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The High Ideal

Let us now go on to see the high ideal of the married state which Jesus sets before those who are willing to accept his commands. We will see that the Jewish ideal gives us the basis of the Christian ideal. The Jewish term for marriage was Kiddushin. Kiddushin meant sanctification or consecration. It was used to describe something which was dedicated to God as his exclusive and peculiar possession. Anything totally surrendered to God was kiddushin. This meant that in marriage the husband was consecrated to the wife, and the wife to the husband. The one became the exclusive possession of the other, as much as an offering became the exclusive possession of God. That is what Jesus meant when he said that for the sake of marriage a man would leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife; and that is what he meant when he said that man and wife became so totally one that they could be called one flesh. That was God's ideal of marriage as the old Genesis story saw it ( Genesis 2:24 ), and that is the ideal which Jesus restated. Clearly that idea has certain consequences.

(i) This total unity means that marriage is not given for one act in life, however important that act may be, but for all. That is to say that, while sex is a supremely important part of marriage, it is not the whole of it. Any marriage entered into simply because an imperious physical desire can be satisfied in no other way is foredoomed to failure. Marriage is given, not that two people should do one thing together, but that they should do all things together.

(ii) Another way to put this is to say that marriage is the total union of two personalities. Two people can exist together in a variety of ways. One can be the dominant partner to such an extent that nothing matters but his wishes and his convenience and his aims in life, while the other is totally subservient and exists only to serve the desires and the needs of the other. Again, two people can exist in a kind of armed neutrality, where there is continuous tension and continuous opposition, and continuous collision between their wishes. Life can be one long argument, and the relationship is based at best on an uneasy compromise. Again, two people can base their relationship on a more or less resigned acceptance of each other. To all intents and purposes, while they live together, each goes his or her own way, and each has his or her own life. They share the same house but it would be an exaggeration to say that they share the same home.

Clearly none of these relationships is the ideal. The ideal is that in the marriage state two people find the completing of their personalities. Plato had a strange idea. He has a kind of legend that originally human beings were double what they are now. Because their size and strength made them arrogant, the gods cut them in halves; and real happiness comes when the two halves find each other again, and marry, and so complete each other.

Marriage should not narrow life; it should complete it. For both partners it must bring a new fulness, a new satisfaction, a new contentment into life. It is the union of two personalities in which the two complete each other. That does not mean that adjustments, and even sacrifices, have not to be made; but it does mean that the final relationship is fuller, more joyous, more satisfying than any life in singleness could be.

(iii) We may put this even more practically--marriage must be a sharing of all the circumstances of life. There is a certain danger in the delightful time of courtship. In such days it is almost inevitable that the two people will see each other at their best. These are days of glamour. They see each other in their best clothes; usually they are bent on some pleasure together; often money has not yet become a problem. But in marriage two people must see each other when they are not at their best; when they are tired and weary; when children bring the upset to a house and home that children must bring; when money is tight, and food and clothes and bills become a problem; when moonlight and roses become the kitchen sink and walking the floor at night with a crying baby. Unless two people are prepared to face the routine of life as well as the glamour of life together, marriage must be a failure.

(iv) From that there follows one thing, which is not universally true, but which is much more likely than not to be true. Marriage is most likely to be successful after a fairly long acquaintanceship, when the two people involved really know each other's background. Marriage means constantly living together. It is perfectly possible for ingrained habits, unconscious mannerisms, ways of upbringing to collide. The fuller the knowledge people have of each other before they decide indissolubly to link their lives together the better. This is not to deny that there can be such a thing as love at first sight, and that love can conquer all things, but the fact is that the greater mutual knowledge people have of each other the more likely they are to succeed in making their marriage what it ought to be.

(v) All this leads us to a final practical conclusion--the basis of marriage is togetherness, and the basis of togetherness is nothing other than considerateness. If marriage is to succeed, the partners must always be thinking more of each other than of themselves. Selfishness is the murderer of any personal relationship; and that is truest of all when two people are bound together in marriage.

Somerset Maughan tells of his mother. She was lovely and charming and beloved by all. His father was not by any means handsome, and had few social and surface gifts and graces. Someone once said to his mother, "When everyone is in love with you, and when you could have anyone you liked, how can you remain faithful to that ugly little man you married?" She answered simply: "He never hurts my feelings." There could be no finer tribute.

The true basis of marriage is not complicated and recondite--it is simply the love which thinks more of the happiness of others than it thinks of its own, the love which is proud to serve, which is able to understand, and therefore always able to forgive. That is to say, it is the Christlike love, which knows that in forgetting self it will find self, and that in losing itself it will complete itself.

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