Man’s Responsibility and Marriage

God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1

Last week, I wrote an article on God’s providence and marriage. Several questions were raised that I want to address in this post: What about free will? If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty?

As a starting point, it’s important to remember that the issue God’s providence and man’s responsibility is one that has been debated forever. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity, this issue is hard to understand and difficult to get a handle on. Anyone who says they fully understand it is kidding themselves. I know that I don’t have it all figured out, so what I offer here are simply my thoughts on the matter.

What about free will? I don’t believe, and Scripture doesn’t teach, that God controls us like automatons or puppets. As the quote above from the Confession states, God doesn’t force us to act contrary to our wills. God doesn’t make us choose a particular person to marry. And we certainly can’t say that we have no responsibility for our actions. As the Confession also points out, God is not the author of sin. We are capable of making very bad, very sinful decisions. This can include deciding who to marry.

If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Short answer: nope. This is a common misunderstanding/misapplication of Scripture and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. God does not have a secret, hidden, mystical plan for your life that you must diligently seek to decipher and that you can therefore miss if you fail to decipher it correctly.

It’s true that we are not privy to all the why’s and how’s of God’s providence, but we cannot act in such a way as to thwart God’s will. So, can you marry the “wrong” person? No, but you can make poor choices that you’ll have to live with. Which brings me to my next question.

Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? Again, the short answer is “no.” Even if you’ve made very bad, very sinful decisions, you have not missed out on God’s plan for your life. There is not someone out there that God meant for you to marry instead. “God didn’t plan for me to marry you” is not a biblical reason for divorce.

Just as a side note, I do believe that there are biblical reasons for divorce. These include adultery, desertion, and abuse (which is a form of desertion). These reasons for divorce are not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is the frequently cited “irreconcilable differences” type of divorce. This leads to my last question.

If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty? And the corollary: If my marriage is hard work, does that mean I married the wrong person and we should get divorced? As I said in the previous answer, there are biblical reasons for divorce, but marriage is hard work is not one of them.

There are several issues at play here. First, I am a sinner (saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Second, I’m married to a sinner (also saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Third, the world we live in is damaged by sin and the effects of the fall. Because of these, in my marriage, I will sin and make my marriage difficult at times. Other times, my husband will sin and make our marriage hard work. And beyond both of us, the circumstances of the world we live in will bring pain and difficulty into our marriage.

Marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it isn’t. But the difficulties that we encounter are not proof that we’ve somehow missed God’s plan for our lives nor are they an excuse to break our marriage vows.

To summarize, God’s providence for our lives does include who we marry. However, we are still responsible for the choices we make. We may make bad choices, and we may have to live with the results of our choices. Even in our poor decisions, we can’t miss God’s plan for our lives. God’s providence includes even the difficult things in our lives. Our comfort is not in a promise that life will be easy, but that God is sovereign and that nothing happens (even the bad things) outside of His will.

3 thoughts on “Man’s Responsibility and Marriage

  1. Timothy says:

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for your work on this. Both pieces were well done and give clear biblical views of marriage. We need more clarity on this in the church.
    Blessings

  2. Mary Beth Witt says:

    I enjoyed your articles. I have been married twice. In the first marriage I made a poor choice in who I married, because that choice was based purely on me and my perceived self-sufficiency in making a choice about who to marry. The end result was devastating. But here is the thing once I was in an extremely difficult marriage I knew the choice was mine, I made that bed and I had to lie in it. Divorce was not an option, this much I knew and I turned to God for help in staying in that marriage. Unfortunately, my husband did not know this and did not turn to God and instead turned to another woman and started a family with that woman. This resulted in the termination of our marriage, which I fully accept as a consequence of a poor choice that I made. But God is gracious and he puts the lonely into families. The second time around I can honestly say that I did not make the choice alone. God fully opened my eyes to someone who I had known for most of my life and the choice was made with godly counsel. I do believe that our marriage was created by God, I so wish it had been my first. My husband feels the same way and we seek God and his will together to strengthen and sustain our marriage. Is it difficult? absolutely. Will it ever end in divorce? No, by the grace of God.

  3. Ted Torreson says:

    Great article! I’d add to it our comfort is more than in the fact that God is Sovereign, but also that God works all things for the good of those who love him. This could play out in different ways in marriage. God could be using the difficult times to draw you, your family, others involved to a dependence on God. He could be allowing the difficulties to display his love, forgiveness, and redemption. Ultimately, whether great difficulties are a permanent or passing thing in a marriage, God will use relationships to remind us of the perfect husband, Jesus who will present his bride (The Church) pure and spotless on the day of his coming. He’s the one who can ultimately fulfill all the yearning of our hearts. God could be allowing difficulties in marriages so that one might lift their eyes to the day of restorations when all relationships will be perfect.

    Thanks for a great post!

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