Marriage and the Essence of Eden
Of nature’s elaborate courtship displays, none is more elegant than that of the western grebe, a swanlike bird with ruby eyes. Each spring the grebes congregate on the lakes of Oregon to find a lifelong mate. Two by two, the male leads his female to a secluded spot on the water. Their waltz begins with a set of balletic duets, one mimicking the movements of the other. Then the birds proudly display strands of lake-grass in their bills. The dance reaches its crescendo when, as if hearing a starter’s pistol, the pair tear into a sprint atop the water, making them the largest water-walking animals on earth. Side by side they run across the lake’s mirror surface in perfect synchronization: their necks arched, chests puffed exultantly, wings fanned open behind them forming a feathery train, their webbed feet spraying an arch of white water in their wake.
What a lovely picture of God’s grand design for marriage: a husband and wife running the race of faith together to the glory of God. With marriage rates plummeting to historic lows in the U.S., it’s critical for Christians to remember why the Lord gave mankind this precious gift in the first place.
As God sovereignly created “all things by the word of his power, in the space of six days” (WSC 9), a refrain rang over the embryonic world: “it was good.” So, it’s alarming when for the first time God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Why? What’s “not good” about being a bachelor? It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone because he was made in the image of God who eternally existed in blessed communion within himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If Covid lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s that man is an inescapably relational being. We unravel in unbroken isolation. Could this be why God made the parade of animals pass before Adam? Not just so that he could name them; not because the hippo ever had a shot of being chosen as Adam’s helpmeet; but so that Adam would see the lion with his lioness, the buck with his doe, the rooster with his hen and feel his own aloneness; so that when God brought him the woman he’d handmade from him and for him, Adam might sing, “At last!”
The Lord gave us marriage so that we might have a covenant companion, a life partner to help us fulfill God’s purposes for us, a fellowship of the ring to share in the holy quest of Christianity. Alone, Adam was unable to accomplish God’s purposes for him. How could one man “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”? So, God made a helper “fit” or “meet” for him (Genesis 2:18). Eve completed and complemented Adam. They magnified each other’s strengths, multiplied each other’s efforts, and mitigated each other’s weaknesses. They were better together. It’s no less true for us today. The partnership of a godly spouse is an asset to personal and professional success, not a liability.
In this hypersexualized and shameless culture, we’ve all cried out with the Psalmist, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9). Thankfully, the Bible thoroughly answers its own question: by steeping our souls in the word of God (Psalm 119:9), by the sanctifying washing of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11), by fleeing temptation (2 Timothy 2:2), by cultivating godly discipline (Titus 2:12) and accountability relationships (James 5:16), and by getting married. Paul said, “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9). Thus, as they considered the seventh commandment, the Westminster Divines concluded that it requires “marriage by those that have not the gift of continency” (WLC 138) and condemns the “undue delay of marriage” (WLC 139). Since marriage was designed to protect us from sexual sin, burning singles who are of age and long for purity ought to pursue biblical marriage with grateful urgency as if they were swimming for shore in shark infested waters.
God gave the gift of marriage for the pleasure it would bring. William Cowper said, “Domestic happiness, thou only bliss of Paradise that has survived the fall!” The Bible calls this bliss, “knowing”; the deepest emotional and physical intimacy two people can experience. Marriage is the secret society of two soulmates who share their deepest secrets, struggles, and dreams without fear of rejection. This is what we see as creation’s curtains close: “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). Of this intimacy, Tertullian said, “How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh... They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… psalms and hymns they sing to one another.”
For A Picture
Paul called marriage a profound mystery that “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). Like a masterful muralist, God painted the gospel upon the walls of marriage that our human unions might illustrate the heavenly union between Christ and his people. God calls the wife to graciously submit and respect her husband so that, through her, the world might behold the church’s singular devotion to her head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, the husband’s sacrificial love and patient consideration of his bride is a miniature model of Christ’s affections for his bride, the church, of whom we sing, “from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.”
Praise God for the good gift of marriage! As we work to keep our marriages according to God’s word, may he be pleased to perfume them with the essence of Eden. When the world looks at our marriages, may they see something heavenly and be drawn to Christ.
Jim McCarthy is the Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS
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