Why should the church be involved in the conversations today about marriage? The bible rarely speaks about marriage and its appearance has changed drastically and countless times across the generations and cultures of our history. It’s so easy to get caught up in the traditions of our upbringing or the super-charged hyperbole whizzing around that I wonder how many of us actually have taken the time to really examine what marriage means to us individually. What is it to us exactly? I can only speak for myself, and barely, because the time I have these days to actually ponder deep philosophical questions is limited to how much time I can get to myself between diaper changes, fights about who is touching who, and loads of endless dishes and laundry. That being said, I’m blessed to be in a ten year long relationship that is both challenging and wonderful. In this decade, I’ve experienced growth, painful and refreshing, and learned as much about myself as I have about my better half. Marriage is a test and a journey, but more than that, it’s a crash course in a very real example of God’s love.
God’s love is unconditional and I can honestly say that I struggle to show that type of love to my fellow humankind. God loves us without reservation, without boundary, and with the type of passion that we can only dream of! We can fall, wallow in the dirt, curse God’s name, and do exactly the opposite of what God wants for us and God will still welcome us home when we see the error of our ways. No grudges, no conditions upon our return to God’s loving arms, just a warm embrace and a “Welcome home, my love!” Joy without scorn. Amazing. Can you imagine if we truly loved each other in marriage as God loves us?! I believe that when we take the vow to love each other “for richer or poorer, sickness and in health, etc.” that’s meant to clue us in to the type of love God has for us and how God wants us to love each other, in marriage and otherwise. How many of us succeed in even striving to fulfill this commission? I know I fail on a regular basis, but the point is to get back up and keep trying.
That being said, how does the church fit into all of this? It seems to me that the church figures prominently in this dance we do with the one who is supposed to be our soul’s mate. When I struggle with something that is spiritual in nature, I turn to someone that I trust to give me advice that will bolster my spirit and encourage me on to follow the path that God’s cleared for me. I’ve gone to other sources in the past that have lead me down a very different path; a path that only leads to heartache and destruction. Those who tote self-centered, not God-centered, living and that shout endlessly about the merit of being uncompromising and not settling for anything but perfection. That seems silly to me because no one on this earth is perfect. God knows what we need. God knows exactly what kind of messes we need in our lives that will cause us to keep moving and keep growing into the people God has planned for us to become. God’s plans for us are far better than any we could dream for ourselves, after all. We could easily waste our time chasing a dream that comes nowhere near the bliss that God has planned for us. We chase the ice cream truck when God has tiramisu (or whatever your ideal dessert is…) laid out for us if we would only follow him. Why would we, or should we, trust something as difficult, complex, and potentially wonderful and fulfilling as our marriages to anyone else’s guidance?
I feel the need here to qualify that last statement. The church, while being God’s community of believers here on earth, is still made up of humans, flawed and crazy as we are. There’s a good reason why we sing about God’s grace being boundless… We need it to be. The advice that we receive should always be put through the filter of what the bible says the fruit of the Spirit is: (Galatians 5:22-26) “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Any church that encourages it’s congregation to act in a way that’s in contradiction to these guidelines doesn’t seem to be of the Spirit and should be disregarded as a source of advice, at least I feel it should be. Marriage, and life for that matter, is hard enough without smoke and mirrors being thrown up to confuse and confound us. Caution and discernment are very important.
Marriage in and of itself is a foundational relationship in almost every culture and religion in the world. There must be a reason for that. We need that source of connection, protection, stability, and yes, love in our lives that marriage provides. Some find those things without marriage, some find those things and wish that they could be married, but we all seek them in our own ways. Marriage also provides the environment necessary to raise children with at least some sense of security that they will be provided for and protected until they’re old enough to start their own journeys. Marriage is also entered into with the expectation that it’s a forever kind of thing. (At least it should be!) The idea that you can “grow old” alongside your partner, hoping they will be there as a permanent fixture through all of the twists and turns that are to come; there’s comfort in that, and there can be great joy in it too. But it’s work. Hard work. There are many times when we will need help doing that work and being encouraged that the work is well worth it! That’s the church’s place!! We come together to encourage each other in all parts of life. Sharing in the good and bad times, no matter what they are. Marriage is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it is a comfort to know that I can go to my church for the support I need or to have them celebrate with us the victories we experience.
Marriage is an important topic and a conversation that needs, desperately, to be had. Maybe not at all for the reasons that it’s being had right now, but at least it’s being brought out into the light of day where it stands a chance of being examined more thoroughly. Marriage is a good thing but it’s a very misunderstood thing. I know this because I completely misunderstood it myself and almost had my own relationship shredded because of my shallow, short sighted, self-centered view of what it was supposed to be. In learning more about how to be in a marriage, I’ve started to learn more about how God loves me and how I can work towards being a better example of God’s love to others. Good at it, I’m not. Not yet. But learning day by day is part of the process, I guess. What a shame it would be to deny anyone the opportunity to live in an ongoing lesson in God’s love! Just imagine the missed opportunities for growth and grace! I guess it’s a good thing I chose to ignore the fact that, legally, I can’t be married to my partner in our home state. Not too long ago, I couldn’t be married to her at all in the eyes of the government either. But in God’s eyes, there isn’t that limitation on my spirit. Thank God for that! And thank God for the oasis of faith that I found in my home church, and in its pastor, who helped us to move past what the world may have doomed to fail. Because of that intervention by the church, we now have become a family of five. Three children that needed us as much as we needed them had a home to come to and two parents that love them very much. A family, unlike many other families, was sewn together by a plan much bigger than I can comprehend. The church has been there with us through it all and continues to celebrate with us and support us with each new challenge.
The church not only has a place in the conversation about marriage, it has a DUTY to speak up. The church needs to reflect God’s light in a dark place, as it’s always been commissioned to do. But that voice needs to be tempered by the Spirit and not tainted by the desires of the flesh like power, control, or the ambition for advancing a career. The cobwebs of tradition, pseudo-science, or outright contempt MUST be swept away before a clear vision of what’s really at stake here can be pondered. As quoted above, we have to strive to crucify the flesh and keep in step with the Spirit. If we fail to do that, how can we be sure that we’re not being lead down a path that God doesn’t intend for us to travel? How much harm can be (or already has been) done to God’s children because of it? That old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions comes to mind. Marriage is a very real expression of love, not only between two people, but also between God and those people. In all of God’s wisdom, God decided to teach us about the kind of love God has for us by giving us a way to learn about, and express, that love for each other. May it always be so.
Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?