I recently proposed to my girlfriend of four years, and the mountains were the perfect place to do it. Now that we are engaged, I have been thinking a lot about marriage. Not just our eventual marriage, but the very idea of marriage. When we look around, we see many negative and many positive examples of what marriages could be. For all really important things I turn to God for answers, in experience, in prayer, and in Scripture. Before continuing I have to admit this is a bit of an artificial divide because God will and has often answered my prayers through experience and Scripture as well as speaking directly to me.
My experience is tough. My parents were in a loving relationship for more than 25 years. They were extremely loving and always took time for each other (and for us three boys). Sometimes, they would just walk and talk for hours. But something happened between them that I still can’t fully explain: they got divorced. For a long time, this put everything that I thought I knew about marriage into question, but it is clear to me that their love was and still is real. One thing that has remained with me, even after the divorce, is that a marriage is about loving mutual self-sacrifice (though knowing how to live this out can be very tough).
I have prayed about it a lot, and in some ways God is extremely clear and in others He is not. He has told me that marriage is not essential, but community, connection, and commitment to others are. There are ways that we can learn and grow both in celibacy and in marriage. A marriage can only be what it is meant to be when both of the people keep God at its centre. To some this may seem strange, but this is how we care for one another. It is through God that we can know the other person, what they need and how that involves the people around us. It is through God that we care about our relationship in this moment and look to its future, which involves more than just us (again, how we keep God at the centre of our relationship is hard as it is hard in all of our relationships).
Lastly, there is Scripture. More than Paul’s words or Adam and Eve in Genesis, or the rules in Leviticus what speaks to me about what marriage should be is the image of the bride and the bridegroom. For those that aren’t familiar with this, it is an image that is often used to describe our relationship with God. In the Old Testament the image is often used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. In the New Testament, as Christ has opened up God’s covenant to all people, the image of the bride and bridegroom is often used to describe the relationship between us and Christ. There are some beautiful passages about one longing for their betrothed: for God or God for us (such as in the Song of Songs). There is the image of the coming wedding feast when we will know full union with God and all of our longings will be fulfilled in Him.
There is the image of the lost betrothed (that I have recently been reading about in Hosea), when we no longer have been committed to God. Instead, we turn our back on Him worship other things or Gods. We make our lives about what we want, and so without God, without the one who truly makes us whole we are empty, lost and without hope. It is through God, through our union with Him, like marriage, that we can actually create or in other words re-produce, as He is the creator of all things.
We forget the mutual self-sacrifice that becomes for our good as well as for God’s. God has always been sacrificing for us, which we see especially in Jesus Christ, but we are not willing to sacrifice for Him. We forget about the mutual commitment to that other person. We forget that our singular relationship with that other affects everyone around us, as well as our own health. We forget that God is the source of all love. The love that we all long for. As we experience His love we learn to respond and share it with others. The world can and does benefit from the true love between two.
This relationship does take time and energy. We have to listen, just as we know that God will listen to us. We have to remain faithful and trust that God is really doing what is best for us. We have to believe in the hope that this relationship means for our future. We have to struggle together and never give up on each other even in the midst of anger. As God has shown in so much abundance we must be ready to forgive. God is yearning for this kind of relationship with us, if we would just take His hand and walk with Him.
I hope that my relationship and eventual marriage can live into this. I hope that it could be an example for others of an even better kind of relationship with God. I hope that through it I may ever grow in union with God. I hope that whether you are celibate or married that your very life will do the same. May God bless you. Your brother in Christ, Philip.
Philip Stonhouse was the interim minister at Christ Church Anglican.