Getting married surprised me. Not because of the idea of marriage itself. After all, I had grown up thinking that my narrative would be finding that person – the one who filled up my thoughts like helium, who tripped my body’s alarms, a wanted intruder. We would meet and just know. Marriage would come as naturally as the passing of time. It would be like the drawn bow that shot us both forward into our futures.
The only problem, of course, was that I had always fallen in love with women, never with a man, and I was now following Jesus and understood that marriage was designed as a male-female union. It seemed like if the core of marriage is romance, and romance with men was not possible for me, then the case was closed.
But what if I had the premise wrong?
A couple realities caused me to re-evaluate. The first reality was an encounter with Ephesians 5:22-33, which introduced three new ideas to me about marriage.
First, Paul is clear that marriage is designed to mirror a prior and more prominent relationship: Christ and his Church. Thus human marriages are good, but also not the greatest good.
Second, there are a lot more words to the husband than to the wife – and what words they are! This is no passive patriarch receiving service and sandwiches while he distributes orders from above. No, this husband is a lover, and that love is costly, attentive, and tender.
Third and finally, there didn’t seem to be anyway to skirt the word 'submit' when it came to wives, though it made us squirm. But this is not about one party subjugating another. Instead the wife – with dignity, clarity, and agency – chooses to conduct herself in a certain way, precisely because of her allegiance to Christ. Submission, then, is a spiritual discipline of placing oneself underneath another Christian’s rightful authority, using our gifts to support their leadership, which is something all Christians all called to in one form or another.
The second reality was getting to know a young man named Andrew. Our friendship, and then dating and engagement was an important time in my understanding of marriage. What Andrew and I seemed to be growing was deep, and gospel-oriented. Yet it didn’t match the romantic feelings I’d previously had for young women I had dated. So armed with Scripture and with a man I had unexpected, but also hard to categorise feelings for, I got to ask new questions.
What if the biblical picture paints marriage as about love, but not necessarily about romance?
What if the biblical picture paints marriage as about love, but not necessarily about romance? It’s not that the picture rules romance out. It’s just that the love which it points to is even more rich than that. God has initiated with his people a powerful, triumphant love. A love that seeks and saves, that washes and restores. That stays put, even until the moment of death – a hand held, a gaze met, a promise kept.
It’s not just a false attachment to romance that can block us. In the Church, there has also been persistent messaging that marriage is a reward for being a good Christian, that it is the way to be blessed and to bless, or even the way to be a man or a woman in the Lord. We have told and believed so many lies about marriage.
Nowhere in Scripture is earthly marriage promised to any of us. Not only is it not promised, it’s not even the preferred state of being under the New Covenant. Instead, we see that the unmarried and the married have equal dignity and opportunity to image and serve the Lord. They are both beautiful, and both require the death to self which is at the heart of following Jesus.
Marriage is not promised or preferred. It can’t make you straight, nor prove that you’re committed. It’s not the prize for faithfulness, nor the source. Jesus Christ is the prize. The Holy Spirit is the source. God is our Father, our husband, our friend.
Too many decisions to marry are not calculated with the gospel in mind, because romance is present and strong, or because we’re facing internal or external pressures. It reminds me Jesus’s words in Luke 14:28, 'which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?'
You don’t need to be attracted to all or most men in order to marry one!
Anything of major cost and value requires serious forethought. Marriage shouldn’t be entered into on passion alone. As I processed this in my own dating relationship with Andrew, I ultimately felt freed. I didn’t need passionate romance per se. I didn’t need a complete change in attractional pattern – you don’t need to be attracted to all or most men in order to marry one! I needed to consider whether I could build a life with this man that displayed Jesus Christ and his Church.
I didn’t marry because I fell in love. I didn’t marry to make myself straight, or to prove that I believe in God’s sexual ethic. I didn’t marry because I was pressured into it. I married in hope in and obedience to my Saviour, and yes, with joyful affection towards Andrew, and enough attraction to build a healthy marriage.
Our marriage, like so many others, is an imperfect but true witness to God’s love. Like faithful singleness, it has the power to say “My desires, while real, don’t own me. Jesus Christ does.”
For more of Rachel's story, read her excellent book Born Again This Way.