Arranged Marriages eh?

What an arranged marriage is not

Arranged marriage is not one where two people are forced to marry against their will. That is a perversion of an arranged marriage, and we cannot hold a perversion up as a model to refute. Arranged marriages against the choice of the individual are wrong. That is the context in which we can say arranged marriages are unchristian because God has given all humans the right to choose – even if our choice is wrong or evil. Free choice is a foundational assumption in the Bible. When God does not force us to obey him, how can parents force grown-up children to obey them?

The model for an arranged marriage is for the parents to look out for one or more suitable life partners, inquire about the prospects discreetly, and present them to their children for their comment. Properly speaking, an arranged marriage is no more than pre-selection by our parents. The grown children still make the final decision.

Universal truth about marriages

Let’s get one thing clear about marriage. Marriage is not a Christian institution. A marriage is a marriage even when husband and wife are not Christians. The Christian faith recognizes all marriages, be they secular or of other religions.

Let’s say there is a married couple of another faith, and one of them becomes a Christian.  What happens to the marriage? Nothing! We are told clearly that if a person has become a believer, he must never use his faith as a reason to divorce his spouse. (1 Cor 7:12-13 says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”) This tells us clearly that the Christian faith recognizes all marriages regardless of the faith of the couple at the point of marriage.

There are aspects of a marriage that places a marriage on a good footing, and many of these are common to all marriages. It’s like when you are a student, a working adult or an athlete. There are universal truths about these stations in life that give you success regardless of your faith. But there are indeed certain things about being a Christian that makes a Christian marriage different, but there are universal aspects of marriage common to all marriages.

We cannot limit our life to the distinctly Christians aspect and ignore the universal aspects. A Christian athlete has to train like any other athlete if he hopes to achieve; an effective employee has success regardless of his faith; a socially skilled person gets along with people better; etc. Similarly, there are dynamics in selecting a spouse that set you up for a successful marriage. And the people best suited for figuring this out are our parents. This is a guideline that is true for most people – but it is not absolute.

There are parents who may be completely inept in helping their children in this way. But most parents know their children, learn from their own mistakes and love their children more than life itself. They are desperately eager for their children to be happy in marriage, and will not compromise in looking for a good spouse for their children.  That is the type of parents we want to be looking out for their children.

The question must then arise, “In that case, why don’t the parents just counsel their children rather than preselect for them?” The answer is simple. We say we want the spouse that makes us happy but we are terrible in making right choices when the time arrives. The reality is that men are more captivated by a woman’s beauty than almost any other consideration. As for women, well, I’ll have to let the women speak for themselves about what is attractive but should not be determinative. When left to alone, we gravitate to our baser – or secondary – considerations. 

We have before us the example of Samson. He sees a Philistine woman he likes and insists his parents make the arrangements. “Get her for me, she looks good to me” (Judges 14:3, NLT). This is the beginning of the end for Samson.

The selection of a spouse is complex. There are many dynamics that we cannot go into for this short discussion. The main important point is that parents are well placed to recommend spouses for their grown children. They love their children, want them to marry well, and they bring to the matter a wealth of experience more relevant to the young man or woman than anybody else. They know their children’s nature and nurture, probably better than the children themselves. Should we write-off arranged marriages or should we seriously consider this in our life?

 

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