I guess it is no surprise that the gay community are pressing for a change to the definition of marriage in the Commonwealth Marriage Act. I have been rather more surprised at the number of ‘ordinary Australians’ who apparently (at least according to the media) support the change. I have been absolutely amazed at the buzz amongst some quarters of the Christian community that we should lay down and die on this one.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised and amazed.
Because we are relational beings at core, our sinfulness is probably seen more dramatically as we get closer to our core relationships. Sin against marriage is a key part of that inner evil that Jesus said spews out of our black hearts to cause damage in the external world (… sexual immorality… adultery… sensuality… Mark 7:20–23).
The picture gets worse, of course, when our Bible tells us that the devil actively opposes marriage (1 Cor 7:5; 1 Tim 4:1–3). This must be part of his core business, since he has been at it from the beginning. When he originally lobbied to get sin into the world, he did so through the first marriage (Gen 3:1-6). And when death also entered the world through sin, it immediately placed its scars upon future marriages (Gen 3:16). I imagine the serpent was smiling.
What a strange mix this brings. Our inner sinfulness leads us to oppose all things good, especially things at the core of human relationships—especially marriage—and to act as if a greater good is found elsewhere. Meanwhile, external satanic attacks gently undermines community perceptions of the goodness of God’s gifts (see Gen 3:4-5) and transforms them so that even the gift of marriage becomes viewed as a strange, restrictive, passé, or even oppressive relationship.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that many don’t want to hold onto marriage defined as male and female. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so amazed that many Christians don’t seem to care enough to oppose this change of language.
After all, there has already been massive slippage in the definitional area relating to marital terms. Presumably starting as a tongue-in-cheek usage, a couple who have been simply ‘going out’ but cease to have this connection update their Facebook page to say they are now ‘single’ again—as if they were no longer single when they were ‘an item’. The presence of de facto marriages have exerted pressure on the politically-correct to call all couples ‘partners’ or ‘spouses’, thus deleting the presence of those who are actually married from the community’s language. Even the divorced or widowed can be referred to as ‘single’, despite the fact that their years of marriage have so affected their mental space and personal identity that it will never be the same as that of someone who had never married at all.
On the other hand, the Bible realistically describes various human relationships, showing the way towards healthy language (which breeds healthy thought and healthy practice).
On the negative side of the ledger, there are the sexually immoral, the fornicators, adulterers, the practitioners of homosexual relations, and the married who abstain from sexual relations with their wife/husband. If we are in one of those categories, we may not like the label, for it forces us to be what we have become, but at least it is clear. And it is just as clear what God thinks of such practices. They are so destructive of human life that he promises to judge the perpetrators—unless, of course, they embrace the forgiveness and renovation of life found in Jesus Christ.
On the positive side, there are those who have never married (the single), there are those who are married, there are those who are widowed, there are those who are divorced. Each is a distinct category of person, experiencing life and the grace of God in distinct ways. The clarity of the language enables each ‘class’ to ask: how do I now find the grace of God in my circumstances? What has he in store for me when life is like this?
I guess I should not be surprised that our inner sinfulness and Satan’s external willfulness has done such a good job on western society’s attitudes to marriage that our language has changed like plastic—and may change further unless the Lord shows Australia some more of his famous grace and mercy. It saddens me, however, that even within the Christian community, there are echoes of the world’s language. Don’t we realize that God’s grace flows through another kind of vocabulary?