On Wednesday of this week I will be giving a talk at our church at a gathering for 19-30 year olds called Nitton30. I give a lot of talks and I can honestly say that I do not typically get nervous, but if I am honest, I am terrified of this one. To begin with, I have taken on a large subject, The Biblical Foundations for Marriage and only have 20 minutes to do it in. If this weren’t enough of a challenge, I need to do it in Swedish. Now my everyday Swedish is fairly decent, but giving a talk of such magnitude in a language not my own when in order to do it justice, requires all of the subtleties a language can provide, you will understand fear and trepidation. Typically when preparing for a talk on any given subject, I would study and master the material as a concept, think about a few examples to work in, create an outline and deliver the talk mostly extemporaneously. But not this time. I can’t afford to “wing it” in Swedish. Precision in language is vital as seen in the popular t-shirt that reads:
Let’s Eat, Grandma
Let’s eat Grandma
Commas save lives
So, in an effort to become more comfortable and exact with the material I will soon translate into Swedish (sorry Sweden), I have decided to type out my talk here. I guess one might say that it is for posterity sake, that there would be proof out there that the content which I was trying to communicate can actually be understood (I fear much will be lost in translation). I do hope that this will serve as a place where I can work out my thoughts as well. As I have thought about giving this talk I have wondered about why I am so concerned with doing this talk in Swedish, and one of the reasons is my own seductive pride. I am decent with a word or two. And if I am honest, much of what I am able to do is for my own glory rather than for he who purchased my life with his costly ransom. May what I write now serve his glory and not my own. May what I speak on Wednesday be beneficial to those who hear not because of its eloquence but because of its simple truth rooted and grounded in the savior of the world.
It could be said that our modern view of marriage and its purpose could be summed up in the immortal words of Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” The scene is one of complete irony, that in the middle of a gaggle of rejected women, women who have been unfortunate in the ways of love, in comes Jerry Maguire to apologize and get the girl. The girl, played by Rene Zelwegger, interrupts Jerry’s fine speech with, “Shut up. Just Shut up. You had me at hello. You had me at hello.” That’s it. They run and embrace. Life goes on as Hollywood would have us believe it should, that both people in the relationship will beat the odds represented in that room by scorned women, and their lives will be a sexual romp of freedom and self fulfillment. This statement, “You complete me,” while containing some sort of truth is not the end all be all in a relationship. Or for a more recent example, as the great Swedish band First Aid Kit has sung in Emmylou, Relationships are work. They aren’t easy. Lies persist, fear overcome even the strongest desires for intimacy. In the song they sing about some of the difficulties of love, yet ask a simple request, to sing again together in harmony. this of course is no simple task. Even the pledge in the song, to be June and Johnny Cash together recognizes the difficulties of marriages and the relational dissonance that can occur, yet in the Cash’s love story we also see dedication, courage, and grace. No one goes into marriage or even a sambo relationship for that matter thinking that some day this will end in hurt and pain and I will simply move on to the next person to break my heart. Yet increasingly this is what happens. But why does it happen? Is our view of relationships and marriage skewed? Is it even possible to have a meaningful or a successful marriage?
As with most things, in order to understand the big picture it is a good idea to begin in the the beginning itself. Marriage is no different. This talk today, while largely about marriage, is about so much more. It is about God. It is about sex. It is about the value of life. It is about women and men. It is about homosexuality. It is about the brokenness of your heart and mine. It is about the need for a savior. It is about so so much more. But it is also about marriage.
Humans were made for relationship. We are a reflection of our creator in this regard. In the Christian faith, the Trinity points us to the truth that the tri-une God is in a perfect, loving, self giving relationship for eternity. I den kristna tron den treeing The propensity for relationship is what God gave humanity (among other things about himself). We see in the very beginning when God creates, that he creates humanity in his own image. He sets them apart from the rest of creation in that to the rest of the creation he does not give his own image. With this incredible honor comes several responsibilities. First was that humanity was given charge over creation, to care for it and to be fruitful and to multiply. (Ah the goodness of God that his first command to humanity was to have sex!) In this one act God assigns to humanity the highest value. All of life is to be valued and cared for, but that of humans is to be valued above all else. In this simple fact that each human is made in the image of God we find that all humans have value, that all are worth an incredible price, that humans are to be protected, loved and cared for. Yet we also see in God’s creation that man was not left alone, but rather that he was given woman from his side to signify that together they are a more complete representation of the image of God. This wording “image” was a near eastern way that a king would refer to his own image on a coin or a statue spread throughout his vast kingdom. Wherever that image was, his authority reigned. As God’s representatives here on earth, we carry his image.
In the creation account found in Genesis, we see the repeating phrase ,”…and God saw that it was GOOD.” occur after each day of creation. It is so repetitive as to its importance can not be missed. Creation was good. Yet in chapter 2 we find that God says “It is not good that man is alone. God then makes Eve from his side—not from his head or foot or any other place—his side. The imagery here is to signify that together man and woman make a more complete picture of the image of God. This is essential to understanding all things about marriage.
But why marriage? Why not something more like a social compact or simply living together? Why a man and woman and not two women or two men? It is said in a court of law that intent is 9/10 of the law. So it is the case here. In order for us to understand why we must first look at the Biblical argument for marriage in the first place. Was marriage even in God’s design? We find out in Gen 2:22-24 we see the first recorded wedding. It can be said the entire theology of marriage and sex is contained in these few verses. When we encounter the words “and brought her to the man,” this is expressly wedding language. The phrasing in hebrew would suggest that God was presenting to the man the way a father presents the bride to her groom. In verse 25 we see the word “wife” occur for the first time. And in this expression something very important is learned in the preceding verse, v24. We must remember that Genesis was recorded not at the time of events, but some time later (by Moses) after humanity and specifically the Israelites already had a culture. So much of Genesis is speaking directly to and correcting much of the cultural thinking of the day. The text reads, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined (united) to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” The language here is exact and strong. The words used to say “one flesh” are both spiritual and sexual. It is more than just a social compact, but rather it is something altogether new. It is more than just an extension of the man’s family or the woman’s family, but rather it is something that will stand on its own, it is something new. The idea of the woman leaving her family was nothing new and so is not really addressed here, but rather something completely counter cultural and revolutionary is mentioned, that the man would leave his own father and mother and start something completely new. Up until this point the common way of doing things was for the woman to join and become a part of the man’s family. But what God presents here is a separation and a unique situation where two people are becoming one. The word joined here is a strong word as well. It is “united, bonded, or cemented.” And lastly the text tells us that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” This is of course literal and actual. The picture we get is two people perfectly joined together as one image bearer of the ever lasting God, free in sex and spiritually and emotionally. If you have ever been before someone naked before there can be varying degrees of shame and embarrassment. But this nakedness here is so much more than sex, but it goes to the point that Adam and Eve were emotionally naked and unashamed before each other as we are all to some degree longing to be in our own relationships in life. Think of your best friend who knows everything about you…yet loves you any way. Is there not no greater feeling that the feeling of being completely “known” by someone else and loved anyway?
The Bible begins in a wedding. It ends in a wedding. God when beginning a covenant relationship with his people Israel, uses wedding language to tell them of his love and their relationship. This language of husband and wife is all over the Bible. From start to finish God uses this language to help us understand who he is and how we relate to him.
And how long did this last? Not another chapter! A story we are all familiar with in Genesis 3 takes place, the fall of mankind, the rebellion of our heart, the separation from our God, relational discord enters the world and the sin which plagued man then still plagues man today. The sin of Adam and Eve is the same which we suffer from today, whether married or not. It begins with a simple question from the serpent that plants doubt. He asks, “Has God really said?” This simple question causes Adam and Eve to begin questioning and doubting the goodness of God, that his design and plan was somehow deficient or wrong, that he was hiding something from them, keeping that which was really good from them. I would propose that many sins, specifically those of a sexual nature, which go against the precedented relationship as seen in Adam and Eve is to begin questioning the goodness of God, that somehow his design is deficient. Their doubting God’s goodness led to what we struggle with today, the desire to determine for ourselves what is right and wrong, that we would be gods in our own right, not someone else. In essence Adam and Eve found most tempting the desire to refashion God’s image. This is all around us today, is it not? We hear things like “It is my life, I should be able to decide what is right and wrong for myself.” or “Each person should decide for themselves what is right and wrong.” and on and on. We like to think that we in the modern world have progressed to a point that we are above those knuckle dragging neanderthals from long ago, yet we in no way are. Yes, technologically speaking we are more advanced, but in regards to sin, we have not yet emerged from the primordial slime into which we first put ourselves. The picture we have before this moment is one of relational harmony, both between God and man. After this point it is one of frustration, that relationally, we felt shame where we had none before. Where the man and his wife before were naked and unashamed, now they were naked and afraid. In her book Found In Him by Elyse Fitzpartick describes the results so well,
“The Lord had wisely fashioned Adam and Eve in his own image for fellowship with him and with each other, and oh, the madness of craving something other. Of course, they knew that what they had in communion with their creator and each other was great (even though there were differences), but they were captivated by the thought of how much better life would be if there weren’t any differences at all! They didn’t want to be creatures any more—they wanted to be gods, too! They knew about goodness already, but they didn’t know about evil, and they were so curious. Wouldn’t it be a good thing for them to know everything there was to know? Didn’t they need to help themselves out? Adam and Eve drank from the poisonous cup of autonomy and independence. They ate and fell. They fell from their blessed communion with the Lord and were banished from the beautiful garden he had created for them. They fell also from blessed union with each other. God’s image in them was shattered (though not completely obliterated), and in that shattering every relationship within the race of man would thereafter be marred. On our own, we would never know the “oneness” we all long for. Where once they had been self-forgetful, now each was “turned in upon himself…Each [knew] that he or she was no longer what he or she ought to be.” They experienced shame. They hid. They tried to cover themselves with fig leaves; they wept in isolation. / Notice that Adam immediately began to refer to himself in the singular “I” rather than “we” (Gen 3:10). The deathly individualization of humanity had begun, and with surprising ease Adam deserted his wife while casting aspersions upon the Lord’s wisdom for giving her to him in the first place. Adam was utterly alone. He had abandoned his wife. He no longer trusted his God. On her own, Eve was weak and vulnerable. And though we are no longer hiding behind a tree in that garden, the die has been cast for the rest of us. All their children, all of us, will hide from each other and the Lord in isolation, suspicion, and shame, trying to weave together fig leaves to cover our shame.”
We have been sowing figs leaves ever since. (enda sen dess) In the church we often talk about morals and laws and good behavior, but rarely do we talk about our very condition which led us to where we are now. The frustration, isolation, and loneliness we experience in relationship does not go away simply because we get married.
But just in case you find Elyse too church-y, let’s look at a quote from someone who knows first hand the separation experienced because of the fall, Antonia Crane a woman who has been a stripper for the past 20 years.
Strip clubs exist because people are acutely lonesome. We walk around with these giant knots in our hearts, like a cramp that can’t stretch out. It tugs and pulls at us all day while at our jobs, surrounded by people and technology and family members who don’t listen to us like they used to, highlighting our own failures to connect to people easily in a meaningful way.
What I’ve learned about humanity in my protracted tenure as a dancer is that we are a culture dying of loneliness in a frenzy to feel less so. Sex workers offer a reprieve from that loneliness. I’ve learned that everyone may be fighting a great battle, caring for a sick spouse, worried about their meth-addicted daughter or struggling with a medical condition.
I’ve learned that timing and kindness are more important than big boobs.”
There is much that can be commented on in this most fascinating quote, but for my purposes today let me just concentrate on the words “acutely lonesome.” Much of what we see in our world would suggest that indeed we are lonely. Studies would show that especially here in Sweden we are isolated and lonely. What is fascinating about what Ms Crane says is that in her observation of the loneliness that plagues us is that we are actually not alone. It is loneliness caused by brokenness and hardness of heart and a world that is hurting because it has chosen its own way. She confirms in her final comment of timing and kindness that we all cry out for something more, some one to right the brokenness of our world.
Humanity and the marriage relationship was not meant to experience such dissonance. It is not the design of marriage. As we noted earlier, as mankind was made in God’s image, it is to be the clearest expression of the image of God here on earth.
In our world today we have made marriage more about ME than anything else, the individual looking to fulfill themselves. We expect that someone will join us in our likes and dislikes and will approve of the things we liked to do before we got married. In other words, we want them to improve our single lives, it is relationship on old terms, on my terms. But as we have seen, this is not God’s design for marriage. When a husband and wife come together, it was to be something new. This very idea necessitates something changing in order to be different. The point of marriage is never just the mere existence of a relationship so we aren’t lonely or that we are self fulfilled, but rather that a husband would give of himself with such love and devotion, and that a woman would give of herself with such love and devotion, that they would become a living, breathing picture of the gospel of Jesus. Biblical marriage at its roots is a covenant. A covenant is a contract of permanence. In marriage it says that “even at your worst, I will never leave you.” This is not a blank check or an excuse to live however one wants, to take advantage of the other, but rather it is a net of assurance. It is the careful gardner who cares for his garden and provides the best conditions for flowering life. As an example, when the Golden Gate Bridge was being built in San Francisco, in the early stages of construction, several people fell off the rigging and died in the swift icy waters below. Thereafter someone came up with the idea of putting a net below where the workers were. After the installation of the net, not only did they not lose any workers to the waters below, not one even fell! In the security of the net below, the workers relaxed and became more effective in the job. So it is with the covenant of marriage. In the covenant of marriage there is the opportunity to LIVE OUT sacrifice, love, mercy, and grace to an imperfect being who you know everything about, but choose to love anyway. WOW!
My own life is a living testament to this fact. I struggle with anger. It is something that as a single I was able to avoid. I oriented my life to avoid the things that brought up frustration and anger. But when I got married and especially when we had kids, things happened that I could no longer avoid it. This past year was a particularly difficult one for me. It has been a long journey and probably one that will take the remainder of my life. In the darkest moments of this time, when I wasn’t feeling like the greatest husband or father, when I wept over my sin, I would have nightmares that my wife had left me. I would wake up covered in sweat, relieved that she still slept next to me. One day, after a particularly difficult expression of my sin (to put it lightly), I told my wife of my fear. Her response? “Never. I’m not going anywhere. Not happening.” Now, that was easier for her to say on our wedding day, I looked good then! But after so much difficulty? And yet, she chose to love me despite my sin, because Christ redeems and in him there is hope. And what do you think my response has been to her? I am more ready to give my own life for her and my family today than ever before.
Daniel Yankelovich, an American sociologist, studied the expectations of culture and where individuals were headed. In his brilliant study he finds that this idea of self-fulfillment, that life is about fulfilling the self, he closes with this final observation about a couple who represents much of society, Abby and Mark,
“If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs, and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others, or simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To Abby and to Mark as well self-fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. The individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy. The injunction”–notice this now please– “The injunction that to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, contains the truth any seeker of self-fulfillment needs to grasp.”
Yankelovich is a secular, non-believing scholar, yet he points in his final conclusion to the foundations of the Christian faith, and this is what I will close with. In Philippians 2:5-11 and Ephesians 5, we find the basis for marriage and indeed for a godly life. I will not comment on Ephesians 5 here, but rather concentrate on Philippians 2 and fairly briefly at that. Yankelovich’s proposition that “…in order to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self…” sums up exactly the life of Jesus,
“…who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The theme for Nitton30 has been “We Love Because He First Loved Us.” Does Jesus love you and save you because you are so great? Does he know all your sins, even the shameful ones and yet, still love you? Or does he love you from sacrifice, love, mercy, and grace? Marriage, as in life in general is not about who you marry, so much as it is about who you are becoming—who you are becoming like. Adam or Jesus?