The Glory of Marriage in the Midst of Disaster
Why There's No Better Time For A Wedding Than A Flood
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
Disasters rarely occur at a time of convenience, and the recent flooding that struck Southern Alberta was no different. Lives were lost; billions of dollars worth of property was destroyed; uncounted millions in economic damage was done. Compared to the losses of the bereaved and the newly homeless, it seems trivial to discuss the inconveniences that the flooding caused for those who were otherwise spared. Yet the very weekend the floods hit, Calvary Grace Church had not just one but two weddings scheduled: one on the Friday for a couple named Joal and Lauren, and one on the Saturday, for Jared and Gail. Plans had to be changed, a location switched, a start time delayed, travel routes shifted. The timing raised the obvious question: is it appropriate to proceed in a context of loss and suffering?
The second wedding, thankfully, was not directly affected, but the first had been planned for a church in one of the flooded neighborhoods. It was relocated and rescheduled. I had the privilege of officiating that first wedding and attending the second as a guest, and it was a bittersweet weekend.
There we were on the Friday, but not in the place we were supposed to be meeting, nor at the time we were supposed to gather. Though I was officiating, I wasn’t actually supposed to be giving the sermon; sadly, our lead pastor Clint Humfrey's home was flooded and he had to deal with the needs of his family, and so he could not participate as had been planned. And so, as we marked two new beginnings that weekend for joyful reasons, far too many people—including some we at Calvary Grace dearly love and care for—were also facing a new beginning that had been forced upon them, forced to start over after great loss.
So when I stood up to preach, I had decided that it was necessary to deal with the elephant in the room, and address the sad fact of the disaster; this article is a slightly modified version of the sermon I gave that afternoon. Some attending, no doubt, must have thought it odd to start a wedding message on such a somber note. To compound the potential offence, I had chosen Mark 10:6-9, the passage above, as my text for the wedding—it’s a text about divorce, isn’t it? Some may have thought it wrong that I used such a solemn text. This was supposed to be a happy occasion, wasn’t it? Why even hint at stuff like disaster or divorce at a wedding?
But I believe it was vitally important to place that wedding, and the next day’s wedding, in context. Marriage isn’t a fairy tale, compartmentalized from the real world. The real world is a broken place. Marriage is real life in the real world, with all the joys—and, yes, all the sorrows—that come with it. We live in a broken world, and marriage has everything to do with that. We started on a serious note that afternoon, because that wedding and the next day’s wedding, that marriage we celebrated Friday and the other on Saturday, are serious business. I said to Joal and Lauren, I know others said to Jared and Gail, and I'll say it to every couple considering marriage: I wish I could tell you it’s all going to be candy and roses from this point forward. But real life means that you’re going to have pain and sadness and sorrow at times, too. Marriage is serious, and takes serious work and serious commitment. Most of all, marriage was created for a serious purpose, by a serious God.
Our culture doesn’t take marriage seriously, though. Marriage is ridiculed. Marriage is redefined. Marriage is reduced to a mere ritual. Marriage is redundant, to too many—why bother with a piece of paper, they ask? And if marriage were something mere men and women did, that would be true. This would be like any contract or agreement. “I want something from you; you want something for me; sign this, and we’ll start a relationship where we exchange those things.” That’s our culture’s view of marriage: people coming together to fulfill themselves. “It’s about me, my fulfillment, my purposes.” To our culture, to this society we live in, marriage isn’t fundamentally different than signing a contract for a new cable TV package.
The Bible passage we read says something different. I want to focus on the last line of that passage: what therefore God has joined together, let man not separate. Everyone thinks about divorce when that passage is read, of course; yes, Jesus was dealing with divorce, which is a negative thing, but more fundamentally he is telling us something good and positive about marriage. Marriage, he is saying, is not like any human agreement. It’s not a mere contract. It’s not man-made. It’s something God does. What God has joined together.
Joal and Lauren, Jared and Gail, their brothers and sisters in Christ, their families, and their friends all gathered that weekend in the shadow of disaster to see God at work. In a stirring echo of creation itself, we gathered to see God make something new, out of nothing, in the midst of chaos, to see God craft something that human beings can’t do themselves at a moment where human ability was shown to be woefully insufficient. Marriage is something God does.
Why does he do it? Why does God single out marriage for such special attention? The Apostle Paul, writing elsewhere in the Bible, quotes the same passage from Genesis that Jesus quotes in Mark 10. And he tells us why. Why does God create marriage? This mystery is profound, he says—and it refers to Christ and the church.
That’s God’s purpose in marriage: to show how God fixes a broken world by reconciling it to himself through the church. God made us male and female for this very purpose. At the beginning of the Bible, even before there was sin and evil in human experience, God was pointing to the union between his Son Jesus the savior from sin and evil, and the church of believers who have been saved out of sin and evil. God was saying: here’s a picture, a display, a diagram, an example of how my Son will care for his people, how he will provide for them, how he will be everything they need, how in the midst of pain and suffering he will be more than enough for them.
Joal and Lauren, and Jared and Gail, were given one consistent message by two preachers at two services: your marriage is not about you. It’s about displaying Christ and the church. It’s about life in a broken, rebellious world, and the ultimate solution to all of its problems. It’s about sinners and their savior. Marriage is about the loss of all things, and the restoration of all things. Marriage reminds each of us, just as it reminded Adam in the garden, that it is not good to be alone—that is, each of us is insufficient, that we need something only God can give us.
As the floodwaters began to recede that weekend, as the damage and the pain and the loss began to sink in, in the midst of chaos, we stood there with Joal and Lauren and Jared and Gail and in their marriages we proclaimed: Jesus saves. Jesus makes all things new. We stood there and proclaimed: the sin that is the ultimate cause of all pain and evil, the sin that caused a broken world that doesn’t work anymore—that sin has been answered and paid for by Jesus on the Cross. He was punished for it. He did it all. And he brings the promise of eternal life and the restoration of all things to those who trust in him.
Joal and Lauren, and Jared and Gail, stood there that chaotic weekend and in their marriages they said to the world: Christ is all we need. Joal declared that weekend that Lauren is the only woman he needed, the only woman he will devote myself to; Jared stood before Gail and said the same thing. And Gail, for her part, was saying that Jared is the only man she needs, the only man she will submit to, just as Lauren declared the same of Joal the day before. And in saying that, they said to the world: this is what Christ does for his church—and what the church does for Christ. To the Christian, to the Church be bought with his blood, all we have is Christ—everything else is secondary. In good times and in bad—Jesus does not leave his church, and a husband and wife do not leave each other.
In Christ, God has joined together the Christian and the Son, just like God joined Joal to Lauren and Jared to Gail. That’s not something man does. It’s something God has joined together. And so when Jesus says, “let not man separate,” it’s because marriage is meant to display the most beautiful truth of the Christian faith: that in Christ, we are safe. Throw anything at us in this life; Jesus will not let the Christian go. He promised the Father he would save his people—not one of us who trusts in him will be lost from his hand.
Joal and Lauren, and Jared and Gail, as newlyweds, know that they stand before a skeptical world. A broken world. A world falling apart as it tries to do things its own way. Jared and Gail, and Joal and Lauren, all pledged to go show that world a better way. To show them Christ and the church. They covenanted, as each of them love and serve one another, in their marriages, to go forth and proclaim: look to this Christ.
Let us all do likewise.