I’ve been reflecting on the “great mystery” of marriage. That phrase, “great mystery,” comes from Ephesians 5:21-33. And it says that marriage is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” But in addition to the Ephesians passage, my reflections include 1 Corinthians 6-7. We’ve been having broader dialogue about 1 Corinthians as an H2O Leadership Team this semester. We’re working through a teaching series we’re calling “Life of Surrender.” And this Sunday in particular, I’m preaching on the theme, “Sexuality Surrendered.” So, it seems extra-worthwhile to pause and consider this “great mystery.” And I feel like I really am deepening my insight as I work out the parallels.
First, marriage and faith are bound together by the connective tissue of love. It’s a key term in all our discussions of both concepts. Love includes emotional components, but it’s also more than euphoria and desire. It speaks to a sustained relationship — with either a spouse or with God — which requires mutual submission, selflessness, and perseverance. That said, the same dynamics hold for other kinds of love, as well. Like the love between friends, family, and same-sex relationships. So, love is truly important and illustrative. But what else makes the union of a man and a woman uniquely illustrative and insightful?
Next, my mind drifted towards the connective tissue of dependence and an intentional choice to lay aside one’s autonomy. This is another admirable quality of both marriage and faith which goes against the grain of human self-centeredness. And I think it’s a step closer to unlocking the “great mystery.” But again, dependence is not particularly unique to marriage. Employees and employers are dependent upon one another in different ways. Citizens and their government are dependent upon one another. And again, other sorts of family- and romantic relationships include varying levels of interdependence and (ideally) mutual submission and love.
So ultimately, my thoughts settled on the truly unique parallels relating to the generation of new life. I’m still working out all the implications, but this train of thought seems to lead to something profound. With God’s design for marriage — with one man and one woman meaningfully committed to each other in a covenant relationship that includes love and dependence — there really is something that happens only in marriage and faith. We can’t make new babies on our own. The female gamete (the egg) needs the male gamete (the sperm) to generate new life.
There’s something holy in that union that opens up entire layers of existence and society. The egg requires fertilization if it is to grow into a new human being. And in the same way, we the “Bride of Christ” require communion with Christ himself, if our potential for new life is to be realized. The fact that we are designated as the “female” in the relationship seems to indicate that we are uniquely positioned to receive the seed of faith and then provide a space for that new life to be nurtured and developed.
Isn’t that remarkable?!? I’m sure that many other people have realized this sooner than me. And honestly, I’m still working this all out in my mind and in my soul. But it feels profound to have at least peeled back another layer of the “great mystery” that God has built into the natural world.