This week’s post is a timely offering from Chris Carrier, one of the Cor Deo team in 2011. We deeply appreciated Chris during our months together and are sure you’ll appreciate his first guest post on the site. Thanks again, Chris.
I’ve studied and prayed about marriage for the past year. Why? Because in a week I will be getting married. So the heart of what I have learned is now very clear to me.
Here’s what I have found. Marriage is a theme woven throughout the Bible. From the creation of man and woman in Genesis 1:26-7 to the marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation 21, God speaks of marriage. It begins with the relationship of the Trinity and extends to the relationship the Son shares with the church. This is very clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he identifies the marital “one flesh” passage of Genesis 2:24 as a mystery that refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32). Here we see that in our faith we are joined by the Spirit in the mystery of a marriage to Jesus (1 Cor. 6:15-17). Let me call this mystical marriage.
Now let’s be clear – God chooses to describe his church as the Bride of his Son. He makes marriage the central metaphor in describing the relationship to which he invites us. In 1 Corinthians 11 he presents the Father-Son, the Christ-church, and the husband-wife relationships as parallel to each other. This links both marriage and salvation to the heart of Trinitarian relationship.
The implications of this for marriages are profound. Marriage is raised from its low standing in modern culture into a relationship that images the divine. In a godly marriage the world can glimpse a reflection not only of the selfless and sacrificial love that defines the Son’s relationship with the church, but also the relational unity that is at the heart of the Trinity. Marital roles are redefined, leaving no room for selfishness or pride. Marriages are joined together by God himself and are not to be broken. In sum marriage becomes about the spouse, about God, and not about ourselves. Beautiful.
While the Bible offers many lessons for human marriages let us think about what mystical marriage reveals about the heart of God himself. Throughout the Old Testament, thousands of years before Paul wrote Ephesians, God told his own story of relationship with his people Israel. Again and again he demonstrated his own faithfulness while he grieved over their infidelity. He used the language of marital covenant and faithfulness to describe his relationship with Israel in the book of Hosea. There God’s heart for his people is beautifully and painfully clear. It also describes the relationship he desires with us.
The amazing truth is that God offers himself in mystical marriage. That is the invitation. In taking us, the church, to be his collective Bride he invites us to relational intimacy that surpasses even that known by a husband and wife.
Yet how often do we think of salvation in these terms? Many times we see salvation through the lens of what God has done for us, how he has blessed us. We focus on forgiveness, grace, and eternal life as benefits conferred by God but without thinking of God himself. In marital terms it is as if we elevate marriage mainly for its benefits to us – our legal union, co-residence, relational and physical intimacy, companionship, etc. – and not for our delight in our spouse.
As my own wedding approaches my joy is in the woman who will be my wife. As a Christian I also pray my hope would be founded in my Beloved, the Son of God. The benefits of marriage, both earthly and mystical, are praiseworthy and good, but they are not the focus in and of themselves. Christ is. Knowing him is the stuff of salvation and the eternal life to which we are all called (John 17:3).