Our confusions surrounding marriage are legion, and therefore it is no surprise that our confusions bleed into how we raise our sons and daughters or how we think about pursuing marriage or try to function within marriage. But all of these things are related and relate back to Christ and His union with His Bride, the Church. Our theology comes out our fingertips.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The previous verse echoed Adam’s poem regarding the glory of the first woman, his wife, affirming that we are one with Christ, “of his flesh and of his bones” (5:30). And Genesis says that it is for that reason, that a man leaves his father and mother (Gen. 2:24). Because man was made first and the woman was taken from the man to become his glory, a man leaves his father and mother (Eph. 5:31). This leaving is for the purpose of forming a new union, a new family, to become one flesh with his wife (Eph. 5:31). Paul says that “this” one-flesh union is a great mystery, but the real mystery is how this is true of Jesus and His church (Eph. 5:32).
WE ARE NOT TRIBALISTS
We are not tribalists; we are Christians. And this means that when a marriage occurs a new family comes into existence. While the fifth commandment continues to be in force when a new family is formed, the honor due takes on a new tenor. Likewise, when a man leaves his parents’ household, he is forming a new household and he no longer owes the same kind of obedience to his parents, beyond basic biblical morals or inter-familial decisions. This means that a Christian marriage honors parents while making its own decisions before God and forming new habits and customs, and this requires some measure of space. It’s a great blessing to live near our families, and in general can be something we lean toward, but co-dependent children, overbearing parents, and tribal compounds can create real familial snarls.
THE BASIC SHAPE
The basic shape of Christian courtship and marriage is that a man leaves; a woman is given. Of course sometimes a woman grows up and also leaves in a sense, but when a man leaves, he leaves to establish a direction, a mission before God. In a Christian family, a grown daughter still looks to her family for support and protection, even if she does eventually form her own household. But a woman is ordinarily looking for man on a mission to join. It is good and right for a woman to use her gifts on her own, but she is made by God to make a home and so her calling/vocation will always be subordinate to that primary instinct of nurture and hospitality.
This means that asking a woman out on a date is an interruption by design. A woman is called to cleave, to join her husband’s mission. While this does not obliterate a woman’s interests or gifts, those interests and gifts really are submitted to the mission of her husband. It is not true that a man and a woman join in marriage and then work out a joint-partnership in terms of the direction and mission of the family. This will only result in great confusion, heartache, and resentment. In an offer of marriage, a woman is being asked to join a man’s mission.
THAT PRIMAL WOUND
A woman comes into maturity biologically, but a man comes into maturity more experientially, through the “blood” of crisis and survival. This is why boys in particular must be taught to be tough from their earliest years; they must be required to fight through their pain, their hunger, their fatigue, and their sins. As boys grow up, they must be encouraged to take risks, face consequences, and not be coddled or shielded, particularly by momma bears. This is also why boys need to see their fathers “leaving” to go out into the world to work and returning faithfully with provision. They are learning to embrace that adventure.
While Adam was literally wounded by God to come into his maturity as a husband, ever since, a man is “wounded” by leaving his father and mother. A young man must embrace the sacrifice of taking responsibility for himself, for his future, acting and thinking for himself before God and facing the real life consequences of those choices. Under God’s blessing, that leaving is ordinarily the path to marriage and family and dominion, but the cursed version of leaving is abandonment. We live in a culture that is facing the increasing results of young men abandoned, particularly by their fathers. And this is why the message of the gospel is for our culture: Christ, the perfect Son, came and endured that particular curse, that God-forsaken Hell, in order to restore all the lost and estranged boys back to their Good Heavenly Father.
A GREAT MYSTERY
Paul acknowledges that this whole thing is a great mystery, and the way of a man with a maid really is too wonderful (Prov. 30:19). But Paul is quick to insist that the real mystery, the real wonder is how this union has its greatest expression in Christ and the Church. Christ left His Father on a mission to save the world, and He endured the shame and misery of the Cross, so that from His side, a new Eve, the Christian Church might be formed. But that is not all: Christ bled and died so that He and the Christian Church might be one. The really glorious mystery is that Christ is more one with His bride than any human marriage in the history of the world. We who are sinners are united to the sinless One. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5, Gal. 3:23ff).
This great mystery is not the obliteration of male and female. In Christ, the image of God is being restored and glorified, while the enmity is being crushed and destroyed. In Christ, man is restored to the glory of God, and woman is restored to the glory of man (1 Cor. 11). In Christ, men who leave their fathers and mothers are never abandoned, and they are empowered take back up the mission of God, and under His blessing, they are crowned with the glory of a wife. In Christ, husbands are strengthened to love, wives are strengthened to respect, and in so doing, the wedding feast of the Lamb comes a little closer: the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 19:7-9, 21:2).