Over the past few months, Mrs Phil and I have been watching through “House, M.D.” If you’ve never watched the series before, I can recommend it – it is pretty compelling! That said, some of the time it is a bit frustrating: the series as a general rule seems to buy into many of the popular misconceptions about relationships. One which particularly irks me is the idea that relationships seem to be totally in the hands of fate – “let’s get together and see how it works out.” Which is perhaps fair enough for a while, but after a few years – and even after getting married? No, that’s not how it works.
I think all of this has got to me a bit more than usual because last year I read Tim Keller’s excellent book on marriage, and then earlier this year I read John Piper’s book “This Momentary Marriage” (which is also excellent, and currently available as a free PDF from that link). Couple that with the government’s discussions to redefine marriage and it seems that this year I’ve been thinking about marriage quite a lot! What does marriage mean? What does it teach us?
There are two things that pushed me into writing this blog post. The first is these thoughts on marriage by my friend Phil. There he explains that marriage is a sort of picture of what God’s love is like for us. The fact is that God doesn’t promise to love us while it’s convenient for him. He doesn’t promise to ‘see how it goes’ in our relationships. He doesn’t desert us if we change / don’t change / don’t love him as we should. His love is a faithful love, a covenant love which is rooted in his character and not in our deservedness.
The second thing which prompted me to write was reading Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian for class last week. In it, Luther talks about marriage as an illustration of God’s grace. I’m sure I’ve quoted this before on this blog, but it’s worth quoting again because it’s sublime! here, he is talking about the church being presented as the ‘bride of Christ’:
Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace?
Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine;” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” (Cant. ii. 16.)
Isn’t that amazing? Marriage is far more than just two people wanting to spend there lives together. Marriage is the illustration God has given to us of the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is the point the apostle Paul makes in Ephesians 5:31-32: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” And in Revelation, we read this about the end times: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2) The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, symbolic of God’s people, and God dwelling with his people for all eternity.
The point of all this, coming back to what I was originally saying, is that it gets to me when I see terrible relationship advice like that on House. Not only is it not going to be bad for those who take it, but it spoils the beautiful picture God has given us of his covenant and grace.
Seeing marriage as more than just a human thing has led me to working harder at my own marriage, and encourages me to keep going even through difficult times. And it points us towards the day when the marriage of Christ and his church will one day be complete.