At the end of days, our grandparents and great-grandparents will rise up and ask us, “How did things get so complicated?” For centuries, men and women have met and sparked and—almost inevitably—married, as though the pattern were programmed from the beginning of time—which, in fact, it was. But for the last half-century, “developed” cultures have been drifting away from their solid mooring in marriage and family. Christians rail against marriage innovations, but we’ve also been guilty of a certain hesitation on the threshold of matrimony. The average age of marriage has been rising for everybody, the household of faith included. Anxiety about marriage has increased also, among believers and unbelievers alike. Marriage as an institution is still respected, at least in principle, but actually getting hitched is so scary we’ve become a little paranoid about it.
An article at Slate that encouraged early marriage (like, at the lower end of one’s 20s) generated more than 3,000 comments, most of them ranging from critical to outraged. When Mitt Romney enlarged on some of the same themes during a commencement address at Southern Virginia University, the response was similar. “If you meet someone you love, get married,” Romney said. “Have a quiverfull of kids if you can.” To the pundits at CNN, this is crazy talk. No wonder he tanked, especially among single women. (As if getting married isn’t important to single women?)
No decision is more important than that of a marriage partner, and it’s not a subject to approach lightly. As the same time, Christians can be as guilty as secularists of over-theorizing. The biblical guidelines and warnings are to advise us, not paralyze us. The divine standard that we model—Christ and his church—is so staggering we could never thoroughly understand it, much less emulate it. That’s why, after the vetting and matching and endless discussion of goals and beliefs, you just have to join hands and take a leap. As careful as you try to be, the endeavor is riddled with uncertainty, guilt, hurt, and sin, because it’s a union of two sinful individuals who will be vetted by life itself. The daily wounds of living, both self- and other-inflicted, will be constructive or destructive depending on how you both choose to use them. The advice of 40 years ago—to get established in a calling and know who you are before making a commitment—is starting to tremble as old wisdom forces itself up through the cracks. The fact is, nothing reveals you to yourself better than a spouse, and it’s easier for two individuals to meld if they’re not so set.
At whatever age you marry, God is the one who will make sense of it. To echo Mitt Romney, if you find someone you love, take the plunge. Then let God go to work.