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Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

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What Your Marriage Really Represents

It's a great institution on its own . . . but what it stands for is even greater.

Adam Lucas

I recently had the pleasure of attending a good friend’s wedding. It was a wonderful time. The bride was beautiful; the groom was giddy. The hum of strings wafted through the tiny, richly decorated chapel, and the crowd of friends and family huddled tightly, beaming with joy.

It was one of those weddings that make you happy—not just for the couple, but for the institution of marriage in general.

The mood made it all the more striking, then, when the priest’s voice boomed out over the small congregation: “Marriage is the greatest symbol the Bible uses to describe God and his people. Not king and subjects. Not shepherd and sheep. Marriage.”

The assertion challenged me. My temperament is more inclined to view God as a king than a spouse. So I did what I don’t do nearly enough. I opened up my Bible.

Lo and behold, the priest was right. Scripture uses many symbols for God’s relationship with us, but none seems more frequent or more vivid than marriage. The Bible is full of marriage imagery, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. The love between God and his people is like a marriage (Isa. 54:5). The relationship between the soul and God is like the relationship between spouses (Song of Songs 1:1-4). Jesus repeatedly describes himself as “the bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15). The list goes on.

Young couples understand something about this metaphor when they fall in love. In an instant, the world gets turned upside-down. Previous cares evaporate. The vision blurs, and the stomach drops. Everything suddenly revolves around their sweetheart, and, if they’re fortunate enough to be loved in return, they soon experience a depth of tenderness and care for another beyond anything they’ve known in this world.

It’s a powerful image of the enormousness of God’s love for us and his desire of our love for him. But for a young lover, it’s more than just an image of God with the world. His love becomes an image of God himself. God is love, and the beauty of romantic love gives us a hint of the Divine’s identity.

The analogy runs both ways. By comparing himself to marriage, God teaches us that he is like married love—but also that married love ought to be like him. Many elements of marriage flow out of this understanding. Marriage is total; the immensity of the love between partners demands this, but so does the comparison to the love of God. God gives his whole self when he loves, since he is love, and lovers want to give their whole selves to their beloved. Similarly, marriage is free; God gives his gifts without condition or coercion, making the rain fall on the bad and the good alike. Marriage is also forever; God is faithful to his promises for all eternity—and true lovers never say, “I love you for today only.”

This is why marriage gets to the core of God’s identity. It stands almost unique among human relationships, with a love as near the Divine as we can conceive. Of course, all human loves speak something of the love of God. The love of friendship is pure, and God loves us purely. The love of country is sacrificial, and God loves us sacrificially. But the love of country is impersonal. And the love of friendship is rarely total. Married love includes intimate friendship, but brought to new depths of commitment. And that commitment gives a sacrificial nobility even greater than sacrificing for country.

Here the analogy might break down for the Christian. Marriage and married love are between two people. But we know that the full identity of God is Trinity. Like marriage, God is a community of love between persons. But unlike marriage, it seems, God is a community of love among three Persons.

There is another important element of marriage that has so far been unmentioned: children. Marriage doesn’t just cement two individuals in their love for each other. It also establishes a family.

In the Trinity, the Father first loves the Son, who in turn loves the Father. But the love between them is so strong that it cannot be contained to two Persons only. That love is itself a third Person: the Holy Spirit, eternally proceeding from Father and Son.

A family is an image of this trinitarian love. Husband and wife love each other, but that love does not stay merely between them. In time, it produces another person—a child—who subsequently is also loved and loves in turn.

My wife and I have been blessed to experience this. We had fallen deeply in love, and lived for several happy months as husband and wife. We couldn’t have imagined a third person, who it seemed could only come between us. But something about our relationship, something even greater than that first giddy love, came to be with the birth of our son. There is the special love I have for him. But that love isn’t just a love for another person. It’s a love that’s tied into my love for my wife. He looks like his father. He laughs like his mother. In many ways, he’s a physical manifestation of the relationship between us. When I love him, I love his mother. And when she loves him, she loves me.

This is marriage as the image of God, which is the image of the Trinity. The love between two spouses shows us the depths of love between each individual Person: the Father and the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit and the Son. And the love of the whole family shows how this intense love is unable to remain merely between two Persons, but branches out into a trinitarian community.

Of course, marriage, and the family it begets, is an image of God. For finite creatures, the image works in ways that the literal, infinite Trinity does not. There can be multiple children, each one a unique manifestation of the spouses’ love. For those struggling with infertility, there can be no children, but the love of the spouses is still real, still made concrete in the family life between husband and wife, just in a less visible way. In all cases, it is the possibility of children that is more important than the number. The kind of love is the same—the kind of love that is open to the birth of a new person. In the infinite Godhead, this love eternally gives three infinite persons. In finite marriages, that love may or may not produce any number of finite persons.

Yet in both cases, love is an image of the other. That priest was right that marriage is a special symbol for God’s love. It’s an image of the Trinity, revealing to us something important about who God is and how he loves us. That connection should fill us with joy at weddings, like my friend’s recent ceremony—and at godly marriages everywhere.

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