This morning the long wait for the Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage came to an end. In two separate cases – concerning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 – the court ruled in a way already being described as a victory for same-sex marriage. Commentary is swirling in the news and social media, and doubtless this will only increase in days to come.
But for those of us who still believe in traditional marriage – the vast majority of the world’s population – today’s ruling changes nothing. It’s time to take a step back from the political and emotional fever surrounding this issue. As people of faith and as a nation, we need to get back to basics on marriage.
We Are Here For a Purpose
In the Judeo-Christian tradition – the great source of our civilization and laws – marriage is far from a secondary issue. In fact, it makes its appearance in the very first chapter of the Bible:
God said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness to rule the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all wild animals on earth, and all reptiles that crawl upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him, male and female. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:26–28 RSV)
In the story of creation we read that God created male and female in his own image. He blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and to care for the earth. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
In the face of those who dismiss the story of creation as a myth, we need to find its inner meaning. We need to treasure the fact that both man and woman were formed in the image of God. This sets us apart from the rest of creation and makes each human life sacred.
We know this because something inside each of us cries out against the idea that we were hatched by a purposeless universe. Deep within the human spirit is a thirst for what is lasting and imperishable.
Bearers of Eternity
What does being created “in God’s image” mean? It means we are a living picture of who God is. It means that we belong to him, and should further his work of creating and nurturing life. We should always remain close to God. The moment we separate ourselves from him, we lose sight of our purpose here on earth.
Since we are made in God’s image, we will not vanish like smoke at the end of our lives. God has set eternity into our hearts, and deep within each of us is a longing for God. If we deny this and live only for the present, everything that happens to us will bring great confusion.
This is especially true in the sexual area. Casual sex desecrates the soul’s yearning for what is eternal. Our conscience will respond painfully whenever the soul is wounded. As I’ve experienced repeatedly in my forty years of counseling couples and individuals, every person has a conscience which will guide us ever more clearly the more we listen to it.
In the second chapter of Genesis, marriage remains squarely at the center of the story. When God created Adam, he saw that it was not good for man to be alone. So he created woman to be a helpmate and partner to man. This is a mystery: man and woman – the masculine and the feminine – belong together as a picture of who God is, and both can be found in him.
It is a tragedy in today’s society that the differences between man and woman are blurred and distorted. The image of God is being destroyed. There is endless talk about women’s equality, but actually women are abused and exploited more than ever before. Everywhere the ideal woman (and increasingly, the ideal man) is portrayed as a mere sex object.
Marriages are no longer regarded as sacred. They are seen as experiments between two people who measure everything in terms of their own emotional and sexual fulfillment. When marriages fail, there is the option of no-fault divorce, and after that a new attempt at marriage with a new partner. Many people no longer even bother to make promises of faithfulness, but rather just cohabitate. It is this selfish culture without moral moorings that has prepared the way for same-sex marriage – something nobody would have dreamed of just a few decades ago.
Churches and religious communities have failed miserably in addressing this situation. We must ask ourselves, “Why did God create man and woman in the first place?” God has set a specific task for every man, woman, and child on this earth, a task he expects us to fulfill. No one can disregard his purpose for creation or for himself without suffering deep inner harm.
The Way Forward
Fundamentally each of us still yearns for wholeness and goodness. For all of us, including those who experience same-sex attractions, a fulfilled and truly happy life is possible since God created us and has a plan for us. He is the giver of life, love, and mercy. As we read in the Gospel of John, God sent his son not to condemn the world, but to save it.
Jesus is the perfect image of God, and he brings us life, joy, and fulfillment. Only when our lives are lived in him can we experience his truth and goodness, and only in him can we find our true destiny: to live in his spirit, which is the creative, life-giving spirit of love.
This article is adapted from Sex, God & Marriage by Johann Christoph Arnold, who has been a pastor for over 40 years.