Here is today’s email: “Pastor John, hello and thank you for this podcast! Is it okay for me, an older Christian man, to marry a Christian woman half my age? I know I will be scoffed at for asking such a question. Many will assume I am chasing sex, youth, and beauty. However, that’s not the case. It wasn’t until this past year, in my late forties, that I found myself, for the first time, attracted to women. I have struggled with same-sex attraction all my life, but I never acted on those feelings. Just recently, I have experienced the Spirit moving me to walk more closely with him. Simultaneously, I have been filled with a desire to get married to a woman and to become a father.
“I never had such desires before. Nor did I think it was ever possible. I have felt ignored by God as I watched my friends get married and have children and seemingly get blessed by God, whereas I was always alone. Now in middle age, Jesus seems to be changing me, shaping me to become a husband of a wife, and the father of her children. There is a young lady I am friends with, and I find myself thinking about her a lot. She’s exactly half my age. I am old enough to be her father. Is such an age gap acceptable among believers?”
I think the first thing I would like to say is a word of thanks to God, and then a word of commendation to our friend in his late forties, that, in spite of the brokenness of this fallen world manifest in his same-sex attraction all his life, he has not been disobedient to God’s call on his life to be sexually upright in abstaining from homosexual practice. That is a remarkable triumph of God’s grace. And for that, I give public thanks to God and commendation to our friend.
“Both husband and wife should seek and find, in their marriage partner, what they need for sexual satisfaction.”
The apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” And I know that many people today think that such instructions concerning the will of God for our sexuality are simply human power moves, a means of shaming and oppressing and constricting and denying one’s full humanity, when, in fact, God’s ways are good and wise and far more satisfying than the lawlessness of this world — especially when you take into account all of reality and all of eternity.
So, I praise God for any instance like this one of triumph over the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and over the power of sin for Christ’s sake. This does mean, however, that the case in front of us is more complex than simply a matter of age. He has honestly stirred in the matter of his own experience of same-sex attraction. The question he puts is, “I am 48; she’s 24.” (I’m just guessing because he said “late forties,” and he’s twice her age; so let’s say 48 and 24.) “I am 48; she’s 24. Is such a gap acceptable among believers?”
And he knows as well as I that the question of this marriage is not going to be settled by an explicit biblical command. There isn’t one that forbids this gap or commends it. This issue is going to be resolved by reflection on biblical principles, which we pray will yield mature wisdom and discernment.
So, I have two brief thoughts about the challenges of same-sex attraction in heterosexual marriage. It would be wrong of me, I think, to overlook that issue. The Bible puts a very high value on sexual relations in marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:3–5, Paul says,
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another [of sexual relations], except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.
In other words, both husband and wife should seek and find, in their marriage partner, what they need for sexual satisfaction. Neither should be deprived by the other. Therefore, those who enter into marriage should be confident that they can fulfill this.
The other thought is simply this: a woman in marriage should have her husband’s entire sexual affection. His desires, his eyes, his actions should never go after another woman sexually, or another man. In this way, he loves her, he honors her. She feels cherished as the unique and sole focus of his sexual pursuit. Both men and women should enter into marriage with that expectation.
Now, with regard to the age difference, there’s no biblical prohibition of a 48-year-old man marrying a 24-year-old woman. The question is, Will this difference present challenges that may prove so great that the marriage would not last, or the marriage would be mainly miserable? That’s a question for the man and the woman to think through, study through, pray through, with much counsel, not from a podcast like me, but from a pastor or some close spiritual associates who know them well. They should be in a strong, Bible-believing church. So, let me mention a few things to take into consideration from my distance.
Statistically, the greater the gap in ages, the greater the likelihood of divorce. One group of statistics that I consulted said that a gap of 10 years increases the likelihood of divorce by 39 percent, a gap of 20 years increases the likelihood of divorce by 95 percent, and a gap of 30 years increases the likelihood by 172 percent. So, if 3 out of 10 marriages fail when both are 25 years old, then 8.7 marriages out of 10 fail when the 25-year-old marries a 55-year-old.
Now, one of the reasons for that failure rate is no doubt that physiologically, mentally, the gap widens as you get older, rather than shrinking. The physical difference between a 48-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman is negligible. Mentally, physically, they can do all the same things. But when she’s a vital, energetic 56, he will be 80. And the strength and the mental acuity of an 80-year-old does not relate to a 56-year-old the same way a 48-year-old relates to a 24-year-old.
So, both partners need to take very seriously this fact: the experience of aging will not be a shared experience, as it is in most marriages. This will present unique challenges for both.
Go Deep with God
Let me venture one other exhortation and a kind of warning for this man in particular. In order to flourish within those peculiar challenges — which is possible, by the way; it is possible where there’s great biblical maturity and great wisdom and great love — I think our friend will need to be sure that he has grown in his relationship to God beyond what I heard in his question.
“Go deep into the sovereignty of God, go deep into the goodness of God, and go deep into the wisdom of God.”
He said, “I have felt ignored by God as I watched my friends get married and have children and seemingly get blessed by God, whereas I was always alone.” Now, that’s an understandable feeling — not a good one, not a mature one. I could be very wrong, but I hear a view of God that is not as big and wise and trustworthy as it ought to be. And I hear a relationship to God that is not as deeply shaped by God’s good and wise sovereignty as it ought to be. It’s not a sign of mature, stable faith when a Christian feels ignored by God, as if other people are more loved by God than he is. Either the view of God is flawed, or faith is flawed.
And so, I would exhort our friend to go deep into the sovereignty of God, go deep into the goodness of God, and go deep into the wisdom of God. And sink your roots down so deep into God’s sovereign grace that you are so firm in your sense of his sovereign care and love for you that you never feel abandoned by him, no matter what good is coming to other people or what bad is happening to you. Then, I think, you will be in a very good position to say a faith-filled yes or no to marriage to a woman half your age.