There are a great many similarities between Christ and the church, our relationship to the Father and our relationship in marriage. It’s been said consistently that marriage is a shadow that greatly symbolizes Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5 pretty much lays this out for us:
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
I’d like to trace this out a little bit differently. As Christians, our sinful nature separates us from our Lord in our own lives over and over again. It must be understood, and remembered, that it is our God who steps into our lives and interacts with us, brings us into communion and community with Him and our fellow saints. All our good actions, thoughts and words are results of His intervention in our lives, specifically through His Spirit who dwells within us.
Outside of Christ, all good is vanity, merely a superficial sugar coating on what is ultimately twisted and evil, so appearances deceive. We must not base our lives and qualities on that which the World puts on display as right or righteous. So I’m talking most to Christians here, from what I believe should be the proper Christian perspective.
As Husband and Wife, there are idols which replace our proper relationship to each other. They may seem right, or even be essentially indistinguishable from our marital relationship. But as we have our perpetual idol factories going on all our days, separating us from our Lord’s good will and commands, those same sorts of idols do double duty to divorce us from our marriages. I perceive most of these because they are little shadows and great chasms in my own family, but some are based on what I’ve observed outside as well.
What they are, specifically, I would think becomes obvious, as soon as we think of our barriers to proper marital relationships as idol-like things. Obsession with work (in order to provide, of course), obsession with the kids (replacing that of husband or wife), preservation of the house or living status or any number of other material things. All sorts of little and big things we may believe are part of our familial duties become more important to us than the family itself. Even the devotion of a husband to his wife can be compromised by just the secret little place of spite that is hidden away but resides in every thing he does for her. Hypocritical commitment is not commitment at all, but is a living, breathing divorce that endures over time, seeping bitterness and alienation into what is God’s greatest (and first) establishment of human interrelation.
We create idols for our marriage just for the same reasons that we do so in place of God. Because we only want to trust what we control, what we can manipulate. Or worse, what we think we can understand and develop. Yes, she isn’t easy to figure out or he isn’t easy to live with. No, she isn’t what you originally bargained for (bargained? What? I think that’s pretty shoddy, considering all good things come from the Lord and He is the one who designed her and presented her to you in the first place). No, he isn’t obsessed with you like he was in the beginning.None of these things holds water to what God designed in marriage and none of the substitutes make up in any way.
Here is the answer. It’s probably disappointing to read, but it’s all I’ve been able to figure out in 15 years of marriage. Christ. The directions we have for our relationship to Christ are our directions for doing right by our spouse. I mean that literally: If we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and we are to submit to our husbands as the church submits to Christ, then lets do that first. Look for devotion to Him and devotion to spouse should follow suit.
The church, being the Bride, should as a whole be alert to this equation and seek to build it in the marriages that comprise her membership. Members of the Body of Christ should be able to come to their church for support and leadership in marriage trials. But all of this depends on the whole being devoted to Christ, His Word and sacraments. Without the elements of the Faith, ain’t nonna this going to go much farther. All else that has developed in and outside the Christian religion is but works without belief and trust in the Savior. Counseling, tips, guidebooks, philosophy, 12-steps, all of these are works. The sacrifice, devotion, empathy, sympathy, emotion and everything else that comprise the sweetness of marriage are only real if they develop out of a commitment to the Lord and because we believe and love Him first. He makes it work, not us. The mystery, of course is that God makes the trials and efforts we endure and enact build our relationships. Ponder that, but depend on Him.