Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Implications of Marriage

“Why is the marriage relationship more important than any other relationship?” 
This question was posed by a dear friend when we were having a little heart to heart about the state of various things in her life. Valid question, yes. But one that took me by surprise as it seemed obvious to me. Since I think better through my fingertips, rather than in a spur of the moment conversation, this little (make that long!) blog post is my attempt at an answer to my friend’s question. 
I don’t believe this person held marriage in a low-priority position by any means. In fact, I know she knows it is “numero uno”. Yet, she was in the midst of a heart wrenching relationship with one of her children and that was eclipsing all else. She was doing what each of us tend to do: Give the squeaky wheel the grease. 
It is much easier for me to sit on the sidelines and cheer little scripture-like cheers to my friends when I am not the one going through the fire. But, I do think it is essential to rehearse what is true when things are going swimmingly, so that when a flood threatens to overwhelm us, we can cling to what we KNOW. Peace and joy may look precarious in the face of a tsunami, but Truth will remain our lifeline. 
I think we live in an age that devalues marriage and belittles men to such an extent that even churches tend to try and feminize our guys and God Himself. Too many touchy-feely expectations that often rely on experience and psycho-babble, rather than the counsel of scripture. 
With that understood, I’ll go ahead and state that I do believe in submission to ones own husband (as scripture states in Ephesians 5:22...implying women can be awed and influenced more heavily by some other man...even a pastor). Submission does NOT imply inequality; merely the chain of command that makes things flow rather than grate. Frankly, I like it that way. There is freedom in submission...if bad decisions are wrought by my husband, it is between him and God (not to say it doesn’t have an effect on other people, myself included). I don’t want to be an Eve and have my hubby say (like Adam), “that woman you gave me wore me down until I would agree to do this...”. I prefer to keep my hands off. It helps that my husband can smell manipulation a mile away; it would be a total waste of time to try.
So, the above explanation tells of the structure of a healthy marriage (not my opinion here, either. Scripture will back me up on all of that submission stuff). But WHY is marriage so important? Why is it THE relationship that must be cherished and nurtured at all costs, especially when things get really awful in other areas of life? Why can’t we afford to just coexist for awhile, coast along and hope things will get better (when he sees what a jerk he’s been...)? Why can’t I spew all over my mate and expect them to just get over it and move on? We’re both adults, right? They know I love them.
Let’s look first at the origin of marriage. This is an obvious one, I know. Still...restating truth helps to reinforce its application in our life so it bares repeating. The first marriage was ordained and orchestrated by the Creator of the universe in Paradise. Adam and Eve were part of the ultimate blind date match up. Those two were literally made for each other!
The animals were not a suitable companion for Adam, only a woman would do! God could have just made a bunch of people that were an instant little “Village of Eden”. He could have commanded all the independent people to “be friendly and fellowship.” Instead he made one of each gender and then gave them the command to have sex...and he made that something special and symbolic as well. “Be fruitful and multiply,” he said. Oh, and it’s really fun to practice the “being fruitful” part...and the little ones that result will be one of the best things to ever happen to you! 
Even the actual act of consummating a marriage has sacred and symbolic significance. A true covenant relationship is one that is sealed in blood (the blood of animals in the Old Testament, the Blood of Christ in the New Testament). When a virgin has relations for the first time (presumably after marriage), blood is spilt; a seal of the covenant made between the bride and groom. What a beautiful picture--with deep implications-- that most do not fathom!
Scripture goes on to extol the virtue of marriage, to show it as a relationship set apart, as a Holy Covenant that should only be broken by death itself. The intimacy of the marriage bed is used as a term for the way God intimately knows each of us. Song of Solomon is a whole book devoted to the love relationship between marriage partners. Marriage is an ongoing example of unity and intimacy throughout scripture.
Still, there is something more, something that causes marriage to have no equal among relationships between people. If this were to be the only mention of marriage in the Bible, it would be enough to propel it to “numero uno”: Marriage is a reflection and representation of the union of Christ and His church.
Our heavenly Father uses the picture of marriage, the verbiage of marriage, and the sanctity of marriage to show the relationship that the Bride of Christ (the church) has with the Bridegroom (Christ). (See Matthew 25, Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, and Revelation 21 to name a few). God did not use a picture of teacher and student, or a picture of priest and congregation, but the intimate, loving, stick-with-you-through-thick-and-thin commitment that has two people becoming one in Holy Matrimony. In fact, just look at that term: “Holy Matrimony” you recall the relationship between parents and children being termed “holy”, or any other relationship for that matter? On the contrary, Jesus says that for his sake, those relationships may be violently torn apart (see Matt. 10:35).
Truly, being one in the covenant of marriage is a beautiful likeness of what Christ has done to reconcile us to himself through his sacrifice on the cross; collectively as a church, and individually as well (see Eph. 5 for how the husband and wife submit and give all to each other just has Christ has done for us). He is coming for a pure and spotless bride, without blemish or wrinkle. He promises to tenderly care for us, protect us and provide for us. He is preparing a feast and celebration for us when we are with him in eternity. Marriage. Marriage. Marriage. It is a thread woven throughout the Bible; a heartbeat of a passionate and loving God.
Now that we have established the high calling of marriage, what do we do with this information? Tuck it away as an interesting thought to ponder? Make a note in our Bible’s margin? Nope. I say it ought to be of the utmost priority to make our marriages the best possible union; effort given to building a strong foundation, adding to that using the Fruits of the Spirit on a daily basis. 

It is a shameful fact that the divorce rate is as high in the church as it is in the world. It should never, ever be so. Our marriage is part of our testimony to the world, it exists to reflect the glory of God and give glory to God. What message is the world getting from us about this holy union? One that says it IS NOT holy, it is merely a matter of taste and convenience. Like a mortgage on a house; it is not something to be taken lightly, but--if times get tough--you can always sell it and move on.
One last bit of food for thought... What if the bride of Christ spent it’s energy trying to change who Christ is? What if we decided to tweak the attributes of Jesus or redefine what it means to be a Christian? Well, that wouldn’t fly, would it? A peek at the churches of Revelation shows how God wants to spew the unfit from his presence and discipline those that are disobedient. We would be defaming the name of Christ if we acted like that. 
What if the church went around bad mouthing Christ to the world? “Yeah, Jesus rarely answers any of my prayers, he’s so selfish and lazy.” Or, “I would be a better Christian if Jesus would just ____(fill in the blank).” Or, “I don’t know who that Jesus thinks he is, expecting me to do this and that.” Yikes! Such speech is unimaginable from a true follower of Christ.
Yet how often do we whine and complain about what we perceive to be wrongs in our relationship to our spouse? Are we guilty of bad mouthing them to others? Are we approaching marriage the world's way, or our own way, instead of God’s? Do we distance our mate and our marriage in our words or our actions, either to their face or to others? Are we tearing down instead of building up? Manipulating and pouting, being bitter and scornful, instead of serving and showing respect with a heart of gratitude? What about shutting ourselves off in cold indifference? 
I believe that our relationship with the Lord is directly connected to how we relate to our spouse. We cannot be a grumpy, judgmental, discontent, whiney-butt with our husband (or wife) and expect to pursue an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. That holds true even in a marriage with an unbeliever. The scriptures give guidelines for everything, including that! Not to say such a union would be a cake walk, but it still can bring glory to God as the saved spouse relates to the other in a Christ-like way. 
Ephesians gives very specific directives on how we should treat each other in marriage and those standards are not earned by the other person’s behavior. They are what God expects of us as believers in obedience to His word. We cannot control what the other person does, we can only control ourselves, our choices and our reactions. And those things should be under the control of the Holy Spirit or they will only be wood, hay and stubble (aka, works of the flesh).
I know this post may come across as overly simplistic, and very black and white...
I realize that different situations may NOT be simple, but the bible reads gloriously black and white so that we can take those convoluted messes we make and find answers and hope without going crazy. The answers are there if we will take the time to look. They are not old-fashioned and out-dated. They are the tried and true remedies from the mouth of the One who created marriage! Why doesn’t that fact make a difference in Christian matrimony? It seems we often balk at how simple God’s approach is, deciding it really doesn’t apply to us. We stomp off and attempt to fix it ourselves, perpetuating the cycle. Why do we doubt the living God?
When my friend posed her question to me, she surely did not know what a heaping can of worms she was opening! And most of this post is like preaching to the choir to her and many others that may come across it. But I know, as a fellow human being, how hard it can be to get information to transfer out of our heads and into our hearts. I pray that my little diatribe may be used as a defibrillator on things that have grown cold, stale and even lifeless. 
Things like your heart.
Things like your marriage.


Susan Marlow said...

Hey, Heather! I liked this. Very succinct, clear, and biblical. Wow, for 2AM that's great!
THanks for sharing the link.

Carmen Chapa said...

It is that simply isn't that easy. Well written.

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.