Thursday, November 18, 2010

Love, friendship and marriage (Hauerwas)

A while back I heard a pastor cite the "Stanley Hauerwas Law" (you always marry the wrong person) in a sermon on Christian marriage. He brought it up to argue against the common romantic notion that each of us has a Mr. or Mrs. Right somewhere out there, and our future marital happiness depends on finding him or her. This assumption is a heavy burden to bear and brings with it the potential for deep disillusionment. Hauerwas explains his "law" in this 1978 article.

Most of the literature that attempts to instruct us about getting along in marriage fails to face up to a fact so clearly true that I have dared to call it Hauerwas’s Law: You always marry the wrong person. It is as important to note, of course, as Herbert Richardson pointed out to me, that the reverse of the law is also true: namely, that you also always marry the right person. The point of the law is to suggest the inadequacy of the current assumption that the success or failure of a marriage can be determined by marrying the "right person." Even if you have married the "right person," there is no guarantee that he or she will remain such, for people have a disturbing tendency to change. Indeed, it seems that many so-called "happy marriages" are such because of the partners’ efforts to preserve "love" by preventing either from changing.

Think about it. The person you are today (I'm guessing) is much different than the person you were ten years ago. You may even be different than the person you were last year. This explains why close friends can drift apart with the passing of time. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strain). If your spouse has told you recently, "You're not the person I married" -- they're probably right!

Certainly for a marriage to flourish it must have an element of phileo love, or "friendship love." Arguably this should be the dominant element rather than it's fickle cousin eros. A Christian conception of marriage must insist on both love and friendship, but how is it possible to reconcile the particular nature of friendship with that "disturbing tendency to change?"

One way is to exert power and control in a way that diminishes the otherness of my spouse. Instead of accepting change I can try to prevent it and keep him/her exactly like the person I married. But that's a stifling sort of friendship and a perverse kind of love, not the agape self-giving love that seeks the well-being of the other as described by the Apostle in the familiar love chapter.

If we always marry the "wrong person" what hope is there of enduring friendship in marriage? How can a husband and wife continue to be best friends and comrades-in-arms in the face of constant personal and relational change? In a wedding sermon on John 15 Hauerwas points to God's love for us in Christ ("I have called you friends") as the basis of love and friendship in a Christian marriage.

The miracle of God's love is that he can and does love each of us as other than himself without becoming less of a friend to any of us. Thus, we are commanded to love the other, but to love as those who are first loved of such a God. For God's love stretches our souls as he makes us his friends by freeing us of our preoccupation with ourselves and thus opening us to friendships with others. It is this kind of love that provides the means for marriage between Christians, for it forms us into a community that must be ready to accept the challenge of new life to which such love must give birth.

It is God's command to love, therefore, that has given Christians the courage to demand that marriage involve love and friendship. For the love that we bring to marriage must be the love that is based on, trained, and made fast by the conviction that we can regard the other as other without being destroyed. We do not have the capacity to love all as God loves, but by making us his friends, he has at least given us the confidence that such a love is not impossible in this existence.

This is a wonderful sermon and well worth taking the time to read in its entirety.

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