The Audacity of Our Marriage Vows
When we’re young, we really have no idea…
When we’re young and on the cusp of so many important life decisions, we are filled with this crazy blend of courage, self-confidence, idealism, and naivete.
Take having children, for example: Did my wife and I know what to do with this seven pound human being that we took home from the hospital? Where was the instruction manual? How could we teach this child to know and love and serve the Lord?
Another example of a massive commitment that I made long ago is marriage. One fine summer’s day in 2001, Rebecca and I made our commitment to each other. I promised to love and guide her, to care for her and live with her in holiness. She promised to love and obey me, to assist me, and to live with me in holiness.
Then toward the end of those marriage vows, we both agreed to do all these important things, “for as long as we both shall live.”
Had we really thought about that line, reflected on what it actually meant?
We knew, of course, that marriage is for life, that God designed it to be a permanent bond between us. But what did we know about all the implications for the coming years? We were young, confident, idealistic, naïve.
Facing the Future
Maybe it’s just me who did these things without a firm grasp on what it all meant. Or perhaps not. If you’re married, then one fine day, ten or forty years ago, you too, made your commitment to each other, saying you’d be a faithful husband or a faithful wife, “for as long as you both shall live.”
It’s a promise that we make in a passing moment, but then we have to work with that commitment every single day, for the rest of our life. Once all the guests have gone home, you and your spouse will be living with the consequences of what you’ve done for perhaps the next 50 years.
Now, perhaps it’s good that we don’t really know what we’re getting into when we get married. When we overthink something, we get worried about all the potential outcomes and disasters. There’s a good reason that Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 not to worry. It is God’s mercy then, that we do have the courage to enter into life-altering commitments like marriage or parenthood.
So how should we look at our marriages in terms of being a life-long commitment before God? We’re familiar with the institution of marriage, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Sometimes we can be so familiar with a text like this that we miss some key details, though they’re obvious.
Obvious Detail #1: Marriage is established in Genesis 2, and the fall into sin takes place in Genesis 3. In other words, marriage was part of God’s perfect intention for this world, before all the ruin and misery that resulted from our rebellion.
Obvious Detail #2: This means that man and woman were always meant to enjoy each other forever. Because of sin, there is the brokenness and divorce and death that bring our marriages to grief. But God’s intent was that marriage be without end. Adam and Eve were to lead one life together, fully shared, dwelling in the presence of God forever as they pushed the boundaries of the beautiful garden into all the world.
The Great Divorce
But Genesis 3 follows Genesis 2. And it’s striking that a breakdown in relationship is closely tied to what happens in the fall. The woman is tempted by the serpent, but the man, seemingly standing right there, says nothing.
And once sin invades, there is immediate recrimination, the man accusing the woman, the woman accusing the serpent and the LORD, and so on.
This relational hostility is basic to life on earth. In the aftermath of that first sin, God says that the woman’s desire shall be for her husband—that is, she will want to contest and challenge his leadership—and that he shall rule over her (Gen 3:16).
So here’s the real reason for our broken promises, shouting matches, resentments, separations, divorces, and all manner of marital tragedies: we are given over to the misery of sin. The permanence of marriage suddenly appears to be vain hope.
Without having peace with God, we soon sabotage the peace that we desire with one another. A recent study showed that the average marriage in this country lasts for 12.2 years. So if you have been married for longer than that, take a moment to thank God for his grace. It’s not because of your doing or your determination, but his faithfulness.
For God is gracious. He hasn’t given up on marriage. I love how Jesus reminds the Pharisees about God’s good and permanent intention for marriage. They were asking him about the lawfulness of divorce. And Jesus, rather than get sucked into a debate over legalities, answers by pointing them back to the beginning: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matt 19:8).
Marriage was never meant to be ended, torn apart by our sinfulness and hardheartedness.
Yet here we are. We live in a post-fall world, a reality which affects everything we do, including marriage. It’s the union of two people who both love each other very much, but who both have a very serious and chronic problem: sin.
Marriage means that two selfish ‘me’s’ have to start learning to think like one unified ‘us.’ They seek to build a new life together.
And that is hard work! So are we willing to do the work?
More on that next time.