Genesis 1:26–28a; 2:7, 15–22comment (0)
April 29, 2010
By Mark DeVine
Related Scripture: Genesis 1:26–28a; 2:7, 15–22
Bible Studies for Life
Associate professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
In the Presence of God
Genesis 1:26–28a; 2:7, 15–22
“We are gathered here today in the presence of God.” This opening line of the traditional marriage ceremony should remind us that marriage is not a human invention but rather a divinely established institution. Whether we realize or acknowledge it, marriage is, in a real sense, always holy matrimony in the eyes of the only true God who established it. In marriage, we have business, not just with one another but also with God.
Perhaps few words ever exchanged between two human beings in this world are so personal as, “I do,” expressed by the “almost wife” and the “almost husband” just before the presiding minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Yet, although these words are undoubtedly among the most personal ever spoken, it is appropriate that they traditionally have been articulated, not in private but, “before these witnesses” and “in the presence of God.” It is likewise appropriate for the words “I now pronounce you husband and wife” to be proclaimed not by the newly wedded couple but by the presiding minister of the Word of God. It is further appropriate when that increasingly odd-sounding charge is posed to the witnesses — “If anyone gathered here today knows of any reason why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”
This charge conveys insight regarding the kind of seriousness marriage deserves, according to the Bible’s teaching. Since God established marriage in the creation and bringing together of our first parents, Adam and Eve, the whole community has a stake in the success of every marriage. Should a marriage survive and flourish, the whole community stands to benefit. Likewise should a marriage fail and perhaps even disintegrate, the whole community bears the cost of that failure.
A couple, in other words, cannot legitimately insist that their impending union is nobody’s business but theirs. Yet the gathered community of faith’s invitation to object to the union is not open-ended. There is a time limit. As soon as the marriage bond is sealed, the efforts of both the couple and the community must be for the strengthening, nurturing and blessing of the union — “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder!”
Covenant-shaped, vow-infused, bridge-burning commitments to anyone other than ourselves seem to be vanishing from our world. Even those who take marriage vows bring ever-diminishing levels of confidence regarding the durability of their own marriages. Why? Not least because of the relational wreckage they see all around them. Fewer among us have personal acquaintance with any couple who actually have kept their vows “till death they did part.” Increasingly the notion of a lifelong commitment seems like a fantasy, not a real possibility in the real world.
But our passage this week raises a protest against such forgetful, wrongheaded and dangerous retreat from the divinely established institution of holy matrimony. We cannot toy with, manipulate, distort, discard or defy what God has established on this earth anymore than we can successfully defy the force of gravity. The church’s efforts to minister to divorced people are welcome. Treating divorced people like lepers or semi-demonic creatures branded with a scarlet letter “D” has always been wrong but so is the normalizing of divorce.
We Christians speak much of the need for God’s power in order to bear up under the burdens of this mortal life and so we should, for without supernatural divine enablement, none of us can hope to live the victorious life of God’s children. But what does God promise to empower? Why the keeping of His law, the doing of His will? Immersed within a culture of divorce, let us pray not just for the forgiving and comforting power of God for the perpetrators and victims of divorce. But let us also pray for the strengthening power to defeat divorce, the power to build strong and lasting marriages. Based on our passage, we can be sure that divine power is available for this.