Keeping the Faith

What Every Couple Should Understand Before Saying “I Do”

Rupert Murdoch has filed to divorce his wife of 14 years, the glamorous Wendi Deng. It will be Mr Murdoch’s third divorce and Ms Deng’s second.

A pre-nuptial agreement signed prior to their 1999 wedding will see Ms Deng benefit handsomely (but not too handsomely) from the split – Mr Murdoch’s second wife Anna Maria Torv reportedly received a $US1.7 billion divorce settlement in 1999 at the end of their 31 year marriage. Yes, that was the same year Mr Murdoch went on to marry Ms Deng.

Money. Power. Beauty. Convenience. Marriage was never meant to be like this.

The divorce rate in Australia is about 43 per cent – that is, 43 per cent of marriages can be expected to end in separation within 30 years (ABS). And I don’t need to tell you of the damage that divorce inflicts – not only on the couple but also on children and extended family.

I am convinced that the true definition of marriage has been allowed to slide. Over time, some definitions will change – it’s the nature of the English language. Some words – like ‘bully’ – have even come to mean the direct opposite of their original expression. In the sixteenth century, ‘bully’ was a term of endearment. By the seventeenth century, that definition had morphed to mean braggart, a show-off. Another hundred years and the ‘bully’ is what we know today – tormenter of the weak.

A bedrock institution like marriage, the foundation of society, should never be permitted to slip and slide within the English lexicon. What is marriage, or rather, what was marriage?

Marriage is a covenant.

At some point, people started calling marriage a contract rather than a covenant. The difference, you ask? A contract has limited liability. It binds the parties within particular terms and conditions. A contract marriage might look like this: “I will honour our marriage as long as you contribute to the household income, as long as you don’t cheat on me, as long as you remain fit and handsome and as long as you keep me happy.” A marriage with a pre-nup is a contract marriage, it’s saying, “This marriage could fail – and if it does, I don’t want this woman/man getting my stuff!”

A covenant marriage, however, has unlimited liability. There’s no “mine and your’s”. There are no escape clauses and the only conditions are “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…”, the only terms “until death do us part”.

The Bible calls this joining of man and woman a “one flesh” exchange.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6)

When a tribe makes a covenant with another tribe, representatives usually seal the agreement by mixing their blood. It’s why the campaign of explorers Stanley and Livingstone was so successful. Stanley made a covenant with a powerful African chief so that whenever he revealed the scars (the sign) of their covenant exchange, he was treated with great reverence. That covenant told people that Stanley was one with the most powerful tribe in Africa – their resources were at his disposal.

That’s the strength of covenant. Two become one, committed to each other no matter what. They lay down their weapons against each other. They defend each other as if the attack was on their own flesh. All their resources are pooled. They are one.

A wedding ring should express the same as the scars from an African blood covenant. Marriage is a vow (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7), a covenant not to be taken lightly, and God honours marriage vows (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Marriage is society’s main artery – it must be defended against trend and throw-away attitudes.


Note: With special thanks to 2=1 Ministries whose marriage courses have brought clarity for my husband and I in understanding God’s design for marriage. If you are interested in a pre-marriage, marriage or parenting course, head to their website here.

Tweets to @ClairevanRyn

As printed in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday June 24, 2013.


  1. Carol says

    Claire, this is great – so true! Genuine Marriage is a covenant, not a contract, but the ‘vision’ of this has not been impressed on recent generations, so confusion abounds. In many cases the presentation and accessories around “The Wedding” have obscured the reality of the Marriage and the wise preparation for this life-long adventure of true love.

    • Thanks Carol – yes, so much emphasis on the wedding day, but very little attention to the tools needed to make marriage work. It’s worth it though!

  2. Roger Martin says

    Excellent article, Claire.
    We have found that the perfect solution to any and all issues in marriage is “to see each other through the eyes of Jesus”
    On the one hand, Impediments, annoyances etc etc all dissolve immediately and on the other hand, we appreciate each other’s efforts much more often.
    It works every time!

  3. 22degreesc says

    Interesting that you characterise divorce as something that happens when people stray from a religious / biblical view of what marriage should be. This doesn’t seem to be the case, at least in the US, where the states that are the most socially conservative and religious (Christian) have the highest rates of divorce, when compared with less religious / more liberal states.
    You can clearly see this trend here:

    Researchers point out that in these high divorce, high religion states, people tend to get married at a younger age, which increases their chance of divorce. Some commentary here:

    It seems to me that the strong taboo that Christianity places on certain practices (particularly around sexual relations outside of marriage), pressures young people into committing to marriage earlier. When they do this, it deprives them of the opportunity, not only to find an appropriate partner, but for their relationship to grow and consolidate into one worthy of marriage.

    So while I agree that high divorce rates are generally a detriment to society, you need to recognize that the solution isn’t just to make sure people understand that it’s a religious covenant with God. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect someone to stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of avoiding divorce? I certainly hope any God you worship wouldn’t either.

    • yujsdaf says

      Yes, may pressure people into marrying earlier. That is why God gives them strength to resist the temptation to seek premarital sexual relations

      • 22degreesc says

        But what is more preferable? A young Christian couple ‘resist temptation’ for a while, but still marry early, and subsequently getting divorced because they realize they aren’t compatible once they have biblical permission to procreate. Or a non-Christian couple using sexual relations as a way to explore each other, get married later as a result, and live a life together without getting divorce?

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