Perpetual Adolescence


The protracted adolescence of today's men and women is a social and spiritual hindrance. Contemporary culture's youth obsession combined with unstable economic realities have contributed to recent generations' inability (or reluctance) to grow up. College graduates are returning home in record numbers to live with their parents. And they're almost always single. When men and women do choose to get married these days, the decision arrives in their late 20s or into their 30s, particularly for men. Modern marriages now begin after long periods of sexual profligacy, experimentation, promiscuity, live-in relationships, and/or loneliness, frustration, and self-absorption. Marriages suffer as a result. Where once it was a necessary rite of passage into adulthood, marriage is today considered an option best postponed until after education is completed and a career is flourishing. Marriage is viewed as the icing on the cake rather than a regular part of the process of life. Such a view raises expectations to absurd levels. Worse yet, it ignores God's plan.

Jesus referred to Genesis 2:24 when He said the following in Mark Chapter 10:

7 A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
In August of last year, Albert Mohler wrote a two-part article titled "Looking Back at 'The Mystery of Marriage'" (part one and part two). In it, he discussed how modern Christians differ very little from society at large when it comes to views on marriage. Christians have bought into the contemporary lie that singlehood, as a lifestyle choice, brings greater freedom and happiness. This is not singleness in the service of Christ (or in the monastic sense), e.g. the Apostle Paul, which very few are called to. Rather, the singleness here is in the television-age sense — the sampling of sexual relationships contingent or not contingent on marriage. Churches and seminaries alike have done little to dispel the prevailing modern myths for fear of sounding out of touch, old-fashioned, or sexist. Paul wrote that "it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:9) What happens is, social maturation is centered around emotion and personal whim rather than God's Word.

Financial independence and marriage are not merely societal indicators of adulthood; they are part of God's plan for society. Dependence and singleness are representations of childhood and immaturity. A child is dependent on their parents or guardians. The single man or woman is the center of his or her life. In pampered Western societies, selfishness, self-absorption, materialism, and youth fixation are all part of the acceptable norms. Increased spending power via dependence or singleness is often regarded as necessary to obtain desired-for material goods and luxuries. Less familial responsibility is viewed as a way to satisfy the "me time." The culture is geared to oppose the realization of healthy families.

Of course, educators, psychiatrists, and the media will tell us that children are "growing up" faster and faster these days. Actually, they are being inculcated in pervasive amoralism and humanism faster and faster. But they are far from growing up faster. The Bible says that knowledge will increase in the last days (cf. Daniel 12:4). That does not mean there will be a rise in Godly wisdom. The growth of communications media over the past century and especially the internet in the past decade has definitely increased knowledge, and the rate of growth is phenomenal. New technologies are announced on a seemingly daily basis. Children are acquiring more knowledge than ever before, but indeed it is a matter of quantity rather than quality. Public education, television, and the internet are filling their minds with all kinds of information, but with what confidence can we say that any of it is meaningful, factual, historically accurate, or conducive to a life in Christ?

Furthermore, when children are described as "growing up faster," it is indicative of innocence lost rather than maturity gained. They are exposed to material on the internet and in television and the movies that, a century ago, even the most calloused adults would not have seen or heard. This assault on children's innocence does so much damage that their ability to mature as independent and secure adults is seriously hampered.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13:
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Ungodly ideals of social maturity have, in turn, stunted the spiritual growth of young men and women. The emphasis on the Self, personal revelation, materialism, feel-good philosophy, and a notable lack of spiritual accountability stand at odds with real Christian maturity. New believers are either unable to wean themselves from spiritual milk (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 1 Peter 2:2-3) or are simply content to remain at this stage. Dependence and selfishness will hold back a Christian's growth, leaving them stuck in spiritual adolescence. God's social plan is designed to aid the maturation of a believer. Because modern society inverts His plan, spiritual growth is all the more difficult. When a believer weak in God's Word passes through the gauntlet of worldly peer pressure, their faith often shipwrecks.

Believers today are subtly and not so subtly encouraged to follow, in the New Age vernacular, their "personal bliss." Purpose-driven pragmatism has driven obedience and submission to God from the church, and ushered in the worship of self-esteem. Some Christians in leadership and teaching roles are caving in to worldly pressures and are not modeling spiritual accountability. Scripture is divested of its hard truths to make Christians feel better about themselves and to avoid offending other worldviews. Spiritual meat is nowhere to be found, nor stomachs that can digest it.

The spirit of this world wants men and women to be corrupt and worldly at heart and childish in the mind. Examples of this deceit abound: pornography is increasingly referred to as "adult entertainment," as if lasciviousness and degradation signify some kind of maturity. Licentiousness is permissible as long as individuals are "consenting adults." Once commonly referred to as "Sin City," Las Vegas is now touted as a "playground for adults." Yet Scripture commands us to possess childlike innocence in the heart (cf. Matthew 18:3) and mature, Godly wisdom in the mind (cf. James 1:4-5). Only in Christ can either of these two parameters be fulfilled.


Moe said... on 5/04/2007 10:40 AM  

As a young adult myself, this is a subject that I've been encountering on a very regular basis. For the past year, I've been involved with a young adults group at a rather large church in my area. The people in the group typically rage in age from twenty to thirty-years-old, but based on the maturity level of the members of the group, in many ways, it comes closer to resembling a middle school class.

The majority of the individuals who are single in this group seem to fit into one of two categories; those who want to get married and those who don't, or at least not for awhile.

Personally, I believe singleness can be a wonderful opportunity to sever God in ways that would be hard to do with a family, but the people I know who have no desire to get married for a long time aren't using their singleness to do... well, anything. They simply want to be responsible for one person's needs; there own. Because marriage takes guts, commitment and selflessness they want nothing to do with it anytime soon. Like Peter Pan, they don't want to grow-up.

On the other hand, the ones who are bucking to tie the knot are too often just as self-centered. Instead of thinking it'd be best for them if they stay single -- so they could continue to have fun and be commitment free -- these folks are dying to get married because they think it will make them happy.

Basically, instead of recognizing the level of maturity marriage requires and shying away from it like the others, they envision a "happily ever after" without any heartache or problems once they've found their special person. If they didn't view this "special someone" as a genie whose sole job is to grant all of their wishes, and marriage as total and complete bliss, they'd probably be hightailing it to the hills, too.

Sadly, the theme song of my generation could be the ToysRUs jingle -- "I don't want to grow-up!" Rather than growing in maturity, wisdom and faith, they'd rather stay at home and play with their toys. Due to this, to find real Christian fellowship, I had to find a church small group with adults who are my parents' age. Even though I'm only twenty-years-old, I felt like the "old" and "frumpy" one in the young adults' group simply because I do want to become a fully functioning adult.


Anonymous said... on 5/11/2007 6:40 PM  

Kelsey, thank you for your thoughtful insights. Modern life and spiritual confusion have made for a combustible combination when it comes to the family.

The misleading notion of marriage as a "be all, end all" of personal happiness is fairly modern and its origins can be traced to the romanticist thread of humanism that began to develop in the West 250 years ago. Secularism in general has attempted to drive Christianity from all of society's institutions: government, schools, churches, and of course marriage and family.

A marriage institution without God is doomed to failure. The resulting societal disillusionment has driven young adults from marriage at a time in their lives when marriage might be the most crucial influence on their well-being.

Marriage has a multi-faceted impact beyond narcissistic "needs" fulfillment. A healthy, functioning society cannot exist without it.