It was in the late ’90s that Julia Roberts’ films began shaking the way our generation perceived marriage.

Our time, sadly, was saturated with animated films ending in wedding scenes that supposedly led to happily-ever-afters. (Think Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc.) You can just imagine how refreshing it was to watch a film where the lead female star does not get the lead male star she was after or where brides can actually still run away on the big day!

We say “refreshing,” but we don’t mean those movies made the right revisions. Marriage, after all, is a mystery. It cannot be so easily and simplistically defined—though we often try.

Like we’ve heard and seen, many single people imagine that their problems will be solved and needs met once they get married. Many couples jump in with more thoughts about the wedding than the marriage. Even people who have been separated think that what they really need is a new marriage to make everything right.

But such fanciful expectations will definitely precede a fall. Tim Keller describes this as an unrealistic idealism that leads to pessimism, where people eventually can’t stand the syrupy sweetness of fake romance. Some people have put their hopes in it only to be disappointed, and conclude that marriage is a broken institution marked by separations, divorces, or loveless lives.

Some people dismiss the very idea of marriage as just a piece of paper. But this statement doesn’t stand up against any scrutiny. Think about this:

  • The difference between owning a home and being an illegal settler is just a piece of paper.
  • Amid the celebration of a new birth, a nurse walks the parents through the seemingly tedious and minor technicality of a piece of paper, but this is proof of the child’s existence in every stage of his or her life.
  • If you’re driving a car and you are pulled over, the traffic enforcer will not ask how much you love the car. He will ask for a piece of paper. Having that paper means everything; driving without it will result in serious consequences.

These pieces of paper say, “I’ve thought about this. This isn’t a whim. This isn’t a fantasy. I know what I’m getting into. I know the price it will ask of me. And it’s worth it.” So anyone who tells you that marriage is just a piece of paper clearly doesn’t treasure the relationship as much as they do their car.

But why do we view marriage that way? If not a naive, quixotic, foolish dream, it seems to be a cynical, hardened, embittered actuality. There are many reasons why, including that these perspectives hold an element of truth, however skewed they are.

It’s not that people have a completely wrong idea about marriage; it’s just that they don’t take this idea far enough. Marriage is for the man and woman who have looked at one another, looked at the task ahead of them, looked to God for strength, and said, “I want to go on this adventure with you.” It is an adventure that hearkens back to the right and original picture of marriage, the one that has a greater sense of sacrifice, love, and purpose.

Greater Sacrifice

No love story is complete without the drama, separation, and risk of loss. These are often the most memorable moments of romantic movies and the most sung love songs in the karaoke.

But very few of these really capture the depth of pain and sacrifice that marriage entails. This is one area where the cynical realists are almost right. They talk about how marriage is a terrible commitment that doesn’t really work well. This is partially true.

Even when marriage does go well, it’s still painful, because the necessary process of marriage requires deep sacrifice on both parts. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It’s designed to make two into one—to take two sets of preferences, backgrounds, and dysfunctions and join them into one being. That’s painful!

Every marriage will have challenges that arise from simply not wanting to give up what we prefer for ourselves. And yet that’s what marriage calls for.

This is where many of the idealistic romantics balk at the concept of marriage. When they realize that it costs so much, they get a rude awakening and let go to look for love elsewhere. But this is tragic, because it’s through this very path of sacrifice that love can be found.

Greater Love

We both loved it that we were so in love with each other in the beginning. We were drunk on the idea that this beautiful woman could see nothing but a worthy man, and vice versa. We saw one another as heavenly beings who could do no wrong. But this didn’t last.

It wasn’t long into our marriage before we began to see many of our flaws—irresponsibility, irritability, insecurity, and more. It felt like we had lost the image we had of each other when we were dating.

Maybe that feeling of love really wasn’t meant to last. Or maybe that feeling is what hooks us and gets us crazy enough to subject ourselves to marriage, though it is not enough to sustain us. As married people, knowing what we know today, we begin to wonder: who would ever subject himself or herself to marriage without the slightest bit of hesitation? It’s not an easy task. It’s not an easy love. It isn’t a feeling.

Love in marriage takes time and a lot of hard work. It is like entering a university of love where you must exercise perseverance to turn your simple passion into a lifelong commitment. There will be tests, trials, and challenges, but you will do them all because you are now driven by love. Love is less self-seeking and more other-oriented this way. This is love that serves instead of looking to be served.

This is the deeper sense of love that marriage opens us up to. It’s beyond emotions and infatuation. When you know that someone knows you—all of you—and loves you anyway; when you know they have every reason to leave, but they choose to stay; when they accept you at your worst, but believe in the best version of you—that kind of love is priceless. That’s the love God meant for marriage to have, and it’s not something we can give unless we first experience this kind of love, which only comes from God. It’s the kind of love that died for you even when you were still living in rejection of Him (Romans 5:8). Guess what? Marriage is meant to be a picture of that love to the world. God does not want to contain all that love only between two people, but He wants to use it for a greater purpose.

Greater Purpose

As God ordained the very first marriage in the Bible, He gave it a purpose. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . .’” (Genesis 1:28) The couple was now to be fruitful and to multiply; they were to institute a family. For what purpose? To take care of, not only each other, but the whole earth. God was calling forth the first family in the way that He would consistently call the next few families we encounter in the Bible.

Make no mistake: God’s purposes for what we may take as a simple marriage are far-reaching. A good marriage is the foundation of a good family. Good families are the foundation of a good society. We always talk about changing the world, and this is one way that we can actually do so. Husbands and wives will inevitably become mothers and fathers to their biological and/or spiritual children, and surely there is power in the agreement of a family that has chosen to honor God and make disciples.

Have you ever wondered why God gave Adam a “suitable helper” instead of just a cute companion or a lovable soulmate? Because there is work to be done. This broken world needs fixing and healing, and a married couple can do so much of that if only they choose to exemplify that wonderful and miraculous love of Christ for the Church, beginning with each other. Although two is a small number, Jesus does say that when two come together in agreement, “anything they ask, it will be done for them by [the] Father in heaven” and He shall be in their midst (Matthew 18:19,20).

See, when God calls a man and woman together in marriage, it does not stop with the goal of making each other happy, securing the family, getting a nice house, and putting the children in great schools. God always goes beyond that. He wants husband and wife to come together and demonstrate His one-of-a-kind love to everyone around them, as part of His great plan to save, bless, heal, redeem, restore, and ultimately change the world.


Photo Credits: Lito Sy