Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day created laws and regulations binding men to the Sabbath in order to keep it holy, so Christians have created myths and teachings about Marriage in order to keep it as a revered icon for the faith.
To how many Christian events, occurrences or institutions do we attach the descriptor, ‘Holy’? We don’t refer to “Holy Baptism”, do we? Yes, we may, sometimes, speak of “Holy Communion”, but for most of us, plain old ‘communion’ will do. And for those who do refer to “Holy Communion, do you create regulations and myths to protect communion and keep it holy? (Of course, if you believe in transubstantiation, you are excused from this exercise.)
But we do speak of ‘Holy Matrimony’, don’t we?
By doing this we try to attach a spiritual essence to marriage, a je ne sais quoi, a certain ineffable state, that makes it other-worldly, heavenly by nature, and not part of the normal, natural life that God created.
This isn’t a sin of the modern church. Bad teaching about marriage is one of the cardinal truths of Christian life, apparently. For example, one of the most common shibboleths about marriage, handed down from the Church Fathers, down through the likes of Matthew Henry into modern day faith, is the idea that marriage is the picture of the relationship between God and His Church, between Jesus and the Christian.
Of course, things can get really uncomfortable when this teaching meets the Song of Solomon, in the Old Testament. In the fourth chapter of SoS, the Lover describes the body of his Beloved, and this is part of his inventory:
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies. (4:5)
Er, uh, okay then.
Pretty personal talk between a couple that aren’t married yet, right? Now observe how Matthew Henry turned this bit of earthy badinage into a ‘heavenly allegory’:
The church’s breasts are both for ornament (Ezek. 17:7) and for use; they are the breasts of her consolation (Isa. 66:11), as she is said to suck the breasts of kings, (Ia. 60:16) . Some apply these to the two Testaments; others to the two sacraments, the seals of the covenant of grace; others to ministers, who are to be spiritual nurses to the children of God and to give out to them the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby, and, in order to that, are themselves to feed among the lilies where Christ feeds (ch. 2:16), that they may be to the babes of the church as full breasts. Or the breasts of a believer are his love to Christ, which he is pleased with, as a tender husband is with the affections of his wife, who is therefore said to be to him as the loving hind and the pleasant roe, because her breasts satisfy him at all times, (Prov. 5:19) .
…… um, yeah.
I’m sorry, but with this kind of mindset, this skewed reality, it’s no wonder that the church messes up the reality of marriage, Christian or otherwise.
In our eager desire to elevate marriage and imbue it with a sanctity that isn’t necessarily inherent, we have constructed a prison with our rules and regulations, and like the Pharisees of old, refused to help those struggling under the burden we have placed upon the backs of those who need our help.
At the 1896 Democratic nominating convention, William Jennings Bryan, a rafters-rattling orator, delivered his most famous speech, which ended with the line “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold!” Unfortunately, today, the Church crucifies mankind of the cross of “Holy Matrimony.”
Jim Croce answered it best with “I can’t hang upon no lover’s cross for you.” And God doesn’t expect you to have to do so. When the Creator was finished with His creation, including marriage, He said, “It is good.”
Edited to add: I had forgotten that I foreshadowed this post a week or so ago with my Great Minds… quickie.