For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
Do you ever wonder if the twentieth century saw all the fabric of social institutions come unraveled so that nothing is an established norm anymore? And perhaps foremost among them is the meaning of marriage. Between 1970 and 1980 the number of unwed couples living together more than tripled, but that was just the beginning.
Between 1990 and the turn of the century, the number of unwed partners jumped another 72%, and what is equally distressing is that what is happening is pretty much of a universal phenomenon which cuts across religious beliefs, ethnic lines, age, and national boundaries.
Researcher George Barna says that born-again Christians are cohabitating without marriage slightly less than those with no faith; however, he says they are just as likely to divorce. Catholics, his research suggests, are living together in even greater numbers and also experiencing broken homes in even greater numbers.
This, of course, brings a big question into focus, one that has by-and-large been neglected. It is this: What does marriage mean? Is it an outmoded institution? Was the young woman right when she told me, "Why bother with getting married? A license is only a piece of paper. It's what we have in our hearts that is important.”
There is one thing for sure, something which cannot be ignored. From the beginning of history men and women have by some ceremony, some act of public commitment and celebration, marking the same by the giving and receiving of something--a ring, a necklace, a piece of fabric, property or food--come together in what has been termed a wedding.
It was religious, social, public and personal. Moses, as the great lawgiver, recorded that in the beginning, God instructed that a man leave his father and mother and be joined together as one flesh. No, the couple didn't say, "I, Lamech, take you, Adah, to be my lawfully wedded wife," but archaeologists will tell you that among some of the earliest written documents coming from the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley where civilization probably began, are wedding contracts which spell out in rather significant details the agreement of the bride and groom. These documents were considered legal and binding--not simply promises whispered in a moment of passion.
True, there have always been deviations from the norm, yet the structure of marriage endured. In Roman days homosexuality was so prevalent and the meaning of marriage so diluted that only in Jewish or Christian communes was marriage passed from generation to generation with celebration and meaning. "Every known society has prescribed marriage as the normal and accepted way of expressing adult love and of establishing a family. From the earliest times, marriage has been an important part of man's legal and religious systems.
Authority on the family, Dr. Paul Popenoe, said, "No nation survives without it. The basic elements in marriage are matters of social survival. People who want to abolish marriage and family life want to abolish themselves."
The number of children who have never known a father, the growing mountain of statistics which say it doesn't work, and the growing isolation and loneliness of jilted lovers, to say nothing of the irresponsibility of males who walk out the door leaving broken hearts and families behind, unite in one heart-rending cry of "It just doesn't work!"
While marriage doesn't always work, it is still the relationship that provides the greatest protection for children and women, and the most satisfying for couples, ever conceived by the human mind. But the reality is, humankind didn't think up the concept of marriage; it came from the drawing board of heaven and is still God's plan for humankind.
Resource reading: Genesis 2:18-25