In the garden

Over the years I have been in marriage conferences and read Christian perspectives in marriage books. I’ve been exposed to marriage principles from tv talk shows and the covers of checkout stand magazines. What I often hear from both mainstream evangelical and secular sources on marriage largely centers on how-tos and techniques for improved marital relationships. For example, if a husband is disappointed with his sex life, then the problem is that he’s not washing the dishes or helping around the house. If he will just do something to show his spouse how much he loves her, then he will be rewarded. On the other side, if the wife will stay out of the way while the football game is on and play the Edith Bunker role by getting him a beer then she will show him the respect that he desires as a man, In return, she will have the husband she desperately longs for.

Of course, this is not the biblical model for marriage, in part, because we have either forgotten or never been taught that marriage as John Piper has stated, “is about keeping a covenant, as Jesus does with his bride the church”. Contrary to the predominate philosophy found in Christian bookstores, a happy marriage should not be the end goal in of itself.  Rather, the end goal for which marriage was instituted was to model the covenant-keeping, selflessness, and sacrifice of Jesus for His bride. God did not send His Son to die so that we would have happy marriages, He instituted marriage so that the Glory of His covenant-keeping Son would be known.

In Genesis, we are told that Eve was created as a help meet for Adam, so naturally our minds race to the ways a spouse can help her husband. She can cook, clean, make babies, and stroke his fragile ego, right?  But if we focus too much on the practical implications, I believe we miss the point of what a helpmeet’s responsibility is as revealed in scripture.

I find it interesting that in Genesis 2:15-17 after God lays out Adam’s responsibilities: work and keep the garden, refrain from eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil,  in verse 18 God identifies that “it is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.”  So it would appear that Eve was created, in great part, to help Adam obey the command not to eat the tree. Disobedience would interrupt the rhythm of creation, bring chaos into the garden and would defile it’s purity. In summary, Adam’s failure to heed God’s command would desecrate the holiness of it’s surroundings by fracturing the relationship between God and man.  Adam was to protect the sanctity of the garden through cultivation and obedience. Eve was created to help Adam with this calling. In the first marriage, Adam and Eve were joined together in holy matrimony by God for this purpose. In other words, marriage was not only a covenant between man and woman, it was/is a covenant between man, woman, and God.

Tragically, by one man’s sin, the landscape changed catastrophically, and death became the norm. Miraculously, God has has since redeemed the garden (His holy dwelling) by the covering of guilt and shame through the sacrifice of His Son (foreshadowed by God for the first couple with an animal sacrifice). In time, the Serpent’s head was crushed by the bruised heel, and now redeemed, man is called once again to cultivate the “garden” within the confines of marriage. The wife still maintains her calling of helpmeet and fulfills her calling to help her husband maintain and cultivate a holy dwelling place for God.  Of course, cultivating is as much about pruning and weeding as it is fertlizing and nourishing which means there are practical implications in how we love our spouses that we work out each and every day. But the problem with the age with it’s techniques and how-tos is that it often results in begrudging submission.  A healthy biblical model of marriage is one that begins with God and makes Christ the center as was designed by Him.

A Christ-centered marriage tells a story, but it’s not our story, it’s His story. For He alone loves freely and not begrudgingly.

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