I concluded in yesterday’s post that marriage is in deep trouble as a social institution in Western culture. After centuries of development, and developing legal support, the institution is now falling apart in a little more than one generation. This tragic loss has little, or nothing, to do with the same-sex debate that is raging at the moment.
I ended yesterday’s post by giving three purposes for marriage as I understand the ancient faith tradition of the Christian church and the fairly straightforward teaching of Holy Scripture on this subject. I begin today by saying that marriage is a rich, rewarding and holy thing. God gave me a wife in order to bless me and to call me to deep love. I am called to intimacy with this amazing person so that I am deeply prepared for eternity and the romance and bliss of my eternal marriage with Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33).
Jesus said that in heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage. But the closest thing on earth to the joy of heaven is a deep, lasting and holy marriage. Here a person can know the warm, intimate, mutual in-dwelling of another person. There is even a profoundly theological reason for this relationship between a man and a woman because of how the two (together) represent God to us in the creation of “male and female in his image.” This is expressed so well in the second creation narrative found in Genesis 2:18-25.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed (NRSV).
But my wife is more than a wife to me. She is also my mother in that she cares for me and helps me tenderly as my mother did. Furthermore, she is my sister when we share the most ordinary things in life and laugh together. She is, perhaps more than either of these, my intimate and deep friend. Indeed, in my case she is my best friend. While I have a lot of friends, and some of these friendships are decades long and involve real intensity, no one is as close a companion to me as my wife. Yet here is the point that you should not miss – I can have all of these relationships with other people and yet they are not married to me. I have known other women as mothers, women who cared for me, and as my sisters and friends, people who loved me with a tender, holy love.
What makes my wife different is that she is my covenant partner united with me in holy intimacy through sexual bonds that have, as in our case, produced two children that we both love and give our lives to, even now as they are in their middle years as adults who are 36 and 40 years of age. We are bound together by these two children who make our oneness more evident than any other such relationship can make evident.
Any friendship can be destroyed by a spirit of exclusiveness. If you focus too intensely on your friend then you can destroy your friendship. No relationship can handle intense scrutiny since we have all failed. In all relationships we need forgiveness and space, sometimes a lot of emotional (even physical) space. Relationships that last all come to experience this in various ways. This is no less true of a good and growing marriage. We must allow the other to live and breathe emotionally and spiritually without any exclusive claim upon them.
So what is different about my wife? Our relationship is different because we are not only companions sexually, thus we are bound in a mysterious intimacy, but also in that we have been given two children who are the living fruit of our love.
Let me be quite explicit here. Genital sexuality is good. A good and gracious creator God made us with genitalia and with human passions and desires to experience the beauty of love as it relates to this good part of our creation. But surely, without denying the goodness of genital sexuality, we can see that sexuality points us to something much greater and higher; namely to a fuller and more perfect expression of our oneness in Christ and to all others who share in his oneness. He is the perfect lover, the one who can and will (ultimately) ravish us with his mysterious and eternal love.
Thus when we deal with sex we come very close to the ultimate mystery of life, death and man’s relation to both the cosmos and to the Creator. So profound is this mystery that it can be easily warped and then become a form of idolatry even though our intentions are good and noble. I believe the history of human sexuality, in all of its beauty and corruptions, profoundly underscores my point.
The late Episcopal priest, Fr. Homer F. Rogers, once said, “One of the most certain ways to convince oneself of the fall of man is if we could get a roomful of people talking honestly about the subject, we would discover that everyone there has some kind of sexual problem. That’s all right. We have problems telling the truth, too. But it’s also an evidence of the way sex is ultimately and profoundly significant.” Rogers then added, “All of us are willing to admit with a wry smile that we sometimes have problems with the truth. None of us is willing to admit that we have problems with sex. We’re far more uptight about our sexual problems” (The Romance of Orthodoxy, 1991, 273).
There are two major fallacies that we have about sex and sexual behavior. We have inherited both of these from our culture. I will present them to you tomorrow.