Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,
approved by The Church of Scotland in 1648)
Despite my very Disciples discomfort with creeds and catechisms, I have always loved the back and forth of this first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Written and adopted in the 17th century by Scottish Presbyterians, certainly these words were also familiar to the Scottish Presbyterian founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
To enjoy God forever! The Bible is full of dancing, singing, and unbridled joy at the love and salvation of God. King David danced before the ark of the covenant. The Psalms continuously proclaim wonder at the gifts of God’s creation. Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”
If that isn’t enough, there’s the example set by Jesus. His well-known first miracle ensured that the wine kept flowing at a wedding. After that, Jesus was known for spending too much time enjoying dinner parties with the wrong sorts of people. Many of Jesus’ parables end with rejoicing and parties when a lost coin, a lost sheep, or a lost son is found.
But the question for this year’s Easter Writing Project isn’t about joy, it’s about marriage. What does this have to do with marriage?
If we’re honest, the Bible doesn’t really say much about marriage. There’s no sample wedding service, no sample marriage contract or pre-nuptial agreement to be found anywhere. There’s not even much in the way of good examples of marriage. It seems that no two marriages described in the Bible are at all similar. Marriage is such a basic human relationship in all times and cultures that Bible mostly takes its existence for granted.
Today we are arguing about the rights of same gender couples to civil marriage and many of these arguments claim to be Biblical. But the arguments we hear in the media today about why same gender couples should be denied the civil right to marriage don’t really have much basis in the Bible either.
We’re told that same gender unions aren’t procreative. Yet Christianity has never required marriages to procreate, and even so, many same gendered couples do raise children, many raising their own biological children and many raising children whose biological birth parents can’t care for them.
We’re told that same gender unions aren’t traditional. True, if your traditions go back about 100 years and no further, same gender relationships may not look very traditional. But if your traditions go back to the Bible, there’s nothing traditional about one man married to one woman in a relationship between equals.
We’re told that same gender unions go against God’s plan for society. Well, if you want a book that doesn’t speak with one clear voice about God’s plan for society, look no further than the Bible.
When reading the Bible looking for its greater themes and messages, one is clear: that God’s intent for humanity is that we enjoy the creation that God has provided us. No, not a shallow joy. God and the Bible understand the complexities of finding joy in a fallen world. Writing about that fills up volumes. Yet, still, to enjoy God forever, that is our chief end.
Let’s stop arguing against marriage, and let’s start arguing for joy!
Why should the church care about marriage? Joy, of course! To many, marriage brings joy and comfort, support and companionship. The church cares about joy, about enjoying God forever. When a marriage brings joy, the church celebrates and blesses. And yes, I believe that when a marriage becomes painful, the church should work to restore the joy in the marriage or restore the joy in the lives of two individuals who decide to separate.
Mixed gender or same gender, we celebrate marriage because it brings joy. Joy in relationship. Joy in each other. Joy in God’s creation.
And joy in God’s good creation is our chief end.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?