “person” or “human”, sometimes “humanity”.  That would be a revision of gender language that is attempting to produce a more accurate representation of the meaning of the original text.

There is another aspect particularly in Greek that creates great headaches for translators.  The word andros, “man”, has a counterpart, gune, “woman”.  The problem is that in common usage the words “husband” and “wife” were rarely used, the natives speaking of a couple as man and woman, with the sense of a man who belongs to a particular woman and a woman who belongs to a particular man.  Thus particularly in many places where we have the word gune, we are not certain whether it means “woman” or “wife”; it happens also sometimes with andros, but not as frequently.

We also have, as mentioned, the problem of the gender of words.  Anyone who has studied a Romance language (e.g., French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) knows that nouns in those languages have gender–they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter.  In Greek, the word anthropos is masculine, and thus adjectives and pronouns that are referential to that word must also be masculine, and we have the result that “man” is always “he”, even when it means “person” or indeed when it means “humanity”.  On the other hand, “church”, ekklesia, is feminine, and thus is always “she”.  In English, we tend to reserve masculine and feminine pronouns for people, and thus humanity and church are both “it” or sometimes “they”–although we make exceptions, sometimes personifying objects such as perhaps affectionately calling a boat or car “she”.  The problem sometimes arises that we are not certain whether a writer is referring to a woman or a feminine noun, a man or a masculine noun.  A masculine noun, such as soldier or guard, could be used of a female person, and in the Greek it would be proper for the pronoun to be masculine if its antecedent is the noun, feminine if it is the person.

Finally, there is the problem that Greek does not require the use of pronouns, and thus many statements lack any gender definition.  To understand this, perhaps an example left over in modern English from earlier forms might help.

In the present tense, “I say”, “you say”, “we say”, “they say”, but “he, she, or it says“.  If we see the form says, we know that it is third person singular.  We don’t really need the pronoun to know that, but we always use it.  In Greek, though, all verbs are conjugated for person and number, and because of this a Greek could have said, “says” and the hearer would extrapolate that some third person singular subject is the antecedent, the person or object who says.  That means that in many places where it says “he” does something or should or may or might do something, the “he” is an extrapolation of our Indo-european language, a word that we provide because we need a pronomial subject in English which is not present in the Greek.

This is a much more difficult issue to address, because it will not do to extrapolate in every instance where there is no subject “he, she, or it” says or does whatever the text indicates.  Nor will translating them to “she” or “it” make the text clearer.  Indeed, it is problematic, as there is very little way for the reader of an English translation to know whether that “he” is what the Greek says or what the translator extrapolated to make sense of the English.  Further, Greek is also an Indo-european language, and from Sanskrit to German to Portuguese it is the standard in such languages that where the gender of the subject is not determined by the gender of a noun, the feminine pronoun represents a female person, the neuter pronoun a non-person, and the masculine pronoun a person of either male or unspecified gender.  Thus even if the Greek says “he”, that does not necessarily mean that the author was excluding “she”.

Revising the gender language in the Bible is a challenging undertaking for these reasons and more.  It will not be done perfectly, and it certainly will not be done to everyone’s satisfaction.  Yet it is not as foolish a notion as it sounds.  In many places the specification of gender in the English translations is an artifact of translation, not a certain representation of what the original said.  Language and usage change over time; new translations are created to keep pace with the changes.  This may be one of them long overdue, but difficult to manage.

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#177: I Am Not Second

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #177, on the subject of I Am Not Second.

img0177Washing

Bill Cosby said it:

I am not the boss in my family.  I don’t know how I lost it; I don’t know if I ever had it.  But I’ve seen the boss’s job, and I don’t want it.

I am not the boss in my house, either.  The boss tells me what I need to do and when I need to do it, and anything I think is important I do on my own time.  I’d like to tell you that I am second, but I don’t think that’s true.  I think actually the dog is second; in any case, I’m pretty sure he outranks me.  If he wants to go outside in the middle of the night, he wakes me so I can let him outside.  If somehow his whining and wheezing does not get a response from me, he wakes the boss–and the boss wakes me, and tells me to let him outside, usually with the words, “You’re not going to make me get up and take him out, are you?”  Thus it is clear that the dog outranks me and gets to decide when I am going to give up my sleep so he can go out.  This is the same dog of which I said, “I don’t want a dog,” and “you can have a dog as long as he is never my problem.”  He is also the same dog that I feed and water every day, and let out several times a day, and deal with whenever he is a problem for someone else.  So I am not second; both the boss and the dog rank above me.  There are almost certainly other people who rank above me, but I don’t really want to try to enumerate them at the moment.  It sometimes (read “often”) feels like everyone in the world outranks me; I am pretty far from second.

This tirade was inspired by what is apparently a fairly successful ministry under the name “I am second.”  I expect it’s the best Christian catchphrase since “What would Jesus do?”  I get it.  It’s saying I need to take myself out of first place and put Jesus in first place; that puts me second.  The thing is, it doesn’t, really–or it shouldn’t.  I had a bad reaction to it the first time I heard it, and my wife had the same bad reaction quite independently of me.  I am not second, and I am not supposed to be second.  Whoever might will to be first of you will be slave of all.  I am not called to be second; I am called to be last.

img0177Bracelet

The problem with the formulation “I am second” is that it might state my relationship to God correctly, but it misstates my relationship to the dog.  O.K., maybe not to the dog–but to everyone else, certainly.  The hierarchy in my life is not supposed to be Christ, me, everyone else.  It’s supposed to be Christ, everyone else, me.  I am not second; I am last.

I am sure that it is a wonderful ministry doing wonderful things, and I do not mean to denigrate it.  However, I feel that a significant point has been missed here.  Don’t put yourself second.  There are a lot of other people who should be above you in the hierarchy.  And remember, it is not a single fixed universal hierarchy.  Jesus is always first for all of us, if we have it right.  In the hierarchy that governs my life, you–all of you, each of you–outrank me; but in the hierarchy that governs your life, I, along with the rest of us, outrank you.  We were called to serve each other, to put everyone else above ourselves, to be a long distance from second place in our own lives.

Don’t put yourself second, either.

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#141: The Solution to the Romans I Problem

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #141, on the subject of The Solution to the Romans I Problem.

We began this miniseries with The Sin in Romans I, where we stated

…ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

…they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

We were deriving that from Romans 1:19ff.  We then continued in Immorality in Romans I to explain that the “sins” we see described in that first chapter–the immorality, homosexuality, and total depravity–are not given to us as the proof of guilt but as the demonstration of punishment, that God punishes those who fail to recognize and thank Him by delivering them to the desires that destroy them.  We ended that article with the thought

…if these are the punishment of God, why would I want them?  Obviously, there is this draw that they have, because people are drawn into them, and many Christians will admit being tempted in those directions.  The black hole of death pulls everyone toward it.  The message of the gospel includes that Jesus saves us from this, that He enables us to be free from this death.

Then I noted that there was something else, something I had missed before.  The third article, Societal Implications of Romans I explained that, that this judgment came not primarily on individuals who rejected God but ultimately on the society itself:  you could be innocent of the moral degradation of the world around you, but it was worsening, drawing in those around you.

The question here is, what can we do?  The answer is what the answer almost always is:  we need to repent.

img0141eagle

Some of you probably just said, “Yes, Chaplain, we need to get all those sinners, all those fornicators and adulterers and homosexuals and lesbians and generally depraved people out there, to repent and turn to Christ.”  If you said that, you missed the point.  Of course those people need to repent; but judgment begins with the house of God–and all of that, here in the first chapter of Romans, was the punishment, not the crime.  The one sin–the only sin–Paul identifies in the first chapter of Romans is failing to acknowledge God and thank Him.

Of course, we think that we do acknowledge God and thank Him.  After all, we say grace before meals, gather on weekends for worship services, make sure we set aside a little time every day for devotions–how are we not acknowledging and thanking God?

The fact is we give too much credit to ourselves, and in a lot of ways that we not only do not recognize as taking it from God but find admirable.  We are idolators, worshipping God sometimes and other gods at other times.

Our number one idol is ourselves.  We thank God for the food, but we think that we obtained it by our own labor or resourcefulness.  We do not really think that God provides our food, our homes, our clothes–we think all of that comes from our own effort.  We fail to recognize God’s kindness to us in providing all this.

There is also a great deal of patriotism:  we worship our nation.  There has certainly been much about our nation for which we should be grateful to God, but in the words of Romans 1:25, we worship the creation (“ktisis”, meaning any created object or act of creation, frequently rendered “creature”) rather than the Creator, thinking that our nation and its founders gave us what ultimately came from God.  I have been in churches where on patriotic holy days they have sung patriotic anthems and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as if it were one of the creeds.  Those who pledge allegiance to America are serving two masters.  Thank God for America, but pledge allegiance only to God, and acknowledge Him as the giver of all good gifts.

There are quite a few of us who worship capitalism and the free market.  Don’t misunderstand me:  capitalism is a brilliant and effective human method of driving a society toward prosperity, but it is not a Christian system at all.  Its central concept is that everyone not only will but should act in the most selfish self-serving way possible to bring about the maximum benefit for the most people.  A Christian system would work on the premise that everyone should and will act in the most self-sacrificing loving way possible to help others, which makes it surpisingly similar to socialism.  The problem is that most people–even most of us who espouse Christianity–are more likely to act in capitalist ways than socialist ways, and if you’re building a system it is more practical to design it to fit the way the majority of people actually do act than the way we would like them to act.  Capitalism works well precisely because people are in the main selfish and unloving; socialism fails for the same reason.  Yet we treat capitalism as if it were a codicil to the gospel, part of the divine plan.  We do not need to abandon capitalism as a society, but as Christians we need to recognize it is not the source of our prosperity but a tainted tool through which God has managed to deliver it to tainted people.

I could probably continue with our idols.  We always think that our prosperity comes from something tangible, instead of recognizing the real source of all the good we receive.  That is the repentance–the “metanoia”, the “thought change”–that we need.  We need to stop thinking that we have earned the good things we have, that we have built a society that provides them, that we should thank our nation for being a place where such prosperity is possible, and get beyond all of that to recognizing that God has delivered good things to us.  If we fail to thank Him for what He has given us, to acknowledge Him as the source of all the good in our lives; if we continue to share the credit due to Him with others who are at best instruments of His kindness; the wrath will continue to fall on our world, and we will be buried in the depravity that has grown exponentially in the short time that I have been alive to see it.

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#140: Societal Implications of Romans I

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #140, on the subject of Societal Implications of Romans I.

We began this miniseries with The Sin in Romans I, where we stated

…ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

    …they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

We were deriving that from Romans 1:19ff.  We then continued in Immorality in Romans I to explain that the “sins” we see described in that first chapter–the immorality, homosexuality, and total depravity–are not given to us as the proof of guilt but as the demonstration of punishment, that God punishes those who fail to recognize and thank Him by delivering them to the desires that destroy them.  We ended that article with the thought

…if these are the punishment of God, why would I want them?  Obviously, there is this draw that they have, because people are drawn into them, and many Christians will admit being tempted in those directions.  The black hole of death pulls everyone toward it.  The message of the gospel includes that Jesus saves us from this, that He enables us to be free from this death.

Then I noted that there was something else, something I had missed before.

That is where we are today, but to get there we are going to begin with a meandering discussion beginning with divorce law.

img0140lawbooks

This has been not true for so long that some of my readers might be surprised to discover it was ever true.  At one time, when a man and a woman signed their names to a piece of paper and swore before a public gathering that they would remain together for their entire lives, the government regarded those to be legally enforceable promises which it, the public at large, and the couple themselves fully expected they would keep.  The part about “better or worse…rich or poor…sickness and health” underscored this:  there were no outs.  In England, if you wanted a divorce you often needed an Act of Parliament.

Of course, exceptions were made, what some will remember as “divorce for cause”.  The promises that were made to each other included loving and caring for each other, and forsaking all others.  If it could be demonstrated in court that one party had breached those promises, the other party was entitled to damages, including dissolution of the marriage.  If the husband beat the wife, or abandoned her; or if the wife was sleeping with the neighbor–these were causes, breaches of the promises, and the injured party could be released from the obligation, often with compensatory damages in property settlements or alimony.

Usually.

By the middle of the twentieth century, affluent Americans who believed that they had earned what they had, and forgot that God had given it to them, began to be bored with monogamy.  They felt like they should be able to divorce each other for no better reason than that they wanted to marry someone else, to find “happiness” with another lover.  Hollywood gossip certainly fueled this–the stresses on the marriages of movie stars who were frequently separated working on different projects, frequently put into close relationships with other actors, and adored by fans who made them believe they deserved better caused many of them to fail, and the tabloid press popularized the idea that a star or starlet was escaping a bad relationship for a better one.  Ordinary people thought that happiness was found in leaving the wrong person and finding the right one.  The law in most places, though, was very much against them:  you could not be divorced for a whim, only for a cause, a breach of the promise by one party against the other.

And the law was strict.  There is a New York case in which a couple wanted a divorce but could not get one without cause, so the husband arranged for his wife to have an affair with his best friend, and they went to court and presented the matter to the judge–and the judge said no, that since the husband colluded in his wife’s infidelity he could not claim that he had been harmed by it, and therefore had no cause for a divorce.  People were being forced to stay married to each other for no better reason than that at one time years before they promised each other and the government and the world at large that they would.

And somehow we no longer thought that a good enough reason.  Why should you have to do something just because you promised, and benefited from the promise?

Gradually over several decades we changed those laws, to allow ourselves to break those promises.  In the wake of that, the upcoming generation saw that the promises were becoming meaningless, and we entered the beginning of a “sexual revolution” in which such promiscuity became more open, accepted by larger and larger segments of society.  Today promiscuity is the assumed norm.  Unmarried adult virgins are treated as a comic element in popular media, a rarity, and sex among teens is expected even by their parents who don’t counsel them to wait but to be careful when they don’t.

And the law has moved to a place where it says, it is nobody’s business whether you have sex, whether you break promises made to a spouse, whether you get your pleasure from the opposite sex or the same sex.  Follow your own moral compass, and if you don’t like where it points, break it and go where you want.

In the process we have lost the ability to commit, to keep promises, to love and trust each other.  That is a serious loss.

This was the part I did not see a decade ago when I taught that class (or three decades ago when I taught Romans to those college students).  I could see that the immorality, the homosexuality, and the depravity were punishments on individuals who were destroying themselves because they refused to acknowledge God.  What I did not then see was that it was bigger than that.  It was not that Joe would not acknowledge God and now was having an affair with Alice, or that Bill was rejecting God and now found himself in a relationship with Steve, or that Mary ignored God’s kindness toward her and now could not figure out what was right and what was wrong.  That was all true, but it was also true that there were others who had failed to acknowledge God who still lived moral upright lives, who were not suffering from the punishment Paul described.  It was not targeting every individual evenly.

However, it was targeting society.  People who kept their marriage vows started to discover that their spouses did not.  People who embraced only heterosexual relationships discovered that they had homosexual children.  People who lived moral lives based on a moral compass that followed sound principles but not God found that those around them, even those closest to them, could see no reason to follow those principles and were ready to do whatever profited them, whatever felt good, whatever they wanted.  The society that rejected God, the society that failed to acknowledge Him, was falling into a downward spiral into depravity.

The wrath of God has come upon us.  We can see it in the world around us, and as Paul said, it proves that God has begun the end of the world with the judgment of those who reject Him.

There is at least one more piece to this miniseries, because this is not the end of the story.

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#139: Immorality in Romans I

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #139, on the subject of Immorality in Romans I.

We began a miniseries with The Sin in Romans I, where we stated

…ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

    …they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

We were deriving that from Romans 1:19ff.

Some of you were undoubtedly struggling with that, because your understanding of Romans 1:24ff is that Paul begins cataloguing the sins for which mankind is being judged.  He starts to talk about immorality, promiscuity, segueing into homosexuality and lesbianism, and then into an entire catalog that we can best describe as total depravity.  Surely these are the sins for which men are punished, no?

Painting by Thomas Rowlandson
Painting by Thomas Rowlandson

No.

If we read what the next two verses say, we find

Therefore, God in His wrath handed them over to their promiscuous drives, so that they would lose all respect for their bodies.  He punished them because they traded the truth they had about God for a lie, and worshipped and served creatures instead of their Creator, who is the source of all good things forever, and that’s certain.

All that promiscuity, all that immorality, that is not the sin–it is the punishment.

Some of you are thinking, what kind of punishment is that?  God gets upset because we don’t recognize how good He has been to us, so He punishes us by sending us lovers, causing us to have affairs?  Bring it on!

That actually demonstrates to some degree that you are already touched by that wrath; but then, why should sexual immorality be punishment?  It has always been a temptation, something we desire.  It seems, then, if we’re bad, God gives us what we desire.  How should that be a problem?  It sounds like punishing a bad child by giving him ice cream and candy.

It should be said first that if God says this is a punishment, there must be a reason for us to perceive it as a punishment.  There must be something fundamentally undesireable about that thing that we desire.  Maybe we don’t see what it is, but it must be there.

In fact, speaking in the abstract, God never forbids anything just because He doesn’t like it.  He forbids that which is bad for us and others.  We see short-term enjoyment in promiscuity, but God sees damage to people.  Years ago I wrote a page entitled Why Shouldn’t You Have Sex If You Aren’t Married? in which I talked about all the people who are hurt by these casual liasons–beginning with the partners themselves, extending to their future loves, their children, and people around them.  There I put some time into discussing how such promiscuous conduct is self-destructive, destroying the person’s reputation, their trustworthiness, their ability to love and be loved, and never really bringing any fulfillment.

God created us to form us into creatures who could engage in honest, trusting, loving relationships with each other and ultimately with Him.  Promiscuity, immorality, adultery, fornication–whatever specific form you give it–destroys that.

So, too, as the punishment worsens, we find in 1:26f

Because they did this, God handed them over to strong self-destructive feelings; their women traded all for which their bodies were made for something unnatural, and the men also abandoned that for which women’s bodies were made and felt strong passions for each other, and so men performed indecent sexual acts with other men, and suffered the consequences of having rejected God.

–that is, God punishes those who refuse to acknowledge and thank Him by pushing them into homosexuality, another even more self-destructive conduct.  This is the punishment.  It then worsens in 1:28ff, restating the crime,

Further, since they were no longer willing to recognize God, God handed them over to depravity in their thinking, so that they could no longer understand that anything could be wrong in itself, being completely filled with injustice, cruelty, greed, malice; full of envy, killing, rivalry, deceit, nastiness; they are rumor mongers, slanderers, God-haters, insulting, prideful, braggarts, inventing new evils, disobeying parents, foolish, promise-breakers, unloving, merciless, who fully aware that God is right to sentence to death those who do things like these not only do them themselves, but encourage others to do them as well.

People who do not recognize God ultimately become parodies of what we are supposed to be.

Of course, arguably not all of them do, or at least, not that we can see.  This punishment falls on some more harshly than others.  Yet it is evident that today people are rushing into these traits.

I would say one more thing about the immorality, the homosexuality, and the general depravity before I end this article:  if these are the punishment of God, why would I want them?  Obviously, there is this draw that they have, because people are drawn into them, and many Christians will admit being tempted in those directions.  The black hole of death pulls everyone toward it.  The message of the gospel includes that Jesus saves us from this, that He enables us to be free from this death.

All of this I have covered elsewhere.  Yet there was something else I only recently realized–which will be the next article in the miniseries.

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#138: The Sin in Romans I

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #138, on the subject of The Sin in Romans I.

Just over a decade ago, on February 6, 2006, with the permission of the Christian Gamers Guild, I began using one of their Yahoo!Groups lists to teach a Bible class–something more than a Bible study, on the level of an undergraduate course but that the pace would be moderated and there would be no homework assignments.  I began with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans for some significant reasons–I had taught it as an undergraduate course before, I had recently rebuilt the notes I needed for it, and as primarily a Pauline scholar it made sense for me to begin with his most recognized and comprehensive work.  That class is still continuing, currently studying the First Epistle of John; you can read more about it here.

I mention it because there are several significant points I learned from that book that most people get completely wrong, and in those lessons (still available through Yahoo!) you can read about this in detail–but I have more recently begun to realize that there was something very important in that which I missed.

It is going to take more than one article to explain it, so I will begin by trying to get you up to speed so you don’t have to read all of those posts.

img0138christ

The first thing to grasp is that this is, in a sense, Paul’s resume.  He has never been to Rome, and it appears that the people he names in the greetings he sends at the end of the letter are all people he met somewhere else.  He wants to preach in Spain, but he needs a base of operations, a church that will support him and send him that direction.  Thus he is sending a letter to them in which he lays out the message that he preaches, the gospel of Jesus Christ as he understands it.  This is what Paul preached in cities throughout the Roman Empire that changed the world; this is the fundamental Christian message.

He launches into this in the seventeenth verse, where he writes

For I am not ashamed to talk about the good news.  The good news is what makes it possible for God to save everyone who believes in God from the just punishment that comes upon all wrongdoers as the world now comes to an end, starting with the Jews and reaching to everyone else.

That’s my translation from the Greek, made with a lot of comparison to a lot of other translations and a strong reliance on whatever materials I had available at that time.  Notice, though, that what Paul is saying is that the end of the world has begun–sometime in the middle of the first century.  However, any Jew then would have told you that the there would be two things that would happen at the end of the world:  the righteous would be rewarded and the wicked would be punished.  Paul says that this is now happening, that the punishment is starting and those who believe God are being rescued from it.

Then the surprise comes in verse eighteen, where he says

The good news shows us how God is right now acting as the just judge of the world, meting out rewards and punishments even now, if we have the faith to see it.  After all, the scripture says, “The righteous person will live because of his faith.”

He in essence says that we know that the end of the world is arriving because judgment has already begun.  The wicked are already being punished, and the righteous are already being saved.

We might at this point expect that he is going to launch into a description of how the gospel saves us, but he surprises us again:

We can see God’s just judgments in the world because His wrath can be seen plainly against all the ungodliness and injustice of men who unfairly try to deny and hide the truth, because within themselves they know something about God, and God has made his existence clearly evident to everyone.  For God’s invisible attributes have been readily recognized and understood since the beginning of creation, in creation itself, which shows us His eternal power and divine nature, so that they cannot claim they did not know.  Even though they knew God had to exist, they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved, but instead started to think and believe all kinds of silly things, and all together lost the light that they had.  Claiming that they were becoming truly wise, they actually became fools, and gave up the glory of the God who remains forever in exchange for something that looked like a picture of men and birds and beasts and other creatures which all ultimately decay and are destroyed.

The chapter is going to continue to describe a lot of things God apparently thinks are terrible–beginning with immorality and infidelity, moving into homosexuality and lesbianism, and ending with a level of depravity that suggests the complete loss of any moral compass.  Many who read this chapter, many who preach on it, think that it is telling us all the wickedness, all the sins, for which men and women are being punished.  God rightly punishes people who act like that, we are told, and the punishment will come.

However, Paul’s entire case rests on the idea that the punishment already has come, and that he is going to describe that punishment which is obvious to everyone who looks at it the right way–and if those statements are the sins for which people are punished, he never gets to the punishment.

That’s because ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

…they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

That is the crime of which humanity stands accused, and of which I think we all at some point have been guilty.  That is the sin of which we repent to be saved.  We agree to acknowledge that God is right, we should be grateful to Him for what He has given us, and we owe Him everything.  Otherwise, we are robbing Him.

So, what about the rest–the infidelity and homosexuality and depravity and all that?  Well, that’s the second thing everyone misses, and that’s the second article in this miniseries.

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#79: Normal Promiscuity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #79, on the subject of Normal Promiscuity.

A few weeks before his death, my father forwarded a link to an article which seemed to bother him.  It included interview excerpts from young women, and put forward the notion that now that the governmnent was providing full coverage for birth control they felt free to sleep with as many men as they liked, and were taking advantage of this new-felt freedom by doing so.  His comment to the link was a question as to whether this was really happening, and I was not at the time certain (and never did determine) whether he realized that the article was from one of the sites that rather poorly attempts to do what The Onion does so well:  create parody that looks like news.  They weren’t seriously suggesting that the availability of free contraception caused an abrupt upswing in the sexual activities of young women; they were rather facetiously suggesting the reverse, that those who thought this might happen were being foolish.

Yet the notion returned to my thoughts periodically.  There was something there that bothered me.

L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org
L0059976 Model of a contraceptive pill, Europe, c. 1970
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

Some years ago one of my then-teenaged sons was dating a girl in about as serious a relationship as teenagers have.  On his first visit to her home, her slightly older sister gave him a tour of the house which included what I gather was a laundry and utility room in a finished basement, identified by the sister as the room where you go when you want to have sex.

I was not present; I heard this second or third hand.  I suppose it might have been the sister’s idea of a joke:  “I know you want to have sex with my little sister, well, this is the place for it.”  Somehow I did not think so at the time.  I was a bit upset, but did not know whether it should concern me more if their divorced mother did not know that her teenaged daughters were so open about having sex with boyfriends in the house, or if she did.

That latter possibility reminded me of another woman I had known some years before, a friend of my wife, who had a daughter.  I never had a high opinion of her.  From what I gathered she was certainly no virgin when, in high school, she seduced the boy she hoped to marry and then reported that she was pregnant with his son (it was sometimes questioned whether it was his child), but having failed thereby to induce him to marry her she decided to live with him.  She was believed, even by him, to have had a series of affairs, but when their relationship was struggling she got pregant again and had the daughter (no one doubted that she was his) and finally got the marriage certificate.  (That might be an oversimplification and I might have the wedding in the wrong place; it’s been a couple decades by now.)  Again in what is second-hand knowledge I gather she had a talk with her daughter about having sex, when the girl was about twelve or thirteen.  The gist of it was, “I know you’re going to have sex, so I want to make sure you do so safely.”

It is this underlying presumption that bothers me, this belief that everyone is having sex.  What we once somewhat derisively called “promiscuity” is now regarded as normal.  It was previously regarded as abberant, and I think that in an historical context we might have good reason to consider our age abberant in this regard.  Of course, the majority in any era considers itself normal, its ancestors in error, and its future descendants extensions of its own values.  The third being demonstrably false on the evidence of the second, we should doubt the first.

I understand the logic of the situation.  It is asserted, correctly, that teenagers have always engaged in sex, hidden from their parents, and that single adults have similarly managed secret sexual liasons.  Too, there have always been extramarital affairs, infidelities, as husbands and wives have taken lovers, either those single persons who are looking for sexual partners or the spouses of others.  It has always been so; it is the norm.  The difference, we are told, is that today we admit it and in most cases no longer attempt to hide it.

The error in this logic is evident when you realize that the statement “teenagers have always engaged in sex” is then taken to mean “all teenagers have always engaged in sex.”  That was a misperception when I was a teenager.  I think–I do not know–that there were among my peers some who were having sex, perhaps sporadically, perhaps frequently or even regularly.  For any who were, I suspect that they thought everyone was doing it and they were thus no different; for those of us who were not, I think we thought that everyone else was doing it save for a few of us unfortunates who had been excluded.  In retrospect, the facts of the case then were that very few of my peers were engaged in sexual relationships or activities despite the fact that we were in high school on the tail end of the “sexual revolution”, had regular “sex ed” classes explaining how it worked, and knew something about how to obtain and use birth control.  I don’t know what percentage of us were virgins, but I gather it was considerably larger than even we thought, and that the majority of those who were not had very little actual experience.

I cannot say that my experience even then was typical in a country in which there are so many social and economic variables; I know it was not atypical.  I also know that the idea that “all teenagers are having sex” is not true now.  Nor is it true that all single adults are engaged in sexual activities, or that all married people are having or even have had sexual liasons with other partners.  The supposed facts are untrue.  Yes, there have always been some who have been what we called promiscuous.  It may depend on how you count, but it was certainly not a majority in the past.  It is not even certain whether it is a majority in the present.

However, because of the general attitude in the present, it is likely to be a majority in the future.

We once told our children that sex was a very natural part of being married.  Then somehow we decided that this was too prudish, and started telling them instead that sex was a very natural part of being in love, and that if they were in love they should not be embarrassed about sex.  There are good reasons for the old idea, that sex was part of being married, quite apart from the legal issues of responsibility and legitimacy.  We, as a society, forgot them, and promoted a lesser standard, that sex was fine between any two people who were truly in love.  Then that became too limited–as the Tina Turner song demanded, What’s Love Got To Do With It?  Sex became a recreational activity, something people did for fun, and any suggestion that it was other than that was considered prudish.

Barry McGuire spoke somewhere of his own youth.  His generation was raised by adults who had long lists of things one did not do, who were never taught why you did not do them.  Thus he and his peers were told you do not do these things, and when they asked why not no one had an answer beyond, “You just don’t.”  That being an entirely inadequate answer, he said, “we went out and did them all–and we discovered that you don’t do them because they end in death.”  That has literally been the outcome for many who have lost control of their “recreational” drug use or their “social” alcohol consumption, and of many infected by the human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted diseases.  It has also been true of many who live in the shadow of death, whose lives have lost meaning because they are so destroyed by these misperceptions–the world teaches them that alcohol, drugs, or sex will make them happy, and when it does not deliver beyond a moment of pleasure (and momentary pleasure is not at all the same as happiness) they wind up seeking the pleasure and abandoning any hope of anything more.

And so today we are teaching our children that sex is nothing more than a recreational activity they should feel free to enjoy carefully–like drinking alcohol or using drugs.  We have lost the moral compass, the moral foundation, of a world in which some things were disapproved because they were ill-advised, hazardous, and thus wrong in the same sense that it is wrong to stick tableware in electrical outlets.

So we have created a world in which promiscuity is normative.

I mentioned earlier that it is a mistake to believe that our descendants will be extensions of our own values.  We cannot predict what will happen even in the next generation.  Perhaps the world will realize its mistake, and some sense of decency will return; perhaps, as with other cultures before ours, the deterioration will continue to snowball and the world as we know it will collapse into chaos from which some new order will arise.  What we do know is that the future will be different.  Our best hope is that we can inform it with values that will make it better.  They are not likely to come from the mainstream of our present society.

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#65: Being Married

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #65, on the subject of Being Married.


img0065Silver

These young couples, they don’t know–
They just think we’re old.
We took the silver years ago–
We’re going for the gold!

Photos from cakepicturegallery.com
Photos from cakepicturegallery.com

I have often thought about writing a piece about being married.  My wife has argued that I am in no position to give people advice about marriage, and she has a point.  Ours has been a rough marriage from the beginning.  However, that beginning is now–well, these web pages stay up a long time, but as I begin this I note that we are closer to our golden anniversary than to our silver.  It has been a long time.  I have been married twice as long as I was single.

I don’t presume, though, to give you any insights I have learned for how to keep a marriage together from my own observations.  Rather, over the years I have heard a lot of advice, and I have found some of it to be quite valuable, incredibly valuable.  I do not remember where I got it all, but I’ll try to note those points I can credit.

  1. Before we married, my father said that I needed to ask one question, and have an answer:  why are you marrying this person?

    My father’s experience gave him this, and it’s worth recounting.  He had been dating a girl–I’m not certain whether he was still in high school or already in college, but she kept talking about what they were going to do when they got married.  Finally one day he interrupted this by saying that he was not certain he was ready to marry just yet.  He was quite surprised three months later to read that she was marrying someone else.  Some people, he suggested, were in love with the idea of being married.  That’s not a satisfactory reason to marry; you need a reason to marry this person.

    The value of this particular bit of advice cannot be overstated.  Believe me, the day will almost certainly come when you are going to ask yourself this question:  Why did I marry this person?  If you have already answered it, you will know the answer when the question comes.  It can get you past some serious complications, knowing the answer, and particularly if it’s a good answer.  Even if you are already married, take a moment and give yourself that answer if you can.  If you’ve answered it adequately in the good times, the answer will be there in the time of crisis.

  2. I think I had already heard or read this somewhere before we married, but I remember that one of the many counselors we visited in attempting to work out our difficulties in the early days repeated and reinforced it:  divorce is not an option.  That was our attitude going into this, and it’s an important one.  Sure, people get divorced, even people who had no intention or expectation of doing so.  However, if your attitude is, “If it doesn’t work, we can get divorced,” you’ve got a vulnerability, a weak spot in your corporate armor.  The thing about marriage–about any commitment–is that it takes work, effort, in a word commitment.  If you’ve given yourself an emergency exit when you’ve built the thing, you’re going to be more inclined to use it when things get tough.  Face it, life has tough times, and there will be times when it will look like it would be easier to quit than to fight.  If quitting is off the table up front, fighting is the only choice, and you are more likely to put the effort into getting through.

    I should caveat that not every marriage can be saved.  Some relationships are so broken that one party or the other is not willing to embrace the grace and forgiveness needed to heal it.  Some people are so broken that they need to be mended themselves before they can be part of someone else’s life (but if you are that person, finding a different partner is just seeking to ruin someone else).

  3. This one comes from Bob Mumford, but I’m not entirely sure whether he was applying it to marriage or to church relationships.  It’s true either way:  God gives us the person we need, not the person we might want.  Mumford did say that God made one man and one woman, and they’re very different.  That’s an important part of it.  God is working to form you into his child; your spouse is part of that process, pressing you to become more loving.  That means it will sometimes be difficult–as someone has said, it’s easy to love those that are lovely, but God calls us to love when we really don’t feel loving at all.  You’re not always going to be happy with His choice, but ultimately His choice is going to be best for forming you into who you ought to be, and thus for your ultimate happiness.

  4. The ideal spouse is an illusion, and the more so when you think that it is some spouse other than the one you already have.

    C. S. Lewis addressed this somewhere, noting that to some degree the fact that you have been married has already been part of the process that makes this person your “other half”.  Be married to someone for a week, and both of you change–maybe not in the ways either of you wishes, but the process has begun.  That process is rocky, sometimes painful, sometimes seemingly counterproductive, but it is moving both of you toward what God wants you to be.

    Meanwhile, the axiom that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence does not mean that it is, but that it appears to be so.  When you look at your reality, you see the bad parts; when you look at your fantasy, you see the good.  The fantasy is unlikely to be as good as the reality.  For one thing, you will be bringing your self into the next relationship, and you have just as much potential to spoil that one as you had to spoil this one, plus a bit more because you have added a track record for failure in the first relationship.  If you could not make the first marriage work, you have less chance to succeed with the second.

    It is true that the percentage of marriages which end in divorce has been rising over the years.  However, part of that is because second marriages are less likely to survive than first ones, and third marriages less than seconds.  Your best shot at long-term marriage is usually your first one.  If you let that break, you prove that you are the kind of person who will let your marriage break.

  5. The way forward in life is always into God.  If our direction is taking us closer to God, it is moving us forward; if it is the right way forward, it will take us further into God.  That often can help as a measure of which is the right path, as if we can see that one path takes us toward and the other away from God we can be pretty certain that if we’re seeing it clearly the former is the right choice.  It also should be seen as assurance:  if this is the right path, whatever it looks like from here, it is going to bring us closer to God.  God says that He hates divorce.  As a rule of thumb, then, breaking a marriage is moving away from God, and affirming one is moving toward God.

  6. You are going to have to give up your expectations.

    You probably will say that you don’t really have any expectations, but that’s not really possible.  You formed an image of what a marriage is like, of how it works, from the relationships of your parents and other adults among whom you were raised.  You are to some degree going to emulate that, and to some degree reject it; but similarly you are going to expect that your spouse has some of the same expectations about how it works as you do–and your spouse is going to have different expectations, for both of you.

    That means the wife is not just going to fall into the role the husband expects, and the husband is not automatically going to be what the wife expects.  Here are some “typical” clashes:

    • Each party has a belief about which of them manages the money and pays the bills.  Sometimes they won’t agree, and money is one of the top tensions in marriages.  Even when it is agreed as to which of you will balance the checkbook and cover the regular bills, there is still going to be an issue concerning the control of the “extra” money–what do you have to do to be able to buy yourself a new outfit, or a quick lunch?  Your parents probably had systems for this, but it is probably not the case that you both grew up with the same system.
    • In some houses, the man is expected to fix anything that breaks, because that’s what men do; in other houses, if something breaks you call a repairman or buy a replacement.  This is a simple example, but your relationship will be filled with things each of you thought, without ever considering it or recognizing that you thought this, was the way it would work.
    • It has gotten more complicated.  In today’s world, we cannot assume we know who washes the dishes, or who cooks the dinners.  Child care expectations are no longer simple.  There are also cultural expectations.  Interracial marriages mean cross-cultural marriages, which means that his family and her family both have ideas about what a bride or a groom ought to be and do, and they are not going to match.  You both will find yourself trying to explain to your extended families that this is not how things work in your spouse’s family, and that you have to adjust–without making them think you married someone who does not know how to be your spouse.  Complicating it, you probably are not completely convinced that your family is wrong.  After all, that’s how it worked when you were younger.
    • Then there are the wealth of holidays.  It is not even just which holidays you celebrate, but how you celebrate them.  Do you have a Christmas Tree?  Is it cut, balled, or artificial?  Does it go up the day after Thanksgiving, or the last weekend in Advent, or Christmas Eve?  When and how does it come down?  On what holidays do you have a big dinner, and on which ones is snacking the order of the day?  You expect that such celebrations will continue as they did when you were young, but so does your spouse, and there’s not a very high probability that those expectations will match.

    These are just obvious ones.  The point is that you expect each other to be and do certain things, and you expect that you yourself will fall into a specific role, and the role you envision for yourself is not going to match the one envisioned by your spouse.  That’s normal.  All of us take years figuring out how to make our relationships work, and you should not expect less for yourselves.

  7. This was actually one of the first things I realized, and one of the hardest to apply; I still fail at this frequently.  You must learn to express your love in two languages–the one you understand, and the one your spouse understands.

    Near the end of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye starts singing to his wife Goldie a song that asks, “Do you love me?”  Her first reaction amounts to, what kind of question is that and why are you asking me this now, but they have had three daughters reject parental guidance and marry for love (and a slippery slope it proved to be, as the first married a good Jewish boy and the third a gentile Marxist).  Ultimately, though, she lists all the ordinary household chores she has done for him, like cooking and cleaning and washing, along with bearing and raising his children, so she concludes that that she must love him:  “I suppose I do.”  He replies, “And I suppose I love you.”

    We learn two things from this; the first is about speaking two languages.

    You think that all those things you do, which on some level you are doing for your spouse and which on some level that fact that you are doing them means your spouse does not have to do them, is expressing your love.  Whether it’s going to work, paying the bills, cleaning the house, making the meals, raising the children, maintaining the yard, driving, shopping, washing, repairing, whatever it is you do, you do it, on some level, because of love, and you think that’s understood.  Your spouse thinks the same thing about everything of which you are spared because your spouse handles it.  Yet you don’t see that as an expression of love for you.  In fact, at least sometimes you think that your spouse likes to do those things.  It does not occur to you that he hates driving, she hates laundry, but does it because of love for you.  On the other hand, it sometimes occurs to you that you are doing the driving, the laundry, because of love.  You are expressing love in a language you understand.  That is important, because it reminds you that you love this person, and will do this because of that.  However, your expression of love is not being heard.

    You need to speak the other language, the language that will be understood.  Michelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, sings Paul McCartney–in French, Michelle, my lovely, are the words which go very well together.  Most of us do not need to learn another spoken language; but we do need to communicate in a way that our spouse recognizes as an expression of love–whether it’s flowers and candy or dinner and a movie, or breakfast in bed or a sporting event, or simply saying the right words at the right time, the unexpected display of affection, some way of letting that person know that there is love here.

    It also helps if you can learn to perceive the expression of love your spouse is constantly making in the language you don’t understand.  It’s probably there, and it is a mystery to the other person why you don’t realize it, just as you don’t understand why your expressions of love go unrecognized.

  8. The other thing we learn from Tevye and Goldie is that for the purpose of marriage love is not primarily somethng you feel; it is something you choose and do.  Throughout history in most of the world, marriages were arranged:  families chose brides for grooms and grooms for brides.  It is really the “normal” way; selecting your own spouse is only a recent and limited practice.  That means that most people learned over time how to love, or show love to, spouses who were selected for them by someone else.  It is not really that difficult to decide to love your spouse.  In the modern world, most people in arranged marriages will tell you yes, they do love their spouses.  It is a choice you make.  Feelings are too erratic to be the basis for commitment, but they will follow from decision.

  9. In I Corinthians 7:32ff Paul comments that the unmarried man worries about pleasing the Lord but the married man worries about pleasing his woman, and then says the same (gender reversed) about the unmarried and married women.  What is interesting is that Paul does not say that this is wrong; rather, he seems to be indicating that if you are married, pleasing your spouse is (at least) as important to you as pleasing the Lord, and that’s as it ought to be.  Sure, he says that it is better not to marry for that reason, but he also says that for most people it is better to marry, and that means that for most people there is that one person in life, the spouse, who matters as much as Christ.  We don’t like to think of it that way, but Paul says that we act that way, and he does not condemn us for it.  Spouses are important.

I was developing this for a “permanent” web page in the Bible and Theology section of the site, but decided that that was not the best way to do it.  That’s partly because when I had eight points I kept thinking of a ninth and then forgetting it before I had the chance to write it down, and then while I was trying to think of it I remembered the one that falls ninth here, which I know is not the one I kept forgetting.  I conclude two things from this.

The first is that no matter how many things I remember and put in this page, I am going to miss something, something that undoubtedly helped me through one of the true rough spots in my life and marriage, and I’m going to wish I had included it.  I could hold the page until I died, and still not manage to include everything.  I thus hope these points will help you now, and perhaps before we reach our fiftieth (should we both live so long) I’ll post a few more.

The second is that I am not always going to remember all of these points–and neither are you.  Make note of them, come back and read them again (as long as we manage to keep the site online through your support), and think about them more than just on the read-through.  They are all worth remembering; they will all help keep your marriage together a little longer.

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