The Shadow & The Substance

What is the point of marriage? Is it a celebration of present love? Is it the pragmatic end of romance? And whose idea is marriage? Is it a cultural construct? Is it a societal structure? These are all questions the church would do well to consider, even more so in the context of the current cultural and legal dialogues on marriage. And these are all questions the Bible is gracious and faithful to answer.

The Bible makes it clear that marriage is not merely a cultural construct whose parameters are nebulous in order to accommodate the prevailing ideals of the day. Marriage does not belong to humanity in the sense that we are free to alter or redefine it. Marriage belongs to God. It was God who created the first man and who formed a helper suitable and fit to compliment him, a woman, Eve, who God himself walked to meet Adam. Then the Bible makes a profound statement: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2.24). The one man, Adam, and the one woman who was fashioned out of his own flesh, are to unite again in the covenantal union of marriage. One flesh (Adam) becomes two (Adam and Eve) who become one anew in marriage. This is the beautiful design of the Divine. God is the architect of marriage. Like the occupants of a building do not own the design of the building’s architect and are thus unauthorized to revise it, so too are we unauthorized and unable to redefine the design of the Architect of marriage. The only role the State or culture at large has in marriage is to recognize and affirm that which God has ordained. Any attempt to revise that which God has created is nothing short of a blasphemous rejection of God himself who has given us marriage for our joy and the flourishing of our world. Any discussion or debate about marriage is not a legal or cultural issue, it is an obedience issue.

So the church must hold unwavering to the biblical truth that marriage belongs to God. And if marriage belongs to God, the question arises—what is marriage for? To what end has God ordained marriage be directed? The Bible offers a far deeper and richer and higher picture of marriage than the one painted by our culture. Often marriage is reduced to the pragmatic end of a present love. In other words, most people think marriage is the logical culmination of their present romance. There is rightly a celebration of the present love, but there lacks any real promise of future love. There is rightly a recognition of the present and tangible, but there is no recognition of a reality that lies beyond. Biblically, marriage points beyond the present and even beyond itself. The apostle Paul, reflecting on Genesis 2.24 writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5.32). This is profound indeed! The covenantal union of a man and woman in marriage, therefore, is less a celebration of present love but a promise of future love.[1] As such, marriage itself is but a shadow the substance of the gospel. Marriage points beyond itself to the great reality of Christ and His bride. The marital covenant between a man and a woman pictures the covenant God has made with His people in Christ. This is truly profound!

Think of the shadow cast by a tree. Unaltered and uninterrupted, the shadow on the ground is an exact outline of the tree itself. Even the individual leaves can be seen dancing in the wind. The shadow on the ground, while dark and two-dimensional, reveals the tree. Yet the shadow is not the tree. So it is with marriage. Marriage is not the gospel, but marriage is to serve as a glimpse, a foretaste of the reality of the gospel. This has far reaching implications, but the point to be made for now is that to alter the shadow of marriage in any extra-biblical or unbiblical way, including but certainly not limited to same-sex “marriage”, will ultimately veil and obscure the reality of the gospel to which the marriage of a man and a woman is to point. Man and woman were made for each other. They complement one another. And these realities find their fullest expression in the covenant of marriage that ultimately points to the fittedness of Christ and the church and Christ’s eternally enduring love for her. Think again of a tree and its shadow. If it were possible to erase the shadow of some of the branches or to add new shadows of branches, the shadow on the ground would fail to accurately depict the reality of the tree. Though it may still depict tree, it will no longer depict the tree from which it is cast. And if alterations to the shadow were indeed possible, the tree’s shadow could morph and evolve into the shape of a man at which point there is lost any connection to the reality of the tree. Seeing the shadow of a man on the ground, one would look up surprised and confused to find the presence of a tree. So too will the gospel be lost if the shadow of marriage is freed from its natural constraints to evolve and morph based on cultural whims and societal fancies.

May the church be faithful and zealous to preserve the biblically defined shadow of marriage, not only in her own life but also in the world at large, so that the substance of the gospel of grace and joy and life will be pictured in the world.