There is the World, and There is the World with Marriage
By now I hope you’ve read Phil Lawler’s fine essay, To fix the American political system, first fix the American culture, where he indicates that the American Presidential election exit polls give us a clear sense of direction for the restoration of a culture of life. When I was on the phone with Phil comparing notes before we unleashed our post-election commentaries, he put the matter in an almost epigrammatic form:
The exit polls show that people who are married and who attend church regularly vote the right way. Therefore, our task is to get people married and back to church.
By voting the right way, of course, we mean voting in accordance with the moral values enshrined in the natural law, as clarified and reinforced by Divine Revelation. And Phil is absolutely right: The formula for a successful social order is very simple—to get people married and get them into church. Obviously, the formal repudiation of both God and our sexual nature creates enormous problems. But the issue is far broader than that. Simply “being spiritual” doesn’t cut it. Nor does merely “living together”. Both indicate a lack of significant, life-shaping commitment to the values which are inescapably rooted in both God and the natural complementarity of men and women. To put it once again in the simplest of terms, personal and social well-being demand that we get married and go to church.
What we are discussing is so important that it is perfectly right—and indeed very desirable—for most of us to ignore politics most of the time in favor of concentrating on these two critical elements of human flourishing. After all, success in everything requires us to form a culture in which these objectives are so highly regarded that any rationalization to explain them away will be considered ludicrous. So let us think carefully about how to promote these goods among our friends and neighbors, beginning immediately, in the current Year of Faith.
As it happens, God’s plan for marriage and church are two sides of the same coin. A survey of Scriptural references to marriage opens our eyes to a very deep reality, and provides a vital series of perspectives which, as opportunities arise, we can use to foster in others the life-changing commitments that matter most.
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of men and women yearn for a deep and lasting relationship, a spousal relationship through which they can share an irrevocable and utterly secure mutual lifelong commitment. There is something transcendent about the hopes with which we fall in love, even when we frustrate these hopes by holding part of ourselves in reserve lest we be hurt too much by potential failure. Sadly, this holding back becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“In the beginning”, as Scripture says, the transcendent fulfillment of these hopes was in fact deliberately rooted by God in the natural and supernatural aspects of marriage. In the very first chapter of Genesis, we learn of the supernatural dimension: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). Not only is God our Creator but, somehow, it is in the complementarity of male and female that God is most fully imaged; moreover, our being is unmistakably rooted in the very nature of God.
We also learn immediately of the natural fecundity of this Divine imaging: “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over…every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gn 1:28). And in the second chapter, this dual aspect, this natural fruitfulness in the image of the supernatural, is emphasized again: “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh,” (Gn 2: 23-24) fulfilling more perfectly the Divine image in their union.
All of this is echoed, and tied to its more broadly social dimensions, in the LORD’s counsel to the children of Israel when they were exiled in Babylon in the 6th century BC. I will quote at length here because we are about to capture at one and the same time a moment in history and the whole story of mankind. The results are astonishing:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream, for it is a lie which they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD. “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place [Jerusalem]. For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer 29:5-14)
This passage, in all its detail, must be understood as God’s plan not just for one specific instance of worldly exile and worldly restoration, but for the whole destiny of mankind. Marriage and church are already at the heart of the vision. “Take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage” and “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (marriage); and “pray to the LORD on its behalf” and “call upon me and come and pray to me” (church). These are set against the vain counsels and illusory promises of the false prophets who contradict the wisdom of God. Instead, marriage and church are joined, in obedience to our created nature and God’s express command, so that “when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found…and I will restore your fortunes…and bring you back” not just to Jerusalem or Washington or Paris, but to eternal love with God, Who alone creates and blesses and saves.
This initial Scriptural understanding of the natural and supernatural dimensions of marriage in the context of devotion to God is already something stupendous, something capable of dissipating our human fears and arresting our futile flights into selfishness, by opening us to the splendor of what it means to be human. But this initial understanding is by no means complete. Scripture goes higher and deeper still, especially when we come to the Song of Songs and the full Revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The completed vision is so wildly rich and wonderful that it is best to take it in small doses, with opportunities to reflect and internalize. This is exactly what I intend to do. In this matter of marriage and church, we have only just begun.
Next in series: Marriage in this World and the Next
All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!
Posted by: tjbenjamin -
Nov. 10, 2012 10:13 PM ET USA
I'm looking forward to future articles about marriage and church. Thank you!
Posted by: AgnesDay -
Nov. 09, 2012 3:49 PM ET USA
This was precisely the consolation God gave me when I begged for an indication that He is still with us. I am too old to bring forth sons and daughters, but I can be of help to those who can raise families. I hope that we will do this on a large scale, each according to our means.