Thoughts on Marriage (or, “An Exercise in Hubris”)

A friend of mine wrote a brief blog post on a subject I have been ruminating on for a few years, the purpose of marriage. His post compels me to write. I dare not say this is exactly in opposition to him, for he writes with several advantages over me:

  1. First of all, he has actually been successful, while I am twice married and twice divorced. The fact that both of my marriages and divorces were to and from the same woman may tell for or against me; I will leave that alone.
  2. He is demonstrably smarter than I am.
  3. He is a priest (Anglican/Episcopalian, hence #1 above) and has actually studied more than a little on these subjects. Mine was Psychology and Computer Technology, and much longer ago
  4. His post is full of biblical references,which he uses accurately.
  5. And most difficult for me, he is right.

Facing all these issues, how could I possibly resist the urge to stick in my own oar?

“Rev. Reagan” wrote that

“Marriage is all about Jesus. It cannot be understood apart from him.

God created marriage as a living metaphor to explain salvation to us.”

and I would not want to change a single word of his post. But it is a very short piece, and I think there is more, and more fundamental. I believe marriage is tied up with the very essence of what God is purposing in his creation of humanity, and that this relates to his own nature, his own image.

Perhaps it’s because I am looking for it, that I have become somewhat sensitized to the references, but as I read the Bible I am often struck by references to a communal plurality within God: whether it is “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” in Genesis, the prologue of John’s account of the Gospel, or in the prayers of Jesus where He refers to His unity with the Father… wait a second… His “unity”? But was the subject not plurality, instead of unity? My observation clashes with the one fundamental doctrinal statement that God is One. Of course, Christians will instantly know that I am speaking of the Trinity, and the idea that God, the fundamental reality of all that is, is a “plural unity;” that is, a being that is three, though in a way that is also one, neither enumeration supplanting the other. For this post, I will not go further into my understanding of the Trinity, why it is, why it must be, why three and only three, etc. I have given my thoughts on the Holy Trinity here.

OK, why this excursion through things Trinitarian? I take it as almost axiomatic that things made bear some remembrance of, or some likeness to, the maker. We make things that are in ways great or small like us. If this “plural unity” is true, and at the center of all things, I would expect to see some reflections of that in this world; I think that I do see such reflections, and the most striking example is marriage.

When I was in school, one of the nascent fields was that of Artificial Intelligence, particularly in the use of AI as a means of insight into the way our minds work. One of the avenues was that of duplicating the errors made. There may be many algorithms that can reach the same result (say, how to recognize a face), but if you come up with an algorithm that makes the same kinds of mistakes that humans make, your algorithm is probably related to the one the brain uses. In extension, I believe that most or all of the errors made in marriage (and here alone I have the advantage of Rev. Reagan!) are very similar to the classical errors and heresies concerning the Trinity.

One error is to minimize the Unity “The Lord your God is One” This is echoed by “The two shall become one flesh.” I take it that this is something more than a partnership, or corporation; that something real is meant by “one flesh” and that when we fail to discern that union, when we fail to nurture, increase and celebrate it within our marriage we are moving away from health. But the opposite error is to fail to discern the persons within the Trinity. They are no more manifestations of the One adapted to the conditions (ice, water, and steam) than E and S Sawyer were subsumed into one being. We commonly call that “codependency.” Having made both of these errors, sometimes at the same time, I am quite comfortable saying that as we contemplate what the relationship between the Father and the Son is like within the One (and the Gospels provide a good bit to think about here),there is very little that does not affect how I should see my spouse, or how I should see my own persona within the “one flesh” of marriage, or how I should understand “us.”

I had said that all this relates to God’s intention in creating humanity in the first place. As if presuming to know such a thing is not the definition of hubris! I recognize that only God knows the mind of God, and yet we believe that He is rational, and that what He does makes sense, whether or not we are able to understand.

And I think that at least to this extent, we can get a glimpse. All through the Bible, we see plural and singular intermixed. We see references to Israel the man, and the people Israel used almost interchangeably. We have references in the epistles to being “in Adam” or “in Christ.” It seems that my cultural obsession with individualism is not perhaps the whole truth. It is not false, but there is much more to the story. Jesus prays

“that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…”

and

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity…”

“…and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Maybe I am wrong, but I think that when He called for us to have the same kind of unity He has with the Father (the unity within the Trinity) He meant and means something more than that we would all just get along. From this prayer in John 17, just before the crucifixion, it seems like it was and is important to Him.

In short, it seems to me that in the creation of humanity, God intends to create something very like His own nature as a plural unity, a unity bound together by love in freedom, with the unity recognized and yet the persons not subsumed.

But theory and doctrine won’t get us there. I need a lab section to the course; a place to understand what that kind of unity looks like. More to my own background, I need to understand what it does NOT look like. Yes, all this is something God will have to do, I cannot reach it. Perhaps in a similar way, a tulip bulb does not have to engineer itself into a tulip, but it does have to grow into that which God is making it to be. Marriage is the best place we experience that, both to understand more of our Father, and to have the chance to grow into what He intends that we become.

“But there are only two in marriage.” Yes, and that is the smallest unit in which any of these ideas apply. There is much more to be said here, but a short little fiction on the idea can be found here in a post called “Sweethearts in Heaven.”

This collection of thoughts comes to me from the centrality of the Holy Trinity, and whether it has meaning in this world, or if it just a debate topic for scholars. I think the nature of God matters. Again, I affirm everything “Rev. Reagan” said about marriage showing the relationship of Jesus and us, the church. Indeed, that description is more explicitly scripturally based, and is perhaps more instructive to me as to “how I should then live” than is mine. But I cannot help but see this other level.

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