I have been thinking for a few days about the view of marriage in different Christian bodies. In my search for the Church, I have found myself troubled by both the Catholic and Orthodox views, and find myself again attracted to my old Evangelical Protestant thoughts on the matter.
I admire the Catholic view that marriage is for life, and that a civil divorce has no power to end a marriage. However, I am very wary of the annulment process, which seems to be able to declare just about any marriage as never having existed. This means that, while marriage is a wonderful, blessed thing, almost no one actually experiences it.
I think the Orthodox allowance of divorce is a more honest approach, though I have a much greater admiration for the Catholic ideal. I am very troubled by the view I heard expressed on this forum, however, that marriage is eternal. This seems to contradict Christ's words to the Sadducees, and I find it to be a very odd belief in a Church that allows for more than one marriage. Is only the first marriage eternal, with any subsequent marriages being nothing more than a Church-approved "shacking up?"
In my studies of the Church, I have seen that Catholics and Orthodox alike, dating back to the days of the united Church, are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of sexual intercourse in marriage. Perhaps this is more the case in the west, but sexual intercourse seems to be portrayed as something dirty and possibly sinful, redeemed only by its role in procreation. This attitude shows itself in the apparently common view that Adam and Eve did not have intercourse until after the Fall (and how would we have any way of knowing this?), along with the insistence that Mary and Joseph could not have possibly slept together as husband and wife. The latter view has more support, of course, as this seems to be the consistent teaching of the early Church. However, the insistence upon it, as if it must be so, is something I find odd.
And, if one wants to get Catholics and Orthodox alike riled up, one simply needs to make the suggestion that maybe, possibly, sexual intercourse exists in some form in Heaven. Personally, I'm not arguing for this, as I have no idea what Heaven is like. Of course, neither does anyone else on Earth. The point is that I have seen Catholics and Orthodox act quite horrified by the suggestion.
As an Evangelical Protestant, I believed that when people married and said "till death do us part," then they should stick to that. When people divorced, it was a very sad thing, though sometimes necessary (particularly in the case of abuse, for example). After healing and repentance of the sins that led to the breakup of the marriage, if people desired to marry again, then they should be free to do so. Why should they spend the rest of their lives alone, after all? And, when it came to sexual intercourse, within marriage it was a complete good. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with it, and a husband and wife need feel no shame.
My current view is basically the same as when I was fully Protestant. The only difference is that, having studied Catholic teaching on the matter, I see the importance of being open to life, and I am very uncomfortable with the use of contraception (though I am not yet prepared to label it a sin). Other than that, I affirm that marriage should be for life, that sexual intercourse within marriage is praiseworthy, that children are a blessing, and that marriage does end with death. The last part is important, because it means that in Heaven, we will be able to fully love everyone, without having to hold back and focus on just one person.
I believe that God is more concerned with how we live than with what doctrines we hold to be true. This is why the one true Church's view of marriage is far more important to me than its thoughts on the filioque, papal infallibility, or exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Any thoughts? I'm sure I'm misrepresenting both Catholic and Orthodox teaching on this, so I welcome correction. Truth is my goal here.