Love, Sex, and Marriage: Not Metaphors

Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, I read this article from the Gospel Coalition by Jonathan Leeman: Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage.  I almost couldn’t get past the title, and it took me three tries to actually read the post.  If you haven’t already clicked on the link, you may not want to bother; it certainly lives down to its promise.

There is far too much in here for me to address in one blog post.  I would love to tackle the idea that Christians are throwing up our hands and saying, “Why bother fighting when the times they are a-changin’?”  That implies a passive, rather than an active, position on marriage equality that simply doesn’t exist for many of us.  I would also like to take on the assumption that it’s “sinful” to work for marriage equality and that Real, True Christians must wage war against it.  It would take several blog posts to explain my position on “Scriptural authority” and “final judgment.”  I already gave my opinion on Leeman’s stupid comment about “humanity” when I posted this on Facebook last night.

So, where do I go with this?

As I read through this, the one thought I kept returning to was how we know what love, sex, and marriage are or ought to be.  There seems to be an underlying idea among conservative Christians that these things are somehow a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity.  Hand in hand with that view is the belief that this love is correctly represented by (cis) man-woman marriage with penis-in-vagina sex as its ultimate expression.

This belief is supported at least in part by a reading of texts such as Song of Solomon as both a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel and as a “sex poem.”  It is also upheld by a backwards interpretation of what is meant by the Scriptures comparing the Church to a bride and Jesus to a groom.  That, however, is a stretch.  There is no indication that the Church was created as a bride, merely that the language used reflected something people understood–that is, the complex, intertwining relationship between husband and wife.  The same is true in other passages of Scripture drawing the same comparison.  In fact, Paul even says this is a mystery.

With such narrow definitions of love and intimacy, is it any wonder that people like Leeman would conclude that same-sex marriage (and, of course, same-sex lovemaking) are “less than human”?

When I read the Bible (full disclosure: I do not take Genesis 1-3 literally), I don’t read about how God made man and woman to be perfect relational complements or metaphors for God/humans or bodies that fit together just so.  I read, “God saw that it was not good for the [human] to be alone.”  We weren’t meant to live in isolation, but not because God was making a cosmic point.  God saw that the human heart needed human love and companionship.

While I don’t believe that God created us with the intent to use us to show God’s love, I do believe God’s love is reflected in us.  This isn’t limited, though, to man-woman marriage.  It’s present in our deepest friendships; in our parenting; in our siblings; and yes, in our most intimate relationships.  Not one of these things is a more perfect representation of God’s love; they are all imperfect–dark, like Paul’s reflecting glass.  They are facets of the same glorious diamond.

If we limit the full expression of God’s love to man-woman-marriage-sex as the pinnacle, we fail to honor the deep, profound love that is experienced elsewhere.  We begin to view the unmarried (especially women) as failing to achieve a holy ideal.  We determine same-sex couples to be “less than human” in their love.  We reject those who choose to be child-free as missing out on the actualization of “real” love.  That’s not what God wants for us.  Jesus made a promise to his followers: When two or more of us are gathered in his name, he will be with us.  That promise is so incredibly freeing when it comes to how we see love, particularly God’s love for us.

I see the beautiful, mysterious love of God all around me in humanity.  I see it when my son is baptized alongside a baby boy who has two mommies, while my child-free sister and my single-mom sister honor us with their presence.  I see it when my children talk about their futures and always include one another because their love for each other runs so deep.  I see it in my friends who, time after time, demonstrate their love for me in small ways.  I see it in those who spend their time and money working for peace and justice throughout the world.  I see it in the tender care offered by pastors to their congregations.  I see it in the midst of tragedy when people reach out, even risking their own safety, to tend to others.

God’s love isn’t limited to a single expression; therefore, mine will not be boxed in either.

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One thought on “Love, Sex, and Marriage: Not Metaphors

  1. brilliant insights, amy! i couldn’t agree more. the emphasis on the marriage metaphor for god’s love has always seemed weird to me. also – i agree on genesis. there is no word for marriage referenced or mentioned. god just created eve cuz it wasn’t good for adam to be alone.

    and as for song of solomon – anyone who tries to convince themselves or anyone else that it is anything but a sexy poem is kidding themselves. some christians = eternally delusional apparently.

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