I met a woman my age at the local rock climbing gym. Articulate, well-educated, and professionally successful, she’s divorced. We talked about her kids. They’re adults now, pursuing their careers. When she found out that I am a sometime theology professor, she told me she had tried to go to church for a while. “I didn’t want to live for myself.” It didn’t work out. We talked more. Then it was my turn to climb, but before I tied in I told her, “You’re right. It is not good to be alone. Give Jesus another chance.”
I admire my climbing gym friend’s wisdom—and her courage. It’s not easy for someone who is divorced to face up to the spiritual problems the single life poses. Marriage is the most natural thing. Every society puts it at the center of the male-female dance. There are different norms, different patterns, different rituals, but the basic idea remains that same. A permanent bond provides the stable basis for rearing children, a domestic sanctuary in a world that’s often hostile—and the blessed demands that come of sharing life with another, rather than living for oneself.
Marriage is still more. It’s the peace treaty in the war between the sexes. Without a strong culture of marriage, male-female relations become more tentative, more exploitive, more rancorous, and more painful. St. Paul called marriage a mystery. The permanence of marriage—till death do us part—foreshadows the unbreakable bond of love that unites God to us in Christ. When we pledge our faithfulness to another on our wedding day, we’re mocking the changeableness of life, saying that we trust in the covenant of marriage to transcend the weakness of our flesh, the fickleness of our passions, and the fragility of our egos.
It’s an anxious time. Our political culture is shrill, even hysterical. The path forward is hard to see. Thus we have good reason to reflect on one of life’s primeval anchors, marriage. As so much becomes uncertain, we need to enter more deeply into what cannot betray us. Only the supernatural covenant of faith provides us with a surer place to stand.
This spring, First Things will host an intellectual retreat on “The Good of Marriage.” The retreat will be held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Our intellectual retreats feature a lecture and panel discussion. But the main event is a full day of small-group seminars. We want to offer you an opportunity to come together to discuss foundational texts and first principles.
Please join us to discuss marriage. You can register by clicking here.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.