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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Healing Broken Marriages

The primary reason I've done this series of post on marriages is to discuss this point. Until one understands the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, one won't understand why alternate forms of marriage violate the marital bond. Without understanding that, one won't grasp what it means for a marriage to break down. Without knowing that, one will not be able to heal a marriage effectively.

There is no way in one blog post that I can hope to address this issue in any comprehensive fashion. Many books have been written on the topic from various perspectives. But I have been through a difficult time in my own marriage and written a book on it, which has enriched my perspective on this topic. More on that further down, but I did want to give a broad overview on the subject leading up to my own personal story.

To some degree or another, every marriage is broken. Because none of us are perfect. There is always room for improvement in any relationship, no matter how in love a couple may feel, no matter how great the relationship, no matter how many years they've been married. However, it is not the dysfunctional parts of a marriage that are the main problem. Rather, it is the inability of either or both spouses to address those issues that results in truly broken marriages.

Couples ignore the problems, considering them not important, thinking nothing can be done, it is "just the way it is" mentality, all marriages have rough times so just accept it. Over time, what starts as small deviations are magnified into major marriage-busting violations because no course corrections are ever made. Like any straight line, a slight deviation from it at the start will be hardly noticeable, but the further down the line you go, the more it shows up until the path can be miles away from the line.

These neglected issues aren't frequently marital, but personal, and therefore affect the marriage. Someone struggling with violent tendencies, if not addressed, can lead to spouse abuse. A spouse dealing with attention needs and/or codependency can lead to inappropriate relationships outside the marriage. Someone addicted to porn can allow it to grow into an addiction to adultery. The examples are endless.

Our lives and relationships, especially marital ones, require constant course corrections and improvements if we are to reach our destination. The big lie we've been led to believe is that love naturally happens and becomes a static reality. No, infatuation, one small element of love, happens seemingly "naturally" with no effort.

Love is like a fire. Infatuation is like lighter fluid. You throw a match on it, it flares up into a roaring fire. If there is no wood, however, it dies off quickly. If there is wood, eventually it burns up. To keep the fire going requires more wood. But if left to itself, the fire grows smaller and smaller, until what remains are glowing embers, occasionally brightened by a little attention here and there. Even that may eventually wither to nothing.

Then two paths are left for such a couple if they fail to actively make course corrections on a regular basis. One, remain in a sub-standard marriage, bereft of a strong sense of love, intimacy, and trust that characterize a vibrant relationship. Two, a new person arrives, covered in lighter fluid, and ignites infatuation. Enthralled by that addictive new fire that looks bright and exciting next to the dying embers of their marriage, thinking it is the fullness of love, they'll conclude they don't love their spouse, and they give their loving attention to the new flame only to repeat the cycle.

It is our refusal and laziness that allows our personality flaws to sabotage our relationships. We don't like change, especially significant change. We like to assume after 20, 30, or more years of marriage, we've got this relationship thing down pat, can ignore it, and focus on the projects that excite us, whatever that may be. It is only when temptation hits that these shortcomings, magnified over years of unfettered growth, can severely damage our existing relationships, and ensure future ones suffer the same fate.

In short, the solution to healing a broken marriage is for each spouse to heal themselves. When I say, "each spouse," I mean both have to participate, no matter whose "fault" it may appear to be. You cannot change the other person. You can only change yourself, and pray that God will help the other person to make the changes they need to make. By continually focusing on improving ourselves as persons, through God's grace, our relationships will be restored as well.

This is why God says to repent, humble yourself, turn from your wicked ways, then He can forgive and heal your relationship with Him. This is why Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we don't love ourselves enough to keep improving in all ways, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally, then our love for one another will suffer as well. Focusing on identifying our weaknesses and regularly working to fix them will keep our relationships of love alive: God, spouse, family, friends, everyone.

The route most people tend to take to fix a broken marriage is to identify what is wrong with the other spouse and demand he change. This isn't to suggest that the other person doesn't have areas he needs to address. However, fixing him is not your responsibility! Enabling him through your support to fix himself is your responsibility. The primary way you enable him is by ensuring you are cleaning up your own act. Because if he fixes his issues but you don't, the relationship will still suffer.

How do I know this? I've lived it. Just over two years ago, on May 11, 2011, I made a discovery which shattered my world. I discovered that my wife of 29 years was having an affair. If statistics are true, almost half of my readers have an idea of what that is like. For the other half, I pray you never find out.

I can't minimize the pain and utter shock of such a discovery, but something amazing happened through those horrible events. God used it to shake both me and my wife up enough that we stopped coasting in our relationship and made significant changes to ourselves. Through that process, we healed the broken marriage. Just over two years later, I can report our marriage is better than its ever been. We know we can't stop working on ourselves and our marriage if we expect the fires of love to keep burning. So the journey continues.

Unfortunately, our experience in a support group verifies that our outcome isn't in the majority. To many either end up in divorce court or exist in a loveless, dysfunctional marriage for years. Often, those that do heal take years because the above principle isn't followed by one or both spouses until months or years have passed. Or a couple thinks it has been fixed, healed, so they return to coasting and the cycle repeats a few years later.

To that end, my wife and I jointly decided to risk telling our story and what we've learned by writing a book. It is our attempt to help others in our situation see what a healthy rebuilding looks like that results in a vibrant marriage. Click on the cover to see the book info and links to where it can be purchased. If you are dealing with infidelity, consider our book to help you find your footing. If you know someone who is going through this experience, this book would make a good gift. If you deal with counseling couples in such situations, you may want to check out our book to use or recommend to your clients.

There are a lot of good books on infidelity. We give our suggested reading list of books that helped us the most in our book. Our motto is never stop reading and improving. Unlike most books on the subject, however, we are not counselors or PhDs. Our credential lie in that we've gone through the devastation of infidelity and successfully rebuilt to a vibrant relationship. Sometimes examining this issue, not through the lens of case studies, but from someone who has "been there, done that, got the scars" can give you the perspective and hope to successfully find your own way as well.

I want to offer a huge thank you to my wife, Lenita Copple. First, for being committed enough to change. You proved your love for me by facing your demons and fighting them rather than hiding from them like most do. Second, for bravely risking your reputation by willingly going public with this story. I'm sure you'll find in the end, it will be stronger. For our reputation with God matters more than with people. You know you have my respect and love.

Our scar is a big one. But there are plenty of traumas we all go through in this life. Your marriage doesn't have to be one of them, if you focus on healing your wounds through God's grace for the rest of your life. May God use our story and journey to heal the devastation of infidelity in other marriages, so that they too can discover a vibrant future together.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What is Marriage? - Myths of Divorce, Adultery, and Infidelity

Having examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, we've applied that understanding to various alternate forms of "marriage." Read those articles first if you haven't, or this one may not make as much sense. Now, we want to turn our attention to how it applies to the breakdown of a marriage.

What I've often encountered in reading various articles on marriage, divorce, adultery, and infidelity are a lot of misconceptions, especially among Christians, about what Jesus said about it. What are the common myths about Jesus' words, and infidelity in general? The following is my list.

Divorce is a Sin

This is one of the most common ones. In actuality, most of the time, it is true, but most people don't know what divorce means. No, I'm not merely referring to the "adultery clause" divorce. I mean getting a legal divorce, in and of itself, is not sinful. Before you start throwing things at your computer, hear me out.

First, keep in mind what we've established as the basis for marriage in the first three articles. The defining basis is the biological sexual act of procreation (no matter whether the act ever does procreate). Without that union, there is no marriage, per biology, history, and Biblically.

That as a given, what act can rend that union asunder? A legal piece of paper saying you are no longer married, even though we've shown that the government cannot establish a marriage? See if you can pick up Jesus' answer to that question:
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery. (Mar 10:7-12 ASV)

The disciples asked Jesus to clarify what He was talking about concerning divorce and the conditions when a marriage is "put asunder". Note Jesus list two conditions: putting away and marrying another. By so doing, a person commits the sin of adultery save when adultery has already been committed, that is, the marriage has already been torn apart.

More to the point, the matter of divorcing legally does not tear a marriage apart by itself anymore than a legal marriage certificate marries a person. Rather, the real destruction of the marital bonds occurs when a new marital relationship is established with someone else. That is, when a person has sex with someone other than their spouse, they are marrying that person and divorcing their spouse.

Merely getting a legal divorce does not commit sin. If a person never marries another through sex, they never in reality divorce their spouse. Rather, it is a mere separation and not sinful unless you have sex with another before your spouse does.

One Commits Adultery Only When They are Legally Married

Not true. The first person you have sex with in your life becomes your spouse. The next person you have sex with, you divorce your first spouse and marry your second, and so on down the list, however long it may be. As we've seen, it is having sex that is the basis for marriage, even if not the fullness.

"Premarital" sex is an oxymoron since it is sex that marries two people together. It is impossible to "sow your wild oats" before marriage, for planting them is the same as marrying someone. There are only two situations when having sex is not adultery, according to Jesus. The first time you have sex and having sex with a new person after your spouse has committed adultery on you. Other than that, if you are not having sex with your spouse, you are committing adultery. Premarital sex is nothing more than getting married, divorced, and committing adultery over and over again for most people.

When Your Spouse Commits Adultery, You're Biblically Required to Divorce Him

Jesus never said that. What He said is the only time divorcing and remarrying is not committing the sin of adultery is when your spouse has already committed adultery. In truth, Jesus' ideal is that a couple doesn't get torn asunder in the first place. When it does happen, a lot of circumstances go into a decision to rebuild or divorce. However, there is no Biblical requirement to do so upon discovering your spouse has committed adultery.

Jesus Said You Can't Divorce Except for Adultery

This is another very common one. Strictly speaking, divorce alone isn't the issue, but divorce in order to marry another. But what did Jesus really say?
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. (Mar 10:4-5 ASV)

Note: Though due to our "hardness of heart" it was permitted, but that is not the design specifications as God created marriage. Rather, "and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mar 10:8-9 ASV)

The design specs is that a man and a woman will join together and that union will never be nullified for a lifetime. Strictly speaking, one would never remarry, even if divorced, even if doing so would not commit adultery. Because God's design specs is one spouse, period. But due to the fall, He allows us to divorce and remarry.

Jesus never said you can't get a divorce. Only that getting a divorce and remarrying is a result of the fall, not how God designed it to work. What He did say is that you cannot divorce and remarry without committing the sin of adultery unless your spouse beats you to the sin first. Whether or not you are committing the sin of adultery by divorcing and remarrying is the point Jesus was making. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of hardness of heart to go around. Jesus stops short of taking the option off the table.

Cheating and Adultery Are the Same Thing

Though they frequently go together, they are not the same thing. Cheating, infidelity, or having an affair involve two main components: emotional and/or physical sharing of martial intimacy outside the marriage, and deception with one's spouse. Adultery is when a person commits or strongly wants to commit the act of sexual intercourse with a person other than one's spouse.

A person who divorces and remarries may commit adultery as Jesus explained, but he is not deceptively cheating on his spouse. No affair is involved. Likewise, a person may be involved in an emotional affair without their spouse's knowledge, but successfully avoid sexual intercourse or the desire to do so and therefore not commit adultery.

Therefore, discovering your spouse is cheating on you, if he's not had sexual intercourse with her or desired to do so, he's not committed adultery and hasn't torn asunder the marital bond. There's some other heavy sins and breaches of trust involved, but there would be no "get out of marriage free" card to avoid committing adultery yourself if you were to divorce and remarry him.


Adultery is the act of rending asunder your marriage to your spouse by uniting sexually with another, in effect marrying them instead. This is also the definition of divorce in order to marry another. Only when your marriage has already been rent asunder by your spouse do you avoid the sin of adultery to do the same thing—before you reunite to them, in effect remarrying them.

This process happens no matter the legal marital status, presence of a ceremony, or promises made or not made, since sexual union is the foundation of what it means to be married. Not recognizing this and failing to treat it as a real marriage is the basis upon which what we've erroneously termed "premarital sex" or "sowing one's wild oats" is sinful. There is no such thing as sex before marriage, because sex establishes the marital bond. It is the lack of commitments of a marriage with it that make it sinful. Ironically, many people in our society when they first "officially get married" commit adultery in doing so.

It is this reality which leads to so much infidelity and divorce. What can we expect when our society conveys to teens, "have sex as much as you want now, because eventually you'll be 'tied down' to one woman when you get married." Teens ask why premarital sex is wrong when it seems like a purely recreational activity you do with someone you love, not much different than going to a movie together, or sharing ice cream?

Then, suddenly when they get a marriage certificate and say, "I do," sex now means something more? That all those years of playing the field will come to a screeching halt and they'll be faithful to one person? That what before was a recreational activity will no longer be seen as such or treated that way? How dumb are we to expect anything different than the high rates of divorce and infidelity in our society when we've failed to learn ourselves and teach to our children the biological and Biblical basis for marriage: sex consummates and seals that union. It is not merely a recreational activity that two people who might love one another do. Especially in God's eyes.

The reality is that a huge majority who read this blog fall into this category. I recall a woman's surprise when she learned, while I was at college, that I'd never had sex with anyone. For her, at least, I was the first male virgin she'd ever met. Sure made me feel like I was in a small minority.

Often, due to the hardness of a spouse's heart either in sin, abuse, or a combination thereof, divorce is either unavoidable or the least of all sins. While not God's ideal, remarriage avoids some worse sins. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes we're left with fallen solutions.

So what if you're in one of these groups? The good news is that while there is sin, while you've harmed yourself and perhaps others, while you've not lived up to God's ideal, there is healing for both yourself and your relationships. My final article will take a look at healing a marital relationship broken by these disruptive activities to what God has joined together.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What is Marriage? - Alternate Arrangements

We've examined the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage in the past three articles to establish what marriage is and its foundations. Now we are ready to analyze alternate marriage arrangements in the light of this understanding. If you've not read the previous articles, do so now using the links above, otherwise the following explanations may not make sense without that context, or you'll read the wrong interpretation into it.

With that disclaimer, let's look into other marriage arrangements that have been promulgated now and in times past.

Living Together

We mentioned this in the last article, so I won't dwell on this one long, other than to say the following. While most people don't view this as a marriage, if sexual intercourse has taken place, it is. If not, then it is merely living together.

The problem with this arrangement, when sexual intercourse is involved, is that there is often not a marital commitment made by the couple. It is understood more as a dating/going-steady type relationship that could end at any time. The expectation is either couple could decide to switch partners, in effect divorcing their spouse and marrying another. So there is no understanding of this being a marriage, even though in reality it is. Children that may have been conceived will bear witness to that reality.

In essence, the only missing marital bond in most of these cases is legal. Because a lot of people living together don't have that, they don't think of themselves as married, not tied down, and will tend to easily tear asunder what God and nature have joined.

Bottom line, if you've had sex, you are not merely living together, you are married. One should treat it as such and fully commit to that person as a spouse, not as a "partner."


Polygamy is a marital arrangement where one spouse has multiple spouses. Traditionally, one man marries multiple wives, but could be reversed. Such marital arrangements are seen throughout the Old Testament. For instance, Abraham had two wives. Some of the kings like David and Solomon had several, often for political reasons more than personal desire.

However, these multiple spouses were not as common back then as some might think. Often the ability to have more than one wife was linked to one's wealth and status. The poorer folk didn't have the means to support more than one wife. Additionally, these arrangements often involved a lot of jealousy among the wives, and fed low self-esteem if they felt neglected. Our built in emotional need for monogamy tends to eat away at such family relationships. As can be seen even today, the descendants of Abraham's two wives are still at each other's throats four thousand years later.

Per our discussion on marriage, this arrangement has two big problems. One, it violates God's ideal for marriage. As Jesus related, God's design was for a man and a woman to be united into one flesh, period. Uniting to another involves divorcing and remarrying again, committing adultery each time. In effect, a man with multiple wives isn't married to them all in reality, but to one at a time, whoever he's had sex with last. He is also committing adultery constantly, rending asunder over and over again each marital union created.

Polygamy involves the constant uniting and rending asunder of that marital union, no matter what is legally allowed. So why was it allowed in the Old Testament?

One, there are no Bible passages that allow it. Merely none prohibiting it. Big difference.

Two, it was a culturally accepted practice at the time. While it didn't meet God's ideal, a lot of things didn't due to our fallen nature. God had to pick his "fights," so to speak. It isn't until Jesus comes along that this original intention of God is more fully explained. It is then in the New Testament qualifications for bishops, deacons, and the office of widow, that they be the spouse of one other person, not multiple. Because God's representatives were to reflect God's ideal in marriage.

So how could Abraham and others be called righteous if they were wrong to have multiple wives? Because as St. Paul says, where there is no law, there is no sin. If God had come down and told them, "You can't do that, because I consider it a form of adultery," then they would have been held accountable for not obeying. But knowing their culture and fallen nature, God chose not to make it an issue at the time. Therefore, they were not held accountable for this violation, because they "did not know what they did."

The one area that polygamy does have an advantage over all other alternate forms of marriage is that it treats the sexual union as a real marriage, with the accompanying commitments and support such a union deserves, at least in theory. As we'll see, this is not the case with most alternate arrangements.

Open Marriage

An open marriage usually involves the freedom of either spouse to have sexual relations with someone other than their "spouse," most often within a set of rules or boundaries. Though it is possible to be totally open with whoever without accountability, most boundaries involve keeping each other informed of one's sex partners and measures preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

This is a similar arrangement to polygamy, except though one is not "married" to they're partners, but are more like mistresses than wives. This arrangement has a lot of the same problems that a polygamist marriage does. But it has the additional problem that living together has, but in greater measure. It treats sex as not uniting two people into one, but as a mere recreational activity. Most extra partners have no social/cultural union with either spouse, and often no emotional union much less a legal union. Consequently, the commitment to life-long union and establishing a family basis with a spouse is lost, violating the uniting aspect of sex.

Homosexual Marriage

Much of late has been made of homosexual marriage on the legal front. The last election cycle saw several states legalize "same-sex" marriages. Homosexuals see marriage as a right the state grants which has been denied them, while many against it see it as legitimizing sin and making it the moral equivalent of marriage, even understanding the effort to be "redefining" marriage.

However, as we have detailed, the government can't define marriage, it can only recognize it and provide support for it. Because the state calls something a marriage doesn't mean it is. Nor does it have the power to change reality any more than it can turn an apple into an orange by passing a law that it is so.

Rather, biologically, two people can only be considered married who have a sexual union potentially capable of producing children. Since homosexual sex can never do that, real marriage is impossible, biologically. Without the possibility of biological parenthood attached to homosexual sex, there is no marital union taking place. It cannot replicate what sex between a man and a woman does.

Likewise, Biblically, homosexual marriage is impossible. There can be no "two becoming one flesh" without the potential of children from that union. This is why Jesus said, "a man and a woman" can unite into one flesh, specifically. Quite apart from the moral issues surrounding homosexual sex, such acts cannot produce a biological family unit, which starts with the parents uniting in an act that can create a family.

"But we love one another!" "But we've said vows to one another!" "I'm as committed to him as much as any husband and wife!" That all may be true. But none of that makes it a marriage. Even if a man and woman live together, are emotionally united to one another, become legally married, call each other husband and wife, and live that way until thy die in total commitment to one another, yet if they have sex of every type save intercourse, they would not in reality be married—they would not be one flesh. They would be no different than two very close friends who care intimately for each other.

So is the case for homosexual "unions." Apart from the questions of sin and whether one can be homosexual, such "unions" are nothing more than two very good friends living together, having committed themselves to one another in various ways, and participating in sexual play for purely recreational/love value. But love does not make a marriage real. There are many friends who love another friend more deeply than many spouses. The lack of love does not invalidate a marriage, nor does its presence create one. It supports a marital bond created by sexual union, as we documented in the three previous articles.

We should note, that this does not invalidate any legal discrimination at the heart of the homosexual drive to legalize same-sex marriages. I personally think it is a bad idea to label them "marriages," because they aren't and it isn't accurate, but a case could be made for a "civil union" to address the legal issues involved. Because that is all the state can do—legally unite two people into a committed relationship. It cannot create a marriage where none exists or can exist.


All of these alternate forms of marriage violate God's ideal as Jesus laid it out: one man and one woman uniting into one flesh via sexual union for their entire lives, with no one else involved. All involve repeated or planned adultery (not necessarily cheating) by a spouse uniting to someone else, thus divorcing their spouse and remarrying another, except in the case of a couple living together who never break up or have sex with another. The only people, Biblically, who don't commit adultery in that situation are when the other spouse has already committed adultery, or they have died.

This is all true, except for homosexuals. Since they cannot be married, it is impossible for them to commit adultery. They can cheat and be unfaithful to their commitments to one another, but there is no marital union to tear asunder nor can their type of sexual activities create a marriage that would divorce a real spouse.

Next time, we will look at the myths behind divorce, adultery, and marriage.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What is Marriage? - Cultural Basis

Previously, we've examined the biological and Biblical basis for marriage. Now we turn our attention to the cultural basis.

When most people think of marriage, they frame it in terms of cultural characteristics. Many see marriage as a culturally conditioned living arrangement and not much more. Too many view marriage as society’s official permission to have sexual relations. However, this is a backwards view of the reality.

Common Cultural Characteristics

First, let's consider the common culturally expected characteristics. This is by necessity a general view. There are always exceptions and variations. These, however, will be what most people think of as being "married."

Legal union. If you ask most secular people what makes a person married, you'll most often hear some form of when the state grants a couple a marriage license or recognizes their union in some fashion. Especially this tends to be a dominate view of the homosexual community who views marriage as a right granted by the government, of which they are being unfairly discriminated against.

The problem is many Christians tend to buy into this view as well, thus the concern that granting homosexuals marital rights will somehow redefine marriage. There may be legal concerns at stake, but as we will see, the government has no ability to change the definition of marriage. We will leave this issue for a fuller discussion in the next article.

What is often missing from most people's understanding of this basis is history. It wasn't until the Byzantine empire that a government granted marriage license. Prior to that, it was handled at the family level. A betrothal was a contract between two families to allow a union to take place between their children. At that point, even though marriage had not yet been finalized, a couple would have to divorce to derail the proceedings. But couples nor their families had to get permission from the government to marry.

In the history of man, it is a relatively recent phenomenon that the state granted permission for anyone to marry. The main reason for state involvement was to recognize a union so that if it broke up, assets could be divided equitably through the courts and family ties recorded to prevent inbreeding. The state didn't grant someone the right to marry. The state recognized that someone was married, and the need to do that arose from the existing or pending marriage, not creating or defining what marriage is.

This reality is obvious in the United States, in that most states have some form of "common law" marriage. That is, if a couple meets certain criteria without getting a formal marriage license, the state will considered them married. Some states require a certain amount of time living together to have passed. Others are even easier.

In Texas, for instance, as of this writing, for a couple to be considered legally married, all they have to do is present themselves as such before witnesses. A dating couple could attend a party and introduce each other as husband and wife, and they'd be legally married in Texas without ever darkening the door of a government office building to secure a license.

A government may attach certain legal benefits designed to support a family structure created by such unions, but it has no power to make anyone married. Marriage is not based upon a legal license, but as we've seen, upon a biological and Biblical basis. A legal "right" of marriage is a myth. The government cannot grant such a right, nor take it away. Only support or discourage it through legal channels.

Ceremonial union. The other element most often associated with getting married is the wedding ceremony. Often done at a church, but also at a courthouse or other location by someone the state authorizes to finalize the marriage license. For most, just showing up at a party in Texas and presenting themselves as married doesn't cut it. They need a wedding ceremony.

We shouldn't short-change the power of a ceremony. It often makes concrete an abstract idea or belief. It also adds some weight and importance to the occasion you can't receive any other way. For the secular person, that's about the extent of it.

I'm in no way advocating that we ditch wedding ceremonies. But does the ceremony itself make one married?

There are two main streams of thought in the Christian community which will undoubtedly parallel other religious beliefs. One, that the ceremony simply recognizes and gives the communion's blessing upon a couple's union. The church's official structure and members act as witnesses that the couple will be united as one, but no more.

Two, that the church performs a sacrament of marriage, by which is meant that God does something to unite the two into one. In this understanding, the church ceremony is not merely a passive witness to a couple uniting, but spiritual realities are actively happening in conjunction with the proceedings as God blesses the union of the two.

One might suspect that based upon the previous two articles, that I would hold to the former view rather than the latter. After all, if sexual union is the point at which a couple become "one flesh," what is left for a ceremony to accomplish?

If you assumed such, you'd be wrong. This comes from a misunderstanding of sacrament and ceremony, confusing the two. A sacramental act is God acting. A ceremony is us calling on God to act.

This is illustrated by baptism. There can be little doubt the Bible views the ceremony of baptism as important and needed to join one to the Church, and God's saving act is united to the ceremony. A read of Romans 6 makes this abundantly clear as St. Paul describes God's activity putting to death the old man and raising us to new life with the ceremony of baptism. Yet we also know that God can act without the ceremony when necessary, like the thief on the cross who was granted entry into Paradise without going through a formal baptismal ceremony.

Likewise, our asking for the two to become one flesh by God's activity through a wedding ceremony doesn't preclude God providing not only His blessing upon the union, but at the right time, uniting the two into one flesh upon the consummation of that union. For while the two may take the action to unite sexually, as Jesus noted, it is what God has joined together that we are not to rend asunder. Denoting that God's activity called upon in the wedding ceremony is completed with the sexual union of the two.

This denotes two main points no matter which of the two views a person may have about wedding ceremonies. While not downgrading their importance and need, God can and does act apart from them to unite a couple upon sexual union, as noted in the previous article on the Biblical basis for marriage. Indeed, like the legal aspect, it wasn't until the Byzantine empire that the church took on a more formal role in weddings.

This is more clearly indicated in the Jewish wedding, which were what Jesus and Paul were familiar with. The standard wedding involved a bit of drama with the bridegroom arriving at a certain time (which Christ used in the parable of the foolish and wise virgins), but at one point the couple would go into a specially prepared area to consummate the marriage. Upon so doing, a big party lasting a week would begin. It was such a party that Jesus attended at the wedding at Cana.

But while sometimes a rabbi was there to bless them, a rabbi was not required. Weddings were not religious observances. When God was understood to have united the couple is when they sexually united for the first time. One still sees this symbolically represented in the modern day Jewish wedding ceremony, where at a point, the couple go into a private room for a few minutes to rest, but points to the two uniting physically with each other.

The bottom line is, God was busy uniting people sacramentally in marriage long before it was understood to be a church sacrament. It isn't that the wedding ceremony is not sacramental, only that it is God who does the action when He decides, even if we are calling upon Him to act. The difference in time is not a factor. But, it is still not the ceremony itself that unites, but God doing so through the physical union as clearly spelled out in the Bible.

Living together. This one is not so much seen as a basis for one being married, but is understood to be a normal characteristic of a married person. After all, if marriage is a union designed to foster families, it would be a poor marriage if the couple didn't normally live together and interact on a regular basis.

But living together is its own type of union, nonetheless. Financially, socially, and emotionally, the two who live together are invested in each other. They share living space and assets and time.

That said, few would claim that merely living in the same house with another constitutes marriage. Friends live together. Roommates live together. Brothers and sisters live together. If sex is not involved between any of them, they are not married.

Full Union

One might suspect that I consider these cultural marriage characteristics to be unimportant, since they are not what makes a marriage a marriage when it comes down to it. May it never be! They may not be the point at which a marital union is realized, but they are what make a marital union full and complete. Sexual union is meant to consummate a marriage, not stand as the only union of a marriage.

For a full marital union, one needs an emotional union, a financial union, a legal union, a social union, a spiritual union, as well as the physical union. As mentioned before, remove sexual union from that mix, and you have good friends living together, sharing living expenses, and keeping each other company.

But take away the others and leave only sexual union, and while you may have a "two becoming one flesh" reality going on, you don't have an emotional, financial, social, or spiritual support for that union. Without that support, the marriage created by that sexual union isn't a serious union. It was done purely to have a good time. The union created is real, but the ability to make that a lasting union is compromised.

Creating a marital union between two people involves a big commitment. They need to emotionally invest in each other, to keep the passion burning in their relationship so a strong and secure emotional environment for raising kids is created for years. Both need to make a financial and time investment to sustain a family over the long haul. The state's witness upon the union acts as a legal commitment, a contract, between the two, making it harder to break apart without good cause, providing stability. Spiritually, the couple needs to be united to bring up children in a their faith. Without a full union in these areas, a marriage created by a sexual union is left dangling. Such a union is very high on the probability ranking to be torn asunder by one or both committing adultery by joining with another.

The cultural aspects of what makes up a marriage may not be what creates a marriage, but it is the necessary ingredients to sustain a marriage and provide a stable environment for the raising of children produced by that sexual union.

Next time we'll examine some other marital arrangements and see how they jive with the understanding of marriage we've developed in these three articles.