That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Marriage is sacred. In the Old Testament, the prophets use it to describe God’s relationship with his people Israel: “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Hos. 2:19–20). God reveals his love to all people in a special way in the unique bond between husband and wife.
Marriage is more than living happily together.
In the New Testament, marriage is used as a symbol for the unity of Christ with his church. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is compared to a bridegroom, and in Revelation we read that “the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
It is not without significance that Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding; clearly, he had great joy in marriage. Yet it is equally clear that to Jesus, marriage is a holy matter. He takes it so seriously that he speaks with uncompromising sharpness against even the slightest step toward its destruction: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:6).
We can see from Jesus’ sharpness what a horror adultery is in the eyes of God. The whole Bible protests against it, from the books of the Prophets, where the idol worship of the children of Israel is called adultery (Jer. 13:25–27), to Revelation, where we read of God’s wrath against the harlot. When the bond of marriage is broken, love – the unity of spirit and soul between two – is broken and smashed, and not only between the adulterer and his spouse, but between himself and God.
In our present-day culture, the institution of marriage is on the brink of disaster. It is no longer understood as an inviolable union of one man and one woman who serve one another until death parts them. Much of what is called love is nothing but selfish desire. Even in marriage many couples live together selfishly. People are deceived in thinking that fulfillment can be found without sacrifice and faithfulness, and even though they may live together, they are afraid to forgo their personal freedoms and love each other unconditionally.
Still, amid millions of floundering and ruined marriages, God’s love stands eternal and cries out for constancy and devotion. There is a voice deep within each of us, however muffled, that calls us back to faithfulness. On some level, all of us yearn to be united – with free and open hearts – to somebody, to some other “thou.” And if we turn to God in the trust that such unity with another is possible, we can find the fulfillment of our longing.
True fulfillment comes from giving ourselves in love to another person. Yet love does not only seek to give; it also longs to unite. If I really love another person, I will be interested in knowing what is in him and willing to be led out of my one-sidedness. In love and humility I will help him to the possibility of a full awakening, first toward God, and then toward others. True love is never possessive. It always leads to the freedom of faithfulness and purity.
In the love and unity of the church it is possible to become of one spirit with every brother and sister, and also to become of one heart and soul with them (Acts 4:32). In the faithfulness between a husband and wife, however, God’s eternal faithfulness is especially manifested, for it is God who brings every true marriage bond together. In God’s unfailing love we find the strength to let love flow through our lives, and to let our gifts unfold for each other – in good times and in bad.
Sexual love can give God’slove visible form.
There is a difference between the love of an engaged or married couple and the love among other men and women. Nowhere is a person more dependent on another than in marriage. There is a special joy in the heart of a married person when the beloved is near; and even when separated, there is a unique bond between them. Through the intimate relationship of marriage, something takes place which may even show in a couple’s faces. As von Gagern says, “Often it is only through his wife that the husband becomes truly a man; and through her husband that the wife gains true womanhood.”1
In a true marriage, each partner seeks the fulfillment of the other. By complementing each other, the union between husband and wife is enhanced. In their love for one another, through their faithfulness to one another, and in their fruitfulness, husband and wife reflect God’s image in a mysterious and wonderful way.
In the unique bond of marriage we discover the deeper meaning of becoming one flesh. Obviously to become one flesh means to become united physically and sexually, but it is far more than that! It is a symbol of a man and a woman bound and melted together, heart, body, and soul, in mutual giving and total oneness.
When husband and wife become one flesh, they are no longer two, but actually one. Their union is the fruit of more than companionship or partnership; it is the deepest intimacy. As Friedrich Nietzsche writes, it is brought about by “the resolve of two to create a unity which is more than those who created it. It is reverence for one another and for the fulfillment of such a resolve.”2
Only in this reverence and oneness does marriage fulfill the demands of the sexual conscience. Through the will to have children, to be fruitful and to multiply, and through the togetherness that reflects the unity of God with his creation and his people, marriage gives visible form to God’s outpouring love.
When god is at the center of a marriage, full unity of heart, soul, and body Is possible.
In God’s order of marriage there are at least three different levels of experience. The first, most wonderful level is unity of spirit: the oneness of heart and soul in God. In this oneness we can have community not only with our spouse but with all believing persons. The second level is unity of emotion: the current of love from one heart toward another that is so strong that a person can, so to speak, hear the heartbeat of another. The third level is physical unity: the expression of oneness found when two bodies are fused in perfect union.
Too many couples today are content with the third level alone, or perhaps the second. A marriage based only on the physical and emotional is doomed to disappointment. Even though waves of emotional or physical attraction are natural, they can leave deep wounds if they are not placed under Christ. Not long ago a woman I know told me that she and her husband had only joined my congregation because they wanted to have a church wedding – not because they were interested in committing their lives to God. “My husband and I never talked about God’s vision for our lives, or about what we wanted before or after our marriage,” she writes. “We were not on the same wave-length.” Now her husband has deserted her and their five children. It has become painfully clear to her that because their commitment to each other was not grounded in Christ, she and her husband lacked a solid, lasting foundation for their marriage.
If a marriage is to be truly healthy, it must be founded in the order of God – on unity of spirit, heart, and soul. Most people today, including those of us who claim to be Christians, have no idea how much God has prepared for those who truly love and honor him. When we embrace God’s design for our relationships, we will experience God’s blessings. The experiences of the heart that God can give in a true engagement or marriage are greater than we can imagine. Too many of us live only in the world of the senses – of sleeping, eating, and drinking – and never take time to really turn to what is much more vital: our inner life. This is also true in so many marriages today. Sex is the focal point, and often unity of heart is not even sought or mentioned. Is it any wonder that so few couples remain faithful to each other for life?
Anyone who has lived near the ocean knows something of nature’s power in the pull of high and low tides. In marriage, as in friendship, there are high and low tides. When a relationship is at low ebb, it is all too easy for us to lose patience, to distance ourselves from our partner, and even to abandon efforts toward a renewal of love. When God is at the center, we can turn to him and find faith and strength even at our lowest ebb.
The more we reflect the image of God in which we are created, the more strongly will we sense that God must remain our center, and that his commandments are fitting for us. We will sense that his commandments are not laid on us as alien laws and commands. Rather, we will see that they are in keeping with our true nature as created in his image. But the more we betray and desecrate God’s image within us, the more his rulership will appear to us as some- thing foreign, a moral compulsion that crushes us.
To be fruitful for each other, by complementing each other in love, and to be fruitful with each other in bearing children – it is these purposes that make marriage blessed and holy, and a joy in heaven. Even so, in the story of the creation, along with God’s command to “be fruitful” comes a blessing: his gift of woman as a partner to the first man. In giving man and woman this gift, it is as if God is saying, “My image lives in you.” Whenever we approach marriage, we must consider this with great reverence. In every person and in every marriage lives the potential for a genuine expression of the image of God.3
1. Friedrich E. F. von Gagern, Der Mensch als Bild: Beiträge zur Anthropologie, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Josef Knecht, 1955), 32. Von Gagern (b. 1914) was a German Catholic psychiatrist.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 1961), 95.
3. Der Mensch als Bild, 33–34.