Monday, June 27, 2011

Love and Marriage

The Marriage Equality Bill became law in New York just a few days ago.  
Same-sex couples will now exchange vows in both civil and religious ceremonies.  Their relationships receive the same recognition—at least by the state (and by some religious traditions)—that heterosexual couples have always received.
Predictably, some celebrate this as moral progress in the area of equal rights and others lament the passage of this legislation as a step toward increased social confusion.  In a now stale attempt at humor, some wags have asked: Do Gays and Lesbians really know what they’re getting themselves into?
It’s a lame joke.  But it’s the right question.  Except that it should be asked of everyone.  Do we really have a workable, coherent concept of marriage? With respect to marriage, do we really know what we’re getting into?

Almost everyone seems to agree that marriage involves love.  In America, we promote a romantic pattern: Fall in love.  Get married.  Grow in love.
Notice I said we promote a romantic pattern.  That is not to say that we follow it.  Our high divorce rates are old news.  A recent book suggests that even among marriages that last for many years spouses report significant dissatisfaction.
To borrow a line from a sermon by Andy Stanley, it’s easy to fall in love.  Staying in love presents quite a challenge.
Despite the tendency among some of my preaching colleagues to find seven (or six or ten) principles to a godly marriage in Scripture, I have to admit that the Bible has never spoken to me in quite that way.  However, Scripture does provide abiding wisdom and moral guidance about marriage.
Next Sunday those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary (and take the first Old Testament option) will hear about Isaac’s arranged marriage to Rebekah.  It is a long and rich story that talks about much more than marriage, but it does give us food for thought about marriage as well.
Abraham sent a servant back to the Old Country to find a wife for Isaac.  The unnamed servant returns with Rebekah.  Here’s what the text says to conclude the lengthy story: 
He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.  (Genesis 24:67)
Isaac married Rebekah.  Then Isaac loved Rebekah.
It’s a brief passage that gives us no psychological detail.  We have no access to Isaac’s inner life.  Nor does the author give us some definition of what he means by love.  But I would venture this much.
Isaac may well have had an initial attraction to Rebekah.  But that was not the main point in the story.  He made a commitment to her, a covenant with her.  As a result of remaining faithful to this covenant deep bonds grew between the two of them.
Even more important to the broader story of Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Rebekah’s love was more than a private matter between the two of them.  Committing to one another is also their response to God’s promise.
God promised Abraham offspring and land.  This was not merely a matter of making Abraham prosperous.  God called Abraham to be a blessing to the entire creation.  That is at the very heart of God’s promise: God will bless the creation through Abraham and his descendants.
To put this in a Christian context, God gives us the gift of marriage as part of his redeeming work in the creation.  Married couples continue Christ’s work of reconciliation by showing concern for the next generation (what Erikson called generativity) and by being a symbol to a fractured world that God’s love is at work mending what is broken.
Marriage, you see, is principally about God’s love.  Not how we happen to feel about each other at the moment.  Getting married is about letting God’s love reign in our home as a small but significant part of God’s redeeming work in the world.

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