I wonder if I have presumed too far upon the generous gift of a friend.
When I was married over a year ago I was graciously given a sabbatical rest from my labors as a Mere Orthodoxy contributor in keeping with the spirit, although not the letter, of Deuteronomy 24:5 which states, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” I say in keeping with the spirit because I spent the greater part of half of my first year of marriage out with the army and charged with the grave duty of transporting men and equipment into and out of the American theaters of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even so, the break from writing was quite welcome as I was free to devote my spare minutes and hours to my beautiful wife without the slightest twinge of a guilty conscience caught between matrimonial delight and editorial duty.
While we all live in societies that do not follow the specifics of Mosaic Law and are not given one year leaves of absence in order to lay a happy foundation with our spouses, I nevertheless recommend the spirit of such a law to any who may find themselves in the wonderful and terrifying position of being a newlywed and urge that as many responsibilities as may be laid by are most definitely dropped. It is not merely for sensual indulgence that God gave this command, but for the preservation of love and the fostering of a deep confidence between husband and wife, two things which, while being gravely important, remain elusive for thousands of men and women.
Calvin has this to say in commenting upon so remarkable a provision and commandment in God’s law:
The immunity here given has for its object the awakening of that mutual love which may preserve the conjugal fidelity of husband and wife; for there is danger lest, if a husband departs from his wife immediately after marriage, the bride, before she has become thoroughly accustomed to him, should be too prone to fall in love with some one else. A similar danger affects the husband; for in war, and other expeditions, many things occur which tempt men to sin. God, therefore, would have the love of husband and wife fostered by their association for a whole year, that thus mutual confidence may be established between them, and they may afterwards continually beware of all incontinency [sic].”
“But that God should permit a bride to enjoy herself with her husband, affords no trifling proof of His indulgence […] nay, He spontaneously allows them to enjoy themselves.”
Calvin wisely focuses his attention on the possibility of what seem to be horrible suggestions to the rapturously joyful hearts and minds of newlywed couples: sexual incontinence or marital infidelity. As strange as it may seem, it is often in the very flowering of love that the most horrific temptations and internal struggles can develop. Before I was married I imagined that, once being married, no barrier could come between me and my wife, that in the joys of innocent love it would be quite impossible for vulgar and crass sins to rise and distract my attention from my beloved. How amazed, how confounded, how devastated I was to find that even something as long-anticipated as marriage and as wonderful as romantic love could be thrust aside in a moment by the ugly suggestions of a sinful heart.
What comfort, then, to know that God was aware of the weaknesses of His sinful children and commanded that they take precautions that would ameliorate the sinful propositions of their hearts and, as Calvin so nicely puts it, instruct husband and wife to enjoy themselves as they awake and foster “that mutual love which may preserve conjugal fidelity.”
Given these wonderful provisions and their ultimate aims it may be foolish of me to wonder whether I have presumed too far upon the generous gift of Mere Orthodoxy’s editor-in-chief. Certainly the establishment of a Christian marriage is of great value, and of far more worth than any of my contributory musings to Mere Orthodoxy. Yet the tension I feel is one that runs deeper and further than this particular blog. It runs all the way from the modern divisions of labor to the very first pages of the Bible: the tension is found between job and home, kingdom and hearth, public and private life.
The Bible tells us that God created Eve to be a helper for Adam. This fact, though so familiar, ought to raise one big question: what did Adam need help with? What was it that Adam was obliged to do that required the creation of a second human being whose primary purpose was to help Adam accomplish his task?
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Adam was charged with being the steward and ruler of the earth and his wife was given to him to assist in this massive endeavor. This mandate provides the context in which marriage is first established. God is no Romantic. God did not simply want Adam to find true love and blissfully rejoice in his wife to the exclusion of his other duties, nor was He finally concerned that Adam and Eve live happily ever after while rapturously dancing to the end of love on pink and blue clouds of dreaminess. Rather, He was insistent that the man and woman work together in fulfilling the great task He gave them to fill the earth while cultivating and tending to its gardens and creatures.
This mandate remains today and the wonderful sabbatical of Deuteronomy 24:5 must be balanced with the purposeful and driving force of Genesis 1:28. Husbands and wives ought to focus on their marriages and labor to lay happy foundations that will result in deep and enduring faithfulness and love. However, we must never forget that marriage is not an end in itself—it was never meant to be. On the contrary, it is simply the means by which God is enabling countless men and women to get on with the task of being stewards, caretakers, creators, and rulers.
So I turn again to one of my tasks, with a great deal of joy, knowing that I am not forced to choose between loving my wife or doing my duty but instead can please God by doing both and learning to do both with greater care, purpose, and skill…to the glory of God.