Guest blog by my good friend, Rev. Bryan L. Rabon. Enjoy.
In Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro it is said of the protagonist’s lover that she “had had a husband and children, who had taken lovers and been dissatisfied with them, and who loved him dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession.” What is reflected in Hemingway’s portrayal of the impetus for marriage is that its primary purpose is to satisfy us; to make us happy. That sentiment, for that is all that it is, mere sentiment, is reflected in our western culture at large. It finds itself at odds with the Biblical purpose for marriage.
In the opening chapters of Genesis we are confronted by the special and exalted place that humanity occupies in creation. Man is created in the very image of God (1:26, 27) and commanded to fill the earth with that image. What must not be overlooked is the key role this command plays in the theme of Genesis. Not only is it issued to Adam and Eve but to Noah (9:1) and to Jacob (35:11). This repeated command is accompanied by the division of humanity into two lines, one godly, one ungodly, the line of Seth and the line of Cain. As Francis Schaeffer points out in Genesis in Space and Time, “The history of divided humanity develops from the two lines delineated in Genesis 4:16-24 (the line of Cain) and Genesis 4:25-5:32 (the line of Seth).” All together, the imago Dei, the command to fill the earth with the imago Dei, and the development of two distinct lines, points to the theme of Genesis which is God’s desire for godly followers. God wants to see His image reflected back to Him in what He has made.
In Genesis 2:4-25 we find that God has set man in the midst of the perfect environment, enabling him to thrive. What Adam lacks, however is the ability to procreate. God provides him with Eve eliciting from Adam this response “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (2:23) What follows in verses 24 and 25 is the purpose statement and one of the results of the creation of woman, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Thus it is that marriage plays a pivotal role in filling the earth with the image of God. As we read through the rest of Genesis we are confronted by the stark reality that the person whom one marries greatly affects the spiritual strength or weakness of the family.
Indeed a strong argument can be made that the reason for the flood was that the two lines, the godly and ungodly, had merged thus eradicating the godly line with the exception of Noah. Abraham would not allow Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau, on the other hand, married two Canaanite women and then one who was an Ishmaelite. Jacob married Rachel and Leah. The progenitors of the godly line were kept from marrying those in the ungodly line. Joseph is a notable exception as he did marry an Egyptian. All that is to say that in God’s plan, marriage is the cornerstone to perpetuating godly offspring and fulfilling God’s intended purpose for mankind.
How different this is from our culture’s view of marriage. In the minds of too many today marriage is just something else that exists to make us happy and when that happiness is not found in marriage it is easy to get out of it through no fault divorce. My purpose is not to heap guilt on those who have experienced divorce but rather highlight the Biblical importance of marriage and expose the faulty idea of what marriage is in our culture.
God designed marriage and by extension the family to promote His image in creation. We are to reflect who He is in relation to one another. God is first and foremost holy. Therefore if we are to reflect His image in our marriages they should promote holiness. As Gary Thomas wrote in his book Sacred Marriage, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? What if, as de Sales hints, we are to accept the ‘bitter juice’ because out of it we may learn to draw the resources we need with which to make ‘the honey of a holy life’?” This understanding of marriage is much closer to God’s intention for marriage than that of our fallen, self-centered, happiness driven culture. Tertullian, commenting on the Roman culture of his day wrote, “and as for divorce, they long for it as though it were the natural consequence of marriage.” Too many in our culture have adopted this same attitude. Too many in our churches have adopted the attitude of our culture.
Statistics reveal that a stable family life best fosters the development of faith in our children. After lengthy research Smith and Denton conclude “Parental separation and divorce are disruptive life course events that usually restructure relational networks and generally depress religious participation. Divorce and death of a parent can also precipitate emotional crises for parents and children alike, which can be expressed as resentment or anger toward God.” (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers). This only makes sense in light of God’s purpose for marriage; the propagation of godly offspring.
But divorce is not the only problem facing families today. Misplaced priorities, the pursuit of one’s own desires over the wellbeing of one’s spouse and family, lack of genuine affection, and in general the idolatry of the self are but some of the issues faced by every single family every day. When confronted with how sinful we are it should become readily apparent that marriage is not even capable of making us happy even some of the time. However, through the gospel of Christ, God can use it to make us holy.
So what does this mean for the average family and the local church? A Biblical vision of the family must be adopted if we are to accomplish God’s plan for the family. Instead of allowing the emotions to guide us as we search for a spouse we should instead allow our decisions to be informed and bounded by the Scripture’s description of what constitutes a godly mate. Passages such as Proverbs 31 and Ephesians 5 come to mind. Above all Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians to avoid being bound to unbelievers must guide our young people. Seek godly advice and counsel as you seek a spouse and if you have a godly marriage don’t hesitate to give counsel when it is sought, you may help someone head off a disaster in the making. The church has a responsibility to train up her young people as well as those who are older in God’s design for marriage.
The church’s loss of influence in our culture is often lamented but perhaps that influence has been lost because the church looks so much like the world when it comes to the family. If we really want to be able to speak the gospel into our culture our families must be gospel centered.