There is a mental shift associated with marriage that I think Lindsey and I are just now starting to understand. From the traditional viewpoint, marriage is a union, in the proper, definitional sense of the word. It is, as the Bible puts it, the joining of a man and a wife into “one flesh”.
Our culture today does not recognize this widely. Marriage is variously viewed as simply a relationship, or a contract, or even simply the next step when things are going well. That is not the way we see it. Marriage is meant to be lifelong, yes, but it is more than just a commitment. It is a union.
One of the best descriptions of what this really means is found in 1 Corinthians 7:4:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
This is a powerful truth. Even if one do not believe the Bible is everything we believe it is, I think that anyone who is married feels this truth deeply. When vows are taken, and a community blesses a marriage there is a very real exchange that takes place, an exchange of rights. What Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians was bold. In a patriarchal society where women were second class citizens, this Christian view of marriage went against that culture’s beliefs as much as it does our own.
When I married Lindsey, I laid down my rights to be an island unto myself. I chose, instead, to love and serve her. No longer do my decisions only affect me. No longer do the consequences of my failures only affect me. Everything I do deeply, deeply affects my wife. I now have the responsibility to treat my body, my life and my mind as if they were hers. And she has those same responsibilities back to me. That is a true union.
I think I heard this put best by one of my favorites theologians, but what this really means is that we belong to each other. I don’t mean ‘belong’ in the cheesy, romantic sense like, “they belong together”, I mean it in the sense of ownership. Lindsey belongs to me, and I belong to her. This is still a radical notion, just as it was in Paul’s time.
As the last six months have gone by, we have learned the truth in verse. Each day the roots of this idea grow deeper and deeper, and I think it is building a strong marriage. We’re not there yet, but we will be.