In light of all of the attention the push for homosexual marriage has been getting of late it is not a bad idea to focus a bit on “traditional” marriage–marriage between a man and a woman, as God designed it. A month or so ago Joel Belz wrote about this in his regular WORLD Magazine column. After attending a wedding at the start of the year he realized that as important as taking a stand against homosexual marriage may be, even more important is taking a stand for marriage. “With all the media and political emphasis on legalizing homosexual marriages, it’s way too easy to get diverted by that grisly debate and to forget that the top challenge for Christians is to nurture and then display the wonders of marriage the way God made it to be.”
Yesterday I learned that a colleague of mine was engaged over the weekend. She was excited to tell everyone, to show off her ring…to announce to the world that she has found the one person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. This fascination, excitement and wonder is what the God-designed marriage relationship is all about; this is the attitude we should demonstrate when we get engaged, when we celebrate a year of marriage and when we celebrate fifty years of marriage.
Belz’s point is an excellent reminder–because I suspect most of us do not often consciously think about encouraging and exhibiting a godly marriage as being a Christian responsibility. Sure, we hear it preached and when we do attend weddings we no doubt think about the future and our hopes for the new couple, but like Belz I suspect that most of us think more about opposing gay marriage than modeling godly marriage.
Belz writes that he offered some advice to the newlyweds whose ceremony prompted him thinking. He says he told them that “conventional wisdom” of the past generations has taught that while “marriage is OK” it has also taught that no would should “expect too much from it.” That’s sad but true. The culture in which we live in the United States has bred a certain amount of casualness toward marriage. On the one hand its fine to enjoy what used to be reserved for marriage–living together, sexual relations, even having children together–without getting married. On the other hand, if you do get married and later find it just doesn’t work, just get a divorce. Marriage doesn’t need to be a drudgery and it doesn’t need to be difficult. If the going gets tough just go your separate ways and get going.
The reality, of course, is that marriage is tough. There are times when things do not go as planned. There are conflicts that emerge when two people spend most of their time together and interweave every aspect of their lives. There are physical changes that were not envisioned, there are interests and hobbies that change, there are extended family issues, there are money problems…I could go on and on. None of that “on and on” however is reason to not get married and none of it is reason to get “unmarried.”
“Sometimes…there’s so much emphasis on the grim side of things,” Belz writes, “that we’ve lost seeing marriage in the glorious context God intended it. … In our grown-up desire to ‘get real,’ we’ve let Satan so disfigure and discolor our ideal picture of marriage that we’ve come to settle for way too little.” Marriage was ordained by God. He designed it beautifully and it is a beautiful relationship. So beautiful is it, in fact, that the Bible uses the marriage of a man and woman as an illustration of the relationship between God and the church. In other words, when God wanted to communicate to human beings how much He loves them and the kind of relationship He desires to have with believers and the Church, there was no better example He could give than the marriage relationship as He designed it.
If we take to heart this idea of marriage it will fundamentally transform our approach to marriage. It will change the way married individuals relate to each other, it will change the way other people view our marriages, it will restore the wonder of marriage that little children experience when attending marriages in their childhood. In other words, it will restore the idea that marriage is a truly magnificent relationship designed by God as a gift for His most significant creation, His only creation created in His own image.
Marriage is not easy–not by any means. Indeed, Belz writes, marriage is “an expression of the gospel itself, where both partners constantly and willingly die for each other.” A marriage as God designed it “involves daily dying to ourselves so that we can live generously toward our mate.” These are not concepts embraced by the culture in which we live. The world teaches living for self, doing whatever makes you happy. The Bible doesn’t teach that. Die to self is as opposite from “just do it” as you can get. The fact that marriage is not easy, though, makes it all the more beautiful. After all, the growing and daily-dying process of a godly marriage “enhances intimacy” Belz says, and indeed it does.
Like Belz, I want to adopt the “word and deed approach to teaching the art of marriage,” both “modeling and explaining” how beautiful marriage is and how it works. If enough of us are willing to adopt this approach we just might succeed in presenting a concept of marriage that the world might actually aspire to, in restoring the wonder and beauty of marriage as God designed it.