In this brave new century we could consider Saint Paul's views on marriage and women outmoded, archaic and irrelevant.
A generation that bases every criteria for good on what one "feels", rather than on what is objectively good, might easily think so. Compromise has long been a problem for Christians who have formed intimate relationships with unbelievers. In some cases their marriages have turned out well in spite of this. Others that also began with a beautiful romance full of dreams, have turned out disastrous: They have ended in frustration, painful divorce and alienation from their church fellowship and the Sacraments. Not to mention the devastating effect on the moral and emotional health of the children.
Is Saint Paul really out of touch? Are his concerns that of an archaic unenlightened age that hasn't got a clue, or is he a modern thinker in tune with today's enlightened societies?
The story of Samson is a graphic illustration of an unevenly yoked relationship. This relationship literally cost Samson everything he had, including his dignity, his eyesight and finally, his life. Samson was consecrated at birth to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The mark of his consecration was that no razor should touch his head. His hair was the sign of his consecration and strength which came from God.
In his youth Samson was a spoiled brat. When Samson was a young adult, Mosaic law specified only seven pagan nations, not including the Philistines, in the prohibition against mixed marriages, but national and religious sentiment was against any mixed marriage with a non-Israelite. It was in this climate that Samson, who was a spoiled brat at that time, ignored his father and mother and demanded from his father a Philistine woman to be his wife. Samson said to his father, "I've seen this beautiful woman and I want her, so get her for me for she pleases me."
With the help of his father, Samson married this woman who betrayed him on his wedding night by revealing the answer to a riddle. It cost Samson a fortune and he killed thirty men to honour the wager. His wife then married the best man who had been at his wedding. Well, you would think he would learn wouldn't you? But no, not Samson. He had already experienced the weight of an uneven yoke and jumped right back in again when he fell in love with Delilah.
This happens when one partner, although baptised, does not believe in, nor practice their faith. Sadly the results can be the same although a Christian marriage has taken place. Even where marriages have not broken up, there is still pain and loneliness for the believing spouse. They cannot share that part of their life with the one they love most. Many settle for compromise, trying not to talk, or argue about religion. Both partners can form separate relationships with like-minded people which can, and often do, become a source of jealousy, frustration and competition for them both.
He addressed the problem in his second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 6, verses 14 to 18, where he says, "Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? What accord has Christ with Beliar? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said; 'I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,' says the Lord, 'and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
When people are in love it is difficult to comprehend that seemingly small differences will have any effect in the long term. Unfortunately, almost unconsciously, compromise begins right from the start and it is the believing Christian who looses the most from the compromises.
I was talking with a young Christian woman recently who has fallen in love with a young man who is not a believer. She says that they have a lot in common and are alike in many ways. However, listening closely I could hear the compromise already beginning on her part.
This young man was an ardent Darwinist and believed strongly in evolution. He considered the Biblical account of creation to be a mere fairy tale with no credibility. He didn't understand, nor see the need to go to Church. To him this was something that children do. He could not see the reason for all the fanfare, ceremony and claptrap related to getting married. His view was that, as long as they love one another, nothing, nor anyone else counted. He said that he doesn't need a piece of paper to prove that he loved her. Furthermore, in a conversation regarding children they agreed that she could teach them religion while he would teach them the ways of the world.
One might think that as long as they can agree this way, why shouldn't they pursue the relationship. However, the future is unpredictable. What about the children who will grow up with two opposing world values? The believing spouse would have to promise to bring the children up as a Catholic if they married in the Church rather than live together without the so-called "piece of paper."
If she goes along with the "I don't need a piece of paper" mentality she will live in a de-facto relationship. The world will agree with them, but from a Christian moral viewpoint she will be living a life of sin which could alienate her from the Sacraments. Is this really honourable on the part of the man who says that he loves her unconditionally? Is she really being honoured and lifted up, or brought down?
Sadly, this situation can lead the believer to give up fellowship with other Christians because the conscience cannot equate the compromise. It is impossible to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time, nor can you come to a sound conclusion based on a false premise. Compromise is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately this couple parted as friends when they began to realise that their differences would not become resolved.
It is an informed decision which is prepared to make unbreakable promises. This couple had talked about unconditional love, but already one could hear the 'conditions' appearing through the compromises already entered into.
To stand before God, the Church, and the world, and publicly declare that I am going to love you regardless of what the future holds is the foundation for unconditional love. It is not ashamed to be held accountable. This love can say unreservedly, that I will love you when you are sick, ugly, poor and at your weakest as well as when you are healthy, young, beautiful, rich and at your best. I am going to commit myself to you entirely rejecting any opportunity with another no matter what comes along.
I will stand by you this way all the days of my life and only death will separate me from you. I can say this because my love is truly unconditional and I am prepared to be held accountable by the witnesses that have heard me declare my love to you. This is true love. It is not dependent on feelings which will come and go without your permission. More importantly, a Christian marriage is one that is fully aware that Christ is personally involved and, by that means, it is a Sacrament.
Anyone who has been in a long term relationship will testify that in the early years, a couple are too much in love to see too many differences between them. They are still caught up in the honeymoon glow filled with a sense of adventure and the romance of nesting; a sense of us against the world, fighting all the odds to establish our little heaven on earth.
This can be very stimulating. It can draw them close, giving them a goal and purpose. Inevitably that honeymoon glow wears off. That's when they really begin to live together. From this point onwards, a true compatibility and the decision to love one another no matter what, is essential for survival. What they really believe, and put faith in, takes on a dimension that becomes important to each of them. They begin to put stock in its efficacy as the foundation for their security. If these things are incompatible it can only serve to separate rather than to unite them.
It is this compromise that St. Paul seemed to be concerned with. Not because the unbelieving partner is necessarily a bad person, on the contrary they may well be a very good person and very loving, but, they are incapable of raising their level of the flesh to that of the spirit.
Because the unbeliever is not a spiritual person they cannot understand spiritual things. They operate out of the soulish areas only. The flesh is not capable of grasping spiritual realities. On the other hand the spiritual person is capable of understanding the soulish areas also and are therefore able to come down to that level. This can be a destructive compromise and the source of deep loneliness and frustration.
"Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgement by anyone." (1Cor. 2: 14-15,)
Apart from being in love, there is a great difference in what is considered to be a good husband, a good wife, or a good parent. An unbelieving spouse may well have different values regarding sexual morality in marriage for example.
I have known men who are convinced that if their wives, or girlfriends, love them as they say they do, then they will meet their every need no matter what form that takes or what practice that may be. Iknew of a man who was upset because his wife, a Catholic, did not like X Rated books or videos. He was angry because she started going to a charismatic prayer meeting and her moral values began to change.
He saw this as competition adversely effecting his relationship because she didn't want to play his sexual games anymore. Furthermore, she didn't want to take the Pill. This change of values came after experiencing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, reading her Bible and giving her life to Jesus.
She had become more independent, not because she had been told to do so, but because of her renewed relationship with Jesus. She had discovered her personal worth in Christ. Her husband had lost his dominant grip which left him feeling vulnerable and threatened. He tried to belittle her by inferring that she was not intelligent. This is was a great source of pain for this woman, she loved him dearly, but her conscience would not permit her to lower her standards any longer.
She had begun to show him more love than ever, but he could not see it. She was committed to him and would do all in her power to be a good wife hoping to win him over. She prayed that he would come to know Jesus because she could not deny Christ now no matter what the consequences might be.
It was hard for him to understand what a Christian wife should be. She no longer saw her husband as god as she did when she depended on him for everything relating to her self worth. She didn't fit his mould any longer and he wouldn't change. Sadly they could not pray together which is always a great source of strength when a couple are struggling, and she felt this loss acutely.
"Likewise, you wives should be subordinate to your husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word from their wives' conduct when they observe your reverent and chaste behaviour. Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewellery, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God." (1Peter 3:1-4,).
Saint Peter is addressing this letter to Christian wives who have Christian husbands. If it is hard enough for them to grasp the value of his advice, how much harder is it for an unbelieving husband to understand and appreciate it. If the husband is a believer and his wife is not, how can he expect her to understand what a Christian husband expects from a wife and live up to it. The frustration and compromise become the same in reverse.
It is because when compromise is inevitably reached, the believing partner has to lower their standards. If two people, one of high intelligence and one an imbecile, were locked together in a room for a long duration, who would suffer the most for the encounter? Obviously the intelligent one because the imbecile is incapable of raising himself above his own intelligence, whereas the intelligent person can lower himself to the level of the imbecile.
Marriage has become a very flippant, try before you buy, form of relationship in these enlightened days and one must wonder at the wisdom of St. Paul. It seems wise to take a fresh look at his teaching, perhaps he is not so old fashioned after all. The early Christians conquered Pagan Rome with these standards and maybe we can conquer paganism today in the same way. It's certainly worth considering. Ultimately, any form of compromise is very costly. Uneven yokes weigh heavier on one shoulder than on the other; they have nothing in common. An Ox that wears one will inevitably break down under its weight and suffer for it.
God values marriage highly and He will assist you in making it a success. St. Paul approaches this situation in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7: 12-16 by encouraging believing spouses to be loyal in their love and their relationship with Christ because this will win over the unbelieving spouse. He says, "To the rest I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband.
For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise the your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"
The testimony of their lives will win over the unbelieving spouse and thereby even up the yoke. If a husband or a wife fulfil what Saint Paul teaches regarding the way that they should love the other, then a love like that has the ability to save the unbeliever as well as the relationship. (1 Peter 3: 1-12).
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God". (Ephesians 3: 14- 19)
In addition, I highly recommend Pope John Paul II's book called "Familiaris Consortio" and his 'Theology of the Body." They are brilliant books which, when read diligently, gives a full and healthy expression of Christian marriage and human sexuality. I believe that if Christians adhered to Saint Paul's teachings, Familiaris Consortio, The Theology of the Body, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church before marriage, there would be less divorce, pain and heartache for families today.
Rather than try before you buy, maybe you should look before you leap.