As an Anglican Priest and State Marriage Officer I do not solemnise many marital relationships, perhaps two or three a year. Recently, in preparing for a marriage service, I had some opportunity to discuss – largely “our” – marriage with my wife, Dawn. In addition I remain intrigued as to why people marry, especially when – in Western dominated societies – many no longer do … when living together is socially acceptable … and … easier? What is the draw of marriage that human beings return to it generation after generation, century after century? The answer – for me, anyway – lies in the colossal challenge of the Christian call to selflessness:
The Judeo-Christian Scriptures apply the symbol of marriage to the relationship that God shares with his people, and they with him. Why?
The common denominator appears to be the selflessness that God demonstrated continuously throughout Old Testament times in regularly calling his people back into relationship with himself – despite their disobedience, waywardness, and whoring after other gods – demonstrated finally in the key action of God in Jesus in the Crucifixion … and Resurrection.
The human experience of the environment that marriage creates is a remarkable and adventurous one: in this environment two individuals are faced with the opportunity to lay aside their selfish natures and practice selflessness.
Christian marriage is defined as a lifelong – “till death do us part” – commitment: it takes that long to gain the thoughtfulness that leads to selflessness. Marital relationships that survive a lifetime do so, not because the partners involved miraculously become more than human, but because between them there are enough acts of selflessness in the morass of selfishness to build hope.
Marriage (as defined by Scripture, not Hollywood) is the only relational environment that human beings enter that creates space for this particular experience. This is true precisely because it is a lifelong commitment. Any relationship that does not offer an “until death” clause does not offer the long term dedication, loyalty and devotion necessary for this attentiveness to selflessness to develop.
4 April 2006