Sunday, March 3, 2024

The plan restored. . .

Only a fool would deny that traditional marriage is under attack and has been for a long time -- certainly long before same sex marriage or any other modern ideas took root.  There are always those who love to point out the fact that marriage was not exactly a walk in the park for the patriarchs and kings of Israel.  They had more than one and, in a few cases, many wives.  Is it not all an evolution to a new idea of what marriage is?  Is not marriage always changing?  It might be worth a brief review.

The Book of Genesis records God’s plan for marriage -- a plan set forth from the very beginning of creation.  In this plan of God, marriage is defined as one man and one woman in a stable, lasting, fruitful relationship of mutual support and fidelity.  When God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helpmate for him (Gen 2:18), He is certainly not changing His mind upon the goodness of all that He had made but acknowledging that creation itself was not quite complete.  It is also worth noting that the word used in Genesis is “helpmate,” not life-partner, soulmate, love of my life, or any of the other romantic images we tend to use first before helpmate today.  

Adam is sent on a learning expedition.  Naming all the animals instilled in Adam his first awareness that there was none like him.  Animals were never intended to be and are not suitable companions according to God's own design.  So God puts Adam in a deep sleep and fashions from his rib a woman, Eve (cf Gen 2:21).  In His wisdom laid down before the beginning of creation, God knew what He would do and what was needed.  The suitable helpmate for Adam whom God created was a woman -- not another man like Adam for friendship but one to enable him to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  From the beginning it was a one man and one woman deal.  Scripture makes it clear that this marriage was created to be a lasting union.  The man shall “cling” or "cleave" (Hebrew דָּבַק = dabaq) to his wife and the two shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24).  This also places sex itself within a particular context.  Amusement and pleasure that define our intent today was not the intent of God.  There were to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).  

Sin was not without its impact upon marriage just as it impacted the image of Himself God had placed upon man in creation, illness, death, conflict, violence, hate, etc...  For marriage, the impact of sin was in the desire for another not your spouse, polygamy, and homosexual relations.  While homosexual relations were specifically spelled out for condemnation as was adultery, it might seem that polygamy—especially among the rich and the rulers—received a pass from God and His prophets.  But it is foolish to presume that God's silence meant approval of the practice.  In fact, we can see from the track record of those who practiced polygamy that it was nothing but trouble -- even to jealousy and murder!  In the same way, while God may have permitted divorce because of the hard hearts of the people (cf Matt 19:8), God never wavers from His plan of a lifelong union of husband and wife nor does he approve of divorce.  Permitting something and approving of it are quite different -- a nuance often lost upon society as a whole.  Furthermore, the practice comes into Judaism through pagan cultures -- another warning sign!

Reading in Matthew’s Gospel, we note in the words of Jesus a return to the words and intent of Genesis.  Our Lord is loud and clear in affirming God’s original plan and excludes divorce.  "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, unless the marriage is unlawful, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt 19:8-9).  "Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matt 19:4-6).

The Lord has not come to tinker with marriage or to direct its evolution but to restore what was broken and lost.  Our Lord affirms that marriage is of one man and one woman in a stable, lifelong, fruitful relationship of mutual support and fidelity.  Furthermore, He offers to the marriage a gift to apply to the places where trust is broken, where the marriage bond is broken in words or in deeds.  That gift is forgiveness.  While there may be reasons to permit divorce, this is not the default or automatic path for those who suffer under such reasons.  In fact, the most profound grace that Christ can give to marriage and to those married is that these do not have to result in divorce.  Repentance and forgiveness can repair and restore what was broken.

Though we live in a time in which the presumption is that traditional marriage is but one version of marriage now fading in the wake of no fault divorce, same sex marriage, polyamory, and every other distortion of God's intent, Jesus puts on the brakes.  Marriage is what God created it to be.  Man was created for woman and woman for man.  Sin can make it infinitely more difficult for us to live within this bond but it cannot destroy it or steal from God what He created and gave to us.  This is what St. Paul so eloquently elaborates upon in Ephesians.  Even more than an extended discussion, St. Paul does one thing more -- he likens God's plan for marriage to Christ and the Church and so ennobles this relationship to its fullest image and grace.

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