A few days ago, Karen Swallow Prior posted “The Case for Getting Married Young” over at the Atlantic . She notes the recent trend in which young people increasingly postpone marriage, and she mentions some of the consequences that have come from this shift. Delaying marriage can benefit young career-minded women, and some evidence suggests that it lowers the divorce rate. Prior notes, however, that the news is not all good. Childbirth out of wedlock continues to become more common, and unmarried young people are not as happy as married people.
In the article Prior provides anecdotal evidence in support of marrying young:
Looking back over a marriage of nearly three decades, I am thankful that I married before going down that road. Now as a college-educated, doctorate-holding woman, I can attest that marrying young (at age 19) was most beneficial: to me, to my husband, and to the longevity of our marriage. Our achievements have come, I am convinced, not despite our young marriage, but because of it.
She claims that we ought to view marriage as a “cornerstone” for life rather than a “capstone.”
She discusses the trials and victories that she and her husband experienced together, and my experience is similar to hers. I married relatively young and managed to get three graduate degrees while married. Marriage provided my wife and me an anchor that helped us focus on our goals while we were in our twenties. I have heard numerous examples from friends and family who claim that marriage improved either their grades or their careers.
Most importantly Prior and her husband became adults in the context of marriage, instead of coming into the marriage as fully formed individuals. Prior sees this as a distinct advantage of the marrying-young model. Marriage becomes more than just the sum of two parts. Marriage becomes a transformative institution that benefits the spouses, their children, and society as a whole.
Prior’s article merely looks at marrying young from a sociological perspective, but her idea has theological implications. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Paul claims that the marriage relationship symbolizes the relationship between Christ and his church. How should this affect our view of the proper timing of marriage?
Many Christians postpone marriage in order to finish their education or solidify their career. I have heard many people say that they needed to put off marriage until they had enough money to pay for their dream wedding. Culture says to delay marriage until you get your act together, but when we postpone marriage for these reasons we are implicitly denying the gospel.
Christians do not come to Christ with their act together. They come to Christ broken, and being wed to him in the context of the church transforms them. When someone tries to come to Christ as a finished product, he or she is not actually coming to Christ at all. If marriage really is a picture of Christ and his church, then we should embrace the idea of marrying before we are “ready.” We should expect that the transformative power of marriage will turn young, penniless, uneducated people into contributing members of society, just like we expect the transformative power of Christ to turn broken, sinful, blind people into a splendid church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.