Why does marriage matter?
We must begin with the question, Why does marriage matter? After all, a huge number of men and women live together without getting married, and countless others decide to split up after being married for a while. Clearly, both groups believe that something else is more important than the marriage bond. Furthermore, multitudes of married people behave as if they think that marriage is less important than fulfillment and success at work, making money, pleasure and entertainment, popularity, power, or relationships with other people, especially parents and children. After investing huge amounts of time, money and energy in courtship, they turn their attention to other, apparently more pressing, concerns. The husband-wife relationship takes a back seat, though perhaps lip service may be given to its putative priority. Often the forces that push marriage off the pinnacle of significance reside deep within the heart, where hopes and fears, disappointment and anger, pride and passion, laziness and selfishness drown out the voice of love. In our heads, we know that we should put our marriage first, but our hearts boil with conflicting emotions that prevent us from fulfilling our wedding vows. So, why is marriage important? Why is this relationship so special, and deserving of far more concentrated thought and effort than we usually devote to it?
In God’s image
The answer to that question starts with the very opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Scholars note that the subject of this sentence – “God” is Elohim in Hebrew, a noun that is in the plural here. But, contrary to normal grammatical usage, the very, “created” is singular in form. Something strange is going on; what is it? Further light upon this anomaly comes further in the same chapter, where God says, “Let Us make man in Our own image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). In this well-known passage, God (Elohim again) has one image or likeness, and the verbs, “said” and “created” are singular, but he refers to himself in the plural with the pronouns “Us” and “Our.” Some Bible commentators say that God is using the plural of majesty, like a king who says, “We are not amused.” Others claim that he is talking to the angels, but the passage then tells us that the image of God though one – “man” – is also somehow more than one: “male and female,” “them.” So, both God and his image are singular and plural at the same time! Many Christians have long believed that we have here an intimation of what later became the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, early in Genesis we read of God, and his Spirit, and his speaking (1:2, 3). Are these hints of Father, Spirit, and the creating Word that became flesh (John 1:3)? I believe so. At any rate, Moses teaches in this very first chapter of the Bible that the union of man and wife somehow reflects the very nature of God. Man and woman together is/are the image of God. Theologians have debated what this means. Karl Barth is famous for postulating that the male/female relationship is the essence of God’s image. Others, including Carl Henry and Philip Hughes, believe that the image of God in man involves intelligence, communication, will, love, moral capacity, and more. Either way, however, we must conclude that the unity and plurality of man and woman somehow corresponds to the very being of God himself, and that their communion – involving all the elements that are usually included in the concept of “image of God” – somehow flow from the nature of God himself, in whose likeness both they and their relationship are created. This puts a vast premium upon the man-woman relationship, especially the form it takes in marriage. Here we find one “unit” that we call a “couple.” If they maintain this unity in a spirit of love, then they are walking, breathing representations of God, who the Bible says is “love” itself (or, better yet, himself; 1 John 4:8). So, marriage possesses priceless value, for it somehow represent in fleshly form the invisible character of God himself.
Perhaps this explains the immense attraction men and women have for each other. After all, we cannot deny the fascination, even obsession, that lovers hold for their beloved. Love songs, poems, and the adoring couple at the table in the restaurant, lost in wonder and oblivious to all around them – all testify to the all-powerful force of eros upon those in the throes of romantic love. Some cynics attribute all this to hormonal activity, but physical causes only account for physical effects, so this explanation only tells us a bit about the emotions lovers feel, not their mental state. Should we say, then, with the psychologists and psychiatrists that romantic love represents the longing for a lost (or never enjoyed) intimacy with one’s parent of the opposite sex? Or are we driven mostly by some fantasy, an image of the perfect mate, to which our current companion approximates just enough to evoke all the wonder and thrill of finding the one who will make us happy? Yes, perhaps. But there is more, I think. It seems to me that the starry-eyed couple gazing into one another’s eyes, totally absorbed in the beauty of the person across the table, are responding, at least in part, to something very real and true to our deepest nature. If we are all created in the image of God, and if the two sexes somehow mirror the beauty and glory of God in unique fashion, then our appreciation, even adoration, of persons of the other sex derives from their resemblance, at least in part, to God himself. After all, the Greeks and Romans depicted their gods as extraordinarily beautiful human beings, and we praise these lovely statues to this day. Maybe they were on to something, despite their silly idolatry. Though Christians do not believe that God has a body (the Bible says that he is Spirit, John 4:24), something in the bodily form, and much more in the moral character, mental richness, and expressions of love of which we are capable makes us walking representations of our Maker. I believe that our mutual admiration, even worship, draws part of its power from an awareness that we are in the presence of something almost divine. Though we may smile at the poor couple, knowing that their current fascination with each other is probably only temporary, we should not totally discount what they are doing or feeling. The Song of Solomon, as well as other passages in the Scriptures (such as Psalm 45), validates at least some of their wonder and delight in each other. They are catching a glimpse of the loveliness of God himself. Maybe we should learn something from them, even as we pray that when they wake up the hangover will not be too painful.
Today’s headline told of the governor of South Carolina who deserted his post for seven days to rendezvous with his lover in Argentina. He resigned, or would have been impeached. His former supporters, the state’s population, and his family are all devastated. Ironically, he had cited the requirement that a political leader must have “moral legitimacy” when President Bill Clinton was being charged with perjury and other crimes, some of them connected with his sordid sexual exploitation of a White House intern. Clinton had other affairs, too, but not nearly as many as John F. Kennedy, who apparently copulated with hundreds of women while in office. Both of these men imitated, but far exceeded, their famous presidential predecessors in adultery, Woodrow Wilson and F.D. Roosevelt. Nor are these holders of high executive office alone in their destructive dalliances. Famous preachers have ruined their ministries, and their marriages, by hooking up with other women, even as they decried the sins of fornication and adultery. We know all of this, but how shall we explain it? Does animal passion alone drive a man to risk everything he holds dear? The dean of a major medical school once said to me, “I don’t think anyone really appreciates the power of testosterone.” He was saying why he approved of my frank discussion of sexuality in the book, The Lord’s healing Words, for which he kindly wrote a forward. Indeed, this potent hormone impels men not only towards sexual gratification but also into restless activity of all sorts, including athletics, politics, business, and even Christian ministry. On the other hand, though many men commit adultery, not all do. And though there are plenty of attractive women in South Carolina, this governor flew all the way to South America to link up with his Latin honey. What was so special about her? I am guessing that she seemed to fulfill other drives than merely physical desire, and am almost certain that she offered him a kind of intimacy that he craved with all his heart and that perhaps, for whatever reasons, he was not finding with his wife (though I do not for a moment blame her for his actions). Genesis 2:18-25 describes the creation of the first man, Adam, and the formation from his body of the first woman, Eve. The passage begins with the flat statement of God himself, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and ends with these words: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [cling; cleave] to his wife, and they shall become on flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:18, 25-26). Loneliness; leaving the closest people in your life (your parents); cleaving to a woman; being naked and not ashamed. And all summed up in the phrase, “one flesh.” Men and women who violate the laws of God and society to engage in physical intimacy do so not only under the impulse of insistent bodily appetites, but also because they are seeking that original unity-in-community, union and communion, that characterized the first married couple. The depths of their soul cry out for the most profound intimacy possible, engaging body, mind, and heart, what we often call love. Marriage is important, then, not only because it reflects the character of God, but because it enables us to express that which makes us human. We see not only our Maker in the other, but also ourselves, our “other half,” the one without whom we feel incomplete.
Sex and the Self
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:27-28
Marriage has great value because it reflects the being of the Triune God and expresses the fundamental unity-in-community of human nature itself. Furthermore, marriage, at least originally, was meant to fulfill the deepest significance of our sexuality. Sex and the self are inseparable. You are either man or woman, male or female, and this sexual identity extends to your very genes, affecting virtually everything you think and say and feel and do. There are only two genders, and each of us belongs to one of them. We are fundamentally male or female. Though men and women share a common humanity, as created in God’s image, we do so with a profound and ineradicable difference. From that standpoint, “biology is destiny.” Men can never bear or nurse children, and women can never beget them. That difference alone involves, and expresses, a multitude of other ways in which we are not alike. Entire books have been written on this subject; those who deny these distinctions convict themselves of blindness God created Adam and Eve as sexual beings, and immediately gave them a mission that flowed from their unique gender roles: Together, they were to bear children, fill the earth, and exercise dominion over the world and all living creatures. Neither could do this alone. They must cooperate at every stage of this endeavor, and must do so out of their sexuality. From another standpoint, therefore, we must affirm that biology is not destiny. The word “dominion” implies that those who rule the world can also rule themselves. In fact, the entire Bible, and especially the New Testament, assumes that we are unlike the animals in many ways, one of them being our ability to control our bodily passions. Contrary to Freud and other materialists, we are not slaves to our sexuality. Marriage enables men and women to demonstrate their dominion over their own bodies (even as they submit to each other) by exercising self-control. Indeed, without mastery of one’s sexual drives, mutually satisfying marital relations are impossible. Despite the power of sexual attraction, it can be tamed by a mind that rules the will. This is not easy, but countless people have proven that it can be done. For that reason, all instances of sexual indulgence (that is, all actions that are not directed towards God’s goal for marriage) are both wrong and unnecessary. Here we must assert that God has given us dominion over our own bodies, so that we may seek to give rather than to get, to express love rather than to exploit another for one’s own pleasure. This is only one reason why pre-marital sexual intimacy and any intimate relations with someone other than your own spouse bring (or ought to bring) such a sense of shame, guilt, and loss of dignity. Sex and the self cannot be separated; sex and marriage are likewise inseparable. Thus, marriage, at least in the beginning, connects us to, and allows us to fulfill, a fundamental aspect of our deepest essence as human beings. Sex is not only good, but, according to the Bible, “very good,” in God’s eyes, but this is only the case when our sexuality builds, and flows from, married love and commitment.
God and His People
Not only does marriage reflect God’s nature, our essential being as humans, it also portrays the relationship of God to his people. Often in the Old Testament, Yahweh calls himself the Husband of Israel, the special nation that he chose to love. He is jealous for the undivided devotion of his chosen people, precisely because he has committed himself to an eternal covenant of love towards them (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; etc.). The entire book of Hosea depicts a God who will not let his wayward people go, even though they have proven themselves to be unfaithful by worshiping false gods. This departing from the one true God is called “harlotry” – spiritual adultery (Hosea 1:2), because the children of Abraham have been “wedded” to Yahweh by his promises to them. Nevertheless, after a time of painful discipline, God will receive them back to himself, and Israel will again “call Me My Husband” (Hosea 2:16). God’s intense love for his people comes out in Ezekiel, where Yahweh declares, “I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols” (Ezekiel 6:9). Speaking through the prophet, the LORD later describes how he found this people abandoned in the wilderness; how he washed and clothed them and adorned them like a beautiful bride; and how he entered into a covenant with her, and she became exclusively his (Ezekiel 16:1-8). Thus, Israel’s lusting after idols evinces an ungrateful heart that both saddens and enrages her Maker and Savior. Many other passages could be cited. When we come to the New Testament, John the Baptist calls himself the “friend” – that is, best man - and Jesus the Bridegroom, in clear allusion to these Old Testament pictures of God as the Husband of his people (John 3:29). Jesus himself told parables about wedding feasts, in which God the Father is the King who gives a party for his Son, the bridegroom (Matthew 22:2-14) and he represents the groom who will come quickly for his bride (Matthew 25:1-13). Paul declares that believers in Christ are no longer “married” to the law of God, but to Christ (Romans 7:4); that he has “betrothed” them to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2); and that Christ is the Head of his body, the church, in an intimate relationship that is compared to that of husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). This analogy of marriage to depict the bond between God and his people centers upon God’s saving love and actions. In other words, marriage not only portrays the nature of God and mankind as Maker and those created by him, but God as Savior and his people as those who have been rescued by him. That means that the union of husband and wife is meant to show the love of a holy God for sinful men and woman, and the grateful and loyal response which we owe to him. Both sides of salvation are involved here: God’s action and our expected response. When a man sacrifices for his wife, or pursues her growth in holiness and Christ-likeness; when a woman shows respect and submission to her husband; when they forsake all others and cling loyally to each other – then the marvelous, unconditional love of God for wicked sinners and the corresponding love of the saved for their Savior is put on display for all the world to see. Marriage matters!
The relationship between man and woman is mentioned so often in the Bible, and at some many key points, that it forms a major theme of God’s revelation. This fact points to its importance. For example: As we have seen, creation of man and woman as man and wife comes in the first two chapters of the Bible. The disruption of their relationship follows in Chapter Three of Genesis, followed by the largely negative examples of Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebecca (in their later years); Jacob and his wives; Samson and Delilah; David’s plural marriages; the multiple wives of Solomon which destroyed him; and other examples in the historical books of the Old Testament. The laws given by God through Moses prominently feature marriage or matters intimately related to it. Two of the Ten Commandments – “Honor your father and your mother” and “You shall not commit adultery” – plant marriage firmly into God’s moral framework. The last commandment – “You shall not covet” – explicitly refers to discontent in marriage and implicitly forbids lust, while the prohibition against taking the Lord’s name in vain reminds us of the sanctity of the marriage vow. Other laws regulate sexual activity and describe what is lawful and what violates God’s holy will for the relationship between the sexes (Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 19:20-22, 29-30; 20:10-21; Deuteronomy 5:1-21). In the Wisdom and poetical literature, we have the many warnings about going after a “strange woman” in Proverbs, balanced by the lovely statements in Chapters Five (5:18) and Thirty-one (31:10 ff) about happiness in marriage and the assertion that he who finds a wife finds a good thing and similar evaluations (Proverbs 12:4; 18:22; 19:14). In Ecclesiastes, Solomon advises a man to enjoy life with his wife (9:9). The Psalms contain a beautiful wedding song (Psalm 45). The prophetic books employ the metaphor of Israel as wife of her savior Yahweh often, as we have noted before. The entire book of Hosea is built on this theme, but Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel follow pick up on it, portraying Israel’s idolatry as spiritual adultery and Yahweh as her faithful husband. (See, for example, Isaiah 54:5;62:4-5; Jeremiah 3:14; Ezekiel 6:7; 16:1-63; Hosea 2:19-23). We have noted that Jesus told parables about marriage; John the Baptist called Jesus the Bridegroom and himself the friend of the bride; and Paul refers several times to the church as the bride of Christ. Instructions for marriage life, as well as the high importance of marriage, are found in 1 Peter and Hebrews, along with prohibitions against fornication and adultery in other epistles. The last book of the Bible concludes with a glorious picture of a church that is prepared like a bride for her husband to convey something of the beauty and wonder of our final and eternal union with Christ in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Matthew 9: 15; 25:1-13; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Romans 7:1-6; 1 Corinthians 7:1-40; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Revelation 19:7, 8; 21:2,9; 22:17; etc.). We should not ignore the prohibitions of divorce and remarriage after divorce which fell from the lips of Jesus contained in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18).3 Can anyone, after reflecting even a moment on the prominent place of the male-female relationship, of which marriage forms the central concept, ever again discount the immense value of the marital bond? Do not these repeated references, at crucial points in all portions of Scripture, impress upon us the necessity of promoting, preserving, and protecting the union of man and wife?
God’s Design for Marriage
Recipients of revelation
Now let us think about God’s original plan for marriage, and what that means for us today. We shall begin with a fundamental truth: The first thing God after creating the Adam and Eve was to speak to them. Being created in the image of God, the man and the woman could understand his words. Before all time, the Triune God was a communicating society of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…” (John 1:1). Words belong to the fundamental nature of God, and thus must constitution a basic element in the image in which he created man and woman. Despite being finite and limited, Adam and Eve were recipients of divine revelation from the very beginning of their life on earth. Those who say that creatures cannot understand their Creator, that language cannot convey exact truth about God, are wrong. Otherwise, what does Genesis mean when it records God’s words to Adam and Eve?
The God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Genesis 1:28
God’s plan for marriage, then, begins with his intention to speak to married couples. He means for his word to dwell among them richly, for them to teach and admonish one another, speaking the truth in love ((Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15). Adam and Eve, as recipients of God’s revelation, were surely to keep these in their hearts and then to pass on what they had heard to the children whom the Lord commanded them to bear in abundance, just as Moses commanded later Israelites (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). The origin of marriage is God’s word to himself, “Let us make man in Our own image,” and the first marriage commenced with the man and the woman hearing God’s word of blessing and command. Thus, every couple that makes the Word of God central to their relationship fulfills the most important element of God’s purpose for marriage. When husbands and fathers lead in reading the Bible (both privately and aloud); when wives and mothers gladly receive God’s Word; and when both pass on this priceless treasure to their children, then marriage and family reflect the beauty of that first moment when Almighty God spoke to our primal parents those words of blessing, infusing their union with the presence of the God whose image they bear, individually and together.
The first word which the Lord addressed to the newly-married couple was one of blessing.
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28
From this we learn that marriage is a blessed condition, not a burden or bondage, as so many believe today. We shall explore this truth in more detail later, but let us note at the beginning how God himself defines the blessedness of marriage.
“Be fruitful and multiply.” That is, Have children, lots of them!
These words sound strange to us today, with the background of fears of population growth outstripping the ability of the earth to sustain so many people, and of unwanted children straining the resources of an exhausted, poor, or even unmarried couple. Before we address those concerns, let us simply reflect on this clear declaration of God’s original design for marriage. Marriage is meant to produce children. Offspring, progeny, fellow bearers of the image of God. The Creator likes the reflection of himself which he calls Man (generically speaking, as elsewhere in these meditations), and he wants more of them. He pronounces this final act of creation, including the formation of man and woman to be sexual, reproducing representations of his very nature, to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We can confidently conclude, therefore, that the union of man and woman in matrimony should include from the beginning the expectation that children will issue from their intimate relations, and that these children will be welcomed as gifts from God. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Everywhere in Scripture, the birth of children is hailed as a great blessing, and barrenness is bewailed as a terrible bane. A marriage that does not produce children does not conform to the original plan. As we shall see later, in this fallen world many factors results in childlessness, but for now we should strongly affirm the goodness of having children, and the fundamental place that producing offspring holds in the very nature and purpose of marriage. Why might this be the case? Consider: Children testify to the unique biological features of men and women as male and female. They prove that their parents have, at least once, enjoyed the one-flesh communion of the marriage act of which Scripture speaks so often and so approvingly. When a man and woman become parents, their love for each other expands into a mutual affection for the little person who combines their characteristics and reminds them of each other, and expands beyond mutual care into a common care for another. Both father and mother grow into greater maturity as they shoulder the demands of bringing up children, thereby learning, and expressing, more of what it means to be created. The coming of a child into the world allows a woman to nurse and nurture her little one; her breasts then not only give delight to her husband (Proverbs 5:19), but also provide life-giving nourishment for her baby. Speaking very concretely but also very reverently, we may say that the parts of the body which afford the greatest pleasure engender a living being whose very existence – not to mention the manifold joys which a child brings to his parents – gives constant token of their love for each other in the image of God the Father. For this reason, to marry without meaning to have children constitutes a violation of God’s revealed will, unless there are highly compelling reasons dictating this choice. Likewise, to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage ignores, and even blasphemes, part of the purpose for our sexuality. Children born out of wedlock are innocent sufferers of wanton selfishness and folly. Christians disagree about whether measures should be taken to prevent conception. Abortion aside, Roman Catholics and Protestants differ about birth control methods, and evangelical Protestants do not have one mind on this matter. All Christian ethicists, however, would agree that using contraceptives should be decided upon with prayer and serious thought as to the considerations behind this choice and the possible consequences of not only the various methods but also the character of a relationship that does not conform to the natural pattern of life. If faith in God, love (including mutual consent), and hope are lacking, then such an action should be questioned. We shall look at this controversial question again later, but let us first pause to ponder that great privilege of imitating God by enjoying such an intimate union that new life is born!
After telling Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth, the LORD commanded them and their posterity to “subdue it and have dominion over” every living creature (Genesis 1:28). Indeed, carrying the likeness of God includes having dominion over the other creatures, as Adam began to do when he conferred names on each sort of animal (Genesis 1:26). Like our Maker, we are meant to rule over the creation, not as creators or owners, but as faithful stewards of what belongs to God. This authority implies responsibility, of course, as Adam was put into the garden to tend it (Genesis 2:15), not to destroy God’s beautiful handiwork. God’s image-bearers will care for the creation as his appointed guardians and managers, rather than as ravenous wolves. What, then, does dominion have to do with marriage? A great deal, actually. Adam needed someone to help him carry out his mission. None of the animals possessed the required capacity to be a helper, suitable to the man, so the woman was formed out of him and presented to him (Genesis 2:20-22). Together, they received the mandate to subdue the earth, and only together can they fulfill their common mission. Husband and wife are meant to work together productively, along with their children, to manage the resources the Lord has given them. These resources include their own bodies (which is why some consider that the use of birth control devices receives warrant from the concept of submission). In any case, self-mastery enables us to exercise God-ordained rule, and is indeed required for such a role. Within marriage, then, self-control should be a major priority – control over our eyes, lips, ears, thoughts, appetites, time, and even our sexuality. As we rule ourselves, we are equipped to keep our houses in order, so that money, possessions, and time are servants, not masters, of our combined life together. In other words, God’s original planned called for married people to live ordered lives, managing themselves, children, and material possessions according to his revealed will. Even in the New Covenant, we see this requirement for personal self-control and sovereignty over our household applied to church leaders (1Timothy 3:1-12). Of course, authority can be abused in a fallen world, so the New Testament tempers it with responsibility to serve with humility (Matthew 20:25-28; Ephesians 5:25-32; 1 Timothy 3:3. We shall discuss this in greater detail later). What might dominion look like? A house that is clean and neat. An orderly schedule (where possible). Well-behaved children. Animals (if any) under control. A balanced checkbook and paid-up credit card. A yard without weeds or overgrown grass. An organized garage or store-room. Temperance in speech, food, and entertainment. Let your imagination roam, and see what thoughts come to mind as you ponder the beauty of Adam and Eve working together in the Garden! And remember – God forgives repentant sinners!
“And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him… And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and Hi took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said:
‘This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.’ “ Genesis 2:18, 21-23
One of the reasons that older single men die sooner than they “should” is that they are lonely. If you want to break a man, put him into solitary confinement. Unattached people congregate in singles’ bars and clubs seeking a companion. We are not meant to live alone. Why? Remember that we are created in God’s image, and that this God is an eternal society of Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, the desire for companionship is rooted in our DNA, buried deep in our souls, and testified by much of our anatomy – eyes that make contact, ears that listen, lips that speak and kiss, hands that hold, hearts that beat with affection and concern, and much more. So, what marks martial companionship? Communion Man and wife share a common life. The live, eat, work, and sleep together. Their sexual intimacy joins them into a union that the Bible repeatedly terms “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8; Ephesians 5:31). As Adam put it, Eve was to him “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” That is why the death of a spouse produces the same sort of grief that loss of a major limb inflicts upon us. Husband and wife share something so deep that no one can explain but that we must honor and preserve. No wonder Jesus was so adamantly opposed to divorce! (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18) Communication Not only a shared physical life, but shared thoughts and words bind man and wife to each other. Because they live together, married people can speak to each other at different times of the day – and they should! As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit engaged in a holy conversation to bring them into existence (“Let Us make man in Our own image”), so honest, loving speech forms the lifeblood of any marriage that would correspond to God’s initial intention. Studies have shown that communication is the sine qua non – the one thing that can’t be absent – of a healthy marital rela5tionship. It is true that some people are more talkative than others, and that women tend to express themselves verbally more than men do, but all married folks must open their minds and hearts to each other, in an attitude of mutual respect and acceptance, for their union to grow and deepen. Collaboration Theirs is a common mission: to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, to reflect God’s glory in all they do. With different anatomies and personalities, husband and wife will fulfill their individual destinies distinctively, but they should do so in close collaboration with each other. Cooperation, not competitive, will enable them to complete the tasks God has assigned to them. To the greatest extent possible, married people need to plan together, asking God for wisdom about how they can best serve him as a unit, not as two discrete actors on different stages. They will of necessity play different roles, but they should do so in the same drama, with the same script, under the same divine Director, and for the same audience. Today’s notion of “space” was not concocted in heaven, but in a world where individual, ego-centered, personal actualization dominates discussions about happiness. In an age of profound and pervasive loneliness, a God-centered marriage can mirror divine community by building a companionship that grows richer by the day.
One Common Mission
“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Genesis 2:18). God had placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it (Genesis 2:15). Now Adam needed someone to help him fulfill his mission, so the Lord created every kind of animal and brought them to him to name, which he did. After it was all said and done, however, none of these creatures was “a helper comparable” to the man, so Eve was created out of his own body and presented to him. In this passage, we see clearly the major purpose for every wife: To help her husband fulfill the mission God has given him. As we have seen, that task includes bearing and bringing up children – for which she is essential! – and then, with their children, ruling the earth on God’s behalf. Lest we think that this section from the first book of the Bible has nothing to do with us today, in this fallen world and under the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul re-iterates the point: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). Of course, he goes on to emphasize the mutuality of the male-female relationship by saying, “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as the woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Contrary to ideas which are almost universally accepted now, a wife’s primary role is to be a helper and companion (“comparable to”) her husband. She does not lose her identity in this position, but rather fulfills the purpose for which she was created. With her own personality, and possessing equal worth (she is created in the image of God just as he is), a wife actualizes her full potential as a woman by enabling her husband to serve God in the particular way that God has ordained. We see here how much a husband needs his wife! Proud men may ignore this fact, but only to their peril and great loss. Fashioned in the image of God, with intelligence and value no less than his, she brings unique perspective, sensitivity, and skills to their relationship and common task. It follows that women who are looking to build their own separate career, independent of that of their husbands, and who do not see marriage and motherhood (if God grants children) as their primary sphere of worth and work, should not get married. In our society, they have freedom to pursue their ambitions and dreams, and may do so if they think God is leading them in that direction. But if they desire to be married, those aspirations must be subordinated, and probably even sacrificed, to the demands of providing their husbands with the friendship and help they so desperately need.
A Suitable Helper
Who can find a virtuous wife [Lit. a wife of valor, in the sense of all forms of excellence]? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life… Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:10
Eve was formed as a helper suitable for Adam, a soul companion with whom he could share his heart and an indispensable colleague in his life/s mission. No one can replace a wife; she is uniquely qualified to be both friend and helper to her husband, as well as mother to their children. Proverbs 31:10-31 paints a picture of a truly amazing woman. This wife possesses a remarkable array of competencies, so much so that she might be a composite picture, an ideal that no one wife could fulfill. She gathers fiber and makes it into clothing for her family, selling the surplus to generate income. No sluggard, she is up before dawn to make sure that all the members of her household have plenty to eat. Perhaps as she goes to market, she notices a piece of property and buys it, turning it into a profitable vineyard. She exercises regularly, while not neglecting the quality of her home craft business and while preparing curtains and clothing for the coming winter. Her business acumen and the garments she fashions bring honor to her husband, enabling him to become a leader in the community. She is both strong and honorable, with a profound joy based on faith in God, which she expresses with words of wisdom and kindness to other women and their children. The reward for her constant diligence comes as praise from her family, for in all her activity she has not neglected them. She has worked from her home, not away from her home, so that they have no complaints, only commendation for this woman of surpassing excellence. Clearly, the root cause of all this consists in her reverence towards God. She is a God-fearing woman, meaning that she trusts him, loves, him, and seeks to obey him. Created in the image of her Maker, she responds to him with cheerful obedience. Only this sort of companion can satisfy the needs of her husband, who must have someone with whom he can share his own love for God and sense of mission from God. The passage ends with an exhortation even more needed now than when it was written: Give this woman her due! She has more than physical beauty; she possesses a beautiful soul, and lives a beautiful life. How different from the values of our society! One of the tragedies of our time is that our culture dismisses, and even denies, the honorable role of wife and mother. Instead, women must behave like men if they are going to be esteemed in society. Rather than concentrating their energies upon home and family, they are expected to spend their time and their life outside the house, building a career or at least making money. Some of this emphasis, of course, reflects the creation of woman in the image of God and her capacity to contribute to society and to the economy. That, indeed, is the focus of the passage cited above. In its current form, however, this recognition of the enormous range of abilities which God has bestowed on women has been twisted in a direction almost new to human history, and not necessarily better. If a woman’s worth derives from her performance outside the home, then husbands and children are all too often left to fend for themselves, with truly awful psychological and social consequences.
One Flesh: Leaving Parents
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
Because the woman was taken from him, and is Adam’s “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23), his descendants will be willing to leave their parents in order to cleave to a spouse. That is, marriage between a man and a woman constitutes a closer bond than even the parent-child relationship. Fathers and mothers often find this fact difficult to accept, but it stands as a fundamental reality that cannot be denied. For that reason, a healthy marriage demands that husband and wife “leave’ their parents and “cleave” to each other. The man, in particular, must be willing to break the bond of dependence upon his father and mother, and especially his close emotional ties to his mother, in order to from an even closer union with his wife. As we shall see later, this leaving does not absolve children from the duty to honor their parents, expressed so clearly in many parts of the Bible (for example, Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3), but it does erect boundaries on the limit of obedience and emotional closeness to parents after one marries. From now on, the most important person in your life is not your father or mother, but your husband or wife. What does it mean to “leave”? First, physical separation must take place. At the very least, that requires not living under the same roof or using the same kitchen. Implied in this physical departure is the concept of a change in authority. The young couple must set up their own household, of which the husband is the head (Ephesians 5:22-23), not his father and certainly not his mother! Responsibility for the nurture and care of his wife and children must rest primarily upon the husband, not upon his parents; the same goes for teaching and ruling his children. Likewise, a wife needs to be mistress of her own household, under her husband’s leadership and protection, and not subject to her mother-in-law or the other women in her husband’s family. Otherwise, how can she fulfill her mandate to love her husband and children, submitting to him alone (under God) and expecting them to honor and obey her as they do their father? Though we are to honor our elders, obedience is due primarily to our parents (when we are young). That implies that they, and not anyone else, even our grandparents, have authority over the home.