One of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity is the chance we get to portray greater realities through our church, work, and home lives. These realities infuse the most ordinary moments with meaning beyond the temporal. Sometimes, we’re not even aware we’re performing lived-out metaphors. For example, the Israelites in the Old Testament had no idea that their slavery represented sin, that Moses was a type of a Christ, and that some day they would be forever-saved by the blood of the Lamb of God rather than a baby sheep. Old Testament believers worked six days and then rested on the Sabbath, because they were looking forward to the rest that they would find in a future Messiah. Christians start our weeks with Sunday rest, because we look backward to the work that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf, and it’s from that rest that we work for Him.
I like to think that we’re painting pictures with our lives. The reality is far more breathtaking in vision and immense in scope than the portrayal–a painting of a sunset, for example, is nowhere near as beautiful as an actual sunset. Human works of art can’t compete with the Divine artwork of creation. However, pictures themselves have a value and beauty all their own; that’s why we visit museums.
One of the loveliest pictures we can paint with our lives is marriage. An old wedding sermon from the Book of Common Prayer states that marriage “signif[ies] unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His church” (I learned that from the end of the 5 hour version of Pride and Prejudice–don’t want to give the impression that I sit around perusing the BOCP for fun). Marriage is meant to depict the deep bond and close communion that Jesus has with the church. Unfortunately, it’s one of the life-pictures that gets most frequently defaced. When two human beings, broken by sin and wounded by other people’s actions, attempt to go through life together, matrimony quickly gets unholy. As Paul Tripp says, sinful people respond sinfully to being sinned against. Sometimes, the picture gets badly defaced.
But sometimes the picture is stunningly clear.
My husband Tim and I both applied to the same three graduate schools for our respective Ph.D. programs (English Education for me; Near Eastern Studies for him). We both got into our top choice programs, and we both received full ride scholarships…to schools in different states.
I was devastated when he was rejected at Michigan and I was rejected at Catholic, and I wondered what in the world God could be doing. I know some couples can make long-distance relationships work, but it’s never been an option for us. Calmly and cheerfully, Tim declined Catholic’s offer, putting his Ph.D. dreams on hold to support my dream for the next 5 years.
The other day, I went to throw away a wrapper and found Tim’s acceptance letter, scholarship award, and response envelope in the trash can. He had thrown it away without fanfare–a $200,000 offer and a longtime dream, out with the garbage. I took a picture of it, because to me it will always be a portrait of my husband’s love.
Part of what makes his love so profound is that it points me to an even greater love. Tim joyfully sacrificing his dream of a Ph.D. (hopefully temporarily) for me is just a small picture of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for me. In faithfully painting the picture, Tim pointed me to the Reality behind it. Like all couples, there have been plenty of moments when our marriage wasn’t a good picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. But in the moments when it’s clear, limited human love provides staggering insight into the infinite chasm of the love that God has for us, His people.