This is the season of weddings, and many wedding-related questions have come into the mailbag. Two interesting ones on wedding rings are related. Chris writes in to ask, “As I consider engagement, I have trouble giving in to the idea of spending a large sum of money on a ring. I have a great desire to do so for my current girlfriend, but a diamond holds no eternal value, and better things could be done with $3,000. Is a fancy engagement ring really necessary, or is this just something society tells us we need?” And Aaron asks, “Pastor John, what are your thoughts on diamond rings for engagements? Is it a poor use of resources to buy even a modest diamond ring?” So, Pastor John, maybe I can simplify this to two questions about Christian engagement and wedding rings: (1) Are rings optional or essential? (2) Are diamonds optional or essential?
Okay, those last two questions are easy. The bigger picture may not be so easy. Wedding rings and engagement diamonds are not essential. They are not essential for engagement. They are not essential for marriage. They are not essential for love. That is easy. Both diamonds and engagements and rings for marriage are culturally defined, not biblically mandated.
We could just stop right there. I suppose that is not what Chris wants. I am sure he wants me to say more than that, and I have lots more to say than that. So here it goes. Let me try to say something in addition that might put it in a bigger biblical context.
Yes, you could save money. You could. And if you built your houses without windows you would save money too. And yards would be more economical if you didn’t plant any flowers and just had grass — or maybe even better, just dirt. And wedding anniversaries and birthdays and Christmas would be cheaper if you dispensed with gift-sharing. All of these would result in more money going to the poor and to missions if you were disciplined enough to calculate it that way. So, no rings and no diamonds would clearly be cheaper, and the money would go to, perhaps, more compassionate uses. That’s true.
So the question is, Are wedding rings and engagement rings warranted expenses? Are they justifiable in the light of biblical truth?
Two Reasons for Wedding Rings
Let me start with wedding rings. I think culturally it is wise and good for a husband and a wife to wear a wedding ring, for two reasons. First, it sends a signal to everyone that you relate to that you are married and therefore committed to a lover and not available for anyone else. It is a symbol in our culture: “I am taken. I am not available. Don’t deal with me as a candidate for sex, and don’t deal with me as a candidate for marriage.” My ring is a true statement that helps me navigate the cultural waters in wise and faithful ways.
“The ring signifies to me: ‘I love this woman. I am committed to her till I die.’”
Here is the second reason I think it is wise. A wedding ring is a great reminder to us that we are married and that it is till death do us part. It represents a sacred set of vows that we made which should govern every day of our married lives. I never take my wedding ring off ever unless some doctor makes me do it because I have prostate cancer.
In 45 years, my wedding ring has been off my finger less than 24 hours, I think — two surgeries. I fought them, but they won. They wouldn’t let me go into surgery with my ring on, though I got it back on as soon as I came out. Why? I am Noël Piper’s husband, and I want to be known that way. That is what that ring signifies to everybody and it signifies to me: “I love this woman. I am committed to her till I die. And I made promises to her I am going to do my dead best to keep.” So I love this symbol and I believe in it.
So, if there are good reasons to wear this ring, then there are probably good reasons to purchase it. I will come back to the cost in just a minute. That was my little case for saying, “Yeah, good idea. Go ahead, have wedding rings.”
What About Engagement Rings?
Now what about engagement? What about the diamond? Betrothal has its roots in the Bible. Mary and Joseph were betrothed. There are things about betrothal in the Bible, but no biblical mandate for any period of betrothal in the Bible and no biblical mandate for anything that requires engagement, let alone any symbol of engagement.
But, again, I would say it seems wise. This tradition seems wise. It is a season when neither the man nor the woman relates to other men and women in ways that could be construed as romantic or tending toward that kind of relationship. It is a focused season of upper-level commitment that hasn’t reached the commitment of the vows of marriage yet. And that kind of staged, or staggered, or leveled relationship or commitment while you focus on knowing one another and discerning each other’s natures seems to me to be a good and wise thing.
“My ring is a true statement that helps me navigate the cultural waters in wise and faithful ways.”
The reason a ring is generally given only to the woman is that culturally it has generally been viewed as fitting that men, not women, take the initiative in pursuing a relationship. That means that when a man sees an engagement ring on a woman’s finger, he knows that this woman is betrothed. It is a level of commitment short of marriage, but deeply significant. And of course, it always signifies from the man: “I love you. I want you to be my wife, and that is the direction we are moving unless something really surprising happens.” So if that expression of love and that season of engagement with visibility to others is wise, then it seems to me like some kind of investment is also wise.
Know Her Deeply
Now, let me give a few comments on the cost. I love it when I hear of couples that are so in tune with each other in matters of lifestyle that they happily agree that the symbols of their love will not need to be exorbitantly expensive. I have known couples who decide on another kind of beautiful stone besides a diamond — for example, a birthstone. It not only didn’t break the bank; it was beautifully distinct and fit her personality perfectly. But if you are going to go against the cultural current like that, it is really, really important — crucial — that you know each other deeply. How valuable is this symbol to her really? Is she just saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter” because she wants to please you and deep down she would be profoundly disappointed?
No one can put a dollar amount on a woman or a man or on the value of engagement or on the value of marriage. And so no one can put a value on these symbols. No amount of money would tell the truth about the value of the person. So don’t try to attach the value of the person with the value of the ring. It won’t work.
Can I just throw in a pet peeve here, Tony? I want to throw in my pet peeve about $10,000–$20,000 wedding receptions. I think this is a deplorable tradition. So here I go absolutizing, right? No, no. I am not absolutizing. I am just giving my judgment about a trend that I think has gotten way out of hand. I would love to see pastors and parents and young people all agree that the joy after a wedding does not need tens of thousands of dollars of the finest hotel, finest retreat center, finest band, finest cuisine.
The money that is being sunk into these things is crazy. I think this couple wants to get on the road. And they will remember cake and nuts as happily as caviar. Now I have got my rant over. All that to say, in all this — rings, wedding rings, engagement rings, receptions — keep it simple. Keep it beautiful. And amp up the ways of showing love that cost little and mean much.