Many people of marriageable age think it insane to marry before living with the person first. “You need to get to know them,” they say. What about getting to know them in marriage? They say it’s too late then to pull out without major hassle.
The point deserves due consideration. It cannot be denied that God actually wants a young man and woman to start living together under one roof, in a legally binding situation, when there is still much about each other that is a “wild card.” The couple might discover on Day 1 that she is a night owl and he is a morning person, or that she likes a good argument, and he flips on the ballgame at the first whiff of confrontation.
So does the Shacking Up crowd have the better case? Wouldn’t these disappointing personality traits more conveniently come to light in a cohabitation arrangement that is not legally complicated? You test-drive cars, don’t you?
And yet God has so ordained that—by design!—when we marry we throw in our lot with a stranger. (The best-foot-forward business of courting is to marriage as the trailer is to the feature film—an alluring but imprecise sampling.) Why is God OK with us not having enough information about our future partner before promising to stick with him till we die?
The obvious answer is that evidently God figures we do have enough information. Assuming we have spent reasonable time with the candidate, we have observed him in a finite number of situations. Do we now hold out for an infinite number? I suppose there is always one more experiment we could have tried—one more beach outing or formal dinner under Aunt Eunice’s judgmental eye. But at some point it’s time to fish or cut bait. (Even this probationary season we call courting is an oddity east of the Caucasus.)
Proponents of the Shacking Up philosophy think they have found a foolproof methodology, but something is always missing in the calculations of the man who thinks outside of God. Only in Christ is the veil removed: “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me’” (Job 28:12-14).
The too-shrewd-by-half Shack-Upper misses this hidden wisdom: Your Christ-like love, and Christ-like faith, would have made the live-in girlfriend you rejected a different person than she was when you rejected her. You reserved the right to cast her aside if you found you didn’t get along, little considering that the annoying habit or temperament that was your deal breaker was the very thing God had in mind for you to help her through. You would have seen a breakthrough by dint of your unkillable patience. Unconditional commitment creates a new reality that conditional commitment never can.
And you know what? Even if you never saw that breakthrough (which is unlikely), here is Part 2 of the unsearchable wisdom of God, the wisdom that “cannot be bought for gold” or “valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire” (28:15, 16): The secret to marriage is related to the secret of the meaning of life. If the meaning of life is to find the way of pleasantness and ease, then try out as many partners as you must to find the one who maximizes your happiness quotient. Lots of luck with that.
But what if marriage is for stretching, for no-pain-no-gain advance in maturity, rather than primarily for having one’s desires met? What if we went into a marriage with the attitude of adorning the other? What a paradigm shift that would be. What if we understood that we are all a work in progress—and what if we were willing for that work? What if we counted the ways that godly marriage is a constant reenactment of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:32)?
And what if we finally realized that our brief pilgrimage on this terrestrial ball is the only chance we will ever have to love God without seeing Him, and to develop the character we will take with us into eternity?