The nature of marriage has been under attack since the Fall – but particularly in the last 100 years as culture norms have challenged Biblical patterns for marriage.
Western society used to think biblical marriage was a good idea, and that divorce, adultery, pre-marital sex, cohabitation; serial monogamy and same sex marriage were bad ideas.
Now, by and large, we don’t question that they are sometimes necessary evils, or even that some of them are moral imperatives. We know people who have been told they’re foolish for not living together before marriage (I was!). Our media has their clear agenda (which doesn’t favour a Biblical view of Marriage). And the debate over same sex marriage rages on in our communities and parliament.
In 2003 the UN released its research into Global marriage and Divorce Trends (the last time the commissioned a report) and concluded:
- the Marriage rate has declined
- the Age of marriage has risen
- Fertility rates have reduced
- the Divorce rate has risen
- And co-habituation rates (in developing countries has risen)
And research that the Australian Government (not the church) released in 2008 looking at the five-year outcome of co-habituating couples suggest that a staggering 50-55% of defacto couples separate.
Christians have been affected by this in many ways.
Our understanding of the purpose of marriage in God’s creation helps us think about Christian marriage, and in turn a Christian response.
Christopher Ash, a good writer when it comes to thinking about a biblical view of marriage says this:
Marriage is the voluntary sexual and public social union of one man and one woman from different families.This union is patterned upon the union of God with his people his bride, the Christ with his church. Intrinsic to this union is God’s calling to lifelong exclusive sexual faithfulness. (Ash, ‘Marriage, Sex in the Service of God’, page 63)
How does a definition like Christopher Ash’s arise? , and just as importantly, who gets to say that the definition is right?
Worth asking particularly when the idea of marriage is very much up for grabs.
- Why can’t you have a man and a man, or a woman and a woman,
- or for that matter a brother and a sister or a father and a daughter
- or three men, who love each other and are prepared to break social taboos to make their particular form of marriage relationship work?
The only defensible answer is the Bible’s understanding that marriage is a gift from God.
It’s no good arguing for traditional understandings of marriage on the grounds that it is traditional. Lots of things are traditional, like cannibalism and warfare; and even good traditions can be rewritten to highlight the bad bits.
It won’t do to argue that the law defines marriage, because the law can be changed and in many parts of the world that is exactly what has happened.
And as Christians we don’t want to argue sociologically, at least we don’t want to rest our case there, because we believe the issues are theological and moral.
Statistics may well show that faithful monogamy makes for happier parents, happier children and happier sex lives but using the ‘end justifies means’ argument really leaved us on shaky ground because the same argument that justifies good behaviour can be used to justify villainous behaviour.
And so we go to the early chapters of Genesis for our understanding of marriage as God has given it. We look at the intrinsic nature of marriage as it was first created.
Marriage where man is created as male and female, and marriage is ordained with the words…Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
The nature of marriage the way God created it, is demonstrated every time a man and woman leave their families of origin and join together as one new family.
Next post – The Purpose of Marriage: Togetherness