07. Genesis 1-2 part 7

I. A. 2. d) continued

It is marriage in particular that is given as a vehicle to carry the revelation of God in sexuality in the present age. The marriage relationship, and particularly the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship, is used in the Scripture as a picture of a covenant, as a metaphor for the relationship of God and His people. The common euphemism for sexual intercourse in the Scripture is the verb “to know”. It is no accident we are called to love God and to know Him; what He has in mind for us and Him together is something analogous to sex. The ecstatic experiences in the charismatic movement, the raptures of the mystics over the centuries, are all testimonies to the sexual nature that is part of God’s essence, and to the fact that we can learn about God by understanding and experiencing our own sexuality. It is the sexuality of God that gives complete meaning to the act of celibacy for those who are called to it: celibates do not leave their sexuality behind; they carry their sexuality into another realm.

But sexuality is distinct from marriage, both symbolically and in essence, and everything was altered by the Fall. Sexuality was created as a revelation to us whether or not the Fall had happened, whether or not there had ever been an interruption in our contact with God. Even in a perfect state, a finite creation needs hooks to understand the nature of the infinite God. There would have been no cognitive or psychological or emotional or spiritual barriers to understanding the metaphors God used to reveal Himself, but revelation would still have been a necessity even in an un-fallen nature. Sexuality was one of those metaphors given to people in the un-fallen state to help them know God.

Before the Fall, there was no code of sexual morality or ethics provided in Genesis. Human sexuality was not a “problem” before the Fall; it was not described as a possible problem; it was not a realm in which rules were deemed necessary. Even after the Fall, the Bible was very slow to establish any rules for sexual behavior. We must remember, in thinking about sexual morality in this age, in which the recent traditional rules are being challenged or ignored, that the traditional rules of sexual conduct were makeshift to some extent anyway. Human sexual ethics are the sort of rules that were designed to handle a crisis situation rather than a normal and stable one. We can have no clear concept of what sexuality was like before the Fall, no more than a person born blind can have a clear concept of a rainbow.

It is possible that nothing had to be said in the Bible about sexual ethics before the Fall because the rules for right conduct were built into Adam and Eve, in much the same way that I argued the knowledge of God was built in. They might have known what was right and what was wrong instinctively. Possibly so; but these chapters were not written for Adam and Eve. They were written for us, and we have no such instincts of good behavior. If anything, our instincts tend to be rather depraved. If right instincts were ours before the Fall, it is strange that God was so casual about letting them all go without remark when the Fall happened. The instinct to know God can be discerned in the most rabid atheist, but no such instinct for sexual decency can be discerned in the sexual behavior of the average man.

Marriage, as we have it now, was not part of that original metaphor. However sexuality was expressed in Eden (and a large number of the early church believed that it wasn’t expressed physically at all), there are two reasons to believe that marriage, as we now understand it, was a symbol added to sexuality after the Fall. Marriage as it developed in the sequence of revelation was particularly a redemptive image, revealing the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, the relationship between Christ and the Church. Thus marriage was a symbol designed for fallen people. Secondly, the Messiah indicated that marriage will have lost it significance after the healing of all things. Once redemption is accomplished the symbol of redemption will no longer be necessary and will vanish.

One way of looking at the institution of marriage is this: at the Fall sexuality had ceased to function in a covenantal way, as it was intended;  marriage was instituted to restore and preserve some of that covenantal flavor of sexuality. Marriage enabled sexuality to continue as a bearer of revelation and not descend into mere triviality or depravity.

Whatever the case before the Fall, once the original Covenant had been broken marriage became a central metaphor of spiritual truth. Sexuality, which could exist in an unfallen state freely and with no shame or danger, became a problem. I think the problem was that the “one-ness” which sexuality was designed to express was no longer possible. Sexuality could no longer accomplish its purpose and so was inevitably turned to other channels that would invariably become destructive. Marriage was instituted, gradually over many centuries, to curb the danger and to protect some vestige of the original meaning and goodness of sex.

It is no accident that marriage is a universal custom among all cultures.  One current theory to explain the universality of marriage is that it was necessitated by the competition for mates. If all men competed with all other men for all the available women, and the competition never stopped, there would be societal chaos. The cultural institution of marriage could at least limit the extent of the competition. It could put some men out of the struggle and channel their energies in more constructive directions. It was a survival trait. Evolution rears its reductionist head and the humanity of yet another aspect of life is reduced to mere survival of the species.

There is no harm admitting that this viewpoint of evolution carries some validity; without some form of marriage, human society descends to chaos. All I mean to maintain here is that a biblical view of marriage makes it more than this, and without a biblical view there is no way to elevate marriage to a higher plane. That it makes society stable is a natural result of the divine impulse to speak to us. There is in each of us, even in the most reprobate of us, at least the vestige of the idea of, and the desire for, the intimacy and commitment and stability, of the happiness, which marriage is intended to provide. There is in each of us the image of what our parents’ marriage should have been and the longing for that ideal home of nurturing and safety. Even in the most wretched circumstances, where the actuality of marriage is most degraded, there is a lingering image of what might have been, of an ideal and hope that the partner will change into that ideal. The hope for this ideal keeps many a hopeless marriage together.

That the ideal of marriage runs so counter to the actuality of marriage implies to me that it comes from some higher source than the impulse to produce a new generation. Could the survival of our species depend on believing in such a cruel delusion? Or does the disjunction of marriage the ideal from marriage the reality reveal to us yet again that we are meant for a different and better world? Is the institution of marriage to make us despair or make us hope?

Though the basic pattern of marriage was nurtured in us from the beginning of our fallen state, the details were left to sort themselves out. There would be variations in the number of wives that were allowed, sometimes in the number of husbands, but in no culture was simple promiscuity the ideal for sexual behavior. As the Scripture unfolds it holds up a high standard for sexual behavior, not because sex is in any way unclean as so many “spiritual” people suppose, but rather because sex is so central and so powerful and so dangerous. Sexuality is a theme which runs through every aspect of the creation, if we have the eyes to see it, and for this reason how we behave sexually has great import, great power to heal or to damage everything we are and touch. To wield our sexuality carelessly is like being a klutz at large with a chain saw: we can kill and maim. We are all hopelessly clumsy but we all have the power of sexuality in our hands and it is a wonder that the human race has continued to exist in any sane form at all.

The modern American culture has taken sexual carelessness and made it into something of a status symbol: they are “happiest”, they are “coolest”, who most thoughtlessly and freely practice their sexuality before the universe. But to be careless of something means to have no care for that thing. We are only careless with what we do not value. Contrary to popular myth, contrary to superficial appearances, the true meaning of the prevalence of public sexuality and pornography in our culture is that we loathe and detest sex. Our slang reveals the same hatred: every slang expression for sex is also a curse, a term that describes what is ruined and dirty and despicable; every common word for intercourse in our culture also carries the connotations of violence and hate.

Our culture’s hatred for sex is one of its most distinguishing marks. Our culture’s hatred of sex is in terrible contrast to the biblical attitude, which loves and honors sexuality. It is popular in our culture for the most wanton and reckless of people to mock sexual morality and Christians as haters of sex, but it is the opposite that is the truth. Granted, there are many Christians who teach that sexuality is inherently tainted and they give rise to the stereotype; I grew up in such an environment. But it is the people of this world who are most ruthlessly contemptuous of it.

Something probably must be said here about homosexuality. This is an issue that has become extremely divisive and emotional in the present day, and it is beyond my ability to bring a resolution to the controversy. My position is that these two chapters of Genesis do not provide any conclusive argument for or against  the normalcy of  homosexuality. The passage simply does not indicate whether homosexuality could have been part of God’s original intentions or not.

There is of course the statement that the man and the woman become one flesh,  and some  take these words as precluding the validity of a homosexual relationship, but in fact it seems to do nothing of the kind. It only refers to the special nature of the relationship between a man and a woman and remains silent about the nature of a possible homosexual relationship. It is presumed that there were no other people present and so there was not yet a question about such relationships. This can explain why the passage is silent on the question of homosexuality but it does not  provide a way to predict what would have been said.

Those who have decided already that the Bible condemns homosexuality will see Genesis 2 as a part of that condemnation; and those who have decided already that God does not condemn homosexuality will see Genesis 2 as irrelevant. I agree with the latter, not – I think – because I have already decided that homosexuality is all right, but because I do not see the logic of the former. The sort of oneness that is described as accomplished in a heterosexual relationship would seem to be potentially possible in a homosexual relationship as well, though opponents would rightly point out that the passage does not say so.

Two points should be made however. The first point is that the oneness that was part of the goal for the heterosexual relationship is no longer attainable even in the best circumstances. The Fall  has damaged sexuality too severely and it is the very rare heterosexual relationship that can even be said to be fairly good. It is therefore not at all clear that an argument based on the original intent can apply to the present circumstances.

On the other hand, a second point must be made: the symbolic meaning of a heterosexual marriage would not be at all clear in a same-sex marriage. There is a character to a heterosexual relationship that carries a symbolism of Christ and the Church in a manner that a same-sex union cannot do. At least so it appears to me. This is not an argument that same-sex marriage should be forbidden. I only mean to argue that a same-sex marriage seemingly cannot function in the same sacramental or revelatory way that a heterosexual marriage can. My hope is that at some point there will actually be a sensible dialogue about the biblical perspective on the issue, a dialogue that has so far been piecemeal and contentious.

I should also say something about celibacy. My preceding remarks might be taken to suggest that I do not regard celibacy as fully biblical, but that is not at all the case. Celibacy has a very different role in revelatory symbolism, a role that has been central in previous centuries and might be becoming central again. Celibacy, as practiced in the Christian tradition, does not deny the validity and importance of marriage; it merely carries a different message. I will discuss it at an appropriate future time.

In short, the emphasis in these two chapters of Genesis is that sex, especially as humans experience it, was a very good idea. It is specifically human sexuality that was God’s answer to the only fault that He could find in all of His works – the isolation, the loneliness of Adam. The theme of sexuality only becomes more intricate as we continue to read the Scripture, but it will ultimately be summarized by Paul when he says, “This mystery is great, but I am speaking about Christ and the church”.

3 Comments on “07. Genesis 1-2 part 7”

  1. godanalytics Says:

    “We must remember, in thinking about sexual morality in this age, in which the recent traditional rules are being challenged or ignored, that the traditional rules of sexual conduct were makeshift to some extent anyway.” This in contrast to the “conversation” about sex that I heard growing up, is what I pose as my confusion about the “how’s” and “why’s.” This is a great post and I wish that using your analysis as a “lens,” a book about sexuality could be written for the “average” person. Thx.

  2. You are very gracious. And you ask interesting and difficult questions, not all of which I can answer. I think your most interesting question, for me, is how our nature as dust affects morality. How can chemicals have a moral code at all? That is an unanswerable question, I think, for the materialist, but it is also hard for the Christian. So here is part of an answer: The essential principle of morality is that it is defined by God’s character. Before the Fall, I think we have no idea what the details of morality would have looked like. We may know good and evil now, but only through eyes that filter everything through an evil heart; the character of Jesus is the only clue we have here and now as to what true goodness is. After the Fall, the necessities of morality changed. Suddenly things became dangerous: we became vulnerable to all kinds of pain, and we became capable of inflicting all kinds of damage on one another which had never been possible before. That is what morality, and the resulting commandments and the Law, had to deal with which had not been an issue before. I think Paul summarized the whole intent of biblical morality in Romans when he said “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.” This opens up a whole new can of complicated worms, I know, but one thing I think he meant that is very clear is that the purpose of the Law and the morality He gave us was to prevent us from harming one another.

    I don’t mean to go on and on, which I could easily do – the liability of being a teacher. These are the questions though that we should be asking and struggling with – since we probably won’t arrive at the perfect answer.

    If you were raised in the South, as I was, then I know just the kind of conversation you heard about sex, and I have spent my life recovering. The North, of course, distorts in its own way; I don’t mean to pick on the South. Then again, the South is the one that claims to be the Bible Belt. The North ignores the Bible mostly.

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It is a great encouragement to me, and a great help in thinking.

  3. godanalytics Says:

    Yes. It’s the South. 🙂

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