For better or for worse

Morgan Tsvangirai must be regretting the amount of space the papers are giving to his marriage. The ups and downs are confusing, but perhaps they prompt us to think of marriage in general. It is an institution filled with meaning.

Both husband and wife are setting out on a journey ‘without knowing where they are going’ (Hebrews 11: 8). Each is drawn by love to the other but they cannot know the future. ‘Will we really be able to live together for 50 years?’ It is a question without an answer. While there is excitement about entering into marriage – and lovers can think of little else – there is still a risk. And this risk is part of the beauty.

On their wedding day each makes a commitment to the other ‘for better or for worse’ without having a clue what the future has in store for them. When we think of it this is an extraordinary thing to do.

It is, as it were, taking on the universe and changing its course! ‘I am going to take on this man or woman and we are going to change the world and we hope to have children who will also make an impact.’ ‘Look, I am making the whole of creation new,’ (Revelation 21: 5). We can be amazed at the power we have to make a difference.

So there are risks and there are also opportunities. But the element that stands out is the gift of self, one to the other. It is total and it is timeless. Nothing is held back and as a result the horizon is limitless.

There is a passage in Mark’s gospel (Ch. 10) where Jesus regrets the tampering with this ideal that the people seem to have forced on Moses. ‘He allowed us,’ the Pharisees say, ‘to draw up a writ of divorce.’

‘It was because you were so unteachable,’ replies Jesus, ‘but it was not like that from the beginning.’ Jesus holds up the ideal because he sees it as a way men and women can reach the height of what it is to be human – and so approach the divine.

And he also knows that the scriptures are full of marriage imagery when it comes to describing God’s relationship with his people. The prophets are blunt about the failure of Israel to live according to the covenant – ‘you have deserted your God to play the whore,’ (Hosea 9:1) – but only a little later (11:8) he says, ‘Israel, how could I give you up? … My heart within me is overwhelmed, fever grips my inmost being.’ It is touching and powerful human language

Sometimes, despite the best intentions and efforts of the couple, they do later discover insurmountable difficulties in their relationship. How we wish this could be less painful for people and that our churches could find compassionate ways of accompanying them when they find themselves in this situation!

Post published in: Faith

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