Image

Conjugal Economics


© Getty Images

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). When Adam awoke from his nap and uttered these words about his wife, he offered a view of how God's perfectly formed male-female relationship was meant to look. Only eight verses later this ideal relationship comes to an end when man and woman fall from the perfect plan of God.

In her book The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World , Carrie Miles works to reunite modern day perceptions of marriage with God's vision of marriage as it was originally intended. Miles offers up a readable and insightful book by taking an interdisciplinary approach, discerning where we have let sin rewrite our views on marriage and sexuality. Instead of focusing upon coercive, unrealistic, or more secularly pleasing solutions to the decline of family and marriage in society, Miles advises Christians to “let our redemption, our joy, our peace, and our love for each other permeate our lives to such an extent that we become the light of the world.”

Miles acts as a skilled guide through the Bible's many teachings and insights upon marriage and sexuality, stopping along the way in Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and the teachings of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. But what separates The Redemption of Love from many other Christian books on marriage is the economic approach that Miles brings to the role of the family in society. She heads up this analysis with a provocative thesis that reverses typical views of causation: “The sexual revolution, rising rates of divorce, promiscuity, and out-of-wedlock births are the results, not the cause, of the breakdown of the family.” Tracing causation back a step further, Miles argues that the family broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to changing economic incentives that men and women faced when making decisions about family, love, and morality.

At the center of this argument is the rapid decline in birth rates between 1800 and today. In 1800 American woman bore seven children on average, compared to an average below two today. As America moved from a rural, agrarian economy to a more urbanized, industrial economy, families no longer had as great as need for child laborers. At the same time, institutions in society other than the family were looked to for providing care and services for parents in their older years. Ultimately the economic imperative for family has decreased from pre-industrial times, according to Miles, and this has freed individuals to pursue untraditional families, divorce, and immorality without having to worry about economic retributions. Having children out of wedlock or acquiring a divorce lost its sting when single-parent households—and most significantly single women—were able to make it on their own, largely due to emerging technology.

In essence, Miles's argument suggests that both human virtue and depravity take a backseat to economic incentives that ultimately guide human decisions. She states that people before the divorce and sexual revolution were no more virtuous than us, but their virtues were largely the “material requirements of survival under the economic conditions that prevailed.” Though a compelling argument, it is difficult to accept that God strengthened the “two shall become one flesh” bond of marriage with a temporary adhesive of economic necessity that seemed to wear off just in time for our current age.

When Paul in Ephesians commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, the metaphor demonstrates the intense depth of self-sacrificial love that husbands are to have for their wives, comparable to Christ becoming nothing and giving his life for his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25—29). Marriage has always been a high calling, which is why Jesus says it isn't for everyone (Matthew 19:11). The consequences of the fall, however, have certainly tarnished the reality of husband-wife relations, as seen in Genesis 3.

When sin contaminated marriage long ago, did it reduce it to only an economic solution to a problem we no longer have? Undoubtedly, to answer in the affirmative is to suggest that marriage is far less than what Paul admonished it to be. After all, there can be no greater example of a relationship free of or entirely antithetical to economic incentives than the example of Christ and the church. If marriage has effectively been reduced to an economic fad now out of style, then we must give sin its proper credit for so severely corrupting God's original intention for marriage, and recognize sin as the driving force behind today's sexual revolution, rising rates in divorce, promiscuity, and out-of-wedlock births. Miles may be crediting economic forces with too much influence when, in actuality, sin did its work long before the large economic shift in society.

However, economics is a factor worth looking at when thinking about the family institution in a historical context. The Redemp-tion of Love should be credited with bringing this valuable tool to the discussion we must have as traditional family structures continue to decline in our society. An interdisciplinary approach like Miles's—one that places Biblical truths at its forefront—is the ideal starting point for any effort to reinstate family as the institution central to maintaining virtue in a fallen world.