Though marriage is the most private of all human experiences, its repercussions are incredibly public, in spite of what contemporary wisdom may have us believe. According to Scripture, private morality is intimately tied to public activity, and especially in marriage. So I want to look at this matrimonial estate from four biblical perspectives:
- Marriage and the Cosmos – Genesis 1:27
- Marriage and the Culture – Genesis 2:20-24
- Marriage and the Couple – Proverbs 5 and 31
- Marriage and the Christian – Ephesians 5:22-23
Marriage and the Cosmos — Genesis 1:27
So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”I was at the Zoo the other day. One can get so close to the animals. Separated by just a wall of glass from a whole family of gorillas, I saw them do pretty much everything except get married. No berobed simian clergy blessed their monkey business. No chimp chaplain appeared aping the human marriage ceremony. For in the order of creation, God has ordained humanity with a sense of unusual significance–that human beings might have a personal relationship with him. Among their acts, marriage is of great significance. Marriage declares the true nature of the cosmos÷on the one hand, God the personal Creator and, on the other, works that he has made, including the mystery of human personhood. When the pagan tree-hugger collapses God into the spirit of the tress, the world becomes a foreboding wasteland of impersonal forces.Marriage expresses intimacy and union within difference, and thus exhibits the majestic meaning of the universe÷the great distinction between Creator and creature÷distinction without the loss of personal intimacy. If in marriage we touch something of the ultimate meaning of the cosmos, marriage has also a cultural significance.
Marriage and the Culture — Genesis 2:20-24
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner·So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.In this second account, marriage is now set in the context of culture. Males alone are not good [except for certain notable exceptions]; males need females, not female slaves, but equal partners, of the same human substance, but different in sexuality, and thus sharing mutually but in different ways the task of fruitfulness and the rule of the earth. These two represent a distinct heterosexual monogamous cultural unit who have left a previous one, mother and father, and now form one flesh. This family unit is the very basis of society and the sine qua non of civilization÷which today is under great attack. Today, in once Christian America, the State can no longer find within itself the moral resources to affirm in the public classroom even the ethics of heterosexual monogamous marriage, even though in the schools, teachers function in loco parentis, and without heterosexuality there would be no parents, no teachers, no schools, nor even a state.We see many attacks on marriage today: Divorce trivializes it Cohabitation seem to make it unnecessary The specter of homosexual marriage removes its uniqueness and true significance.However, for marriage to survive, it is not enough for the state to reverse its present policy, which would be a miracle in itself. There must be a deep and lasting sense of the human couple.
Marriage and the couple — Earthy wisdom from Proverbs
Nuts and bolts–always wear sunscreen, eat one fruit per day, and drink lots of liquids–but you will forget them!
Julien: “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, so that you may hold on to prudence and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love.” (Proverbs 5:1-3, 18-19)My son: in these days of sexual obsession, of tolerance for adultery in high places, and for easy access to pornography, this old wisdom sounds frankly prophetic. The current wisdom has you give full rein to your fantasies and recommends that you follow the seductive media myths only to end up in the bitter frustration of rotting fruit. However, this age-old wisdom from Proverbs gives you life, a deep sense of fulfillment, and will preserve what you hold dear.Christina:My daughter, in these days of the temptation of feminist power, by which the radicals claim to be able to solve all the problems of the oppression of women, and purpose as the greatest satisfaction the experience of autonomous freedom, Proverbs also has wisdom for you. In what must be one of the most noble descriptions of woman in the whole of human literature, Proverbs, written almost three millennia ago, says:”A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and no harm, all the days of her life. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard·She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'”Here is a liberated woman who does not just make cookies and polish the refrigerator, but whose goal and desire is not an independent, self-fulfilling career, but the service and care of her family.With these nuts and bolts you will construct your couple, which is the solid basis on which a family can grow, into which you can dare one day to introduce children.But how will you ensure that you stay together? We are profoundly unfinished products, and that is not our fault. Creation was only the first half of God’s great work. So it is not enough to know the Creator’s design. Even knowing it, we are weak and egotistical people (there are as many divorces among Christians as there are in the culture at large–over fifty percent!) The second half of God’s work must follow, and we must have it in our perspective, both because we are sinful (that’s realism), but also because God has big plans (that’s true optimism). This is the message of the Christian gospel.
Marriage and the Christian — Ephesians 5:22-23
“Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be subject, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,·This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.”Marriage here is given the highest of all goals, for it signifies God’s redemption and recreation of the entire cosmos. Marriage which first recalls the distinction and communion between the Creator and the creature at the original appearing of the heavens and the earth, now also signifies the great triumph of God the Redeemer who renews and transforms the Creation.This is the mystery of the Gospel, the almost unbelievable, earth-shaking plan of God. His wisdom is so profound that it looks to superficial people like foolishness. But this wisdom is to be preached to the cosmic rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm. The great mystery is the fact of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile through the blood of Christ. This final act of the reconciliation of all things necessarily includes the transformation of the heaven and the earth, for after his death on the cross, Jesus’ physical body was gloriously transformed, and the grave where they laid him has forever since remained mysteriously empty, a great black, but dazzling hole in the fabric of the material universe.This victory over sin and death, and the reconciliation of all things that it engenders will be celebrated in another marriage ceremony, the coming marriage supper of the Lamb, which your earthly marriage already anticipates: the union of Christ and the redeemed.How can you stay married? If you look at the statistics, you would have to say you cannot. Let me tell you in all honesty, in your own strength you will likely fail. Is there any hope, except the hope that you might belong to the lucky fifty percent who succeed? Yes, there’s hope!!! You will stay together because Christ married you first. Already in the Old Testament, God bequeaths himself to his people as their husband, and takes them as his wife. In the New Testament, the divine lover is irresistible. This act of Christian marriage occurred on the cross, when, in the most incredible show of selfless love, Christ gave himself for his people. This is the ultimate pattern of married love. Hollywood and the Las Vegas marriage chapels notwithstanding.It is the faithfulness of Christ that will keep you married to each other, not your best male intentions or your feminine mystique. You do not stay married because of the kids. You stay married because of the plan of God for the world, because of Christ, who is the great reconciler of those who are different. Just as he brings Jews and Gentiles together through his blood, so his cross keeps you in faithful covenant with each other÷in sickness and in health, till death do you part.Julien, love and care for you wife as a Christian man, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself to death for her.Christina, love and respect your husband as a Christian woman , just as the Church loves and respects Christ. For this private act is a great public statement of your love for Christ. I end with a word of thanks. Thank you, Julien, for leaving me and your mother and clinging to Christina: thank you, Christian for leaving your father and mother to cling to Julien. In a sense, this is a very real and definitive goodbye to the old family and the single life but it is a good and necessary one. Your parents gladly say this goodbye, because in leaving us and clinging to each other, you are leasing the Lord. In so doing:You witness to God as Creator, in a cosmos without God, but with many foreboding spirits;You help provide to a collapsing culture the only truly solid, elemental building block of human civilization;You individually and as a couple grow in wisdom, service, faith, perseverance and true humanity, in a society of lost, autonomous and wandering souls, without hope and without God in the world’As Christians you proclaim to a world that so desperately needs to hear some really good, earth-shaking news, the mystery of Gospel love and the certainty of God’s coming, off-the-charts, beyond belief, but certainly wonderful, victory·To the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.