What I don’t quite understand about how relationships reflect the gospel

(An outdoor chapel with a view, taken at our church weekend away last weekend.)

I haven’t posted a whole lot on the topic of singleness in recent times. But I thought this article was a good one (you can read it just as well as a single person as you can as a pastor of single people). He had me at “Contentment is demanded of all Christians, not just single Christians”. Yes. Thank you. (If you are tempted to tell a single person “be content”, well, you just need to know that we’ve heard that before, believe me, we have.) But the rest of it is a good challenge to us single people.

We recently had a series on marriage and sex and singleness at church. The aim was to set up a framework for thinking about them, and obviously it was relevant to a very hot topic at the moment in Australia, which we just won’t name here.

At the end of the third sermon I did ask my old chestnut of a question (well, I have only ever publicly asked it once, so I think I can have another go), partly because I thought it was relevant to that above-mentioned hot topic. My comment/question is that we say that marriage is designed to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his church. I understand that. And I like that. But the problem is then why does the process of getting married (at least in our current culture), not reflect the gospel at all?

When is the last time you heard someone stand up at their wedding reception and say “I love and choose X because they are dead in their sin and totally depraved”? What you normally hear is a long list of the desirability of the new spouse and the reasons why the other spouse loves them, and it’s entirely based on merit and attraction (even if you try to be pious and say you love the other person for their godliness, that is still not the gospel). And then there are all the posts to follow on social media of date nights and wedding anniversaries, which let all those of us watching know that this person’s spouse is amazing and a best friend and has a long list of talents and attractions.

It seems to me that, in being married, you may be fortunate to experience some manner of unconditional love from your spouse, after you have secured for yourself a very conditional and highly selective love. (The response was that the wedding vows say nothing about the other person, which is true, but you have to get to those vows.)

And there can be a lot of hurt and grief involved in the whole drama of getting to marriage. If, like me, you have been spectacularly rejected by someone who let it be known, far and wide, that he wanted nothing to do with you, well, you can only console yourself and praise God that he doesn’t treat you like some men here will. [That was a situation that went so so wrong it is unlikely to be repaired this side of heaven, because that person wouldn’t agree to a conversation, and it is the reason why I now make no approach at all towards single Christian men, because I prefer singleness to being humiliated and shamed and punished, even though singleness is at times very lonely – well that and I consider that Christian men, of all men, should know it is their responsibility to take the initiative (no exceptions made based on the woman’s height!) and if a man doesn’t think I am worth the risk or effort involved then why would I want a relationship with him? One of the greatest injuries and insults to my sensibilities as a woman has been the circulation of a story that, without any encouragement, I pursued a man. But I have had to come to terms with my pride and my sense of the injustice of it and the subsequent shame and trust myself to the one who knows all things and judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23]

I can’t quite grasp why, if relationships are meant to reflect the gospel, then “attraction”, and the problems it brings, is such an enormous part of them (in the current hot topic in Australia, it’s the problematic “attraction” of some that is generating the furore – if we could all be married without attraction having anything to do with it there wouldn’t be the problem with what marriage is – well, maybe not). Obviously God intended attraction to be part of relationships, because it is right back there when Isaac saw that Rebecca was beautiful, and then there’s the face-reddening Song of Songs. So, I am not questioning that it is or saying it shouldn’t be. I don’t want to marry someone I am not attracted to any more than the next person. But what that’s got to do with how relationships reflect the relationship between Christ and the church is the query/puzzle.


  • Did you get an answer? Because it's a very good question. It did occur to me quite strongly once in a difficult time in a relationship that this is probably much of the offence of the gospel – that we all want to be loved and appreciated (by other people) for our own virtues, and the idea that a person would love us even if there was nothing attractive about us is hard to take.

  • Hi Caroline,

    Thanks of your comment. The response was mostly that the wedding vows themselves say nothing about the person you are marrying and promise unconditional love. And I appreciate that, but it's everything else around that that I was questioning. But I don't know that there really is an answer for us to find. Perhaps I am trying to push an analogy too far and it's only within a marriage that the relationship is intended to reflect God's relationship with us – but it's fairly big analogy that runs from the beginning to the end of the bible. Then you have Hosea, who shows us what it might really look like.

    So, I don't know. But it's an interesting point you make that we actually want to be loved and appreciated for our virtues. That's definitely true. And the idea that we didn't attract or deserve a love can be hard to swallow (that again makes we wonder why God built that aspect of it into the whole thing). But at the same time I wonder if we all know that we have bits of us we'd rather keep hidden (or we like to think that someone would take those on too), and when we really do mess something up or something ugly surfaces in relationships is when we start to hope we'll be forgiven and loved unconditionally. I guess that is where the gospel tells us that God sees and knows ALL of it and still loves us.

    All very interesting …

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