I had the privilege this last weekend to officiate the wedding of one of my most cherished friends, and roommate of nearly four years.
The ceremony was as lovely as it was sacred, and for all of us fortunate enough to be involved in such an event, marriage has been thoroughly saturated on our minds.
As I have been musing marriage of late, a couple Scriptural texts seemed oddly relevant to matrimony.
Psalm 139: 16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Job 14: 5, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…”
These texts indicate that our deaths belong to God just as much as our lives do. In Scripture, we see that God is just as much in control of how our lives end as He is how they begin. No one dies a day later than God intended, and no one’s death catches God off guard, takes Him by surprise, and forces Him to rummage through His notes wondering where He went wrong in His calculations. God is sovereign over death.
To state the obvious, no one comes into existence because they asked for it. God is in control of that. Although procreation is the human means He uses to accomplish that purpose, He does not have to (Genesis 2: 7). In fact, many couples have participated in that means and have still been unable to bear fruit. Ultimately, creation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 139: 13-14).
The reason this is all relevant to marriage is because it has a direct impact on how we understand one of the most iconic passages about marriage in all of Scripture.
In Matthew 19: 4-6, from the lips of our Lord,
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage’s weight largely rides on its incredible permanence. Marriage is a big deal because it’s a long deal. However, we know that marriage is not eternal. It is not everlasting. It’s heavy, but not that heavy. This is found implicitly in Jesus’ words “let not man separate.”
Marriage may not be separated by the decree or will of man. It’s too big for us; it’s too sacred for that. Marriage is resolved in heavenly courtroom, one where the courts of men have no jurisdiction. However, when a spouse dies, that is not the works of men (even if they are involved in the means), but ultimately is decided and allowed by God.
Death can separate husband from wife because death is determined by no man. When a spouse dies, that is God separating what God has joined together, and since God is the one Jesus credits with joining the marriage together, He retains the right to separate it.
Paul makes this explicitly clear in Romans 7: 2-3,
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
So, death does separate the wedding union. And one theological doctrine, of which can be quite discouraging to the un-initiated, is Jesus’ teaching to the Sadducees that this separation through death is actually more permanent then the marriage itself ever was. Matthew 22: 23-33,
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.”
The Scriptures ultimately give two reasons for the separation of marriage, with the possibility of giving only one. Paul and Jesus make explicit that death ends a marriage, and that this is a rightful termination. Jesus does seem to explicitly state that divorce is permissible when one spouse commits adultery (Matthew 5: 32; 19: 9). That is the majority opinion of the Church today, but the Church historic largely rejected this, and compelling arguments as to why that is not actually the case are made today.
It is not my intention here to get into the divorce/remarriage debate, but is instead to remind us of this important thing: marriage is not eternal. Marriage will eventually be undone by something. And when separated by death, it will never be re-enacted.
In a certain light, this can seem dreadful and dire. Here we stand at the ceremonies of these holy unions, and emphasize the glory, wonder, and permanency of the marriage covenant. We then turn to Scripture to find out that it is not so permanent after all. Marriage is as fleeting as life itself is given that is in inextricably tied to this fleeting life. When life is gone, so is marriage. But this is a glory of the marriage covenant, not disrepute.
For one, it reminds wedded couples that marriage is a design with purpose. It is not a casual act of life all human beings are bound to wander into as they stroll through their journey. It is not some societal construct human beings created as a pragmatic genius. Marriage, however, is designed by God, and given to men with specific purposes. The temporal nature of marriage makes those specific purposes more intensified and perspicuous.
This is why Christians, in part, must stand so firmly opposed to “gay-marriage.” We do so, not just on the basis that it is sinful, but because this mentality of marriage is missing the point. The point is that marriage has a definition which was objectively defined, not by any nation or government, but by God. And thus, any view of marriage which alters that definition, is then altering the specific purposes marriage is designed to fulfill.
You cannot redefine how engines work, and expect your car to run and operate as all the others do. To take apart an engine, try and duct-tape pieces together where they don’t fit, and attempt to call the mangled, mechanical mess “an engine” will leave you disappointed when it comes time to head to work.
Marriage does not work when we misunderstand it. When couples keep in mind the temporary and intensely specific purposes of marriage, it allows them to set proper expectations, and deal more appropriately with the joys and trials which accompany their union.
Second, this more firmly establishes the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 about the blessings of singleness, and the life that he, and our Lord Jesus, lived.
They both were single. And knowing that the single lifestyle is the eventual, permanent destination for all the Saints, singles on earth can establish the proper sentiment that singleness is a stage of life which has more than enough room to welcome in contentment.
Related to this is that heavenly singleness keeps God the focus. When we get too lost in the wonders, pleasures, and satisfactions of marriage life, our hearts, which are prone to wander, begin to scamper off like undisciplined children in a grocery store. If marriage were an eternal relationship, it would become increasingly difficult to avoid obsession on earth. After all, we are missing out on an eternal blessing. Thus, the desire to be married intensifies, and what comes with that territory is the construction of a new idol within a world already plagued with a plethora of false gods to go around.
Marriage is not merely augmented, and nor is it disparaged, by its temporal nature; it is enhanced. Remembering that it is a temporary union enables us to better glory in the relationship our marriages were designed to reflect: our union with Christ.
What makes heaven so great is not reunion with our wives, our husbands, or our children. Certainly, the prospect of being with loved ones is an incentive and delight of heaven, but these non-marital reunions do not make heaven desirable. Many people will be reunited with loved ones in hell, and their company is no consolation there. The true delight of heaven is Christ.
He will be the fountainhead of all joy, and He already is that now, even during our present condition, whether we sojourn single or married. The channels of that Fountain flow just as ferociously and intensely through the unmarried heart as they do through the married. Christ is our joy.
To the married saint: revel in this glorious, pleasurable, and altogether necessary-for-life, union. It is good, it is holy, and God wants you to enjoy it. But it is not eternal. Your wife is not your everything; your husband is not your everything; your children are not your everything. These earthly relationships are surpassed by a superlative covenant vow much more permanent, and much more consequential then the vow you made to your spouse, the vow of faith you made to God. Your baptism is a symbol of the faith-vow you made to the Lord.
No sins are ever forgiven at the altar of a wedding. All our sins are forgiven at the altar of the cross, where the Lamb of God was slain. The faith we express to God there joins us in a spiritual marriage more satisfying than anything the mind can imagine.
To the single saint: This present condition is glorious, as it was Paul’s condition, Jesus’ condition, and is the future condition for all of God’s people. Pray to the Lord that He might give you a heart which refuses to idolize a temporary design. Refuse to desire the gift over the Giver.
If you desire marriage, then desire marriage. Pray for a spouse, hope for one, but do so within the perspective of eternity.
The Westminster Confession of Faith famously answered the question about man’s purpose on earth this way:
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”
Notice that absent from this answer is anything related to human marriage. No one was put on this earth to be married. Mankind was put here to enjoy Jesus Christ, and this is a purpose which can be achieved through marriage, or apart from it.
How do I know this? Because the now-married will glorify and enjoy God for all of eternity, and they will do it without a spouse. And in the presence of the glory of the Lord, that is not a disappointing eschatology.
When kneeling before the risen Lord, basking in His glory, with a perfect and resurrected body, no person will lament the fact that they are no longer wearing their wedding ring. I do not know much about heaven, but I doubt that in Jesus’ presence the thought could even cross our minds.