The God-Ordained Gift of Marriage & Family

Author:
Dr. James Dobson

Greetings everyone, from our ministry to your home. I want to depart today from the heaviness of national policy that has distressed us profoundly in the past year. I have had enough discouragement during this time, haven't you? I'm weary of it, but I will not stop fighting tooth and nail for our country. Still, we need a moment every now and then to breathe and to remember first truths.

Today, I want to go back to basics and write specifically about the institutions of marriage and the family. Supporting them has been my raison d'etre—my reason for being—since I was 21 years old. It grieves me deeply to see so many young people living together outside of wedlock and women raising babies without daddies. America's survival depends on the strength and vitality of its families.

What a marvelous concept marriage is. It was designed by the Creator in the Garden of Eden as the first institution, even before He created government or the Church. It was His gracious gift to humankind. Who can comprehend the mysterious bonding that enables a man and a woman to withstand the storms of life and remain best friends "'til death do us part?" Admittedly, marriage isn't always successful, but this is how it was designed.

Let's look one more time at the divine plan spelled out in Genesis 2:24: "For this cause, a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh."

With those 22 words, we find the origin of the family, which presaged the dawn of civilization. Despite today's skeptics who claim that marriage is an outmoded and narrow-minded Christian notion, the desire of a man and woman to "leave and cleave" has survived and thrived as an institution through times of prosperity, famine, wars, peace, epidemics, and every other circumstance and condition. Marriage has been the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and even the Arctic. If it were not divinely ordered, it wouldn't have endured and flourished through the millennia.

Given this history, one might begin to suspect that something unique is operating within human nature that draws the sexes together, not just occasionally for purposes of reproduction as with animals—but to satisfy an inexpressible longing for spiritual, emotional and physical union. Indeed, how can it be doubted? Clearly, our Creator placed this desire for intimacy and companionship deep within the souls of men and women.

Who can deny that the sexes are designed to "fit" together, not just anatomically to facilitate sexual intercourse, but to make them compatible with one another. Males and females are different in countless ways. Fundamentally, every one of us carries a different chromosomal pattern in every cell of our bodies. As you probably learned in your high school biology class, the sex-linked chromosomes are called X or Y, which is an "assignment" made at conception.

What you may not have been told is that DNA cannot be changed. The notion that gender is "chosen" by those who are five years of age, or fifteen, or fifty is being bandied about throughout the popular culture. It is pure nonsense. Physicians can alter the body surgically or hormonally, but trillions of cells will still indicate "male" or "female."

If one interprets the Scriptures literally, which I certainly do, we dare not deal flippantly or casually with the sacred institution of marriage. Nor should we redefine it. I heard on a news report this week that a girl was seeking to marry her father. How incredibly tragic. Once we leave the moorings of the divine plan, marriage can mean anything—or nothing. That's where tinkering leads.

The family remains the basic unit of society. There is a good reason for it. Have you wondered why God created marriage in the first place? We are given the answer to that question by the prophet Malachi, who wrote as follows: "Has not [the Lord] made them one? [referring to husbands and wives]. In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel." (Mal. 2:15-16)

If I can be permitted to paraphrase the biblical text, it is God's will that those men and women who marry and bear children raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. That is very clear. Furthermore, husbands and wives are instructed to remain faithful to one another in lifelong marriage. We are also instructed to "guard yourself in your spirit." What does that mean? Malachi appears to be warning those who are secretly considering divorce or cheating on a spouse.

Let me speak candidly to those who might have grown disenchanted with their spouses and are contemplating a way out of what feels like a "loveless marriage." If that describes you, divorce might have emerged as an option. You might be fantasizing about finding someone "out there" who could be everything you need him or her to be. Perhaps another relationship will satisfy the "soul hunger" inside. Beware! There is danger down that road. You might exchange one "less-than-ideal" partner for another. If he or she has been divorced, you might wonder why. The one to whom you are attracted could also still be married. Then an affair looms. Even if you find a new mate, you might not be what he or she expects of you. Marriage on the rebound always brings surprises. Someone said, "The grass is greener on the other side of the fence but it still has to be mowed."

What will you do if you marry someone new and begin to get bored again in a few years? Will another divorce be the answer?

Probably not. Some years ago, researchers from American Values in New York conducted a longitudinal study of marriage that still stands as a landmark. It sought to answer the question, "Does Divorce Make People Happy?" The investigators interviewed 5232 adults, among whom were 645 who reported themselves to be unhappily married. Five years later these same unhappy individuals were interviewed again. The findings were astounding. Among those who initially rated their marriages as "very unhappy," but remained together, nearly 80 percent considered themselves "happily married" five years later.

Surprisingly, (or perhaps unsurprisingly when we consider God's design), the opposite was found to be true for those who divorced. The researchers concluded that divorce frequently fails to make people happy because, while it might provide a respite from the pain associated with a bad marriage, it also introduces a host of complex new emotional and psychological difficulties over which the parties involved have little control. They include child-custody battles, emotionally scarred children, economic hardships, future romantic disappointments, and so on. This helps explain why of all the unhappy spouses in the initial survey, only 19 percent of those who divorced or separated were happy five years later. This is in stark contrast to the 8 out of 10 of those who stayed married and said they were "much happier" five years down the line.1

These studies are not dated currently, but they are the best evidence we have that divorce appears not to produce happiness, while sticking it out often does. They also suggest that the God-ordained institution of marriage is beneficial to men and women in society, and that divorce is a damaging deviation from our Creator's divine plan.

A mountain of other research verifies that marriage provides rich benefits for children. Seldom has social science come to such an unequivocal conclusion as in regard to this issue. If you look at measures of child well-being, such as physical and emotional health, educational success, avoidance of drug use, criminal behavior and poverty, you find that children born to or adopted by first-time married parents do significantly better in all measures of these categories than children in any other family dynamic. Though there are many exceptions, when parents stay married, children grow up healthier.

In the words of Linda J. Waite, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study titled, "Staying married is not just for the children's sake… the pain of divorce extends beyond parents and children to create heartache and distress for extended family members."2 The current census report revealed that, as a result of divorce and several other factors, there are currently 2.7 million grandparents who act as the primary caregivers for their grandchildren.3

Many of these senior citizens are ill-equipped, both physically and financially, to care for children on a full-time basis. They thought they had completed their parenting role, but found themselves strapped again with the difficult responsibilities better handled by younger people.

I want to hasten to acknowledge at this point that divorces don't always reflect a desire of spouses to be happier. Many families are horribly dysfunctional and are tragic beyond words. They may involve physical abuse, unfaithfulness, and addictions. My wife, Shirley, had an alcoholic father who did everything wrong. I am well acquainted with seemingly impossible situations that tear homes apart. Please don't interpret what I have written as minimizing or overlooking the wrenching pain or the complex issues that bring families down. If I have implied anything of the sort, that is not my intent. I do believe, however, that some people "give up" on a marriage far too quickly, and there may be even greater pain for them by moving on. Perhaps some of these families can be saved if given time, Christian counseling, spiritual guidance, and a desire to make it work.

Other families will not survive. I wrote in Love Must Be Tough that a woman should not stay in a physically abusive situation. Beatings and threats are a form of emotional blackmail from which she must break free. To those who find themselves living in the shadow of fear, I suggest physical separation immediately. The offender should understand that he will lose his family and, indeed, may have already done so. In these circumstances, I am convinced that "tough love" represents the best possibility for a healthy and restored marriage. Tolerance in response to continued abuse is enabling.

Well, those are my closing thoughts about the institution of marriage. What better way to leave you than with a prayer.

It was spoken by my father for Shirley and me as we knelt side by side at an altar 61 years ago. He said solemnly, speaking as he did when praying in the language of the King James translators:

O eternal God: We bring Thee our children, Jimmy and Shirley. They were Thine, but Thou in love didst lend them to us for a little season to care for, to love, and to cherish. It has been a labor of love that has seemed but a few days because of the affection we bear them. Fresh from Thy hand they were in the morning of their lives. Clean and upright, but yet two separate personalities. Tonight we give them back to Thee—no longer as two—but as one flesh. May nothing short of death dissolve the union here cemented. And to this end let the marvelous grace of God do its perfect work!

It is also our earnest prayer for them, not that God shall have a part in their lives, but that He shall have the preeminent part; not that they shall possess faith, but that faith shall fully possess them both; that in a materialistic world they shall not live for the earthly and temporal alone, but that they shall be enabled to lay hold of that which is spiritual and eternal.

Let their lives together be like the course of the sun—rising in strength, going forth in power, and shining more and more unto the perfect day. Let the end of their lives resemble the setting of the sun—going down in a sea of glory, only to shine on undimmed in the firmament of a better world than this. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

If you and your spouse have a relationship with Jesus Christ and will diligently seek His help, you'll find that He cares for you. He created the institution of marriage and He wants it to succeed! Ask Him for wisdom, grace and healing of wounds that still exist. Then, forge ahead in His power, remembering that "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1).

Signature

 

1.    Waite, Linda J (January 2002), Does Divorce Make People Happy?, Institute for American Values, 2002. Web

2.    ibid

3.    Unites States Census Bureau (October 22, 2014), 10 Percent of Grandparents Live With a Grandchild, United States Census Bureau, 2014. Web

 


This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright, 2021 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.

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