Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One in Flesh and Spirit

In the previous post I attempted to show that a biblical view of the human being is wholeness or unity of body and spirit (or soul). (If you haven’t read it already, this post will make little sense without first reading the prior one.) Little did I know, though, that this would influence things like developing a crush on someone.

A few years ago I began to like a girl for who she was in Christ: I loved the way she prayed and how tender and caring she was. At the same time, I began to find myself physically attracted to her as well. As I got to see the inner beauty of “a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:4), her outer beauty also grew. That’s odd, I thought to myself, how come I didn’t find her all that physically attractive before? The only explanation I have is the unity of her “inner” and “outer” selves; her personality could not be divorced from her body; she was (is) a whole person. She didn’t change; I was just getting to see more of who she was. In fact, I came to believe that even though she didn’t have a “perfect” body, I wouldn’t have wanted her any other way. God made all of her (Ps. 139), and that includes who she is bodily. If somehow her body changed, she would have changed too; it just wouldn’t be her. (We intuitively know this, because we live our lives and develop our personalities in our bodies. Getting a cleft palette fixed can drastically improve a child’s self-image and confidence; in the same way, getting cut from the basketball team because of height can deeply sadden a child. Not being on the team in turn affects his social network, and his personality is shaped in a different direction than it otherwise might have been if he were taller.)

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This has profound implications for marriage, where a man and a woman become “one flesh” before the Lord (Gen. 2:24). God calls us to embrace every aspect of the other as his unique, specially crafted gift of love to us—and, one day, to me. To grow tired of your spouse when she gains weight or grows old or has had a mastectomy, or when she falters in her faith or when her personality changes is what Malachi calls “dealing treacherously” or “breaking faith” (Mal. 2:13-16).

The LORD is acting as witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. (2:14-15 NIV)

If the NRSV’s rendering of verse 15 is preferrable, this shows even more fully that when we bind ourselves to a wife (or husband) in marriage, we receive all of her. “Did not one God make her [your wife]? Both flesh and spirit [that is, ‘her’] are his.” The “partner . . . of your marriage covenant” is “both flesh and spirit.” I cannot love and serve my wife “personally” without loving her “bodily,” and I cannot love her bodily without loving her personally. Anything else is the infidelity God hates (2:16). (Of course, such “love” rules out emotions that rise and fall based on our whims.)

This also means receiving all of her as a blessing from God. It is God who joins together a husband and wife (Matt. 19:4-6; cf. Gen. 2:24, where the passive voice implies God as actor). Whatever “imperfections” I see in my wife’s body—as if any of our bodies are still unspoiled by the Fall—I must realize are those belonging to the one person whom God has personally formed and graciously given to me in his love as my one life partner. If I find her lacking, it’s not she who is at fault, but rather my sin-skewed perception and desires.

Third, this intra- and interpersonal oneness of body and spirit demands giving all of myself to my wife. I cannot retain any part of myself as autonomous, independent from her. Speaking in the context of marital sex, Scripture says that “the wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife” (1 Cor. 7:4). I also like Eugene Petersons’ vivid paraphrase of 7:3-4: “The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights.’ Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out” (The Message). (I love how God commands married couples to have sex—often!—as our marital duty.)

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Of course, I’m still single. But this biblical anthropology orders more than just married life; it speaks tomes to single sexuality as well. Isn’t the temptation of pornography to participate in bodily sex without the sacrificial commitment to a complete, actual person? Women become bodies to use, breasts and butts and legs as sources of uncommitted pleasure. It’s easy to lust after a woman’s body and neglect her face, because by neglecting that, we neglect who she is, her person. We cut out the relationship. Pornography also deceives us into thinking that bodies will always stay young and flawless; that we’re to be disappointed with a woman if her breasts don’t fill at least size-C bra cups; that our manhood depends on how muscular and well-endowed we are. Just as he first did in Eden, Satan will always tempt us to doubt the goodness of God’s design and to find satisfaction elsewhere. We need to always be on our guard and rejoice in the blessings our Creator and Ruler promises to those who fear and love him (Psalms 16, 37, 28).


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

What can I say but, "well said", and "amen".

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good thoughts here and good, clear writing.

Beware of what I understand to be what Thomas Kinkade does in his beautiful paintings. It's a painting of the world as it is now as if it were pre-fall. Remember Paul's words in that same chapter, 1 Corinthians 7, those who marry will have trouble in this life.

Just the same I like what you say here and say so well.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Not to discourage you. Marriage is good, and Scripture makes that quite clear! Probably just the way it hit me, your post, that I wanted to make my little point. But even those inevitable troubles can bring you closer together with your beloved. Must run.....