IN HOPE MARRIAGE IS SAVED
Almost every book I have read on hope makes reference to the Pauline statement, “In hope we are saved.” (Rom 8:24) How does this apply to marriage? We can rephrase St. Paul to say, “In hope marriage is saved.” But what exactly does hope mean for couples, for families, and for society in general? And, is the church doing enough to help marriages today? I propose that hope must be understood as more than merely conquering obstacles, as Everett Worthington states in his Hope-Focused Couples Approach: “Hope involves the certitude that God is with us through difficult circumstances, even when He has not made a way around those circumstances.”1
First, consider the challenges facing marriage in today’s world. For instance, research shows a decline in the number of people getting married in the U.S. From a pastoral experience, at Christ the King parish where I work, it is sobering to see the low number of weddings celebrated in our church since January of 2020. Is lack of hope a factor in this? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states: “the marriage rate reached 12 per 1,000 in 1929 – the advent of the Great Depression – before falling to 7.9 in 1932. It then began a sporadic but upward climb, reaching an all-time high of 16.4 as the country emerged from World War II in 1946. The marriage rate fluctuated for the most part until the early 1980s, the data shows. From 1982 to 2009, marriage rates fell fairly steadily, and then hovered around 6.8 to 7 per 1,000 through 2017. In 2018, the rate fell to 6.5 – the lowest level in the 118-year period covered by the new report and the lowest recorded since 1867, the first year for which federal government data on national marriage is available.”2
There are numerous new challenges facing marriage. With the COVID-19 situation in 2020, domestic responsibilities have taken a different turn. Many parents have been forced into the role of teaching their children, who spend more time at home now. With most school systems adopting online classes, parents have been challenged with handling technological issues in order to meet the educational requirements of their kids. Economically, many are out of work. Then, on an ideological level, there exists the issue of gender equality and women’s independence which experts say, is a huge factor in the long-term decline in marriage. Fears for the future of marriage seem valid given that this generation has a certain discomfort handling challenges. They seem easily discouraged by tough times and often become indignant at perceived attempts to hinder their notion of freedom. For that reason, analysts speculate that the post-COVID era might not bear good news for marriage. Philip Cohen is a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who researches family matters and maintains, “The coronavirus pandemic, which became a generation-defining moment in a matter of weeks, could have its own effect on the marriage rate in the U.S. in coming years – though it's too soon to know exactly how.”3
What will save marriage? There is the great need to include God in addressing the problem. God is the author of every hope, but today’s society seems to be driven by benefits, by technological and human achievements. Psychologists call it human agency (will-power) that attempts to override divine-power, thereby leading humans to assume that answers to all problems are found in man. This mentality liberalizes freedom and autonomy in life and in marriage in a dangerous way. For instance, one would have thought that legalizing same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015 would spike interest in marriage, yet data represented above shows a decline. It is possible that this only created more confusion in the understanding and definition of marriage, gender identity, and overall inter-human relationships. When human agency dismisses divine agency, hope is diminished. This largely accounts for the marriage crisis.
Hope cannot be based on man alone. Hope cannot be anchored on only what the human mind wishes. For instance, married couples cannot just wish for an easy life devoid of challenges. Couples who wish for a perfect, uninterrupted, un-challenged relationship easily lose hope. Such couples program their lives to run without any hindrance. They anchor their wishes on realities that do not give room for the unknown. Unfortunately, today’s evidence-based generation lacks waiting-power; it lacks patience because it relies only on what is visible, what can be seen. The mentality is that every plan must have the desired outcome which defies the law of hope. When couples base their happiness on lofty dreams of perfect lives, they despair at the thought of having their dreams unfulfilled. Couples need to listen to Paul’s advice, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Rom 8:25) Hope must have a “waiting-power,” the capacity to persevere even if things don’t happen the way we want them to.
In the introduction to the book, Beautiful Hope, Pope Francis explains that hope can only be dependable, visible, and understandable if it is founded on God. Christian hope is “the certainty of being on a journey with Christ toward the Father who awaits us.”4 Today’s couples need to keep journeying with Christ in their marriage. Of course, no one wants a marriage encumbered by challenges and obstacles. However, obstacles and challenges are guaranteed, and they do not derail marriages when there is hope. Marriages are saved in hope when expectations, ambitions, and desires have their basis in Christ.
The COVID-induced struggles within families make journeying with Christ all the more essential. For instance, as a parent, rather than becoming overwhelmed because the schools are creating extra work to make online learning possible for your child, rejoice at the hope of a well-trained child. Rejoice at the opportunity to have a larger role in your child’s education. Rejoice at the joy of giving your child a moral, spiritual, and intellectual formation for the future that only a parent can give!
Saved in hope means saved through Christ which is the key to a successful, happy marriage. Hope brings tranquility to parents, inspiring couples to work together. Hope sees the big picture, the complete view of life leading to eternity. Hope does not mourn the past. Hope does not deny the reality of problems in the present. Hope anticipates the future based on God’s indomitable presence. Marriages are saved in hope if they embrace the spirit of Christ amidst the unforeseen challenges of married life.
1. Worthington EL. Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling : A Guide to Brief Therapy. IVP Academic. 2005. p. 31.
2. Vital and Health Statistics; Series 21, No. 24 (12/73). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_21/sr21_024.pdf
3. U.S. Marriage Rate Drops to a Record Low. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-04-29/us-marriage-rate-drops-to-record-low
4. Pope Francis et al. Beautiful Hope: Finding Hope Every Day in a Broken World. FL:
BEACON Publishing. 2017.
Fr. Vincent is a priest from Nigeria, currently serving as associate pastor at Christ the King Church in Maryland. Founder of the FA Ministry and FA Magazine, he holds a master’s degree in Communication and is presently a doctoral student of Marriage and Family Therapy at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.