17 December 2017

Life & Sole: The Reality of Marriage

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” Ephesians 5:21-27 

We do not expect single adults to be the audience for this particular excerpt from the Bible. However, to skip over the lessons within it would be a great mistake. We do not all choose to be single, in fact, for many it is a difficult position to be in. However, have you ever stopped to think about the reality of what it means to be married to someone?

We have all grown up with the Hollywood glamorisation of marriage – the couple meet and experience amazing chemistry that culminates in marital bliss. With this as our model it is hard to have a realistic impression of marriage. This ‘movie marriage’, recognised by us all, actually stems from aristocratic circles in High Medieval and Early Modern Europe, where chivalric romance was a style of heroic prose. Either way, it is not based on the daily reality of what is actually demanded from each individual in a marriage. The fiction in films does not reflect the fact of marriage.

I wonder how many of us know the Biblical principles of marriage; the ones we read about in Ephesians that describe marriage as an opportunity to radically commit to and sacrifice oneself for another human being, as Jesus Christ did for the church? Why is our Western picture of marriage so different from the Biblical one? Alongside the Hollywood presentation of happy marriages, we have also been fed fairy tales from a young age, in which, the majority of the time, romance is at the heart of the story. If we look at Disney Classics such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Aladdin’, these always have a romantic ending. Not only that, they conclude on the wedding day scene, with no further interest in the marriage beyond. Interestingly, this ‘happily ever after’ conclusion is not necessarily the case in the original version of these stories from different parts of the world. For example, the original Arabian ‘Aladdin’ story had no romantic story line at all. Also, ‘The Little Mermaid’ from Hans Christian Andersen did not end happily, rather it concluded with the tragic death of the mermaid. These stories were altered for a Western audience, where the romantic love is the ultimate of all ideals.

Today everything seems to be focused on feelings and emotions. We read ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’ written by Shakespeare and describe it as the epitome of the romantic love story. However, it should be remembered that the author did not call this play a ‘romance’ but a ‘tragedy’. The play shows how romantic love, when taken to an extreme, can cause destruction and tragedy. Romantic love is also mentioned in the Bible. Sadly, these Biblical examples illustrate the dangers of this kind of love. In Judges 16:4 Samson “fell in love” with Delilah, who manipulated him and led him to his downfall. Also in 2 Sam.11 King David, compelled by his emotions and hormones, entered an adulterous relationship with beautiful Bathsheba. The act of adultery produced a child who died a week after birth. The tragedy continued when David killed Bathsheba’s husband. In the very next chapter (2 Sam 13) Amnon, David’s son, fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom. In this account incest, rape and murder are the fruits of this romantic love that went wrong. Heartache is piled upon heartache in these instances where romantic love (as is coveted in our Western society) is the focus of the story.

From these stories we can assume that romantic love it is not necessarily the key to Christ centred marriage. It is certainly one aspect of the relationship, but it is unhealthy to expect that a romantic love will provide all the fundamental needs for a healthy marriage. Many people just want to find someone to marry. But the wedding day is not the final destination – our lives are not fairy tales! If we read carefully we discover that Eph. 5:21 it is not about me, but about the other person in the relationship. If we are seeking for a marriage are we really looking for the self-sacrificing and submissive love demonstrated by Christ’s love for the Church?

The Church, as the body of Christ, must teach, model and strongly mentor its members on developing Christ centred marriages – relationships that are based on submission and obedience to each other and to Christ. We should start this mentoring earlier than the couple of weeks before the wedding. We, as Christians, should learn to look past ‘movie moments’ to see the reality of the work involved in building a healthy and Christ centred marriage. Always imagine the picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church and go from there!

Zuzana Polackova