Author Sandra Tsing Loh has now declared marriage to be obsolete.  She and her husband of twenty years both had affairs and are divorcing.  She has concluded that marriage is simply obsolete these days.  It was useful in the agrarian culture up until early in the 1900’s, since many hands were needed on the farm.  Marriage is no longer useful.  Studies of primitive humans reveal that the spark in a relationship is programmed to last about four years, long enough to have two babies up and out.

I am tempted to get on a soap box and with great self-righteousness rant against such silliness.  That would be far too easy.  I have counseled couples through some very tough times over the years.  Some worked through their problems and found a new relationship that had more resilience and strength an intimacy than before they struggled through whatever it was.  Some concluded that they needed to divorce and begin new lives.  There were money problems, affairs, trust issues, problems with alcohol misuse, abusive behavior.

I respect those who worked out their relationship, and I respect those who chose to divorce and begin new lives.  Does that sound unpastor-like?  Divorce is among the most painful experiences anyone can have judging from what people shared with me over the years.  It is frightening how many killings are done by estranged spouses.  When I moved to Oklahoma City five months ahead of Mary Ann and our children, who were finishing the school year, I was standing just inside the door of a Skaggs Drug Store returning a faulty alarm clock I had gotten the day before.   As I was standing at the counter, someone ran in and hid behind the counter where I was standing.  When the doors opened, I smelled the gun powder.  Fifty feet away from me, outside the door of the store, an estranged husband shot his ex-wife in the face.  After a time, I went out the door to leave and walked by the paramedics with her.  She died there in that spot.  The ex-husband was found at Lake Overholser about a mile and a half away.  He had taken his own life.

Having seen the level of pain that comes with it, I no longer judge those who have chosen the path of divorce.  Those who have experienced divorce are unlikely to recommend it as something to be sought after.

With that said, most of those who divorce do not then conclude that marriage is obsolete.  Apparently, almost 90% of those who divorce choose to remarry.  It appears that we are wired to marry.  I realize that sounds ridiculously obvious, but apparently it is not obvious to some.

Assuming that in our primitive brain the spark that brings a man and a woman together has a four year shelf life, the conclusion implicit in the author’s contention that marriage is obsolete is that there is no point it staying together once the spark has expired.  In fairness, I think she would say that it is no longer sensible to try to recreate the spark after many years of marriage.

I guess the author’s conclusion might be reasonable if the spark were all there is to marriage.  To use her metaphor, a spark is what gets the fire going.  It would be pretty hard to weather a cold winter if the heating system in the house never had more than a spark.

If we chose to live only by what lay in our primitive brain, the fight or flight impulse would preclude the possibility of living in peace with other human beings, at least other than those in our tribe.  What makes us human is the capacity to use our frontal lobes to reason out a better way to live.

If we chose never to move from the spark to that which the spark ignites, of course marriage would become obsolete. What the spark ignites is relationship.  The spark ignites feelings that grow into actions that produce newly discovered feelings that spark levels of trust and intimacy that could never be experienced if the spark were to remain the only measure of the value of marriage.

The spark needs to be in contact with some sort of combustible material or it will produce absolutely nothing but a tiny burst of light and heat lasting only a fraction of a second.  The combustible material is made up of promises and commitments that are lived out day by day in big ways and little ways.  The combustible material is not romantic gestures (although there is a lot to be said for them).  The combustible material is made up of time spent listening to one another, arguing with one another, forgiving one another, standing up to one another and giving in to one another.

Long marriages provide the possibility of a kind of relationship with a beauty and depth, that is far beyond the spark that brings couples together in the first place.  People who have not chosen to marry or are divorced or widowed, can also find deep and lasting relationships that grow out of the combustible material in their relationships with those who are closest to them.  Marriage, however, is certainly not obsolete as a meaningful and fulfilling way to live for as many years as life allows.

For Mary Ann and me, marriage is hardly obsolete.  It is what allows us survive in difficult circumstances.  We get to experience relationship that is deep enough to weather irritations and frustrations and misunderstandings without any of it stealing the fire from us.

When in the Seminary training to be come a pastor, I was in a choir that sang Bach’s St. John Passion three times over four years.  The third time we sang it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had in my life.  I will never forget singing the chorale at the conclusion of the Passion.  The power of that chorale lay in what had gone before.  Each aria and recitative and chorus sung over almost an hour built one on the last until all that had gone before filled the last chorale with overwhelming joy, more deeply moving than there are words to describe.  Without what had gone before, the chorale would have been a beautiful hymn.  With what led up to it, the experience touches me to this day, forty years later.

No, Ms. Sandra Tsing Loh, marriage is not obsolete.  For me, our marriage, now, after forty-three years is the chorale at the end of the something that has been building in strength and power for all these years.  The spark has ignited something enduring and of great beauty.

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