It’s our twentieth wedding anniversary. Today. 20th April 1996-20th April 2016. And counting.
That means this top tier of our wedding cake (stored annoyingly in our fridge for 20 years) is probably a little worse for wear, on the outside at least. A metaphor for our own less taut selves 20 years on.
Less taut, but more taught. That’s for sure.
Just yesterday a friend shared that he believed that in the current marriage debate in Australia the traditional argument has lacked warmth. It lacks good anecdotes, good stories as to why it matters, and not simply that, but what makes it rich, richer even.
I’ve always believed that Christians should define themselves ethically in community more by what they are for than by what they are against. So, with a deep breath, and in appreciation that many will disagree with me, here’s some of (not all of) why, on our twentieth wedding anniversary, traditional, biblical marriage takes the cake for us:
Bono’s theology in song is more insightful than his ethics in practice (he was a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage in Ireland). Remember these words:
I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman.
Part of the delight of twenty years married to my lovely Jill, is that there is still mysterious distance between us! Still! Don’t fall for the lie that it is destined to get stale like my wedding cake. The otherness that God sowed into gender difference is designed to keep mystery. To know and yet never fully know. I sometimes watch Jill going out to work in the morning and go “Wow, I’m still getting to know her!”
While that is true of all sorts of relationships, the DNA of mysterious distance has made Jill just as intoxicatingly intriguing to me since the day I first laid eyes on her 23 years ago.
It’s not just been about distance, as if somehow I could catch up that distance between Jill and me if I ran hard enough (I know, I have tried!). It’s the fact that God created otherness (Gen1:27), not simply for us to relate to each other in otherness, but to point to the vast great OTHERNESS between the Creator and the created. Different but the same to each other—male and female. Different but the same to God—in his image, but creatures not Creator.
If you are a proponent of same-sex marriage and a Christian reading this, I urge you to consider what is taken away when we take away otherness from a marriage. The opposite of that otherness is sameness, and the end result of chasing sameness, according to Romans 1 is idolatry, hence same-sex sex in Romans is not so much the worst of sins, as a convenient highlight of all sin: the worship and service by creatures of creatures.
In kindness God gave us marriage to point beyond worship of self to worship of other. That many do not take up his generous offer to worship Him as the supreme OTHER does not negate the gift.
And what has that otherness drawn/forced/compelled out of each of us? A heightened sense of serving the other and not seeking self-gratification. Traditional marriage has all of the components in it which draw us away from the idea that self-fulfillment is the goal of marriage. That many of us fail to take up that challenge is not the fault of marriage.
Traditional marriage is asymmetrical. Of course, that’s not just about sex, but sex in a traditional marriage is a pretty good object lesson in asymmetry and diversity. There’s a creation reality right there. And for what it’s worth, it’s a good reason to stay after class to catch up on unfinished work.
Sex inside traditional marriage isn’t the sum total of asymmetry, but it’s a focal point. It also reminds us, when we don’t have sex for some reason—physical, emotional, end of term pregnancy, sheer exhaustion from babies, unresolved anger—that our deep differences are not supposed to divide us, but draw us together in deep resolve.
That has not always been easy. In our worse moments we have resented asymmetry. But never at our best moments!
The ultimate reason I believe that traditional marriage takes the cake is that it is a shadow of a far greater reality. It is, according to the Bible, a covenantal reflection of the relationship between the Bridegroom in the Bible who wooed his Bride. God pursues his people in love, they respond in love (and sometimes don’t). And, of course, the truest expression of it all is the Bridegroom Christ, and his costly life-giving sacrifice for his Bride the Church. Ephesians 5:31-33 explains it:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
We have found over our twenty years together that marriage has deepened and become more rich, and more intimate, when we allow it to point upwards not inwards. And that’s not to say we always get it right. But twenty years of asking for forgiveness, praying together, resolving to love Jesus together, raise our children in holiness together, has meant that we either point upwards or we wither.
We live in an “immanent” [natural] world in which the transcendent does not exist. That immanence means that statements on marriage equality, like these from US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy make complete sense in an immanent world:
Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.
That makes perfect sense in a closed world. But not in a world in which a transcendent God in his kindness and love called out to us first.
Jill and I have no fear that the universe is empty. Over the years we resolved to put into practice what we promised: that we would find our true happiness not in each other, but in Him.
Sometimes that’s hit and miss. Often that’s hit and miss (just ask Jill)! But the sinful lack in me and Jill of 100% companionship, 100% understanding, 100% assurance and 100% care over these twenty years, has been more than made up for by God’s rock solid 100% guaranteed companionship, under-standing, assurance and care through the work of His resurrected Son, by the power of His Spirit.
Maybe this won’t convince you. Maybe you’ll read this through a certain lens. I’m ok with that. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But nor should you. And I’ve given some (not all) of the reasons why I think that, when it all boils down to it, here on our twentieth wedding anniversary, traditional marriage takes the cake.
Stephen McAlpine is the Senior Pastor of Providence Church Midland. He blogs on Christian issues at stephenmcalpine.com.