Intimate Allies (pt. 1): Marriage Means War

Why does the bridegroom stand on the right side of the bride? 

The legend goes:

Long ago, the right arm was considered the sword arm of most fighting men. If a man had to protect his bride, he would hold her with his left hand, and fight off attackers with his right arm.  The reason that men may have had to fight off others was because quite often women were kidnapped. Family members naturally wanted to rescue the stolen brides. Sometimes even during the wedding ceremony, the grooms had to fight off other men who were desirous of their brides, along with the bride’s family members. So having his right arm free was an important strategy.  This tradition is followed today by when facing the officiant, having the bride stand to the left, and the groom stand to the right.  (HT: Wikianswer).

This kind of readiness to defend makes sense in a time and place when marriages were threatened by violent thieves.  But what about today?  In light of the Scriptures, it still makes sense.  Such a posture illustrates the twin realities of love and war, and whether or not we consider marriage to be a violent affair, spiritually speaking, it is.  Marriage is warfare!

In their book, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman make this very important connection.  Love is war!  And for Christian marriages to be strong they must participate in cosmic conflict against the enemies that seek to destroy their marriage.  Concerning marriage and warfare, they write:

The language of a battle may disturb many readers, but life is a war.  And marriage, at times, requires war if the battle of life is to be fought well.  But are our spouses non-combatants, people disengaged from the real battles of our life?  Or worse, are our spouses enemies whom we fight daily?

God’s intention is for our spouses to be our allies–intimate friends, lovers, warriors in the spiritual war against the forces of the evil one.  We are to draw strength, nourishment, and courage to fight well from that one person who most deeply supports and joins us in the war–our soulmate for life.  Husbands and wives are intimate allies (Intimate Allies, xvi).

Clearly strong marriages are not engaged in internecine conflicts, but they are drawing battle lines and contending with external threats.  From the foundation of the world, Satan has been seeking to kill, steal, and destroy (cf. Gen. 3; John 10:10).  He is the accuser, the robber, the murderer, and the home-wrecker.  He loves to pervert and destroy all things that God has created good, and he takes specific aim at marriage, sexuality, and the familial relations of the nuclear family.  One aspect of redemptive history is to re-establish the home.  This is evident in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the fruit of the Spirit-filled life results a properly functioning marriage, where husbands lovingly lead their wives and wives respectfully submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33).  In a return to the properly alligned marriage in the Garden, it seems evident from God’s Word that Spirit-led marriages are in cosmic conflict with the spirit of this age.  Allender and Longman elucidate this point:

What is the basis of the war between the sexes?  It is ultimately, of course, the war between God and his adversary, Satan.  We ought never to be naive.  The deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.  No one on earth will have more potential to do harm or to do good than your spouse.  Consequently, no relationship will be imbued with more desire and danger than your marriage.  No wonder most couples soon settle down into a distant, parallel existence in which the pain and the joy are kept at a minimum (287).

Sadly, their point is too often the case.  Couples, young and old, settle into patterns of coexistence rather than mutual edification.  Instead of conforming themselves into God’s intimate ideal for marriage, couples accept the luke-warm tensions of marriage, and make it up as they go.  In so doing, they ignore the marriage-transforming power of the gospel, and allow Satan to strip away the joys of marriage.  Yet, it does not have to be that way.  Allender and Longman contend that married is an environment for sanctification, spiritual growth, and gospel-empowered grace.  The battle that closes in on the home provides incentive and opportunity for the God’s power to be made manifest within the marriage, so that the flaming arrows of the enemy become refining fires that illumine and eradicate sin as Christ’s atoning work is applied to each act of sin.  They continue with optimism:

Our marriages are the ground for change.  It is the place where exposure of our need for the gospel is most profound; therefore, it is the relationship where depravity is best exposed and where our dignity is best lived out.  Marriage is the battleground of sin and the place where the Cross is revealed as the only hope for life and joy.  In the midst of the Curse, God promises that redemption will come as the seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent.  [Therefore], the curse is a friend that drives us to the hope of redemption.  Marriage is the sweet wine and rich meat that heralds the final day and the wedding feast of the Lamb (288).

The first marriage was ruined by the slithering voice of the serpent, yet it was restored by the promise found within the curse: “the seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent.”  Adam believed the promise and named his wife Eve, the mother of all living, and thus marital hope was restored, if only partially.  The same kind of redemptive hope is available for every marriage today, and in even greater ways since we know the rest of the story.  Sin still tears at marriage, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ, as depicted in marriage itself (Eph. 5:32), we know that the power of God can restore and reinforce every marriage under threat from sin and Satanic attack.  “Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more” (Romans 5:21); and “the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Consequently, the attacks of the enemy can in turn become the God’s means for mutual sanctification, as husband and wife humbly cry out to Jesus to come and work wonders in their marriage. 

This is not a civilian’s work (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4).  Picking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and believing the promises of God takes courage and tenacity.  Putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit is an act of war against the one to whom we were once held captive.  It is war, and it is the kind of war that is fueled by love (for God and for our spouse).  Perhaps it is counter-intuitive, but it is absolutely essential that every strong Christian marriage must employ a constant patrol on enemy activity encroaching against their marriage.  Every husband must stand guard, ready to go to war to protect their marriage by destroying every argument and [knocking down] every lofty opinion rasied agsint the knowledge of Christ; just as, every wife must combat Satan through prayers intercession for her home and for her husband.  Marriage is war!

Married people confront life as a battle.  As intimate allies, they push back the chaos.  With the power of God, marriage is an awesome calling and at times a delightful prelude of heaven.  But no matter what joy of what sense of meaning is found in marriage, it is always involved in a war.  At times marriage itself is part of the war… A successful marriage is one in which two broken and forgiving people stay committed to one another in a sacrificial relationship in the face of life’s chaos.  We are intimate allies in the war.  We rejoice together in our victories and cry together as we ecnounter setbacks.  But even in the setbacks, we can have joy because we know that the final victory is ours.  We look forward to the ultimate Wedding, which our own weddings only faintly reflect (346-47).

The pervading thesis of Intimate Allies is that marriage means war.  Once we realize this truth, it will re-adjust how we think of our own marital commitments.  It will re-allign the patterns of our daily interaction.  Our marriages require the daily posture of a pugilist–always ready to embrace our spouse with grace and forgiveness so that the devil does not get a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27).  Simultaneously, we are ever-ready to fight all those who would rend asunder what God has joined together.   Intimate Allies alerts us to the biblical reality of spiritual warfare attacking our marriages, and it implores us to put on our armor because the devil is coming to kill, steal, and destroy.

May the Lord grant us courage to fight sin, Satan, and the spirits of this age that would love to undo our marriages. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss