It’s a moment I will never forget—the first time I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple deeply in love. I had my shiny credentials from the government allowing me to solemnise weddings and I had been eagerly looking forward to saying some of those classic lines. For example, “Dearly beloved we are gathered here today . . .” This is a line I have used many times since, or “If anyone objects to this marriage speak now or forever hold your peace.” Actually, it turned out that last one isn’t required in Australia and honestly, why would you invite that kind of trouble at a wedding? The couple excitedly came to me asking me to solemnise their wedding and as they sat before me tenderly exchanging glances, fingers entwined, I could sense their excite- ment. When I asked if they were sure they wanted to get married, they both shyly smiled and uttered a quiet but excited “yes!”
Since that moment I’ve done many more marriages and I’ve learned a few things about marriage and love. Some of them have been surprising, but the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to believe in marriage.
I believe in marriage!
How does that statement sound to you? Obvious? Well, who wouldn’t believe in marriage? you might be thinking. Surprisingly, a lot of people have lost trust in one of humanity’s oldest institutions. If that’s the case, maybe that statement struck you as somewhat naïve. Perhaps you are thinking, how can you still believe in something that is statistically destined to end in financial and emotional ruin and heartbreak? Given the statistics on marriage I think that’s a fair question.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and some of the comments on my Facebook post were expressing the sentiment that reaching 20 years of marriage is something of a rare occurrence. I remember when I was a kid, divorce was rare in my small hometown but in the mid-1970s after no-fault divorce was made law in Australia, the rate skyrocketed. The media shouted scary statistics about marriage and divorce which was enough to put anyone off tying the knot. Now interestingly, the divorce rate in Australia has slightly declined from 2.8 divorces per 1000 people in 1999 to 1.9 divorces per 1000 people in 2019. Recent trends seem to show that millennials are more likely to be married and baby boomers more likely to be divorced. At the same time, the divorce rate is seemingly dropping in part because the marriage rate is also dropping. But I still believe in marriage!
it’s good for you
Why, you may ask? Well, to start with, marriage can be good for your health. Married people are less likely to die early, and live longer, overall. If you are married you are more likely to survive cancer, and men who have never married are three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Being married means your brain works better, gives a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and can improve your blood sugar. Why do married people reap such benefits? Researchers speculate that in part it’s because you have someone else invested in your health, caring for you and looking out for early disease warning signs. Couples are more likely to take positive health steps together, like quitting smoking or drinking or exercising together. Being married means you also avoid the negative health consequences of loneliness. The research shows those who cohabit get some of the same benefits, but interestingly they aren’t as effective compared to those who have walked down the aisle.
It turns out marriage is good for more than your health—it is also good for your finances. Married peoples’ net worth increased 77 per cent more than singles. It makes sense that two people would have more money than one, but combining wealth means it increases even more so. Better finances have a host of trickle-down benefits but most significantly on children’s outcomes. Better finances allow the ability to access better healthcare, education and nutrition. These aren’t the only reason kids with married parents do better. The statistics show they have an advantage.
But there’s a caveat on all these wonderful benefits that marriage provides: the marriage needs to be a happy one. If it isn’t, then it can have a negative impact on those areas instead of a beneficial one. But I still believe in marriage!
an ancient covenant
I believe God wants the best for us and from the very start, God said “it is not good for a person to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It’s for that reason Genesis says a man and a woman separate from their parents’ house- holds and join to make a new one. Adam and Eve are described as being “one flesh” which sounds odd—but it is a way to show how marriage is a joining that makes the two into one, indistinguishable, united by love.
While it’s easy to have an ideal of what marriage should be, God also understands that marriage is messy. I see some people saying on social media that there are many different kinds of marriage in the Bible and that perhaps they should be valid today as well. One example is what people call a polygamous relationship, where there are more than two people involved. I’ve seen Abraham pointed to as an example of this kind of relationship with the implication that God approves of it. It’s true Abraham had at least two wives. However, when you read into the stories around it, it becomes clear that Abraham took one of those wives in an attempt to fulfil a prophecy about his wife Sarah. God told Abraham that he would father a great nation and imagining his wife was too old for the job, decided to have a child with his Egyptian maid Hagar (all with Sarah’s knowledge). Of course, because God had said Sarah would have a child, she ended up giving birth to Isaac after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Sarah promptly kicked them both out in favour of her own son. God cared for Hagar though, and promised Hagar that He would protect Ishmael and would raise up a nation under him as well. Isaac is considered one of the forefathers of the Jewish nation and Ishmael of the Arab nations. While it wasn’t ideal, God was understanding and compassionate. It certainly wasn’t a marriage I would want to emulate today. I also believe God understands when a marriage doesn’t work out. He doesn’t give up on it.
God’s affirmation of marriage is all through the Bible. There are commands to not send the newly married man out to war or to do public service so he and his wife can enjoy their new life (Deuteronomy 24:5). A spouse is praised as a good thing (Proverbs 18:22), they will help you overcome difficulties in life (Ecclesiastes 4:12) and couples are to submit to each other in mutual love (Ephesians 5:21). It may be difficult but marriage is still worth pursuing.
While solemnising marriages, I have met people from all kinds of backgrounds. Single, married before, still married, married multiple times before, couples who have lived together for many years before marrying, some marrying within their faith, others marrying across all kinds of barriers. The one unifying element of course is the love they had for one another. It is a joy to solemnise marriages because it is a way for a couple to express hope in a messy world, and to acknowledge that love can lift us up above the mess. I think it’s an incredible gift from God, and I learn more about it whenever I officiate another wedding.
You see, that time I was asked to solemnise a marriage with that shy yet eager couple, rather than being young folk in their 20s, they were well into the winter of their lives and in their 70s. One of them had already been married and abandoned, the other single all his life. To make things even more complicated, one of them had a terminal illness which would take his life only two weeks after the small wedding ceremony at their home. They knew it was coming, but both knew that marriage meant something, and that being joined together in marriage was an affirmation to the world about their love for each other and their conviction that God wanted the best of love for them. As I solemnised the marriage, we all knew what was ahead, but we cheered and celebrated. The couple kissed, we feasted together and took photos, because on this day love still won. And that’s why I still believe in marriage!
Justin Bone supports and trains pastors and congregations around Victoria, Australia, for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is passionate about helping people understand the Bible better.