Marriage and the Gospel Story

by Tim Pauls

No one has ever made me look so decrepit before my time as Carl, devoted husband. Once his Vera was moved to the memory unit, I’d pick up Carl at his apartment and, together, we’d walk down the hall, out the door and across the driveway. Carl had recently been sentenced to a walker, and he’d grudgingly push it along lest a nurse catch him and give him the what-for.

We’d find Vera in a chaotic commons area, and it went the same way every time: Carl would abandon his walker, take Vera’s wheelchair and start the long laborious trek down the hallway to her quiet room.

I would follow, slow little steps like Tim Conway’s “Oldest Man” character, pushing his walker along as if it were my own.

In terms of speed and efficiency, it made so much more sense for me to push the wheelchair. But I never even got around to making the suggestion: it was pretty clear that as long as Carl was able, he was going to look after his bride of sixty-some years.

It’s why I didn’t just enjoy seeing Carl and Vera. I enjoyed seeing Carl and Vera together. I miss them.

When St. Paul describes marriage in Eph. 5:22-33, he drops in that curious verse 32 that, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” I’ve used the passage many times to talk to couples about how the relationship of Christ and His bride provides a wonderful pattern for marriage. Paul’s point, though, is the opposite, that God gives marriage as a constant reminder of Christ and His bride. While they are not the Gospel and no substitute for the means of grace, the Lord’s incarnations of marriage and family are given to remind us of His gifts of forgiveness, redemption and life in His Son.

Under assault these days, marriage is usually defended on the basis of morality or because it is the foundation of stable homes, secure children and society itself. But besides these godly concerns of law, the devil won’t stop attacking because marriage illustrates the Gospel.

If marriage is to depict redemption, do the world’s alternatives teach a different, false narrative? If marriage teaches of Christ’s enduring love, then does divorce teach that God breaks His promises? Does cohabitation teach that God is unwilling to commit, but just wants to try out the relationship for a while? As same-sex marriage pairs equivalents with no hope of procreation, does the relationship teach that there is no God or future hope? Should society slide into polyamory, will the ensuing “families” suggest a pantheon of gods who sort of care for a community, but where none claim us as his own children?

It’s speculative on my part, I suppose; but those who champion, or have suffered from, these alternatives are often unwilling to hear of sin and forgiveness. Maybe it’s only that they don’t want to hear about sin. But maybe it’s more, that those lifestyles are teaching a false narrative that there is no forgiveness.

I don’t see society making a swift reversal and supporting traditional marriage and family anytime soon. I pray that, as the world continues to war against these gifts of God, the ensuing chaos will lead many into the marriage and family that will not pass away: Christ and His Church, against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.

In the meantime, a hat-tip in memory of Carl and Vera, and to all those other long-married couples who still hold hands and stick together after all these years. Their commitment to one another is a testimony of the benefits of saying—and living out—”until death parts us.” But even more than that, those lasting unions are a reminder of Christ’s enduring love for His bride, and whose resurrection ensures that He and His people will never be parted again.

The Rev. Tim Pauls is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.

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7 Responses to Marriage and the Gospel Story

  1. Jim Lindsey March 14, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    I’ve never heard any of them say heterosexuals shouldn’t get married. They are just asking for the he right for a contractural Union (which would be the same as a marriage) giving them the right to develop their fidelity that Church marriages seem to have lost.

    • Tantalus April 3, 2016 at 9:57 am #

      Yet, we are forced to defend ourselves from an onslaught of pro-gay marriage proponents. Why should I and others like me be forced to give up our religious practices for the sake of Political Correctness? Gays can marry, this has already been decided in the SCOTUS, but no one guaranteed them the right to have it performed in an LCMS church.

      We have just as many rights to our religious freedom and belief as they do to marriage.

  2. Rev. Gerald Kliner March 14, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    Thank you for the article. Indeed Lutherans are in desperate need of a coherent “Theology of Marriage,” in which the explicit link between the Gospel and the estate of marriage is drawn out. It is interesting, however, that you name cohabitation, “same sex” marriage, and polyamory as challenges and assaults on marriage, but you neglect to name divorce. My contention (and it is not unique) is that the Marriage, and the Church’s understanding of it, profoundly was undercut when we accepted divorce as a “normal” part of life. If “Covenant” is the basis of the Gospel, and hence of Marriage, then what happens when that “Covenant” is disposable and can be broken? Part of the Gospel’s promise is that God will NOT dispose of the Covenant made with us in Holy Baptism when our sin gets in the way. And yet the Church allows the disposition of the Covenant in Marriage for any number of reasons; and perhaps “just because” one or both parties has grown tired of it. So, how can the Church tilt at cohabitation, “same sex” marriage, and polyamory as betraying the covenant revealed through the Gospel and yet continue to countenance divorce with nary a thought?

    • Rachel March 15, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

      He does name divorce in that same paragraph: “If marriage teaches of Christ’s enduring love, then does divorce teach that God breaks His promises?”

    • Delwyn X. Campbell April 2, 2016 at 6:06 pm #

      Just as it is not God’s fault that people reject His promises given to them in baptism, thus the Calvinist “Eternal Security” or Once-Saved-Always-Saved is an error, so it is with marriage. A person can violate their marriage vows, or abandon their spouse and marry another. This is not God’s fault, nor is it the innocent spouse’s fault. We show our faith by our works. The person who refuses to love his neighbor reveals his unbelief, and the person who cheats or leaves his or her spouse shows their rejection of the marriage covenant. The believer is no more under bondage in such cases, than is God in the case of the person who walks away from his baptism.

  3. Ziggy Rein March 14, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    As a lifelong bachelor (I’m 73) I marvel at Christian couples who have been married 30, 40, 50 or more years. It’s amazing to me to see two people, who are so different from each other—their physiology, their brain, their emotions are diametrical opposites—complement each other. Yet God in His infinite wisdom put a husband and wife together in an intimate loving, caring, and faithful relationship—for life.

  4. David Fleming March 15, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    Thank you for this beautiful, timely, and insightful piece! I can’t wait to meet Carl and Vera. Thanks be to God for giving us marriage as a picture of Jesus’ unfailing commitment to us.

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