"...is an abomination in the sight of God"

The Greek word translated "abomination" in Luke 16.15 means "a foul thing, a detestable thing." But it also has the connotation "of idols and things pertaining to idolatry." Which is perhaps why the word abomination was chosen.

"You are those who justify yourselves before men, but... what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God." (Lk 16.15)

The connection with idolatry reminded me of my recent thoughts on modern idolatry. And I can see how "what is exalted among men" is what men idolize, which tends to be the things that exalt men themselves—the worship of what we have made, the worship of our own power, the worship of ourselves. As I pointed out in my previous entries on idolatry, our modern idolatry focuses on our powerful institutions, the combined might of our social organizations.

Yesterday I happened to be thinking of this in connection with the social pressure to marry, and marriage has been on my mind, so I'll stick with that example. Marriage is actually a gift from God, a wonderfully good gift. But human societies have worked hard to take it over and use it for their own purposes. It is often even called "the institution of marriage," and is clearly treated as a human institution in practice. It must be licensed by government offices to be considered valid. It is dissolved by judges in courtrooms. It is treated as a legal status in economic dealings (including taxation). Those are the most obvious ways society has tried to make marriage its own.

Which is not surprising. Because society sees marriage and family as the basic building block for the social order (this is true in all cultures, isn't it?). This is how new people are added to the society. And marriage and family are perhaps the most persuasive influences in getting people to sell themselves into the work force (and keeping them there). Thus society needs marriage and so seeks to define and control it.

And while most young couples don't see it in this stark light, marriage is usually understood as a social act. A Christian friend of mine described the marriage ceremony as "primarily for the community." He saw it as an act of declaring the couple's commitment publicly as a promise to the community (as well as to each other), to get the blessing of the community, and so also to receive the community's assurance of support. He saw this as an acknowledgment that they needed the community to survive as a couple. And of course this attitude was highly praised when he got married. It sounds very wise and good—from the perspective of the community.

But is this what marriage is? Is it something granted by the community, by society? Is it meant to affirm our dependence on other people? Is its importance primarily social?

That's one sign on an idol: it points to itself instead of God. Marriage is a gift from God, and its joy and wonder (and creation of new life) should point to God. Like all the gifts of God, it should reaffirm our complete dependence on God. And there's so much about marriage (as we see it as symbol and analogy in scripture) that teaches us about the true meaning of our lives as relationship with God. But society has exalted the "institution" of marriage, turning our attention and dependence towards the social idol, making of it a false, detestable thing.

Thankfully, marriage need not be what we have made of it. It can be something else, something completely beyond human society, "the two become one flesh," a creation and gift of God.