Marriage and the kingdom of God

Marriage and the kingdom of God

When two people stand up in front of witnesses on their wedding day, they make a range of traditional vows. They promise to be faithful to one another until they are parted by death. And when those vows are made, they really mean them! No-one expects their marriage to end at that point.

Yet, as any married person will tell you, marriage is hard work. There will be misunderstandings, disagreements, and times when everything seems difficult. Sometimes, one spouse won’t like the other one very much. And that’s before some kind of extra pressure that might be placed on the relationship by illness, job losses, children or a pandemic.

What the answer the world gives? Well, if things are too hard, you can divorce. And many do. The divorce rate is over 40% in most countries these days. And the early indications from the statistics of the past few years show that stress from the pandemic and increased time in isolation for couples has led to an increase in the number of divorces. If it’s not working, or it’s too difficult, you can leave.

Perhaps the modern world gives divorce a more prominent place, but it existed in the ancient world too. In Matthew 19, some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question about divorce. Moses had allowed divorce in Deuteronomy 24. Some religious teachers said that you could divorce your wife for very minor things, and others said it had to be something major. Jesus’ answer was firm: marriage is intended to be permanent. Yes, there are allowable exceptions like unfaithfulness, but the principle is that marriages should remain together if at all possible. Divorce should be rare and unusual, not common. This answer led to follow-up questions from the Pharisees and surprise by the disciples. All of them knew marriage was difficult and that Jesus’ position would mean hard work.

Why does it matter so much to God that marriages stay together if at all possible? It is because marriage was built into the world as an illustration of the gospel. We see this in Ephesians 5. The love of a husband for a wife should illustrate God’s love for his people. God loved his people, including us, through our unfaithfulness and sin and problems. It is in his perseverance that we see his grace so clearly. We should be illustrating that in our marriages too. Don’t look to the option of divorce as an easy out; hard work at reconciliation and fixing problems in your marriage will be a much better illustration of the gospel to a watching world. And it will also help you personally understand what it must be like for God to love someone like us!