What makes a marriage a marriage? We need to define it before we re-define it. What is distinct about it? What makes marriage…marriage?
I think we misunderstand it, and that is pure tragedy.
Man and woman were made in the image of God. They were created beings who were able to relate to God; sentient and self-aware; in His image because they possessed spirits. Out of all that God created, man is the only being who is able to commune with God.
God called this creation something special. Together they were His joy, His most cherished creation. We were created for this relationship with God, and cultivating this relationship with God is man’s responsibility and his privilege.
God created man. Then woman was made from man. Note that she was not created a separate being or species. They are two manifestations of the same created being. She was made from him. So intrinsically was she created to be the one who completed him. They are inseparable.
Genesis 2: 23-25:
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
The fundamental creation was the man and the woman in exclusive, intimate relationship. We call that marriage. Marriage is primal in two ways in terms of human societal significance: it was first or primary; and it was the original creation from which all else followed.
In sexual intimacy between a man and wife, that which was once complete in one being, then separated into two, joins again into one. One flesh, one union.
Either marriage is created by God, or it’s a human construct. Either the church is created by God, or it’s a human construct. Either the nation is created by God, or it’s a human construct. As such, either God is sovereign over them, or there is no authority over them except whoever exerts and maintains power over them.
The Breaking of It
Marriage has been understood everywhere, by everyone, at all times. Heterosexual marriage is what has been understood as marriage. Even where other sexual relationships are tolerated, monogamous marriage is the standard to which all other relationships are compared, and no society in human history has ever defined non-heterosexual unions as marriage.
Marriage growing from the root of the special sexual relationship is more primal than any law; its violation more basic, fundamental and outrageous. Cultures everywhere know this without regard to their knowledge of Judeo- Christian culture.
Socially and historically, its violation is often perceived as more egregious than murder.
When comparing codes of law across world civilizations, there are very few laws which are truly universal. The one law which is common to every culture is a man’s exclusive relationship with his woman.
In some cultures, this is understood as the man’s ownership of his woman. It is not an egalitarian rule: a man may have multiple women, wives or concubines but the women are regarded as in exclusive relationship with the one man. I’m not defending; only explaining.
And in some primitive societies, it is lawful to kill in order to protect this relationship, and it is lawful to avenge its violation by killing. Murder then is considered a virtue under the circumstance of protection of one’s woman—one’s exclusive “ownership” of the relationship with one’s woman. That relationship is understood to be the foundation upon which that man’s family or clan is built. If he loses her, he loses all.
Everyone everywhere always understood the meaning and importance of marriage. Til the enlightened new age, now.
But What Is It?
We often say that the family is the structure supporting civilization. And it’s so, but let’s look deeper.
God designed marriage first. It was the first human society or institution. It is before and underlying all codes of law ever invented. It is fundamental to everything else. This is God’s design.
Not only is the family the tiny society upon which all other social structures are built (such as communities, clans, and governing bodies small and large);
…and that the husband and wife couple are at the foundation of, and are the beginning of that family;
…but that the exclusive sexual relationship which is the signal defining feature of that relationship is the foundation of ALL of it.
There are many kinds of human relationships. Many of them can be intense, close and beneficial. But there is only one human relationship in which two people become immersed in one another, intertwined, and complementary to one another. In this relationship, two people become one. This is the male-female marriage relationship created by God.
And this union is strong enough to create other people, socialize them, and teach them to create more families, thus continuing a civilization, with its culture and heritage.
The male-female exclusive faithful sexual relationship lies below the foundation of every culture and society. It is utterly unique.
What makes that relationship so special? That our society has begun to seriously question its specialness is foreboding.
There is only one valid physical way that two people attain that complementarity, that intertwining, that immersion, that real union. It is the “one flesh” union which confirms and consummates that unique union. One male and one female in the physical act made obvious by our complementary anatomies. It is an utterly unique sexual relationship, this “becoming one flesh”. It is only that specific physical union which signifies marriage in the eyes of God and those who honor Him.
Jesus is quoted in Mark 10: 6-9: But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Two singular people combine and become not a union of two, but a union of one which is greater than the combination of two. One becomes greater than two.
There is only one sexual act which causes two to become one. In the wedded heterosexual union, there is a union which is not only physical; it is emotional, spiritual, and volitional. Two hearts find expression of affection and intimacy which is so intense it defies description. Two wills choose to give selves entirely to the other in mutual trust. And, in the case of two people who understand that their relationship is created in the mind of God, and express their joy in each other and Him, there is spiritual union.
What is Sex?
Our modern world has come to believe that the essence of sexual union is the orgasm. We define sex as the achievement of orgasm, and the person we are committed to experiencing that orgasm is…me, the self.
Any variety of relationship can unite in a variety of sexual acts where each one reaches satisfaction. Several different anatomical configurations are on the menu, and sometimes inanimate objects are needed. All loving sexual practices are equal, right?
There are problems with this belief. Orgasm can be achieved in many ways with any assortment of partners or alone. (Can one achieve oneness by himself?) One may achieve an orgasm for oneself without any care for the partner, at the expense of the partner, or by using another human being. Sex can be a cold, selfish, sterile act, and often is.
And a loving heterosexual couple may enjoy their oneness without both of them reaching orgasm.
And one may legitimately question whether some sexual practices can be selfless and loving.
So can orgasm be what sex is?
Isn’t sex supposed to be intrinsically meaningful? Is it not an expression of the joy of unique relationship? Then we must look for its meaning elsewhere than the orgasm.
Sexual intimacy as the result of a covenant between a man, a woman and God in a permanent relationship intended to (at least potentially) create family and continue a heritage, sexual intimacy which validates and gives to the other selflessly, sexual intimacy as a powerful expression of emotional, spiritual and volitional oneness, sexual intimacy as physically designed by our Creator…is an entirely unique thing.
Song of Songs 2:16: My beloved is mine and I am his…
For the best testimony on behalf of the unique experience of marital love, read The Song Of Solomon. It has never been surpassed.
We seek after the sublime and transcendent sexual experience. But it is not a result of the orgasm. The oneness is achieved in the will and finds expression in the act.
This is what happens in married sex: the two shall be one flesh. God knew what he was talking about when he described the relationship this way. Jesus, confirming Genesis, said:
“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall be one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.” Mark 10: 6-8.
The power of a faithful, committed, selfless, affectionate sexual relationship to create a transcendent and meaningful bond between two people of opposite sex is a mystery, a miracle. Those who are privileged to experience it know that they are blessed. But our world does not understand it, and that is a wide-ranging tragedy.
Marriage is consummated by sex; sex , as designed by its Creator, defines marriage. Marriage is the context God has designed for that relationship.
Our world, across societies and cultures, across the centuries, everywhere and always, is created with the committed heterosexual union woven intrinsically and seamlessly into its fiber. It is in our world’s DNA.
Hebrews 13: 4: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
No matter what you call other unions, they aren’t marriage. They do not consummate the union. They aren’t even having sex.
I am saying that any other arrangement is not legitimately marriage because they cannot consummate their union. Just as heterosexual marriage is not equivalent to any other grouping which calls itself marriage, heterosexual married sex is not equivalent to any other sexual practice.
We have already un-defined sex. When we UN-define marriage, we are at the point of the dissolution of everything. It’s in the fabric of the universe. If we deem other relationships equivalent to marriage, we are reaching the point of the dissolution of everything.
The Real Forgotten?
Understand that no matter what our society prefers or legislates, real marriage as God created it is untouched; marriage will not be altered by our attempts to ape it, abuse it or to alter it cafeteria-style to suit ourselves.
But society’s perception of marriage matters because if it is undefined, its enormous grace and helpfulness, the variety of familial special relationships it creates…disappear. Future generations will be unable to reap the benefits of an institution of which they know nothing.
The Erasing of It
Gay marriage is a watershed issue. It is dividing the population in terms of public opinion. It is dividing the church between the faithful and the preferential-cultural.
To judge by the rhetoric surrounding the conservation of traditional marriage, even the evangelical church does not understand the true value of marriage. Redefining marriage is absurd and disastrous, but its defenders do not seem to understand why.
We must base our persuasion solely on God’s truth, whether it is believed or not, whether it is deemed offensive or not. Arguments from practicality and from behaviorism may be valid, but they do not convince, and they aren’t the real reasons.
As Christians, we must talk about what marriage is, what sex is, and what they mean. Because no one else knows.
The people of the world don’t really have a chance of understanding the significance of sex, or even of the sexual experience. They are blind and unconnected to its spiritual attributes, and hardly able to comprehend its true meaning and power. They talk about it as though it’s merely a physical rush accompanied by a transient emotional high.
And that’s how we find ourselves fighting the belief that all kinds of sex are equal, that all kinds of “marriages” are equal.
When we forget what marriage is and what it means, as we clearly have, we misunderstand the differences between male and female. We lose the distinction between men and women. And the family disappears.
We lose everything.
Because everything is built upon the male-female distinction and relationship.
We lose marriage completely when we define it out of existence.
We lose the concept of family, and we lose all family relationships.
We lose the significance and the enjoyment of sex.
The Disappearance of It
When marriage by definition is the recognition by God and society of the permanent exclusive commitment between a man and a woman consummated by sexual union as designed and sanctioned by God;
and we re-define it to mean:
the state’s recognition of a semi-exclusive (relative) commitment between any two people of any sexes, defined by non-normative sexual practice,
yet unconsummated by God’s design for sexual union;
when both and all cases are recognized as having equal validity as marriage; we lose marriage.
There is no more marriage. There are only couples of any variety seeking temporary approval and validity from the state.
The logical, inevitable outcome of the legal re-definition of marriage to include gay marriage is that the state is now sanctioning a contractual relationship based on the self-report of an intense emotional state of a couple. Once that is the case, there is no reason why those criteria cannot be applied to any relationship involving any number of any types of persons.
And then that which is sanctioned by the state and society has become a legal contract between any number of persons who wish to enter into that contract for any reasons of their own.
Do you see how we are moving, step-by-step, away from a religious commitment based on a faith promise recognized legally by the state? The state then is in the business of recognizing legal relationship contracts…the state is the solemnizer, the legitimizer, the approver… because the method for solemnizing and (making official) is now only legal.
The state will then cease to recognize religiously solemnized marriages. Recognizing faith based marriage will be outside of the state’s scope.
The real effect, and perhaps the real purpose, of the marriage equality movement is to separate any connection of a religious nature from the societal and state sanctioned approval of marriage.
Thus making religious marriages second class, unsanctioned and “illegal.” Am I cynical enough to believe that was the plan in some activists’ minds from the start? You bet I am.
Marriage, irrelevant and superfluous, dries up and scatters in the wind. It is forgotten. What happens then? Imagine a bit into the future, when all the change agents have had their way with our society and taught us their lessons. What will their utopia look like?
When we knock out the frame of the house, the structure soon collapses. What happens to the family when it only exists as a copy of an outmoded form which has lost its purpose? Then family no longer means husband-wife-and their children.
We lose family relationships. Everyone becomes an individual arbitrarily connected to people of his choice. Familial roles like fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts become more tenuous and arbitrary.
We lose the concept of permanent commitment.
We lose any understanding of what sex is, what it means, what it is for, how to enjoy it. It loses its significance and becomes a recreational activity. And disconnected from meaning, it becomes dull and pointless, merely a pressure valve to let off steam.
Ironically to some, it might be the seriously religious, the fundamentalist Christian monogamous married couples, who keep the treasure of authentic sexual intimacy safe for a waiting future, while the hordes sweep civilization’s memory of it away and replace it with a crass caricature. Like a handful of Irish monks who kept safe the secrets of literacy, culture and faith for the revival of western civilization.