Ethos Education

Sherlock: The Sign of Three: What is the point of getting married?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of different Christian views on divorce and remarriage.
  • Consideration of why some marriages succeed and others fail.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on the pros and cons of marriage as an institution.
  • Analyse Bible passages to discover Christian teaching on the subjects of marriage and divorce.
  • Reflect upon the positions of different Christian denominations concerning divorce.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine a Christian understanding of love.
  • Analyse key Bible passages to determine possible advice for couples, and to understand the marks of a distinctly Christian approach to marriage.
  • Reflect upon the significance of the marriage vows when a relationship is in difficulty.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a summary of Christian perspectives on love, marriage and divorce, either in the style of 1 Corinthians 13, and (optional) by writing alternative sets of wedding vows and summarising the values that inspired them.

STARTER:

Divide the students into two teams. Tell one half of the class that they are to make the case in favour of marriage (as an institution, not necessarily the case for them to get married right now!) and the other half that they are making the case against marriage. Alternate between the teams, building up an evenly matched list of pros and cons. Keep this going until one team begins to run out of ideas, or until you think that the lists are big enough.

Explain that today’s lesson is going to be about marriage, and in particular looking at different Christian understandings of marriage and divorce.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the Sherlock episode The Sign of Three. This is available on the DVD Sherlock: Complete Series Three (BBC DVD, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that John Watson (Martin Freeman) is getting married. In this clip his best man Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives his speech at the wedding reception. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Sherlock has to say about the institution of marriage.

  • Start time: 0.23.41 (beginning of chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.26.43
  • Clip length: 3 minutes and 2 seconds

The clip starts with Sherlock standing up to give his best man’s speech. The first line is Sherlock coughing before looking through his index cards saying, ‘Done that’. The clip ends after John’s new wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) says, ‘Certainly not’. Please note that the clip includes one instance of swearing. If this is not appropriate for the class, stop the episode at 0.25.10, after Sherlock has described God as, ‘a ludicrous fantasy designed to secure a career for the family idiot.’

Ask the students to summarise Sherlock’s position on marriage. You might want to remind them of the following quote from Sherlock’s speech:

‘A wedding is, in my considered opinion, nothing short of a celebration of all that is false and specious and irrational and sentimental in this ailing and morally compromised world. Today we celebrate the deathwatch beetle that is the doom of our society and in time, one feels certain, our entire species.’

Invite discussion around the quote, asking students to suggest what is – or isn’t – false, irrational, etc about marriage.

Ask the students to read Genesis 2:19-25. Working in pairs or small groups, ask them to make a list of Christian principles about marriage that are underpinned by these verses.

Some possible answers:

  • Marriage provides a depth of companionship that is hard to find elsewhere (verse 20).
  • The marriage bond is a deeply intimate one (verses 23, 24, 25).
  • Marriage is an exclusive bond that surpasses other existing family relationships (verse 24).

Take feedback from the students and allow some time for discussion. You could ask the students whether they like the picture of marriage that can be drawn from this passage.

Read 1 John 4:7-21 with the students. Explain that John is not writing specifically about married love, or even romantic love. Nevertheless, his observations about the nature of love are still applicable to this discussion. Ask the students to identify what John regards as the prime example of love (v10). Ask them what implications his instruction for people to follow that example might have if applied to a marriage (draw out that John instructs people to love sacrificially, putting others ahead of themselves: a good quality to bring to a marriage relationship).

You could also refer students to Ephesians 5:21-33 which is more specifically about marriage. Emphasise that this letter includes the same emphasis on sacrificial love which is modelled on the example of Jesus’ love.

Remind the students that attitudes towards divorce have changed considerably over recent years. Once there was a time when a divorce was considered to be a shameful thing, whereas now divorces are much more common and are accepted as a fact of life. Recent UK statistics show that just under 40% of marriages end in divorce, with an overall fall in the number of divorces in the three years prior to 2008. Ask the students what they think a Christian perspective on divorce might be.

Ask the students, in pairs or small groups, to look up the following Bible passages which show Jesus’ teaching on the subject of divorce. The students should summarise Jesus’ teaching, and then discuss in their small groups the extent to which the comments in the two passages agree with each other, or seem to contradict each other.

Matthew 5:31-32 (parallel passage which could be used as an alternative: Luke 16:18),
Matthew 19:1-12 (you might like to point out that Jesus refers here to the passage from Genesis that the class looked at earlier), (parallel passage which could be used as an alternative: Mark 10:1-12).

Take feedback from the students, and draw out that while Jesus seems to recognise that sometimes marriages come to an end, he also seems to regard this as a serious matter, and something not to be entered into lightly. Ask if any of the students were surprised by Jesus’ views on divorce.

Some modern Christians have drawn attention to the difference between the modern, secular understanding of marriage as a contract – a temporary thing that can be put aside when it ceases to meet the needs of both parties – and the traditional Christian understanding of marriage as a covenant. Jesus’ words that ‘what God has joined together, let no man break apart’ in Matthew 19 reflect this covenantal perspective of marriage.

Tim Keller on the website A Faith to Live By quotes James Dobson:

James Dobson wrote a letter to his finance shortly before their wedding day and he said ‘I want you to understand and be fully aware of my feelings concerning the marriage covenant we are about to enter.  I have been taught at my mother’s knee and in conformity to the word of God that the marriage vows are inviolable and my entering into them I am binding myself absolutely and for life – the idea of estrangement from you through divorce for any reason at all will never be permitted to enter my thinking.  I’m not naive on this on the contrary I’m fully aware of the possibility, unlikely as it now appears, that mutual incompatibility or other unforeseen circumstances could result in extreme mental suffering.  If such becomes the case I am resolved for my part to accept it as a consequence of the commitment I am now making and to bear if necessary to the end of our lives together.’

Ask the students what difference they think an understanding of marriage as a covenant would make for married couples? Is it a good or bad thing when compared to the contract-based understanding?

You might also like to refer students to the following summary of the different positions on the subject of divorce taken by different denominations: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ritesrituals/divorce_1.shtml.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 is a well-known Bible passage about love. Although it is not specifically about romantic love, it is a passage that is often chosen to be read at weddings.

Ask the students to write a summary of Christian beliefs about marriage and what it takes to make them work, in the style of 1 Corinthians 13. If you like they could also invent some other sets of wedding vows, and write a short paragraph for each unpacking the values which underpin those vows.

YOU WILL NEED:

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