I was meeting with someone this week who cohabits with someone of the opposite sex. They live in the same apartment, have sex together, and act like they are married. But they are not married, by their own admission. This person asked me, "What is marriage, anyway?" By the look on their face I could tell they really wanted to know. Here are some things I told them, plus a few other points I'd like to make.
- Marriage is covenant; co-habiting is not. At least not from God's POV. Which is important to all of us who follow after Jesus. Co-habiting outside of covenant is not a Jesus-thing.
- Marriage, Jesus-style, is a covenant-welding-together of a man and a woman. When Jesus says "What God has brought together, let no man tear asunder," the biblical Greek word for "brought together" is: "welding."
- Marriage, which is the total God-designed thing from beginning to end, is a holy thing, in God's eyes. The sexual intercourse act is holy. "Holy" means "set apart." Sexual intercourse is to be set apart for God-welded marriage covenant relationship.
- When I married Linda 36 1/2 years ago (!!!), we stood together in front of our parents, our families, and our closest friends. And, we stood before God. We life-committed to one another. God sealed our marital union. We spoke vows to one another. We have held to our vows. All of this fits in with Jesus' idea about "What God has welded together..." Real marriage is a God-welding. Don't mess with it, or try to tear it apart.
- I meet co-habiters who are afraid of commitment. In general, out of my experience, a lot of co-habiting is done precisely out of fear. If the co-habiting shack-uppers claim to be "Christians," they will often try to justify their co-habiting with an exhibition of outrageous hermeneutical tricks re. the biblical text. I have personally heard some of these arguments, which cause my jaw to drop in wonder and utter, "Are you serious?"
- The fearful mistrust of the co-habiter is rooted in some deep stuff. Perhaps their parents split. So, the main model of marital union failed before their eyes. This kind of thing can build a deep mistrust.
- I've met some co-habiters who are, I think, caught up in the current snowball effect of rampant cohabitation. Seeing so many who shack up together for a season justifies their own psyche. If "everyone" is doing it, I don't feel so bad about it.
- I have known a number of male co-habiters who just want to have free sex without lifelong covenant commitment. As soon as "problems" start, they are out of there. If kids are produced this is an especially sad situation.
- Some people are just so flat-out desperate for love that they'll live with anyone who will have sex with them and tell them "I love you."
- I have to add that I've also seen a lot of marriages fail. They should not have. All divorce is failure. Again, if children are involved, this is so sad. But the co-habiter will be illogical should she then reason: 1) A lot of marriages fail. 2) Therefore, God doesn't mind if I live with someone extra-covenantally if we stay together longer than some marriages. I don't think so. The failure of a number of "Christian" marriages is precisely because one or both partners fail to follow Christ. This unfortunate situation does not change God's mind about covenant marriage.
"Cohabitation, once rare, is now the norm: The researchers found that more than half (54 percent) of all first marriages between 1990 and 1994 began with unmarried cohabitation. They estimate that a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship. ... Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages and that instabililty is increasing, the study found."
I am not surprised by this. I've met a lot of people who have been married for decades. I rarely meet a co-habiting couple that stays together that long. But from the Jesus POV, for all of us who love Jesus and follow after him on his Kingdom mission, statistics do not ultimately matter. For us, even if 99.999% of the world cohabited, our question remains: "God, what have you designed for us?" The answer remains, as it always has: Covenant-welded marriage. I think there is something noble and heroic about life-commiting before God and family and friends, and then staying together and growing together through better times and worse times. Increasingly, I view such couples as radical, revolutionary, as heroes.