April 16, 2009
The following originally appeared in a recent IRD Weekly e-newsletter. If you would like to receive our weekly e-newsletter, register as an IRD User today.
Last week was a tough one for proponents of traditional marriage. Iowa and Vermont were added to the list of states legalizing same-sex marriages. Vermont—where those who favored same-sex marriage were estimated to have outspent the opponents by twenty to one—is the first state to legalize these relationships by a vote of the legislature rather than the actions of a court.
These decisions from a Christian point of view misunderstand not only marriage, but what it means to be human.
To begin: to be human is to be a body.
J. Budziszewski writing in the December 2008 First Things said:
These days carnality is underrated. Our obsession with sex doesn’t show that we take embodiment seriously; it shows that we don’t. Like Gnostics, we regard our bodies as separate from our true selves. We use them merely to get pleasure, attention, and other things for the self—and nothing taken seriously is merely used. But the Gnostics were wrong. As [Pope] John Paul [II] emphasizes, body is not separate from self; it is the emblem and vesture of self.
You don’t have a body; you are a body. I cannot possibly express my soul except through my body. Adam was created out of both dust and spirit (Genesis 2:7). That, God said, was good. Human embodiment is neither a handicap nor a curse. We are not spirits rattling around in bodies needing release. Instead each of us is a unity of body and spirit. This is the nature a loving Creator gave us and, thus, it is His gift to us.
If our own creation does not convince us of the goodness of our bodies, we also have the fact of the Incarnation. God the Son, in His first coming, was born the human child of Mary from whom He received His human nature including his body. If human bodies are simply containers that impede personal and spiritual growth, why would God the Son have wanted one of His own? It is an indication that our bodies are a greater good than we imagine that God the Son shares human embodiment with us.
Abstracting soul from body leads inevitably to abstracting faith from deed, belief from obedience, feelings from doings, evangelism from discipleship, and gender from physiology. A Christian understanding of what it means to be human takes the physical as seriously as the spiritual, the spiritual as seriously as the physical. Gender matters.
Next, we need to consider Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Apparently you and I as individuals—male or female—do not adequately constitute the image of God. The image of God is realized through a matched pair—male and female. Why would that be? It has to do with the nature of God in whose image we are created.
The number one Christian distinctive, the thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion is our doctrine of God. God is Trinity. There is one and only one being who is God. And that one God exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A squirrel is one being, but no persons. You are one being and you are also one person. God is not like you (nor is he like the squirrel). God is one being, three persons—a mystery, but not utterly incomprehensible.
To put it another way, the one true God is a communion of persons. The Father eternally begets the Son and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, the issue of their love for each other.
While husbands do not beget wives nor do wives beget husbands, they are nonetheless matched sets. Husband and wife united in marriage form a communion of persons. They are called to love each other by selfless self-giving of soul and body—the whole person. When they do that there is the potential that nine months later a child will be born—a third person. Human love, like the love of the Trinity is fruitful. The communion of persons expands and the image of God is made more complete.
It would be wrong to say that the Trinity is like a family because it is the other way around: a family is like the Trinity. In fact, the family is a picture, an icon of the Trinity, inviting us to view a more robust image of God than we can see in any one individual on his or her own. When we see the family, we look through it to the Triune God in whose image we—male and female—are made.
Marriage between one man and one woman and the family that results are not simply nice options for autonomous individuals. Such marriage is integral to what it means to be human and its protection is vital for human flourishing and for the proper ordering of our common life.