We have all been to weddings. I went to one just this summer. Much preparation went into the event. Invitations were sent out. The couple impatiently counted the days down. The day arrives. Everyone is dressed up. The guests are seated. The proud parents take their place in the front row. Music is playing. The groom and pastor take their positions. The bridesmaids and groomsmen begin to flounce down the aisle. The stage is now set. The music now shifts. Everyone stands with great anticipation. The groom stares longingly at the door for the bride. She appears! A flood of adoring whispers cascades through the crowd. The bride beams with excitement. The day has finally come. She drinks it all in. The father of the bride gives her hand in marriage to the groom. You know the rest…
This is the image given in Scripture to depict the relationship between God and His people. The concept of the relationship between God and his people as marriage goes back to the OT. The prophets spoke of Israel as the chosen bride of God (Isa. 54:2-8; Ezek. 16:7; Hos. 2:19). In the NT the church is referred to as the bride of Christ; he loves the church so much that he gave his life for her (Eph. 5:25). And now, here in Revelation 19, we are told that “the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear” (v. 7). We will get a peak at the bride’s wedding dress in chapter 21. This imagery is known as the “bridal paradigm” found throughout Scripture.
Many people are uncomfortable with the bridal paradigm. There has been a critique of some forms of modern spirituality as too romanticized. Some students I know talk about ‘dating Jesus.’ For some, this imagery and language seems inappropriate, sappy, and emotionally based. Talking about faith as a ‘sacred romance’ makes them squirm. Faith, they say, is based on reason, not emotion. And yet, the Bible itself invites us to view what God is doing as a ‘divine wooing.’ God desires us. The beauty of God’s bride arouses God’s passion. God longs to capture us and embrace us in His love. God wants to draw us close to His heart. God is love and is portrayed as the Great Lover. The early church fathers, theologians, mystics, monks, priests, and nuns did not seem to be uncomfortable with this imagery and language. In fact, many wrote commentaries on the book of Song of Songs as a love story between God and the Church. Bernard of Clairvaux got so worked up about it that he wrote four whole volumes on the Song of Songs as a sacred romance. God’s deepest longing is to be united to His bride the Church. That is how God feels about His Church.
The vow of chastity and celibacy that monks, priests, and nuns take points to the bridal paradigm found in Scripture. I had lunch yesterday with a priest who is in his first parish, fresh out of seminary. He told me of his calling. He never dreamed of being a priest. He likes girls. He was in love and thinking about marrying, when he realized his love for his girlfriend was not enough. It paled in comparison to his love for Christ. He realized then that he had been given the gift of celibacy and entered the priesthood. He doesn’t struggle with his decision. He is in love with Jesus Christ. He told all this to me with a gleam in his eyes. Now, you don’t have to become a monk, priest or nun to fall in love with Jesus. The whole Church is God’s bride. If this makes you uncomfortable, then you are uncomfortable with love. That is a problem because God is love. If you are uncomfortable with love, you are uncomfortable with God.