The way it was meant to be:
Made for each other
Our Scripture reading this morning opens with the newly-made man (soon to be called Adam) naming the animals, that is, declaring what each one is. It’s a godlike activity, and indeed, the Adam is here shown exercising dominion under God. But among all the animals, there is found no appropriate helper for him; the Adam is incomplete. Which leads to the creation of the woman (soon to be called Eve), who completes Adam.
This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh . . . Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.Man and woman together is an aspect of the Image of God. It’s also one of a number of binaries in the cosmogony of Genesis: Light/Dark, Day/Night, Sea/Sky, Water/Land, Sun/Moon, Male/Female. Sex is not an irrelevant biological detail, but something God has been building up to: it’s part of his revelation. All these binaries show forth God’s glory, but they also illustrate his purpose.
God requires a completed humanity – not just solitary individuals – to exercise the dominion that he gives as our function within his creation. Nor should we pass by the command to be fruitful; man and woman together image God’s fecundity and imitate him in the creation of new life. The pairing of man and woman shown here is the beginning of human society – the next stage of creation, in which we cooperate with our Creator.
And even as marriage is the foundation of society, it is also the most special of all human relationships, overshadowing even that of parent and child. For the parent/child relationship is fundamentally about separation - its goal is growing up and becoming yourself - but marriage is about union, about becoming so connected, you are no longer just Joe and Lisa, but Joe-and-Lisa. The whole is to be greater than the sum of its parts; that's “the way it was meant to be.”
Now, as the car ads say, “your mileage may vary.”
Not all people marry – or should - and we should emphasize that singleness can be as holy a calling as marriage. Also, not all marriages last; sometimes one of the parties dies untimely (and sometimes the relationship dies untimely). Not every marriage is happy – or fruitful. Not every partner is faithful. And, of course, some people desire other kinds of relationships than traditional marriage.
None of this invalidates the model we’ve been given, which is remarkably consistent, all the way through the Bible, Old Testament to New. Of course, you’ll hear the argument that, Oh, people back then couldn’t begin to understand the enlightened view of sex and relationships we enjoy today. And they’ll tell you, the Bible is – let’s face it – out of date.
My method – that I’ve been following all through this series on the creation stories in Genesis – is to lay the Bible’s cosmogony over against the stories of other religions of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world, to see what this account has to say about God and his purposes that’s different from all the rest. So, to take the nearest example, Canaanite religion (like others) made a very big deal out of sex.
Canaanite religion worshiped a fertility goddess in hilltop shrines. Those shrines were tended by priestesses -- and priests – some of whom doubled as sacred prostitutes. This led to a fairly relaxed attitude toward fornication (with both sexes), at least when done in the goddess’s service. And not only did men patronize these shrines, they dedicated their young daughters and sons to serve in them as an act of piety. Sex was divine, so sex was holy – all sex.
And with this obsession with sex came a certain set of practices: sex outside of marriage, plural marriage, concubinage, child marriage. Abortion was common, and so was infanticide -- not only by exposing unfit or unwanted children, but by sacrificing healthy children, burning them alive to the god Moloch. Israel fell into this horrid practice, burning children in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem – Ge Hinnom in Hebrew, and thus the source of the Greek word Gehenna, a name for hell. For some reason, societies that emphasize sex often come to devalue children -- see them as easily replaceable, easily disposable. As one writer observed, this is because placing sex over all other goods leads to a profoundly selfish lifestyle – one not concerned with what I can mean to you but only in what you can mean to me.
Meanwhile, Greek religion had its Dionysian mysteries in which side by side with the aesthetic of Greek tragedy was that of the grotto where you could get your freak on. The Anatolian worship of the Great Mother and Egyptian and Babylonian religion all have echoes and counterparts to this, but Canaanite religion was the most in-your-face with it. The lure of this paganism all around them was a constant danger to Israel in the days before the exile to Babylon; meanwhile, the worship of the Great Mother was the last true competitor to Christianity.
So the idea that the Biblical writers had no experience in dealing with every variety of sexual behavior we know today is just ludicrous. They lived amongst it – and rejected it in favor of a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of love, marriage, and sex. As did the early Christians, who were profoundly counter-cultural in this case, refusing to live by the standards of Roman society around them and instead following their own beliefs on matters of purity and faithfulness. Pagan sexual theology was, in fact, an awful lot like elite opinion today; and over against this, both the Old Testament and the New Testament laid down not only blanket condemnations of sexual misconduct, but also great encomiums on the value of marriage between man and woman.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,Biblical theology - and the Biblical creation story - demoted sex to reflect their understanding of God. The God of Israel is not a “sexual” being as most pagan gods and goddesses were thought to be – though the complementarity of man and woman is an image of God in its open and honest exchange, its mutual care, its single will, and its joyous fecundity.
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
jealousy cruel as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
it would be utterly scorned.
And I know, they’ll tell you that if you just let go of your hangups, you’ll be set free. But the wisdom of the Biblical writers is that not every thought should be listened to, not every idea should be expressed, not every itch should be scratched. There are things that promise freedom and fulfillment, but if you stretch out your hand for them, they will end only in slavery and frustration. And there are also relationships that look like the approved variety, but where the partners simply eat each other up in their greed to have what they want on their own terms; and they say, this is what I have done for love. But as C.S. Lewis put it, Love only ceases to be a devil when it ceases to be a god.
So, what is it for, this union of man and woman?
Well, marriage harnesses the power of mutual attraction to good ends. The Biblical model is of a husband who joins with one wife and forgoes all others – and who stays with her and supports their children. This is important because in any kind of unstable situation, women bear the most disadvantages. "Sexual freedom,” however much one wants to stick it to the patriarchy, is not in women’s best interests; it just empowers men to leave women, rendering them poorer and less secure in the process.
The Biblical model is of a husband and a wife, both of whom are willing to lay down their lives for the other, to serve each other. And above all, the biblical view of love is not mere gratification – not how you make me feel. The highest love is the love that sacrifices oneself for another, as when Jesus laid down his life for us. And yeah, I know – the ideology of sacrifice can be perverted too, by those who say that it is your duty to sacrifice yourself for another, but that’s not the way love talks.
Love demands the right to sacrifice itself for the other, and doesn’t talk in terms of the other’s duty at all. Love is not about what you owe me or I owe you, but what I want to do for you, and won’t be stopped from doing. Nor can love be expressed in terms of divvying up responsibilities. True love is not a 50/50 proposition, it’s a 100/100 proposition, where each gives all that one has, without holding back.
This is very difficult to do. It takes a lifetime to learn it, and there are many painful lessons along the way. We do no one any favors if we let them think that all they have to do is “make it official” and everything will work out. It won’t; you have to work it out, together – with God.
My daughter found a cartoon years ago and clipped it from the paper. It showed two people in a little boat floating in front a huge hill, labeled “Tunnel of Love” – except that there was no tunnel, just the bare hillside. And there on the shore was a guy handing them a pair of shovels, saying, “Ya gotta dig your own.”
The Bible’s witness is, it’s worth it, even though you have to dig your own. To build a life together not only brings fulfillment to the man and woman, but makes possible the raising of healthy and happy children, sustains society, and enables us to do the will of God. This is not to say that those who are not married, or no longer married, are incapable of doing the will of God, but marriage of man and woman is certainly a fundamental part of the creation order that God has given us, and those who make the attempt together are attempting a great and good thing. We should pray for them and support them in all that they do.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.