What does God think about marriage?
I know right off the bat that this is a charged statement. Folks use the God card to support their ideas of marriage and invalidate the ideas that other folks have. Usually they do this by using a selective reading of scripture to support what they consider to be normative realities, omit the stuff that doesn't fit so well and say this is what God thinks. I'm going to try not doing that. I don't find it helpful.
The reality is that scripture approaches marriage in a number of different ways. So when some religious groups claim scriptural support for polygamy, they are right. But that doesn't mean polygamy is an acceptable norm in a particular social context. And it definitely does not support any form of polygamy that is abusive or oppressive. It just does not preclude it as a biblically identified construction of a family. I think that the scriptures, more often than not, are identifying culturally normative notions of family and offering deeper wisdom than what is an acceptable form of family and what is not. (For instance, I don't believe that any biblical text came out of a context that could imagine a same-sex family - which is why same-sex families are never mentioned in scripture. This neither endorses or dismisses such notions of family, we need to look for deeper criteria by which to evaluate possible configurations of family within particular cultural contexts.)
So if form isn't the main point, then what is?
I think a better case can be made for the biblical presentation of what a Godly relationship should be like. Through such an argument we can begin to assess notions of family (monogamous mixed-gender, monogamous same-gender, polygamous matriarchal/patriarchal/communal, etc.). That is we can develop criteria by which we can ask of a family unit - does this unit, within this cultural context, exhibit these values? By this we can get close to what we might say that God thinks about marriage, and separate that from what we think should be the normative form(s) of family in our culture.
So I've shifted from defining marriage to understanding relationship, in particular what we might say is God's view on relationships. I want to make a disclaimer that will help here. We can't really say definitively what God's view is, what we can do is interpret the texts and experiences of communities who have passed on revelation to us. This comes through scripture, tradition and experience. And it is always a mediated transmission meaning that the ones who had the revelation translated it to the transmission form and then we interpret the transmission we receive. This does not mean there is no correspondence between revelation and interpretation - but it does mean we need to approach it with critical rigor. We see but through a glass dimly, but at the same time God has not left God's self without a witness. We have to trust that the Spirit is faithful to lead us in our pursuit of truth - and guard against the surety that short circuits the role of the Spirit in this process. Some think this takes away our confidence, I think this opens up a need for trust in God - faith if you will. It also humbles us as we go forward.
So what does scripture say about relationships?
We'll go here next.