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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Part 1: Genesis 1:26-28: Making a Marriage

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

This is the first in a 4-part series reflecting on the Scripture readings from my wedding. You can also read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

I am thrilled to be back posting here at Reimagine Faith. My absence has felt too long, but it has been for a joyful reason! I recently married my wonderful wife. Wedding planning has taken most of my attention for months! On this side of the wedding, I want to take some time to reflect theologically and biblically on this new stage of my life. Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a series of reflections on the four Scripture readings read at our wedding.

Our first reading, our Old Testament reading, comes from the Creation narrative, read by my dear college friend, Adam Spangler:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,

In the image of God he created them;

Male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Genesis 1:26-28, NRSV).

This reading is found all over the Book of Common Prayer marriage liturgy. The story of God’s creation of the first man and the first woman he brought into the first marriage relationship gives clues about God’s intent for marriage. (Note: I am setting aside the question of historicity and genre. Parsing the historicity of the story and the meaning the story contains is a complicated question beyond the scope of this blog. I am assuming this story is true without defining its historicity. I am also not going to engage how this passage relates to the question of same-sex marriage. The text presents the first marriage between a man and woman. Whether or not this is normative, that all marriage is between a man and a woman, is a deeply personal question to so many people. It deserves to be addressed thoroughly and carefully, not simply as an exegetical aside in a personal reflection).

The liturgy’s famous “Dearly beloved” introduction states: “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation” (p. 423), an event recorded in our Old Testament reading. Marriage is a gift from God and part of the order He designed in the world. For Anna and I, it is not simply that God created marriage in general, but in many ways, it also feels that God created our marriage in particular. There was no reason for us to meet outside a series of random “coincidences.” As we started dating, we each encountered insecurities and fears that almost caused us to pull away from the relationship. Instead, we had friends God had placed in our lives long before meeting one another who sat with us, talked with us, and offered advice, advice that allowed our relationship to flourish. We found in each other a life story that resonated with our own, similarities we could share and enjoy, and differences in one another we admired. We felt complimentary. The details of our story often felt fine-tuned, like we had met just the right person at just the right time in just the right circumstances. When we look back on the time since we met, we can see God’s hand drawing us together in numerous subtle ways.

Our story resonates with God’s creation of the first marriage described in Genesis 1. The passage also gives us direction for the ordering of our shared life together. The creation story tells us what it means to be human and what our task is in the world. The direction and purpose this passage gives to our lives are not just for married couples, but as marriage is the close partnering of two human beings, it is a focus of our married lives.

Human beings are the “image of God”, according to vv. 26-27. As discussed in a previous blog post, the “image of God” was a common phrase in the ancient world, referring to the king in the biblical world. It suggests God has given human beings a royal status to rule over His creation on His behalf and in accord with His character. (See also Alexander, T. Desmond. From Paradise to the Promised Land. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012, pp. 125-126).

The text delineates several tasks God’s image-bearers are assigned to carry out. The first is “Be fruitful and multiply” (v. 28). Bring more image-bearers into the world. The liturgy helpfully highlights that this won’t be the reality for every married couple, but submits the possibility of having children to God’s will (see p. 423, 429).

Second, we are to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (v. 28). In the original context, the focus on subduing creation was gardening and agriculture. It involved caring for creation to bring out its natural resources and fulfill its potential. The emphasis is on caring for God’s creation, stewarding its resources, and ordering it to extend its good to others. (For more on interpreting Genesis 1, see this article).

As a newly married couple, it can be easy to focus on ourselves, the ways marriage is fulfilling to us, to ignore the outside world while we explore this new dimension of our relationship. However, marriage is a way for humans to bear the image of God. It is a way of cultivating another human being, to help the image of God shine more clearly in them and empower them to serve God in the world around them. It is also a way of, together, caring for the world, possibly through children, but also in our hospitality to others, how we engage our families and neighbors, the way we serve our church, and how we support each others' vocations. Marriage is a crucial human relationship that allows us to serve God by loving Him, each other, and the world around us. Marriage is not merely a good for ourselves but is a commitment to each other that empowers us to serve the world around us. The constant question for us to ask as we make decisions in our marriage is, “How is God calling us to serve Him and His creation together?”

Yet these tasks are not ours alone. We do not subdue or cultivate alone. God Himself comes down into human life in the person of Jesus, the perfect Image of God. In Him, we see a pattern of sacrificial, life-giving love. He is not worried about achieving success in His vocation, the cultivation of His character, or the ways He benefits from His union with us. He is exclusively focused on expressing His character and fulfilling his vocation in His death and resurrection on our behalf. My love for my wife and our love for our family and our neighbors mirror Christ's love for us. Not only have we joined our hands together, but Christ has joined His hands with us. As we discern to fulfill our roles in God's world, to love Him and our neighbor, we do so on the cross-shaped path created by Jesus through His crucifixion and resurrection.

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