Marriage is a divine institution established by God for man’s good. Yet we find it to be a most puzzling phenomenon! On one hand are great numbers of people who cannot wait to get into it, while on the other hand are multitudes of people trying desperately to get out of it! What is this all about? The only real way to find out is to start at the beginning, with the story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis.
As we read along in the narrative we learn that everything God made was good. Seven times over God saw that what He had made was good.11 Then suddenly we read, “And the Lord God said, it is not good …” What was not good? “It is not good that man should be alone!”12 Adam wasn’t really alone, was he? He had all those animals, some of which are reputed to be man’s best friends! Yet all those friendly animals were merely living creatures, while Adam was a living soul.13 He could have no soul-satisfying communion with them. God knew that Adam was alone and that he needed a companion.14
Loneliness is an awful thing; it is emptiness, incompleteness, lack of communion, lack of personal companionship. Loneliness is the lack of opportunity to share yourself with someone who understands—someone with whom you can enjoy a mutual commitment and trust. That was Adam’s condition when God first made him. Though Adam needed God first and foremost, God said that he also needed a companion.
Does this mean that a man without a wife is less than complete? Yes, unless he has the divinely bestowed gift of celibacy! The Bible teaches that celibacy is a special gift from God which is sometimes bestowed on a man or woman when the single status would permit him or her to be more effective in the service of Jesus Christ.15
Generally speaking, however, it is not good for a man to be alone. “I will make him a helpmeet” was God’s proclamation. The word helpmeet is derived from two Hebrew words meaning “a help” and “agreeing to him.” Woman was created to be a helper suitable for man, compatible with him spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. She is his complement, providing what he lacks and fulfilling his potential.
So God administered the first anesthetic and performed the first surgery. He took a rib out of the man and from it made a woman.16 While he created man out of the constituents of soil, he made woman out of man. She is part of him. In fact, she has part of him, and man is incomplete until he gets that part back in the person of a wife. Notice which part God used—the rib. Saint Augustine wrote, “If God had meant woman to rule over man he would have taken her out of Adam’s head. Had he designed her to be his slave, he would have taken her out of his feet. But God took woman out of man’s side, for he made her to be a helpmeet and an equal to him.” A man’s wife is his partner—not his property!
It may seem rather demeaning to a woman that she was made to be a man’s helper, but this role actually glorifies her, since man is incomplete without her! Each party needs the other. It was a happy day for both the man and the woman when God gave the first bride away. The man immediately recognized that his wife was part of him, and so he gave her the feminine form of his own name, woman.17
The next words in the narrative were spoken by God Himself, as Christ attested many years later. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”18 From that moment on, the divine institution of marriage was established. Did you notice the words leave father and mother? It is interesting that God should specify this at the very beginning of the human race. In-laws, which continue to be one of the great sources of marital discord, would cause very few problems indeed if husbands and wives would leave their fathers and mothers, just as the Lord commanded, and instead fulfill their primary responsibility to their partners in marriage.
The words cleave unto reveal the nature of the marriage bond as God intended it to be. The idea seems to be that a man is to glue himself to his wife. When two inanimate objects are glued together they become a single object. When two people are glued together they likewise become one. God said, “And they shall be one flesh.” While the words one flesh refer basically to the sexual union, there is much more involved than this. When God brings a man and a woman together, He unites them in a unique and profound biological-spiritual bond that reaches to the very depths of their souls.
Marriage should be infinitely more than a piece of paper signed by a minister and infinitely more than two people living under the same roof or sharing the same bed. It should be such a perfect and complete welding together of two personalities that they become one entity. It should be the total commitment of two wills to each other, the blending of two minds into a single mind, the mutual expression of two sets of God-given emotions. Its goal is perfect oneness, total intimacy, and the unhindered sharing of each partner’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and very being.
This is a far cry from the common notion that marriage simply provides legalized sex for two people who are physically attracted to each other. God created sex, but He intended it to be a beautiful expression of the oneness of heart and soul that already exists. If that oneness does not exist, the physical act is meaningless, self-centered, and exploitative.
What we learn from the Bible, then, is that marriage was given by God as a sacred union in which one man and one woman are brought together to complement and fulfill each other. An understanding of this basic fact will protect a couple from many marital problems. Husbands and wives who realize that God has joined them into a single entity will not foolishly try to hurt each other, for they know they would only be hurting themselves. Each partner remembers to express genuine love and understanding to the other, for one’s mate is really part of one’s own self.
There is another application of this passage, an application which Christ Himself made. When God brings a man and a woman together in His sovereign will and welds them into one, He intends for that relationship to be permanent. “No man may divorce what God has joined together.”19 Many people seem to have the idea that if a marriage doesn’t work they can always terminate it. They wonder why two people would want to invest the effort and sacrifice necessary for a successful marriage when it would be so much easier simply to call it quits. That erroneous concept can be a most serious deterrent to the success of a marriage.
When the Pharisees questioned Christ about the divorce provisions of the Mosaic Law, He told them why they were given: “Moses did that in recognition of your hard and evil hearts.” But He quickly added, “But it was not what God had originally intended!”20 When God glues two people together He intends for them to stick! If we could see marriage in the light of the oneness God desires it to be, divorce would be like amputating an arm or a leg. You do not consider cutting off your arm when you get a splinter in your finger; you try to get the splinter out. Nor should you consider cutting off your husband or your wife because you have not yet been able to adjust to some unpleasant characteristic in him or her. It is our prayer that these lessons will help you get the irritating splinters out of your marriage.
There is a difference of opinion among Bible scholars as to whether Christ permitted divorce and remarriage at all. He said that divorce and remarriage constituted adultery except in the case of fornication.21 Some interpret the words “except it be for fornication” as valid grounds for divorce and remarriage. Others assert that the exception clause does not apply to the marriage relationship as we know it today, and that there are actually no biblical grounds at all for divorce and remarriage. But whichever way they interpret the exception clause, almost all scholars agree on Christ’s primary point in this discourse—that God wants marriage to be permanent. He expects us to look for ways to heal our marriages rather than for excuses to dissolve them.
There is also a difference of opinion about the Apostle Paul’s teaching on divorce and remarriage. He said, “But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian is eager to leave, it is permitted.”22 Some think this frees a believer to remarry if the unbelieving mate obtains a divorce. Others say it does not. But whichever way they interpret these words, almost all Bible students agree that Paul’s general rule for marriage was established at the outset of his discussion—“A wife must not leave her husband … and the husband must not divorce his wife.”23
This is a controversial subject, and it will never enjoy complete unanimity of interpretation this side of heaven. For this reason we should be careful to maintain an attitude of graciousness and Christlike love toward the casualties of a broken home. But the basic intent of the biblical teaching is undeniable; we must not overlook it. Divorce is not intended as an easy escape for couples who cannot solve their marital problems. The road to happiness in marriage does not consist of unloading one’s mate and finding a new one, but rather of becoming a new mate by God’s grace and power.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” applies as much to marriage as it does to many other areas of life. Some who have managed to climb over the fence have found that the same unpleasant personality traits which produced conflict and tension in their first marriage are now causing problems in their second! They may have gotten new spouses, but they themselves are the same selfish, immature individuals they always were.
I will never forget the desperation in Duane’s voice as he sat across from my desk and described the unbelievable chaos of his second marriage. Though he professed to be a Christian, he had five years earlier walked out on Nan to marry another woman, using every rationalization he could muster to justify his actions. What a terrible mistake it had been! Now his second marriage was in shambles too, and he longed for the modest degree of happiness he had once shared with his first wife. He longed to remarry her.
But Duane needed to experience several basic changes in his attitude before he could enjoy success in any marriage relationship. Because many of us are like Duane, we need to consider these important changes as they are discussed in the next several chapters.
13 Genesis 2:7.
14 Genesis 2:18, 20.
16 Genesis 2:21, 22.
17 Genesis 2:23.
19 Matthew 19:6b, TLB.
20 Matthew 19:8, TLB.
21 Matthew 19:9.
22 1 Corinthians 7:15, TLB.
23 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, TLB.