We might think that marriage has become harder in the last few decades. There is some truth to that statement. Cultural pressures, easy divorce, failure of good fathers to train sons to be good husbands, failure of good mothers to train daughters to be good wives, bad preaching, etc. have decimated marriage, which for most of Western history provided stability to our communities. But marriage itself is not any more difficult than it used to be. Men have always been sinners and so have women. The temptations have not changed since Genesis 3. Hearts remain the same. Herman Bavinck writes this in his book The Christian Family.
There are many unhappy marriages, more than we might suppose or know. There are people by the thousands bound to each other for life [you can tell he wrote a long time ago by that phrase. PJ] and who in their marriages are already living a hell on earth. When the best gets corrupted, it becomes the worst; love that wanes becomes hatred, and affection that dissipates gives way to aversion.
Marriages are bad all around us Bavinck said in 1908. And we would say the same. What is the solution? Bavinck says there are two directions we can go. First,
One can attempt to justify those facts and defend them as normal, and then all blame falls on the institution of marriage, and the person, and the person in such a marriage who commits harlotry and adultery goes free, and for his dissolute passion receives a crown on his head. Then divorce, open marriage, and free love are the solution to the problem. Then science and art, lectern and stage, must cooperate in undermining and overthrowing existing marriages.
This is the option America and most of the American church has chosen. Marriage has been destroyed because marriage is the problem. Being confined to one man and one woman is bondage, not freedom. Easy divorce, fornication, adultery, sodomy, and sexual abuse are for the most part winked at in our culture and often promoted as social goods. How many movies portray cheating on your spouse as necessary and good? We believe marriage and its attendant obligations and duties is the problem. So we burn marriage to the ground. Bavinck goes on to note that there is a second way we can address the difficulties of marriage.
But people can also be convinced that this cure, though recommended in the name of reality and science, of beauty and poetry, is worse than the disease. This conviction finds support in the conscience of every person. In the modern era, as the notion of sin is slipping away, the culpability for every misery is being sought outside the person and located in the institutions, in social circumstances, in the organization of the state.
That last sentence sums up the modern man and his view of sin. The problem is always outside of him. He is never the problem. His black heart is not the dangerous thing in the room. His bloody hands are not what stains the walls. We are innocent. Thus if there are problems in marriage, it can’t be me. It must be marriage itself or my spouse or the government or my parents or my pastor. Bavinck continues,
All deliverance is expected then from social and political reform. But conscience speaks a different language within every person who seriously examines himself and ventures to confront this moral reality. Such a conscience lays the blame not on the institution of society and the state, but on the person himself; you are the man! That is how the prophets and apostles spoke; this was the teaching and example of Christ; just like the entire moral law, marriage is wise and holy and good, being of divine origin and rich in blessing for the human race, but human beings have invented many schemes.
Later in the chapter Bavinck writes this,
Modern realists view the risks of marriage as the results and fruits of this institution itself, and for that reason they rebel against it and curse marriage. The Christian sees adversities and crosses in marriage, which overcome us on account of sin, and accepts them as a means to exercise one’s faith. No Christian says that the person is corrupted by marriage, but he confesses that marriage is corrupted by the person; the modern realist blames the circumstances, the institutions, the laws and ordinances, ultimately God himself, while the Christian finds within his own heart the source of all impurity.
The point is simple. Do we believe we are the greatest problem in our marriages or do we believe that something or someone outside of us is the problem? Do we believe the dirtiest hearts are those of our spouse and children or our own hearts? I often tell my teenage sons that biggest danger in the room is them. That is not scare them into inaction. But to encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and to not blame others. Maybe we should stop waiting for the government or society to save marriage and start saving it ourselves by realizing that the biggest obstacle to a godly marriage is the person in the mirror.