Some years ago, an advice columnist was besieged by e-mails from priests, pastors, and rabbis who wanted to cease performing marriage ceremonies. Most of the couples getting married were irreligious and ill-behaved, as were their (often inebriated) guests. The clergy were seeing certain brides or grooms over and over, as they dissolved their marriages and tried again.
The institution of marriage has certainly lost its way. We see “starter marriages,” repeating marriages, open marriage, or cohabitation without marriage, gay marriage, etc.
In response, there is a hue and cry from religious conservatives to uphold “traditional marriage.” But what is traditional marriage? Professors from the College of Family Life at Brigham Young University have explained that even our view of traditional marriage is off-kilter.
We tend to view traditional marriage as a loyal bond between a man and a woman who have been legally wed in either a civil court or church. They have children, and they raise those children in a happy home. The parents do their best to provide an education for their children, to teach them how to be good citizens, and to discover and magnify their talents. However, this is the American view of the traditional family, and this is the family of the 1930’s through the 1950’s of U.S. history. This is not the biblical idea of the traditional family.
Let’s begin with Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24). When it came time for Isaac to marry, his parents, Abraham and Sarah, sent their most responsible servant, Eliezer, to the land of their kinsfolk to find a worthy wife for Isaac. They were looking for a worthy daughter of God, a righteous girl from the line of covenant people. No heathen wife would do for Isaac, for all his posterity would surely go astray because of her influence. Isaac held the birthright to continue the Abrahamic covenant, and his was the only lineage chosen to continue it.
This was not a marriage based on chemistry. Isaac never met Rebekah until she “lighted off her camel” (which in itself shows remarkable grace) at his doorstep. Eliezer had gone to the home of their relatives and asked for signs from God to show him the girl Isaac should marry. When the idea was presented to Rebekah, she was willing to go off with Eliezer, a stranger, to a strange place, to marry a man she’d never met. Why? Because the Holy Ghost had witnessed to her that this was her destiny; it was the right thing to do with her life. When the Holy Ghost acts as a match-maker, and young people are attuned to listening to his promptings, great things can happen. Instead of comparing a suitor to one’s list of desired attributes, or jumping in when there is “chemistry,” the Lord Himself tells you that this is the person for you. And not only that. The Lord tells you that this is the person for you FOREVER.
While our more recent idea of traditional marriage has us searching for our soul mates, this ancient example has us counseling with the Lord to find our best match. Isaac and Rebekah evidently fell in love very quickly after they met, but they may not have been soulmates. Isaac loved their son Esau, an adventurous and rebellious hunter; Rebekah favored Jacob, a plain and righteous son, a sheep-herder, showing a basic difference husband and wife. When we qualify our mates as soulmates, we leave ourselves open to disappointment and constant searching, perhaps even multiple marriages. We begin with an immediate handicap, because men and women tend to think and see things differently, and it’s difficult for them to be soulmates. We may have all sorts of other qualifications we’re hoping for, too. Is the spouse athletic enough, adventurous enough, smart enough, social enough, orderly enough, etc. But these things may not matter to the Lord or to the Holy Ghost (the match-maker), if the spouse has qualities that will make you more God-like.
It was pretty fortunate for Isaac and Rebekah that they were so well-suited for each other. The Bible says they “sported” together, and that’s a good sign. But that’s not what they were looking for in each other (though they may have had their hopes), and they would not have dissolved their marriage, had they not enjoyed each other so much.
Why? Because in real biblical traditional marriage, husband and wife are co-servants to the marriage covenant. It’s the covenant that is the most important thing, and husband and wife serve it together. This point of view smoothes out a lot of problems and makes them trivial. It doesn’t so much matter if your husband fails to put his clothes away, if he is honestly striving to serve the covenant and honor his wife.
This view changes the orientation of the children, as well. Children are servants of the family covenant, and as such, they are supposed to uphold the family and help it succeed. In America, our families are raising pampered consumers, not servants of the family covenant. Some people are aware that according to the Law of Moses, disobedient children could be stoned by their parents. There is no record of this punishment ever being carried out (the parents had to throw the first stone), but the children got the idea that the family covenant was more important than their own selfish desires.
The view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that a man and a woman are not without each other in the Lord. In other words, the very highest kingdom of heaven is reserved for eternally-married couples. Male and female characteristics are very different from each other, and sometimes it’s irritating and discouraging to try to bring them into sync. But it must be done. For the male and female attributes t