I once searched the Bible for a passage exalting and approving of long and successful marriages. I thought that would be nice. Surely God would have a few words or praise for couples who had faithfully stayed in their marriages until “death did they part.” Nope. If you can find such a thing, let me know.
I find that very interesting. Marriage is difficult. It takes commitment, sacrifice, patience, and a willingness to forgive and overlook a lot. To be married fifty or sixty years, in my opinion, is an accomplishment well worth a celebration. Yet, we find no such thing in the Bible. Maybe it’s cultural. I wonder if ancient Hebrews or first century Jews acknowledged wedding anniversaries like we do. (This also makes me wonder if most other cultures acknowledge wedding anniversaries…anyone know?)
The Bible does have a few things to say about romance and marriage. The go-to book of the Bible for romance is the Song of Solomon. It’s downright steamy. One can find romance in a few of the Old Testament narratives as well. Jacob, beside himself with love for Rachel, worked fourteen years for the privilege of marrying her. Ruth and Boaz, an unlikely couple, tenderly united in a magnificent story demonstrating the kindness of God.
We also see the dark side of marriages, even among the heroes of the Bible. Probably the most famous marriage mess in the Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba. David slept with another man’s wife and then had him killed to cover it up. That’s inexcusable even by today’s standards, and David suffered painful consequences of his moral failure. Yet, God forgave him and restored him after David realized the enormity of his offense and repented of it. In a stunning display of the grace of God, David and Bathsheba, after this sordid affair, conceived a son they named Solomon who would go on to wisely preside over Israel’s most prosperous days. God brought richness out of ruin.
Such fascinating biblical narratives teach implicit lessons about the right and wrong of marriage and all kinds of other behaviors for that matter. Explicit instruction on marriage is sparse, but men and women are taught to love and honor each other, to have an attitude of mutual sacrifice, and to remain faithful to each other.
After some reflection, having discovered that we can learn from what the Bible does not say as well as from what it does say, I wonder if the Bible does not overtly commend long lasting marriages because faithful marriage is simply God’s standard. For God to exalt our successful marriages would be like a parent applauding every time a child went to school in the morning. It’s not all that praiseworthy; it’s expected.
If that’s true, then God sets an impossibly high bar for us. And if David, the one God called “a man after my own heart”, couldn’t live up to that standard, then what hope is there for the likes of us?
Our hope today, like David’s was 3000 years ago, is in the love, compassion, and mercy of God. Just as God’s expectations are higher than we can achieve, his love and mercy, and his capacity to forgive are also beyond the limits of our understanding. God celebrates not when we achieve perfection, for we never do, but when we turn to him in recognition of our desperate need for his love and forgiveness. David poured out his tortured heart after his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 51. We can say with David, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2)