Sunday, July 01, 2007

Husbands and Wives (Joyful Relationships, Part 3)

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church on July 1, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, feel free to worship with us at 10:00 AM on Sundays.]

Genesis 2:1-9, 15-25

A little girl had just seen the movie, Snow White, for the first time and excitedly told her grandmother about it. After recounting how Prince Charming came along and kissed Snow White back to life, she asked her grandmother, “Do you know what happened next?” “Yes,” grandma replied, “they lived happily ever after.” Her face screwed up in a quizzical expression, the little girl said, “No! They got married!”

After being married nearly thirty-three years, I can report that it is possible to be both married and happy. I agree with the sentiments of a friend of ours who gets a lot of teasing for her attempts at matchmaking. “I’ve always been happy married,” she tells us. “I just want my friends to be happy, too.”

Today, I want to look at the Biblical account of the world’s first marriage to see why marriage is a good thing.

The first reason that marriage is good is that it’s a gift from God. Marriage has its roots in God looking at the first man and saying, “It’s not good for the man to live alone.” According to our Bible lesson for today, God then sets out to make something or someone with whom Adam can share life. God creates one life form after another. But we’re told that “not one of them was a suitable companion.” Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier says that if we could translate this passage with absolute clarity, it might say, “no companion able to complete the man’s humanity was found.”

But, as you and I know well through Jesus Christ, God’s love is tenacious. God doesn't give up on helping us. Our lesson shows us that God was determined to create the perfect companion for man. That’s when God made woman, Eve, whose name means life.

Marriage is a gift which, for those willing to treat it as such, can make marriage partners happy and complete.

A second reason we see for saying that marriage is good is that it can bring joy! Many of you have heard me say that most mornings when I wake up, among my first thoughts is to wonder at God’s grace. Like the psalmist whose words we used for our opening call to worship, I’m amazed that the God Who made this vast universe cares about me. We also see the depths of God’s care for us in Jesus, Who went to a cross and rose from the dead, to give all who follow Him everlasting life. That’s an amazing thought that brings joy!

But here’s another thought that often crosses my mind when I wake up in the morning: I’m amazed that my wife married me. Given our history--that in high school, she rightly dismissed me as a big-mouthed weasel, I find it hard to believe that she gave me the chance to become her friend, to go out with her, to marry her, and to have a life with her. Knowing that you’re loved like that brings both mystification and joy!

Third: Marriage is good because it can bring husbands and wives safe, affirming intimacy. We see this at the end of our Bible lesson for today. It tells us, “The man and the woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.”

This line isn’t primarily about our bodies or about sex. It’s about having a safe place to be who you are. The poet Carl Sandburg’s daughter once wrote about their parents’ marriage:
“There were never loud our house. My father...roared...But [when he became angry] Mother coaxed him out of it. Once when he was very old, I saw him pull at a door that was stuck. He rattled the handle and shouted. My mother, a small woman, looked up at him and patted his chest. ’ What a fine, strong voice!” she said. Disarmed, he stood there in love. It was a thread established early and woven through their life.”
Carl Sandburg had the ability to be himself with his wife. I’m often astounded at the numbers of husbands and wives who tell me their perceptions of their spouses--good things and bad. When I ask them if they’ve shared these things with their mates, many tell me, “No. I could never do that!”

And yet, God made marriage to be a relationship in which we can stand naked--naked in our strengths and weaknesses, naked in our virtues and our faults--and still be loved. While openness and a certain degree of intimacy should characterize all of our relationships, nowhere should it be more present than in marriages.

Finally: Marriage can be good because it truly can provide husbands and wives and those who live close to them a glimpse of what heaven will be like. I'm not kidding! Throughout the Bible, when God wants to describe the intimacy, joy, and love that comes to all who follow God, He uses the analogy of marriage. When He wants to describe the human penchant for walking away from God, God speaks of adultery and prostitution. And one of the images Jesus uses to describe the Church is “the bride of Christ.”

Good marriages incorporate forgiveness, intimacy, loyalty, encouragement, mutual affection, and unconditional acceptance. I get a hint of heaven every time I make another bonehead move and find that the next morning, my wife is still around, forgiving me, loving me, and rowing in the same direction.

If heaven is a kingdom of undeserved grace and love, then the love of a wife or a husband who knows all about us and keeps living with us anyway must surely point us to what God has in mind for us when He calls us to follow Him. No wonder then that when Martin Luther cast about for a way to describe the family, he said that it was to be “a little church”: a place where the God we meet in Jesus Christ was to be known and celebrated in the day-in, day-out relationships that exist in families.

Of course, not all marriages are heavenly enterprises. That’s one of the reasons that so many marriages end in divorce these days. This brings us to a very important point: The goodness of marriage is only experienced by those husbands and wives who devote themselves to the hard work involved in real love.

Marriage is a gift. But like all gifts, it requires care to keep it working. Adam and Eve had a great marriage in Genesis, chapter 2, the portion of the Bible from which our lesson is drawn. It lost its luster in chapter 3. They got out of touch with God and as always happens when we lose touch with God, they fell into sin. The next thing you know, these two people who, just a few verses earlier, were gah-gah over each other, are blaming one another for the fix they’re in. Adam even tells God, “This woman you sent me has really messed things up!”

Fortunately, God didn’t give up on the first human beings as quickly as they gave up on each other. He gave them second chances. He kept loving them up and invited them to start afresh. With prayer and work, they did start again and they experienced renewal in their marriage. God helped them to do the hard work required to keep the wonderful gift of marriage in happy working order. And God can do the same thing for married people today if both husbands and wives are willing to accept God’s help and to do the hard work good marriages require.

Marriage is good because
  • it’s a gift from God;
  • it can bring joy;
  • it can bring husbands and wives into safe, affirming intimacy with each other; and
  • it can bring spouses and those who know them glimpses of heaven.
If you who are married don’t ever see these good things in your marriage, commit yourself now to praying for your marriage and for your spouse, asking God to give you guidance on how you can care for the gift of your marriage to make it all that it’s meant to be.

I ask those who aren’t married to pray for the marriages of family and friends so that they too can become all that God intends.

All of society has a stake in seeing that marriages are strong. God stands ready to help make that happen.

[Links to the first two installments of this series:
How to Have and Be a Friend
How Will I Know?]


Jo Anne said...

I found myself nodding in hearty agreement with your article this morning. We have been married 38 yrs. and I marvel that my husband is so patient and kind. There is something that I've never told him (and probably won't)...that his love is a picture of God's unconditional love for me.

How many of us know that with our spouses it's *safe* to be crabby, condemning, spiteful, etc.? We know that the other will forgive and consider the source :~) and then iron a whole bunch of his shirts or ask if I want to go out to dinner!

Marriage is "a good thing" when it's built on unconditional love, loyalty and commitment.

Mark Daniels said...

Jo Anne:
Thank you for your insightful comments here.

No marriage is perfect or without its tough times, of course, because the partners are imperfect. I can certainly look back with regret on acts of stupidity or inconsideration with which I've burdened my own marriage.

But when couples prayerfully submit their marriages to God and the hard work of love to which He calls us, they can be wonderful.

Thanks for taking the time to share some of your experiences as a married person.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels