“IT IS in vain that the modern opponents of marriage tell us that so many marriages are tragic. For the truth is that, however you arrange the rules, or no rules, of the sex relation, however you twist it round or turn it inside out, you cannot make the sex relation anything but tragic. That is to say, that while the sex relation, or marriage, can be, and I believe generally is, the happiest state for a man, you cannot deprive it of its power to make him the most miserable thing on earth. It is always “for better, for worse”. Free love may only be a voluntary bondage. Profligacy may only be a succession of slaveries.”
-G.K. Chesterton: ‘Daily News,’ 10/01/04. (From Gilbert Magazine)
When Chesterton says: “That is to say, that while the sex relation, or marriage, can be, and I believe generally is, the happiest state for a man, you cannot deprive it of its power to make him the most miserable thing on earth. It is always ‘for better, for worse'”, what he is explicating is the learning of a man to accept the same Free Will on the part of his wife as terms in her relationship to him- as a wife – as Christ accepts as terms from the Church in her relationship to Him and as God accepts as terms in His relationship with us. A man, he is saying, cannot have it any other way or better than what he himself gives to God or expects from Him. God has given Free Will to both his image creation: both man and woman. And only the best to be had from those relationships comes with the possibility of the worse. God is, in effect, paying a man the highest of compliments in this arrangement; his wife is paying her husband the highest of trust. But what of obedience?
Obedience obviously factors in the greater degree to God, the relative degree to the husband. Certainly, it is to a greater degree of those in the body of the Church to Christ. But does the husband really expect his wife to ‘obey’ him to a greater degree than he obeys God? Does he expect her to submit to a greater degree to him than he has himself to God? If so, he has made himself greater than God to her and God lesser to himself. How can he hope to taste anything of the best in his marriage this way? Hasn’t the best in his relationship to God been when his obedience was given freely? Yes, the path to the best, as Chesterton points out, is his willingness as a husband to do exactly as Christ has done – give himself up for his wife as to his daily life – to be willing to suffer the worst for her everyday and set the example for her to follow. That is the only path to the best that can be had in the relationship. This is the lead he must take.
Our respect for Christ rises to the highest point of the Cross for the very worst of what He suffered and so it will for the husband who takes his own cross up “…and continually follows” Him, “delivering himself up for her, as Christ delivered Himself up for the Church.”