Saturday, October 01, 2016

More Than a Piece of Paper, Marriage Is About THE BOND




I sat in my office with a young man and woman who were living together but not married. He had already proposed to her. "Will you marry me?" he asked her. "Yes!" she responded. 

They moved in together.

One year later she asked him, "When are we going to get married?" She was holding on to the promise he had made to her. He said, "I don't know if I want to marry you," he said. And added: "I don't think we need to get married. It's just a piece of paper."

As I heard this story I asked him: "If marriage is just a piece of paper then why not sign it?" 


He didn't know what to say in regard to my question. I told him he was speechless because marriage is way, way more than "just a piece of paper." Marriage is the formalizing, before God and family and friends, of the covenant promise that was made when he asked her to marry him and she said yes. The wedding ceremony is the sign and seal of THE GREAT COMMITMENT.  

A marriage is a welding. Jesus once referred to marriage as a "welding together" of two people. Let me explain.
In Matthew 19:1-9 large crowds of people come to Jesus, and Jesus is healing them. After this happens some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" This was one of the most controversial questions of that time. It refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where we read that a husband can divorce his wife if he finds “something indecent about her.” The debate was – what does “something indecent” mean?

There were two schools of thought about that. The school of the rabbi Shammai said, “something indecent” means adultery. The school of the rabbi Hillel taught that “something indecent” means anything, even something so trivial as burning your husband’s toast. “So what do you think about this,” the Pharisees asked Jesus?

Jesus’ response is brilliant. Instead of dealing with Deuteronomy 24 he takes them back to Genesis 1 & 2: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." 

A very cool response by Jesus. Why?

Because Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is about troubleshooting; Genesis 1 & 2 is the heart of the owner’s manual. Yes, there is a time for troubleshooting. But Jesus asks, don’t you remember what marriage really is? It’s male and female, united in marriage, becoming one flesh, whom God has “joined together.”
It’s this “joined together” thing that’s especially important. The word means, literally, “welded together.” New Testament scholar R.T. France says “It would be hard to imagine a more powerful metaphor of permanent attachment.” A wedding is a welding, done by God the Master Welder.

I asked a friend who welds to give me a definition of welding. I abbreviate his response to me: “welding” is a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. And “coalescence” is the process by which two or more droplets of metal form a single droplet and become one continuous solid. No wonder they call it “wedlock!”

Jesus is saying to the Pharisees “don’t you remember what God said about a husband and wife? God has welded them together. Don’t let any person try to separate them!" 

Instead of saying he’s for or against divorce Jesus lifts up marriage. The Pharisees seem to have thought that the very legislation about divorce, within the law of Moses, meant that Moses was quite happy for it to take place. Since there's a law to tell you how to do it, that must mean it's OK to do. That would be like seeing a sign that says “In case there’s a fire, take this emergency exit,” and concluding “It must be OK to start a fire in this building.”
Jesus shows the flaw in their thinking by pointing back to God's original intention. Marriage was meant to be a partnership of one man and one woman... for life. Marriage was not meant to be something that could be split up and reassembled whenever one person wanted to end it.

Over 40 years ago Linda and I got welded, wed-locked, together. The result is that a lot of her has gotten into me and a lot of me has gotten into her. I am deeply influenced by her, and her by me. God fused us together into “one flesh.” What a great idea! You can’t get that by cohabiting.
So...  the idea that marriage is "just a piece of paper" is absurd. That's why the young man ultimately refused to sign it.
One of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs, which I've always wanted to sing at a wedding , is "What About the Bond?"

What about the bond?
What about the mystical unity?
What about the bond?
Sealed in the loving presence of the Father.

Cockburn's song has a great groove, and represents the historical meaning of marriage. To marry is to vow something to the other person. One says, "I will neverever, abandon you." That...  is very powerful. During a wedding ceremony I have sometimes asked the couple, "Do you really mean this? Are you a man, and a woman, of your word?"

A vow is different than a contract. With legal help we may be able to get out of a contract. But to vow is to make a bond. A welding creates a bond that keeps two pieces of metal together, forever. If one tries to tear away from the other and succeeds, great damage is done to both.

In King Lear, when Cordelia told her father that “I love your majesty according to my bond, no more or less,” she was expressing the idea that "filial love arises out of a bond of obligation." (Harold James, in Robert George and Jean Bethge Elshtain, eds., The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals, Kindle Locations 1341-1342) Today marriage has become contractual rather than covenantal. Harold James comments:

"Some go as far as to suggest that any other picture of marriage must be a sign of insanity. According to the Princeton historian Hendrik Hartog, “Today everyone understands marriage as an individual life choice, and as an event within an individual life. Though marriage continues to offer the fantasy of continuity and permanence (till death do us part), all sane people who enter into it know that it represents a choice to marry this person at this time and that if living with this person at a later time no longer suggests the possibility of happiness, that you are entitled (have a right) to leave and to try again.”" (Ib., Kindle Locations 1338-1339)

When I married Linda, I spoke vows to her that I wrote, and she to me. On that day we were welded together in the presence of our Father. Today, as our 41st welding anniversary is three months away, the bond holds. We're in agreement with James, who writes: "marriage is a particular kind of relationship, which is not affected by the current or subsequent feelings or emotions of the partners, but which lasts until death." (Kindle Locations 1330-1331)

What about Cockburn's song? Citing Genesis 2:24 almost verbatim, “man and woman / made to be one flesh,” the artist appeals an understanding of marriage rooted in nothing less than the order of creation. This is a covenantal bond, a mystical unity that goes beyond social conventions. This is a bond sealed in the loving presence of the Father that cannot be abandoned glibly in the name of “moving on.” Life is indeed a journey, one involving near-constant change, but this is not change for its own sake. Change, if it is to be healing, must be rooted in and directed by a “love that will abide.” The bond must be maintained or all is lost, all is wasted..." (Walsh, Brian J., Kicking at the Darkness, Kindle Locations 3208-3212)

To those of you who are married: remember the bond.