Friday, November 12, 2004

Significance of Marriage

As you may have picked up from one of my previous posts, my church is currently running a '40 Days of Purpose Campaign' based on the immensly popular book 'The Purpose Driven Life' by Rick Warren. I'm still making my way through the book so I'll let you know what I think of it when I'm done. What I wanted to bring up though was a thought that occurred to me as I pondered the similarities and differences between life on this Earth, and life afterwards. Even in the Bible details about life after death are quite sketchy and how you break down the difference between whatever Heaven is now and what things will be like with the "New Heaven and Earth" is still a bit of a puzzle to me, and rather than get side-tracked let me get to the point.

I think for some Christians existence on this Earth as it stands is a bit of a failed attempt. That is, God created everything well and perfectly in the beginning, but people sinned, messing it up and so God sent Christ to redeem His creation and get them off this Earth before it crashes and burns - perfecting them along the way for the 'new creation'. Fair enough. People have made a bit of a mess of things and the depth of evil on this planet sometimes amazes me. Humans are certaily imperfect and needing God's grace as He works to perfect us. However, over the past few days as I've wondered about the purposes of life here on Earth and of life afterwards, something struck me.

Matthew Chapter 22

23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.
"Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
Parallel passages can be found in Mark 12 and Luke 20.

Note that in my last paragraph I said I'd been wondering about 'purposes' - that's plural, and it's intentional. You see I think that whilst God has one overall purpose in creation, He has had two different purposes for life on this Earth and life afterwards. That is, life on the next Earth isn't simply what life should have been on this one. They both have different purposes within God's overall purpose. Considering this, I was forced to sit up and take notice of marriage.

On this earth, marriage, and the male-female relationship, has been and is perhaps the single most significant part of human existance. So much of society is built around it, is motivated by it, and is aimed towards it. From poetry to law, unity and war, the coming together of male and female has been written on fabric of human history. It is hard, perhaps impossible to think about life without it.

Now take another look at the above passage. Apparently,
marriage isn't going to be a part of 'life after Earth'. That strikes me as immensly significant. According to Genesis, humans were the pinnacle of God's creation. In that creative act He chose to make two different beings that were then to come together to become one, and in doing so, fill the earth with their own kind. They would be different from one another, and, complementing one another, they would learn from one another and need one another. This I think has been borne out through history with the two sexes struggling to understand one another, live with one another, yet absolutely unable to live without one another.

Looking back at the passage, it doesn't seem too much of a leap to think that in heaven God does not intend for the difference in gender to continue. I don't understand that. At times I've found myself almost complaining at God about the whole idea:

"Excuse me, God? Look, most of what I hear about heaven really doesn't sound too appealing...a bit boring actually. Especially the 'getting rid of marriage' thing. Women are wonderful. They offer so much joy, and peace, and pleasure. Marriage is quite possibly your best idea, and then it seems you intend to discontinue it? Erm...please God, hear my plea and let it continue, it's just a bit too fantastic not to."

Having said that, it seems that so many Christians would rather live all by themselves, "Just me and God, and forget the rest." That's another blog for another time though. Getting back to the issue at hand, if it truly is God's plan for us to leave our gender behind, could He not have done that already on this Earth - were the purposes of the two the same? God could have no doubt created us to be asexual and reproduce like amoeba; we could just grow lumps or something. Why then didn't He? Why did He create two different genders? Why did He set up marriage?

That's my question. My conundrum. When I look into the eyes of a girl I now find myself asking what is it that i have to learn from you? If we can both have the same relationship with God right now, and some time in heaven I will meet you and yet we'll be the same what is the purpose of all these feelings? Why the love, why the differences? Why the intoxication and the addiction? Why though we may be the same in some way, are we yet so different? Why girls? Why guys? Why marriage?

In fact, that leads to another question; what is marriage? I don't know that I can, or want to try to, answer it all right now. In my limited understanding though, I'd have to say that whilst most people would say marriage is all about love, I find that term too loose in this age. Instead, I find that my best understanding of marriage is that it is sacrifice and commitment, leading to joy and completion. From what I've learned of families, couples, marriages and divorces, marriage has less to do with the feeling of love and more to do with the decision to bless.

I used to visit a blessed and encouraging friend of mine who had a small card above her kitchen sink. It simply said, "Love is the desire to bless someone with everything you have". I think there's truth in that, though if I had to I might want to change it to, "Love is blessing someone with everything you have". You see, I think the feeling of love has more to do with yourself than it does with someone else. It remains self-centred, and time and experience have proven that such is no basis for marriage. For marriage to work it must be focused beyond yourself. The motivational frame-work of marriage is the commitment to work and make sacrifices to give one's life in order to bless another. Yet marriage is also so much more than that - for, any individual can do that for any other; mothers do it for their sons. Instead, marriage must be more, and I don't think I can adequately describe it all. It is completion, contrast, complement, fulfillment. It is the coming together of two very different beings, male and female, to make one. It is an action but I think it's also a picture.

Which leads me back to my question and the mystery of her magical eyes...why marriage? Why so significant? Why so powerful? Why now and not then?
Well, my ever-wise and to-the-point mother, when pressed with the question simply answered - God did have to populate heaven somehow! True, and one wonders whether there will be any further 'race-propagation' in life beyond Earth. Maybe not. This Earth could be the growth place of that which will live in Heaven.

Along with that, I think marriage is a picture. I think marriage shows us now what God intends for us then.
With one of the most amazing creations one could ever imagine, in all its complexity, beauty, sacrifice and glory, He's showing us amongst ourselves now, what we will then together share with Him. In creating marriage God made life on this earth an amazing experience. He allowed us to share in it with one another. To glory in it. Yet its significance is greater than society, life, joy and pleasure on Earth. The significance of marriage is eternal, and if we miss it, then we lose one of the greatest lessons given on Earth. Marriage is indeed a sacred thing. An amazing thing. Oh that we would all make the most of it, and cherish all of its facets.

As for my disappointment about Heaven, maybe I wont be disappointed after all.