By Fern Horst
“Oh, great,” I thought. “Another piece of research touted by the Christian community in an attempt to shore up the crumbling institution of marriage.” It’s not that I was doubting the motive for quoting such research in the Christian magazine I was reading. I know all too well that the institution of marriage is in deep trouble in our world today, and I applaud any genuine method that will restore it to God’s original plan. I certainly want to defend marriage — but not at the expense of contradicting Scripture. Especially when that contradiction communicates to one segment of Christ’s Body that God favors them less than another part of Christ’s Body.
“But that is exactly what quoting this type of research does,” I thought. “It further reinforces the lie that many Christian singles already tend to believe — that they and their lives are inferior to those who are married. Furthermore, it tends to cause those who are unhappily married to think they have reason to divorce and marry someone else.” I glanced again at the most recent issue of Christianity Today in front of me:
Married people are less depressed, suicidal, violent, and prone to drug abuse than their single and divorced cohorts, says a report issued February 14 by the Institute for American Values, the Center of the American Experiment, and the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education. Married folks also live longer and make more money.1
It’s certainly not the first research done on the subject. In 1991, Robert Coombs published a literature review of 130 empirical studies from the 1930s to the 1990s, and concluded that “adults who are married do markedly better in every measure of well-being than those who are not married.” According to his review, married people live longer and generally are more emotionally and physically healthy than the unmarried. He goes on to report that for women, being unmarried is more dangerous than having cancer, being 20 pounds overweight, or being of low socio-economic status. For men, being unmarried is more dangerous than each of these, as well as heart disease.2
What indeed should Christian singles deduce from all these conclusive and supposedly authoritative studies? That we should all rush out en masse and grab the first available man or woman in sight and marry them — for our health’s sake? Really, who can argue with such solid grounds for the superiority of marriage?
As I pondered these supposed evidences and their effect not only on Christian singles but on the Body of Christ as a whole, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Dora, an unusually beautiful and charming woman. I love going to her apartment, or going out to do things with her. When we leave her building together we take the stairs from her third floor apartment rather than the elevator. That’s not so unusual, perhaps, except that Dora is 91. You’d never know it by looking at her, nor would you gauge it by her robust health and zest for living. In fact, Dora defies the statistics which Coombs gathered. She’s outlived all her younger siblings, each who had married and had families, while Dora—well, Dora never married. She has, though, lived a pure and holy life in dedicated service to the Lord.
Dora is precisely the type of unmarried person that I’m sure these scientific studies were not based on. For had they been based on a control group of Christian single people who had followed God’s commands throughout their lives, I can assure you there would have been no noticeable difference of life-span and quality of life between the married and the unmarried groups to report! How can I be so sure without spending years of study and meticulous research with a more narrowly defined group of unmarried people? I am sure because of what God says in His Word, and that is enough research for me! God declared long ago who will experience the greatest quality of life and well-being, and the deciding criteria has nothing to do with marital status. Consider a sampling of His Words:
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. (Prov. 3:1-2)Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation. (Psa. 91:14-16)
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Unmarried Christians who follow God’s commands, who serve Him with their lives and place their dependence on Him in times of difficulty and uncertainty, will hardly find themselves unhealthy and depressed long-term because of their marital status. It’s when we take our eyes off the Lord and His Word, and place our confidence in man’s “wisdom” and faulty research, that we start to doubt God’s goodness and love for us.
Interestingly enough, the only Scripture that indicates a superiority of happiness of one group over the other, puts the favor in the circle of unmarrieds who are serving the Lord without distraction:
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. (I Cor. 7:39-40)
But the overwhelming report results of that document we call the Bible, is that Jesus offers abundant life to all — married and unmarried alike. We can choose what we will believe — man’s research, or God’s. That choice will make all the difference in our zest for living the purposeful life that God has ordained for each of us.
1Ted Olson, “Under the Sun,” Christianity Today, (2002) 46.4, p.22.
2Robert H. Coombs, “Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review,” British Journal of Medical Psychology, (1991) 40:97-102, p.97.