Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Precious Love

Papa Bear and I have been talking still more about "Courageous", the film that we watched together on our "date night" on Saturday last week. That film had so many important messages in it. We were both greatly moved and inspired by it, but Papa Bear felt that there were some particularly pertinent issues that were very relevant especially to him. There is a beautiful scene in the film in which one of the central characters, law enforcement officer Nathan Hayes, presents his teenage daughter Jade with a purity ring as part of his desire to mend his relationship with her, as God has commanded him. We both thought that the idea of a father givng his daughter a purity ring was lovely. What a beautiful way for a him to show his Godly commitment to protecting and guiding his daughter as she matures and becomes a woman, and what a wonderful symbol of commitment for a girl to make to the rest of the world - that she belongs to her father, as God wills, until her wedding day. We loved the idea, and Papa Bear is prayerfully considering whether he might do something similar for Little Bear. We have been praying about it together, and it is therefore, we are sure, not a coincidence that we have read and heard a couple of things just recently, which we believe are messages that resonate loudly, as part of God's message to us about how to conduct our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him.

I've posted previously about the need for marriage to be viewed as a lifetime commitment, and how by living together, couples today are cheapening the purity and preciousness of the marriage union, and reducing it to something as transient and ordinary as a casual friendship. Yesterday we read in our newspaper of how almost one in eight couples who married at the same time as Prince William and Princess Catherine did, in April last year, are now regretting their decision, and almost one in ten husbands and wives had second thoughts as early on as six months after their wedding day. Given that in England, according to the Office of National Statistics, in 2006 45% of marriages ended in divorce, that is an awful lot of people who are rushing into their marriages without, as I have said, considering what they are doing as a permanently binding covenant. But what is almost as surprising, is that these same couples, are spending on average, as much as £21,000 on their weddings! Yes, you read that right. £21,000 - more than many people in England earn in a year. But why? Who on earth would be prepared to invest such an enormous sum of money on something they haven't even really thought through properly - and certainly don't intend to commit to forever? Why the huge disparity in terms of willingness to invest so much in marriage materially, but yet not emotionally or spiritually?

Interestingly, reading research on the reasons for why couples decide they no longer want to be married, the number one reason that women gave for wanting a divorce was the infidelity of their husband. The mens gave their number one reason as lack of physical intimacy. It doesn't take much figuring to work out that the two are obviously interlinked - and that these figures add an interesting and very important facet to the reasons why people are prepared to spend so much on their weddings, but so little on their marriage. The need for a fulfilling physical relationship between a husband and wife is intrinsic to their happiness as a married couple. It is the most important element of what draws them together in joyful union to produce children, as God has commanded, and is part of the cement that holds them together as the years pass. A passionless marriage must never be a happy one. And yet for many, it seems, this aspect of marriage is considered to be the least precious. In a culture where it is being proposed, only today, that girls as young as 13 - 3 years below the legal age of consent - should be offered the contraceptive pill without a prescription, the idea that saving one's body to give to your spouse on your wedding night is considered by many to be as out of date and obsolete as the penny farthing bicycle. A physical relationship is seen by many as all about personal satisfaction - fulfilling the needs of self, not the other person. And for many it is also equated with love - but it is not the same thing as love. Basic physical need is being confused with emotion. Love must come before the physical relationship for it to be meaningful, and you cannot love someone, without having spent time sharing, growing and learning. A physical relationship without this shared experience of deepening understanding is nothing but the satisfaction of a basic, animal need - and it is an ugly parody of what God intends for us when we join together as man and wife.

Nowadays many people have had several physical relationships before they marry - and quite frequently, children also. This means that by the time they do finally find someone that they want to make a serious commitment to, there is nothing left that they can give this person that they haven't already given to someone else. And consequently, there is no motivation to work at the relationship when it starts to go wrong. It is as if everything is back-to-front. Love comes first - after friendship - but it can never develop naturally, if the physical relationship has been forced, and if the physical relationship is all that there is to bind the couple together it will not be long before this ceases to be pleasurable. Add to this the notion that our throwaway, materialistic culture has of instant gratification and the expectation of meeting one's own needs before those of anyone else, and it is possible to see why so many relationships fail so quickly.

The Bible has plenty of advice to give us about the preciousness of our physical love for our spouses - and why it is so important to save it only for the marriage union. By their fallen nature, human beings are inevitably given to self-indulgence and weakness of spirit. They will be tempted - not because God is testing them, but because they are imperfect. But we have an alternative - and it isn't all about self-denial. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, advises that couples should not with-hold love from each other, because this will lead to temptation outside the marriage union -

"Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency" (1 Corinthians 7, 5).

The consequences of not observing this instruction have been proved in the statistics I've quoted above. With-holding physical love from your spouse will eventually lead to problems - it can be no other way. God knows this, and that is why He wants us to enjoy each other physically. But only within the union of marriage. Before this, in Chapter 6, verse 18, Paul also speaks of the need to "flee fornication", because it is a sin against ourselves - and therefore against Christ Himself, our bodies being part of the "body of Christ" (verse 15). This demonstrates just how precious we are to God - and how precious, therefore, we should consider ourselves. Our love for our spouses is unique and beautiful, and to cheapen and taint this by defiling ourselves, offends God because we are hurting not only each other, but Him, too.

By keeping ourselves pure - by avoiding such sinful and offensive behaviour as "fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness" (Colossians 3, 5) we are investing in a gift for our spouses that is incredibly precious - worth far more than the value of any wedding celebration, no matter how luxurious or ostentatious. To save ourselves for our marriage relationship in this way is to show not only respect for our spouse, but for ourselves, too. It is a demonstration of our commitment and willingness to serve our Father God, but it is also a pledge of our desire to treasure our marriages as a lifetime union, one in which both the husband and wife, and any children that they have, are able to grow and develop to their full potential. This may be hard work - it may be more challenging than simply investing materially in our lives, but the rewards will be immesurable.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass"
(Psalm 37, 3 - 7).