By Chuck Griffin
Revelation’s author—and the Holy Spirit, I suppose—must drive rigid English teachers crazy with the use of mixed metaphors. Life in the full presence of God is described as both a marriage and a beautiful city (the city at one point is clothed as a bride), and each metaphor reveals something special about God’s relationship with humanity.
Let’s explore the idea of the “new Jerusalem” adorned as a bride for her husband. This metaphor is one of the major reasons Revelation is so appropriate as the closing book of Christian Scripture. Throughout the Bible, there has been a thought running along like a thread from nearly front cover to back. It is the idea of God as the spurned husband and humanity as the unfaithful wife.
In the beginning of our Bible story, it is clear God wanted to be fully present with his creation. When God discovered Adam and Eve’s first act of disobedience, he had gone for a stroll in Paradise in the cool of the day, looking for the people he made. Their sin caused a terrible separation. Rather than a close companion, our maker by his very nature was forced to become distant, while at the same time beginning the plan to overcome sin and restore what once was.
The prophets in particular picked up on the image of God as spurned husband. Jeremiah did. Hosea certainly did, at God’s command taking a prostitute as an unfaithful wife to symbolize Israel’s unfaithfulness.
But in the end, bride and groom will be restored. The Holy Spirit works within the church, healing its members and restoring them through faith in Christ. The bride is being adorned and dressed as we gather in worship and live out the church’s mission.
The metaphor also says much about the value of earthly marriage. When I take couples through premarital counseling, I make a point of reminding them that the union they are about to enter symbolizes the great work Christ is doing.
The husband represents God; the wife stands for the church. And to keep the husband from getting a big head, thinking this metaphor somehow puts him in a position of power, I remind him of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In a culture where marriage is less and less valued—we are so much more about instant gratification and so much less about commitment—we need again to emphasize the symbolic value of marriage. If I could add a third sacrament to our Methodist practice, it would be marriage. Perhaps we would better understand how we participate in God’s grand scheme for creation when taking our vows before God.
Lord, help us to live faithfully, anticipating the day when you dwell among us and all is set right. Amen.