“Why should we care about marriage?” That’s the question Jim Daly, Focus on the Family President, asks in the prologue of his book, Marriage Done Right. After all, he acknowledges, marriage has changed significantly in our culture. He points to some of the factors that pushed these changes, including: easy access to abortion and birth control; no-fault divorce; the rise in extra-marital sex and cohabitation; the huge increase in pornography usage, and the redefinition of marriage by the U. S. Supreme Court.
So why should we care about marriage? Is marriage worth protecting? Daly writes,
As we Christians struggle to uphold one-man, one-woman marriage, the trends are not in our favor. Does that mean that we should shrink back and admit that marriage is a lost cause? On the contrary, I think our witness to the beauty and goodness of true marriage becomes all the more important. It will be up to us to show a fraying culture that marriage is so much more than just a “piece of paper” or an association of any two persons who love each other. It is a sacred union of a man and a woman that confers myriad benefits on the spouses, their children, and society at large – benefits that cannot be replicated by any other relationship.Jim Daly, Marriage Done Right: One Man, One Woman (Washington, DC: Regnery Faith, 2016), p. xvii.
That last sentence points out four characteristics of marriage that help explain its value and importance. Here we give some basic information about each of these reasons, then point to other resources that go even deeper.
1. Marriage is a sacred union of a man and woman.
For the Christian, marriage has profound theological importance and meaning. We know from reading in Genesis 1 that God created us male and female in His image; He designed us to reflect His own character – His goodness, strength, holiness, beauty and love. Genesis 2 spotlights the creation of humanity as male and female, as God separates out and fashions the woman from the side of the man. It’s that separation, the passage tells us, which leads to the longing in men and women to come together and unite in marriage.
The importance and meaning of marriage goes even beyond creation: Marriage is part of the redemption story. God works through families to bring about the redemption of humanity, culminating in the birth, death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us, in Ephesians 5, that marriage is more than a union of a man and woman. Embedded in marriage is the mystery that it depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church. He is the groom and we are his bride. In Scripture, marriage is the highest image of our relationship with God. These spiritual truths motivate us to protect, honor and promote the good of marriage.
2. Marriage is good for husbands and wives.
Focus on the Family’s Director of Family Formation Studies, Glenn T. Stanton, studies and writes about issues related to marriage, parenting and sexuality. In his book The Ring Makes all the Difference, Stanton contrasts cohabitation with marriage, finding that “marriage lifts our physical and psychological health, speeds our recoveries from illnesses, and enhances our overall happiness.”Glenn T. Stanton, The Ring Makes all the Difference (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), p. 92.
Other researchers confirm his conclusion. Here are just a few examples of how marriage benefits both men and women:
- “Married men and women report less depression, less anxiety, and lower levels of other types of psychological distress than do those who are single, divorced, or widowed.” Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Broadway Books, 2000), p. 67.
- “Married men and women have higher survival rates after being diagnosed with cancer, regardless of the stage of the cancer’s progression.”Pat Fagan, Anne Dougherty, and Miriam McElvain, “164 Reasons to Marry” (Marriage and Religion Research Institute, 2 January 2014) p. 9, http://marri.us/research/research-papers/164-reasons-to-marry/
- “Married families generally earn higher incomes than stepfamilies, cohabiting families, divorced families, separated families, and single-parent families.”Effects of Marriage on Financial Stability,” Marripedia.org, http://marripedia.org/effects_of_marriage_on_financial_stability
There are many more examples of the good that marriage brings to both men and women. Sociology simply confirms Scriptural truth. As King Solomon wrote, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord,” and, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Proverbs 18:22 and Ecclesiastes 4:9, ESV.
3. Marriage between a husband and wife creates the best environment for raising children.
“The understanding of marriage as a life-long union of a man and a woman prevailed across cultures for millennia. It protected the children born from that union. Indeed, bringing children into this world has historically been seen as the primary purpose of marriage. Marriage, sex and childbearing were linked in people’s minds and usually in practice.” – Jim Daly, Marriage Done RightDaly, op.cit., p. xiv.
Marriage isn’t just a “private commitment” or about “two people who love each other.” Marriage is also about the children created when a couple unites sexually. Years of research demonstrate that children with a married mother and father have generally better outcomes than children whose parents never marry, live together, or divorce. Among other findings, researchers note:
- “Marriage increases the likelihood that fathers and mothers have good relationships with their children.”
- “Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.”
- “Children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness.”These findings come from: W. Bradford Wilcox, William Doherty, Norval Glenn, and Linda Waite, et al., Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005).
Marriage unites a husband and wife with each other and with any children born from their union, or adopted into their family. Research demonstrates that mothers and fathers parent differently, offering different benefits to children. Because we value children and want God’s best for them, we advocate for marriage.
4. Marriage is good for society.
The importance of marriage is seen most clearly when it unravels in a culture – as it has in ours. In addition to the personal pain and suffering caused the breakdown of marriage, all of society suffers. Poverty, educational problems, violence and crime all increase when marriages fail – or when parents never marry.Ibid., see also: Glenn Stanton, “Healthy Families: A Community’s Most Effective Social Justice Agent.” Focus on the Family, 2010.
Many young people today want to make a difference in the world. They want to help alleviate hunger and poverty, create jobs and help children receive an education. God’s design for marriage contributes positively toward all these goals. When we understand the just and beneficial role marriage plays in the lives of children, men and women, and all of society, we should do all we can to promote a culture that honors and values marriage.
For further exploration of these foundational truths about marriage:
- 6 Key Scriptures Upholding Marriage
- The Foundation of Marriage
- Marriage: God’s Idea
- Marriage Strengthens Society
- Why Children Need Both a Mom and a Dad
- Why Marriage Matters for Adults