18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.–Genesis 2:18-25
Throughout Scripture, God uses the picture of marriage as the image to describe the covenant relationship between Him and His people. I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of years studying this connection as I have attempted to put the marriage relationship in proper perspective in my own life. The purpose of marriage is not to make me happy. It’s not about my security, provision, protection or personal fulfillment. It’s not so I can have a piece of paper declaring my right to engage in sexual activity. It’s not designed to be the normalizing event in my life. It’s not merely the secure relationship that is best for bringing children into this world. It’s not even the defining relationship required to make me the most effective for serving God.
If you study the concept of marriage in the whole of Scripture, I believe you will come to the same conclusion that I did: marriage between a man and a woman is to be a picture of the nature of God (unity in community, a complete image of the nature of God) and an image of the Gospel displayed before a watching world. There is no relationship more intimate, more precious, more trying, or more sanctifying than marriage. There is no human relationship that is more difficult, but also not one that is more unifying.
While God has a lot to say about marriage and how it is a picture of our relationship with Him, I have also learned that how we view marriage says a lot about how we view God. I have read more than one article about the current phenomenon of the “starter marriage.” It has become quite common to see a couple in their early to mid-20’s get married only to be divorced within a few short years. Sometimes the cause is immaturity, sometimes it is infidelity. Most of the time it seems they give up on the marriage before it ever really gets started. But the overarching cause is a fatal misunderstanding of the purpose of marriage. Instead of viewing marriage as a human example of our relationship with God—as the crowning relationship of our life—it is viewed as just one of many relationships. Marriage is supposed to be good all the time. Our spouse is always supposed to do exactly what we expect them to do. Marriage is just like single life, except now I will be living with my boyfriend and we get to have sex—or at least we finally get to without being sneaky and feeling guilty about it.
When the marriage relationship gets tough, we don’t cling tightly to it, committed to work it out. We don’t remember the vows made, we aren’t committed to promises we made. Instead, we behave just like the adulterous Israelites; when the going gets tough, the weak return to the idols of their youth. A tell-tale sign that there are problems in a marriage is when one spouse or the other establishes an emotional relationship with a member of the opposite sex; sometimes it’s a new friend. Often it is an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. But regardless of where they go looking, they find what they think they are missing in someone other than their spouse. The “leaving” of the former life and the “cleaving” to the new that is prescribed in Genesis 2 is replaced with “returning” to the comfort of the past and “separating” from the challenge of the new.
We generally don’t “leave and cleave” in our society anymore. Marriage is just added to our lives. We attempt to keep our lifestyles, keep our friends, keep our habits, our self-centered schedules, our relationships with those of the opposite sex; and when the marriage gets in the way of my life, I don’t sacrifice the single life, I sacrifice the marriage on the alter of self. Marriage today has been reduced to having a roommate whose purpose is to meet your emotional, financial, and sexual needs with minimal investment on your part. Problems surface pretty quickly when even one partner is expecting maximum return with minimal investment. And that’s when it becomes very convenient that “leaving and cleaving” never took place. When you never separated yourself from your single life, it’s pretty easy to return to it.
How much is that a picture of how we often treat God? We like the benefits of a relationship with God—after all, no one wants to go to Hell when they die. But we aren’t always so quick to appreciate the sacrifices required to establish the relationship on a foundation that will make it intimate, secure, and persevering. We in America like to add God to our already full shelf of personal deities. We like the idea of Jesus, but we want to keep our money, our sex, our families, our recreational activities, our jobs, our old friends, our old hangouts, our old habits. Instead of denying all, taking up our cross, dying to self and following Him, we just add Jesus to our lives. Jesus made the maximum investment– His very life– and we still expect the maximum return on our minimal investment of Sunday mornings at church and blessing the food before we eat.
And then one day the going gets tough. Jesus calls us to come and die, and we don’t like that idea. Jesus asks us to count the cost of our commitment to Him, and we don’t like what it will cost us. He asks us to put away something that, in and of itself is not a bad thing, but we have made it an idol in our life. If we have truly left our former lives and are cleaving to Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will respond to Jesus like Peter did in John 6. Jesus issued a similar challenge to the multitudes who followed him, and we are told, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?'” Peter gave the answer of one who understood the concept of leaving and cleaving. So often though, like the multitudes that abandoned Jesus, we discover that following Christ is not what we thought it would be, and we return to our old lives, because in reality, we never left.