My opinion on how to go about marriage – arranged marriage or love marriage or? – reflections on my time in India and general reflections from my experience as a pastor’s wife and in life
The question exists today for Christians around the world, both in the West and in the East, how do I find the right marriage partner and not make a mistake about it? We look around us and see so many marriages falling apart, many of the young people live in households with only one parents or move between 2 parents each week or have a step father or step mother. I think this background causes doubt and unbelief about their ability to find the right partner and about having a marriage that lasts. And then the question comes: how do I choose the right partner for life?
In places like India, the situation gets more complicated, tradition and the pressure from parents and relatives tends to be towards having an arranged marriage while the young population has been affected by media to think that love marriage is the way. The debate seems to be endless with arguments pro and against both sides.
To answer all these questions, we need to retract back and see how God sees this issue. We need to look beyond the present problems of divorce, the disappointments of a broken upbringing, beyond tradition and external pressures and look to God and His word for the answers. We cannot make good decisions if clouded by pre-conceived ideas and without studying the Word of God thoroughly. We’ll look into these issues below, so please read on. I will be bringing issues specific to India and the East into it, as they make for more than half of the world, but there are plenty of good thoughts for those raised in the West to help them make the right decision.
The big debate right now in India -arranged marriage or love marriage? The first point I want to make is that I think the question is wrong from the start. What if it is not arranged, neither love, but another kind? By just limiting ourselves to do alternatives, we might be missing a third which could be the answer.
How about just a God arranged marriage? What is a God arranged marriage, versus the other 2 kinds?
A God arranged marriage is one that only God is the one that makes the final decision. He is the matchmaker and the 2 boy and girl submit to His decision. They might take some counsel from the parents and others – though they are not under pressure or obligated to do what they say – they might feel in love or not – but in the end the final decision is God’s. God is the ultimate matchmaker, because He knows the plan He has for those 2 people in advance, He sees their giftings and how they complement each other and they both are to fit in His plan. The parents don’t have that level of revelation about the children’s lives, the 2 young people don’t have much of that revelation as yet, so only God is qualified to put people together. Even Jesus said: What GOD PUTS TOGETHER, let no man separate. So who organizes the 2 parties to a marriage? God puts them together. Can the parents or the relatives do a job as good as God? Can the young people? No, so therefore, the primary decision maker and match maker should be God.
A God arranged marriage is a marriage where both the girl and the boy seek God in the fear of God and ask for the right partner, then seek God for confirmation and counsel from others, only as backup and support, not as the main decision makers.
I told God at one point to make it clear to me about Michael, if He was the right life partner or not. And I also told Him that if He says it’s No, I will go straight away and break the relationship with Michael. I was that determined to have nothing but the perfect will for my life in this area, even if it seemed to not be according to my desires. And God knew I was 100% serious about it in my heart, I was ready to do it immediately.
If your heart is 100% dedicated to do the will of God, there is not much need of either love or parents to arrange your marriage, God will see to it that you know if you diligently seek Him. I did not get to that place of what I call UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER in a day of seeking God, I did not wake up one day and said: Oh, I need a marriage partner so I better get diligent about seeking God in order to get the right answer. It does not work like this, with sporadic diligence based on the need of the moment and then slackness when there was no urgent need in my life. I sought God diligently for at least 9 months by this time, and not so I could have an answer for marriage, just simply because I loved God, I enjoyed God and I wanted to do His will and fulfil my calling from Him in life. This prepares you when the time of need comes to be already in tune with the Holy Spirit and able to hear God, after you have already done a lot of groundwork on your heart, let God mold you and get used to His voice through daily diligent interaction with Him.
What if whe the urgent need comes in your life, to get married and you need to make a decision, what if your heart is not ready, what if you have not yet crucified the flesh with its passions and desires and they run rampart in your heart while you are trying to hear God? What if your heart has not had enough time with God to be molded so that your attitudes are changed, pride is dealt with, rebellion is dealt with? Is your heart then in a place to urgently hear God and obey based on His answer? What chances have you got them to make the right decision? Slim and dangerous place to be in when you make the second most important decision of your life after receiving Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
And why is marriage the second most important decision of your life. Let’s think for a moment. You are here on earth for a purpose specially designed by God, very specific and unique. Your potential husband has also a calling from God in an unique way. The 2 have to fit and complement, help each other. If they don’t what will happen? Both will be hindered in their walk and in fulfilling God’s plan for their lives. This will flow into tensions in their marriage which can lead to a split or frustration and unhappiness. The children get affected and get robbed of the life God intended for them and get hurt and affected. Them in turn become parents and out of their hurts and the bad example they saw in your marriage make further mistakes that affect their own children. Thus the will of God is compromised for generations starting with you and ending with generations to come. Do you want this to be the picture of your future? See how important then is to be prepared to make the right decision for marriage?
To put it in a simple sentence, the solution to making the right decision is to be consistently filled with God and dilligently seeking Him because He who walks led by the Spirit will not fulfil the deeds of the flesh. If your flesh is put down through consistent seeking and infilling and dealings of God, your flesh will be in a crucified state and with great chances that it will not get in the way of you making the right decision. Your greatest enemy in life is your flesh, your self rising against God’s will, so if you dwelt with it, the rest is a piece of cake. The devil can’t have you if you are submitted to God because God says submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. And God can overcome external pressures and circumstances through the power of miracles in prayer. But the main thing to deal with is YOU, your flesh.
So keep your heart with all diligence. The sad thing is that today many Christians are not in that unconditional surrender state, and that’s why they need external factors to help them make the decisions. It’s not bad to receive advice from relatives, etc, humility is part of fearing the Lord, but what if your relatives are wrong or don’t have enough revelation about your future? Are you going to ruin your life in order to listen to them and avoid conflict? Parents have a right to be obeyed as long as they are obeying God themselves and don’t exasperate the children so they become discouraged. If parents put first what others might think of them, tradition, the need for a money filled son in law, the colour of the skin, caste or social position and education, they are not in obedience to God, but men pleasers, lovers of the world and walking in the flesh. Sorry to be so strong, but sometimes the parents need to hear the truth just as much as their children do.
My maid that I had in India did just that, listen to her relatives, even though a prophet who knew nothing about her situation came and told her exactly what was happening, that her family are trying to put a guy on her and it’s not from the Lord. I knew this was true, he was not even saved. It was happening right when the prophet said it, but she did not listen, went ahead and got married. Last I heard she did not have faith in God anymore.
On the other side, others let the love they feel for the person they are thinking of marrying make the final decision rather than God and they are not open to any outside input. They think that the love is enough proof. Or they think they are in God’s will because they are in love. Right? Wrong!
I say this with deep grief in my heart, I have seen this to be terribly wrong in my years as a pastor’s wife! I have seen dear girls, who have used this logic and end up with broken marriages in a short time or having to live with a total hyprocrite who inflicted emotional torture and suffering of all kind on them for years. I am not talking about one case here. but many. People totally destroying their lives marrying out of love, not out of God.
So in the end the responsibility to find the right partner in life belongs to you and your unconditionally surrendered heart, which wants no less and no more than what God wants for you. I know ladies who married men in Romania because God told them and they did not even like the looks of that man that much or feel in love, that because they wanted you know, a Tom Cruise or similar (though they were not that amazingly good looking themselves). But they have put their desires aside and married who God said, accepting who God gave to them and not holding to an idol of their imagination. In both cases that I am thinking of, they are senior pastors and have a wonderful family life.
Just have a totally surrendered heart, don’t focus on finding a life partner, focus on your heart issues and let God lead you into the right partnership. He is the perfect, ultimate match maker and know exactly how to reveal this to you and your partner. Sometimes we think WE KNOW what is good for us, but our hearts are either ignorant or deceiving.
As the Scripture says: Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He WILL direct your path. See the similarities between what I was teaching above and this Scripture. Your focus is on your relationship with God, in putting your own flesh down, in being in communion with God always in all your ways, and His job and promise is that He WILL direct you. You don’t need to worry about how God will lead you, you don’t need to know that, you need to focus on your heart and relationship with God.
A few other points I want to make. I feel strongly about this because as a pastor’s wife and afterwards I have seen way too much heartache, loss of faith in God and lives destroyed because of wrong decisions in this area. Even right now I have friends around me, I would say 3 at least who married the wrong person and the torture they had to go through and the limitations they had in serving God have been almost too much too bear. Considering that this life is not yours and you have to fulfil the call of God, getting the wrong partner to share life with and to stop you from fulfilling the call is a disaster. Even so, God can make beauty out of ashes, but it can’t be the same as His ideal plan. Look at David, after he has sinned with Bathsheeba, he got restored to God, he got a son to seat on his throne after him, but things were never the same in his kingdom as before. His children were against one another, one raped his sister, then another killed the rapist, that one ran away and then created a revolt against his father and slept with his father’s concubines. Solomon ended up having a real issue with women and the kingdom ended up being divided after Solomon. God forgave, God restored some things, restored David, raised David’s son but could not make it quite like it could’ve been without this mistake. What he sowed he still reaped though he was forgiven by God. He sowed rape, adultery, murder and deception and got the same thing back through his children. As God says in the Bible – to Christians by the way – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked: WHATEVER a man sows, THAT he will also reap.
But if you are in the category mentioned above, do not despair. You cannot change the past and you have to come to accept it, sometimes it might not even be your fault, but the partner even the one chosen by God decided to forsake God and in return hurt you. But there is also the possibility that you got it wrong in the first place. Even if that is the case, focusing on what happened and your mistakes, holding on to regrets can do nothing to change the past but can do a lot to affect your present and the future. Give all your feelings to God, your disappointments, ask God to take the sting of regret out and focus on being your best and doing your best in your present and the future, learning your lesson and powering on. As God said to Israel when they were in captivity: There is hope for your future, while they were in Babylon with no signs of hope around them, after they have sinned terribly towards God and made wrong choice after wrong choice. God says: THERE IS HOPE FOR YOUR FUTURE, even though you have sinned or made wrong decisions.
So can you see how important it is to get it right in this area? You don’t need to paralyse with fear about this, but just take action to apply the steps of seeking God dilligently and dealing with your heart issues.
Do we give marriage the importance it deserves? I cringe when I hear in India that marriages get done VERY quickly and with not much time to know each other, pray, think or discuss. God says in Proverbs whoever hastens with his feet SINS. Why rush such a life changing decision, what’s the motivation behind this rush. Parents must ask themselves this question as well as the children. I hope it’s not the parents wanting to just get it over and done with, at the expense of the children, or they are afraid they will loose the potential marriage partner – in that case the Scripture says: Whatever is not of faith, is SIN – or they are just followers of tradition, making God’s Word void by their tradition. If you are a parent, please examine your heart and deal with your heart just the same way I mentioned above that the children should do.
To answer some of the defence of parents in India in favor of arranged marriage, I will bring up the passage they bring all the time to defend this practice:
Regarding Isaac’s servant arranging the marriage, yes, he was sent by Isaac’s father, but he was sent to his the jewish people, the equivalent of today being sent to the church family. It’s not a specific person he was sent to, but a group of believing people to choose someone from among them. The equivalent for today would be sent to the born again believers. I cringed whenever I saw in India that parents thought nothing of marrying a born again pentecostal girl to a catholic. Why put together one saved person and one unsaved, their goals, their values, their direction is life doesn’t match. God says that we can marry ONLY IN THE LORD in Corinthians. If you don’t consider the catholics born-again why do you give your children to them for life! God says: How can light and darkness co-exit together? And how can 2 walk together unless they are agreed!
Secondly, Isaac’s servant has prayed to the Lord about his decision and ask God to direct his decision. He asked for signs and confirmations from God. He did not make his decision based on his thinking, what the relatives or neighbours will think about them, what the culture says, if there is an MBA, someone with whitish complexion, from a convent school, etc, etc. I know, cause I remember reading the local matrimonial ads. And they make me feel so sad, it seems like kids have become a trade currency for a business partnership, they are marrying an MBA and a past in a convent school, not the present person who today might be totally different than what the convent school taught. Will an MBA keep your son happy? What if it was earned through bribery? Have you become God to your children by choosing to direct their lives instead of letting God do that? It smells like idolatry to me. The same apllies about what carrier path they take and other such important decisions in life.
Before I got married to Michael I finished a nursing high school and even though I wanted to become a doctor and study further God told me clearly NO, I want you to work in the church with the girls and ladies. Was I less the right person for him because I did not have an MBA? What if God doesn’t want the person to have an MBA and still want him to marry your daughter? Who makes this rules and who has the right to make them? Actually God wanted me to disciple girls and go on to become a pastor’s wife focus on God’s work.
And in the future He led me into business, I have learned everything from typing to running my own businesses, mostly through the dealings of God who were very numerous and painful, I have built character, learnt to not paralyse in front of a technical problem I did not know the answer to, learned faithfulness in small things and many other things from God. I ran mostly by myself a successful business which grew from a few customers to 400 regular clients and I then sold it for a profit with God’s help. I now manage other business related matters God has put before me.
I am not putting down study, in fact right now I am doing a Certificate 3 in business and accounts. But I am saying that the parent’s dreams for their children might not be God’s way for their children and following God’s might make your children more successful then following what everyone else around you does.
The problem with arranged marriages in my view is that the parents yes, they pray, but in many cases they also take into account what others might think of them, what would the other relatives say, if the boy or girl has money, etc, etc. But if they mix Spirit with the flesh, guess what you get: a deception, a compromise, not God’s best.
And as Joy Dawson, the leader of YWAM, who taught so well on hearing God’s voice, said about hearing the voice of God: God will not speak to the person who is not the one meant to hear from God about an issue. In other words, if God considers that it is the child’s responsability to hear from God, God will not speak to the parent, not primarily. They might get a confirmation in their spirit, but not the main word. So then if the parents make the decision, have their really heard from God correctly, are they the ones even who are suppose to hear from God?
And as someone coming from the West and living in India for 2 1/2 years, I have observed the culture with a different eye. I have travelled and lived in quite a few countries and I have observed a pattern. Many times the locals of that country cannot see all the faults with the culture or their reactions to it simply because they are immersed in it. It’s easier to stand outside of something and observe it thoroughly than to look at it from every angle while you are inside it.
As I observed the culture from the outside, though I have seen some very godly parents, it seemed to me that many times this issue of insistence by the parents on arranged marriages stems from a number of undealt with heart issues:
1. They might want the good of the child and God’s will, but they are so AFRAID to trust their children with making such a major decision. They are used to keeping their children safe and deciding for them and fear letting go in case something bad happens. But I would like to say – if you never let your children make their own decisions how are they going to learn how to live in the real world once you are gone from this earth, how will they ever grow and mature? Fear is not a good motivation for right decisions, neither is stripping the children of their right to grow right.
2. Stemming from the first issue or simply from a corrupted heart is also the motivation of parents of not wanting to loose control over their kids. They are used to making decisions for their kids and they treat them like silly incapable persons who are unable to live without them. They love the feeling of living the life of their kids through them and not just their own. They want to control them because then they don’t have to worry about helping children with their wrong decisions, it’s a safe easy path to take. They created a dream in their mind from the time the children were young of what they want the children to become so they feel good about the sacrifice of raising them, even in who they should marry, what career to take, where to live, etc. I am sure there is care in their hearts as well, but care and control together is an ugly motivation. White and black together is never pure.
3. They want to keep a good name and look good before others, motivation which apostle Paul condemns: If we were pleasers of men, we would no be servant of God any longer. They want to keep in line with the culture out of fear of men, which the Bible says it’s a trap.
I want to challenge every parent who defends arranged marriage to show more examples of arranged marriage from the Scriptures than of love and God ordained marriage in the Scripture. If you can do this, you will gain the respect of your kids. If you can’t, then why should they trust you and obey you in this area that has the potential to ruin their life if it goes wrong. What about David’s marriages, Solomon, Songs of Solomon book, Adam and Eve, etc, etc. And look at the disaster of arrange marriage with Jacob who was forced to marry Leah first, out of tradition, and then Rachel whom he loved and the tragedies that brought.
And as I said above, it is NOT arranged marriage, NEITHER love marriage (though love is usually involved in most cases), it is GOD arranged marriage that counts, and the person most responsible for hearing God about this are the boy and the girl who will end up living in that marriage for life! It’s easy for the parent to say: this is the one that I think it’s right for you. But the son or daughter has to live with that person for the rest of their lives. Let God decide this and let him talk to your kids who are meant to hear Him and you can be there to give advice, the wisdom of many years – which I greatly appreciate whenever I find it – and support them in their decision with prayers.
There is another thing I have observed in the Indian culture that is not Biblical. God says: A MAN SHALL LEAVE his mother and father, and CLING to his wife, but what I saw most of the time done in India was that the woman has to leave her parents and go and live with the in-laws and her husband. The husband doesn’t live anything usually. That is opposite to Scripture! No wonder so many problems between the girl and the mother-in-law even to the point of suicide! No wonder there is abuse and strife when things are not how God meant them to be. I think this again has something to do with tradition first of all and in some cases parents wanting to keep control on their kids more than God gives them the right to. The parents can input advice and the children should be humble and open to it, but the parents have no more right to control the kids once they are married.
Better leave in a small modest place and start to form your own identity as a family based on your beliefs and your ways of managing the house and you can have a good marriage life. Is there any mention of the Proverbs 31 woman living with her in-laws? The girl will only get the chance to become a Proverbs 31 woman when she can make the decisions in how to build her home. God says in Proverbs that women are meant to build their own homes. If they live under the umbrella of the in-laws, will they be allowed much in that direction? I doubt so. There will be regular interference in how they do things and how they raise their kids. Yes, learn from the in-laws, but don’t be overshadowed in developing who you are meant to be because they don’t let you. Sometimes the same happens when women don’t live their mums while married, they end up arguing a lot about how things should be done in the kitchen and in the home and tensions are there all the time. I have seen it and heard from my friends who have done this. Not much peace in such circumstances, and if you don’t have peace in your oasis at home, where are you going to have it?
Yes, it’s right to help and look after your parents when they need the help, but that does not mean you have to live in their home, we can look after parents in the west without living with them, we just go and visit when they need the help or take them in temporarily if need be, etc. There are ways to do this without compromising God’s message.
Also, I think it’s not just the responsibility of parents to advice children about marriage, but pastors should prepare the youth for such decisions. I have heard of this done beautifully in a church in Brisbane Australia where they run a course called Prep for Parenting (can be found at www.koorong.com.au). All the potential future couples have to go through this course before they are being married by the pastor. In this course, they discuss things like compatibility of calling, of values, of life direction, family life values, etc. They have to go to go through a manual, have to discuss the questions in the manual together and have to do their own independent homework at home considering private questions and well as pray about all these things. This course has sorted the chaff from the real thing and some potential marriage partners broke up when one or both of the partners understood they were on the wrong path. The leaders of the course were quite hated for this by those who ended up rejected by their to-be marriage partners, but it’s better to be sorry now than later. I am sure it helped not having to counsel them for marriage problems in 6 months or down the track when children were in the middle as well. I highly recommend to each pastor if God leads to implement this course in their church.
To conclude, you can’t let this decision be taken by your relatives or by your mere feelings that today are there and tomorrow might be gone, but what God puts together tends to last a life time, so seek Him dilligently, not so you can get a husband from Him, but because He is God and He wants you hot for Him and to fulfil His mission on the earth. Let God with your heart and collaborate with Him in changing, repenting, adjusting, whatever He requires.
Happy God and heart searching! Right marriage decision will be a by-product of that …