Sociologists or Psychologists might use the term life scripts. They are simply narratives of how one might see his life playing out if everything went perfectly. Nothing ever goes perfectly in life, but a general life script is rather robust. Before the great disruption these were things fathers gave to sons and mothers to daughters almost by default. Those life scripts did a couple of things. First, they passed on the collective wisdom of the ages. But then they also gave society’s general approval to accomplishments that benefited both the individual and society. Graduating from school, getting a job, getting married and having kids is a successful life script. If you followed it and stuck with it you will find your share of satisfaction out of life.
But for many people those life scripts were thrown out around mid-century. On the one hand, it opened life up to an endless series of choices which could be more rewarding and fulfilling than the defaults parents used to hand on. It opened up self-actualization on a clean sheet of paper. On the other, if you were not able to set your own goals, and society stopped rewarding and often punished as “square” the former choices, many thinking they were chasing self-actualization simply shipwrecked their lives.
It is spring, and as they say that is when “a young man’s heart turns to love.” I also just saw past my 25th anniversary. And something as a pastor that I do want to encourage is a piece of a life script with biblical backing. The very first act of God toward mankind is officiating a wedding. We Lutherans might not call marriage a sacrament, but that is more because sacraments are a definitional game, and we are very specific. A Lutheran sacrament is for the forgiveness of sins (along with instituted by Christ and having a visible means.) But the first blessing of God to all mankind are the vocations of husband and wife. The right and proper life script of a Christian most likely involves marriage. We will discuss exceptions which are not about self-actualization. Our culture is still pushing that well past its sell-by date and even defines marriage around it. But a marriage that is about individual self-actualization is not a marriage.
So first, what is a marriage? Jesus centers marriage in his teaching in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and he quotes from that first marriage, almost like he was the officiant. The picture given is that marriage is the creation of “one flesh (Gen 2:24).” The individuals are gone, the marriage is the reality. And from here I am roughly going to follow the marriage liturgy’s description. That reality of our marriages is a reflection, an icon, of the union of Christ and the church. And just as you cannot imagine Christ and the church splitting, a rupture in an icon of it tells us something has gone wrong.
But what is the purpose of marriage? Marriage is first “intended by God for the mutual companionship, help and support that each person ought to receive, both in prosperity and adversity.” If we are seeking self-actualization, when things aren’t working to our personal advantage, we take off. The Christian marriage is made of sterned stuff. Marriage is about the sexual union. “God has not called us to impurity but in holiness.” Sex is an aspect of marriage and apart from that is an act of theft and falsehood. Why exactly? Because “God also established marriage for the procreation of children.” This is the one that bothers the self-actualization folks the most. Marriage has a purpose outside of the self. And that purpose is the creation of the living one flesh union of children. The last purpose the liturgy gives us is that marriage exists so that those children “may be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.” This is a primary Christian calling. God blessed it in Eden before the fall. And paradoxically sacrificing the self for the union and the kids will lead to much greater satisfaction than most self-actualization schemes.
So what can we say about exceptions? The apostles, after hearing Jesus’ teaching on marriage, decide that “it would be better not to marry (Matt 19:10).” It is something of a crude joke ala “heh, if I can’t divorce why would I ever marry. I’ll just fornicate.” And Jesus responds to them that their assumption is wrong. “There are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.” The apostle Paul elaborates on this in 1 Corinthians 7. The married person “is anxious about worldly things (7:33).” Things like husband and wife and their welfare. Things like kids and their instruction. But the single person has the ability “to secure undivided devotion to the Lord.” Not to self-actualize to the maximum, to live only for the self. But that calling is to live for God. There is a reason both Jesus and Paul think that is a tougher calling. Jesus adds his phrase, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” which I always read as him thinking not too many.
So, you do have the Christian freedom to follow different life scripts. But contrary to the world there are God ordained paths. Marriage is a likely path for most. And something to be held up for honor.