Wooing as warfare, part 1...

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Three things are too wonderful for me;
        four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
        the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
        and the way of a man with a virgin.

(David) The way of a man with a woman is one of life’s great mysteries. From every perspective the process is mysterious, resembling a blindfolded sabre dance on uneven ground. The young man who pursues marriage enters a foreign land where he wages war. On the hinges of that battle lie happiness or shame.

But though a potential bride may be deeply loved, she’s also at some level the foe. To achieve victory the young man must not only win her, he must defeat her and her family, snatching her from their bosom, converting her to himself, breaking her natural bonds with father and mother, brother and sister, nurse and friend, dog and home. There’s little that’s tender about it. At funerals we cloak harsh reality in kind words and soft colors. So too, at weddings soft words and vibrant colors disguise a bloody truth. The wedding ceremony is really a mini-Versailles, an Appomattox-in-a-nutshell of capitulation and triumph, the surrender of one woman to one man, the victory song of groom over both bride and family.

Scripture tells us that a king should count the cost before sending his army into battle. In the same way a young man should count the cost and weigh the odds before entering the lists of romantic battle. It’s not an easy course. Rewarding, pleasurable, wonderful, yes, but pitched conflict fraught with danger as well.

Is such thinking antiquated in this day of feminist equality? Not if we take at face value Scripture’s statement that Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church, is the template for human marriage. Christ came to woo, but to woo He first had to conquer. And not just conquer Satan, but woo and conquer His bride as well.

It’s ironic that modern Christian thinking about wooing seeks to domesticate an inherently conflicted and dangerous process. The desire of many Christians in the realm of romance seems to be to render warfare safe—as though, unlike Christ’s battle for His bride, the way of a man with a virgin should be entirely risk-free and controlled.

The obvious problem with such an approach is that it doesn’t eradicate danger, it merely delays the necessary battles of courtship and wooing until after marriage—when the stakes are even higher and the costs of failure even greater.

The one great danger we should seek to preserve our children from in the process of their moving toward marriage is sin. But even here, the solution to sin is not mere avoidance of temptation. The solution ultimately must be victory over temptation. Which of us would think we’ve successfully inoculated our children against the dangers of alcohol if we’ve only kept them from seeing wine or tasting beer?

The modern courtship movement is in many ways a doomed attempt to render the wooing process conflict free. It seeks to keep temptation at bay. It seeks to manage the relationship of potential groom to potential bride. It provides forms which guide the man’s approach not only to his potential bride, but to her family. It is, in a word, safe. And for that very reason it is ultimately dangerous, because marriage is not safe, and the wooing which leads to marriage is not safe. It is war, and the quicker our children understand this the better. It is war against sin. It is the breaking of families and established orders. It is secession and union all in one, penetration and insemination, not merely lacy ruffles and Pachelbel canons but velvet-gloved violence. All this courtship conceals. But it will out—in marriage if not before.

It doesn’t matter what we call the wooing process: courting, dating, wooing. In the end, the goal is to establish bonds that last. At times that will require things our safe forms rebel against—for instance, a long journey by a man and espoused virgin with none accompanying them, with no protection for the woman’s virtue save the man’s honor. This, my friends, is the kind of danger we need to train our children to meet. And, this, I fear, is the kind of danger the courtship movement seeks simply to avoid.