In The Shack, you might remember, I wrote that contrary to popular opinion, marriage is not an institution. That’s something I really stand by, and I thought I’d explain myself a little.
Before there was any creation—before space, time and matter—there were no institutions. There were no chains of command, no hierarchies, no mixed messages, no roles, no agendas, no darkness, no secrets, no formulas, no shame, no ‘I am nots’, no flinching, no mistrust, no systems, no organizations.
So all of these things must be, at best, a step away. And at worse, a rebellion.
What was before all that was an utter, open and free relationship of Three Persons in a living dance of other-centered, self-giving affection. In this there is kindness. There is music. There is grace. There is enjoyment. There is laughter. There is respect. There is creativity. There is rest. There is peace. There is hope. There is wonder.
We Are Not Made for Institutions
We think we like institutions because they provide certainty and power and definition. But in truth, that’s not why we’re really interested in institutions. We would simply rather have control than relationship, role than mystery, agenda than purpose.
In a way, what we’ve done with marriage is the same thing the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did with the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was a gift God gave to people, and they had turned it into rule and ritual, dividing the world into those who obey and are therefore “good,” and those who violate its observations and are therefore “evil.”
The Sabbath had become an institution, with well-defined borders and allegiances. It had become a ‘thing’ that existed outside of the Personhood of God. The Pharisees used religion to make people think their idea of the Sabbath was something from God, but it was really just used to justify all sorts of fear-based, guilt-motivated, power-seeking human agenda.
So, keepers of the Sabbath laws approached Jesus one day to suggest that his band of ruffians were not abiding by the cultural and religious demands of the institution of the Sabbath. Jesus’ response in one sentence blows apart the Sabbath institution with the perspective of God: “Human beings were not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for human beings.”
In that one sentence is the ultimate death knell to every institutional system erected in the false imaginations of human beings.
Now, insert the word, ‘marriage’ into Jesus’ statement for Sabbath: “Human beings were not made for marriage, marriage was made for human beings.”
The Reality of Two Human Beings
Marriage is not an institution. Marriage is simply the reality of two human beings, who together as an expression of their uniqueness, begin to explore and create something for themselves; a living, moving dance of Oneness that celebrates the personhood of each and emerges as a messy, painful, wondrous, inadequate, limited, process-filled, picture of the way we are loved by God in the midst of all our damage.
Moreover, marriage is a taste of the Oneness Dance of the Three that all of us have been included into. In the same way, singleness is not an institution either, because for some of us at times in their lives, singleness is something that has made for us, not us for it.
The caveat is this: We live in a world of hurt. We’re surrounded by temporal institutions of every imaginable sort. Some of these institutions are well-intentioned and extend our ability to do good, and others become expressers of evil and destruction. Most of them are a little bit of both.
Our freedom is to learn how to be in these institutions, but not of them. Being in institutions means we have to be sensitive to culture, heritage, ethnicity, religion, politics and things like that. But not being of them means we see beyond to a time before these institutions.
So, with regard to marriage is how are we then to live inside the institution of marriage, but not be ‘of’ it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. (And be sure to give your email at the bottom of this page, if you haven’t already, so we can keep you up to date on our unfolding conversation.)
This post originally appeared on tylerwardis.com.