Ray Anderson on Marriage

‘Is it impossible for God to work in the life of one who has suffered an irretrievable loss of the “one flesh” relationship in such a way that he cannot or will not join this person together with another in a new marriage? Or, dare we suggest that the command of God can both put to death and raise again persons who experience dissolution of the marriage bond? Would it be too much to paraphrase the words of Jesus and say, “Marriage is made for man and not man for marriage!” If a theology of marriage insists that marriage is a work of God and exists under the command of God, there does seem to be a basis to suggest that in the situation where sinful humanity has experienced brokenness and loss, the commandment of God is the presence of God himself at the center of that person’s life to effect new being and new possibilities. This would be to take the authority of Scripture seriously as directing us to God himself as the one who summons us in Scripture to acknowledge him as the author of life rather than of a “law that kills.”

… Because God joins himself to the temporal social relationship consummated as a marriage and recognized by society and the church, that marriage is indissoluble on any grounds whatsoever other than the command of God. If a marriage comes to the point of utter breakdown so that it is a disorder rather than an order of human relationship, and inherently destructive to the persons involved, one can only seek to bring that relationship under God’s judgment. For Christians, this means that the breakdown of a marriage to the point of utter failure is a betrayal of the covenant love that God has invested in that marriage, and is therefore a sin. To attempt to find legal or moral grounds on which to be excused from the marriage contract is, in our opinion, untenable. The scriptural teaching on marriage and divorce clearly brings the marriage under the judgment of God as the one who has the absolute right of determining its status.

If Christians, and the church, do not have a process to deal with sin and with grace as a work of God, then there will be little hope for those who become victims and casualties of hopeless marriages. But where the work of God is understood as his contemporary presence and power under the authority of Scripture to release those who are in bondage and create a new status where “all things are new,” then the church as the community of Christ will have the courage to say NO to a continued state of disorder and YES to the forgiveness and grace of God that brings persons under a new authority of divine healing and hope. We are speaking here, by analogy, of a “death and resurrection” experience as the work of God in the midst of human lives. To create a “law of marriage” that would deny God the authority and power to put a marriage to death and to raise the persons to new life through repentance and forgiveness would appear to be a desperate and dangerous course of action. What God has joined together, indeed, let not man put asunder. But where God puts asunder as a judgment against sin and disorder, and therefore as his work, let not man uphold a law against God.

… The command of God by which marriage as a human, social relation is given the status of covenant partnership is a positive and rich resource of growth and renewal. What God “joins together” he attends with love and faithfulness. This is a promise and commitment of God himself to the marriage relation as a source of love, healing, and hope. The Christian community participates in this work of God by providing a context of support and enabling grace for each marriage that belongs to the community.

Those who undertake the calling of ministry to families through pastoral care and counseling have as their first priority the ministry of encouragement and support for marriages. This is a constructive and positive reinforcement of marriage and prevents its deterioration into a shell of the love and commitment it is meant to express. God is faithful to weak and problem-plagued marriages – not merely angry at unfaithfulness. God is patient and loving to marriages where love has been lost – not merely angry at our own anger and lovelessness. God is hopeful toward marriages that are ready to crash – not merely angry at our incompetence. God never gives up on his “joining together,” because God is himself the covenant partner of marriage. This produces a bonding that never is allowed to become bondage’. – Ray S. Anderson, ‘Bonding without Bondage’, in Ray S. Anderson and Dennis B. Guernsey, On Being Family: A Social Theology of the Family (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), 103–4.

One comment

  1. This is very good remarks. But what does God do when one partner decides he/she doesn’t love his/her spouse anymore and intentionally starts to destroy the relationship to the point where there exists no other alternative (in this person’s mind) to proceed with divorce? Does the person who is being left behind also stand under God’s judgment? Even though he/she did all he/she possibly could to save the relationship and restore the marriage covenant, albeit unsuccessfully?

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