Prof. Dykstra and his wife Carol have been married for 43 years.
And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
The godly marriage is an inestimable blessing. This is not only the personal experience of God’s people through the ages, it is the testimony of Scripture.declares, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.” The Lord understood the need of the man, for in day six of the creation week the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” ( ). The psalmist sings of the blessedness of the man that fears the Lord: “In thy wife thou shalt have gladness, she shall fill thy home with good” (PRC Psalter, #360). Solomon, with the wisdom given him by the Spirit of Christ, exhorts husbands, “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun” ( ).
Genesis 2:22-24 demonstrates that God instituted marriage in the creation week, making it to be a creation ordinance. As a creation ordinance, it is law for all peoples, races, and cultures as long as this creation endures. God’s institution of marriage rules out marriage being man’s invention. Marriage is not the product of society or of the church. God ordained the form this relationship must have, namely, one man and one woman for life.
God instituted marriage with a view to His covenant. Marriage is not established merely for good order in society, though it has that function, for God is the God not of confusion but of good order (). The marriage institution serves the good of the covenant by establishing families. The blessing of covenant families with father, mother, and children points to the covenant relationship God forms with His people. He is our Father, Christ is our Lord as older brother, and all God’s chosen people are His children. In a godly covenant family, the members learn to live the covenant life together, and in this way experience something of the life of God’s covenant of grace.
But there is more. The marriage itself is a God-given picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride, the church. The relationship of husband and wife is the most intimate life and love that is found in this world. Even the closeness of parents and children does not reach the level of intimacy in marriage. Accordingly, “shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
One Flesh for Life
In His instituting of marriage, God teaches that two become one flesh. At least four New Testament passages quote this instruction of Genesis 2:24 (; ; ; ), and many more passages are founded on this truth. In a marriage, God forms this bond uniting husband and wife ( ). God alone can dissolve the bond, and He does so by death ( ). That is why Jesus indicates that our earthly marriages do not continue in heaven ( ; ; ).
However, in this life the marriage bond that God forms abides unbroken unto death. Those who reject this will experience the consequences of breaking God’s ordinance. Societies that violate this creation ordinance will suffer the destructive effects. Churches that ignore God’s ordinance will reap bitter fruits in its members and families. These fruits are not merely “natural” consequences. They are rather the results of God’s terrible judgment, the God who “hates putting away” and who “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” And, speaking of children, they suffer the most from the breakup of marriages.
Those who argue that Scripture permits divorce (for any reason other than adultery) and remarriage (while the spouse is yet alive) argue primarily on the basis ofthat Jesus gives this right. A quick reading of the passages will reveal why it is often cited. It is a difficult passage, capable of more than one interpretation. Specifically, the issue involves the phrase “except it be for fornication.” The question is: Is Jesus with this phrase giving His church the one ground for divorce? Or, is Jesus giving His church the one ground for remarriage after divorce? What is the correct interpretation?
Reformed interpretation of any difficult passage, that is, a passage that could ostensibly yield more than one interpretation, follows several “rules.” Proper interpretation always includes the rule of context (What does the context indicate?). And another significant “rule” is that more difficult texts are to be interpreted in light of easier (that is, unambiguous) texts.
As to context, it is clear that the entire discourse is about one thing—“Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Tempting Jesus, the Pharisees inquired about the grounds for divorce. The essence of their request was: Are there any grounds for divorcing a wife, and if so, what are they? If the phrase “except it be for fornication” be a ground for remarriage, then Jesus never answered their question. The context, therefore, points to this “except” being a ground for divorce rather than a ground for remarriage.
But if the passage remains somewhat obscure, and universal agreement elusive, that itself becomes a reason not to make it the foundation for justifying divorce and remarriage—a ground for breaking a bond established by God; for tearing apart two who had become one; for leaving children without a family, a stable home, and foundation for life. Will any Reformed church dare to do that on the basis of one or two passages that are difficult to understand, open to two possible interpretations?
Then, besides, will a church approve divorce and remarriage on the basis of obscure passages, while the rest of Scripture is clear and unambiguous in forbidding it? God Himself testifies that He hates divorce, and that “the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously” (). Jesus teaches that “whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” ( ). And states plainly that “if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Rom. 7:3). To which may be added the plain statement of —“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
Notice that all these texts give straightforward instruction without exceptions or qualifications. They are not open to two interpretations. They state that divorce is allowed for fornication, but fornication does not dissolve the marriage bond formed by God. This plain instruction must guide the church in its interpretation of the more difficult passages. It must also determine the church’s teaching and practice.
If there is a judgment of God on the violation of marriage—the sinful, unbiblical divorce and remarriage while the spouse is alive—know too that the gracious blessing of God rests on marriage for life. Where should we begin? Let us start with the blessedness of mutual trust and confidence. Trust is an essential part of a good marriage. It is the confidence that the spouse is committed, fully committed, to marriage for life. It is the assurance that nothing short of the deadly wound of adultery could ever make him or her walk out on the marriage, and even then reconciliation is possible, in Christ. This trust is expressed the night they say “I do” to the vow “till death do us part.” And this mutual trust continues to grow, develop, and unite as the years go by. In such a marriage, never does a woman say: “If I do this, my husband might leave me.” That is not in her thinking. She is motivated by love, not fear of being forsaken.
Second, the children, when the Lord grants that additional blessing, have a secure environment in which to grow, learn, and develop. Their foundation is secure and unshaken. To learn the devastating, shattering effects of divorce on children, pick up any one of a score of books by these children, now adults. Their testimony is that divorce’s devastating effects on children last their entire life. I do not exaggerate. Read their stories; you will weep. For the story of a Christian child, read Child of Divorce, Child of God by Kristine Steakley. However, when the marriage is as it ought to be—stable and biblical—children benefit. They receive the love, instruction, encouragement, and guidance so important for their life in the church and in society. With such a foundation and model they can go forth, and by God’s grace, establish a home that mirrors their godly parents. This is a blessing of marriage for life.
Third, such a marriage bestows the blessing of a lifetime of growing together. The reality is, becoming one flesh is a process. Legally, the husband and wife become one on their wedding day. Formally, they live together from that day on. But two lives must truly become one, and that takes time. After two years, a married couple looks back and realizes they are much closer now than they were when they got married. Now we are united, they may say. But that unity grows, and ten years later they realize how much closer they are, and twenty years later, they are still becoming more and more one flesh. That too is a blessing of marriage for life. A long, unbroken, enduring friendship is enjoyed, not without conflict to be sure. But a good friendship is a joy. Husband and wife grow together in such a marriage.
Fourth, they can assist each other. That is one of the purposes of marriage—that they faithfully assist each other in things belonging to this life and the heavenly. But do they know how to assist each other in life? Marriage for life means that husband and wife become adept at assisting each other. They learn the needs, the weaknesses, and the strengths of one another. They learn where they can assist much, and where not as much. A lifetime of learning, and getting better at assisting each other—a blessing of marriage for life.
We could expound on many more blessings. Marriage for life enables a lifetime of worship together. It enables two to stand strong together in the spiritual battles of life—the two together are much more than twice as strong as they are apart. They can fulfill their calling in life—whatever God gives them to do. No doubt godly, married couples could keep on adding to the list from their own experience.
But one thing more must be included. Marriage for life—a good biblical marriage—reflects God’s covenant life with His people. It reflects the love, mercy, forgiveness, joy, and blessedness that the believer experiences from God and with God. God is absolutely faithful and never, ever breaks (dissolves) His covenant bond with His people, though they oft sin against Him, deserving to be divorced on the ground of their spiritual adultery. A solid, loving marriage for life exhibits to the children in a family this picture of God’s blessed covenant. The husband and wife experience it in their giving and receiving in love.
Surely, when we are in heaven and experience the joys of the real marriage in perfection, the marriage of the Lamb and His bride, we will look back at this life and wonder—why did we not see all these aspects of our marriage that pointed to the reality? And we will see our failures as husbands and our failures as wives with a clarity that we now rarely grasp.
For all that, these marriages are a blessing, as they point us to the reality. And in our sin-plagued and folly-filled marriages, by God’s grace alone, we are preserved as husbands and wives in marriage. To God be the glory for His marvelous gift of marriage…for life.