Will COVID-19 be enough to scare people back to reality, or will our world change beyond recognition?
A curious thing happened at our Tomorrow’s World offices here in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in our local Living Church of God congregation. It all began because we had a higher than usual number of young adults planning weddings for early spring and summer.
Each member of these couples is much like others who want to share their lives with another. Many brides shop for that “just-right” dress. They plan what the bridesmaids will wear and choose flowers to decorate the venue. Meals are often part of the reception, and bands are sometimes hired for a dance. As the price increases, the bride’s father in some instances may identify with the character Steve Martin played in the movie Father of the Bride, though in the case of modern marriages, the bride and groom sometimes contribute their own funds to the occasion. Weddings these days are often expensive events.
But then something unexpected happened: pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. Forced to decide between an expensive, “dream” wedding that would need to be postponed until who-knows-when, and a simpler ceremony that could be performed now, one couple after another chose the simple ceremony with the minister and a handful of witnesses—no expensive dress, no elaborate reception, no expensive meal and band, and minimal flowers. Even the honeymoon was within driving distance, if any travel was possible at all.
This was not the wedding they had planned! But it certainly made memories and some of these couples may have saved enough for a down payment on a future home. There will no doubt be a reception at some later date, though probably not as elaborate or expensive as the wedding would have been.
My Uncle George once told me, “There is nothing like a good depression to bring people back to reality.” This surprised me when I was younger, and I wondered what my atheist uncle considered “reality.” What did he value? It was obvious his values and mine were not the same. Nevertheless, I think I know what he meant by his comment and I’m convinced he was right. He had survived the Great Depression and World War II, and understood—as King Solomon did (Ecclesiastes 7:2)—that there are events that strip away the superficialities of life and help us to see what is truly important. COVID-19 is just such an event. So, to paraphrase my uncle, “There is nothing like a good pandemic to bring us back to reality.”
Perhaps that is why Bible sales increased when this crisis set in. People privately ask themselves, “Will I get sick? Will I survive? Will this be how I die?” Yes, people begin wondering about the big questions. “What is the purpose of life? And when I die, will I live again?” These questions come to the minds of many. (If you have been contemplating your mortality in recent months, why not explore the topic with our booklet What Happens When You Die? The answer is both sobering and encouraging.)
I am not suggesting that weddings are no big deal—we read in the Bible of marriage celebrations lasting several days. But marriage today is rarely what it was intended to be. Too many couples have everything in the wrong order: They move in together, maybe even have children, and then, possibly, get married. Weddings today are divorced from marriage and have become one-day opportunities for couples to have their “day in the sun.” As the institution of marriage has been increasingly devalued, many weddings themselves have lost their connection to the sanctity of marriage and marital privileges.
Few today put real thought into what marriage truly means. Many consider it merely some cultural tradition where the bride gets to “Say yes to the dress!” How many times have you heard someone sneeringly say that marriage is no more than a piece of paper? With such disrespect for the institution of marriage itself, it is no surprise that so many people couple and de-couple at will and that many marriages don’t last.
I enjoy talking to people about my wife’s parents and their wedding—to say it was merely “simple” would be an understatement. They showed up unexpectedly at the minister’s home at supper time and waited while the man and his wife finished eating. Just the four of them were present as the two “tied the knot.” There were only two wedding pictures: She stood by a tree and he took her picture with a box camera, and then they traded places as she returned the favor. That was long before selfies, where they could have stood by the tree together!
Despite this humble beginning, they stayed married for 72 years and raised two beautiful daughters. Did they have their struggles? Yes, just as most couples do. But they understood commitment and responsibility. How different from the elaborate and expensive events we see today, after which the husband and wife remain “faithful” so long as they can get along without too much difficulty—or until one jumps into bed with someone else.
For many of the weddings we have seen recently in our office and congregation, the couples faced the choice between getting married earlier or waiting to have an elaborate ceremony much later, so they chose the former.
This does not mean, of course, that a couple would be wrong for waiting so that more family and friends could be present. Not at all. But one thing is clear in all of this: How simple or how elaborate the wedding and reception may be has nothing to do with how long the marriage will last. Understanding God’s purpose for marriage and the willingness to commit to one another and work through difficult times are far more important. And the size of one’s wedding is not a very reliable indicator of the depth of one’s commitment.
Even though few understand the God-given purposes behind marriage, study after study shows that marriage matters. Although many marriages fail, statistically, marriage wins out over cohabitation every time. However, saving oneself for marriage is not the trend today.
A November 6, 2019, Pew Research Center study reported that the number of cohabiting adults in the U.S. continues to rise, and that it is now more common for those of ages 18 to 44 to have cohabited sometime during their lives than for them to have been married. This is not surprising, as 69 percent of Americans believe living together before marriage is acceptable and an additional 16 percent say it is acceptable as long as the couple plans to marry. Only 14 percent find sleeping together prior to marriage unacceptable. In other words, only 14 percent subscribe to biblical values (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:19–21; Ephesians 5:3). It is hard to believe the situation is any better in other Western countries.
Nevertheless, marriage benefits the couple, the family, and society. Detailing those bountiful benefits is beyond the scope of my message here, though I will mention just one example: Pew Research also reported that the same study showed that “married adults express higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust in their partner than do those who are cohabiting” (“Key findings on marriage and cohabitation in the U.S.,” PewResearch.org). For those who understand the purpose of marriage, this is no surprise at all.
Yes, there is nothing like a good depression or pandemic to bring people back to reality—but has society declined so far that people have no idea what is real and what is not? When it comes to marriage, most people never consider its God-given purposes. In fact, they do not consider that God has anything at all to do with marriage, beyond having a beautiful “church” wedding. If you would like to discover more about this subject, please contact our office nearest you and request a copy of God’s Plan for Happy Marriage. As with all of our materials, the booklet is free of charge.