January 27, 2007

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 12)

PART XII: Chapter 11 - "A Few More 'Easy' Answers" (Including a Few from Mrs. Maken)

With Chapter 11, Debbie Maken concludes the second major portion of her book Getting Serious about Getting Married. This short chapter focuses on a series of statements that Mrs. Maken terms "'easy' answers." Supposedly, these are "answers" often used to rebuff the concerns Christian singles raise about getting married. What follows is my own commentary, given partially in response to Mrs. Maken's reply to the "answers":

1. "You have to be the right person to meet the right person."

Mrs. Maken is correct in taking this mantra to task. While a modicum of maturity is necessary for marriage, human beings are not perfect (not even for each other). Our world is full of mediocre people who have somehow managed to find loyal mates while more mature people go without spouses. And as far as being the "right person" is concerned, I think self-improvement is best undertaken for its own value and not for pleasing a member of the opposite sex.

2. "It's better to be single than to wish you were." ("Marriage is hard.")

I agree with this statement. Mrs. Maken, on the other hand, has an interesting response: "Life is hard. So is work, so is having a baby, so is parenting, so is being alone. Their are trade-offs in every station of life--challenges and benefits" (p. 138). Indeed. I therefore wonder why Mrs. Maken and others portray marriage in so lofty a manner as if no other mode of existence can bring one happiness.

Mrs. Maken goes on to mention that people should look to happily married Christian couples as a form of encouragement. She also avers, "We cannot pretend that a good marriage is a random, luck-of-the-draw event, and so it's better to avoid marriage as a solution" (Ibid.). Yet we cannot deny that there are a lot of people who are unhappily married as well. Granted, Mrs. Maken is correct in saying that a good marriage is not an accident, but there are many good people who still have difficult marriages for all their effort and best intentions. People cannot predict the changes that will occur in fortune, their mates, or themselves. It is utterly foolish to think that marriage is game of fixed rules wherein one can "beat the odds" by sheer skill (Eccl. 9:11). Making wise decisions can reduce some risks, but not all of them.

3. "As soon as you stop looking, you'll find the right person."

To some extent, I can see why Mrs. Maken takes issue with this statement. Passivity is not going to get one closer to matrimony. However, I do believe that spending too much time looking for a spouse is not a good idea, either. One should never act out of desperation. For one thing, desperation tends to drive away the very people we want to attract. Secondly, acting out of desperation causes one to make foolish and rash decisions. If the idea of being single for the rest of your life frightens you, then you are making yourself vulnerable to problems down the road through your own fears and passions.

There is no need to waste time casting a net if the fish are not biting. If there are no good prospects for marriage, then one should concentrate on self-improvement in spiritual and temporal matters. Fretting and obsessing over one's singleness is a useless waste of energy. Just as worry cannot change one's hair from white to black, worrying cannot change one's marital status. The command to "seek ye first the kingdom of God" is applicable today as it was thousands of years ago (Matt. 6:33).

4. "You'll get married in God's perfect time so just relax!"

Like Mrs. Maken, I disagree with this idea, but for a different reason. Mrs. Maken's objection focuses on the need for Christians to be proactive in their lives and not wait for God's "perfect time." My objection is that it is presumptuous to assume God has a spouse for us at all in his "perfect time" or otherwise. Everything I have written thus far bears witness to the fact that none of us are entitled to marriage anymore than we are entitled to $100,000. In fact, many marriages will cost at least that much.

5. "My sister got married the other day, and she's thirty-seven."

In response to those who optimistically point to the prospect of later marriages, Mrs. Maken remarks: "Yes, marriages do often happen later in life, but it's hard to know why Laura didn't marry sooner. Will she now have trouble conceiving and having children?" (p. 140). Mrs. Maken raises a valid concern here. Perhaps the woman she mentions may have a problem conceiving. I admit women need to take into account when their prime childbearing years are if they plan to bear children. Of course, there is no biblical mandate that a married woman must get pregnant (although some have misapplied the scriptures to make a case to the contrary).

I note that Mrs. Maken fails to acknowledge the alternative for older couples: adoption. If some religionists really believe children are a blessing and that Christian homes have a part in the spread of God's kingdom, what prevents them from exercising this alternative? The act of adoption by devout Christians has the unique advantage in translating a young soul out of an ungodly environment into a godly one. When religionists unduly focus on procreation as the means by which Christian women celebrate motherhood and by which Christian homes are established, they betray a shallow and narcissistic view of family life. In such a case, one must ask if many of the paeans sung to motherhood are merely window-dressing for emotional self-interest. Family isn't about genetics as much as it is about nurture, training, admonition, and love (Eph. 6:4; Titus 2:4).

In essence, I grant there are probably shortcomings to getting married at a later age, but I have already indicated (and Mrs. Maken has conceded) that there are "trade-offs" for many decisions in life. Getting married young poses it own set of challenges. Don't let Mrs. Maken or others fool you into thinking otherwise.

6. "It's God's will that you are single right now."

Once again, I agree with Mrs. Maken in rejecting this statement, but for a different reason. Someone who says it's God's will that a given person be married or single is essentially claiming a form of special revelation of which the Bible says nothing. Mrs. Maken declares, "Protracted singleness rarely glorifies God and cannot save you, sanctify you, or justify you in God's eyes" (p. 141). I respond that this is no more true than saying the same thing about marriage. In this regard, one's marital status, per se, has little if anything to do with one's standing before God. It's the grace of our Lord and obedience to his revealed word that ultimately matters.

7. "There is no shame in being single."

Obviously, Mrs. Maken doesn't agree with this statement, and obviously I do. Mrs. Maken doesn't say much in response to it in Chapter 11, but she does state that being single is an "abnormal state" (p. 142). Indeed, it is so abnormal that by even by conservative estimates, 39% of women aged 30 or over are single (Michael Medved, "Journalistic Malpractice in 'Marriage is Dead' Report," January 18, 2007, Accessed from www.townhall.com). But seriously, I think I can honestly say it is more abnormal for someone to be engaged in "biblical courtship" than it is to be single. Is the integrity of an action based upon how "normal" or "abnormal" it is?

8. "Dating is fun!"

I agree with Mrs. Maken that many times dating is not fun. Mrs. Maken says it is "unfair to women" (Ibid.). Perhaps it is, although I think some qualifications are in order on that point. At any rate, Mrs. Maken takes this matter up in more detail in the next chapter of her book, and accordingly, the next part of my critique will address what she says there.