Steve - I think it's a good point to note the context of the bible, and the fact that it was indeed written to/about certain people at a specific period of time. That is something that I believe all theologians and Biblical scholars would recognise as key to understanding both the intention, and the possible implications. There are a couple of points that I would like to make in response; a large proportion of the Bible is written about ordinary, rough-edged (sinful, if you will)people. However there 3 major points where I would suggest that God gives us a glimpse of what his 'perfect world' would look like.
1. the first is in the beginning when God creates the world, and Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. "God saw all that he had made and it was very good" - Genesis 1:31.
It was in this context that God created woman from a man's rib and brought her to the man so that they could "become one flesh". "It is for this reason" the Bible says " that a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife" (See Genesis 2:21-24 for a non-paraphrased version). It is for this reason - that God had made woman from man, and man and woman for each other, as the pinnacle of his creation - in the beginning when the world was perfect that God says he creates sexual union between a man and a woman.
2. The second time a glimpse of perfection comes into the world is at the appearance of Jesus who came to bring " sight for the blind, freedom for the captive, liberty for the oppressed and to proclaim the coming of the Lord's favour" Jesus refers back to the Law of Moses, claiming (to the disgust of many) that someone greater than Moses was here. He called people to live a standard that was higher than obedience to laws, but to live a life that was governed by a relationship with God and would result in God's perfect character becoming a part of who we are, rather than just something we do (something that ties in with what you were saying Polly). " You have heard that it was said 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', but I tell you -'Love your enemy, do good to those who harm you, pray for those who persecute you'. Jesus was not discarding the Moseic law, rather as he put it 'fulfilling it'. The Moseic law showed people that they could never reach the perfection that God required, and that they were totally dependent on His grace and mercy. Jesus came and commanded that we should "be perfect, just as [your] Father in Heaven is perfect", and lived a life that exemplified this perfection on earth.
Point of this paragraph: I agree that many things in the law of Moses are not directly applicable today. However, what they do show, is that God does know how humans work, how we can survive, what we need for human life (for example laws that we now know were for hygiene/health/contagious reasons, that may not have made a lot of sense at the time).His ultimate for us is to again be restored to perfection - perfect creation, perfect relationships, just like Jesus, just as He originally created it.
3. Finally, the Bible hints at the perfection at the end of time in 'the world to come'. A world where there is "no mourning, crying or pain" Where death, and sin will be completely defeated. It is in this world that God comes to claim his 'Bride' - that is, the people of God who have loved and been faithful to him during their lives. I think this is probably the most key point of why marriage is so valued - marriage is supposed to be a reflection of the intimacy, complementarity, love, unity, completeness and beauty that exists withing God himself. And, to go back to the creation story again "So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
So, while I agree about the importance of context, I actually think that the context of passages such as these, reflect not only a story of what happened/will happen at a specific time, but also the character of God himself - and a picture of his ideal for us as humans - something that is definitely relevant today.
Polly, thanks for your thoughts too <3 - definitely something that I have wrestled with - what is the job of the law? I don't think the law is responsible for legislating a Christian worldview. But, I do think the law is responsible for protecting things which are valuable. Where I have come to is that I believe marriage between a man and woman is valuable and worth protecting (which I know you do too!) but I'd like the law to do that. The law doesn't stop homosexual couples from being together, living together, even being legally/publicly recognised (Civil Union), so people still have a choice. I think I just want to make sure that the voice of supporting marriage is also heard in the flurry of voices, so that those who are making the decisions have an accurate idea of what NZers would actually want! However, I agree with a wise friend who said to me yesterday "AT the end of the day, when the bill either goes through or doesn't, the big question is really - how do we respond to this in a way that builds up and encourages and brings life to EVERYONE in our society" There are a lot of "I thinks" in here, because I'm still trying to firm up exactly what I believe.
Hamish - you asked me to expand on "my views on the difference between judging an action and judging a person? What would you say judging a person would be?" Hmmm, good question - you've got me thinking there. I think that the main part of it, is seeing the action in the context of the whole person. For example - I could judge a guy who beats his kids and say "that is wrong". If I was judging him, I would then conclude that he must be a bad/evil person who doesn't love his kids. However, if I take the time know him, I will see his struggle, how guilty he feels, the childhood trauma that led to drinking and drug addictions, the cycle of poverty and neglect that has left him with anger and sadness that he doesn't know how to deal with. When I see this side, I realise that he's a person, just like me - someone who has joys and struggles, and really needs God's restoring, healing love at work in his life. I don't condone/encourage his choices, but I see that he is more than just his choice of lifestlye. Does that help explain it?
Shoes - True, terms have changed. To be honest, what marriage means to our society today is probably already far removed from how God intended it. I guess the challenge is for us in the Church to actually start setting a different standard, having different expectations and pursuing the amazingness that God intended it to be.
I think that about covers it. :)