The Troubles of Marriage

“Life has always been a challenge, for all people, but especially those who want to do it right.”

If you want to hear about the many troubles a man faces heading into marriage today you can find video after video on YouTube from countless creators and presenters explaining the pitfalls of entering into marriage.

They will make a pretty solid case that the state is against you, because it is; that feminism has corrupted women, the courts and many other aspects of our society, and it has; they will also explain to you how much harder it is for a man to support a family today and actually count on coming home to a loyal wife, and it is harder for many people. And many other things.

They will bombard you with facts, stats and anecdotal accounts of situations where men have been decimated by the courts, by women, and by society, and they will show you example after example of how degraded the modern woman is.

And my encouragement to you is to simply smile and nod and say, “Don’t tell me the odds.” Because marriage has always been hard, it has always been plagued by the curse of sin, at least since the fall, and you have to recognize to some degree men have always had an uphill battle in this world to succeed in marriage.

I came across this fascinating passage in John Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 7. Now I am not a Calvinist, but this man still manages to offer great insight from time to time, and this passage really caught my attention:

“What the Lord there pronounces to be evil Paul here declares to be good I answer, that in so far as a wife is a help to her husband, so as to make his life happy, that is in accordance with God’s institution; for in the beginning God appointed it so, that the man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man, and felt himself destitute of special and necessary assistance, and the wife is, as it were, the completing of the man. Sin afterwards came in to corrupt that institution of God; for in place of so great a blessing there has been substituted a grievous punishment, so that marriage is the source and occasion of many miseries. Hence, whatever evil or inconvenience there is in marriage, that arises from the corruption of the divine institution. Now, although there are in the meantime some remains still existing of the original blessing, so that a single life is often much more unhappy than the married life; yet, as married persons are involved in many inconveniences, it is with good reason that Paul teaches that it would be good for a man to abstain. In this way, there is no concealment of the troubles that are attendant upon marriage; and yet, in the meantime, there is no countenance given to those profane jests which are commonly in vogue with a view to bring it into discredit, such as the following: that a wife is a necessary evil, and that a wife is one of the greatest evils. For such sayings as these have come from Satan’s workshop, and have a direct tendency to brand with disgrace God’s holy institution; and farther, to lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence, as though it were a deadly evil and pest.

Calvin, John. Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 449011-449024).  . Kindle Edition.

Translation: Marriage was not easy even in Calvin’s day and was “the source and occasion of many miseries…” In fact, it was such a source of misery that it was common for men to jest, “that a wife is a necessary evil, and that a wife is one of the greatest evils.” It is very easy for those of us living today to think that our struggles and our complaints are unique and stand on special ground. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Many men, and indeed women, have since the fall experienced often great evil and pain in marriage. The exact challenges to having a successful marriage in our day and age may be a little different, but these challenges were no less real in the past.

Calvin wrote in the midst of the Reformation where there were wars and religious tumults all over northern Europe, covering many of the Germanic nations, down into France and Italy, and across the channel in Britain. False prophet after false prophet was leading people astray. Governors and Magistrates were clamping down with an iron fist on religious groups seeking to break away from the state churches. From the peasant’s revolt to the Debacle at Munster, through the persecutions and on and up to the wars of Religion in the 17th century, the chances for a man to live a long and prosperous life with his wife were increasingly slim. Throw in the plagues and famines that accompanied some of these events, and you have challenges to a lasting marriage that make our modern world look tame.

Add to this the fact that many women in this period died from childbirth, and as noted many men died in these wars and religious persecutions. Because of this many women who got married could end up destitute and many men who did so could end up alone through no fault of their own, just because of the cruelty of the world and context of the day. And this does not just apply to their day. Every century throws up its challenges for us. 

Men complain that they are not valued today. But if you read William Stearns Davis’ A History of France, you will see how he notes that during the tyrannical reign of Napoleon in France, the little corporal, as he was nicknamed, used up so much of the young men in France that, despite his many victories, he managed to turn much of the population against him because of his onerous draft system. This was the fate of many of the best young men in European history.

Yes, they had a chance to achieve glory in war, but many were killed, maimed or otherwise broken. Most men were valued as literal canon fodder, not for their individual worth. The martial nature of the European culture led to war, after war, and many young men never lived long enough to lay with a woman, let alone have a wife and children. And many of the men who did marry and have kids often never lived long enough to meet their children, or to raise them. Life could be brutal and short. 

This world has always chewed up and spat out men. Nothing has changed, except the exact ways this happens. But it has always happened. It is a man’s responsibility to be courageous and seek to overcome this, which is why Paul says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

None of us men are guaranteed to achieve all the things we want in this life. Life can be hard. If in a patriarchal society, someone like Calvin can say that marriage is the “source of many miseries”, then of course it will be too in our modern matriarchal society. The question is: can you overcome these challenges? Yes, you can. This should be your focus, and you really can do it.

On the macro level or the statistical level, many men are going to be chewed up and spat out by this world. On the individual level if you seek to improve yourself, lift weights, be strong, be courageous, be honourable, be assertive in the right ways, and take initiative in your life with work, church fellowship, and engaging with the good women you meet, then you increase your chances of succeeding immeasurably.

This is why you don’t want to listen to those who tell you the odds. The odds are done at a population level, but they do not take into account the qualities of the men who do well, nor your precise circumstances. Surround yourself with such men, and you should be relatively fine in this area. If you aim up, and allow those solid men to challenge you to aim up, you have far less to worry about, than you would if you based your life around what a man in a video on YouTube says about how some man has lost everything and is struggling now to face life. His story is not your story, the statistics are not your story, your life, your choices; the things you choose to accept and reject, are your story.

Men in Calvin’s day faced challenges from marriage. Men in every era have faced challenges in marriage. Men facing challenges in marriage today is nothing new. Imagine living in some of the ancient cultures where a king, or local chief, who was attracted to your wife, could come and take her for the night, or take her and keep her.

Imagine what it was like being a man living in Eastern Europe along the Eurasian Steppes at really any point before the modern era, where a gang of horse warriors could come through and steal you, your wife, your kids and then sell you to places across the known world at the time, or worse. Life has always been a challenge, for all people, but especially those who want to do it right. Don’t let people discourage you, find men around you who have succeeded and learn from them.  

If you are surrounded by the kind of men who think like the scoffers who “lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence, as though it were a deadly evil and pest…” Then you know you are in the wrong company. Find better company.

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