St Andrewís Croydon
5th October 2003
That UN-Certain Feeling
A fortnight ago in Trumps and Bumps we thought about the part that feelings should (and should not) play in the life of a Christian. This morning we shall take it a stage further by taking one commonly experienced feeling Ė whatís known as "falling (or being) in love" and seeing how it fits into Godís overall plan for our lives. Itís popularly called "That Certain Feeling" but, as we shall see, "That UN-certain Feeling" would describe it more accurately.
First, however, letís remind ourselves of some of the general principles to be aware of when we are talking about feelings
Feelings are part of our animal nature. Thatís not to say they arenít important. If we didnít have feelings like hunger, thirst, fear, tiredness, pleasure, pain, heat and cold each of which prompts us to do something (like having something to eat or drink, or to go to bed) we should be dead very soon. So we should always pay attention to our feelings.But feelings can, and often do, change dramatically. This makes them an unreliable guide about what we should do in a given situation. For example Fear in an emergency can easily turn into panic; but to do what panic suggests will usually be wrong.
This is also true of moral choices. If we choose to behave only on the basis of our feelings Ė to do what feels good Ė we shall sooner or later regret it.
Nowhere is this last fact more likely to be true than in the case of Romantic Love. Those who commit themselves to each other on the basis of their feelings, however strong those feelings may be, easily come to grief. Think for a moment of people you know whose lives have been ruined, or certainly damaged, by a broken marriage, a child born out of wedlock, abusive parents and sexually transmitted disease; and then contrast that with the many stable, happy, fulfilling Christian experiences of Holy Matrimony, which you may have been fortunate enough to have experienced personally. Even if your experience has been an unhappy one, you will be aware of the difference in quality between your own experience, and those who have been happily married for many years. Theyíre as different as chalk and cheese.
At this point let me tell you something which may surprise you. The notion that "being in love" is the best, if not the only grounds, on which to choose a partner for life is a comparatively recent one. Until about two hundred years ago the great literary stories about people being in love with each other were nearly always tragedies. Plays like Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Othello, and operas like La Traviata, Carmen and Rigoletto are all about people who fall in love with someone who, for a variety of reasons, is wholly unsuitable. Everyone else can see that; the tragedy lies in the fact that the pair principally involved simply cannot. Love has made them blind, and impervious to reason.
Of course men and women have always taken a shine to each other. If they hadnít the human race would have died out long ago. So feelings in themselves are nothing to be ashamed of. They are part of Godís creation which He came to share with us at the Incarnation when he became Man. But the serious business of getting married, bearing children and bringing them up in the fear and nurture of the Lord was always seen as something quite different Ė as different as wishing that one could play the piano or drive a car is from having driving or music lessons. Thereís nothing wrong with the wish; without it nobody would probably ever become proficient at anything. But thereís a world of difference between longing to play or drive on the one hand, and on the other having to practise those tedious five-finger exercises or three-point turns in order to achieve that wish.. Thereís also a world of difference between a man and a woman being attracted to one another, and the actual day-to-day reality of living together as husband and wife, especially when children begin to come on the scene.
But that difference, between wish and reality, is not the only one. There is also another fundamental difference between what happens when two Christian people enter into whatís called Holy Matrimony, and two other people, whose lives lack any spiritual dimension, who just "decide to get married".
Outwardly the difference may not be all that obvious. Both weddings may take place in a Church. Both may have exactly the same paraphernalia of bridesmaids, wedding dress, morning suit, best man, ushers, confetti, receptions and honeymoon. But Mr and Mrs Christian, when they enter into Holy Matrimony are consciously doing something quite different from their secular counterparts.
It will be different because, in the words of the marriage service, they will be embarking upon this adventure "in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained".
To understand this reason why God ordained marriage we have to look at what St Paul says about it in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes:
Husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body Ė and we are its living parts. For this reason, a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one body. This mystery has may implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church.
Did those words about men and women leaving father and mother and becoming one body with his wife sound familiar? They should do, because we have heard them twice already this morning, in the First reading and the Gospel.
They tell us that Marriage, as itís intended by God, isnít simply a way of perpetuating the human race, nor of enabling men and women to look after each other Ė though it incidentally achieves both those ends.
No. Marriage, according to Godís purposes, achieves the miraculous effect of reproducing a miniature image of the "mystical union that is between Christ and his Church". Every time a man and a woman enter into the Holy Estate of Matrimony they are creating an icon or living representation of Jesus Christ and his Living Church. And the more of these living icons of Christ there are in the world, the more likely people are to be aware of them.
They say, donít they, that a single image is worth a thousand words. Well a single Christian Marriage is a better advertisement for what we believe than a thousand sermons or services.
It follows that Holy Marriage is intended by God to be no mere temporary agreement between two parties, man and woman (which can therefore be ended for either partyís convenience) is, in reality, a three-sided affair of which God is one of the sides. It must be seen not so much as a matter of merely human choice but as what is called a vocation or a calling Ė that is, something to which we are called by God; and since God is one of the sides, He contributes to every marriage an element of permanence.
The opposite side of this coin is, of course, the fact that God calls some people to serve him by remaining unmarried Ė far more men and women than is generally realised. Remaining single should not therefore be thought of as a failure (to get married) but an unrivalled opportunity to serve God in ways that no married person, especially with the responsibility of a young family, could possible contemplate doing.
Of course all this is something which a generation like ours, who look upon feelings and their gratification as their guiding principle, is going to find it very difficult to accept. Their ways are not Godís ways as sooner or later they discover to their considerable cost.
But it does mean that those who enter into Christian Marriage do so from a completely different outlook from those in whose lives and choices God plays no part.
Which of the two is the more likely to lead to happiness and fulfilment I leave you to guess Ė but let your guess be informed by those words we so often read on the side of packages: "For best results, follow the Makerís instructions".
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