Last weekend my wife and I attended two weddings. Both couples used traditional vows:
To have and to hold, from this day forward,
For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer,
In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
Forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live.
My wife and I got married thirty-three years ago, but our church met in the YMCA, so we asked another local church to rent their building. They required, however, that we receive premarital counseling from one of their staff.
The pastor they provided encouraged us to write our own vows, but he disliked our traditional ending. He suggested we change the last clause to read,
“As long as we both shall love.”
A Marriage Made in Heaven
When God officiated the world’s first marriage, he concluded the ceremony with this marriage-charge: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and [the two] shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
The “cleave to” and “one flesh” phrasing generated the basis of our vows, “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”
But those Genesis words mean something more. Something we rarely think about. Paul directly quotes that passage above and then he adds, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that [the Genesis quote] refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).
A Marriage Made in Hell
Business relationships are built on value and convenience. We buy our laptops at Best Buy until we find the same laptop on Amazon a hundred dollars cheaper. We drink coffee at Starbucks until a Panera opens up half a mile closer.
We’ve begun to treat personal relationships with this same commercialism. When the marriage-going gets tough, modern people just get gone. If our spouse no longer pleases us (or if we find a more attractive companion with fewer problems) we follow that pastor’s bad advice: we stick around only as long as we feel love. Which their sickness and poverty drains.
Scripture says that God views his relationship with us like a marriage; you might say, abad marriage. But with a difference. When we make marriage vows, we commit ourselves not to who the person is today (so much) as to who that person will become. We just don’t know who that person will become. We are clueless.
God is faithful to us his spouse forever. And he knew all that his marriage vow would cost:
For better and for worse: We have literally been the spouse from hell, ignoring him, demanding our own way, and daily choosing other lovers.
For richer and for poorer: We became spiritual, emotional, financial, paupers; morally bankrupt. Until Jesus gave up everything so that “by his poverty we might become rich.”
In sickness and in health: From the moment of our birth our bodies slowly begin to die. Physically and spiritually, we live in sickness. Christ came to absorb even our death.
To love and to cherish: To cherish means to prize something, and God calls us his chosen inheritance, his own “special treasure,” despite our chronic unfaithfulness.
Forsaking all others: After the original “fall” (and knowing then all our subsequent failures), God could have just started over. Instead he chose to stick with us.
When God sought Adam and Eve in the garden after their unfaithfulness, he knew that his evening stroll would end at Calvary. He knew then, at the moment of his betrothal vow, he knew then all that it would cost. And yet he vowed to us joyfully. God committed himself to us as long as we both shall live. Which through Calvary is forever.
We think of God as the King, which he is. And the Shepherd, which he is. And the Master-Craftsman potter, which he is. And our friend, which he is. This weekend I began to think of him as a spouse in a terrible marriage; we are the Beast who he joyfully and patiently loved to the end.
Because his vow could just as easily have been: “As long as I shall love.”