Is it just me, or is it an epidemic in conservative, Christian circles? Young people putting marriage off, either intentionally or not, until we all begin to wonder, will they ever get married? These young men and women of excellent character, pushing thirty and beyond, with not a prospect in sight, is troubling. I see this especially among young women, and not only do I think it is sad, but could it be a result of wrong thinking? In many families there is an intentional downplaying of marriage, at least until after the young adult years. Have they become adept at avoiding marriage, and as a consequence, late twenty and thirty something’s not pursuing marriage, or maybe more accurately, not being pursued, and with each passing year their prospects are diminishing?
What Does the Bible Say?
I, for one, don’t agree that putting off marriage is biblical or healthy. Scripture seems to encourage getting married at a younger age and the following passage in Proverbs implies that it is normal for people to be married young. “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.” Proverbs 5:18. Obviously the proverb is not advocating the marriage of children, but rather young men and women who are capable of the responsibilities of marriage, yet clearly young.
The apostle Paul looks at marriage, among other things, as an antidote to sexual immorality, and recommends that those who have sexual desire get married. “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2. In Scripture celibacy is seen as a special calling that few people have been given. Jesus said regarding the celibate life, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given”. Matthew 19:11. The prospect of being married then, is a God ordained desire and young people should be encouraged to pursue it.
But we have a situation in our society that lends itself to frustration and sexual immorality in young people. Three forces have ganged up on them and are making their lives difficult.
- The ever earlier age of puberty which prolongs the time they struggle with unfulfilled sexual desire.
- Another is a society which promotes extended childhood and irresponsibility.
- A third factor is parents advising their children against the pursuit of marriage until later. They may have good reason for this, because in all reality, most twenty year olds in America are ill prepared for marriage. This may be due to parents not being intentional in their training and/or a societal norm of immaturity and low expectations.
So we have young people who are physically mature and desirous of romantic relationships, yet ill equipped to follow through because of lack of preparation and poor advice. This lends itself to great difficulty for young men and women. Meanwhile, our young people live in an over sexualized culture while they are advised against partaking of the preferred biblical antidote to sexual immorality- marriage. This is the recipe for frustration or moral failure in many of our young adults.
An Attempt to Protect
In some conservative, Christian families, there is another factor that further exacerbates the problem. Many fathers, overzealous in protecting their daughters, have made the process so difficult and foreboding for young men to establish any kind of relationship with their daughters that the young men don’t even try, and pursue elsewhere. These fathers can have so many unreasonable hoops to jump through, that the young man sees it as impossible.
Some dads want some kind of commitment from a young man towards his daughter when he has never been given the opportunity to get to know her on a casual level. Give some room for healthy relationships between young men and women. Dads, a twenty year old young man is not going to be as wise or mature as you are at forty five. Cut them a little slack. Some parents feel that a heartbreak is the end of the world for their children, and tend to be overprotective.
There is also the idea that if a young man or woman has romantic feelings for someone that they are giving a little piece of their heart to them. If it turns out they don’t marry that particular person then there will be less of their heart for their spouse. While there is evidence that this is true in a sexual relationship it is absurd to think it is true of mere romantic feelings. There is no basis for this in Scripture. Parents can guilt their children to death over these feelings which are unavoidable.
Encouraging Our Children
We should encourage our children to keep their hearts but don’t blow a gasket if your young person has feelings for someone. These families have become so adept at “protecting” the hearts of their young people that it seems the idea of romance itself is sinful. I have even seen frustrated daughters marry against their parent’s wishes just to escape the prison. This is an intolerable situation for any Christian family. That is not to say if this happens your house is a prison, just that parents don’t need to provoke their children to wrath by being unreasonable. Even in a very balanced, godly, and loving home some children will rebel and choose against their parent’s wishes.
Better Not to Marry?
There is yet another unbiblical factor that has led to this epidemic of older singles in conservative Christian circles. Some Christian teachers have applied the apostle Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church’s singles, which he offered as a guide for “the present distress” (i.e. persecution) to be a general rule for all singles, that it is better not to marry.
The problem with this interpretation is that most people do not have the gift of celibacy and therefore have trouble remaining celibate. Even in that context Paul says, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (i.e. burn in lust) 1 Corinthians 7:8,9. These teachers promote not pursuing marriage and the idea of “sleeping”, which is actively suppressing any desire for marriage until “the Lord wakes you up” by bringing your spouse to you, kind of like how God brought Eve to Adam.
In reality, the idea of “sleeping” is fantasy for most people. Of course holding romantic desire at bay is a necessity if they wish to remain pure, yet let’s not kid ourselves -- most young people are wide awake around the time of puberty and this awareness continues until we become very old. To suppress the desire for marriage for some “higher calling” simply is not feasible for most people, and I don’t think one can legitimately argue against the idea that marriage is the normative pattern for people and should be prepared for as such.
Marriage is a Blessing!
If God calls a person to celibacy, they will be able to live happily single. If not, the Bible advises to get married. Wise Solomon declares, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD”. Proverbs 18:22. Finding a wife implies that you were searching for one, and God pronounces his blessing on it. It is false to claim that celibacy is a more spiritual state than marriage. The writer of the book of Hebrews said, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled…” Hebrews 13:4a. Marriage is a blessing and something to be sought after according to Scripture, not a second rate estate for unspiritual Christians.
While the solution to the problem of moral failure is certainly a matter of the heart, (God calls all Christians to walk in the Spirit, and deny the flesh) yet God has designed marriage as an important element in the area of honoring God with our bodies and avoiding sexual sin. We neglect the pursuit of marriage for our young people to their own detriment, and as a result our young men and women suffer from inordinate temptation and unhealthy singleness, being unhappily alone, or worse, becoming sexually immoral.
So parents, prepare your children for adulthood and proper pursuit of marriage at a reasonably young age, and it may not be best to encourage them to put it off till later. Perhaps your young adult isn’t as mature or prepared as a thirty five year old, yet if you advise them to wait until every duck is in a row, they may never get married. There is nothing better for preparing someone for marriage, than marriage itself. Two, really are, better than one.
[reminder]When did you marry (if you're married)? Are you glad that you married when you did? If you're single, do you agree or disagree that marrying at an early age is biblical?[/reminder]