Arranged marriages are nothing new. Many arranged marriages were and are political, financial, or just friends “knowing” their children should be together. The story of Isaac and Rebekah doesn’t quite fall into those lines, but it is still an arranged marriage. Just like any marriage, there were ups and downs, good days and bad. From a generational and legacy standpoint, marriage was a core component. The servant in this story was the one who had to trust and rely on God for the journey to be a success, and to be able to go to his master (Abraham) with his task fulfilled.
The story of Ruth is considered a success as she was faithful…and landed a husband. By landing a husband, she obtained personal security. She also obtained a legacy for her husband (and by extension, her deceased father-in-law) and her mother-in-law, Naomi. That he was honorable and rich didn’t hurt, of course. In a culture where women were not highly valued, this was a significant win for Ruth and Naomi. For the women, marriage was not just success, it was safety and identity. In the story, too, was trusting God. In this case, it was Ruth (the Moabite foreigner) who trusted and relied on God. Naomi (the Israelite) has lost her trust in God. God’s faithfulness to Ruth, however, did seem to have restored Naomi’s trust.
In this day and age and culture, we have been spared (generally) the arranged marriages of old, though they still happen. Marriage has long been a mainstay and cultural and societal bedrock for generations, and not just in American or even Western culture, but in most cultures and ages. Yes, there are exceptions. They are few. Whether you view the current changes regarding marriage in the United States as good or bad, it has changed. There is an important reason to understand that, Americans deeply value marriage. That should give hope, but it should also make us cautious. When we raise marriage to such a high level (which we have), people quest and ache for it. Then they will pursue it. Then they will fail. This is not to say that we should not view marriage highly, but that our view of it should not be over that of widows, widowers, and singles. In fact, it is not unreasonable to conclude that much of the failure of marriages are not just unpreparedness, it is also suitableness.
There often comes a judgemental tendency regarding this in Evangelical Christian circles. This is certainly not exclusive of Evangelical Christianity, as there is a religion that teaches (or at least use to) that a single man over the age of 25 to be a danger to society. Holding up relationships, especially romantic ones, as the panacea of all things is setting up relationships to not be able to bear the weight of expectations. Once relationships become gods, not only does God have no place, but relationships try to make up the lack of God by putting it all into the relationships.
The other struggle is the one Paul is concerned about, and that is sexual morality. In other words, if you can’t handle your “needs”, then get married. Paul seems to put marriage as below singleness. Think about that for a moment. Paul, often elevated (rightfully) as a “doctor” of the Church, did not necessarily view marriage as anything more than a way to avoid sexual immorality. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for earthly marriage. On the other hand, Paul did say that Christ and the Church were Groom and Bride, so it’s not as if marriage wasn’t useful. Still, it wasn’t a ringing endorsement. Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches developed monasteries and convents for those called to it. This was an elevation of singleness to the glory of God.
Those who a single, widowed, or married are to love and value each other equally, not based upon marital status. All statuses have to rely on God for fulfillment, and none are completely fulfilling for anyone, at least not without God. It is trusting God, when we cannot see the path before us, and trusting God when our relational desires are not fulfilled. Relationships fill holes inside each and every one of us.
1) How do you view people who are in a different relational status than you are? Why? How does that fit into being framily together?
2) How do you incorporate into your everyday life (i.e., not just at church) those who are in a different relational state than you?
3) How do Paul’s words (in this passage) feel to you regarding your relational status?