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Monday, 9 November 2015

Marriage in the Image of God

Somebody linked to this article on "Marriage is a Mirror" (of God's nature presumably). Which was interesting. It's apparently published by the "Gospel Coalition", but I'm guessing the Liberal Democrats weren't part of this particular coalition.

It's mostly interesting for being an example of arguing backwards from what you've decided, to how you'd like God to be. Its basic argument being that (heterosexual) marriage is what God wants, and anything else probably isn't. Apparently, "among God’s people marriage is no longer a battleground", which will be a bit of a shock to Drayton Parslow and Marjorie. Although, to be fair, their marriage is not so much a battleground as a massacre. Marjorie owned that relationship a long time ago. Let's pick some bits out.
"There’s a tendency to jump straight to the hot-button issues of headship and submission when considering a passage like Ephesians 5." 

Yes there is. But the passage does that by tucking the hot-button issues firmly away under the category "ultimate goals", while doing a bit of theology.

There's stuff that I agree with  - our identity isn't rooted in our sexuality. Although sexuality is a part of our identity, it is just part. Albeit if you're not straight and married, it's still going to be the part some people in the Church focus on more than others. Which will always make it more of your identify than you really planned.

But then there's a non-sequitur. If being created in the image of God grounds our identity (I think it does) then how does that suddenly jump to God designing "marriage to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman working toward a shared goal"? Where is the logical step between those two? If it is that God made us all, male and female, in the image of God - then there might be some logic to that. If it wasn't for everything that follows.

This is what does it for me.
"The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a permanent, plural, equal, complementary, ordered, and loving union. And since we’re created like God, we thrive in marriage relationships that mirror his trinitarian union."
Since we are created in the image of a God who is in three persons (all of whom, according to this article, are implicitly male) we thrive in a marriage relationship that mirrors God's union - as a pair, one male one female.

Is it just me?

I'd like to take the following statements slowly. Here we go.

"Since God is permanent, he designed us for lasting marriages, not divorce."
Except that God is eternal, and Jesus makes it quite clear that our marriages will not survive the resurrection. I like CS Lewis's attitude to this (apologies, I forget which book, and I'm not going to look it up at this time of a Monday night), where he suggests that marital love will be caught up into the universal love that is what makes up life in heaven.
"Since God is triune, he designed us for marriages of intimate companionship to counteract loneliness." 
So to be unmarried is to have greater loneliness than to be married. This may or may not be true. But it does go against the statement that "Christians celebrate the dignity of childhood and celibate singleness and widowhood". Because if marriages are what makes us more like the image of God, then clearly any other state makes us less like God. Doesn't it?
"Since God is three equal persons, he designed us for marriages in which husbands and wives are equally dignified." 
I don't want to be crass. But the arithmetic is awkward here.
"Since God is diverse and complementary, he created marriage to be diverse and wonderfully complementary within a heterosexual union, not a homosexual union."
Not once in this passage does the Gospel Coalition attribute feminine characteristics to God. And yet apparently God's diversity (which is, I really do believe, expressed in the three persons) is only reflected in the human diversity of having different sexual organs.

I mean, I say what? We as humans are diverse in all sorts of ways. We are different heights. We are male and female. Black and white. Some girls' mothers are, apparently, bigger than other girls' mothers. I have no idea what Morrisey meant like this, But it does emphasise the intrinsic truth that even women who are mothers have diversity. I have a love for words, theology and molecular biophysics. You may be a guitarist, or a certified accountant, or posses an FLT licence. You may be good at football - I was always fond of hockey. Our diversity is manifold and often unexpected. To reduce that to the possession of XY vs XX chromosomes is a bit reductive, isn't it?
"Since God’s Trinity is ordered (the Son and the Spirit gladly submitting to the Father), he designed all human relationships—including marriage—with authority to be exercised lovingly and submission to be given willingly without any implication of superiority or inferiority." 
OK. We've got to that hot button now haven't we? The Son and the Spirit gladly submit to the Father. Two (implicitly male) persons in the Trinity submit to the Father. Which makes them "equal" and yet, as it turns out, subordinate.  I'm not sure there is any Biblical authority that says "women submit to your husbands, just as Jesus submitted to his Father." If you want to find the Biblical warrant, it is that the Church submits to Jesus. That is, as we say these days, problematic, although it opens up all sorts of discussions about sacrifice - about the way Jesus actually put the eternal life of the Church above his own life. Personally I'd say that Paul is arguing from the present reality of married life as lived to the way God is.  But the idea that the relationship of Jesus to the Father is like that of a woman to a husband - nowhere. The concept that a woman is to submit to her husband like the Spirit obeys the Father - nowhere.  And to jump from that to the following: "a woman may exercise loving authority over her children or her colleagues—or willingly submit to the authority of her employer, church elders, and husband". That's dangerous. To willingly submit to the authority of any of them is to open her up to the possibility of spiritual or other abuse. To take the employer as an example - we don't "willingly submit" to our employers. We negotiate a contract. We expect respect, and reasonable pay, in return for doing what we're told. And if what we're told to do is unreasonable, we're legally allowed to refuse it. That's not submission - that's negotiation.

I'd like to leave you with the Athanasian Creed here. I find, apart from the anathemata and the repetition, it tends to help.
"And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped." 
It's in worshipping the diverse Trinity as the full diversity of humanity - male, female, black, white, brown, able-bodied and with disability, gay, straight, struggling and sure, emotional and intellectual and autistic and logical and irrational and utterly incoherent - that's where we reflect the Trinity. We don't reflect God's diversity by just having two different sets of genitals.

And yes, marriage is a great thing. And yes, when it works and it's loving and sacrificial and relationally creative and fulfilling it tells us something of the Trinity and something of God's love. But it ain't everything.


  1. The idea that the Bible is all about "one man and one woman" has always befuddled me - it's about one man and a lot of women, some of whom he is not married to, an awful lot of the time.

  2. The Divine Union turns out to be a bit of a menage à trois. Equality equals Subordination, when there are bits involved. Time for a religious war like the one they had in Russia in the 18th Century about whether to use two fingers or three fingers when making the sign of the cross?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Cogent and interesting reasoning. "I found this helpful" as they say. Thank you

  5. I blame St Paul.

    If ever there was a case of reforming a church to accord with his own hangups, it's him.

  6. Theology and humour. Brilliant! Thank you.

  7. I would agree with you. This projection of humanity onto the Trinity is seriously mistaken, whatever conclusions you come to .

    I posted on this last week: http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/the-trinity-is-not-our-social-programme/

  8. Marriage is a union between two people who love each other, unless your in a society where more than one partner in a marriage is allowed, when it's a union between three or more people who love each other.

    As the marriage is between the couple (or multiples) having it blessed in the eyes of God is a good move, as it gives Vicars something to do on a Balmy Summer Saturday afternoon.

    Off course, if you're an Anglican any permutations other than one man and one woman are explicitly excluded by the law of the land - which I find extraordinary, when the same law allows people of the same gender to be legally married.

    And if you're a catholic - don't get married - get even.

  9. I've no idea whether your comment has any seriousness to it, but just to point out that your statement 'Marriage is a union between two people who love each other' isn;t true anywhere.

    In Church law, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. In State law, union no longer comes into it. It is now a contract between two people.

    Where polygamy is permitted, it is not a union between all people; the wives are not in union with one another, but are serially in union with the husband.

    But if your comment is a joke, which I have missed, apologies for my under-developed sense of humour.


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