What GOD Has Joined Together….REALLY?!
As part of our preaching through Matthew, I am slated to preach on “the divorce and remarriage” passage (Mat. 19:1-10) next week.
Pray for me.
As I was working through this passage today, however, I could not help but let my mouth lift up into a smile as I was struck by the incredulity and improbability of this one phrase: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”
The more I reflected upon this, the more I felt that this is one of the most powerful, troubling, exciting, mysterious, and rich demonstrations of the tension which we Christians constantly find ourselves stumped by – the tension between “sovereignty” and “free-will.”
God has joined these two together? Really?
As a child, I suppose I had a fairly grand ideal of marriage. My parents were married, and I could not picture them any other way. They were happy together, and we were happy to be their children. The details of their courtship and early years were edited to such a degree that we could imagine them naturally being drawn – through the intractable forces of fate – to realizing that yes, of course, they were made for one another. At that age, it was easy for me to believe that such things were written in the stars.
As I grew older, however, as I watched, interacted with, then actually became stricken by this deadly malady we all know and fear and revere as “love,” my confidence in the orderliness of it all began to fade. How much, I observed, do practical considerations, luck and timing have to do with it all? One cross-country move at a certain juncture in one’s life, for example, could permanently alter one’s possibility of meeting “The One.” What if The One is on the other side of the world? Perhaps a meeting could never take place.
Don’t most people, after all, find the most-compatible match, from the options presented to them?
And what of the motivations? I have never met a man who – considering that the time for marriage was near – retreated up on a mountain for a month of fasting and quiet retreat. Who then descended with steps full of purpose, a face full of serenity and – with all the certainty with which Jesus chose His disciples – knelt confidently and rigidly on the front steps of his Beloved, rung the doorbell and, when she opened the door, declared: “Verily, thou art the one for me. Come, let us wed and enter a life of perfect bliss together!”
I think a sensible father would meet such a man with either peels of laughter or a shotgun: whatever he does, he must certainly not let him have his daughter’s hand! The man needs counseling, not a wife! This is just not how love works.
But how does it work? How much of the energy fiering the engines of romance, of courtship, of dating engagement and marriage is simple hormones, pheromones, beauty, chemical attraction, and daydreams based on puffery, posing and make-believe?
Seriously – who invented this system?! Who decided that the most foolish stage of life should be the stage where the most important decisions should be made? Who decided that mere children should be saddled with this responsibility? Who decided to bathe this season of life in such an intoxicating mix of perfume of hormones and pheromones? Who decided that the heart – most fickle and deceptive and even wicked instrument that it is – should be the guiding light in the decision?
But what is truly the most mind-boggling about this is that nine times out of ten, this process actually works. True enough, our culture is in a marriage crisis because many people do not stick with their spouses and do not do the hard work of “sticking it out.” This is what my sermon will be on this coming Sunday. However, when it comes to finding a compatible match, one cannot help but notice that most of the time, the people which two love-struck youths would pick for each other actually becomes a better match than what their parents, elders, or a local match-maker could make for them.
As Solomon writes:
18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand:
19 The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid.
It’s a crazy system – but hey, it works!
And then we return to the words of Jesus: “What God has joined together…” Seriously, God? You joined them together? But I talked to him right before the wedding. All he could think about was the honeymoon. I talked to her – all she wants is a little baby in her arms. God, seriously – isn’t this all a mistake, a presumption, a misstep?
The answer is final, and firm, and it should strike the fear of God into us.
“let no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter (of marriage/sexual fidelity) because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” (1 Thess. 4:6)
GOD has joined them together. Woe to the person who presumes to pass judgment on a marriage as immature, or on insufficient basis, or as having irreconcileable differences. Woe indeed to the father, mother, friend, sister, brother, who makes it a personal agenda to attack and weaken and sever and “liberate” a loved one from a “bad” marriage. GOD has joined them together. Let no HUMAN separate them.
It is the great mystery of theology, that God works through human efforts – and even human missteps and sins – to bring about His purposes: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) It is the great mystery of life, that God makes good, and forges lasting and life-giving bonds out of the tangled and confusing and mostly-misguided motivations of youthful romance.
I’m on Solomon on this one. I just don’t get it.
But I worship the God who made it. Romance is as beautiful as it is nonsensical, and only the God of the Bible could have invented something so utterly, mysteriously, captivatingly, bafflingly sublime.
It is, after all, a picture of the irrational, illogical, costly, fiery, fragrant and dramatic love-affair which God has with His church, His bride, with me.
It doesn’t make sense that God loves me. But I am glad that He does: and I love Him for it.
I cannot end this post without mentioning that the Bible also provides three specific instances where a partner is “free” to leave their spouse: infidelity, abandonment and abuse. I am not implying that a spouse – in particular a wife – has no recourse in an abusive marriage. She is free to leave – indeed she must leave at times, for her safety and that of her children. My only point in this post, however, is that every legitimate attempt should be made to work towards reconciliation and resolution of marriage problems before the radical solution of permanent separation is arrived at.