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April 26, 2013
Marriage and Grace
by Jeff Lindsay

Marriage in both the New and Old Testaments is a metaphor for the relationship we should have with God. His love for us is like the love of a perfect groom for his bride. The requirement for loyalty and fidelity on our part is also similar to the expectations expressed in marriage vows. Marriage, after all, is a covenant relationship, a two-way covenant. In entering into that covenant, one accepts certain limitations and exclusions in life, promising sacrifice, service, and complete loyalty. With the covenant comes great blessings and promises.

Latter-day Saints believe that when God gave Eve to Adam as his wife in the Garden of Eden, nothing was said about this being a temporary arrangement. We don’t believe that marriage in God’s eyes is intended to last for just a few weeks or years. The marriage covenant from God, as we understand it, does not come with the words “till inconvenience do you part” or with those more frequently expressed but still tragic words, “till death do you part.” We believe that marriage can be forever.

Yes, of course we’ve heard the verse about how marriage does not occur in heaven. There is also no baptism in heaven. These ordinances are earthly ordinances that must occur here, but both, when properly done and with the right authority, can bring lasting eternal blessings. Heaven is not a place for dating. It’s not a place for people changing their affiliation in faith or in marriage.

The ordinances of change, both marriage and baptism, are both ordinances of sealing what should be a permanent relationship and must take place before one can really move forward in the glories of eternity. Thank goodness, by the way, for the blessings of the restored temple where mortals can perform baptism for the dead and other ordinances to eventually give all mankind the fair opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Those who have experienced marriage long enough may come to know of its delicacy. The love between even a very good man and a very good woman is delicate and requires nourishment, care, diligence, and ongoing sacrifice. Now that I’ve explained the LDS perspective on marriage as an eternal blessing, can you imagine the disservice an LDS leader could do if he twisted LDS doctrine to offer horrific counsel such as this:

Well, young couple, now you are married, married with God’s power, and since what God does lasts forever, we know that marriage lasts forever, and so there’s nothing to worry about. No need to do anything, to exert any effort. No need to sacrifice or make any big changes in your life. Oh, sure, the changes will come naturally since you love each other, but there’s no sense trying to change anything about what you do, what you want, how you spend your time or money, etc. God has done all the work that needs to be done in marrying you and nothing can change that. Once married, always married, you know. Now enjoy!

Returning to marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God, the writers of the Bible understood that our covenant relationship with God, like marriage, requires loyalty and effort on our part. It requires obedience and endurance to the end. Those in the covenant relationship can fall from grace. The Bible teaches that plainly and explicitly. The covenant relationship with God, not just in the Old Testament but also in the New, requires our obedience and faithful following of God. How tragic that some teachers and pastors would in essence give advice about God that is potentially just as harmful as that hypothetical bad marriage advice.

One of the exciting things about the LDS religion is the restoration of the ancient principle of covenants, even down to the level of detailed aspects of ancient biblical covenant patterns being restored beautifully (e.g., in the temple and in King Benjamin’s speech in the Book of Mormon), patterns that were only recognized by scholars in the past century (see discussion of the covenant formulary on my LDSFAQ page about the LDS temple). Marriage, baptism, the temple, and a knowledge of the real covenant relationship between God and man are all part of this beautiful picture.

Marriage is delicate and so is our relationship to God. Just as Paul urged us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), I would recommend that all you married couples work out your marriage with fear and trembling (and kindness and patience to boot) because we can fall if we are neglectful. Love can be lost. Trust can be lost. Grace can be lost.

He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved. The covenant relationship of marriage likewise demands that we endure and stay faithful to the end. Then we’ll see that there isn’t really an end, but a glorious continuation.

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