Theology & Spirituality

Love and Marriage

Love Is All You Need

About four months after meeting my wife Sarah, I knew I loved her. I told her as much, and naturally we began talking about our future and the possibilities contained therein. When the question of marriage came up, however, I was slightly taken aback. I know that when people fall in love they traditionally get married, have kids, combine bank accounts, move in with each other, etc. But this was the 21st century, and I knew something even more profound than “traditional wisdom”: I knew that love is all that matters. I didn’t need to get married to prove I loved Sarah, I already knew it in my heart. She knew it too. Who needs marriage?

The relationship we shared was not about forming legal contracts with each other, sharing bank accounts, or changing her last name. Our relationship was about us, about our love, and not about any kind of human tradition externally imposed upon that relationship by “The State” or “The Church”. Furthermore, I was afraid that if I actually married Sarah, I would eventually fall out of love with her because I would get so caught up in my marital responsibilities that I would forget the pure, undefiled, and carefree affection we shared while merely dating.

Love is, after all, supposed to be about a relationship between two people, not a list of duties, responsibilities, or legal contracts.

 

The Institution of Love

While the above story may not sound as absurd today as it would have even fifty years ago, it is largely a work of fiction. Though many of its statements are true individually, the story itself is false. I never questioned the idea that marriage was the intended result of my dating relationship with Sarah. More than simply being the “result” of our dating relationship, marriage was the whole point of the entire process. The institution of marriage has been divinely provided by God as the fullest expression of the love felt between a man and a woman—it is exactly because we did love each other that we wanted to enter into that age-old tradition and legal contract called marriage. The institutionality of marriage could never destroy my love for my wife; only my sin could do that.

The Bible constantly describes the relationship which exists between the Church and Christ as precisely a marriage, but do modern Christians always treat it as such? Do we view our relationship with Christ as involving adherence to an ancient tradition founded on divine ordination? Does our relationship with Him include legally binding contracts, obligations, duties, and roles we must follow in order for the relationship to remain valid? Or do we confuse ourselves with language about how love is based in relationship rather than law?

 

Love and The Law

Can we intentionally commit adultery against our Lord while claiming to love Him? Of course not. While it is true that love is a relationship between two people, it nevertheless remains true that love is the source of the divine Law. The Old Testament (OT) Law was given to the people of Israel out of God’s love for them, for God is love (1 John 4:8)1, and everything He does is from love. Like the institution of marriage, God has given us His Law because He knows us—He knows what we need to do in order to become fully who we were designed to be. As Bishop Kallistos of Dokleia says, “…sin is not the transgression of some impersonal law, ‘but missing the mark,’ the failure to become oneself.”2

God’s Law is not simply a list of do’s and don’ts, but a field guide on how to be completely human. It contains the instructions for becoming who and what we were designed to be from the beginning: the Image of God (Gen. 1:26). Jesus fulfilled the OT Law by giving us its proper interpretation—which ultimately asked more of us than was previously required—and by providing for us the power and means needed for fulfilling these requirements. This fulfillment did not abolish any part of the Law (Matt. 5:17), but completed it—revealed it to be what it always was. For even in the Old Testament God did not want mere observance of physical customs, traditions, and sacrifices, but a real repentance leading to inward change (Jer. 4:4). This is exactly what the prophet Micah illustrated when he asked the children of Israel:

With what should I enter the Lord’s
presence?
With what should I bow before the sov-
ereign God?
Should I enter his presence with burnt
offerings,
with year-old calves?
Will the Lord accept a thousand rams,
or ten thousand streams of olive oil?
Should I give him my firstborn child as
payment for my rebellion,
my offspring – my own flesh and blood –
for my sin?
He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from
you:
He wants you to promote justice, to be
faithful,
and to live obediently before your God.3

This text does not mean to imply that in Old Testament times God did not want from His people what had been required under the sacrificial worship of the Law. He wasn’t giving the Israelites an excuse not to offer Him proper worship, or not to follow the Tradition which He Himself had given to them. God was simply revealing to His people that adhering to the external traditions was not enough, that they had go further than tradition and break their own hearts in contrition, and that only “then will [He] delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered [Him] on [His] altar.”4

So too Jesus, when condemning the Pharisees, said, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”5 Jesus did not command the Pharisees to abandon their traditions and start a new religion, but actually added further requirements upon those of the OT Law. He was properly interpreting for the Jews of first-century Palestine the Law He gave to Moses some 1400 years before. Again He spoke to them: “You have heard that it was said of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”6 Jesus did not mean that I am free to kill my brother so long as I am not angry with him. While it is still necessary to follow the Law outwardly, Jesus says we must also follow it inwardly (Matt. 23:25).

 

Traditions of Love

When many modern Christians look at the ancient traditions of the Catholics, Orthodox, or high-church Protestants, they believe that in all of the physical expressions of piety they see ‘Phariseeism.’ However, true ‘Phariseeism’ is not located in simply having regulations, traditions, and historical customs. He who is without tradition is without history, and whoever is ignorant of history is “doomed to repeat it.”7 Rather, Phariseeism is located precisely in the false assumption that because I fulfill the outward requirements of the Law I therefore have no obligation to go further with my sanctification and fulfill the inward requirements as well: trusting solely in “good works,” and thereby neglecting “justice and the love of God.”8

Christ has fulfilled the Law; He has given us our eternal wedding vows in all of their legal, contractual, and ontological reality. We should not fear that such a “tradition” could blind us from a real and true love of God: only our own sin can do that.

If, then, Christ has fulfilled (that is, completed, perfected, and properly interpreted) God’s Law for us, we should take heed to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”9 For we, as modern Christians, have been given the completed Law of God, and “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”10

As the children’s ditty attests, our relationship with God and the Law He has given us—that is, our love of God and our marriage vows to Him—”go together like horse and carriage.”

Let us be sure to keep our marriage vows sacred.


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Micah Carlson

Micah Carlson

Micah is a writer and a student. He holds a BA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies and a BA in Philosophy from Western Michigan University. He enjoys Linux, reading, practising martial arts, firearms training, playing chess, and of course, spending time with his wife.

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