The Christian Idea of Marriage

It won’t be surprising to hear, since many of us will invoke what Lewis calls chronological snobbery, about the “old-fashioned” views Lewis kept about marriage. And, to say it that way, puts us on our own enlightened perch we call today. It’s when we humbly realize that Lewis is circling around the biblical commands of God that we see such ethics as timeless. Many of the August readings in A Year with C.S. Lewis take up the issue of marriage, sexual purity, romance and commitment. This week starts that series of excerpts, and I wanted to expound on several points that may be of interest.

Why is sexual intercourse outside of marriage sinful? Simple: it breaks the design of God. God designed a man and a woman to be a “single organism,” like a violin and bow are one instrument, or a lock and key are one mechanism, Lewis says. When we isolate sex outside of the marriage union, we are attempting pleasure only in part, and not as a whole blessing of God.

God demands “either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy,” Screwtape assesses in our August 8 reading. To Screwtape’s delight, the idea of “falling in love” is now a quid pro quo to marriage. And if this love fades away, many people believe divorce is permitted. It’s this selfishness, and not the selfless act of giving ourselves to one another, that forms a basis for Satan to do his work.

We should ask, is marriage for the getting or the giving? If it’s the former, then we always lose. Lewis rightly says that we cannot predict or promise a feeling any more than promising never to have a headache. If marriage is about the getting, it’s about usury, and there’s no use for holy vows at all. If, however, we approach marriage for the giving, we put into action the kind of oneness that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 5, loving each other as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.

Screwtape says that the fascination of “being in love” is not in the description of biblical marriage. How easy it is to ignore the depth of Jesus calling us to love one another to death for the sake of fleeting emotions. It’s easy to fixate on our emotions because it’s easier. Period. It satisfies us and doesn’t sacrifice us. When we truly give ourselves in marriage, we give ourselves over to the example of Christ and his Church, one of “fidelity, fertility, and good will.”

If we disobey in forming our lives into a picture of Christ–in every measure, and in our marriages, especially–we give ourselves over to Hell’s parody, serving our own needs and forgetting that we are called to die with our Savior.

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