All of us who know Christ are covenant theologians. But I’m not thinking of the specific creedal formula offered by Reformed theologians. The version of covenant I have in mind is marriage: what a man and woman share when properly united by God. But why add “theology” to marriage? Because God offers us a marriage covenant with his Son.
Let’s review what the Bible tells us about that covenant.
First we need some context. When God created us in love he knew we would not reciprocate that love for long. Adam wasn’t forced to love God. Love can never be forced and still be love. Nor are we forced to love him. They—and we—are always free to explore other loves.
And, with Adam, we all abandoned our proper love of the Creator for a love of the creation. In particular a self-love that makes us centers in the creation through our quest to be “like God”.
Was God surprised?
No. He created us to be creative, ready to explore all our options—he knew what was coming. Yet God’s plan from before the creation was to draw some—though not all—back to what Adam abandoned. His drawing power is the same love Adam dismissed—but for those of us who find our exploration of self-love utterly empty, his love for us is stunning and captivating. All of this was God’s plan as Paul recognized as he wrote to believers that in his love God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
So while he knew beforehand those whom he would draw to himself, he offered his love to all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” to die for us. And all who have hearts with eyes to see that love delight to love him in return. But most people love darkness rather than light because of their evil.
What is that evil? One label is spiritual prostitution. James was just that blunt—“You adulterous people!”—as he charged people of his day with brokenness (James 4:4). His charge was aligned with the repeated Old Testament charge that all Jacob’s children had entered into spiritual whoredom. It was God’s broken heart calling out to those who abandoned him for goat demons, Asherahs, Baals, Bels, and the like. The underlying marriage covenant was broken.
This faithlessness is found throughout the Bible. Hosea’s exposé of fallen human hearts is the most painfully explicit case. God led this prophet to endure a faithless wife in order to project God’s own sense of personal violation to readers. In Hosea we find whoredom identified in Eden at the very beginning of the Bible narrative. God’s chosen people were “like Adam” as “they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7).
What we discover is that all the covenantal themes in both Old and New Testaments look to the bond of marriage as the paradigm to apply from beginning to end. In Genesis 2:24 the Bible inaugurates marriage as an event in which a man and woman come together as one. But we learn from Paul in Ephesians 5:31-32 that human marriage, as with Hosea, is a workshop for engaging the greater marriage of Christ and the Church. Listen to Martin Luther’s summary:
“The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh and there is between them a true marriage—indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage . . .” [in Luther’s Three Treatises, 256].
This marriage—as God called out those to whom he could say in love “my people” and who would respond, “my God”—was first offered to Israel and is now offered more widely as a new marriage: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers . . . my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:31-32).
We now understand that Jesus is our bridegroom and we, his Spirit-wakened and responsive people, can look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb as promised in the New Covenant.
Enjoy the relationship!