Purposes of Christian marriage

John Boswell, in his Michael Harding Address (Rediscovering Gay History, GCM 1982), made a closely related observation: “Love in the Old Testament is too idealised in terms of sexual attraction (rather than procreation). Samuel’s father says to his wife-who is sterile and heartbroken because she does not produce children – , Am I not more to you than ten children? “‘ And he goes on to note that the same holds for the New Testament, which “is notably nonbiological in its emphasis” (p 13): Jesus and Paul equally discuss marriage without using procreation as a rational or functional justification. Paul’s strong words in I Cor. 7.4 about partners in marriage surrendering the individual “Ownership” of their bodies carry a more remarkable revaluation of sexuality than anything else in the Christian Scriptures. And the use of marital imagery for Christ and the Church in Eph. 5, for all its blatant assumption of male authority, still insists on the relational and personally creative element in the metaphor (”In loving his wife a man loves himself. For no one ever hated his own body” – 5.28-29).

In other words, if we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologically significant it may be. When looking for a language that will be resourceful enough to speak of the complex and costly faithfulness between God and God’s people, what several of the biblical writers turn to is sexuality understood very much in terms of the process of “entering the body’s grace”. If we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the processes of bodily desire and delight in their own right, perhaps we ought to be more cautious about appealing to Scripture as legitimating only procreative heterosexuality. (Rowan Williams, lecture–Body’s Grace)

First off, there is no denial that surrender of the body to the other in a marriage is not something that goes on. Secondly, his lecture assumes that contraceptives are acceptable because his church thinks they are acceptable. Contraceptives have historically been opposed by the Christian Church. Simply because now a group of Anglicans have decided to make them legitimate does not mean that they are any less sinful either. Third, the scriptures give us quite sufficient grounds to embrace the idea that pro-creation is such a fundamental component of sexual ethics that anything short of sex outside pro-creation simply falls short. The command was for male and female of whom God created in his image to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:26-27). It does not get any clearer than that. This is not to say that other ideas centering around marriage cannot co-exist in this context though primarily marriage must consist in the desire and possibility for pro-creation. This is why in contexts where one partner cannot pro-create (generally in Medieval times with such as St Catherine of Genoa), the partners embrace a brotherly, sisterly role instead.

Human sexuality in its maleness and femaleness is created to involve in the act of pro-creation. The whole concept of marriage as a sacrament centers around this fundamental truth. Not only that but of surrender to each other. Marriage is a reflection of the Triune God himself which is why concepts of marriage that involve not only procreation but also surrender of the partners to each other comprise what constitutes a marriage. The members of the Trinity surrender themselves to each other. A sacrament is that in which we par-take in a whole other area of Triune life. We are baptized into the Trinity. In marriage, we become an icon of the Trinity with our family and our children. Well aren’t children many? Yes, but the Holy Spirit is sevenfold so it makes perfect sense that the children ought to be many. It by no means is a perfect icon, no. But marriage does in fact serve as an icon of the Trinity with the man, the woman surrendering to each other in perfect love and the children surrendering in perfect love.

There are many Christians nowadays saying masturbation is perfectly acceptable. I was horrified that I allowed myself this “pleasure” while at the same time trying to oppose abortion when I considered myself a “raving liberal”. How could I simply keep spilling my seed like this while saying that life starts in my seed? Masturbation is yet another sexual sin that falls short of the divine iconography. Some say they feel it is “natural” and that the Church is “oppressing them” by not allowing them to succumb to these desires. The Church has firmly established that its end goal is oriented toward divine perfection. I do not see any way that divine perfection can co-exist with things falling short of the sexual ethic of the historic teachings of the Christian Church. I am by no means saying those struggling with sexual sins cannot be redeemed. All can be redeemed. What I am saying is that when we strive toward Christ, we must leave our sin behind us and focus on who Christ is. The sacraments very well establish this and the sacrament of marriage must therefore remain an icon of the Trinity or there will be no Trinity for us to look upon!


About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
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