Marriages of the Absurd: Marraige Apocalyptic


Covenants of the Absurd

Bear with me here. Or, if in the context of marriage, you can bare with me. As it is, if we read through our Bibles and look for ways to make sense of marriage, it becomes a more difficult task than the masses of America would have you believe. There are those who believe they can argue for an actual “biblical” model of marriage. Of course, there is a problem with the whole Adam and Eve/one man one woman concept. It really isn’t apparent anywhere in the Old Testament, or at least, it is certainly not the standard. The spectrum of marriage relationships, or may I state – covenant relationships, range from the non-ceremonial storied reproductive relationship of the first couple, to polygamy, to God's faithfulness being achieved through harlotry, incest, and trickery. (Rahab and the Spies, Lot and his Daughters, Judah and Tamar, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth the Moabitess)

The fact of human sexuality, at least in the biblical sense, can be broken into two Old Testament categories. The first category is that of arranged marriages, most often to more than one spouse, and the record of these nuptials perform a primarily narrative function to establish genealogy and a sense of identity; and social and cultural continuity. Even if we look to the Bible as a literal bedrock for the study of divine intimacy, the Hebrew texts focus on an assumption that males have multiple partners, and those partners are all covenented to one male through marriage. (Jacob's Marriages)

The second category is more readily identifiable to modern audiences, yet it includes relationships that have certainly not been prescribed by the Church through history. First, I ask you to read Song of Songs (Song)– which begins by, without doubt, describing an interracial relationship between a foreign woman and an Israelite royal – a relationship which is apparently consummated but never convenented according to the terms of Israel. There is no marriage rite performed that ceremonially links the woman to the Israelite man, but the man instead marries “one of his own.” Undoubtedly, the Bible recognizes the significance of human love, and it might be said that YHWH glories in the electric nature of such love. It may also be said that, if Song of Songs and the rest of the relationships in my second category are taken seriously as biblical indicators of divine portent, marriage has little to do with love, and much more to do with establishing heirs and lineage, political power and control, stable monarchies, and the full revelation of how God sometimes views the divine covenant relationship to Israel, which is indeed as multifaceted as any polyamorous collection of Greek romances.

If we look at the other kinds of relationship in my second category, we find that God ensures covenant faithfulness despite human sexual unfaithfulness. The story of Ruth (Ruth), and of course, David and Jesus, is not complete with an act of originating incest (see above -Lot and his daughters), and inter-religious marriage between Boaz and Ruth. Of course, there are the marriages of power and manipulative behind the scenes activities of Solomon, David, Ahab, Bathsheba, and Jezebel. Consider even further the arranged marriage between Hosea and Gomer. (Hosea) A marriage between a prophet and a woman known to be promiscuous is not only ordained by YHWH, but used as an indicator of God's own love and desire for never-ending intimacy with a rebellious and promiscuous Israel.

If there is one thing that is never indicated as a standard of marriage in the Hebrew Bible, that one thing would be our own contemporary concept of nuclear family. In fact, the roles prescribed to marriage partners can only be understood within the context of the ancient near-east and long before Jesus or Paul ever thought about marriage. There is something else in the Old Testament that does not make much sense in our contemporary context. That is, marriage as a necessary vehicle for reproduction, yet reproduction solely for the sake of economic, social, and religious continuity. In the United States, while one might argue that marriage continues to play an economic role, most Americans of even the very religious type must admit that Christians no longer count marriage as a dependable, if even standard, orderer of social or religious continuity. In fact, the American economy has become the de facto orderer of social and religious identity, with marriages often arranged to maintain the continuity of social and economic status, with religious identity having less and less to do with family identity.

When Jesus ministered about marriage, we cannot continue to act as though he had a modern nuclear family in mind. Girls were often betrothed by age 12 and married by puberty to men much older, sometimes in their late twenties. While the economic realities of the time cut deeply into the practice of polygamy by the turn of the first century, the realities of short life span for both men and women ensured a standard that included serial monogamous relationships on balance with long-term lifetime covenant. Yet, because economics demanded marriage relationships, women were at risk of being driven into prostitution or slavery of other kinds if their husband died. With the constant availability of single young women being offered to stable males, there was always a threat that a woman who did not bear children, or somehow didn't meet the expectations of her husband, would be divorced in favor of another woman, either a younger woman or young widow that was proven to be both fertile and competent in some other manner. Divorced women had nowhere to go, thus Jesus' concern for marriage was as much about economic and social caring as it was marriage ethics.

There is no indication that Jesus was married, but if he was, he left the woman behind, hardly a model of modern masculinity. The same could be said for other Apostles, one of whom is mentioned to have a wife (Peter). It seems as though Jesus, married or not, broke families wide open with his call to ministry, and in fact, the Bible records Jesus as indicating that faithfulness to his ministry took precedence over blood family, and indeed, Jesus indicated he had come to turn family members one against the other in an overturning of social conditioning. These are not good circumstances on which to model healthy marriages.

And then there is Paul. Paul identifies few good things about marriage, other than it regulates lust. In fact, while Paul argues vehemently against divorce, he indicates that perhaps those believers who are single ought to stay single, just as Paul himself is, because Jesus will return, and God is read to act in a manner that will make marriage irrelevant. (I Corinthians 7) If we read the later Pauline letters, written pseudonymously, we see an attempt by church leadership to redirect marriage relationships from a gospel inspired egalitarianism to a more orderly and hierarchically structured traditional covenant. If we read the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, (Acts of Paul and Thecla) we see evidence that there were few problems in attaching Paul's apostolic name to literature that encouraged women not to marry, and escape from the bondage of patriarchy, and devote themselves to God and not men. In fact, Thecla leaves the man she is betrothed to in order to become a disciple of Paul, and she promises celibacy over submission to any marriage relationship.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that any aspect of the New Testament supports same sex marriage. The greater issue might be that it is equally ridiculous to suggest that the church has any concern when it comes to marriage at all, for none of the contingencies served by “biblical” marriage exist – the church has eliminated them from the ecclesiastic community. For the church not only allows for divorce to be a common occurrence, as well as remarriage, but it learned long ago that it no longer has the courage to be the kind of spiritual anchor that allows singles, divorcees, widows, and orphans to thrive relationally within a supportive community. The church has defaulted to the common culture to provide the relationships necessary for folks to thrive beyond Sundays, and the common culture has no use for biblical mandates or models of intimacy. The church has buried the beauty of Song of Songs, and mocked the kind of communal commitment that is needed to take care of people emotionally and spiritually when those needs are not met at home. The church was not willing to be responsible for divorce, so it began to allow it, rather than lose members.

It would be too easy to say that divorce and the decision by the church to allow government to legitimize marriage relationships made Christian marriage meaningless. Oh sure, it plays a big role, but the major problem we face is the deterioration of the church, not marriage, for marriage has never, ever been what so many others argue it once was. I suggest, with all seriousness, that the church should not only refuse to be concerned with same-sex marriage, but the church should no longer marry anyone. Covenant relationships are ordained by God, and the church has shown that it cannot meet the measure of oversight necessary to life-long covenant commitment. For goodness sakes, if folks in the early church would have thought they were going to all live into their 80's and have only two or three kids, the Bible would read much differently than it does. (Of course, there is Issac and Rebekah.)

However, it is folks in the contemporary church who have made marriage meaningless, because we have privatized it, and made it about love, and we have been more concerned that marriage reflects what we really want for our lives, but as it turns out, it more often reflects that which we are not willing to sacrifice. Marriage, if we could reclaim it, would be a public, not private construct. One that is responsible to the church. Governments and corporations should not be responsible for providing health insurance for your family, the church should, and more importantly, that health care should be independent of marriage or kinship rituals. Yet marriage has become a contractual agreement to facilitate the distribution of goods within a society that has no accountability to a biblical ethic. The church, as far a marriage is concerned, is now irrelevant.

Marriage only needs a justice of the peace, or an easily purchased pastor, Las Vegas chapel, or county clerk to sign on a dotted line. People have been getting married without the church's permission for some time, and the church never felt like this was a problem. Now, all of the sudden, when marriage is no longer viewed as a primarily religious occasion, Christians are suddenly worried about the demise of the institution. Folks, marriage ceased to have biblical meaning when we occasioned that love meant more to covenant relationships than community cohesion did. Love has meaning beyond the boundaries the church has tried to contain it with. Song of Songs is indicative of the divine understanding of what sexuality is. Marriage just gave us a chance to understand our relationship to the divine. We still don't get it, and marriage is done.

So what is to be done? At what point to we turn to our youth, our families, and say to them and the world, we have failed you, and we have failed God. Do not worry about marriage, and do not worry about tomorrow, but turn the world upside down and usher in the next phase of the Kingdom of God, and may the love of Christ be in your midst. If there is to be marriage, let marriage be to the church, and let the love that swells between individuals commit itself to the church. Love may come and go – just as it does now, within our church communities and youth groups. We can no longer standardize romance or lusts any more than we can make marriage vows in good faith.

Covenant relationships are intendFathers, your daughters are no longer yours to give away, but they must be brought up against the patterns of this world, free to follow their leadings in love and faithfulness unbound by institutions, but guided and nurtured in community that allows for discernment of love and attraction and covenant, and later, after they have experienced God's revolution, only then may they settle.ed to last, but Jesus understood something about swearing oaths or taking vows. As divorce and the sin of abuse and adultery make so evident, some relationships will be shown to not be of the spirit, but of lust. Those marriages will dissolve, but it is not God who is made a liar. Other relationships will be identified by love that outlasts the very promise of love, and those, like the circumcision of the new covenant, will be of the heart, and not of ceremony and ritual. Those joined in Christ cannot be torn apart; the Spirit will remain faithful.

Fathers, your daughters are no longer yours to give away, but they must be brought up against the patterns of this world, free to follow their leadings in love and faithfulness unbound by institutions, but guided and nurtured in community that allows for discernment of love and attraction and covenant, and later, after they have experienced God's revolution, only then may they settle.

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