Perhaps the most difficult thing to accept about marriage is that marriage will end–that it is, in the words of John Piper, merely momentary. I get 20 or 30 or maybe 60 years with Aileen as my wife, then the rest of eternity without. Honestly, I struggle to see how this can be a good thing. Aileen and I experience such joy together, such pleasure, such friendship and unity. How can heaven be better than earth if we are married on earth but unmarried in heaven?
Though on human and emotional levels I am prone to rebel, I can find a satisfying answer when I consider the matter biblically and intellectually. Then I’m able to rejoice—or at least to accept.
The key to the matter is understanding what marriage is all about. We know from the book of Ephesians that there is a mystery at the heart of marriage. There is a meaning to it. Marriage exists to point beyond itself, to give us words and concepts that allow us to begin to grasp something much bigger. Someone who has never scaled a mountain can picture a really big hill; someone who has never sailed the ocean can picture a vast lake. And someone who has never—what?—can imagine a much bigger and sweeter and richer relationship than marriage.
The “what” is full, pure, sinless, face-to-face fellowship with God. It turns out that the steadfast love, the lovingkindness, the hesed at the heart of marriage is an illustration, a demonstration, of the far greater fellowship at the heart of the gospel. The marriage union of a husband and wife is a picture of the spiritual union of God and his people. Just as a miniature architectural model demonstrates the building as it will someday be, marriage is a miniature model of the much greater union that will someday be.
Can I be joyful that I will one day no longer be married to Aileen? Yes, when I elevate my gaze, when I realize that marriage is not the building itself but the scale model, the promise, the demonstration. As I lift my eyes, I come to understand that Aileen and I have the privilege of being together for a few decades in this sign and foretaste of full fellowship between God and his people. Then the model will be replaced by the real thing, the demonstration by the actual. Then she and I will no longer be married but instead swept up into something even better, even more special, even more fulfilling. Whatever we enjoy now will be far greater then. Whatever satisfaction we find now will pale in comparison to what we experience then. Even the relationship we share now, the romance, the fun, the friendship, the intimacy, the ‘til-death-do-us-part-commitment, will be replaced by something better. We will still know one another, but as part of something that transcends marriage in the way the Matterhorn transcends a foothill, in the way the Pacific transcends a puddle.
When marriage someday ends, we will agree that God has not subtracted anything, but only added. He has not divided, but united us in an even deeper way. Marriage is a wonderful gift and today we thank God for it. But in that day we will praise him for bringing it to an end so we can experience something even better, the very thing it has been pointing us toward all along. Until then, the joys of marriage direct our eyes to the joys to come.