This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.
Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness.
In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.
God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.
The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.
Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them.
The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).
The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).
While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).
Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8).
In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld.
For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.