Got to be on the Ride Home with John and Kathy again yesterday, although very grieved that Kathy isn’t well, and hoping that she is better very soon. I come in around the ten or fifteen minute mark.
And, of course, If you are wandering around Twitter on Sunday afternoon you would have seen Karen Swallow Prior calmly answering a gentleman angry that I suggested Christian marriage is a really good solution to our cultural illnesses, that plus the gospel of course. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ he said, as indeed I expected him to.
Truly, I would rather tell you about my acorn squash soup, but I will do that tomorrow because I wanted to just draw out an easy, and hopefully useful distinction between two kinds of marriage.
On the right we’ve been using–since that curious ruling of a couple of years ago, the Obergefell one, the one that redefined marriage to be something it can’t actually be–the term Traditional Marriage to talk about that old ridiculous institution of one man and one woman pledging to live faithfully and sexually exclusively together for the whole of their lives. The state was invested in this foolishness for several hundred years, but then it saw the error of its ways and said that men can marry men and women can marry women, it’s fine, it’s better even.
But I don’t like the word ‘Traditional.’ The angry person on Twitter kept using it when I hadn’t. I didn’t say Traditional Marriage. If you go by that route you run into one of the oldest traditions of humanity–polygamy. And I think that’s a terrible idea, and not one, incidentally, affirmed by scripture, though it is described as occurring.*
No, I’m not going to make a case for Traditional Marriage because that still leaves the institution in the hands of humanity to do with it what it will. And whatever we want to do with it, it’s going to be hash, because everything we touch turns to trouble.
Biblical, or Christian Marriage is what I’d like all people everywhere to consider. It can’t be blamed for the failures of our cultural malaise because it hasn’t really been tried that often. Even many Christians don’t fully trust it.
Here are three distinguishing characteristics of Christian Marriage that make it fundamentally different from everything else, especially a cultural expression of Traditional Marriage.
One, it is grounded in the loving (that’s agape, not eros) Trinitarian work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus gave himself up even unto death for the sake of his bride, the church, and out of obedient love for his Father. Christian marriage is therefore necessarily self giving. It is you dying to yourself for the good of the other person in a daily on going way over many many years. It’s not based in the feelings you have for the other person, and your own needs and desires, but rather in the difficult moment by moment decisions of the will that require you to put the other person in front of yourself.
This is why, of course, so few people try it, because it’s not about you, and so why bother. Still, though, if you ever get a chance to see this kind of marriage in action, you will probably be struck by the beauty and deep peace emanating from two people who consistently over many years let the other person go first. It’s the gospel on display. It is a rich and profound picture.
Two, Christian marriage is about difference. Humanity is always bent on idolatry all the time, it’s who we are. We always want everyone to be Like us. We, made in God’s likeness, like to twist that round and remake everyone into our own likeness. Racism finds its heart and soul here. Taking somebody else and trying to mash them into a poor twisted, ugly reflection of yourself, because you love yourself so much, is what you are always trying to do, whether you mean to or not. The person you are most comfortable with is you, and so you’ll have an easier time if everyone else is exactly like you. You go to church with people like you, and shop with people like you, and now you can even marry people exactly like you. It’s a form of idolatry, of projecting yourself into the heavens.
Christian marriage cuts that lie down at its root. You marry someone who is different from you, who thinks and acts differently, whose instincts and priorities are different, whose emotional life is completely different, and who does not have the same body. And then, in this difficult place of difference, God works away the dross, the ugliness of your own idolatry. He takes the two distinct and different parts and makes them one.
Three, Christian Marriage is about personhood. Who was it that said, as she was leaving her husband to run off with a woman, ‘I just want to love all the children of the world!’? She said this as she consigned her own particular children to a lifetime of being shuffled around as props to her new dream life. In opening her arms to the world the personhood of her own husband and family fell into the ditch of life.
It’s not that you go out and love everyone, it’s that you love one particular person for the rest of your life and there, and in that particularness, in that exclusivity, their personhood and yours has room to grow up and become something interesting. You get to be a person, and so do they.
Hear what I’m saying. A marriage where one person is abusing and dominating the other is not Christian marriage. Both people may be professing Christ, but if one person is abusing the other, a lie is being told. That’s not Christian. A marriage where the man doesn’t die to himself, Daily, putting the needs and care of his wife before himself is not Christian. It isn’t. How many times can I say it? But so also is a marriage where the woman doesn’t let the man breathe, doesn’t let him be a man in all his strength and virtue and difference from her. This is why a lot of Christian people who think they have Christian marriage don’t really because they are living selfishly, as unto the world, and not in the way of the cross.
Humanity is corrupt and it always has been. When Adam fell, we all tripped and stumbled, landing in the pit of our own digging. But God provides a remedy, a healing for this great wounding fall. He gives himself, and then he gives us each other, as long as we cling tightly to him and his cross through it all. Truly, give it a try before you consign it to the ash pit of history.
*Which is a very important distinction. You have to know what kind of literature you’re reading, as you’re struggling along in the Bible. And you shouldn’t fall into facile and easily debunked arguments, like ‘Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.’ That is old and tired. Go do some research. Step up your game if you want to argue at the level of the text.