Paul's Passing Thoughts

Marriage is NOT an Institution

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 7, 2021

Yesterday, we had a little COVID style wedding here at the Potter’s House for Phillip and Harmony. Don’t tell the state of Ohio, but 11 people attended. I think you are only allowed 10. It was decided a little late in the game that I would be the officiant, so I hurriedly collected all of my thoughts about marriage over the years and put something together. The last wedding I did was in 1983. Furthermore, I had a medical episode in the middle of the address that I was able to work through by resorting to memory, so of course, I didn’t end up delivering the address exactly as planned. Today, while reviewing yesterday in my head, I decided that some of what I said yesterday should be articulated and written down. I have also added some thoughts and this is the long version.

I began by noting the following: people all over the world in different cultures, different customs, different ideology, differing politics, different religions, etc., get married. Conservatives get married, liberals get married, atheists get married, gay people get married. Religious and the irreligious get married. Couples that don’t necessarily believe they even need marriage…get married. Why is that? What compels marriage? Why do couples want to go that extra mile and make this commitment to each other? Well, I think we have stumbled upon the answer in the question; it’s about commitment. It would seem that in a relationship, when the two begin to treasure each other, they want some surety, no? Marriage is a commitment. It is one telling another that they are treasured. “You are valuable to me.” That’s what marriage is, and that’s why people do it.

Life. We all have to face it one way or another. There is no escaping that. I don’t want to put life in a negative light because life is a good thing, but, life is definitely a force to be reckoned with. How we deal with life, how we negotiate life, is the difference between happiness and the lack thereof. No one is meant to negotiate life alone. That’s not how God has organized life; the pain of loneliness is testimony to that. We find success in life and victory over life’s challenges, resulting in happiness, through family, and marriage is the beginning of that to one degree or another. Marriage is two people who have coveted with each other to negotiate life together. They are life companions. A family is those two people or more.

Children are wonderful, but they don’t technically define a family in totality. Sometimes the addition of children comes later, but children don’t make the companionship of marriage complete. A number of years later, children depart, and the married couple remain one. They will move on to negotiate life’s next chapter together and whatever it brings.

Those who know me know I am a very practical person that believes every problem has a solution. How wonderful it would be if there was a math book on having a happy marriage. But I must confess, I think there is at least a little bit of magic in love and marriage. Being together is natural. You don’t need a how-to book in order to have a good time. Most people get married because their relationship has that magic. Wanting to be together and being happy, when together, comes naturally. My advice? Don’t ever lose that. I can’t write a book on that, but I can point you in the right direction. Together, you will have to figure out the rest on your own, but that’s what marriage is about anyway. It is your house to build together. I have come to believe that marriage has not become better because of outside experts. There are presently more marriage experts than there has ever been in history, and divorce has never been higher. I have come to believe the key to a successful marriage is the focus on a handful of principles by the couple and the couple deciding themselves how they will apply those principles to their lives. This article is about those principles.

This is an important clarification for me because Susan and I do marriage counseling from time to time. I have always done it in an endeavor to learn more about marriage because I am a good marriage counselor. What makes me good? I admit I have never helped a marriage with my counseling. I have come to believe that in most cases, the fanning of the flame that initially brings two people together is key. I believe love is a mysterious power, natural, and intrinsic within the human soul as placed there by God. Let me offer some objective proof. We have all seen those interviews with old people who have been married 40, 50, or even 60+ years. We all wait with bated breath to hear what the “secret” to their success is. The answer is always very short, and disappointing. The old guy will usually say something like, “Always agree with the wife.” It’s a humorous way of saying, “We really don’t know.”

Well, I do know something: the institutionalization of love, and marriage, is love’s worst enemy. Sometimes, what is natural is best left alone. Institutions, and experts, are all about authority; love is all about being one body. Marriages fail because they are legal. The difference between law and love is a metaphysical understanding that is all but void in our culture; primarily, because of church. Love is a law of wisdom, while the written code is a law of authority. Both have their place, but when the two are conflated, evil is the result. More than not, authority rejects the idea that love is intrinsic within humanity. You see, if all people have love to some degree, or at least most, the masses do not need to be compelled to do good. And, by the way, who decides the qualifications for those in humanity capable of judging such? That is, what love is and how people should be compelled to do it. At what counsel was that decided? Did God appoint a special committee that we are unaware of? And, calling an expert an “authority” on something harkens back to the expectation that you will obey the experts. How often do the opinions of experts cause a division between two married couples? Often. Furthermore, the so-called experts are no more victorious over life’s challenges than most people. Psychologists have a higher rate of suicide than any other profession.

However, the best example of the institutionalization of love and marriage, ironically, is the church, which is called upon in the Bible to be a body. It is far from that; actually, the opposite. Over the years I have been involved in so-called biblical marriage counseling and have paid attention to its newest trends. I hear a popular mantra of late that goes like this: “Marriage is hard work; you must both put effort into making a marriage work.” God help us. Love is not hard work. People don’t even like hard work! Seriously, we don’t have enough jobs? Marriage is just another job in our lives?

We hear about “pre-marriage counseling.” I use to do a lot of it. One of the things they tell you is, “Figure out a budget that you agree on right away because financial problems are the number one stress factor in a marriage!” And thus, we have the primary focus of pre-marital counseling: to prevent the inevitable problem marriage unless you adhere to the sound advice of the experts. No, here is what I figured out eventually, love doesn’t need a rule book for “totally depraved” people trying to have a happy marriage. We even hear this from time to time: “Marriage is two sinners living together.” Yikes! Let me tell you my definition of marriage counseling whether secular or religious: it’s two people with a long list of sins, which presents the case for why one should be in control of the other. But love doesn’t keep a record of wrong for that reason; marriage is not law, it’s love. Trust me, there are a lot of marriages out there held together by law and not love. On the one hand, the couple hates each other, but on the other hand, “Thus saith the Lord, God hates divorce!” How appropriate that a law-based marriage is being held together by the law and not love.

Hence, supposedly, the key to a successful marriage is making a “log list” of your partners offences, and vise versa, and committing to not continuing in those offenses. Like most uses of scripture in the church, Jesus’ “Take the log out of your own eye before your remove a splinter from your brother’s eye” refers to hypocrisy, not law-keeping. And, we are talking about laws that are probably, more than not, spousal preferences to begin with. Church counseling even has a procedure for seeking forgiveness from your spouse for offences, and this forgiveness process is supposedly efficacious for healing the marriage. It is said that a “lifestyle of repentance” is critical for a happy marriage and since marriage is “two sinners living together,” the ongoing process of seeking forgiveness is critical for the success of a marriage. Well, what is the church’s definition of sin? Right, a violation of the law. So, every morning when a spouse wakes up, the goal is not to violate the other spouses law. Things are not done out of love, but merely to keep the peace. As Susan once said, “There is common-law marriage, and common-law divorce.”

At the beginning of your marriage you aren’t going to get up every morning concerned with how not to offend your life companion. No, you are going to get up every day wondering how you are going to love each other because the honeymoon isn’t over yet, right? You wake up wondering what love will bring into your lives. Well, there you go, just don’t stop doing that. It’s not impossible because marriage, in fact, is not an institution based on a bunch of laws; it’s based on love.

Love believes all things. And it is patient. You will need patience, but here is something that will help you with it and it is connected to believing the best about your life companion. First of all, love isn’t always as kind as it strives to be, but it doesn’t need restitution for every failure. Chill out; failure to love doesn’t always require a coming to Jesus meeting complete with a wooden alter and a sacrifice of every kind. Love makes forgiveness easy because you believe the best about the other person. You don’t define them by their failures. That’s what law does, not love. They shouldn’t have to prove they are really the person you married through some restitution process because you know them and their failure to love is not who they really are. They don’t have to say, “I didn’t mean what I said,” you already knew that. Here is the difference: if love prevails, annoyances would be something that you would miss if your spouse was no longer with you. They would be painful reminders that your companion is no longer with you; that’s what you are having patience with. Love can live with your faults because the absence of those faults may also mean the absence of the loved one. The opposite of love delights in evil (literally, “wrongdoing”) because it makes the case for why the other person is an idiot and should therefore be ruled over. The world loves to play that game, but there is no place for it in marriage.

That’s why the opposite of marriage is divorce, which is all about condemnation and restitution, right? And trust me, the condemnation didn’t start at the end. And all too often, it is an attempt to get restitution for every perceived failure during the marriage. The apostle Paul said to only be indebted to each other according to love. Condemnation is a debt that can never be fully paid…keep it out of your marriage. Love is also a debt that can never be paid, and that is a good thing, so focus on that. One tears down, the other builds up. Once, in a marriage situation involving a couple I met with along with their church counselors, one of the counselors stated that our goal was to “Maintain the marriage covenant.” Don’t miss that. It sounds spiritual, but it reveals how the church is totally law-driven and has no real concept of body-life. You love your own body; that’s totally natural, and the whole point.

Let me illustrate that biblically. What does the biblical one flesh mean? It means one body. Let me tell you about a body. Most body functions are what we call, “involuntary.” Cells have bodies and minds of their own, literally. The fact of the matter is, I can’t tell my body to do squat. If I want my arm to raise up, I can order it to do so all day long, but guess what, if it isn’t a healthy arm, it does nothing. Now, I can make healthy choices and nourish my body, and I can edify my body, and there you have it; that’s marriage. It is the edification and building up of each other because you are one body. Paul states elsewhere in the Bible that no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it. There you have it…that’s Paul’s point.

With all of this comes a caution: love is also a law of sorts. Though it never walks with condemnation, life requires wisdom for a return on happiness. Love is about true companionship; the Bible calls it “oneness.” Therefore, love does not keep a record of wrong. It doesn’t ask, “Did you sin today?” It asks, “Did you love today?” It believes the best about others. It builds up, and doesn’t tear down, because no person seeks to tear down themselves. No person seeks to condemn themselves; that is not a happy person. On the other hand, courtship is important because it reveals how well you will be one together. Is the courtship a natural flow of peace and happiness with a few bumps in the road? Then that’s the kind of marriage you should expect.

Love is a bit of a mystery, but always starts out strong. That is, happiness is easy and natural. Then, life starts happening. A married couple must always remember that it is the world against the two of them; the very reason they have come together is companionship and the negotiating of life together as one body. That should be, and is, a boundary, and the world, as well as the church, will arrogantly cross that boundary. There is certainly no problem with a married couple seeking advice on life issues, but that advice should never cause a division in the body of one-flesh marriage.

Marriage is not a department of a church institution or a government institution. And, it is not an institution driven by law. There is no authority in a body; I can wish the best for my body, and I can love it, but I can’t tell it what to do. Love doesn’t use fear for anything, and loves a willful giver. Marriage is not an institution driven by authority and law, it is driven by love.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s