When a man and a woman get married they commit themselves to spending their lives in a new relationship. It is a partnership of love, made richer and deeper through sex. Like many people, Christians regard it as the best context for nurturing children. It is also seen as the best (many Christians would say the only) setting for sex.
In any marriage ceremony the bride and groom must confirm that they want to marry each other, and after the opportunity has been given publicly for anyone present to prevent the marriage if there is a legal reason, the couple join hands and make promises. They exchange rings, which are worn as a reminder of these promises for the duration of their married life.
If the marriage begins with a wedding service in a Christian church, the minister conducting the wedding reminds all present that marriage forms part of a pattern of life established by God. The first marriage that the Bible tells of is between Adam and his wife, Eve. God declared, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’
In a church service there are readings from the Bible which explain the nature and significance of marriage. The couple make promises to stay together ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death us do part’. It is a commitment for life, and not just for the times which are easy. Prayers are said for the newlyweds, which recognise both the joys and difficulties ahead, and ask God’s blessing on the couple.
While marriage is honoured and affirmed among Christians, there is no suggestion that it is necessary for everyone. Singleness, with its freedom and flexibility, is described as ‘a gift’ in the Bible. And Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith, was himself unmarried.
Some Christians believe that marriage vows are unbreakable, so that even in the distressing circumstances in which a couple separates, they are still married from God’s point of view. This is so in the Roman Catholic church, although occasionally a marriage is declared to be null (in other words, it never really was a marriage). Other Christians have accepted divorce and remarriage in some circumstances – for example, to relieve one partner of intolerable hardship, unfaithfulness or desertion.
There is rarely divorce without pain. Even when divorce comes as a relief, it follows the pain of broken relationships and dreams, and great anxiety about the impact on children. Christians seek to uphold the seriousness of wedding vows while responding with compassion to deep hurts by recognising that divorce is sometimes necessary. God grieves alongside the people for whom such a painful separation is taking place.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
Where to find it:
About these words:
These are words of Jesus. He quoted the Old Testament to show that heterosexual marriage has been part of God’s ideal from the very beginning of time. He went on to talk about divorce. In the culture of the day divorce was very easy for a man and gave women no rights whatever. Jesus believed that human nature sometimes made divorce necessary, and that God shares the distress of the people involved.
And they said…
Lenny Kravitz, multi award-winning soul and funk musician:
One night in the Carlyle Hotel [in New York] I was doing my normal thing and I was with [a woman]. I remember waking up in the morning thinking, ‘What am I doing? … And why?’ And that morning I was just talking to God, as I do, and I said, ‘You got to help me to stop this. I just really want to stop this.’ And that was the day that it changed…
I knew it was not consistent with my beliefs. So that’s hypocritical, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. And I could just feel the emptiness. It didn’t feel good – the feeling afterwards. Just that empty sort of weird space. And I’d had enough…
It’s very hard. For some periods of time it’s easy, and then it’s really hard. It goes back and forth … I really do use Christ as my example and try to live this life and not just [mess] with it.
George Eliot, novelist, 1819-1880:
What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
Charles Swindoll, North American church leader:
Focus on your marriage. Because that’s the nucleus of the home, whatever you do to restore its health and strength will naturally restore what’s broken among the other relationships. If you have no children yet, this will make a comfortable nest for them to begin life well. If you have children, the changes you make in your marriage will affect the rest of the household more quickly and dramatically than you think.
Ogden Nash, poet, 1902-1971:
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it,
Whenever you’re right, shut up.