Marriage is a heroic ideal that is ultimately unsustainable. That’s why it’s lived a long life of being honoured in the breach, and is rapidly unravelling in the west. Marriage asks more of us than we can give, life-long fidelity is not in our nature, but it’s in our dreams.
For Christians, marriage is sustained only by faith. Faith in a saviour who was himself faithful to the point of death, committed in love to a bride who has been consistently unfaithful all her life. Paul expresses this brilliantly when he tells us that marriage is patterned on Christ and the church, bringing forth a theme of scripture that has long OT roots.
The current debates over marriage are, as many have said, about changing definitions. We live in an age of radical plasticity. We believe, as a generation, that what we wish defines reality around us and now we are extending this autonomity to social constructs as well. Marriage was too heroic an ideal to sustain without faith, so lifelong, public, sexually faithful unions are now as-long-as-they-last, private, sexual-exclusivity-is-negotiable expressions of fleeting emotion and sensibility.
Homosexual ‘marriage’ is just the next station on this line. Although it does brilliantly expose some of the contradictory thinking of post-moderns. If everything is fluid, everything is self-definable, why is sexuality sometimes ‘innate’ (the major position of the homosexual lobby), and sometimes ‘fluid’ (the minority position)? And why are social constructs fluid and sexuality is undeniable?
What we will see is a shift in the meaning of the term ‘marriage’. In fact, we have already seen that shift, but the connotation of the term drags its heels. When Christians vent and rant about this loss of meaning, they have at least half a point, but I suspect the linguistic battle is already lost. What is more important is whether Christians have the wherewithal to accept the linguistic shift and be prepared to hold out an ongoing alternative.
The linguistic and political changes have this very danger, that of muddying what we think ‘marriage’ is. We will soon live in a world where the idea of lifelong, public, sexually faithful, heterosexual unions is strange, absurd, and ridiculous. We will soon live in a world were no-one outside the church is entering into any kind of relationship that has that kind of ideal. And then suddenly we find ourselves with something unique, something we always had, something the world has been trying on for size for a long time and not doing very well with. A heroic ideal of faithfulness that is only achieved by faith. A way of life that daily models death to self and reveals the glory of the one who was faithful in our place, even unto death.