Love and Marriage: Versions and Visions

wedding rings

Since we started this blog in various ways Chad and I have not only shown how vastly differently traditionalists and progressives view sex and marriage, but also a concept as basic as love.  1 Corinthians 13:13 sums up love’s significance in six words, “the greatest of these is love.”  Likewise Galatians 5:6 (NRSV) indicates its significance when it says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”  While some seem to think the love the Bible speaks of, at least the love Jesus and the New Testament speaks of is antithetical to the concern for commandment keeping, 1Cor 7:19 with it structure and theme parallel to Galatians 5:6 shows, as paradoxical as it may seem to many of us, love to be naturally in harmony with commandment keeping.  1 Corinthians 7:19 “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything.”  This is not in order for one to be saved, but as evidence that one is saved.  This is the version of love revealed in Deuteronomy 6, Leviticus 19, in the teachings of Jesus (John 14:15) and Paul, as well as John (see 1 John 5).

At least one progressive commenter on one of our posts blithely dismissed our exegesis and exposition of the way the Bible defines love, saying, more or less, that we really don’t need the Bible to tell us what love is because we already know what it is in our hearts.  I asked if he ever considered the possibility that our hearts are a far less reliable guide than Scripture, especially in light of a verse like Jeremiah 17:9, which sums up the human dilemma revealed in the entire narrative of Scripture beginning with Genesis 3 on.  Our hearts desires sometimes get us in serious trouble and mislead us.  Love has been and still can be disordered and misdirected, as can its naturally corresponding faithfulness.  For we will be faithful to whoever or whatever it is we love, either as slaves to our own desires, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16), or slaves to the will of the one who loved us and sent His Son for us (see Romans 6).

Since traditionalists and progressives have different understandings of love, it shouldn’t be surprising that we have very different understandings of what marriage is.  In short progressives seem to have centered the newer understanding of marriage around consensual sexual desire in general whereas for traditionalist it has always been centered around something much more concrete.  Throughout the history of humanity in every culture and society up until the last 15 years or so, the concept of marriage has always been centered around the complementarity of the sexes, male and female, and more specifically around the one and only act which completes a comprehensive union directed toward the goal of biological reproduction.  It is this act and this act alone that brings about such a union where organs from two different people are joined together for the purpose for which they were created in separate entities, to produce an entirely new human being, the undeniable proof of this one flesh union, for in a child two people, the biological parents, are permanently combined and forever linked.  Albeit not the only purpose, this is the primary goal toward which natural sexual desire and pleasure are directed, and I think it fair to say from a traditional Christian perspective any subsidiary purposes and benefits should be in harmony therewith.  That is to say that sex should be between two people of the opposite sex within, and only within, the sacred covenant of marriage.

While there have been various and differing ceremonies, customs, and practices that have developed around this central activity, this has always been at the center of what marriage was understood to be, even outside of the Christian tradition.  A reading of Genesis would show the act of sexual intercourse could make a relationship a marriage, without any pomp and circumstance at all (see Gen 24:62-67).   Even in cultures such as ancient Greece, which celebrated homoeroticism, marriage was never conceived of being the recognition of what is and is not legitimate sexual desire.  In every major philosophical and religious tradition marriage has always been thought to require the complementary sexes, so much so that some laws have specified that full-fledged vaginal intercourse alone, and not just sexual stimulation by other means, could consummate a marriage.  Moreover, some saw the very nature of the martial act itself, with even the possibility of children being produced, to require a permanence and lifelong commitment to match the biological reality of this unique one flesh union.

Jesus, himself, while debating the proper grounds for divorce, pointed to Genesis 1 and 2 as revealing God the Father’s original intent.  Quoting from Genesis 1 and 2, Jesus indicated that the Creator meant for marriage to be between male and female and to be permanent, “Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate” (Matt 19:6).  Jesus strenuously insisted that God’s design and purpose was for marriage to be permanent, “until death do them part,” as we say in the traditional wedding rituals.  Although divorce was allowed under Moses, and still allowed under some circumstances such as sexual immorality and adultery (Matt 5:32; 19:9), according to Jesus, and abandonment, according to Paul (1 Cor 7), Jesus clearly indicates that marriage was meant to be a permanent union.  What is it about the sexual union of a man and a woman that demands lifelong commitment?

It would seem that it is the one flesh union in the sexual act itself that implies a permanence because the fruit of the union forever links the two.  Generally speaking, under normal, natural circumstances every sexual union comes with the potential of conception, and therefore the act itself would seem to demand the serious relational commitment that is found within marriage.  Without question ancient Jews and Christians believed that sex was meant for marriage and according to Jesus marriage was meant to be lifelong.  It is also fair to say that Jesus’ logic, which flows from the creation narrative, also limits the number of people to be included in marriage to two, thus, eliminating polygamy, which was customary among many of the Jews and their ancestors.  Another Jewish sect, the Essenes, in what is called “The Damascus Document” referred to the same creation texts to argue that polygamy, concurrent or serial through unjust divorce and remarriage, was not the creators original intent for marriage either.  Eventually monogamy became the norm among Christians, probably due in great part to the teachings of Jesus about God’s original intent for marriage, but the Roman custom of monogamous marriages may have also played an influencing role.  Nevertheless, the logic of monogamy also seems to flow from nature as well since a child can only be the product of the union of one man and one woman.

Polygamy, however, is never specifically proscribed in Scripture, but neither is it specifically prescribed.  Like divorce it seems to be something that God allowed for the hardness of heart, and the potential and actual confusion and conflict that polygamy seems to engender also seems to be out of harmony with the original will of the God, who is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14:33).  Thus, it would seem that under the New Covenant through the empowerment of the Spirit, Christians are called to live according to the higher ideal of God’s original design for marriage.

Strong marriages are the building blocks of strong families, which are completely in view with regards to the phrase “one flesh” because children are the unmistakable proof of that one flesh union; and strong families are the building blocks of strong societies.  Major philosophers and moralist throughout history, the world over have recognized this truth.

Thus, marriage as it has traditionally been understood requires a love with its naturally corresponding faithfulness directed toward another and even beyond the two toward the good of the family and the common good of society as a whole, and from a Christian perspective, all for the glory of God, our Creator.

Our progressive counterparts, however, have been influenced by a different version of love, and therefore have bought into a different vision of marriage, one shaped not around the contours of embodied creation, but rather around a concept of consensual sexual desire alone.  As a result the more you probe into this new understanding of marriage, it becomes more and more evident that the new emperors, who have forged this new definition and are wielding it to suppress traditional Christianity, really have no clothes.  So if virtually every culture and major philosophical and religious tradition have defined marriage around the only act that naturally leads to reproduction, what ideas have inspired this major redefinition of a concept so central and vital to society?  (see Here N.T. Wrights warning about major words being redefined)

Although the average person on the street, or even in seminary, may not realize it, one major philosophical tradition that could have inspired such a massive undertaking to redefine marriage to be indifferent to gender differences is Marxism.  Marx and his successors realized that the family built on monogamous marriage is the foundation of free society and the capitalist system that they so despise.  In what clearly seems to be a reversal of the teaching of Jesus, Marxist philosopher Frederick Engels argued that monogamous marriage was an oppressive corruption of an original state in which the norm was group marriage and collective parenting (See “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State” 1884).  Gay “marriage” is just another step in the process of undermining the cornerstone of the traditional family, the traditional monogamous marriage.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when in candid moments some proponents of “marriage equality” actually admit that they do in fact want to destroy marriage, or when someone like Melissa Harris Perry says that we must get past the private notion that kids belong to parents and come to a collectivist understanding that children belong to all of us (see HERE).  Neither should we be surprised with efforts to push the envelope even farther than Gay “marriage” (see the Beyond Marriage project).  The bottom line is this: a strong traditional marriage culture is more likely to foster a society with families and citizens who are more self-sufficient; when traditional marriage falters government dependency grows, which is exactly what those with Marxist or Marxist inspired ideals want.

Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, puts it in a nutshell: “The Two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage.  These institutions will stand together, or they will fall together.  Contemporary statist ideologues have contempt for both of these institutions, and they fully understand the connection between them.  We who believe in the market and in the family should see the connection no less clearly” (“Conscience and its Enemies,” loc. 273 Kindle).  And not only does the new movement to redefine marriage help put the final nails in the coffin of the traditional family, whose demise in our society began with no-fault divorce, conveniently it also allows for the suppression of the other thing so traditionally despised by Marxists, orthodox Christianity.  It’s certainly not a coincidence that the new marriage laws are coming into conflict with religious liberty.  Like the nihilist revolutionaries in Dostoevsky’s, “The Possessed”, the overall aim and long term goal is to destroy traditional faith and the traditional family.

Is there a better version of love and a more beautiful vision of marriage than the one we find in the revelation of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, which points to the even greater wonder of the mystery of the love of Christ for His Church?  I don’t think so.  How about you?

(Recommended further reading:  “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, & Robert P. George)

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