The Bible is rich with references to marriage. This is not surprising, because sex and marriage have a very deep place in our lives. This does not mean that the Bible falls into the sexualization of marriage which we criticized in the last article. To say that something is important does not mean that it is torn from its context and made into the fulcrum around which everything revolves. Sex is not the capstone of life; yet it is with us night and day, and it occupies a large place in our lives. The Scriptures do not deny that. They give sex its true place. and they glorify marriage. We believe that it is possible for sex and marriage to come to true expression only if they are understood in the light of the Bible message.
Marriage and Christian World View
Before turning to specific Scripture passages it is important that we see marriage in the light of the general Christian world view. We may not speculate too much about the position of sex and marriage before the fall; but the biblical ideas of creation, fall, and redemption must play a large pan in our understanding of sex. If we correctly apprehend the Christian world view, we shall attain a new freedom with respect to our view of marriage. Christ said that he came to give us life, and that more abundantly. We must therefore grasp the central ideas of the Scripture message so we may understand this important pan of life correctly.
The biblical idea of creation tells us that everything was created good and perfect in the sight of God. In its original state, after the acts of creation were completed, the creation was a cosmos, an orderly whole in which the glory of the creator shone. Through the fall , however, that which was perfect and twisted and distorted, and man’s heart was darkened. We should not think of this fall too simply, as if it involved only the human will. We read in the Scriptures that the entire structure of God’s creation was affected , so that it now grows and travails, waiting for redemption (Romans 8:21–22). In the biblical view sin affects more than the personal; it disrupts the very order of God’s handiwork. This means that marriage and sex: themselves are affected, and that whether he will it or not, everyone is born into a world where these are abnormal.
The Bible also says that Cod has provided a way of redemption through Christ. We must be careful, however, to see this message correctly. We must see it, of course, on its personal side, as God’s redeeming grace affects the heart of the individual and draws him to Christ. We must also see it on its cosmic side, as God’s redemption affects the very structure of life itself, a process that will be completed at the redemption of the world and the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. Very important for our purposes is that we see this redemption in its central meaning of restoration. The redemptive work of God does not simply add something to what is already there. It affects the very center of human and cosmic existence, restores to its original goodness, and even raises it to a higher level. Thus the original creation is not left behind in some way or declared insignificant; instead, the purpose of redemption is fundamentally to restore this original creation and let it come to its full realization.
Misunderstanding this fundamental Scriptural position can have the most dire consequences for a view of marriage. We see such a misunderstanding in the church when there is an ascetic denial of desire and the body. Asceticism denies us some human activity, some human pleasure, some human desire. In the warfare for Christ, it is true, we are to deny ourselves; we are to take up our cross and follow him. But this is not asceticism. The latter always includes the idea that the things we leave behind are in themselves evil. It often expresses itself in a dualism of an evil world and a good spirit. According to the Scriptures such a dualism is impossible. We know that the whole creation was good and that there is nothing in it that need be rejected as evil in itself. We must not then ascetically believe the sexual to be something that is inferior or perhaps evil as such. That appears to be one of the motives behind the monasticism in the Roman Catholic church and its glorification of the state of celibacy, Instead, we must get out from behind the monastic walls and enter into the stream of life, participating in God’s work of restoring this disrupted world.
We must realize, however, that though we should enter into the stream of life, we may not give ourselves over to our impulses. There is a disturbance of the sexual and of the marriage relationship, and we can not look upon everything as “natural.” In sex there is at once a hypertrophy and an atrophy, an abnormal enlargement and a debilitation. We must seek the true way in the light of the Word, in which the plan of redemption is set forth.
Marriage and the Bible
The Scriptures speak of marriage as being from the very beginning.
When God created man he said that it was not good for him to be alone, so he created a help worthy of him (Gen. 2:20). This does not mean only that man is a social being, in the broad sense of the term, and that he can not get along without the fellowship of other human beings. Even though one has contact with his associates, he still desires the union with a marriage partner. There is something unique about this relationship. It is the object of an intense longing, and results in a deep communion. This longing of the sexes for each other has been expressed interestingly in the myth of the androgyn. The androgyn was both male and female, it was split in half, and from that time the two halves constantly sought for each other. Eve was created as a help worthy of Adam, and Adam was in some way not complete without her. She was created distinct from Adam, as an independent personality; yet there was an inner unity between them that nothing else could supplant.
This inner unity is forcefully expressed in Scripture. This passage goes on to say that a man shall leave his father and mother, he shall join himself to his wiCe, and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24). This is the center of the biblical idea of marriage, that the husband and wire in some mysterious way become one flesh. This is more than physical union and it is more than psychological satisfaction. They are one in a deep sense found uniquely in the marriage bond, and this involves that their marriage relation should not be broken.
Dr. Brillenburg Wurth discovers in the fact that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25) a deep significance for this unity. They were naked physically and they had no shame before each other. Just as significant, if not more so, they were naked and unashamed before each other in a spiritual sense. Their spirits were open to each other. They had unbroken communion and they grew together in mutual discovery and mutual understanding. There was a complete inner sharing. As Dr. Brillenburg Wurth says, “In love they approached each other without any covering. For them both there was nothing, either physical or spiritual, that they had to keep hidden or covered up. In every respect they were for each other as an open book. They dared without any reserve whatsoever to divulge to each other their innermost being” (Het Christelijk Leven in Huwelijk en Gezin p. 69).
As soon as sill entered this communion was broken, and they felt themselves to be naked before God and before each other. The highest goal of the Christian life is the complete communion of love; but in a sinful world we may not naively think that we can simply and unreservedly lay ourselves bare before others. Because of sin such an immediacy is possible only in isolated cases. Just as with Adam and Eve, this being “naked” before one another is destroyed to a great extent. There is no longer such simple self-expression and mutual understanding.
Sin is not at bottom sexual, and the sexual is not sinful in itself; but the centrality of sex and its importance for our lives is shown in the fact that sin had immediate influence on the sexual life of man. When Adam and Eve sinned, the sexual was directly affected. This is tile case now. Increase of sinfulness always has its effect on the sexual in some way or other.
When Adam was created it was said that it was not good for him to live alone. There was something in him that had need of a partner. There was a filling and completing of his life that had to be accomplished by the creation of Eve. Here we see a second facet of the Scriptural view of marriage. It does not exhaust its significance only in the bringing forth of young; it is a filling and completing of life. Though not indispensable, it is a means by which life is brought to a richer and fuller level.
Marriage and Children
It is true, however, that there is a further command that brings out another facet of marriage. Adam and Eve were told to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). This is certainly a pan of marriage. We wish only to avoid making it the entire substance of the marriage relationship. On the other hand, the Scriptures vehemently reject any selfish refusal to bear children if at all possible in the marriage bond. This is a creation ordinance, that those whom God has joined together should bear progeny. This fruitfulness is always pictured as a divine blessing. In the animal world reproduction is instinctive and mechanical. But God speaks to man and commands him to obey and thus to receive a blessing from him. That they should replenish the earth should be seen by marriage partners both as a command and as a promise of blessing.
We see the human family first of all only after sin has entered the world. We can not see it intact in its original form by looking at the Scriptures. However, we can conclude from the rest of the Scriptures that it was God’s plan from the beginning that this original marriage should result in a family, and that by means of sexual union. We should not be concerned in eliminating sex nor depreciating it; we should rather be concerned that it come to its full flower, and that it take its proper place in the communion between man and wife. Sex is an important means in deepening the knowledge the marriage partners have of each other. This physical communion is an expression of, and a gateway to, the love they have for each other in its fullness. In its dual role of expressing and heightening it is a very important pan of every marriage. All the more important therefore that its proper use be not hindered by wrong ideas and injurious emotions! It is here that the communion of mall and wife finds its focus, though the sexual will not suffice apart from the partners’ full communion in love.
This marriage bond, resulting in the family, was intended to be a permanent relationship with its own individuality. Dooyeweerd has called it an ethical communion of love on the basis of the biological union of the sexes and natural pro-creation (Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, III, 215). Love is not only a natural affect. It is not only the infatuation which comes in a moment and which passes as quickly. It involves an ethical task, a task of coming to richer and fuller communion, of deepening and broadening mutual understanding and love. This love is commanded. We see this in the Scriptural parallel between the husband and wife and Christ and the church. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church; he is to protect and cherish her as his own body (Eph. 5:25f.).
Scriptural love, then, is much different from the love as blared at us from a thousand sources in our country. Here love is seen only as something into which people “fall.” The idea of ethical responsibility is totally lost. Love is also represented as something purely sexual. The spiritual side in love, which will provide the only lasting foundation for the sexual, is ignored. The result can be only the development of a race of adolescent, irresponsible people who will wake up with bitter disappointment to the realities of married life as they force themselves on them. The only way out is to recapture the ethical element in love. It is only through the ethical that the true communion of love call be found. It is only by attending to the Word of Christ, which brings light and life, that the true spontaneity of the ethical communion of love will be possible, and that the marriage partners will truly be one flesh.