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An advantageous alliance

1 Peter 3:7

How people see marriage connects directly to how they see eternity, or are blind to it.  Jane Austen’s characters, conceived around English thought about social status and wealth, sometimes referred to marriage as an “alliance.”  Alliances could be more or less advantageous depending on the fortune and connections of the partners.  Even in today’s materialistic society, the notion of married people being social and fiscal allies comes off as a queasy mix of quaint and mercenary, like certain tacky political marriages formed where ambition intersects with mutual exploitation.  Ick.

There have been many times and places where marriage was reduced to simple possession.  A man had a wife, period.  A wife didn’t have much of anything, which is still the way it is in Moslem countries where womanhood is a birth defect.

Much of Western culture has jettisoned the whole concept of marriage, seeing no need for it.  If life is viewed from the sinkhole of secularism, marriage  looks like unjustifiable confinement.  What’s it about?  Sex and children?  But partners for recreational sex are available on any street corner, and forget about children — the world has too many humans already.  If evolution has afflicted a woman with an irresistible urge to breed, reproduction works as well with a sperm donor as it does with a live man.  To the Secular Man, marriage is about obligations and legal entanglements for no apparent reason at all.  They do not understand why others keep getting involved in it.

The majority view on marriage, if “view” is the right word, is a Christian residue now decayed into mere custom, all hollowed out and emptied of any transcendent purpose.  Nobody stops during the dating game to ask, “Why am I doing this?”  It’s just what everybody does, so they go with it.  Absent a sense of purpose, the inevitable personal sacrifices of marriage thereafter grow in stages from pointless to tedious, burdensome, and finally infuriating.  It’s how people end up resentful, bitter, detesting each other, getting divorced, squabbling vengefully over kids and property, and grieving in oceans of disappointment.

The biblical view, meant for Christians, is that married people are “heirs together of the grace of life.”  (1 Pe 3:7)  The phrase is freighted with several uniquely Christian ideas about marriage, namely, that it exists for a purpose higher than itself, that the spouses share alike in this purpose, that they share it together as children of God, that this purpose lies before them in a future too glorious to imagine (1 Cor 2:9), and that it’s wrapped together in a covenant of life ordained at the foundation of the world. (Ge 2:21-25)  Even the word “life” is meant to convey all that God has for his people.  “I have come,” said Jesus, “that they might have life, and that more abundantly.”  (John 10:10)  Christian spouses are heirs to this as God’s children together, working out the covenant of marriage as a quest, living to accomplish for God’s glory what could not be done alone.  The children born of such a covenantal union then carry the mission over the horizon of time where their parents cannot go.

The Bible says we are to be transformed from glory into glory,  (2 Cor 3:18) which is to say, from the glory we share as heirs of grace to the glory we will share in the world that is to come.  Christian marriage is part of this eternal plan, showing forth in flesh and blood the covenant of redemption between Christ and his church.

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