This past May 25, my wife and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. As part of our day, we took time with our 3 sons to celebrate; not just our marriage, but the blessing, and yes even sorrow, of our children.

Yes, I realize that sounds odd to suggest we celebrated our “sorrow”, but I think the oddity of those words reflect a deeper quality missing from most marriages—the quality of self-sacrifice.

Read, for example, this passage from Genesis 3:16 where God speaks words of punishment to Eve for her sin.

To the woman [God] said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Notice first that the consequence of sin was not suffering, but an increase in the suffering for the woman.  Ever since I was a kid, this verse has struck me as odd.  God does not say he will “create” pain, but he will greatly multiply it.  It seems that the woman, even before the Fall, was always to experience some pain in childbearing. The implication here is that even in God’s perfect Garden, there was a place for pain in childbirth.  Why?  How can there be pain in paradise? Because it just may be that life can not exist without sacrifice, and I think God always wanted the husband and wife to share in both the joy and pain of creation.

Martin Luther, in his commentary on Genesis 3:16, says it well when he writes the following about the increased sorrow of Eve in childbearing.

“Moreover, the word רַב appears here; it denotes a quantity which is both extensive and varied. This means that Eve’s sorrows, which she would not have had if she had not fallen into sin, are to be great, numerous, and also of various kinds. The threat is directed particularly at birth and conception. But conception designates the entire time during which the fetus, after being conceived, is carried in the womb, a time beset with severe and sundry ailments. From the beginning of that time a woman suffers very painful headaches, dizziness, nausea, an amazing loathing of food and drink, frequent and difficult vomiting, toothache, and a stomach disorder which produces a craving, called pica, for such foods from which nature normally shrinks. Moreover, when the fetus has matured and birth is imminent, there follows the most awful distress, because only with utmost peril and almost at the cost of her life does she give birth to her offspring.
When the heathen, who have no knowledge of God and of His works, see this, it displeases them. Because of these discomforts, they maintain that a prudent man should not marry. The female sex has been greatly humbled and afflicted, and it bears a far severer and harsher punishment than the men. For what is there of such things that a man suffers on his own body? But because through marriage the husband transfers, as it were, a part of those punishments upon himself (for he cannot without grief see those things in his wife), it has come about that wicked men prefer fornication to marriage.”

Martin Luther, vol. 1, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 200-01.

Certainly we live in an age when marriage is under attack, but not from the places one might think.  As Luther says, to prefer the pleasure of sex outside the bonds of marriage, is easy for a man because he can then avoid sharing in the sufferings of the woman. To be quite frank, I think in our culture today, many a man has found a way to avoid sharing the burden of the woman even within the bond of marriage.  What a sad age for marriage.

However, to embrace Divine-marriage, is to share together in both the beauty and burden of childbearing.  Childbirth is then not something a truly “married” woman will experience alone; rather it is a shared experience where the pain is made less by a loving husband who suffers in heart, mind and soul alongside his treasured wife.

Certainly the marital sharing of sorrows goes both beyond childbearing and it goes both ways. True-marriage… Divine-marriage… Biblical-marriage… is a man and woman willing to take on the sorrow of the other, and in-so-doing, they covenant with God to increase their own burden and bring comfort to their mate.

By the time of my 18th anniversary… I pray I am a man who better shares the sorrow of my wife so that I may increase her joy for living.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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