What is marriage? (Matthew 19)

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

I’m speaking this weekend on marriage and divorce. I’m not an especially romantic man (shocked, I’m sure) but spending all week thinking about Jesus’ words on marriage have reminded me afresh of the amazing institution that I get to participate in.

We were young (maybe too young) when we got married. I was 22, she was 21. I didn’t know myself. I was 22. Yet I committed that the me that would be in 30 or 40 years from then would love the her that would be 30 or 40 years from then. As I think about how wrong that could have gone, I shudder. I feel enormously grateful that the woman I married has only become more loving, gracious, wise, brilliant, and beautiful with time.

But what if she had not? What if she had become petulant, grumpy, bitter, and cutting?  (I certainly am aware that I could have turned that way myself, too).  Now, you might think that this could be avoided by delaying marriage until 24 or 30 (or 40). But do we ever know who we will be in 30 years? Why make a lifelong commitment at all?

I have looked at a variety of statistics this week on divorce, and while they might differ on the exact extent, they all basically agree that divorce is widespread in both the general culture and the Christian community, suggesting that a great many people cannot (or at least do not) fulfill the “til death do us part” vow they made. These statistics (“50% of marriages end in divorce!”) create fear that often leads to defensiveness – we feel compelled to “protect” marriage, afraid that our children will see our example and abandon an institution God created in the earliest human relationship.  (Nevermind that humans in all places at all times have married, we must protect it!)

C.S. Lewis once said that a sign the gospel is true is that it has that peculiar quality that only true things have, that it is too odd to have been invented. It seems marriage is the same way. It is too odd of an institution, with too great of a natural pull, to have any origin other than from the divine. And if that is true, we must not be so silly as to put ourselves in a position of authority over it.