What does marriage mean?

Stained Glass Panel, Betrothal of Adam and Eve, late 14th century, Germany

Stained Glass Panel, Betrothal of Adam and Eve, late 14th century, Germany

The United States Supreme Court dealt a strong blow to marriage this week with its decisions on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. While there is much to be concerned about, we need to remember that the human desire to twist marriage for our own selfish purposes is not new.

Matthew 19:3-8 describes when Jesus was asked about divorce. The Pharisees, trying to trap him, asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

Jesus’ response is so critical to the debates of today. When asked about easy divorce, Jesus didn’t give a direct answer, but he did give a simple one. He pointed back to the very beginning of our created being and proclaimed the truth that lay at the heart of some of the most beautiful words in Scripture.

No matter what fallen people try to make of marriage now or in the future, it can always only be the intimate, faithful, self-giving mutual love of a man and a woman. This cannot be redefined, because humans cannot alter what God has ordained anymore than they can change the color of their hair. Lady Gaga may color her hair pink, but everyone can plainly see how false it is. No person, no matter how celebrity-crazed he may be, believes her hair is real.

So, too, with marriage. Our cultural elites and politicians may try to force a definition of marriage that isn’t true to the created and natural order. People may feel pressured into going along with this, but deep down the simple truth of biology will win out.

Our task as Christians, however, is to offer a deeper witness than mere biological reality. We must also explain that the God-given definition of marriage cannot change because it serves as an enduring symbol of the love God has for his people. The Bible is a story about marriage. It begins with the marriage of a man and woman and ends with the marriage of God and his people. The devil knows marriage is meant to point us to God; this is why marriage has been under such attack in our nation for the past 40 years.

The protection and preservation of natural marriage must be among our highest priorities as people of God. Our clear, compelling and loving witness is needed especially in an age in which “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:11-12, ESV).

Jesus’ words accurately describe this generation and also give us a charge for moving forward. If the love of many has grown cold, we must continue to rekindle that love in our own hearts and in the hearts of others through our witness and sacrifice. First, we must repent of our own sins and allow the Holy Spirit to warm our hearts toward God. Only then are we able to pour out these renewed hearts on our families and communities and even upon those who hate and persecute us.

This, like many in Scripture, is a hard saying, but Christ assures us that with God all things are possible. And I trust the voice of my Creator.