The Two Shall Become One
The modern world, with its emphasis on autonomy, sees marriage as nothing other than a contractual agreement by which two parties receive pleasure. When either party is no longer satisfied, the contract can be dissolved, and the parties concerned can look elsewhere for their satisfaction. If the human person is truly autonomous and marriage is only a vehicle which enhances the pleasure of the individual, then the world would be correct in encouraging marriage partners to get out of difficult marriages so their full potential could be realized elsewhere. But notice that this assumes that nothing happens in marriage; it is only a contract. Like golfing, painting, pursuing a career, etc. marriage is just a means by which the individual can achieve some form of personal growth. When that appears to be not happening, move on.
Scripture however points us to the mystery that is at the heart of marriage. When our primordial parents first came together they are said to become ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2: 24). This is often read as ‘they had sexual intercourse’ but in fact it is something much deeper than that. Sexual relations are a privileged expression of what one-fleshness is. The first use of the word one is in Gen 1:5; “and there was evening, there was morning, day one.” This first single day had two components, the evening and the morning. The other key text is Deut 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” From our understanding of the Trinity we know that God is only one and yet within that oneness there are three divine Persons. And so, with the human union within marriage. There are clearly two differentiated people, a man and a woman. Yet in their marital union they bring into being a new entity, a new psychosomatic union. They are now one flesh. The communion and unity that exists within the Godhead, now, on the created level, finds expression in marriage. The indissoluble communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is reflected in the marriage bond.
Paul points to this in Eph 5:31-32. After discussing the relationship between a husband and wife, he quotes the text from Genesis: “and the man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” But then, in a flash of brilliance, Paul shows that this is not only referring to the union of man and woman, but also to Christ and His Church. Paul is showing us that the great mystery of marriage participates in Christ’s divine love for the Church which can never be broken. Human marriage reflects and is grounded in this divine mystery.
Marriage is therefore always more than just a human calculation of how to achieve more fulfillment. Their consent to each other moves them beyond themselves and brings them into the salvific process of Christ. Marriage is not a contract that can be broken, but a covenant which brings about a new reality (the one-fleshness) which is indissoluble and unites them to Christ. This is a great mystery which the world cannot understand. But this divine and saving love is also a great mystery that Christians can experience within their own marriages.