Why is marriage such a compelling analogy for church? What is it about church that looks anything like marriage? I think that to answer these questions, we need to dig a little deeper to look at the “why” of marriage. I believe that this will point us to the “why” of church.
For those of us who are married, what was it that made us want to venture out into the unknown with someone else? Why did we want to make a commitment to love and cherish someone else for the rest of our lives? The answers to these questions will vary by person, but the root of it all is (or should be) the same: love.
With these questions answered, we can begin to look at the actions that stem from addressing the “why”. If we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, we can see a cycle. This cycle represents marriage between two people and beautifully mirrors the relationship between the church and Christ.
First, we see the beginnings of the relationship through connection. Not just any connection, but a deep longing to understand each other. This is a connection that is more than spending time with someone else. This is a deeper and more intimate connection developed only through time and the continual pursuit of someone else, while making yourself known to them. The connection gives way to submission. I can tell what you’re probably thinking. We’ve all heard the part about wives submitting to husbands. But, what we hear about less is just a few verses before in Ephesians 5:21 where Paul mentions the idea of mutual submission for everyone.
From this perspective, submission becomes inclusive for anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. We are after all supposed to be like Christ. If we are to do that, then we have to submit to everyone at different times. Jesus showed us examples of some of the most submissive acts, like washing feet and dying without a fight.
This brings us to the next part of the cycle; vulnerability. When we are submissive to each other as we seek to connect, we become vulnerable to pain. We leave ourselves open to hurt and disappointment. The good news is that we get to choose this. It’s not forced or coerced. It is an active and empowered yes, that tells the people in our community that we are living with open hands. It tells them that we are willing to risk wounding for their good and for the good of us all. This part is the hardest part, but it can also be the most beautiful because of what comes out of it.
The last part of the cycle is born out of the pain and wounding of vulnerability. Because of the pain, we get to experience something beautiful. We get to see firsthand, the healing and the process of refinement. When we get to this part of the cycle, we see things we’ve never seen before. We have an opportunity to give and receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness for us to grow.
Here is where we have a choice. We can choose to walk away and separate ourselves from the process, avoiding the pain. Or, we can allow this to take us deeper into community, relationship, and ultimately become the bride of Christ in this picture of marriage. I have hope that we will choose to press in when it hurts, when it’s uncomfortable, and when we don’t want to so that we can experience the refinement and healing only experienced by seeing it through.