Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Covenant First

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11).

I recently read an excellent book entitled, The Death of the Grown Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West. The basic premise of the book is that adolescents are expected to act adolescent. They're expected to test the ropes, buck the system, rebel against authority, and make foolish, compulsive decisions; while grown ups are expected to hold the ropes tightly, maintain the established, well-tested system, impose authority, and prevent (and if necessary clean up after) foolish, compulsive decisions. The problem the book addresses is that, while adolescents are acting as adolescent as ever, parents are acting as adolescent as ever, right along with their real adolescents. There is no grown up in the average American home. And children are left exposed to all the dangers flowing from the folly of the depraved human heart. Civilization cannot last long when the cultural, moral and civic standard is being set by fifteen year olds. West gives example after example to prove her case. Her points are articulate, well researched, and convicting.

It seems that since I've read the book, I'm hyper-sensitive to West's observations. While I would argue that there is a huge difference between being a Christian, and acting Christianly, I can't help but see, and be disgusted with, adult adolescent values and behavior everywhere they rear their ugly head. I expect such values and behaviors from adolescents. What has become obvious to me is the pervasiveness of adults thinking and desiring like children. Don't get me wrong, I'm a maturing adolescent myself. I hate it as much in myself as in others. And I've been consciously trying to grow up - to speak, think and reason as an adult.

One thing we expect from children is dishonesty. It seems deception, manipulation and pie-crust promises are a part of the adolescent mind. Another thing we expect from children is compulsive behavior that doesn't take into consideration the consequences of actions. Children rarely think of the long-term affects of their decisions.

What happens when adults act like adolescents in the realm of marriage? I would argue divorce happens. People come to an alter or a judge on a whim, make a pie-crust promise that is easily made and easily broken, and have a couple kids. Then they decide the whole thing was a mistake and try to start over with someone else. It seems America is raising generation after generation of adolescents who enter adulthood without the values and mindset it takes to honor obligations and consider others better than themselves. In other words, adolescents never move beyond adolescent thoughts, desires and priorities, even while their hair is graying and their skin is wrinkling and they're racking up spouses like credit card debt. When such people get married, we can expect chaos.

As a pastor, my goal is to help people move beyond such childish thinking. I want to help couples who have been raised to be perpetual adolescents think and want what flows from a mature worldview. Obviously, I don't believe people can be truly mature outside of a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. What concerns me is when people have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and continue to think and want like those adolescent-minded folks who do not.

Christians must be taught and retaught that marriage is first and foremost a covenant. It is a lifelong vow of exclusive devotion. Marriage is, of course, so much more than that. But it is never any less. So where are your thoughts and desires? Are you breezing through life and marriage as an adolescent with graying hair? Or can you say with Paul that you've given up childish ways? For the sake of your marriage, and possibly your eternal happiness, I pray you see marriage as a covenant first, and you stay faithful to it until you die.

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