I have the privilege of pastoring a wonderful church out in Ogden, Utah—home of the Wasatch Mountains, the Utah Jazz, a large number of well-dressed men on bicycles (if you know what I mean), and a very small number of Evangelical Christians. One implication of my pastoral role is that I often find myself sitting across from a married couple for counseling. Sometimes there’s a catastrophic issue to deal with; the couple is clinging to their covenant with fading grip. More often, there’s just some maintenance to work out.
Whatever the case, one thing I do whenever I sit down with a couple for marriage counseling is to begin with a question that probably seems initially strange to the queried couple: What is marriage for? Usually they respond by looking at each other with a question mark sitting on their foreheads and a nervous laugh. What is marriage for? I’ve heard a lot of answers so far.
Ask radical feminist theorist what marriage is for and they’ll tell you it’s for the oppression and subjugation of women.
Ask a utilitarian what marriage is for and they’ll talk to you about division of labor and economic theory.
Ask a toddler what marriage is for and they’ll tell you that they’re not totally certain, but they’re pretty sure it’s about them.
What if we asked a thoughtful Christian with a well-worn Bible? Marriage being the divinely architected thing that it is, there really are many correct answers. You could say that marriage is a technicolor, three-dimensional, living parable of Christ and his Church (see Ephesians 5:22–33). You could point out that marriage is the very atomic structure on which culture is built and hung (see Genesis 1:26–30). Marriage is a deep, rich thing, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Scriptures paints it with deep, variegated hues and diverse textures.
One answer, however, that maybe you haven’t considered before—one of the things marriage is for—is that marriage is one of the great means by which God intends to hallow, to set apart, every point of longitude and latitude for his own glory. Follow me through a few movements in the biblical symphony and you’ll see what I mean.
When you open the Bible to the book of Genesis, you don’t find small talk. The Bible doesn’t start the conversation with a few vague comments about the weather. Instead you come face to face with an awesome, terrifying, enormous God—slinging out stars and galaxies and ecosystems like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Follow this astonishing Being to the end of the first chapter and you’ll find him crowning creation with a self-portrait, a glorious icon of himself—who happen to breathe air and sing songs and metabolize protein and walk and talk and bear names; Adam and Eve.
And then he puts on a minister’s robe and marries them in chapter two. In the midst of this whirlwind of willow trees and waxwings and weddings, God gives us our first answer to the question:
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” Genesis 1:28a
What is marriage for? Marriage is a means of taming and setting apart every point of latitude and longitude for the glory of God. Marriage is a declaration of war against the wilderness chaos. He makes marriage a priesthood in a Garden Temple (see G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission) and commands that the borders be expanded until the whole earth is a holy of holies wherein God’s very image dwells.
But we feel chapter 3 pressing in like the first sinus-pressure-twinges of a bad head cold, do we not? Sin. Curse. Disobedience. Death. Dark. The priesthood banished from the Garden Temple.
But God isn’t finished, and neither is marriage. In fact, if you make it to the minor prophets, Habakkuk will give you another hint in our quest for the meaning of marriage. He tells us that God is still shepherding this creation towards the same end he outlined in Genesis 1:
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
There is history, complete; there is the end to which God is bringing this creational project. But what on earth does marriage have to do with this? You start to see the answer to that question when you understand what Habakuk means by his promise.
What does it mean that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea? As it did in the Garden, it means people. God covers the dry land with his glory by covering it with people—redeemed, glorious, renewed, grace-renovated, Christ-reformed people. The people are the water in this ocean of glory.
So the picture is this: As God multiplies regenerated image bearers of Christ on the face of the earth, the earth itself is slowly set apart as holy of holies—the place where his very presence dwells. No more will the divine presence be confined to a 15 foot by 15 foot room; it will be coextensive with the entire earth, with every cubic meter of land inhabited by his redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and nation!
As in the Garden, marriage plays a central role in God’s mediated fulfillment of Habakkuk’s promise. This becomes especially clear as you continue making your way through the minor prophets and arrive in Malachi 2:15, where God rebukes the people of Israel, in part, for their failure to faithfully produce and disciple godly offspring in their marriages—instead walking in covenant-abandoning fecklessness, destroying their marriages through divorce.
Right there, staring out at us from the prophet’s rebuke, we see that one of the central means by which God intends to thus cover the earth is marriage. Marriage—and I mean your marriage, my marriage, every Christian marriage—joins in with the project of Habakuk 2:14 as it sanctifies its members. It joins in as it produces and disciples godly offspring in the fear and understanding of the Lord. It joins in as it sends those offspring out into the world to work the ground of the garden soil with the seed of the Gospel. It joins in as marriage homes become centers of hospitality and evangelism over dinner tables with single friends and unbaptized neighbors.
What I’m saying is that marriage is intended by its Architect to be a creative force—a means by which two become three and four and five and eleven; not just so wildernesses are tamed and gardens are planted, but so that images of God would multiply over this spinning globe we call home. Marriage in Eden is a square-foot-garden that, over the centuries, swallows acres and hectares and continents, until the garden of the glory of God covers the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea. Marriage is about setting apart every acre for his glory. Redeemed marriage mediates divine holiness to a cosmos starved of the same.
Marriage is, in other words, anything but mundane. Even its mundanities are glories. Even its miseries are majesties. Even its failures are mingled with hope; not because of husband and wife, but because of the great Husband, who has committed to not only wash his bride clean, but send her—commissioned and clothed in power—to leaven the whole lump and occupy every zip code.
That’s what marriage is for.
This article was originally published and written for Deeply Rooted Magazine's Issue No. 13.