I found this little gem of a book called 'Letters and Papers from Prison' by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Oxfam shop in Blackheath a while back and have found it a really interesting read. You can find some great Christian material in charity or 2nd hand book shops, particularly near big, old churches, as old preacher's libraries often find their way there.
I intend to begin a series of posts that I hope will be of interest but also stimulate me to blog more often on this and other trains of thought.
Bonhoeffer was a German theologian (see Wikipedia profile here), imprisoned and eventually executed at the hands of the Nazis during WWII.
Now that I've finished the book, I've gone back through to find all the parts I've underlined and will attempt to add some meaningful comments of my own to Bonhoeffer's observations.
Bonhoeffer on marriage:
"Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal - it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man..........It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."
I think that these thoughts are what separate Christian marriage from secular, worldy relationships which, in the current context, seem to me to have no greater value expressed through marriage than when expressed in any other sort of long term commitment (co-habiting for example).
There is definitely a responsibility that comes with the public commitment that marriage entails that is not felt, or often acknowledged, in other relationships. By marrying in church, presumed by me if you are Christians, and making vows you are including all those present in your new covenant. You are introducing, and to some extent welcoming, accountability to your guests. You are exposing what had been primarily an exclusive relationship to public scrutiny. From that point on your marriage becomes an example to those around you, for good or bad. There are far more consequences to your ceremony than you realise, not forgetting the covenant you are now making with your new spouse. Bonhoeffer goes on to say,
"What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. Free from all the anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other til death."
Nobody informed me of these responsibilities before I said 'I do!'. I was still lost in the dizzy haze of love and whilst I knew the commitment I was making was a big deal, I was not aware of the seriousness of the responsibility that goes with not only being a husband (loving my lady like Jesus loves the church, Col 3 - phew) but also in the public office of 'husband'.
Another truth that Bonhoeffer reveals that it has taken me a few years to accept is that I may not always love Beki in the same way that I do now. I cant imagine ever not loving her but there may come days when my passion, attraction, enthusiasm etc may wain and in those days I will need to uphold my marriage more than ever. When John Piper speaks on marriage (I highly recommend Lionhearted and Lamblike) he honestly explains his need for marriage counselling at times and the effort required to value your marriage covenant throughout the decades. When the lean days of love appear, it is our commitment to covenant (as a reflection of God's commitment to covenant - another blog for another day!) that will keep the marriage alive. My observations are that love does return and that in any human relationship there will be times when all is not rosy but all good things are worth fighting for. I think that is why divorce is so prevalent in the world, because when the love fades (don't think that it ever truly disappears but sometimes is obscured by life or dimmed by trials) there is no Christian understanding of covenant to fall back on. The easy option is to move on and that has become increasingly culturally acceptable. I don't think (can't prove it) that this was the case in previous generations when not only was it less culturally acceptable but it was also a society more rooted in Christian values.
More from Bonhoeffer next time!