Rev. Christopher Raffa
"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" - Genesis 2:23
God's Word is a creating Word. It is a Word of blessing which, thanks to the faithfulness of God, never ceases to have effect. It also lays itself open-like the One who has no place to lay His head in this world-to misjudgment and distortion and is greeted with ingratitude by human beings. The ancient account of Genesis 1 and 2 is not foremost about individual characters-the man Adam and his wife Eve-but is the history of every human being; it is the history of every man and woman. Although it's an old story, it's a new story-our story. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion.'" And, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden." This indeed, is God's first word to human beings.
We often view these well known passages as commandments. That may be true, but in actuality this is a word that gives permission. In the beginning there wasn't the chaos of an undefined nature-not the "thou shall not" of morality, but the Word that gives permission. It is a promise valid for all, a gift: the granting of room to live-of room for work and common humanity: "You may take and eat of everything." We receive this gift of life together with the granting of room and time to live in such a way that we are addressed at the same time with the words "You may eat of everything."
Marriage is the granting of room to live. At the same time it is a granting of room to live in time. Such a gift is not stagnant; it can and must be given shape. Marital life must be contoured, molded. So the idea of human beings as "architects" of where they live is important. However, we ourselves do not build the "house" of the world and our own lives; we are only, so to speak, "interior designers." That's because it's not us who speak the first word. Rather, we are spoken to, and it comes from outside of us. Yes, we as human beings can respond since we are the ones who are being addressed by such a word. We respond by receiving the gift and praising the Giver of all good things. The praise of God doesn't take place simply in one's heart, or even less, in some sort of abstract personal encounter with God. Rather it comes about in our sense of awe as the world we encounter is opened up for us by Him who created it. Furthermore it comes in our wonder at the sight of our fellow creatures, especially in that jubilant fellowship of man and wife, as spoken by Adam to Eve, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."
This fellowship is more significant, more beautiful, than any life lived unto self. It shows itself in mutual conversation, in mutual acknowledgement, and as the New Testament teaches us, in mutual submission (Philippians 2:3; Ephesians 5:21), in love where each one obliges the other. No doubt the biblical phrase "mutual submission," is completely misunderstood and misapplied in our day. In all reality, this mutual submission, where love obliges the other is the secret of the adaptability and vitality of a good marriage. When a marriage allows time and room for living this makes possible a balance between nearness and distance. In mutual submission there comes into play a unity for which man and woman have come into existence. "Thus they are no longer two, but one flesh." This is reinforced by Jesus (Mark 10:8) and is consistent with St. Paul, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1 Corinthians 7:4). The importance of being one flesh cannot be stressed enough. Marriage is not a kind of harnessing together of two individuals, a ball and chain or any other lighthearted jokes we like to use about marriage these days. No, it is a third, new entity-one flesh, one distinct and substantial whole. In this "one flesh" lies the "great mystery" of Ephesians 5:32.
Love obliges the other and mutually acknowledges; this fellowship precedes any and all individualizing and has its basis in God's Word: "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper." Here man is granted the privilege of hearing an unambiguous word that pulls him from the whirlpool of multiple possibilities and places him on solid ground. It is the word and will of God that man not be alone. God does not want a soloist; He wants man from the very beginning and to all eternity to be a fellow human being. Don't misunderstand me, this relates not only to marriage but also to unmarried people as well. For now, we will leave unexplored that mutual life of unmarried people. We must assert that the fellowship of man and woman does not originate in an act of the human will; it precedes that act and only then grants it room to be free (Ephesians 2:10).
Thus, if a man and woman wish a Christian marriage service, then they are publicly confessing that they do not attribute their fellowship to themselves, do not owe it to their own action and cannot themselves afford it any guarantee. The public confession as a confession of poverty lies at the heart of the service of worship in the marriage service. It is extremely important that it is a confession, rather than the signing of a contract or the public announcement of such a contract. The man and woman standing before the altar of God and His people are professing allegiance to God's holy and steadfast order of marriage. And this order is not primarily law, but a gift. Confessing their uniting together as a gift from God, they are now confessing it as something they themselves have not ordained, nor will they ever control it. So, what counts is recognizing and acknowledging the word and will of God: He has brought us together and has given and spoken us together. We cannot see marriage as fundamentally a result of our own will, much less a simple contract which could later be dissolved by mutual agreement.
'From the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female." "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate" (Mark 10:6-9). This quality of the marriage union-that it is not under the control of the married couple-means that it is entered into wholeheartedly and without reservation, and of course means that there can be no term set to the duration of the marriage; "till death do us part." Be mindful however, this doesn't mean or imply a limitation placed on freedom, but rather quite the opposite. It is the bedrock of the ultimate development of freedom: its pinnacle.
Rev. Christopher Raffa is the associate pastor of Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created: November 21st, 2015