Some thoughts and musings on traditional marriage, human sexuality, the Trinity and the Image of God… The US 6th Circuit Court upheld state bans on gay marriage. In all likelihood, this will result in the Supreme Court taking up the question now that contradictory rulings have come down from the federal circuit courts.
So why this definition? Why does it matter that it marriage is a man and a woman? What’s wrong with it being two of the same gender?
Definition of marriage:
- Heterosexual – between 1 man and 1 woman
- Conjugal – sexually complementary
- Monogamous – exclusive to that relationship
- Permanent – lifelong
- Unified – sharing of activity, family, goods
What makes marriage different from any other kind of human relationship? The sexuality component and the potential for child-bearing.
This definition of marriage is not uniquely Christian. Ryan Anderson observes that every civilization in history as essentially always recognized marriage in this form, quite apart from the imposition of any religious beliefs.
So, this conjugal view of marriage is not the invention of religious belief!
What if we consider traditional marriage not as a commandment of God but an expression of God’s very nature and character?
But how does this relate to the nature of God? What is God’s greatest, most important attribute?
Holiness — quick discussion of meaning?
What does “set apart” mean?
- Purity compared to what? What determines what is pure?
- Utterly and completely ‘other’, no other anything like God.
- He is the only one of his kind.
- But in what ways is he other?
Omniscience, omnipresent, eternally self-existing,
Most unique: God is love. Here is where the biblical revelation becomes radically different from any other religious system in history.
Consider: Islam uses many familiar terms and attributes for God: mercy, compassion, goodness, gentleness, even love.
But what is love? Is it something God has or is it something God is? What’s the difference?
Think of love as concern and commitment expressed in actions toward another. In its fullest form, we see it as sacrificial: doing all that is for the best of the other without regard for one’s own welfare.
Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
And this is how we know that He loves us: that he laid down his life for us.
They will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.
So where does love come from? God, certainly.
So we could say that God has love for us. God loves us because he created us.
But that leaves a greater question: why did he create us in the first place? And if love is something God has for us, where did it come from? What did God love before he created us?
Here is the problem humanity faces in talking about love: If we only understand this in terms of God’s love for us (that is, his affection and sacrificial care for human wellbeing), then we have a number of possible dilemmas:
- God had love and needed something to give that love to, so he created humanity so he could show it. Problem: God is incomplete without us.
- God did not have love until he created us; he began to love when he created humanity. Problem: God’s nature and attributes change.
Facts: God is immutable and necessary.
Immutable means his essence and nature do not change
Necessary means he is the cause of his own existence, he is in and of himself complete and whole.
So how are we to understand the meaning of ‘love’ without making God incomplete or changeable?
To answer that, we can start with one basic question: are we as created humanity the object of God’s love or the expression of that love?
Certainly, God loves us directly. Love is something he shows us and gives us, so we are certainly objects of his love.
But first and foremost, our creation as men and women is a fundamental expression of God’s love. Indeed, Christian theology says that our creation is an expression of the very image of God.
So our ‘beingness’ as human creatures is an expression of God’s love, that love is inextricably tied to God’s nature (his ‘image’).
To bear the image of something means that there are identifiable characteristics and attributes of that something in us. A souvenir sculpture of the Statue of Liberty has crucial identifiable features of the real Statue that help us to recognize the copy. At least, it does if the artist was any good or it hasn’t been damaged beyond recognition.
Love in some way is a fundamental part of who God is in his nature, not just something he possesses. And if love is an essential part of God’s nature, that means it existed before the creation of the world and humanity.
Here, then, is where we circle back to the discussion of God’s divine attributes of Holiness and Love.
God’s holiness – his absolute otherness – and God’s love each can only be fully understand in light of the other. We cannot fully grasp God’s otherness without understanding what it means that he is love. And we cannot rightly understand what it means to say that God is love – or that we as humans have love – without understanding love in all its forms in light of the holiness of God.
What is Holy about God’s Love? What does it mean to say that God is love?
And at this early stage, we cannot speak of this in terms of his affection for creation. Remember, God did not create the world because he needed something to love and didn’t have anything available. Creation is instead an expression of love as the nature of God.
So who did he love? The short answer is: Himself.
But this is not self-seeking or self-worshipping love. It is not the love of the narcissist who spends his days gazing in the mirror marinating in the wonder of his own beauty. It is not the kind of love that is merely self-gratification.
This is the epitome of human love disconnected from God’s holiness. It is why the link between ‘love’ and self-satisfaction and self-serving is so strong. Because self-seeking, self-centered, self-worshiping love is the antithesis of God himself.
Because God is in and of himself a community of persons. Genesis 1 & 2 reveals this about God at the outset: Let us make man in our image, thus male and female he created them.
Note the double-plurals: “our” image. Who does the “us” refer to here?
Christian orthodoxy and Scripture are clear: There is only one God.
The first commandment God had to drill into his people was this: There is no other God other than me. I alone am God.
This is the fundamental principle of Islam: Allah is One.
So there is only 1 God. Whatever we are talking about, we are most certainly not saying there are multiple gods here.
Of course, the doctrine that has developed out of Scripture very early in the history of the Church is the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinitus was a term coined by an early church apologist in North Africa named Tertullian. He used this Latin word of ‘three-ness’ to refer to the concept the church was wrestling with at this point as to how could the God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit all be distinct entities but only 1 God who was indivisible.
Short version of church’s statement about Trinity. See the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds…
Moving back to the question of man and woman in Genesis 3.
Self-giving love to an “other” of the same kind but not exactly the same as me. To give honor, devotion, and praise to the other, to give of yourself in such a way that they are made more complete in the doing.
All of these acts, emotions, and demonstrations of love we can identify in human experience are limited, finite expressions of the image of God in us.
We do this towards one another because it is the very nature of God to do it within himself.
God is a family, a community, a relationship complete within himself.
One of the most intimate pictures of this is Jesus’ prayer in John 17
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!”
(v1) “Glorify your son so he can give glory back to you”
(v 4) “I brought you glory by completing the work you gave me”
(v 10) “ All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory”
(v 19) “I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth”
(v 21) “I pray that they will be one, just as you and I are one”
“as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us.”
But the three-ness is essential. The third means that the love between the two is itself always oriented toward another. If love inherently means self-giving, the love between two persons is itself directed out of the two towards a third. Just as the individual person was never designed to love himself, the love of two people was not designed for their sake alone.
And so, even our human experience, the love between two people was never intended to be for their sake alone. That’s why marriage cannot be simply about a deep, intense commitment of two consenting adults toward one another.
Love always gives itself away to another. That is true of an individual –my love expressed to you — and of a pair – our love expressed in somebody else.
How is the self-giving nature of God as love expressed in human creation?
A man and a women: two persons of the same likeness but not duplicates of one another. This is gender. They were biologically, emotionally, and physically distinctive. One kind of beingness but two types of persons: a male kind and a female kind.
Because of that gender, they each had something the other did not.
Why does that matter?
If divine love expresses itself beyond just the two persons involved, so too must human love. This is the reproductive principle. Human sexuality is inherently ordered toward sexual reproduction. Now that’s not to say reproduction is its only purpose or is somehow illegitimate if not done for that purpose.
It is the inherent potential that sexual union has to produce life that makes it unique and complete. So when a man and a woman come together in an act of conjugal love, there is a common end or outcome in that act that is not possible without two genders.
Two males or two females engaging in sexual intercourse is in this sense a physical impossibility because intercourse means the joining together of two parts shaped to be joined together for a specific function. That joining can only be accomplished with male and female reproductive parts.
Those two different types of the same being were designed to come together. The most complete expression of human love is conjugal: the sexual union of the body and all that comes with it. In the design of creation, the sexual union completed and encompassed the union of all other aspects of the two creatures.
But then…that union becomes its own expression of love toward another: that union is what produces life. A child is born out of that ultimate act of love. The couple, now a unit called a ‘marriage’ now extend their energy and affection to include that child. Together, they provide, protect, nurture, and train children.
It is only through the sexual union of two complementary genders that life happens. The structure of a family to care for and sustain that life after its creation is a normal and necessary extension of the conjugal act. This is marriage. For this reason, marriage as it is traditionally defined is the bedrock for human society.
Why is it that a child is the result of sexual union?
Why are humans this way? Why are we not asexual where we just clone ourselves on our own?
Because this is a fundamental reflection of the image of God in us.
But let’s be absolutely clear: God is not gendered. We speak of God in masculine terms (though the biblical texts use neuter nouns for the HS), but we are very careful to recognize God is not a male or a female.
Different than all other religious systems other than those that derive from the OT worldview. Either “god” doesn’t exist at all, “god” is an impersonal, universal force or energy, or “god” is gendered, either a male or a female. And, almost inevitably, in religions where a god has a gender, there are multiple gods. Why? Because that’s the way humans are and the human world is just a smaller, visible mirror of what is happening in the divine realm. So if we are male and female and lots of us, then that is somehow going on in the heavens. So ancient mythology is replete with very similar connections of the gods and goddesses engaging in immortal versions of our own behaviors and desires. The “gods” get hungry, jealous, tired, or bored. They engage in sexual intercourse, have fights, and entertain themselves using the human world as their pawns.
But the OT reveals that God is none of these things. He is not a divine copy of humanity such that he is an omnipotently virile deity who needs a goddess for his pleasure.
Instead, humanity is made in God’s image. And in order to get the full image of God in creation, it takes a man and a woman together.
God in himself is self-giving love, sharing and giving honor from one divine, holy Person to the other. And in the Being of God (the One) there are 3 distinct but inseparable personalities / persons who give themselves to each other. They are not exactly alike – each distinctive in some way – but united in every way as one. That intimate, self-giving, sharing, and union is ‘love’.
God’s nature is love. But because love is intrinsically self-giving, that means it is always creating outside of itself. Divine love always goes out toward something else.
The love of the three persons of the Trinity within themselves also flows outside of them. This is creation.
So why did God create the universe? Because the essential nature of love is to create life. Creation is an expression of God’s love.
God did not create mankind in order to have something to love. Because He is love, mankind was created, and now we share in that divine love.
So the Bible reveals this design in us in several ways:
- Humans “beings” are also distinct personality types: male and female.
- We experience the most complete form of intimacy as sexual union.
- That union is complete only when between two complementary – similar but not exact – kinds of persons.
- The sexual union completes the whole form of “being” human.
- Life has the potential to come forth from our union.
- Our created instinct is to care for and raise a family.
- Different genders play different roles in all aspects of the process: the sexual act, the care and provision for family, and in society.
A society structured around families comprised of a female mother and male father in a permanent, exclusive, sharing relationship is the fundamental expression of God’s image and love.
So Christian theology does not define marriage – so single religion invented it – but Christian theology alone explains why marriage is what it is and why.
We can understand this most central structure in human life as a powerful expression of the very nature of God in our world: Love as ongoing, eternal giving of one’s self to another in such a way that life flows out of that love.