Columnists > Voices

Marriage proposal

Finding the right reasons to tie the knot

Issue: "The cost of war," Feb. 15, 2003

A FRIEND OF MINE, A TRUE BROTHER IN CHRIST, recently suggested it would be prudent for me to remarry-and he had a prospect. The phone call put my little brain in a tizzy for about two days. But even as I finally declined the offer to meet Mr. X, I could not help but feel a certain admiration for my friend's approach, his practical, swimming-upstream-of-culture approach.

I have learned only one thing about marriage that I didn't know 23 years ago when I first tied the knot, and here it is: People get married for reasons. That would seem to be a truth too banal to mention. Nevertheless, it has been for me a paradigm shift, with subsidiary shifts all over the place: Your child is never angry for no reason, no one just drops by without a purpose, and there is never an insult in jest that does not conceal deep waters of discontent.

Let my wedding present to you young stags and gazelles, itching to leap across the mountains and bound the hills, be to share this insight about reasons, about the hidden calculations of the marriage bargain, which have been all but totally obscured in our generation by the mythos of Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

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The Asians have known it all along. My late Korean-born husband told me about chungmae, or traditional arranged marriage, in which his political clout and her economic wealth are all thrown into the hopper in the presence of a paid matchmaker, and hammered out like any business deal. ("First comes marriage, then comes love.") In a modern variant, my own sister-in-law and her spouse are a happy product of this custom-his contribution being a doctorate in dentistry, and hers a reputation for virtue (i.e., she was a virgin). Hey, it's not my style, but it does have the advantage of bringing out in the open that there are other realities in the world besides endorphin surges.

Dare the Christian be less intentional, less practical, less reason-driven, than the Korean matchmaker? Will he follow God's law in every other sphere of his life ("Do not murder," "Do not steal"), but then mumble vaguely about "Christian liberty" when it comes to the biggest decision of all? For even liberty must have reasons, and if it doesn't, Satan will be happy to suggest some. "Christian liberty does not mean 'do whatever you feel like because the Bible's muddy.' It does mean careful consideration not just of the Bible, but of the particular situation you happen to be in" (Dr. D.C. Davis, professor of history).

Back to John Frame's "triangle" (WORLD, May 18, 2002): First, know the kingdom of God. Second, know the situation. Third, know yourself. Go the entrepreneurial marriage-broker one better and lay all on the table: What is clear in Scripture? What are the goals of the kingdom of God? How would the kingdom be advanced by our matrimonial union? What are my gifts and ministry? What are hers? Would we be more together than apart?

Then down to the nitty-gritty: Does he like to pray? (Don't tell yourself what great prayer times you'll have together once you're married if you never get around to praying now.) Does she see her role as to "do him good and not harm all the days of her life"? (Behold the high and low calling of the wife-neither vaingloriously self-exalted nor lacking in nobility.) Your beloved wants to get married for a reason; find out what it is. You have secret reasons too; find out what they are.

And about triangles, have you configured yourselves in that geometrical form-with God at the top, the primary relationship of each of you, the One who makes the center hold, the One alone to whom you look for fullness when you disappoint each other, as you will? For if there be any other at the apex-whether chungmae economics or Roman Holiday infatuation-they will surely go bad on you. "Love ... begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god" (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

People get married for reasons. You can learn that now before you're married, or you can learn it after the fact-take your pick. Marriage calls for more, not less, hard-nosed examination up front, for sterner stuff than even that possessed by hard-boiled Korean matchmakers. And for my money, the reason must be the kingdom of God.

My friend who called was on that wavelength. We may agree or disagree on the particulars, but we understand each other's language. Young child of God, find someone who speaks that language too, who has good reasons-and marry that person.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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