Over the last one hundred years, America has become more and more secular as people have chosen to live without God. There are many who still believe in His existence, yet this belief has no real impact on their lives.
Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, had some interesting words to say about this. Becker was a religious skeptic but he offers an explanation about the various ways secular people have dealt with this loss of belief in God. He recognized that a loss of belief meant that we are nothing but molecules, we are here by accident and therefore have no sense of a grand purpose for our lives.
So what do we do? He says that we now look to sex and romance to give us the sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God. In describing the modern secular person Becker says:
He still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things … He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude … If he no longer had God, how was he to do this? One of the first ways that occurred to him, was the “romantic solution” … The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner. The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual … In one word, the love object is God … Man reached for a “thou” when the worldview of the great religious community overseen by God died … After all, what is it we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want redemption—nothing less.
But can a spouse provide the purpose and fulfillment that our souls long for? Becker says no. He goes on to say:
The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man’s frustration … No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood … However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection … After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain.
Now, I do think it is important to point out that marriage is one of God’s great gifts to mankind. It has the ability to bring incredible joy and delight into our lives. But it can’t adequately satisfy us, because that’s not how God designed it.
I think Gary Thomas said it best in his wonderful book, Sacred Marriage:
We all enter marriage with the belief that our spouse is going to make us happy—but over time we realize that the ideal relationship we had always dreamed of does not come to pass. Thus we become disillusioned by the inability to receive all the love we believe we should be getting from our spouses. Of course, in this culture which we live, the most popular option in dealing with this disillusionment is to look for a new relationship. We rationalize within ourselves and reason that “I just need to find the right person” which translated usually means a new person. However, in a new relationship the same process will inevitably repeat itself—great excitement, the thrill of discovery and then at some point, disillusionment. A new person might look new for a couple of years, they might be shinier with a few less wrinkles, but eventually we discover they had many of the same limitations as the person we traded in. What we fail to realize is that God must be at the center of our hearts and that all our other relationships should flow out of that one central relationship. As odd as this may sound, I have discovered in my own life that my satisfaction or my dissatisfaction with my marriage has far more to do with my relationship with God than it does with my relationship with my wife. Therefore we should never blame our spouse for the lack of fulfillment, we should blame ourselves for not pursuing more diligently a fulfilling relationship with God.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.