Friday, June 16, 2006

Theology of Marriage and Divorce

At the beginning of Genesis, we find the story of Creation. According to the narrative, God created a human being. This person had a beautiful relationship with God, untroubled by any sin in which they would walk and talk together in the cool of the day. In spite of such peace with God and Creation, this person was deeply lonely and God recognized that this loneliness was not good. The result is the creation of the first woman, (at which time Adam is first identified as male). God created them for relationship with another - different and yet so similar that Adam declared "This one is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!" The post-Fall writer of this scripture chose to describe the essence of their relationship in this way, "They were naked and not ashamed."

The unity and un-selfconscious vulnerability and intimacy of this relationship contrasts sharply with the post-Fall reality. From that point up to the present day, relationships between women and men are now regularly characterized by shame, fear, hiding, and conflict. We are far from God's Creation ideal. "Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you." Power struggles are now part of the problem too, and from them emerges violence, oppression, and manipulation.

Marriage is intended to be the beautiful relationship described in pre-Fall Genesis, in which the pain of loneliness subsides in the beautiful union of husband and wife, who work, play and love alongside one another without fear and without shame. But since we are scarred by sin, we do experience pain, selfishness, fear, and shame. We hide parts of ourselves from one another. We hurt one another - sometimes deliberately. We struggle for power and control. And all these things make it difficult to trust, be vulnerable, and to live in forgiveness. Some of us have a harder time than others, but successful marriages always require the best we have to offer along with heavy doses of forgiveness since our best will still be far from perfect.

From the Creation account, we learn God's intention for relationships between men and women, and we learn how that intention has been distorted by sin. This should both inspire us, and give us pause to reflect on how we can live and love in this way. It should also humble us, as we realize how dependent we are on God's grace to live in this way.

Trinity and Marriage
From the Creation account we also learn that human beings are created in the image of God. Trinitarian theology teaches us about perichoresis - the divine dance in which the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter are both three and one. Each one is distinct in personality and cannot be subsumed into a single identity. And yet their unity is so complete that Christians are monotheists. We worship one God - a unified, three-person God.

"The two shall become one flesh." Scripture's description of marriage also describes a tension - a dance between unity and individuality within marriage. There are two people with distinct personalities, gifts, names, and bodies. And yet marriage makes them one - an unbroken mysterious unity that transcends their individuality without obliterating it.

Human sexual desire and our longing for marriage is rooted in our identity as beings made in the image of a tri-une God. Too much individuality in marriage, and the unity of the relationship may be compromised. Too little, and a person may be lost and de-humanized in the relationship. Healthy marriages are relationships of unity that respect the unique individuality of the persons within the marriage, and which manage this dynamic tension. Unhealthiness in marriage happens when one person tries to dominate or overpower the other person, or when either person is not free in the relationship. Brokenness also happens when either person becomes consumed with self-centeredness and destroys the unity of the marriage bond. As fallen ones, we all struggle with this tension between unity and individuality, between freedom and control, and between self-sacrifice and self-centeredness.

Covenantal Relationship
Marriage is a covenantal relationship - the most sacred of vows that a human being can make. In the Old Testament, making a covenant involved sacrificing an animal, cutting it into two pieces, and then walking between the halves of the animal. If one party broke the covenant, they were agreeing to share the fate of the animal. Obviously, such covenants were not entered into lightly and were broken only with disastrous consequences. Shockingly, God chooses to enter in a covenant relationship with Abraham and his offspring. When they broke the covenant over and over again, God remained faithful and eventually came as a human being to be sacrificed for them, to take on himself their consequence of breaking covenant with God.

Marriage is also a covenant relationship and in our culture we have no context for understanding the gravity of such a commitment. But scripture teaches us that there is a mysterious revelation of Christ's relationship to his Church within the relationship between a married couple. They are both covenantal relationships. Christ teaches us that faithfulness, forgiveness, and sacrificial love are marks of living in a covenantal relationship. And he teaches us that even when the other party fails, we must choose forgiveness and reconciliation. However, even Christ does not force others to love him or live in relationship with him. He offers everyone the freedom to accept his love, forgiveness, and sacrifice - or to reject him and all that he offers. The covenant is still a relationship of freedom, and marriage must also be a relationship of freedom. But where there is freedom, some will use it to break relationship. From this reality springs the tragedy of divorce. More thoughts on this to come...

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