Statistics indicate that Christians divorce at the same rate as those who are not Christians, which ought to seem odd if you are a Christian. Cynics, like me, look at those statistics and begin asking all sorts of questions. Why are the divorce rates the same between the two groups? What message does this send to the rest of the world about Jesus and his so-called “followers?” Do those getting married know and understand what it is to be the first fruits of new creation and how it changes us and our relationships, including marriage? What are we, as churches, teaching people about marriage and singlehood and ought it change?
In a curious exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, Jesus remarks that in the age to come people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. My guess is that this passage is not included in most “Christian marriage counseling sessions.” Why? Could it be that it is difficult to understand? Yes. Could it be that it makes us uncomfortable? Yes. But, could it also be because it does not fit into what we believe is important in “this age.” How would understanding those difficult words of Jesus reshape our current view of singlehood and of marriage?
I believe that these words of Jesus give us insight into many things, but most importantly…that for which God longs. Jesus’ words point forward to a time when there will be a restoration of God’s good creation and a marriage with His Bride (the church), where there will be perfect love, unity, and relationships. God will not divide people as white or black, rich or poor, African or American, single or married. He will be our God, and we will be His Bride in perfect love, unity, and relationship…as He always intended.
As the first fruits of new creation, we (as Christians) begin living in the present age, as we will in the age to come. And, as one could easily surmise, those who are single have the opportunity to live in the present, as they will the future, in an easier and more undivided way toward God than those of us who are married. This sentiment is echoed by an apostle, named Paul, in a letter he wrote to a church in Corinth, when he said that getting married is appropriate, as a way to express our passions and desires without hurting or devaluing others, but he goes on to say that being single is “good,” and he wishes others could be like him in full devotion to God. Singlehood is not secondhand status. All of ones time, energy, effort, passion, and desire can be given to God in the present as in the future.
Now, does this mean we are wrong for marrying? Absolutely not, I love being married! But if we will not be married or given in marriage in the age to come, what ought we make of marriage now? God’s intention for us as individuals does not change when we get married. God is still interested in redeeming each one of us. And, as we continue to die to our old selfish ways and depend on the Holy Spirit to breathe new life in and through us, we begin living in the present age, as we will in the age to come by living in perfect love, unity, and relationship with everyone, including our spouses. I believe that we, as Christians, ought to be able to look at our Christian friends who are married, who have become one flesh perfectly united in love, and say to the world, “This is a perfect example of the love Christ has for his Bride (the church). Look at the self-sacrificial love! Look at the selfless serving! Look at the mutual submission! And look at the way this man and this woman puts each other proudly on display for the world to see!”
What a wonderful foretaste of the Great Marriage in the age to come!