Marriage isn’t God’s idea?
What if marriage in the Bible isn’t God’s idea? What if marriage in the present moment also isn’t necessarily God’s idea? What if we’re only close, but still don’t get the cigar? What if marriage as we know it isn’t an “institution” set up by him but rather a response to a human institution? What if God just takes what we give him and uses it to further his purposes while transforming it in the process? Any sacred act that was ratified and set up by him in the Old Testament (circumcision, sacrifice, herem, etc) and Christ in the N.T. (communion, baptism, etc) was in the context of a cultural meme that already existed in the wider world or was hi-jacked from the wider world and reformulated for God’s or Christ’s purposes.
As such, this would mean that God didn’t come up with marriage as we understand it as much as it was a natural outcome, stemming from evolving interactions between the sexes. We need to look at how differently marriage has been understood throughout different cultures and eras. If we look at the way people married in the Bible, the concept of a “Biblical marriage” definitely finds itself on a spectrum of definition rather than having a foundational definition. What if God then infiltrates these sacred interactions we as humans create with his character and then re-tells the story of marriage for his own purposes? Result – the story of marriage in human (and Biblical) cultures would never have been his idea, but actually our idea. He just tells a much better story than we do, evolving what we think marriage is to what God wants it to be, allowing us to arrive closer and closer to his ideal, but never fully arriving.
And if we are tempted to reify our current understanding of marriage by believing his ideal is what we have in the Western world in the 21st century, we just need to do a few things to back up off of that.
1. Look at our divorce rates and see how well we are doing with our current understanding of marriage (religious and non-religious people).
2. Realize that Christians around the world practice marriage in very different ways, even if they agree upon certain aspects.
3. Lastly and most importantly, read the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:30 – “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” If we hold to the fact that the New Creation is the most ideal description of God’s design for his Creation (I do), then the most ideal way for the sexes to relate to each other has to be after the resurrection, not before. Many argue that marriage is defined by how man and woman were created in the Garden of Eden. The problem is that, while foundational, marriage in the First Creation is not God’s ultimate ideal according to Matthew 22:30. Also, if we look to Eden as the ideal status for creation, we run into three problems.
1. Adam and Eve had the possibility of opposing God and introducing distortion into Creation before they ever chose to disobey, i.e. they didn’t need a sin nature to sin. This was because God introduced an element (the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil) that gave theme the ability to disobey. Because they could disobey, before any sin nature was present in them, they themselves did not have an ideal status – As far as we know, this will not be the case in the New Creation – we won’t be able to disobey and won’t have the opportunity to do so.
2. Eve had the ability to misinterpret God’s words (heresy for some) before she even disobeyed God. Therefore she suffered from being confused. As far as we know, the ability for confusion about the nature of God will not be possible in the New Creation.
3. Before Adam and Eve ever disobeyed, there was already a person who both had access to God’s not-so-ideal Garden and who could oppose God’s design by leading Eve to question God’s design and disobey. As far as we know, the ability for those who oppose God to enter the New Creation will will not be possible (Rev. 21:27).
The End is Better Than the Beginning
Teleological ethics – the belief that we should orient our ethics towards what our future goal is and work backwards from there.
If we believe that God’s design for the New Creation is his ideal as far as we can see into the future, then we have to believe that it is better than the First Creation and that ultimately the First Creation was not God’s ultimate ideal for Creation, just where he wanted to begin. In fact, it was good, very good but then was supposed to get even better. This compels us to accept a “trajectory of idealism” starting with the First Creation, not ending with the First Creation – as if we were meant to return to an Edenic state. Eden has within it the ability to sin, to learn, to misinterpret, to grow, etc. While we will continue to learn in the New Creation, we won’t have the ability to distort that which is good, to be confused or to disobey. It will be a better Creation than the First.
But What About “One Flesh”?
When it comes to marriage and the First Creation, some rightly point to Jesus’s words in Mark 10:1-12 where Jesus clearly states in in verse 6-8;
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
But if we follow up Mark 10 with Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:30, we realize that while Jesus was initially referring to how marriage might be understood via the First Creation, it is not understood in the same way when reach the Second or the New Creation. Not only that, but in Mark, Jesus is dealing with questions about divorce, whereas in Matthew he is closer to the topic at hand by discussing the very nature of marriage in context of the Resurrection, a definition that will evolve into something very different than what we understand marriage to be presently. That means, that God’s ideal for marriage does not end with the First Creation but is on a trajectory pointing towards what we will experience in the New Creation. God’s ideal is that NO ONE WILL MARRY AND NO ONE WILL BE GIVEN IN MARRIAGE.
Therefore, is our present understanding of marriage God’s ideal? I can’t say that it is as I read the Bible. Is it a bad idea? Nope, but it is not God’s best nor does it come close to what He eventually will want for us or what we will want for each other.