As a lifelong single I see the marriages of my friends and family as a gift for learning more about life in Christ. Here is why.
Marriage is not an end in itself but offers a picture of the ultimate marriage. Throughout the Bible God uses marriage to explain what it means to be united to him in Christ by the Spirit. In fact most covenants in the Bible engage either directly or indirectly this marriage of Yahweh to his bride, the collective people of faith who love him. God invites us to an eternal union and communion with him and human marriage allows us to learn of his heart for us. This is a present reality and not just a future promise.
Let me tip my hat first to some other forms of covenant in the Bible because of the dominant place they have in academic conversations. There are, for instance, the commercial purchase contracts as in the case of Abraham buying a burial plot in Hebron. More importantly there are the suzerainty-vassal pacts that set out the stipulations of a dominant ruler over a lesser state—what Judah faced, for instance, when they were ruled by the Babylonians.
But we blunder if our view of God’s relationship to us as believers is shaped mainly by these obligation-based contracts—contracts that feature imposed duties rather than love and mutual devotion. These contracts are needed in a world shaped by the Fall of Adam in which sin and selfishness are the milieu of life. Here there must be arrangements meant to enforce proper conduct, even if the arrangements often impose a domination of one group over another. But this is not the stuff of salvation!
Rather we find God offering himself to us in a marital relationship. This is a call to all who “hear my voice” and are his collective “elect” and then become the bride of Christ once the bond of mutual life entrustment is made secure by a person’s union with the Spirit of God—something Paul underscored in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.
We need to insist on this because of who God is as a triune, relational, being; and because of God’s declared purposes in creation. We start with God as having created us in his own triune image: “Let us make man in our image . . . male and female he created them.” This is what separates the Christian faith from monadic religions like Judaism, Islam, and from the variety of disfigured claimants to Christian status that only elevate the Father while reducing the Son and the Spirit to lesser states of being.
When we recognize that God’s communion of love is the basis for our creation—the fruit of God’s overflowing care—we begin to recognize stages in the Bible portrayal of our own purpose to be lovers. The only negative, for instance, before Adam’s fall is that it is “not good” for the man to be alone. He needed his other—his helpmate—to be invested with God’s relational life. God allowed Adam to feel his need for another of the same kind before he met that need with Eve. He took her out of Adam and made her distinct from him yet ever dependent on him; and he ever dependent on her. This “I-and-other” reality of our creation sets up our joy in loving and being loved. It reveals God’s being.
The covenantal marriage love of God is offered at many points in the Bible. In Isaiah 54:5 for instance: “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name”; or in Jeremiah as God spoke through the prophet, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness . . .” (in 2:1) which is followed by God’s grief, “‘You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ declares the LORD” (3:1). Yet in Hosea the call is given for the faithless nation to return to God, their cuckolded husband.
So here is a call to all genuine believers: as lovers of God let us respond to him with the devotion of a beloved bride. And let’s discard the variety of commercial or contractual versions of Christianity that treat faith as a disaffected responsibility rather than as a delighted response. I can promise you this: He, too, will be delighted!