A Modern Twist

Contacts.  That is what a match-maker had in the past that parents do not have. When parents begin their pre-selection process, they do not know all the people they ought to know. In the past, they relied heavily on the match-maker. In today’s world, marriage should begin with the children’s own world of social contacts, the contacts of the parents, and the internet.

The internet brings together people you or your parents do not know.  Using a website to look for potentials is good.  But the website is only a tool.  The self-representation on the profiles is a start, and you don’t really know if it is a correct representation. In addition, there may be things you ought to know but do not.  They may be deliberately hidden from you, or it may be something small that is not covered in the profile questionnaire, but important to you nonetheless.

Parents and children ought to work together in looking for prospective life-partners. It deepens the relationship between the parents and the children.  The parents become personally invested to see their children succeed in their marriage.  In addition, the parents ought to contact the prospect’s parents and get their input.  This produces two invested families!

In our day, we think of the love that trumps parental objections.  There may be a place for that, but marriages are much better placed for success when both families stand with the couple! Can you imagine the network and support you get in a marriage where your parents and your in-laws are friends and work behind the scene to bless you?

Social stratification has become a taboo subject in finding life-partners.  The reality is that such social groupings, if not stratification, make a difference in a marriage. Parents who are in the Christian faith will recognize that the absolute highest priority they will place in pre-selecting a life-partner for their children is the faith of the prospect.  Most Christians today rightly accept the premise that it is critically important for them to find a Christian spouse. To this I add my affirmation – and observation. Finding a Christian spouse is a social grouping.

“Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). Can you imagine husband and wife each playing their own religious music and trying to drown the other person out? Or within the Christian faith, can you imagine a woman praying in tongues by her bed and your husband standing behind her trying to cast out the demon he thinks she has?

On the non-faith aspects of selection, there may be a romantic love that trumps all.  But it is extremely stressful for a couple if the wife has to move from a mansion to a rented room. Rented rooms make great love nests for the couple perfectly comfortable in one.  But when financial necessity drives one party into a highly uncomfortable situation, the romance that drives the marriage will soon run dry. Parental pre-selection tends to avoid this other great stress factors in a marriage.

There are surely other factors, but I like to suggest to you that when we get help from our parents in pre-selecting our spouses, we are getting a good thing.  Realistically, not all parents know what to do, or would choose to bless their children in this way.  Where can you find help if your parents are not an option? (Btw, your likely best man / bridesmaid are NOT the best people to help you.  They are more likely to keep the good find!) 

An alternative is your spiritual mentor. You need a mentor who knows you well, someone with whom you can be honest about your preferences, and someone who can straighten you out if you are not thinking straight. Most of all, you want someone who loves you and will spare no effort in setting you up for a wonderful Christian marriage.

An arranged marriage is not marriage to a stranger, but getting help in the pre-selection process.

Arranged marriages are good for singles of most ages, but it becomes less helpful the more mature we become.  Next, we will look at the situation when you, as a man does not need someone to help you pre-select, and someone has already caught your eye. What do you do? Or if you are a woman and you like to see if someone you know will take the friendship to the next level. What can you do about it?

Peter Eng

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?


Arranged Marriages? Ewww!

I never seriously thought about arranged marriages as a way for people to find their life-partners until after moving to the USA. To be sure, America is not a match-making country.  But it was in America that I heard a preacher castigating arranged marriages as something unchristian.  I had never really thought much about the subject but I instantly knew this preacher was talking nonsense.

The Bible does not advocate arranged marriages, but it is certainly depicted in a good light. The most significant is the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac needs the help of his father Abraham and their servant Eliezer to find him a wife (Gen 24:1-4); and Rebekah agrees to the marriage without fuss (Gen 24:57-58). They have one of the best marriages in the Bible.

Not all marriages are arranged in the Bible.  There are romance marriages as well. We have no statistics to determine which was the norm, but it is more likely that arranged marriages were more common.

But we do not need to peer through thousands of years to look at arranged marriages. Indian Christians tend to have arranged marriages to this day, regardless of whether they live in India, Singapore or America. And they have the lowest divorce rates! And it was the Indian Christian arranged marriages that cause me to rethink.

Chinese Christians look to the west for Christian leadership, and the cultural packing is undeniable.  Arranged marriages are not the norm in the west.  We Christians look at the often terrible marriages of our parents, or grand-parents, and we easily find the reason for their failures and the solution all at once. And what a sweet solution! The problem is that they have arranged marriages!

This, we say, is why they quarrel and do not love each other.  That is why the man who has the means, takes on many wives.  That is why the women who feel betrayed escape to the celibacy offered by Buddhism when their husbands leave them for a young thing. There is so much pain in the Chinese marriage customs that our rejection of arranged marriages is no more than a desire to find a better model.

When we embrace Christianity, we unconsciously adopt western thinking as Christian (bride wearing white, wedding ring, ceremony in church, etc.)  The west did not have arranged marriages, so we reject it. The traditional western “courtship” model (when the boy goes to the girl’s home to bring her out) never caught on. In Singapore, we Christian singles just do our own dating thing (like the west), try not to get into trouble while doing our own thing, and when we think we have done enough of our dating, we tell our parents. They really have no choice but to approve. It’s almost like we are telling our parents, “I’m going to marry him/her so please approve so things will be good at the wedding.”

Those in the Christian faith and outside of it are quite similar in the family dynamics of finding a life-partner.  Parents are there just to give the rubber stamp. Parents do not arrange marriages.

We who are Christian parents today have no model of parental involvement in a Christian way, and we don’t know how to provide one.  Our children are now in their marriageable age.  We have not taught them how to look for a spouse, because we ourselves just stumbled into it.  And to compound matters, some of us struggle with the shame of failed marriages; or at the least, failures within our marriages. Who are we to tell our children what to do?

Young people today ask the same questions we asked when we were young. “How do I choose a life-partner? What do I do on a date? How do we keep from going too far? What if I marry the wrong person?” Our response? “I wish I know! If I know the answer to these questions, I will not make all these mistakes!” We have no answer in our own life and we have no answer to theirs.  In fact, the greater likelihood is that while they ask these questions, they don’t ask us!

Whatever the answer to these questions, Christians rarely think of arranged marriages as a possible solution. We are just programmed to reject it out of hand. Yet, today, we do have arranged marriages. Marriages arranged by software. Perhaps it is time to revisit arranged marriages.

[continue next week]

An Essential Key to Change Your Love-life Forever

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). This often repeated truth read at weddings can make us nod in agreement. But it is hard to grasp the power of this awesome truth without first recognizing where we stand.

I did not place this teaching in my own context as the essential key to my own marriage until a lay-preacher did it for me. He rightly asks if too many of us view marriage as little more than a transaction. We relate to most people in a 50-50 transaction.

If we have a calculative streak in us, we will want an advantage in the transaction. When we think this transaction is to our advantage, we will be happy – that is pretty much human nature. When we get what we want, or more than what we expect, we are happy. When we fail to get what we want and we begin to calculate our cost, and it will not take long for us to become dissatisfied with our marriage.

When Paul tells the husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church, he is talking about a 100% love. We are called to a 100-100 dynamic in a marriage; not a 50-50 contract. Jesus, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). That is the model for husbands in a marriage.

Guys, if you marry her for beauty, won’t the beauty of your trophy wife fade with time? If you need her to fill your need for intimacy, will there not come a time when nature diminishes her passion for the same?

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Prov 31:30).

The phenomenon of older men leaving their marriage for younger women is due, in no small part, to the desire for the beauty and passion of youth. Guys, when we say, “till death do us part” do we really mean, “as long as you serve my purposes”? Do we enter the marriage as a tit-for-tat relationship?

Before and Outside Marriage

While Christian living does not call us to love everyone the way we love our spouse, one aspect remains true—we cannot be calculative.

The Lord has blessed me with many kind and generous friends, people I do not deserve. From time-to-time, I bump into a calculative person. Such people are not necessarily tight. (There are many wonderful people who live simply so they can give more. They are stingy on themselves and generous towards God.) We can have a calculative spender.  He can spend money freely on you, but he does so for something in return. These are calculative people. (Needless to say, some are both stingy and calculative.)

Meanness and marriage don’t go together. We need to approach all of life with a spirit of generosity.  If we will be successful in Christian marriage and in courtship, we cannot do it without cultivating a generous heart.

I am not asking you be become a spendthrift or a wastrel. These people spend money to make themselves happy, they do not possess true generosity. I just need to put this clause in so as not to enable the wonton spender. But we all recognize love and true generosity when we see it.

Some people have been hurt in love, and they turn inward. They may have been generous in the past, but have become mean without even knowing it. Such people need to heal and open their hearts once again if they hope to ever find love.

The same meanness or generosity that makes or breaks a marriage is also the key to your success in finding a life-partner. Generosity opens your heart and the hearts of those you encounter. Being calculative betrays a spirit of meanness; and they are one and the same.

One essential key to finding a life-partner is to learn the winsome generosity of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus loves us to the very end. But at the very start of learning the love of Christ is to learn generosity.