If Lent is about engaging with God in order to re-engage with the wider world, then we need to be prepared to think through some of the big issues where we as believers are called to make a stand. One of these issues, and probably the one where Christians are most out of step with society, is the whole question of marriage.
There is a lot of debate at the moment about same-sex marriage. And most of the arguments have centred around same-sex activity and the Christian response to homosexuality in general. But as I was writing the material for tomorrow’s Bible Explored group, it struck me that what is at stake are really two different understandings of marriage. Here’s an edited version of what I wrote.
For Christians, marriage is part of the story of creation. It was an institution created by God to be the union of one man and one woman. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh”. This contains the idea of cleaving – sticking together through thick and thin – and forming a spiritual, sexual and social bond that is exclusive and for life. In the New Testament the picture of marriage is also used as a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church, a picture of Jesus’ exclusive and totally committed love for His people which we are called to reciprocate in pure devotion and total obedience.
Unfortunately in the world at large marriage is now no longer seen in these terms. Marriage is considered to be about the personal choice of two individuals, who may decide to opt in or opt out of this arrangement as they see fit. This is why law is being rewritten in so many different ways , to allow for pre-marriage contracts when the individuals decide it’s time for the relationship to come to an end, or to permit same-sex couples to marry, because that’s their choice. It may be the reason why eventually churches will lose their role as registrars of marriage because there is such a different understanding between their own and society at large.
So the question is, how do we promote a Christian understanding of marriage in a world which uses the same word but means something completely different by it? That to me is the crucial question we need to address, if it is not too late to do so.