Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The Meaning of Marriage
Marriage. I never thought that that word would ever be a buzz word in today's media--but it is. There is much controversy surrounding the meaning of this little word. For many, this word equals happiness and equality. It's one more victory in a long, difficult struggle for the right to become full-fledged members of society. For others, this word means tradition, the status quo, and the way things should be--between a man and a woman.
I have heard comparisons to the "Jim Crow" laws of the early 20th century in the South when Blacks were supposedly "equal but separate." Many gays and lesbians feel as though the word "civil union" has all the stigma of a black man being "equal" while at the same time being asked to sit at the back of the bus. This is an issue that I have spent much thought and have struggled to really understand what is at the heart of the issue. And if I were honest, I would have to say that I really have a hard time getting my mind around just why the Bible says homosexuality and gay marriage is wrong. It seems that if I just use reason and a little common sense, it is obvious that all people everywhere should have the exact same rights as others-no exceptions. So as a Christian man, this issue has torn me apart. There is no doubt that the Bible is clearly against the practice of homosexuality, but why? And why does a man have to marry a woman? Why can't two consenting adults who love each other and want to be exclusive get married--regardless of the sex? Why does being against this right seem so bull-headed and bigoted? These are the hard questions that go through my mind as I think about this issue. So I did a little digging.
Ironically, I found the answer written in the law of Moses--and its not what you might think. No this is the story of Moses:
10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah,  where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.(ESV) Numbers 20:10-13
Wow. I've always had a hard time with how harshly God dealt with Moses. I mean all he did was get a little frustrated. No promise land! Seriously? Now before I get off track, let me give you some context. This incident comes right after the people of Israel escape the land of Egypt and now they are left to wander the desert with no food or water. So God tells Moses to "speak to the rock." But instead, Moses strikes the rock twice. The reason this is so crucial in understanding what is going on here is that God is trying to show the people something. He wants to show them a picture of what was to come. In an earlier episode, when miraculously crossing the Red Sea, Moses was commanded to strike the rock in order to create a land bridge across the divided waters to get to the promised land. God was demonstrating (as He so beautifully does) that Christ, the rock, would be struck, but then would become the bridge from death to life--from imminent danger to being rescued; from the land of slavery into the land of freedom. This was a prophetic picture of what Christ would one day do for us on the cross. And Moses obeyed the Lord.
And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Numbers 20:6b-8
So when God told Moses to speak to the rock, God intended to demonstrate that Christ is the wellspring from which our life is to be found in the midst of a dry and thirsty land. But when Moses struck the rock twice, this distorted the beautiful picture God was creating. Instead of showing how God would speak to us through Christ, the rock and source of living water, he struck the rock again. Christ was to die only once for all and this was fulfilled when Jesus exclaimed those famous words, "It is finished." So this is why God could not let Moses into the promised land. He had misrepresented Yahweh when He revealed Himself to be a gracious and forgiving God who would one day eradicate the penalty for sin (including the sin of Moses). This is how seriously God takes His own character. And nothing has changed today. God hates when He is misrepresented; when His picture is distorted leaving His people confused and even rebellious toward Him.
So what in the world does this have to do with marriage? Well, believe it or not--much. In the same way that God was painting a picture of what Christ would accomplish for us on the cross, God also was framing a picture of what we would be to Christ in the New Testament; namely His bride.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.(ESV) Ephesians 5:22-33
This was God's plan for marriage from the beginning. And I know this because of verse 31, which is a direct quote from Genesis 2:24--"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife." God invented marriage to put Christ, the husband of His bride the church, on display--Not the other way around. My marriage is to mirror this. My marriage to my wife is only as good as how much it reflects this reality. As I love my wife as Christ love His church, I put on display the glory of Christ's love for his bride and His great sacrifice for her. That's heavy. And as I thought about it, I realized just how much I fall short of this. I thought about how selfish I am and how poor a reflection I can be of Christ, the Husband. And for this, I have much to repent. I pray that I and all of God's people would live to reflect back the image that God is revealing to us--His humility in taking upon Himself the punishment that I deserve; and do it all for Love's sake. So anytime any marriage fails to do this, we distort God's picture--His beautiful, sacrificial, and forbearing picture of love for us.
So then, it is no wonder that God is displeased with any marriage that does not reflect His nature, character and love. When I angrily speak to my wife, just as Moses angrily struck the rock because of the people, I distort God's message to the world. When a man marries a woman and then neglects to love her, care for her, and give sacrificially for her, he dishonors the Lord who demonstrated this very kind of love when he bore our shame and died our death on the cross. So the next question is, "When a man marries a man or a woman marries another woman, do they distort the picture of Christ and His bride?"
This is a more complicated question, but it is not without precedence. I would compare it to the Trinity, God in three persons. God has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, Son and Spirit. This is who He says He is. Can we then pray, "Our Mother who is in heaven?" There are some who would say yes. And although God certainly has maternal characteristics, to call God something other than what He has revealed is presumption. We do not have the right, as creatures to dictate to God how we should relate to Him. If I wanted to think of God as my little brother (in an affectionate way), this might show some affection and closeness to God, but He is not my little brother and it does not properly represent the way God has shown Himself to me. And just as He told Moses,"You did not uphold me as Holy," I must also relate to God as He is and not as I want Him to be. This is so crucial in just about everything we do in this life. But this same Holy God, has chosen to reveal Himself, through His Son Jesus, as Savior and Lover of my soul. And God, the Father, has chosen to call me His son. And I am to live as His son and by the power of His Spirit because this is the way God designed me to thrive--in His strength and not in my own. This is far better than any brother I could have. God has promised to be to us whatever our circumstances call for Him to be--but as He has revealed Himself. So when God chooses to make man and woman for the purpose of one day showing Himself to be Husband to His church, I cannot argue. I mean I suppose I can, but only in vain and to my own dismay and misery.
So homosexual marriage is not the main issue. The main issue is Christ and His bride. We make it about us. Heterosexual marriages more frequently displease God because they are more common and often do not reflect God's original design. Marriage as portrayed in the media also distorts the true meaning of marriage with all of its frivolous portrayals on soap operas, sitcoms, and reality shows. The mere right to marry pales in comparison with the deep meaning behind it. Marriage is sacred to God because He has chosen to reveal His love toward us through it. And when we fail to be as caring and loving as God in our marriages, we tell the world that God is like us--hypocritical and less than perfect. Although we will always fall short of God's glory and love this side of heaven, we cannot grow weary in becoming more like our Savior who bought us. This thought has been revolutionary in the way I understand God and the way I should live my life. Now, of course, if the Bible does not define for us what marriage is, then we are left to wonder just exactly what that little word should mean. Then we change it just like we change our clothes that are out of style. We adapt to what everyone else is wearing. But that kind of life is like chasing after the wind. We don't have to live that way. We can live as we were designed to live--as the bride of Christ our Savior.
©2010 by Justin Garcia