This is Part 2 of a series on thinking theologically about marriage. You can find Part 1 here.
No hate yet, so its time to start at the end and work from there. This approach will probably be less helpful than with other topics, but moving quickly to an eschatological vision in theological reflection is a helpful approach. So what is an eschatological vision for marriage?
Well... There isn't one. What we have as Jesus' promise for marriage in the eschaton is that when he comes back there won't be any marriage. "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:30 and parallels, NRSV) Huh.
Well, there goes Romanticism. Vows and promises between two lovers about being together forever are out the window, at least for Christians. This must, in some sense, explain why religious arguments about marriage tend to run to the beginning of the stories of faith rather than the end. After all, when in a heated discussion about marriage who wants to be the one who stands up and says, "Jesus said this doesn't matter eschatologically"?
Marriage, according to Jesus, is for this life. No need to do a visit to an eschatological vision--except that this exercise shows us something rather important for thinking theologically about marriage (and hopefully explains my multi-post approach): If marriage is not part of an eschatological vision, then marriage is entirely for this life.
A This Life Thing
If marriage is not a church thing (or even a faith thing), and marriage is not an eschatological thing, then why does it matter for this life? The answer for that is simple really: God cares about the creation now, as it is, and not just what it will be at the end of the ages or what the church thinks it should be.
I first heard a good phrase describing this from Pat Keifert, and it comes out of the Lutheran Promising Tradition. In marriage, and many other "this life" things, God is about creating a trustworthy world. This comes out of a positive reading of the first use of the law--to create good order in the world. By the time the Formula of Concord was written, the first use of the law was thought of as a way to keep evil people from doing evil things through fear of punishment, but this reading misses the positive nature of the first use.
God wants the world to be a place of trust, a place described by the Commandments that focus on our relationships with each other. These Commandments aren't a church thing since they were around long before the church, and their external nature will not be an eschatological thing, so they are this life things. Marriage and family are part of these.
Marriage is something God gives to all people because marriage is a relationship that reflects God's relationship with creation, its a relationship where trust can be experienced--both between the spouses, and between the parents and children. The relationship between spouses and between the parents and children can open the door to seeing God at work in the world through trustworthy relationships.
The church has the chance to help all people see that God is present in their lives by attending to marriage. Classes on marriage and parenting, on building trust and learning to communicate, such classes need not be explicitly Christian to be places where people can experience the presence of God. Indeed, such moments might be part of how God is calling the people in the church to relate to other people.
How might God be calling you to attend to marriage? How have you experienced marriage as a place of trust in which you experienced the presence of God? How has marriage kept you from experiencing God? How do we, as church and as people, help each other build trust through marriage?