In Defense of Young Marriage.

Any time I meet someone new, whether they be a guest at work or a friend of a friend, as soon as they find out that I am married there is a 90 percent chance that I will be asked “Aren’t you a little young to be married?” Now many who ask me this question are genuinely interested in my story, such as why we chose to get married so young. But there is a certain strain of person who asks me this question condescendingly, with that half-smirk so common amongst the particularly enlightened members of our society. These men (it is so rarely a woman) pose the question already knowing the answer: Of course I’m far too young to be married! And I always respond to this question from these people the same way: “Says who?”

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t be so juvenile, Johnny. After all, you are quite a bit younger than the average married couple.” But this isn’t a juvenile question at all, it’s a very serious inquiry. Without a clear understanding of what the standards are for marriage we cannot answer questions like “what is marriage?” and “who is marriage for?” or “is there an optimal age to get hitched?” So the question “says who?” is one of authority: Who defines a marriage?

Now I have had various and sundry answers to this question, but most boil down to this: Marriage is primarily defined by the desires of the self. This is not surprising. We’ve been culturally catechized by everyone from The Beatles to Taylor Swift to Eminem to Kanye West to Justin Bieber that love, relationships, and interaction is primarily about me, myself, and I. Our culture has perverted love from being a verb — a giving of oneself for the good of another person — to being primarily a feeling — the biochemical high I get from being near someone attractive. Even worse, love and lust have become synonymous. And if marriages are based on this definition of love, of course I’m far too young to be married. After all, I haven’t had enough sexual partners to know what I really like in the bedroom. And I haven’t known my wife long enough to know for sure that she’s not going to contradict my personal preferences at some point down the line.

And maybe I am relatively young, but I’ve realized something: The world doesn’t revolve around me. This is why I don’t seek to redefine marriage to suit my preferences. Marriage is not a casual relationship I can cast off in divorce if I don’t like how it’s going. It’s not an institution I can disregard by participating in sexual activity outside of the marriage bed. Marriage is not about finding a mate who caters to our every whim. Marriage is about finding someone to love — not shallow pop-song love, but to truly love them every day in the giving of ourselves to and for them. It’s a formative relationship, maturing both individuals in the relationship. It’s the foundation of the family unit, preparing the way for children.

And so we meet with two opposing views of marriage. The first, marriage is about who I am and what I want. It’s my right to marry who I want, when I want, without question (except, ironically, when you’re as young as I am). Marriage can be between whoever, for whatever amount of time, and it can end for whatever reason. You’ll notice that this definition of marriage rests squarely on the shoulders of each individual. We could call this relativistic marriage.

The second view, and the view I hold to adamantly, is that marriage is not about me getting what I want but about giving someone what they need. Marriage is a responsibility to which I am called, not a right that I demand. Marriage is about serving others, not about being served. Marriage is not primarily about love as a rush of chemicals to the head, but about love as an action word. On this view, the definition of marriage rests beyond us, in something greater than us. I would point to Ephesians 5:25 which paints marriage as a picture of the love of Christ and His Church. We could thus call this revealed marriage.

On the first view, I admit, young marriage doesn’t make much sense. I doubt anyone could argue that the best way to serve their sexuality or independence would be by getting married young. But I would submit that the first view of marriage as defined by the self is deeply flawed. And, on the second view, because marriage is not about me or my desires but about best serving God, my wife, my future children, and my community, young marriage becomes just as normative and advisable (if not more so, in some cases) than later marriages.

Because relativistic marriage holds that marriage is ultimately defined by our expectations, desires, and ideals, and because these things vary from person to person, on the first view the word “marriage” actually becomes meaningless, simply because it means too much. It is very interesting then to hear someone who holds this view of marriage condescendingly question my age. After all, why shouldn’t I get married young, especially if it makes me happy? This instinct belies the fact that ultimately, people recognize the truth of revealed marriage even if they prefer relativistic marriage. People inherently understand that for marriage to mean anything it must mean a specific kind of thing; they even have a vague idea of what that kind of thing is. But we reject revealed marriage because it means that this specific kind of thing will not necessarily be what we wish it would be — it’s easier just to remake marriage as we would have it, rather than as it is.

But if marriage is primarily a formative, others-centered relationship of active love, does it make sense to enter into such a relationship at a young age? Of course it does. First, the sooner any character building event takes place in life, the deeper the character that is built. If in my marriage I will experience a depth of maturation that only this kind of relationship produces, why wait? Second, if marriage is about children, family, and society, then by entering into a young marriage my wife and I will have more opportunity to mature and prepare ourselves as parents. Young marriage allows us to prepare to raise a family together, rather than risking a child out of wedlock or having less time to prepare for children once we’re married later in life. And finally, and most importantly, marriage iconifies Christ and His Church. As such, it is a strong cause of spiritual formation and maturation, through which the Father forms us ever more into the image of His Son.

I will probably deal with this question for the rest of my life. And each time I am asked, I will challenge the premise that there’s such a thing as “young” marriage. What do you think?

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5 Comments

Filed under Christology, Personal

5 responses to “In Defense of Young Marriage.

  1. Julia

    I see that you are defending “young” marriage, if such a term exists (heck, Mary married Joseph probably when she was 16!) and it makes sense since marriage does build character.

    Yet what about couples who cannot have children? Is their definition of marriage then invalid? I don’t doubt that marriage is quite a sanctifying process but I also think some people are simply rushing too much and not ready at all. Just as you said, chasing for the highs.

    And then there are others who marry simply because it’s the “right” time to do so and they end up with someone who may be unequally unyoked. Which begs the question then, if marriage is not about what you need but about what the other needs, when do you start becoming a door mat? I’m not sure if such a thought stems from fairness (I give therefore the other must give) or if it is genuine concern for one’s well-being because I have seen wives who just put up with husbands every which way without having a say at all and they’re constantly crying and feeling overwhelmed. I guess there are different definitions on what it means to give your life to another person.

    It’s something I ask too: is marriage simply molding yourself to fulfill the needs of the other person? Husbands are to imitate Christ and wives are to submit but we can’t be Christ. We can’t satisfy anyone. We can reflect him (albeit poorly) but I feel if husband and wife only look to each other for fulfillment, sanctification and maturation, they are severely lacking in what Christ has to offer. And above all, they have forgotten that it is Christ whom they should please first and in whom they should find fulfillment first! I think if anything, the wife and husband should encourage the other in pursuit of the Lord for this is the greatest calling of any life.

    I think there are many different ways that God will bring someone up whether that means an “early” marriage or a “late” marriage (or none of the above) and I think either one is both sanctifying and painful in its own ways. I think, like with anything we do, it takes a lot of faith to let God have the last say and surrender ourselves to that verdict.

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    • Well, when I talk about what people “need,” I don’t mean what people think they need. It’s not a felt-need kind of situation. I mean that when my wife is struggling with something, I don’t just make things easier — I give her what she needs (encouragement in Godly things, discouragement in unwise decisions, etc) and I iconify Christ in how He loved the church. I hope that clarifies a bit on that matter!

      Because marriages ultimate purpose is not children but being image bearers of Christ, couples who God has not granted children too are still fulfilling the purpose of marriage.

      As for people who marry for the wrong reasons, God can still redeem that. They must repent of their selfish thinking about marriage and start thinking about it like God does, but God has changed plenty of hearts and minds about marriage. Why would He stop now?

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  2. I just think it’s great that you tagged “Eminem”, “Justin Bieber”, and “Kanye West”. Haha.

    In all reality…great truth.

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  3. Alex

    Thank you so much for this article!
    As my girflriend and I pursue marriage together, I’ve been asked this plenty of times by people at my work. I’m only twenty and I find myself surrounded with nonbelievers all the other time and this is literally the first thing that comes out of their faces. The Lord has blessed her in that she has been raised in a Christian family and been very much active in the local body surrounded by godly teaching and fellowship. My family on the other hand is broken and remarried (my mom has been married now three times.)
    I usually just tell people that it ends up being a matter of maturity, but much more like this because it has a clear path to the gospel. I just hope and pray that I don’t come off as arrogant and closed-minded as I tell people about this.

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  4. I’ll be married in six months and I will be twenty. When people see my ring they think it is merely a fashion statement. They fail to understand what is carved within it: 1st Peter 3:3-4:

    “Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

    It is in my obedience to God that I marry at this age, not for fulfilling my own desires but to help minister to my spouse in only the way a wife can to her husband. I am not losing out on “living life” (seriously!?) because I have so much going for me on my own…I am nothing on my own, no amount of education or status or financial stability will change that. I rely on God for direction and my spiritual leader on this earth is my soon-to-be husband.

    I don’t like the sarcastic comments and questions that I hear so often, “You haven’t finished school yet?”, “Don’t you want to experience the world first?”, or my favorite, “But you look fourteen!”. I will finish college months after the wedding, experience the world with my spouse, and look dang good going on all our adventures together in our young age.

    I admire your boldness Johnny and Olivia to marry young and begin your life together in obedience and reverence to God. The lessons you learn ministering to one another and practicing selflessness and forgiveness while surpass a life full of “living” by the world’s standards. God bless you on our journey!

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