What Is Marriage?

Our country is in the midst of an important debate about the definition of marriage. I appreciate the way that Matthew Schmitz’s blog post on First Things articulated the fundamental question behind the current debate about gay marriage.

“Beneath this political circus, of course, a real moral and philosophical question lies. What is marriage? Is it merely a way of signaling our social approval of committed love between any ordering of two (or more) people? Or is it a definite institution ordered toward the rearing of children and defined by permanence, exclusivity, and sexual complementarity?”

If marriage is a social construction designed to signal cultural approval of committed love then the definition of marriage can and should change along with the society.  If however marriage is a divine construction designed to lead people and societies into the blessings of God in which they will thrive, then the essence of what marriage is will not change  because God does not change.

If marriage is a divine construction then the implications of the divine definition of marriage apply equally to everyone regardless of the time and culture in which they live.  If marriage is a divine construct that is based on the character and creation of God, then the implications of that definition go far beyond the issue of gay marriage and impact the way everyone defines friendship, marriage and singleness.

Throughout the Bible we see that marriage was God’s idea, and was designed by God for His glory and our good.  Some of the many passages of scripture that address this are Genesis 2:18-24, 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 and Ephesians 5:21-31.

Andreas Kostenberger in his excellent book “God, Marriage and Family” states:

“Paul’s comments clearly indicate that he considered this account to be historical (rather than mythical or fictional): at the beginning of human history God made the first man, endowed him with life, and placed him in a garden (Gen. 2:7-8,15). Moreover, God addressed to man certain moral commands (2:16-17). Prior to the creation of the woman, the man had already begun exercising the divine mandate to subdue the earth, naming the animals (2:19-20). In order to supply his need for companionship, God created the woman to be Adam’s wife.

 

God’s creation of Eve demonstrates that God’s plan for Adam’s marriage, as well as for all subsequent marriages, involves a monogamous heterosexual relationship. God only made one “suitable helper” for Adam, and she was female.  What is more, it was God who perceived Adam’s aloneness and hence created the woman.  The biblical text gives no indication that Adam himself was even conscious of being alone or discontent in his singleness. Rather, God is shown to take the initiative in fashioning a compatible human companion for the man. For this reason it can truly be said that marriage is God’s idea and that it was God who made the woman of his own sovereign will as a “suitable helper” for the man (Gen. 2:18,20).

Regardless of what relationships are called “marriages” the only way people will experience the blessings that God designed marriage for, is through a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman. Therefore, to redefine marriage in any other way for any other reason cuts people off from the blessings that God has created marriage to bring about.

While redefining marriage to express commitment from our current cultural viewpoint may alleviate some of the frustrations felt by those who are unhappy with their current spouse and those who are gay, it will create an even deeper frustration that will be accompanied by even more difficulties.  That frustration will come from the unmet expectation that marital infidelity, serial divorce, and gay marriage can lead to the kind of blessings that only God’s design for marriage can bring.

Some of the blessings that God gives in marriage are the deep companionship of joint accomplishments through excellent teamwork, the blessedness of the intimacy of being naked and unashamed, and the mysterious blessing of reflecting the glory of the relationship of the Trinity and the relationship of Christ and the Church.  These blessings are wonderful and good, and can only be found in marriage as God defines it.  These are the blessings that we should help our married friends pursue.

While the blessings of marriage are good they are not the only blessings of God that allow people to thrive. There are numerous blessings that are also wonderful and good that come from an undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). These blessings are only experienced by those who are single. Therefore, our gay friends would be far better off seeking to remain single and living with an undivided devotion to God than to abandon those blessings to enter into the frustration of looking for the blessings of marriage in a relationship where they cannot be found.

God is good. His creation reflects His goodness and His commands invite us into it. Let us trust in God’s goodness and help each other to pursue the many blessings He has made available for us.

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