Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Beauty of Marriage

I learned something recently about tree surgery. Apparently it is possible to use concrete to help heal sick trees. You see, holes often develop in trees due to bacteria causing an infection which then causes the wood to rot, leading to a hole in the tree. It is these trees, the ones with holes in them, that can be helped with a bit of time and some concrete.

The first step in caring for these trees is actually to remove wood from the hole. You see you can not help the tree until you have first stripped all the infected wood out of the hole. The only way to help the tree is to cut out all the infected wood, otherwise you will simply have more rot even if you treat what remains.

Next, you must use something to clean the healthy wood that remains once you have fully hollowed out the hole. You need an antibiotic of sorts to clean the wood so you can make sure no remnants of the infection remain in what appears to be healthy wood. Again, the purpose of this is to prevent the infection from returning after treatment.

The third step is to use something like pitch, tar, or some other substance to coat the wood in the hole. You see you need to seal it so that every void is covered. You need to create a surface sufficient for the concrete to hold on to. Without this step, even if you were to try and use the concrete to help the tree, it may not hold, or you may have air pockets where, again, infection can develop and cause more damage to the tree.

Finally, you pour concrete into the hole. Since the voids in the tree are covered the concrete will now stick to the insides of the hole. Doing this allows the concrete to reinforce the remaining tree. Now, no additional infection can get in, and if the rotten area removed some of the integrity of the tree, the concrete will help to reinforce those weak points. On top of that, the additional weight of the concrete makes the tree less susceptible to wind damage as it will be much harder for the wind to bend or move the tree.

So, why do I begin with trees when talking about marriage? Because for many Christians our definition of marriage is a bit rotten. Like a tree, we still have the right shape and form, and we may still be producing good fruit, but our poor definition and understanding of marriage is like rot in the trunk of a tree. Eventually, unless we treat the problem, we will no longer have a foundation to stand on, and then our understanding of marriage will die.

Why do I say we have a bad definition of marriage? Well, follow along with me, and I think you'll agree, most of us need a bit of a refresher course on what marriage really is. Far too often we define marriage by what it isn't, but the problem is that course does not defend what marriage is. We fight for marriage in our popular culture, but in doing so what we fight for is a view of marriage that is sometimes alien to what marriage really is.

Let's begin where we would if we were treating a rotten tree. Let's start by stripping out all the dead wood, and see if we can find something healthy to preserve. Get rid of what you think marriage is. Marriage isn't about faithfulness, it isn't about love, it isn't about happiness, it isn't about communication, and it isn't about the proper exercising of our physical passions. Marriage isn't about family, it isn't about mutual support, it isn't about establishing a healthy foundation for society. Marriage isn't about any of that, though all of that may be included in a healthy marriage.

Everything I just said may sound outrageous to the Christian. But bear with me. The problem is that what we often defend is not marriage, but rather how marriage has come to be expressed in our culture. After all, some will argue that the idea of monogamous faithfulness are mere cultural entities. Abraham was never rebuked by God for having multiple wives, Solomon, son of Bathsheba was chosen as the successor of David, despite the fact that she was not the first wife of David, nor was he the first born of David's children. And, if we needed to be reminded, even God sanctioned levirate marriages in the case of a man dying without any heirs.

By stripping out all of what marriage is not, we are then able to get to the healthy wood of determining what marriage is. In order to determine what marriage is we must turn to some foundation, some source of teaching us about marriage. In this case we must turn to the bible. Specifically one section of Scripture stands as the crux of understanding the bible's teaching on marriage.

Ephesians 5:31-33 reads thus, “'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” And this is the bedrock of our understanding of marriage. This is the healthy wood in the hole we have dug out of the tree of our understanding of marriage.

The implications of this passage are what we will flesh out for our concrete filling, but for now we know how deep we have to dig to get to the healthy wood. Likewise, when we pause to think of how we will cleanse the wood so as to make sure the infection has been treated, we see that the antibiotic we need is the Word. The infection is our cultural and worldly tendency, how we allow the definitions and arguments of the world to influence our understanding of what is important. We must come to the Word, and let the Word cleanse us and purify our minds, so that we can rightly understand what is important to the Christian.

We must understand, we are the new creation. Being new, we cannot allow our old understandings to stand in the way of the new reality we live in. We must conform to the truth of God's Word, we cannot think that our civilization, our culture, or our ways are necessarily true unless we find that what we hold to be true matches the Word of God. For instance, we hold that murder is wrong, but not because of the inherent value of man, or because murder weakens our society, but rather because murder is a defamation of the image of God, because man is made in the image of God. To murder a man is to trespass against the holiness of God, because we are taking his image and making it nothing, we are taking what was made to be a representative of God and treating him with contempt.

So with marriage. In laying our concrete in the hole, assuming we have allowed the Word to both cleanse us and to fill in the voids of our understanding, we see that marriage is more than love, more than faithfulness, more than all the worldly things we want to say it is. Marriage is about Christ and the church. Yes, men are called to love our wives, but not as the world tells us to love. Men are to love our wives just as Christ loved the church. We are to be sacrificial in our love, unfailing, faithful in the face of faithfulness.

We said what marriage is not about, but here we see what marriage is about. Marriage is about Christ, it is about us demonstrating a lifestyle that makes much of Christ and shows how he is the foundation of every relationship. He is the one who establishes what marriage is. Marriage is about all the various things we want to put at the heart of marriage in as much as Christ is about any of those things. Yet Christ is the true center of marriage, Christ is the focus of marriage, Christ is the support and foundation of marriage. We can tear away everything else and yet, if Christ is the center, the marriage will remain. A man may abandon his wife, treat her with disgrace and hatred, refuse to provide for her or give her physical accompaniment, and yet if she married him with her focus on Christ, the marriage still remains, and she still has hope that Christ, in his power, will redeem her husband and bring him back to her.

So for the bride, her role is that of the church. She represents the hope of redemption that we find in Christ. If a woman is unfaithful to her husband, disrespects him, uses him for money or for power, or in any other way fails to live up to her image as the church, it does not negate the marriage. The marriage remains because the man, in his role representing Christ, still has hope that his wife will be redeemed, even as the church is redeemed in Christ.

The focus of marriage is Christ and nothing else. If we want to rightly define marriage, we cannot put anything at the center of marriage apart from Christ. Which means the world will never accept our definition of marriage, because the world will never acknowledge that Christ is the center of marriage. No one, apart from the Christian, will ever accept Christ as the center and focus of marriage.

Think about this. The world wants us to change who we worship and how we worship. If the world wants us to change what goes on in the church and condemns us because they do not understand our God, how can we expect them to embrace our view of marriage? The world thinks we are strange, arrogant, illogical, and foolish, all because we claim that there is only one way to be saved, and that way is through faith in the God-Man who was crucified and raised some 2000 years ago. If the world cannot understand our worship and cannot understand how we could really believe in a God who would die on a cross and bring reconciliation through his death and resurrection, how could they understand why we would think he is at the center of a relationship that is thousands of years older than they think our religion is?

We, as Christians, must make a point of not fighting for a false definition of marriage. Unfortunately that means that we cannot fight just for an idea of marriage that says, “Marriage is one man and one woman for life.” That idea of marriage is just as false as any other view of marriage, because marriage is really, “The union of a man and woman as one flesh, representing the relationship of Christ and his church, lived out to the glory of God as a testimony to the truth and purpose of the gospel,” or, to paraphrase from Paul, “Marriage is a man leaving his father and mother, holding close to his wife, the two becoming one flesh, and it is a great mystery that has now been revealed as speaking of Christ and the church, and how the church is both the body and bride of Christ.”

If we argue for less than this, then we are not arguing for marriage. But, our definition will never be accepted by a culture that rejects Christ. Therefore, we make greater gain not in fighting against this or that definition, but rather in preaching the gospel, winning souls wherever we can for Christ, and realizing that we must be counter-cultural, embracing a definition of marriage that no one but a Christian can accept. We must realize that we will always have to teach our children, “Culture does not understand marriage, they get it wrong, and even when they look like they have it right, it is only a facade, because the truth of marriage lies with Christ, who this present world system rejects.”

If we want to see the beauty of marriage and argue for what marriage must be in our culture, then we must place Christ at the center of marriage as he is supposed to be. When Christ is at the center of marriage then marriage becomes about forgiveness, about the worship of God, about honor of one another as our own flesh and blood, about submission to authority and care for the weak, about giving sacrificially, and about reconciliation. Marriage becomes a ministry of all the hard things that culture puts secondary, and we realize that love, compassion, intimacy, and joy flow out of these hardships.