(A month later, I did a follow-up to this post which can be read here.)
Okay, I’m thinking that this has the potential to get ugly, real quick. I’ve written a number of posts on Bad Teachings in the church, concerning marriage, and I want to address another one that I keep coming across.
It’s no secret that, for decades, the topic of divorce and remarriage has been one of the hot-button issues in the church, even longer than the same-sex debate. Hester Prine wore a scarlet letter for having a baby out of wedlock; for much of the 20th century, anyone who was divorced felt that they were wearing a scarlet “D”, for divorce, in Christian circles.
With today’s post, I want to deal with a verse and teaching that is used to argue that marriage, once entered into, is sacred, is inviolable, and that divorce or no, marriage is, by Billy Bedamned Hangtree, permanent!
Intentional vs. Ontological
I believe that marriage is intentional, and not ontological. Right about now, I would expect a good Pentecostal brother to try to exercise the gift of interpretation of tongues, but let me forestall that by explaining what I’m saying. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the nature of something’s being, its existence and essence. I came across the discussion of intentionality vs. ontology in a series of articles that were a review of William Luck’s Divorce and Remarriage.
If you read the article at the link above, you will see that I am in the camp of those who agree with Luck’s understanding on the nature of marriage. By saying that I believe marriage is intentional and not ontological, I am saying that I believe that God and the couple who marry intend that the marriage be permanent, but that marriage, as an entity, is not in its essence permanent, irrelevant of what may come. It is this permanency, as an attribute of marriage, that I don’t accept.
When I was a child, I was told by the nuns that we needed grace to be saved, and that since saints had extra grace, the part that they didn’t need could be used to help those who didn’t quite earn enough grace to make it into Heaven. If a saint had 150 grace points and you only needed 100 to get into Heaven, there were 50 grace points that could be applied to others, in the form of indulgences, that could give them a boost. (After all, God Himself is a good steward and didn’t make grace just so it could be squandered.) Grace was a spiritual commodity, with its own essence and existence. It seems to me that many proponents of marriage have done the same thing.
Yes, marriage is presented as an institution created by God, but it seems that some want to not only honor its divine origin, but to endow it with its own divinity. The understanding of these marriage proponents is that marriage has the divine attribute of eternality as part of its essence. The argument goes, “When a man and a woman enter into a marriage, the marriage is permanent. Anything that they do to end the marriage is wrong and is a sin, and is futile. After all, they entered into marriage and marriage is forever.” They teach that even if the couple, whether through sin, selfishness or just plain bullheadedness, gets divorced, they are still married in the eyes of God. According to man’s law, they are no longer married, but according to God’s law, they are still married.
What God Has Joined . . .
One of the verses that is often cited to justify this teaching that marriage is permanent in God’s eyes is “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mk. 10:9)
“Well, there it is,” I hear. “God joined these two in marriage, and Jesus says that no one can split them up. ‘Let not man separate’, and all.”
My initial response is something like, “Who says God joined those two particular sods together? God gets blamed for a lot of things that He had no hand in!” Okay, I realize that that’s a bit harsh, but I really have good reason for saying that.
Back in ‘70-’71, I was a disbursing clerk (paymaster) on board the USS Newport News. One morning, one of the laundrymen in the Supply Dept., came into the office and wanted to set up an allotment to be drawn out of his pay and sent to his new wife each month. What had happened was that this guy, not being the brightest bulb in the drawer, had met a prostitute who gave him a blowjob, and from what he remembered from when he was growing up was that having sex meant that you were now “one flesh”, and so he asked her to marry him. Not averse to free money, she accepted.
Okay, folks, you want to tell me that God “joined those two in holy matrimony?” That that’s how the Spirit of God works? I’m not buyin’ it.
I’m pretty sure that every one reading this can scan the recesses of your memory and find an instance or two in which you know that there was no way in Hades that God should be blamed for the marriage. And yet, we intone, “What God has joined…”, knowing full well He DIDN’T join. You know that they got married IN SPITE OF God, and that He didn’t join those two together.
Our version of “God’s joining” that we teach is a variation of another bad teaching, Soulmates, which I wrote about in this post. We use “God joined” as a holy prop, a brace to reinforce our teaching of the holiness of matrimony. But with so many wonderfully horrible illustrations of God OBVIOUSLY not bringing two people together and joining them, we have to face the fact that He can’t necessarily be blamed for “joining these two together.”
Or Does He?
I’d like to present a different concept of “What God Has Joined” to you, for your consideration. To do this, I have to preface this with a theological sidebar, dealing with predestination and the foreknowledge of God. Many people believe that God knows and predestines every person who is to be saved, and that no one other than those “elected” can be in the redeemed of Christ’s church.
To me, this idea flies in the face of the scripture that says that God is not willing that anyone should perish. If some are lost due to God’s election, then we have to say that God is definitely willing that some perish. Theologian Clark Pinnock, in an essay of his personal spiritual journey, dealt with God’s election as an unnamed group that He will bestow His blessing of salvation upon based upon their choice to enter into the Body of Christ. He determines the group, defining the parameters and requirements, and all who desire and choose this new life enter into it. In the sense that God determined that He would bless this body of believers, He foreknew it. It was amorphous, with no faces when He foreknew or predestined, but He knew what His purpose was and that He would do it.
In the same way, God created marriage in Genesis, when He created man and woman and said that it is not good for man to live alone. He created a bond of spiritual, mental and physical intimacy that is recognized by all cultures and all religions. When a man and woman decide to enter into this “arrangement”, not a shack-up, but a committed, “till death us do part” intention, they are married, and they joined in God’s creation.
Just as salvation is marked by the response to the “whosoever will, may come” invitation to the Body of Christ, so God’s joining is accomplished by free-will commitment to the marriage relationship. Two Buddhists who marry are joined by God in marriage; two Shinto-ists who marry are joined by God in marriage; two Muslims who marry are joined by God in marriage. None of these are Christian marriages, none are blessed by Christian minister or priest, yet all, by virtue of entering into commitment to live as one, are “joined by God” in holy matrimony. “They enter into God’s estate” by commitment to each other, as the wedding formula goes, so God joins them.
God created marriage as His ideal for man and woman. Sleeping around, not so much. Commitment and intention to create home and family together is the entrance into marriage, and this the is joining – when we enter God’s creation. God’s joining is accomplished by man and woman, not by act of God.
“Okay, CSL, that’s all well and good to think about as a possible explanation, but is there any hint in scripture that what we do here affects what God does, decides even, decrees in Heaven?” Quite possibly, yes.
As I was discussing this post with Wife, sharing about applying Pinnock’s view of predestination and foreknowledge to marriage, Wife reminded me of the two verses in Matthew in which Jesus says to His disciples, “… whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19/18:18)
In essence, just as God conceived of a plan for salvation, with defining qualifications for “whosoever will”, He did with marriage. How to be saved and enter into the Kingdom of God? Receive Christ as Savior. How be joined together by God in holy matrimony? Enter freely and completely enter into commitment to love and serve “till death us do part” with your spouse. Our “I do’s” on earth are the joining that God accepts in Heaven.