Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Reason for Marriage: A Christian Perspective

It is not enough when one simply points out the flaws of a given perspective when it comes to a particular issue.  One must also offer an alternative point of view, and so, in regards to yesterday's post where I put forth the reasons a basis for marriage from a secular perspective fail, I must now offer the alternative.

Christianity has two main figures who address marriage at length: Jesus and Paul.  I will begin with Jesus as He is the Author and Perfector of the faith:

3 Some Pharisees came to him [Jesus], and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ 4He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 7They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ 8He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’--Matthew 19:3-9

Jesus teaches against divorce by referring to Genesis chapter 2.  I too will head that direction so that Jesus' words may be understood more clearly in regards to marriage, but first we must take a slight detour and examine St. Paul:

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. 10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11(but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.--1 Corinthians 7

Interestingly enough, Paul gives, as a reason for marriage, the quenching of the fires of lust.  Get married so that you can have sex which does not conflict with the commands of God.  Now, this might seem a bit absurd as the only reason given for marriage, but we must also note Paul ties his teaching to Jesus'.  So, we must examine in depth what Jesus says about divorce and why it is not permissable except in the cases of unfaithfulness.

One last tangent: there are those who claim that sex is sinful unless it is for procreation.  Paul doesn't come close to this in his statement.  If any of my readers ever thought this, I assure you, it is not scriptural.  Go have some fun.

Onto heavier matters...

Jesus teaches quite clearly marriage is to be between one man and one woman and that the bond should not be broken by anything man does.  Why is Jesus so strong on this teaching, leaving very little wiggle room?

Examining the text from Genesis chapter 2 is important here:

18 Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.--Genesis 2:18-24

There are a number of things of import in this passage.  Number one: While we can certainly live alone, it is not the preferred option.  We are meant to be a communal creature--individuals living in community, and the very foundation of that community is the marriage relationship.  Number two: we live in relationship to creation.  God began the process of community by bringing the animals to the man to name, and while none was a suitable helper, man still was in relationship with them.

And now, we come to a very important part: woman was taken out of man.  Please do not assume this means women have one more rib than men.  They don't.  Perhaps man was originally created with an extra--I really don't know.  What I do know is the importance of that act of removing part of the man and creating woman out of it.

For one must think like the ancient Jews to understand the importance of this act of God.  For the ancient Jews put a great value on the concept of wholeness.  God was considered the ultimate of wholeness, completeness if you will, and things which were whole were considered closer to God.  (Incidentally, the concept of shalom means wholeness.)  When man's rib was taken, he was no longer whole.  He was no longer one flesh.  How could he recover his wholeness?  How could he recover being one flesh?

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.--Genesis 2:24

It is in the marriage relationship where wholeness is found.  The two, in their relationship with one another become one--united in wholeness, in shalom.  This is why Jesus puts severe restrictions on divorce.  One does not simply walk away from such a bond because these two individuals have become one, and to tear one flesh apart not only is painful, but it destroys wholeness and shalom.  What God has joined together...

This is why the Roman Catholic Church honors marriage as a sacrament.  The mysterious joining together of two individuals into one flesh by God's Word indeed is a wondrous mystery.  (Lutherans do not consider marriage a sacrament because while there is command from God's Word, there is not a physical sign attached to it.)

This concept of wholeness is actually referred to again by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and gives further credence to the Christian stance of saving sex for the marriage bed:

16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’

The Christian basis for marriage is the belief that wholeness, shalom is achieved in this relationship.  It is not to be entered into flippantly, but with the knowledge something very important is going on.  The relationship should not be ended without very, very good cause (unfaithfulness, in my estimation, can also be extended to abusive situations).

So, what does viewing marriage in this fashion do?

1. It handles both the couples who have and do not have children.
2. It handles the emotional aspect of companionship.
3. It allows for the economics of marriage.
4. As it stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition, it also imposes the Judeo-Christian boundaries on healthy marriages.

Of course, then one must recognize the place of polygamy in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The Bible never out and out declares polygamy a sin.  In fact, there are notable heroes of the faith who practiced it and without a peep from God or a prophet sent to tell them they were wrong.  One could argue that polygamy indeed is sanctioned by the Bible.

Yet, I personally would not go that far.  In 99% of the cases, polygamous relationships in Scripture turn out badly.  Sarah and Hagar were not the model of wives who got along.  Jacob's favoritism of Rachel's children over Leah's caused massive strife among the children.  David's family went into open war.  Solomon's heathen wives led him astray and into worshiping false gods.  In building a case, I wouldn't recommend polygamy in the least.

However, with that one caveat, I believe a faith based approach to marriage serves as a much better approach than a secular approach.

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