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  • Writer's pictureM.B. Christiansen

A Theology of Marriage

What’s the point of getting married? In our post-modern Western culture, marriage is in decline. The question of the point of marriage is often asked as young adults move in together, enjoying all the benefits of married life without the hassle of commitment. Why would anyone get married? And what does that have to do with theology?



A Long Forgotten Truth


The general ignorance of the beauty of biblical marriage in our culture is saddening. Marriage is viewed as a social construct, something that people invented in a different time which has become somewhat obsolete. There’s no need to get married if two consenting adults are having fun and both benefitting from a romantic relationship, or so the argument goes. And to question this view is to invite the criticism that “you’re on the wrong side of history”. As the traditional values upon which Western culture is based on continue to erode, things like marriage become seemingly antiquated and dull.


But is marriage just a system invented by humans to be mutually beneficial? My answer, when we consult God’s Word, is obviously no. Marriage is not something tacked on to the human experience after eons of development, it is something that is designed by God which is woven through the very meaning of human existence.


Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing inherently wrong with singleness. Many people lead long, spiritually fulfilling lives without experiencing married life. We are not demanded to marry, but a survey of Scripture reveals a startlingly intentional pattern for marriage which is not only beneficial to all parties involved but is used typologically to point us toward God’s beauty.


The Practical Significance of Marriage


A biblical survey of marriage begins virtually at the beginning of human existence. Genesis 1 describes how God creates the universe in progression, the culmination of which is humankind. God creates our world, seemingly, to set humankind up in the best position to thrive. Humanity is the keystone of God’s creation, and after every successive day in Genesis 1, God surveys his work and declares that it is good.


The first time in Scripture where God identifies something as not good is in Genesis 2:18: “Then the Lord said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” God sees how alone Adam is among creation, and solves the problem by creating his perfect complimentary helper. God brought Adam all the different animals to name, partially because he wanted to demonstrate to Adam how different he was from each of the animals. Adam saw how each of the animals had a distinct male and female gender, and must certainly have realized his loneliness. Where was his partner?


When God creates Eve, he makes Adam a helper that is going to be everything he needs. A study of human psychology reveals that the male and female mind are, generally speaking, wired very differently. There are things that make males distinct from females. The trend, designed by God, is that where men are strong, women are weak. And where men are weak, women are strong. The two are designed to compliment each other. From the outset, God establishes a special relationship between Adam and Eve and gives a blueprint for marriage as a foundational element of the human experience.


Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25 ESV

God, in his infinite wisdom, recognized how hard life would be in the world that sin would ruin, and built into our humanity the possibility of a lifelong relationship that was not only mutually emotionally beneficial but served to bring about the next generation. There are great practical benefits to marriage, not the least of which is the blessing of going through life with your best friend.


Marriage as a Blessing


The way I look at my marriage is that, since I have a healthy marriage and a loving wife who follows Christ, it doesn’t matter how bad of a day I’ve had. At the end of the day, I get to return home to my wife who loves me unconditionally (and my two kids who never have a shortage of energy). That safe haven is the blessing that God desires marriage to be practically in day to day life. Certainly you can have close friends who can fulfill certain relational needs, but the beauty of a spouse is that, ideally, the two of you share an intimacy that is only shared between the two of you. By doing marriage God’s way, you have somebody to experience the joys and sorrows of life with, who can be there for you no matter what the circumstances. To have somebody always on your team and in your corner is a massive comfort when navigating the complexity of modern life.


Jesus understood this passage in Genesis as establishing the institution of marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman for one lifetime (Matthew 19:3-6) and Paul elaborates and gives practical instructions to Christian husbands and wives for how God has intended the marriage dynamic to be practically lived out (Ephesians 5:22-31).


Contrary to the current cultural idea that the self is the highest priority, God intends marriage to be more about what one can do for their spouse than what one can get from their spouse. The husband is called to lead the wife, always with her best interests in mind, and the wife is called to support and help her husband. This can be practically lived out in a variety of ways depending on the personalities of the couple, but the system ensures that health and love reinforce and mutually encourage both the husband and the wife. Marriage, when done God’s way, is an undeniable blessing in the face of a hard and often uncaring world. For practical purposes alone, marriage is a hugely helpful gift from God, and should be honored and acknowledged as such.

 

The Theological Significance of Marriage


As with much of what we see in Scripture, there is more significance to Christian marriage than one might initially think. Let’s return to our passage in Ephesians where Paul lays out God’s practical instructions for husbands and wives. Paul’s thought does not end with finite human marriage, he continues to elaborate that he is really talking about eternal matters (Ephesians 5:32). Paul has been talking about human marriage, but he has also been talking about Christ and the Church. In what way?


Spiritual Adultery in the Old Testament


When we zoom out and look at Scripture as a whole, a startling pattern emerges throughout the long sad history of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. In response, God sends the prophets to implore the people to turn back to their one true God and to stop dabbling in the practices (which God has expressly forbidden) of their neighbors.


A striking pattern that we see throughout the prophets is the comparison of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God to that of a loving husband to an unfaithful wife. The prophets reprimand God’s people for their spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 3:20; Isaiah 1:21; 57:8; Ezekiel 16:30). When they are chasing after these empty worship practices, they are being unfaithful to God and breaking the sacred relationship that they are supposed to have with him in the same way that a cheating wife betrays and hurts her husband. God even goes so far as to instruct Hosea, one of his prophets, to marry a prostitute so that he would experience as an object lesson the heart-wrenching betrayal that God feels when his people turn away from him and worship other gods (Hosea 1:2).


We tend to forget that Paul was a Pharisee, and almost certainly had this backdrop in mind as he is describing the ideal relationship between a husband and a wife and draws the comparison between this to that of God to his faithful people (now the Church).


Eternal Restoration of the Bride to the Groom


When we look ahead to Revelation 21, after Jesus has returned and sin and death (and Satan) have been done away with, the picture is of Jesus and his faithful finally together in eternity, and the language employed is that of a wedding celebration.


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 21:1-7 ESV

When the victory has been won, the scenario is described as the faithful Church presenting itself to Christ like a bride eagerly walking down the aisle to her groom.


Marriage as a Type of Eternity


I said earlier that marriage is a type. In theology, a type is something that is used to point to something else or to illustrate a deeper truth. Many things in the Old Testament point forward to Jesus. We would say that those things are types of Jesus. The sacrificial lamb at the Day of Atonement was a type which pointed forward to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Abraham being prepared to offer his only son Isaac as a sin offering (and many other details from that story) point forward typologically to the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice and the willingness with which God offered his one and only Son.


In the same way, marriage can be though of as a type which points us forward to the eternal joy and elation we will feel when we are finally reunited with our maker in heaven. The joy that a couple feels on their wedding day, after the ceremony is completed and they are presented to their closest friends and family members as the newly wedded couple, is just a grainy, faded, out of focus picture of what it will be like in eternity when we are finally united with Christ.


The indescribable joy of the bride at the thought of never having to leave her love’s side for as long as they both shall live. The knowledge that for the rest of her life, no matter what happens, she’ll weather it with her best friend and her first love is analogous to what it will be like on that day in heaven, but infinitely magnified.


Why does the bride wear a white dress? Until very recently I assumed that it was to symbolize the bride's chastity and purity. I would look on, slightly annoyed, while I watched brides get married who I knew to have been in other relationships in which lines had been crossed.


But the beauty of marriage is that it's not about the bride's purity at all. In fact, the bride's impurity is the whole point. The bride wears white not because she's pure or worthy, but because Jesus covers us and all of our sins. It is the bride, and not the groom, who wears white not because the bride is particularly unworthy, but because the groom is the symbolic stand-in for Christ. The groom is in just as much need as the bride of Christ's covering, but in the analogy the bride represents both marriage partners, which is why she is in white. This is a picture of the Christian faith. It's nothing we've done, it's what Jesus does for us. Jesus clothes us in white, not because of our merit but because of his overwhelming love for us.


Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 19:6-9 ESV

The CCM band Casting Crowns' song Wedding Day captures the beauty of this moment. The song is not about a wedding day at all, but is rather about the day that we, as Christ's faithful followers, are reunited with our maker and everything is restored to the way it was always supposed to be.


There is a profound sense of joy and hopefulness for the future in the first moments of a marriage. The anticipation of a lifetime of memories spent with one's earthly love is the closest thing we have on this side of heaven to illustrate the beauty of eternity in perfect relationship with our Creator. All the question marks, all the pain and ugliness are a distant memory and the future is infinitely bright.


Marriage is a beautiful gift of God which, as I stated above, is something that's woven into the human experience. Our study of the theology of marriage started at the very beginning in Genesis and is brought to fruition at the very end of Revelation. Marriage is a gift which benefits us practically as we navigate life, but which also points us profoundly to a deeper fulfilment of our needs and desires in eternity with God.



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