According to the most recent National Health Statistics Report (NHSR) published by the Centers for Disease Control “about half of first marriages end in divorce.”[i] Unfortunately, this most recent report was published in 2012, which means that very likely the percentage is higher today. While it is true that the overall divorce rate in the United States has been trending downward (8.2% in 2000 compared to 6.9% in 2016)[ii], this is largely due to the fact that fewer people are getting married.
According to the NHSR, “48% of women interviewed in 2006–2010 cohabited as a first union, compared with 43% in 2002 and 34% in 1995.”[iii] However, the divorce rate for first time marriages is on the rise. This is largely the result of our post-modern, post-Christian society having little to no understanding of what marriage is about. Fewer couples are getting married because they don’t see a reason to get married, and fewer married couples are staying married because they don’t see a reason to fix an unhappy marriage. These attitudes about marriage are increasingly finding their way into the Church, obviously, since believers are converted from the unbelieving world. Thus, what is marriage about? Why should couples get married? And why should they stay married?
Marriage is designed to be a visual picture of the eternal, joyful, and harmonious relationship which exist within the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each fully and equally God, and yet each distinct from each other, possessing separate personalities and distinct roles within the Godhead. The Bible tells us that from eternity past, it is God the Father who laid out the plan of salvation designed to bring countless people into a covenantal relationship with himself (Jn 6:37). Yet it is God the Son who submits himself to the will of God the Father and carries out the plan of salvation (Jn 6:38-39). Even though Jesus is fully equal to God the Father (Col. 1:19), he willingly submitted himself to the will of his Father and was willing to step out of the glories of heaven and become a man, to live in perfect obedience to the Laws of God the Father to earn for us the perfect righteousness which God demands, which we could never achieve (Phil. 2:5-8). He then willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins which God demands, which we could never repay. Then the Holy Spirit, though he is fully God, is sent forth by both the Father and the Son to apply the work which Christ accomplished to all who put their faith in Him (Jn. 14:26; 15:26). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each equal in essence and power, yet each willing to submit to the will of the other for the glory of God and the salvation of many.
Marriage also transports us back in time to the Garden of Eden where God ordained the first marriage union between Adam and Eve. The Word of God tells us that God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, creating him in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). The Bible then tells us that God said that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18-25), not because Adam was incapable of caring for himself, but because without a woman to compliment the man, the world would be without a more perfect representation of the image of God. Thus, God created woman from the rib of the man, not from his head that she might be superior to him, not from his feet that she might be beneath him, but from his side that she might partner with him. Thus, the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:27 that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Both husband and wife are created equally in the image of God, yet like the relationship which exist within the Godhead, each has distinctive roles within the marriage for the glory of God.
However, marriage not only points us back toward the garden, but the Garden of Eden itself points us forward to Christ. It points us forward to the day when Christ would die on a cross to redeem a bride for himself. In the Bible (Eph. 5:22-33) we read these words: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Thus, the relationship between a husband and his wife is designed to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and his Church. Just as Christ sacrificially, lovingly, and willingly gave himself for the Church—his bride—so that he might sanctify her and someday present her to himself without spot or blemish, so also the husband is to sacrificially, lovingly, and willingly give himself for his bride so that he might sanctify her and someday present her to Christ without spot or blemish. In response to this sacrificial love from Christ toward his Church, the Church responds by willingly submitting to Christ’s loving servant-like leadership. So also, in response to the sacrificial love of Christ and of her husband, the wife is to respond by willingly submitting herself to the loving servant-like leadership of her husband.
Hence, marriage is designed to glorify God by proclaiming to the world that a truly harmonious and joyful marriage is only possible when both husband and wife are in union with Christ by faith as they are in union with each other in holy matrimony. As both husband and wife fully believe that Christ died on the cross to pay for their sins, and as each remains focused on Christ and draws nearer to Christ, each draw nearer to each other.
[iii] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr064.pdf#x2013;2010%20National%20Survey% 20of%20Family%20Growth%20%5BPDF%20-%20227%20KB%5D%3C/a%3E%20