Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Show Stoppers – Genesis 3:16: “...he will rule...” a Godly Remedy or Dire Prediction

In the previous post I explored how one’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, and resulting belief in either hierarchy or equality between husband and wife, must be addressed if any meaningful discussion from the rest of the bible can take place regarding gender relations. Specifically, if one believes that there is hierarchy in the pre-fall marriage, they are compelled to believe that hierarchy continues to be God’s “very good” design even today. Put simply: it is useless to talk to them about equality if, in their view, hierarchy is godly.

But what if they are swayed by my previous arguments? What if they now understand that equality between the sexes is actually what God intended? Does that mean that they now will see equality as the “very good” design after the fall? Unfortunately, the answer is “definitely not”. That brings us to the second “show stopper” in this series, and we don’t have to go very far to find it. Genesis 3 describes the fall of mankind into sin and, for many complementarians, the God ordained initiation of overt male authority in the marriage in verse 16. Let’s see what Genesis 3, and specifically 3:16, has to say (or not say) about male “rule”.[1]

If a person comes to understanding that the pre-fall marriage was one of equality, they still can come to the conclusion that males were put in charge by God after the fall. There are several similar arguments that lead to this conclusion.

A. Eve was easily deceived and subsequently all women need someone less easily deceived to “rule” over them to keep them from being deceived.

B. Eve was deceitful because she used her feminine wiles to trick Adam into eating the fruit and subsequently all women need someone to “rule” over them to keep them in line.

C. Eve tried to take control of the situation and subsequently all women will try to control their husbands, necessitating male rule to curb the sinful controlling behavior of women.

In either case, the message is clear: women are weak and/or evil - the main cause of sin entering the world - and therefore men have been lifted up by God to heroically right this horrible wrong and make the world a better place. Oh sure, maybe there might be a man now and again who takes this “rule” thing a bit too far. But in general, men are kind and loving rulers who never let their authority go to their head. Men are God’s “servant leaders”, who always put their wives first. So, what’s wrong with this picture (this one shouldn’t be hard to figure out)?

There a two fundamental problems, or really, misperceptions, with this view. Not surprisingly, the misperceptions are about Adam and Eve themselves (and ultimately men and women). Fortunately, the bible contains the answers to correct those misperceptions.

Was Eve the villain of the fall?

Curiously, the name “Eve” (Hebrew - Chavvah, Greek - Heua) does not occur anywhere outside of Genesis 3 and 4 and two brief mentions by Paul, one related to creation order (1 Timothy 2:13), and one highlighting her ignorant state when being deceived by the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3). If Eve were the villain in the fall of mankind, one might expect the occasional mention in such a context of her in the rest of the bible. Or is it that the fall isn’t referenced again after Genesis 3? Certainly not! The fall is referenced by both old and new testament writers with fingers pointing to a singular name as the responsible party – “Adam”. Here is a quick review.

Hosea 6:7 “But like Adam they (Israel) have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.”

Romans 5:12-19 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like {that which came} through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment {arose} from one {transgression} resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift {arose} from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by a man {came} death, by a man also {came} the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Could it not be more clear that Adam is the cause of sin in the world and the villain in the garden scene?

“But what of Eve’s deception and/or deceit”, some say. I ask in reply: “are either susceptibility to deception or deceit only female traits?”. Moreover, did Eve really deceive Adam, or was she only herself deceived by the serpent?
Paul deals with deceit in his first letter to Timothy, where the first two chapters address false teaching in Ephesus. Indeed, it is a woman who is deceived in Ephesus similarly to Eve – “Adam wasn't deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience;” (1 Tim 2:14 HNV). But Paul was just as deceived before coming to Christ – “even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy[2] because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;” (1 Tim 1:13). Moreover, it is men who are the blatant and willful deceivers – “some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 19b-20) The charge of deceit against Eve is unfounded at its core, because it requires that Eve sought out and tricked an ignorant Adam. Paul declares Adam was not deceived (by the serpent or Eve - 1 Tim 2:14a), and the Genesis 3 account shows that Adam was present for the whole deception – “So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too.” (Genesis 3:6b NLT).

The charges against Eve are a baseless smoke screen. Although she was truly deceived, her ignorance grants her mercy. Moreover, the deception she fell prey to is not unique to her. Satan is the author of lies and he uses deceit and confusion in an attempt to deceive us all. We are all potential victims. Being male grants no one special immunity, not even Paul.

Was Adam the hero of the fall?

Put this way, the idea seems preposterous. Yet that is exactly how complementarians view Genesis 3:16 and therefore justify male hierarchy. After all, there has to be some counter balance[3] to the perceived harm from deceived/deceitful women. Who else but males are available to provide that balance. But how can they feel they are up to the task? Although they would never (anymore) say such a thing out loud, they simply think men are better than women. Men, they claim, are more logical, less emotional, and mentally and physically stronger and so are designed to lead. Women, in turn, are designed to follow. If a man refuses to lead or a woman refuses to follow, they are denying their design and sinning against God. EVEN IF there was equality in the garden, the introduction of sin has created the need for leaders and followers and God has answered that need by elevating males. “He shall rule over you”, therefore, is a remedy for the negative impact of woman’s influence on the world. Can’t you just hear Underdog’s famous call being echoed by men: “here I come to save the day!” After all, that’s what Genesis 3:16 says (*rolls eyes*)

So what kind of “rule” is this that is spoken of in Genesis 3? Is it benevolent, or malevolent? The Hebrew word used is mashal and is fairly benign. It simply means to exercise authority. Whether or not that authority is good or bad depends on context. So, what is the context of Genesis 3:16. Is it describing a good or bad situation? Is the “rule” a prescription for bad behavior on the part of the “subjects”? Or is the “rule” heavy handed and cruel? Most importantly, is the “rule” God ordained, or even commanded? The answer to these questions helps to determine if Adam is hero or tyrant.

The initial overriding thought that comes to my mind when dealing with God’s pronouncement of judgment in Genesis 3:14-24 is that none of it is good. In fact, it seems the antithesis to the “good” that God saw in His original creative work. What this part of the fall narrative says to me is that now, “it is bad”. But specifically with Genesis 3:16, it seems illogical to me that God would insert a prescriptive measure in the midst of all the punishment, curses, and predictions for a now fallen and sin filled world. Certainly, God does not consider the male less prone to sin than the female. I do not believe anyone would try to make that argument. It is also certain that the man failed in his one responsibility – to guard the garden[4]. So why give him more responsibility? A God ordained authority for Adam over Eve makes no sense to me. Not only did she not need to have an authority over her, but Adam would hardly have been the first choice if she did.

Now let’s look at those questions to help clarify the context.

Is it (Genesis 3:14-24) describing a good or bad situation?
Hmmm. Well, sin has just entered the world and condemned the human race to death. I’d say that is pretty bad. Moreover, literally every other phrase but 3:16b[5] is either a direct curse or punishment or describing negative future events. I say this one is a no-brainer.

Is the “rule” a prescription for bad behavior on the part of the “subjects”?
As we have already seen, Eve was not guilty of intentional behavior. She is not portrayed at all in the narrative as unruly or requiring some type of rule over her. The answer to this question is a definite “no”.

Or is the “rule” heavy handed and cruel?
History gives the rest of the story. The rule of males, while kind and loving in individual cases, has on the whole been very heavy handed, often cruel, and just as often abusive. Which leads to…

Most importantly, is the “rule” God ordained, or even commanded?
Based on the infamous history of that rule, it seems absurd to suggest that it comes from God (see note 3 again). Really, is God in the business of inflicting perpetual punishment on those who sin in ignorance. Again, Paul gives us the answer.

“Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are {found} in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost {of all.} Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” 1 Tim 1:13b-16
Not only did Eve not deserve or require a human ruler, but the faithless watchman, the treacherous, “eyes wide open” sinner Adam, was disqualified from such a role. The lesson from Genesis 3:16 is that marriage would now, in a fallen world, be filled with bad behavior and its negative consequences. “He will rule over you” is not a remedy for bad marital relations, it is a dire prediction of the male contribution to bad marital relations. How one views “he will rule over you” will govern their entire approach to marriage. If they believe it is a remedy, they will continue to argue for it strongly because the disease they perceive it cures is female domination and deceit. On the other hand, if they see it as part and parcel of the consequences of the fall, they will resist it and seek true godly solutions to the marital problems it creates. Which is why, “he will rule over you” is a “show stopper” to any further meaningful discussion of gender relations.


1. As I have already discussed, a Genesis 2 belief in hierarchy necessitates a belief in hierarchy going forward into Genesis 3. If one has that perspective, they see hierarchy all over the narrative of the fall. Eve is seen as rebelling against Adam’s authority by talking to the serpent and it goes downhill for women from there. I am not taking time in this post to deal with the arguments based on the false premise of male authority based on Genesis 2 because it is my hope that the first post in the series will get a person beyond that point. That doesn’t mean that such a post shouldn’t be written, it just means that the “show must go on” in dealing with the progression of show stopping passages/concepts. Other arguments for future consideration are:

* Is there anything in the Eve-serpent dialog that hints at an in-place authority structure?
* Does the order in which God interrogated Adam and Eve say anything about hierarchy?
* What, if anything, does the content of God’s “sentence” on the participants in the fall contribute to hierarchical designs.

2. Eve also was shown mercy because of her ignorance as she was the only one of the three participants in the fall to not be cursed or have a curse associated with her sin.

3. Some even go as far as to claim that women deserve punishment for Eve’s treachery (funny how Hosea calls Adam the treacherous one) and male “rule”, even if harsh, is that deserved punishment. This is a fairly antiquated idea, but I do not doubt that there are a few out there who still hold to it.

4. For an excellent treatment of “The Unfaithful Watchman” see this blog post on the Women in Ministry Blog.

5. Although it is out of scope for this discussion, I hold this to be true also of “your desire will be for your husband”. I know that will agitate some women out there, but I simply can’t see anything positive in this passage. Whatever this “desire” or “turning” is, it has a negative impact on marriages in my opinion. A more detailed look at that phrase will have to wait until a future post.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Show Stoppers – Genesis 1 and 2: Hierarchy or Equality in the Garden

“Let’s start at the very beginning; a very nice place to start” – Maria, The Sound of Music

The first “show stopper” in the gender hierarchy/equality debate occurs at the very beginning of the bible – Genesis 1 and 2. Indeed, it is the complementarian view that a male headed authority structure existed even in the garden that supports and even dictates their view of the rest of scripture when it comes to gender relations. As long as a person holds to that view there is no use in talking to them about any other problematic verses or concepts. Indeed, this is logical. For if there was a hierarchy in the perfect setting of the garden, then certainly that hierarchy (God’s “perfect” marriage design) would need to be carried into an imperfect world in order to avoid anarchy and chaos. A person who believes in this garden power structure can’t help but believe that it should be maintained in a fallen world. So, is such a power structure evident in the garden narrative? That is what we will explore in this first installment of the “Show Stopper” series.

Although I believe the complementarian view on authority is almost universally presumptive, it is not so much so with Genesis 1 and 2. The foundation of their position lies in the text of those chapters. We will take a look at both the text they use to support hierarchy, as well as the text they ignore which shows equality.

Complementarians do agree with egalitarians on one important point: both males and females are equal image bearers of God[1]. So, in terms of “essence”, men and women are equal. So, the equality seen in Genesis 1 is acknowledged…to a point. Where Complementarians split from egalitarians is when the soul and spirit of humans gives way to their physical beings and the supposed “roles” here on earth that those beings fulfill. Once Adam and Eve become flesh and bone in Genesis 2, Complementarians see a fundamental shift in their inter-relationship. Put simply, although men and women are equal in “essence”, they are not equal in function: men are in charge and women are subject to that male authority. So, where do they see that in the text of Genesis 2.

In the second installment of my series “Equality in the Original Marriage Design”[2], I discuss in detail the three main arguments in favor of male authority. I will summarize them here. Please see the original post for the full rebuttal. I believe all three, while being based upon the text, still beg the question and are therefore in error. The three main arguments for male authority are: order of creation, naming rights, and method of creation.

The order of creation argument states that because Adam was created before Eve, he has a natural, God given authority over her. This argument is false because there is no basis for concluding that order of creation grants order of authority. In fact, the entire creation account argues against such a notion (animals were created before humans but are not in authority over us). Moreover, biblical teaching never supports such an arrangement and in a number of places actually refutes such an arrangement (see Jesus’ “last will be first” and similar teaching). So, the order of creation argument is based on an unsupported presumption that first means authority. Scripture never, ever, suggests such a concept, and often argues against it.

The naming rights argument states that because Adam named Eve[3], he has a natural, God given authority over her. This argument fails for the same reasons as the order of creation argument: it has no support in biblical teaching. Not only are men not unique in naming rights, but naming something is never a cause for authority over that something. It is simply a function of life without any inherent grant (or dismissal) of authority. Adam (and Eve, as co-rulers of the earth) did not have authority over the animals because he named them. He and Eve had authority because God granted it to them in Genesis 1. Naming is just a task. Eve named things too (specifically, sons). So one can not draw any conclusions about authority just by the act of naming something. Again, the argument is presumptive and has not one verse of support in scripture.

The final argument is a little outdated and not generally presented, but I include it just in case there are a few die hard female inferiority adherents out there. This argument states that because Eve was made from a piece of Adam, she is somehow less of a human than he is. Of course, as we shall soon see, Adam himself certainly did not think this. Nor does scripture ever say it. What scripture does say in Genesis 2 is that Eve’s creation was unique amongst all living creatures (even Adam). She alone was created from another living being – the real “first born” of creation, in a sense. While Adam was made in the same manner as the animals, Eve was not. If anything, her method of creation sets her apart and above everything else, not underneath it.

In the end, the three mainstream arguments in support of male authority and a hierarchy in God’s marriage design all fail for the same reason – they presume the conclusion is true before examining the evidence, of which there is none. This is called “begging the question” and is a logical fallacy. Even worse than providing no support for the argument, proponents of male authority ignore all of the scriptural evidence against it. In conclusion, I reject all three arguments for male authority for being not only unsupported but directly rebutted in scripture.

But what of equality? Is that equally presumptive, or is there solid evidence in Genesis 1 and 2 that the first marriage was indeed a marriage without human hierarchy? I will turn to that next.

The first mention of human gender occurs in Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NASB). As mentioned before, virtually everyone in the gender debate considers this to be a statement of equality between the sexes; at least equality of “essence”. Where Complementarians diverge is in their view of equality or division of “roles” here on earth. It makes me wonder if they have even read the next verse (Genesis 1:28) in the text: “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Is this not a command to both men and women? Is this not specifically related to their “role” here on earth? In the broadest sense at least, scripture clearly teaches that the “role” of men and women is a shared one and that males and females are equal in their contribution. The conclusion from the text of Genesis 1 is that the equality of men and women goes beyond just their “essence” as equal image bearers of God; it extends to their “role” on earth as equal, co-leaders and administrators for God. The question then becomes: “did that equality extend into their inter-relatedness in marriage”. For that answer we move to Genesis 2?

I have already rebutted the arguments for hierarchy derived from the Genesis 2 text. I will now present the several text based arguments which support equality within marriage. An important distinction needs to be made before I begin. The elements which form the basis for hierarchy arguments are non-relational – creation order (an external reality), naming (a task), and creation method (another external reality). None of these things speak directly to the inter-relationship of the two people involved; they are merely ancillary factors in those people’s lives. Although they may possibly impact the relationship, they don’t define the relationship. Conversely, the scripture I am about to explore goes to the very heart of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship – it is the “essence”, to borrow the phrase, of Adam’s and Eve’s marriage. While external factors such as creation order may signify either hierarchy or equality, they may also have no impact at all on the debate (which is actually the case). On the other hand, internal relationship factors can only point us in one of two directions: towards hierarchy or towards equality. Relationship factors can not possibly be benign to the inner workings of the relationship. The challenge is to determine to which pole – hierarchy or equality – the “rest of the story” of Genesis 2 leads.

After we get a detailed description of the garden and the creation of Adam in the beginning of Genesis 2, God makes a startling statement – “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). We need to pay particular attention to this proclamation because it defines the reason for Eve’s creation. Eve was not created for some practical purpose like as an assistant grounds keeper or domestic underling. No, Eve was created for a strictly relational purpose – Adam was alone. The importance of this relational purpose can’t be lost because it requires a relational focus on the description of Eve as ’ezer neged; a “help meet” to Adam(4). Again, this is crucial to understand. The "help" that Eve provides Adam is not practical or vocational; it is relational. She is the only one who can fill his need for companionship because, as Adam soon finds out, she is the only one who is like him, i.e. human.

The question now becomes: which organizational paradigm – hierarchy or equality – best fits this relational purpose for Eve? Since the purpose is not practical or vocational we can dismiss any idea that Eve was somehow created to be subservient to Adam or to perform any particular task in the Garden. In other words, Eve was not created to do “women’s work”. Work of any kind, vocational, domestic, or otherwise, is simply not applicable to Eve’s creation. Of course, we should know this since God already proclaimed in Genesis 1 that the “work” of the human race was to be enjoined equally by all humans, whether male or female.

Conversely, since Adam’s dilemma is that he is alone, we can conclude that Eve was created to somehow complete or fulfill him. Indeed, that is what we find at the end of the chapter when the first couple are proclaimed to be “one flesh”. Adam says as much when he exclaims “this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Why is he so excited? Is it because he was so worn out being provider/protector in the garden that he is finally relieved that the maid has arrived to clean up around the “house”? Such an idea is nonsensical based on his statement. He is excited because he finally has a fully formed being like him that he can “relate” to. There is not even the slightest hint of hierarchy in this very relational exclamation. Quite to the contrary, it screams equality. Adam and Eve were already identified in Genesis 1 as being equal in spiritual essence. Now Adam confirms they are equal in the physical, earthly essence as well.

To conclude, Genesis 1 and 2 never even refer to any hierarchy between the first man and woman or in the first marriage. Moreover, any hierarchical inferences that may be drawn from some of the practical realities of the first couple’s creation are presumptuous at best. On the other hand, both Genesis 1 and 2 speak of the equality between Adam and Eve in purpose and creation. In particular, in Genesis 2, that equality is expressed in strikingly relational terms. When it comes to how Adam and Eve relate to each other in that first marriage, authority is non-existent and equality is stunningly expressed.

That is what makes this a show stopper. If a person can not see the equality so blatantly modeled in Genesis 1 and 2, not to mention the complete lack of hierarchy in the same, it is useless to proceed in any other discussion with them about the marriage relationship. If they dogmatically insist on hierarchy in the original marriage design despite all evidence to the contrary, they will, and indeed must, project hierarchy onto every subsequent marriage. If you are in a discussion with someone over marital “roles” and “jobs” and “organization”, find out first if they see those same things in Genesis 1. If they do, it’s time to stop the show until they can be persuaded to take a second look at the first marriage.

1. This certainly was not always so. In her book, “When Dogmas Die”, Susanna Krizo gives a comprehensive review of the degrading view of the “essence” of women throughout history in general, and especially the history of the Christian church.
2. The full “Equality…” series
Equality in the Original Marriage Design
Equality…Part II
Equality…Part III
Equality…What About Paul
3. There are some egalitarians that claim that Adam did not actually assign the gender “name” woman to Eve, but instead simply repeated the name God had already assigned in Genesis 2:22 (the first mention of the Hebrew word for “woman” which Adam gives her in the next verse). Although a exegetical argument can be made to that point, the fact that Adam inarguably names her “Eve” in Genesis 3 makes the argument rather moot. Either way, at some time or other, Adam engaged in naming of the female.
4. See my posts on "Eve the Helper" for a deeper discussion of the Hebrew phrase "’ezer neged" which describes what Eve will be for Adam.
Eve the "Helper" - The Wit and Irony of God's Word
Eve the "Helper" - The Complete Picture

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Biblical Show Stoppers in the Gender/Authority Debate

There is a civil war raging in the Church, a war that has been going on almost since the beginning of the Church. Ironically, most average Janes and Joes sitting in the pews of any given church are not aware that battles are being fought all around them even though the outcomes affect their daily lives. The reason? Because they have been indoctrinated into whatever doctrinal camp their church supports and so they view that doctrine as “normal”. Moreover, they believe that anyone who believes another doctrine is a “radical” and so they sit contentedly and don’t give it another thought. Yet, the war rages on.

And what is this war? What is being contested? It is the war over which sex (or whether any sex) is “in charge” in the church and in the home. I have been an observer and, at times, a warrior in these fights for a number of years now. What I see in the trenches is a perpetual stalemate between the warring factions. I have concluded that this stalemate is the result of either side’s interpretation of but a few biblical passages and concepts. Once those interpretations are firmly entrenched, there is no moving from a person’s conviction about what all of scripture has to say on the subject. In other words, because I believe “x” about passage or concept “y”, I believe “x” is the “truth” in every biblical passage or concept that even remotely touches on the subject.

The intent of this series of 4 posts (plus this introduction) is to attempt to offer proof instead of premise regarding four critical passages or concepts in scripture that drive the whole debate. I call these “show stoppers” because one’s belief about them basically dictates one’s belief about the subject as a whole. They stop the “show”, i.e. any meaningful discussion, and until the Church can come to consensus about what is meant in these show stoppers, any other discussion of gender and authority is just “spinning one’s wheels”.

So, are these passages and concepts some mystical, unknowable truths that won’t be revealed to us until we are with God in Heaven? Certainly not! I believe each of the four show stoppers contain the necessary evidence to not only prove they belong on one side of the argument, but to also prove conclusively that they don’t belong on the other side. The task is to get those on side B, the unsupported side, to discard the dogma and premises of culture and doctrine and see that the conclusions of side A line up with God’s intent in inspiring the biblical text.

Now, lest anyone think that I am simply just another side A dogmatic, restating for the umpteenth time what I have always heard and presumed to be true, I want the reader to know that I have been, at one time or another, on both sides of the debate over each of these four passages/concepts. I have arrived at my conclusions about the show stoppers not because someone has told me what to conclude and not because I simply presume what is true without proof, but because I have both heard and made the arguments for both sides and through that rhetorical process have determined that the truth is quite evident from an informed interpretation of the text. What has been lacking is the informed part of our interpretation. That is what I hope to provide.

And what are the two sides that I speak of? Their self assigned labels are “complementarians” and “egalitarians”. Whether you know it or not, each and every one of us is falls into one of these two groups. The labels, though, are somewhat difficult to wrap our heads around (at least they are for me). So, let me describe each so the reader knows exactly where their starting point is.

“Complementarianism is a term used to describe a conservative theological view held by many in Christianity and other world religions that men and women have different roles and responsibilities, as manifested in marriage, religious leadership, and elsewhere.”
Wikipedia – “Complementarian”

“Christian Egalitarianism holds that all people are equal before God and in Christ. All have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.”
Wikipedia – “Christian Egalitarianism”

At the center of the debate between these two sides is the allocation of authority. Complementarians believe that in home and church, males have authority over females (to greater or lesser degrees depending on how “hard” or “soft” a complementarian you are). Egalitarians believe that there is no biblical authority granted to one gender over the other, and moreover, that hierarchies of power regardless of how that power is assigned are antithetical to the design of the Church or marriage as presented by Jesus, Paul, and the other biblical writers.

In these posts, I will be focusing on these ideas as applied to marriage. There are three reasons for that. First, marriage is my primary focus in this blog. If one wants to explore these and many other related themes as they apply to leadership and ministry in the church, I recommend you take a couple of months and read everything at Cheryl Schatz’ Women in Ministry blog (or at least browse the topic list for posts directly related to the show stoppers). Second, at least 3 of the 4 show stoppers are either directly or indirectly related to marriage first, and the Church second. Third, the application of doctrine flows in the direction of marriage to church. In other words, you can’t believe a particular viewpoint about church without first believing it about marriage.

Enough prologue! Here are the 4 show stopping passages or concepts that I will be discussing over the next 4 posts.

Genesis 1 and 2 – was their hierarchy or equality in the original marriage design?
Genesis 3 – is “he will rule over you” a description of negative consequences of the fall or a prescriptive remedy for Eve’s sin?
Paul’s head/body texts – Do these metaphors describe “normal” relationships between humans with their hierarchical implications or is Paul using metaphor to explicitly eliminate hierarchy?
1 Timothy 2:11-15 – Is this passage about all women or a particular Ephesian woman?

Stay tuned. Post one – “Show Stoppers – Genesis 1 and 2: Hierarchy or Equality in the Garden?” – will be coming soon. (This post will summarize a prior series of posts on equality in the original marriage design. One may want to read those in preparation for this entry)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is Contraception Sin?

There is a strange alliance out there between patriarchy and the quiverfull movement on one hand, and the Roman Catholic Church on the other. The common ground between these two seemingly incompatible antagonists: contraception. It is the contention of the anti-contraception, or, as they might call themselves, the pro-conception camp that the use of contraception, even natural contraception for the most radical of these groups, is not only "bad" family practice but is outright sin. One would hope that there are biblical arguments to back up these accusations. Alas, as often happens, scriptural support for an anti-contraception stance is virtually non-existent. Still, they make the arguments. My purpose in this post is to rebut the most common of these arguments.

I will be looking at three elements of the anti-contraception position - their three pronged attack if you will. The first section deals with their interpretation and application of the Genesis 1 (and Genesis 9) statement to "be fruitful and multiply". The second section will tackle the infamous "Onan incident". And the third will dig into the topic of sex and marriage and their purposes. Here we go!

"Be Fruitful and multiply"

The first prong of the anti-contraception attack is an interpretation of Genesis 1:28 that makes that blessing a godly command for each and every couple. Conversely, I interpret the command in Genesis 1:28 (if it even is a command which is grammatically debatable) to be directed to the human race in general, and not to each specific marriage. I see several very troubling paradoxes if it indeed applies to the individual marriages and I would be interested in how the other side would solve these.

The "set up to fail" paradox. If "be fruitful and multiply" is a command for every marriage, and if God is the opener and closer of wombs, then God purposely sets up some marriages to fail His command by closing the wombs of the women. Indeed, anyone who is infertile has been set up to sin by God if this command applies to them.

The "not quite good enough" paradox. If we take seriously the "multiply" component in the command, then each set of parents (and that could be 2 or more in ancient marriages) must produce at least one more offspring than the total parents in the family. To fail to produce enough to multiply the race is to fail the command even if there are children in the family. A review of scripture reveals quite an impressive list of families who have "come up short". Just a short list:

Isaac & Rebekah
Joseph & Asenath
Dan & his wife
Moses & Zipporah
Elimelech & Naomi
Boaz & Ruth
Zachariah & Elizabeth

If it is a sin to not increase the population then why is the sin of these families not exposed? Why no condemnation for their failure to "multiply"?

The "called to serve" paradox. Although the marital relationships of Jesus' disciples are not detailed in the bible (except for Peter), it is certain that some, maybe most, possibly all, were married. Many commentators also believe that it is virtually impossible that Paul was not married due to his position in the religious hierarchy. The fact that he speaks of singleness later may be due to the gifts received at his conversion. So, if the purpose of marriage is to procreate, how could Jesus call these men out of their God commanded duty? Did Jesus lead these men into sin by taking them away from their wives?

Dilemmas such as these abound both in scripture and in the here and now if we interpret Genesis 1:28 to be a literal command meant for every set of parents.

It should also be noted that the "contraception contravenes God's command" perspective is quite ungodly. Wade Burleson has pointed out this flaw in a recent blog post as one of his 8 points of rebuttal to the quiverfull theology.

(2). The notion that anyone "prevents" God from naming the number of kids a family has is anti-biblical, anti-logical, and anti-God at its core. Contraception no more "prevents" God from creating a baby who "could have cured AIDS" or "been the President of the United States," etc. than a man shouting at the sun can keep it from shining. God ordains the creation of each human soul, and nobody prevents Him from accomplishing His plans. The sheath of a condom, or the dissolution of a pill, is no more an obstacle to God in the creation of a human being than the lack of matter was an obstacle to God in creating the universe. (Exposing the Biblical Holes in Quiverfull Theology)
The "Onan Incident"

WARNING - Some adult themes and activities are discussed in this and the next section. Please act responsibly. If you are under 15, OR, regardless of age, believe your parents may object to you reading this, please ask them to review the post before reading it yourself.

For those who don't know, the "Onan Incident" is chronicled in Genesis 38:1-10. Onan's sister-in-law had not born any children prior to her husband's (Onan's brother) death. The law stated that Onan should marry his brother's wife and have children (preferably a son) with her to carry on his brother's blood-line. Onan deceitfully refused to fulfill his obligation to get his sister-in-law pregnant. He accomplished this by having sex with her but withdrawing prior to ejaculation and "spill[ing] [his seed] on the ground" (Genesis 38:9). Because of this, God put Onan to death. The question in this debate is "what specifically was Onan's sin?" Anti-contraception advocates argue that the sin was his contraceptive act of coitus interruptus. They extend this interpretation to the point of claiming that any and all contraception at any time is displeasing to God (i.e. sin) and even occasionally go to the point of claiming anyone guilty of the sin of contraception deserves Onan's fate. But is Onan's contraceptive act what he was put to death for?

My conclusion about the Onan incident is that the means he employed to accomplish his sin are irrelevant. The ends don't condemn the means. There are many ways in which he could have accomplished his deceit that in and of themselves are perfectly fine. It is not the action that is sinful but the outcome. Onan was killed for fraud, idolatry, covetousness, lying, and mocking God. How he went about doing that is beside the point. Let's flesh that out.

Consider: if it is only the contraceptive act that is the sin, then all of the other surrounding issues become irrelevant. It is irrelevant that he deceived his father and the community. It is irrelevant that he defrauded his brother. It is irrelevant that he humiliated and defiled his wife. It is irrelevant that he mocked the law and God. All of his treachery is irrelevant if it is simply the contraceptive act that is the sin. In fact, he could have spent a lifetime being fruitful and could have multiplied greatly with Tamar and only done this act once, and according to those opposed to contraception, he would have been guilty of the same sin and deserved and received the same punishment. To disregard all of his wicked intents and manipulations in contemplating what his sin was is quite astonishing.

There is an interesting twist to this little story. The NIV has a very different translation from every other version.

Genesis 38:9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. (NIV)
Is it possible that he perpetuated this ruse repeatedly over a period of time? If so, and it is the act itself that is the sin and deserves death, then why did God not strike him down the first time. Conversely, what does it say about the sin that God let him perpetuate it without correction. Certainly, no one would claim that it only became a sin upon repeated execution and after a certain number of repetitions.

I would suggest that God continued to give Onan a chance to repent and set things right. That had he finally changed and made the attempt to fulfill his duty, God would have left him alone to live out his days. So much for the contraception being the sin. Only after it became clear that Onan was determined to continue the fraud, did God pass final judgment. Again in this case, the actual actions used in the fraudulent exercise are really irrelevant. Onan could have employed multiple means to avoid impregnating Tamar and he would have been as guilty. Why? Because it was the fraud itself that was the sin, not the means by which it was achieved.

(BTW - I don't necessarily endorse the NIV translation, but am only accepting it here to explore all sides of the question.)

The Purpose of Marriage and Sex

The final argument by the anti-contraception movement is that the primary, or even, the sole purpose for marriage and sex is to have children. Let's take each of these in turn.

"The purpose of Marriage is procreation" - This seems silly even at a glance because marriage is not a pre-requisite to procreation. If all God wanted for us was to pop out babies, he would have let us fornicate like bunnies and we could have accomplished the task just fine. So, it seems clear God has something grander, or even completely different, in mind when it comes to marriage.

Genesis 2:18,24 - 18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
At it's core, the reason for marriage is "oneness". Men and women are not complete alone - they need the marriage union and the "one flesh" relationship that results to fully follow and commune with God, to interact and manage the world we live in, and to experience the companionship we so desperately need. Without marriage, the world would be much more of a chaotic place.

Having children relates to marriage in a strange and somewhat contradictory way. Indeed, we do not need children to enjoy the benefits of marriage that are outlined in this verse. But, children are a blessing from the Lord and can enhance the marriage experience. Children also can introduce tension into marriage that tears away at the oneness that marriage was designed to foster. Yet children benefit greatly by having parents in a committed, loving, unified, "one flesh" relationship. So, at best, we can only say that procreation has both positive and negative effects in relation to marriage. Hardly a strong case for children being the "purpose" for marriage.

1 Cor 7:2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
A mere chapter later from the Genesis verse quoted above, humans messed up everything. Immorality entered the world and created yet another purpose for marriage. Together, we are better equipped to fight the immorality around us. Marriage is an often necessary component to living a Godly life. Again, marriage itself isn't the cause of children. Children can be produced by immoral behavior as easily as moral behavior. So the idea that procreation is presumed as part of the marriage admonitions in 1 Cor 7 is ridiculous. It is more accurate to say that children are presumed in life regardless of marital state. But to avoid some of the immoral failings we are all prone toward, it is best if we get married. Let the children fall where they may.

Revelations 19:7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."
Lest we not forget, marriage is also a picture of Christ and the church. As such, it is a means by which a couple can enhance their communion with God. Through marriage, God is praised and glorified. Children, again, are not part of this formula. Barren couples can join in this worship and communion as well as exceedingly fruitful couples. The number or even presence of children is irrelevant in this very important purpose for marriage.

In conclusion, I find it hard to find any evidence in the scriptures that the purpose for marriage is having children. Quite the contrary, it seems the purpose for marriage has everything to do with the couple, their needs, their impact on the world, their relationship to each other, and their relationship to God. It seems to me that children are not even on the radar when we look at the purposes for marriage.

And what about sex...

"The natural Godly purpose of sex is procreation" - Understand what is being said here. This proposes that the only natural purpose for sex is to have children. Any other purpose for sex is unnatural and ungodly. So, what do the scriptures have to say about that?

The most logical place to start is Song of Solomon. This wonderful erotic love poem in the bible extols sex as a gift from God for the enjoyment, pleasure, bonding, and relationship building of the marriage. There is no sense trying to quote verses because the whole book is the proof. God designed sex for our pleasure and to help us grow in our attraction and love for one another. Now, sex does not equal love, of course. But much love is expressed through sexual relations.

Ezekiel 16:8 - "Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord GOD.
Another clear purpose of sex in God's eyes is as the covenant sealer in marriage. We did not make up the term "consummate the marriage" out of thin air. It is a biblical concept. Many times in scripture, both in good situations and bad, sex is seen as the "handshake" to formalize the marriage. Now, that doesn't mean that you are married to anyone you have sex with. But the value of sex in making a marriage a Godly marriage is evident. In fact, each time a couple has sex, they are in essence re-covenanting with each other. So this concept of "sealing" the marriage vow through sex is very important in God's overall design for marital relations.

Proverbs 5:18-19 - 18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 {As} a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love.
Again we see the sexual relationship has purpose in relationship building. In fact, this passage goes on to tell how a dynamic and consistent sexual relationship is a guard against adultery (much as 1 Cor 7 shows it as a guard against fornication). Sex should be so "exhilarating" and "satisfying" in our relationship that "wild horses couldn't drag us away" from our spouse. Here the purpose for sex is literally to defend the marriage from attack and to create an unbreakable bond with each other. If sex were about the pure mechanics of making babies, it would have no effect in building strong marriages. This scripture indicates that it is for so much more.

1 Cor 7:3-4 - 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Sexual relations are to be equal and reciprocal. God recognizes that men and women both have sexual desires and needs. The patriarchal concepts that sex is a right for men and a duty for women are wholly unbiblical. The most important thing to note here is that women have just as much of a right to sexual access and enjoyment. But there is no need for women to enjoy sex if it is just for making babies. So, why would God build in sexual need and enjoyment for women if His only purpose for sex was procreation? Well, he wouldn't.

God designed sex in a unique way in human beings and that uniqueness is what embodies God's purpose for sex in the human race. Having sex to make babies is what we share with all of creation. Having sex to bond with a spouse, build a relationship, and experience pleasure, are the natural purposes that God bestowed uniquely on the human race. In fact, scripture abounds with sexual references with these purposes in mind. On the contrary, having babies is really an after affect. What scripture really says is - have sex because it's good for you and may you, in return, be blessed with children.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Wild at Heart" Does Not Mean "Abandon My Family"

Several times in the last few months the topic of John Eldridge's book Wild at Heart has come up in the context of what it means to be a good husband and father. It seems that some men who read Wild at Heart take Eldridge's call for rediscovering masculinity as a license to run off and do what ever their little wild heart desires without consideration of the impact it has on the family. I have heard first hand accounts of husbands who have told their wives "if you respected me and understood men you would let me do [fill in wild adventure]". What the man often doesn't realize is that many wild adventures are tantamount to abandonment of the family, especially if they involve long absenses. And if the adventure involves a good deal of risk, (which Eldridge doesn't discourage), then that abandonment could be permanent. Even worse, going off on an adventure may leave the left behind family at risk. None of this is what Eldridge intends.

Although I have my quibbles with Wild at Heart and John Eldridge, which I have written about extensively in the "Hot Babe" series of posts, it is still a book I recommed for both men AND women because it does expose and celebrate the positive aspects of masculinity. But, it is decidedly NOT a book on how to be a good, godly husband and father - that is not its intent. For a wonderful book that is a great guide to being that godly husband and father without having to abandon the masculinity that Wild at Heart embraces, I recommend Point Man by Steve Farrar.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Gay Marriage States (*yawn*)

A recent court decision in Iowa and legislative action in Vermont over gay marriage have evangelical Christians apoplectic about the moral decay in America. I find myself strangely ambivalent.

These points[1] by Greg Boyd in his recent blog entry Don’t Weep For the Demise of American Christianity mirror my feelings on the matter of gay marriage, at least in the civil sphere:
  • If Evangelicals lose all their political clout, we may be less tempted to lust after political power, which means we may have one less distraction from actually doing what God called us to do — namely, manifesting God’s reign by how we humbly live, love and serve.
  • Kingdom has always thrived — and really, has only thrived — when it was on the margins of society. The Kingdom is, by its very nature, a “contrast society.” If Christians lose all their power and position in society and become marginalized, this can’t help but be good for the Kingdom. If Christians become persecuted, it likely will be even better. We’d be turning back the clock from the disaster of Constantinian triumphalist Christianity in the direction of Apostolic, servant Christianity.
  • A major problem Kingdom people have faced on the mission field of America is that the majority of people mistook the civic religion for the real thing. So it is that so many think that being “Christian” is focused on preserving the civic religion (e.g. fighting for prayer before sports events, keeping the ten commandments on government buildings, holding onto a “Christian” definition of marriage within our government, etc.).
On the other end, and I mean far other, "can't even see it from here", end of the spectrum, blogger Myca makes this biting assessment in the post Christianity Is The Problem on the Alas! blog:
In all the discussions about Same Sex Marriage, the rarely-acknowledged elephant in the room is that there is no coherent non-religious opposition.
Although I don't suggest my Christian friends browse the Alas! blog for fear their heads will explode, I can't help but agree with Myca, at least on the civil front, where the battle is being raged.

In reading these two posts from diametrically opposed bloggers, I can't help but see a strange synergy which leads to my strange ambivalence. Of course the Christian objection to gay marriage is religious, as Myca points out - which is exactly why, Greg Boyd would argue, that such objections have no place (or at least, relevance) in what is specifically a civil law debate. Moreover, because Christians are arguing religion in a decidedly, purposely, and constitutionally irreligious arena, they come off as everything from buffoons to bigots. It is no wonder that people not only ignore the argument but despise the arguer.

Add to the mere inappropriateness of religious arguments regarding a law that is blind to religion, the fact that Christians have, at the current time, a very dirty house. It is hard for us to proclaim a morally superior stance when divorce, adultery, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, pornography, pastoral sexual abuse, and a host of other vices that Paul also preached against are running rampant through our churches. Is it no wonder we are ignored?

The Church today looks very much like the church in Corinth that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead…Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened...I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (1 Corinthians 5:1a, 2a, 6-7, 9-13 NASB.)
So, the recent decisions in Iowa and Vermont get a big *yawn* from me (as, frankly, do those in California and other states where traditional marriage has been upheld). Why? Several reasons:
  • It doesn’t affect me. Nothing that has happened in any state changes my definition of godly marriage or my freedom to live within that definition. Not to mention the fact that I am not gay. So it really has nothing to do with me personally.
  • It won't affect gay relationships. "Marriage" is just a word in the civil realm. I still am mystified at the hyperbolic reactions of those on both sides of the issue over a simple word. Never-the-less, whether or not a state defines gay relationships as marriages will do nothing to either prevent or encourage gay relationships. So, all of our wailing and nashing of teeth is to no effect.
  • It doesn’t affect the church. Nothing in these decisions will compel churches to change their definition of marriage or force them to marry gay couples if it violates their religious expression. In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court made that abundantly clear: “A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past.” Varnum v Brein, No. 07-1499, http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/wfData/files/Varnum/07-1499.pdf at *66, (Supreme Court of Iowa April 3, 2009).
  • It doesn’t affect the biblical definition of marriage. Just because a state or group of people want to call something marriage doesn’t mean we have to accept that definition from a biblical perspective. All the civil semantics in the world do not alter the word of God.
  • It gives Christians opportunity to fulfill our purpose. As Boyd points out in his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, the purpose of the church is not to impose religious law on the nations, but instead, to bring Christ’s love to them (also see my post Jesus vs. the Constitution). Let the law be what it will be – it should matter not to those who follow Christ Jesus as long as it does not prevent us from following Him. And if it does, as Boyd points out, then we may wake from our cultural acceptance slumber and actually enjoy some of the persecution that best illustrates our citizenship in a "nation" "not of this world".
We have been so busy trying to right the world in the name of Christ that we have forgotten that Jesus never called us to right the world. Our only mandate is to show what is right – something we have been quite incompetent at, I am sad to say. Rather than drown ourselves in the folly of human law making, we should get back to being “little Christs”. Jesus, as our model, never made it his mission to change the Roman government, a government far more both oppressive and permissive than the one we currently find ourselves in. His mission, commuted to us in this age, was to show others a way that was better than the laws of nations. The irony is, the worse the laws get, the more we can and should stand out as the alternative. Not all will follow us, but that doesn’t change our mandate or our perspective.

1. These certainly do not constitute all of the points Greg makes in the post, but rather were the ones that struck me as having the most significance to the gay marriage hysteria in the church. One should read Greg's post for the full depth of analysis on the health and standing of the Church in America.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Blogger Hacks

I have three hacks to blogger widgets that I have implemented on my blog. You can see the effects both in the posts themselves (an advanced "read more" post-summary hack) and the sidebar (hide/show widget and label hacks). A more complete description of each follows. You can get the instructions for implementing these hacks on my gadgets and hacks webpage

The Hide/Show Widget Hack
Do you have 8 million labels that go on and on down the page? Do you have some widget that takes forever to scroll thru? Ever wish you could give your readers the option of hiding these long widgets to shorten your blog page up? That is what this hack will do. (See the blog archive and label widgets on my blog linked above for examples)

The Advanced "Read More" Post-summary Hack
There are plenty of "Read Only" hacks out there, including in the blogger help files. They all follow a basic pattern which involves manipulating styles in the template and adding a "fullpost" span to your default post html. I have taken that as a basis, and added two additional elements.

Label Widget Post List Hack
I like how the blog archive widget has an expandable list of posts at the month level but always wondered why the label widget didn't do the same thing. After all, wouldn't it be nice to see a list of posts that have a particular label without having to go to a new page and scroll through/page through all the posts under that label? Well, this hack solves that problem. Now you can have an expandable list of posts under each label just like you do under each month in the blog archive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ronald the Great?

A week or so ago, we attended the confirmation open house for the daughter of a good friend of ours. Her brother was in town from California for the event. He is a great guy who I also consider a friend...but...As the night progressed into the wee hours of the morning, we got into a political discussion over a Jack Daniels or two (or several?!? although I was "doing the dew" by then). Eventually, the gentleman from CA raised a point that was sure to send the conservative faithful in the group (mainly me) into full lather. He had the audacity to claim that Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of these United States, Defeater of the Evil Empire, Lion of Liberty, Defender of Capitalism, Bringer of Prosperity throughout the land, and Grand Shaman of Voodoo Economics...."was not a great man"! In fact, his blasphemy had no bounds as he further claimed that Reagan was simply lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and had NO impact at all on the major moments in history to which he has been given credit! *gasp!*

Well, the debate ranged far and wide and I believe by the end - it was 4 in the morning so I was a little groggy - we formed some sort of compromise opinion. At the very least, I know, we all departed still friends.

The reason I give this background is that the very next day I began reading a couple of books that had startling statements that very much applied to our debate. These assertions, by thinkers no less prestigious than Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Adams, raise a critical question which was really at the heart of our late night debate: is there such a thing as great people or are they simply actors (no pun intended) in great times? It is that question I wish to discuss in this post.

The day after our debate (or actually, later in that same day), I began reading Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. It is primarily a study of the principle American founders: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton (with some Franklin and Burr thrown in for good measure). Not 40 some pages into this book, and with our tête-à-tête still fresh in my mind, I ran across this quote from Oliver Wendell Homes in the chapter analyzing the impact of the Hamilton-Burr duel: "a great man represents a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists of his being there" (emphasis mine). That sums up succinctly my admittedly fuzzy recollection of our 4am compromise!

Undaunted, I read on, quickly mowing through that book and on to the sequel/companion book by Ellis, American Creation. Again, barely into chapter one, I was confronted by a similar yet less comforting theme, now expanded and articulated by none other than John Adams.

One of Washington’s most distinguished contemporaries warned, however, that any shift in focus – from emphasizing the historical conditions underlying the American achievement to insisting on the decisive role of prominent personalities – ran major risks of distortion. John Adams sensed this shift happening in the first decade of the nineteenth century…Adams warned that the emphasis on personalities and what historians call “agency” was all wrong…Adams believed that the deification of the revolutionary leaders was transforming the true story of the American Revolution into a melodramatic romance: “It is a common observation in Europe that nothing is so false as modern history,” Adams noted. “I should add that nothing is so false as modern history…except modern American history.” In the Adams formulation, the true history was about chance, contingency, unintended consequences, about political leaders who were often improvising on the edge of catastrophe. Events, not men, were in the saddle, and all the founders were imperfect men rather than gods come down from Mount Olympus. “It was patched and piebald then”, he wrote, “as it is now, ever was, and ever will be, world without end.”[1]
A more explicit description of the same concept, one that should make my west coast friend smile, was provided by Adams’ friend Benjamin Rush in their famous correspondence: “I shall continue to believe that ‘great men’ are a lie” [2]

This exposition provided even more clarity to our blended impression of Reagan. I believe we agreed that Reagan may not have been a great man, at least in the iconic, almost god like terms that historians and worshipers often describe mere mortals, but he was "the man" during a great time. Being now armed with more biographical and historical data on some other ordinary men who presided over a great period in history, I wonder if there is not some comparison that could be drawn that would reinstate Reagan, at least in my friend's mind, (for he needs no reinstatement in my mind), to some place of, if not greatness, then at least influence over the events that surrounded him.

In order to determine of a person or group of persons actually influenced the history they were engulfed in, I propose it is best to hypothesize about what might have happened if their opponents had won the wars of words and policy that they were engaged in. Put another way, were the five founders that Ellis highlights key to the revolution, constitution, and early American government, or were they simply generic and replaceable pawns to the winds of fate? Let's return briefly to the end of the 18th century and speculate "what if..."

  • If Washington had not been chosen to lead the Continental Army the war most likely would have been lost.

  • If John Dickenson had defeated John Adams in the debate over independence in July of 1776, the declaration would not have been approved and independence would not have been declared.

  • If the anti-federalists had defeated James Madison and Alexander Hamilton's arguments in "The Federalist", or if Patrick Henry had won the day against Madison in the Virginia ratifying convention, the constitution would not have been adopted.

  • Although no one at the time could envision someone other than Washington as the country's first president, it is easy to surmise that had Washington declined, as he was want to do, the country may have not made it past its first 4 years.

  • Had Hamilton's economic policies been defeated by Madison and Jefferson, America would have never become an economic super power because capitalism and free markets would not have been the basis for our economy.

  • Had Adams not defeated Jefferson in 1797, we would have moved away from federalism too fast.

  • Had Jefferson not defeated Adams 4 years later, we would have moved too far down the federalist road and more importantly, the Louisiana purchase would never have been transacted
The axiom seems to hold for the five principle founders. None were "great" men, each having significant flaws and each having made significant mistakes (there is no need to recount them here - read the books!) But at every point in the revolutionary and early American timeline, it was crucial that the arguments and policies of these men were the ones that won, for the alternatives at every step of the way would have been disastrous. Ironically, this is even true when the debate was conducted within the inner circle of those five. The conclusion I draw from this is: "there are no great people, but it takes the right people to navigate and succeed in great times."

Flash forward to 1981. Ronald Wilson Reagan has just become the 40th President of the United States of America defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter. When reviewing the 8 years that Reagan was President and the monumental changes that took place in the world and in America during and immediately after that tenure, we must again look at the alternative to see if that history would have held true without Reagan.

The only alternative to Reagan in '81 was Jimmy Carter, and the only likely alternative in '85 (certain alternative with a Reagan first term) would have been Carter's Vice President, Walter Mondale. In other words, the only two possibilities in view for the 8 years are Carter/Mondale (probably), or Reagan/Mondale. During that period, the two most significant events were the rebound of the American economy in which it embarked on a run of prosperity that has never before been seen in this country, and the collapse of Communism.

On the economy, consider this - it was the policies of the Carter/Mondale administration that brought the American economy to its knees prior to the 80's. Only the most deluded dreamer or entrenched partisan could possibly believe that a continuation of those failed policies would have produced the kind of economic turnaround we observed during Reagan's tenure. You may not like trickle-down, supply-side economics, but for that time and situation, they were the right policies.

The fall of communism parallels the revolutionary generation even more, because it was a collaborative effort that produced that momentous turning point in world history. Three leaders form the inner circle this time - Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Just as with the founders, it is hard to envision the outcome if any of these three had been replaced by their opponents.

The runner up in the 1979 British election that was won by Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party was the Labour Party, with James Callaghan at the top of the ticket. The Labour Party proposed disarmament as the means to continued peace. In hindsight, we know that it was in fact the arms race that eventually led the Soviet Union to the brink of economic insolvency. It is hard to envision the British Labour Party, with its disarmament commitment and avowed socialist agenda, putting any kind of pressure, let alone military and economic pressure, on the Soviet Union. Yet without the exertion of such pressure, communism would have been blessed with an environment in which it would not only survive but even flourish.

Mikhail Gorbachev was a leader who embraced reform as the only possible way for his country to avoid economic catastrophe and to emerge from world-wide isolation. It is simply impossible to imagine the Soviet Union progressing to a free market economy and democratization under any other leader. The only other candidate for the leadership of the country was Grigory Romanov, who, while being a reformer, was still committed to socialism.

That brings us to Reagan? Jimmy Carter's foreign policy disasters should be clear indication that he was not the proper man to face down the "Evil Empire". Coupled with the Democrat Party position favoring disarmament, continued Carter and then Mondale Presidencies would have been as ineffective as a Great Britain run by the Labour Party in forcing the Soviet hand and facilitating Communism's collapse.

As was true for the birth of the Republic and the principle founders, it is clear that the collapse of Communism would not have happened had any of these three leaders been replaced by their chief rivals.

I am now content with the proposition that Reagan was not a great man, as long as it is accepted that the same is true of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy. But like those other leaders, and like the founding fathers, faced with the daunting and ominous challenges of a great time Reagan was uniquely suited and gifted to face the crisis and the world would not have profoundly changed if another person had taken his place. That may not make him a great man, but it made him the right man for the job.

1. Joseph J. Ellis, American Creation (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2007), p. 5-7.
2. ibid

The Chuck Norris Facts Gadget

This gadget is the equivalent to a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the face in the web gadget world! OK - it isn't that dramatic. But it is fun. You can see the Chuck Norris Facts in action (pun intended) right over there on the sidebar. To get this gadget for your website or blog, go to my gadgets and hacks page and just follow the installation instructions. Your site/blog will immediately receive 1 billion hits just because Chuck Norris' name appears on it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Calendar Gadget

You can see my calendar gadget here on the side bar of my blog. This gadget not only displays the calendar with current day highlighted, but it also can display the following holiday groups: US Official, US Secular, Christian, Jewish, Islamic. The colors and borders are user defined. Go to the Calendar Gadget section of my gadgets and hacks page to get full instructions on how to implement this gadget on your website or blog. You can use this post to ask questions, make suggestions, and get (limited) support.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is Sex Important For Relationship Building (Oneness) In Marriage?

WARNING - As the topic suggests, this post discusses mature subject matter. Although it is not explicit in content (it doesn't discuss acts, only purposes), it deals with adult relationships and activity. If you are under the age of 13, I would ask that you be responsible and not read further without first speaking with your parent(s).

A recent post in the Women in Ministry (WIM) blog took a brief sidebar to discuss sex in the Garden of Eden. Commenter Charis began the discussion with this query:

Can you tell me from the passage where we know that the first man and woman had marital relations before the fall? I don’t see it in there. I’m not saying they did or didn’t nor would I ever claim “sex is a consequence of the fall” as God told them clearly to “be fruitful and multiply” before the fall, and they would not be able to do that apart from sex. But I don’t see any indication in the text that they did have sex before the fall. Maybe they were just busy enjoying each other’s and God’s company, the great fellowship and non-sexual affection and intimacy? (read full comment)
Although blog author Cheryl Schatz effectively (IMO) answered the fundamental question - yes, they "did it" before the fall - Charis followed up with some commentary about the necessity (or lack thereof) of sexual relations for fostering oneness in the marital relationship, both pre and post fall. That was further off topic in the WIM post and so was not pursued at length. But it is still a valid question and one I would like to explore in more detail. Is sex important outside of its procreative purpose?

Charis summed up her dim view on sex in comment 46:

There is another dimension in the Garden that we DON’T HAVE ANYMORE. The man was NOT frustrated before the fall. The intimacy they had was satisfying FAR BEYOND anything mere sex offered...You [the blog author] are IMPOSING frequent sexuality and your own experience of the centrality of that to marital intimacy. Its not in the text...Good and frequent sex does not a good marriage make- I know of what I speak. IF they had it (which you have convinced me they did on occasion), it was a nice perk (like chocolate to a child) but was NOT a centerpiece of the Garden experience. That experience was so far beyond sex and chocolate that Adam felt satisfied and so did Eve.

Wow! This is quite a statement. It draws two conclusions that need to be addressed: that Adam's and Eve's "needs" - biological, psychological, and emotional - were fundamentally different than ours (or even their own post fall); and that the only "need" that sex satisfies related to relationship is a physical one stemming from sex drive.

Before I delve into these conclusions, I want to discuss the purposes for sex that are not at issue here. There are basically three purposes for sex that do not primarily impact "oneness" (they may impact it secondarily).

One of the purposes for sex is procreation. Since the mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" was given to Adam and Eve at creation, it is presumed that sex for procreation was a part of their experience, just as it is part of ours. And although having children can have a profound impact on the marriage relationship (positive or negative), and although scripture decrees that children are a blessing, the primary purpose for procreative sex is simply to "fill the earth".

Another purpose for sex within marriage is prevention. We see this plainly in both the Old and New Testament. In Proverbs 5, we are exhorted to "drink water from your own cistern" (v. 15), an idiom for keeping sexual intimacy within the marriage bed. Later, in vs. 18-19, it gets more explicit: "Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. {As} a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love." And why is this? "For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress And embrace the bosom of a foreigner?" (v. 20) Sex within marriage helps to prevent us from seeking sex outside of marriage. Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 7, when he suggests sex within marriage keeps us from immorality outside of marriage (v. 2) and also from satan's temptations within marriage (v. 5). This purpose is only post fall, as Adam and Eve were not subject to adulterous temptation in the garden.

And finally, sex within marriage can simply be for recreation. Sex feels good and is fun. Like procreation, this purpose can have relational benefits. It is good for the relationship to spend time with your spouse just having fun. But these benefits are a by-product, not the main purpose for recreational sex. Ironically, at least it seems ironic to me, that is the only purpose seemingly acknowledged in the argument above for sex in the garden. Clearly, recreational sex is accepted as being experienced in both the pre and post fall settings.

There is one remaining purpose for sex: edification. Put in simple terms - sex meets certain needs we have. I will now address the conclusions at issue here because they have everything to do with what needs we have, how they are met, and what role if any those needs (and therefore, sex) played in the garden.

I will start with the most obvious needs related to sex, the physical ones. Both men and women have a sex drive. It is generally, although not in every case, stronger in men because of both anatomical and chemical (i.e. hormonal) realties. But what is important to note is that our sex drive differs significantly from every other species in creation. Whereas the animals are driven to have sex almost exclusively by instinct triggered by procreational cycles and stimuli, human sex drive is a constant part of our experience. Put another way, we do not desire sex only when the woman is physically ready to make a baby.

So, did Adam and Eve have a sex drive? Although the argument against sex presumes they did not, there is no biblical reason to believe it. Nothing in scripture even alludes to a differing sexuality within humans pre and post fall. Now, the assertion that "the man was not frustrated" is certainly true, because frustration would indicate unmet needs and by extension, a selfish spouse. Since Eve only knew how to be selfless prior to her eyes being opened to sin, Adam would never have know sexual frustration. In other words, his lack of frustration does not in any way indicate a lack of sex drive, only a lack of selfishness on the part of Eve. And if Adam had a perfectly normal, functioning sex drive, there is no reason why Eve would not have one also, with Adam being just as selfless in meeting her needs.

But the physical benefits of sex do not end with quenching sex drive. There are also a number of health benefits to having sex[1]. But weren't Adam and Eve immortal, and therefore without need for the health benefits sex provides? The bible doesn't exactly tell us that. For one thing, Adam and Eve were not inherently immortal. They needed the tree of life in order to live forever. Without it, as pointed out by God in banishing them from the garden, they "would surely die". Even beyond the issue of life, Adam and Eve were still flesh and blood; they weren't inherently even perpetually healthy. They needed food, exercise, and other factors to maintain their physical health. Sex could have been an integral part of that healthy regimen.

Physical needs are not the only component of our needs system. This was as true for Adam and Eve as it is for us, unless, of course, we want to think of them as emotionless robots. All humans have a wide variety of psychological and emotional needs which run along side, and even sometimes are directly related to, our physical needs. Often these needs play out differently along gender lines, which is one of the main reasons why Eve was not another Adam. The meeting of these non-physical needs is integral to our marital relationship. And although sex is not the only way these needs can be met, it is certainly one way, and a most unique way at that, which I will illustrate momentarily. But first, I want to delve into these non-physical needs in some detail.

Men have an inherent need to feel respected and admired. They evaluate themselves based on their performance and have a drive to pursue. Women have an inherent need to feel loved and cherished. They evaluate themselves based on their relationships and have a drive to attract. Both the Old and New Testament comment on these needs in a number of places, although they are summed up by Paul in the quintessential marriage chapter: Ephesians 5. Interestingly, Paul highlights the meeting of these needs as a kind of path back to the pure godly type of marriage found in the garden, which means that these needs existed even in that environment. Genesis tells us the same thing, for "it is not good for the man to be alone". Adam had needs, primarily psychological and emotional, that neither the animals nor even God could meet. Only Eve could meet them. And she, being the "helper standing opposite from him", likewise had needs that only Adam could meet.

What does this have to do with sex? It is true that we can meet our spouse's needs through means other than sex. In fact, we are charged with doing that as consistently and unconditionally as possible. In that way, we point our marriage back to the pre fall model. But in the course of normal human interaction, this need meeting is comprised of two one-way streets. I meet my wife's needs, then she meets mine, then I meet hers, and so on. There is no way for us to both have a selfish need met and selflessly meet our spouse's need at the same time. Or is there? Yes! There is! It is through the uniquely designed, God given gift of sexual intimacy. Only through sexual intimacy are each gender's very different physical, psychological, and emotional needs met simultaneously! Only through sexual intimacy can we have our own selfish needs met by engaging in the selfless act of meeting the other person's needs. There is simply no other activity in the human experience that accomplishes this amazing mutuality in meeting needs.

Charis is correct...to a point. Adam and Eve did have amazing intimacy. But it wasn't accomplished in a sexual vacuum; it was accomplished because they had "good and frequent sex". How can I draw that conclusion when, as Charis points out, "it's not in the text"? I can because of the simple fact that selfishness was not present in the garden. Every other form of need meeting that humans engage in is one way - one person's selfish need being met by the other person's selfless act. (Actually, there is very little unselfishness post fall, but we strive for it). But neither Adam nor Eve was selfish at all. The only way they could have met each other's needs in an environment where neither was selfish is through sexual intimacy. There simply is no other way.

The difference between the garden and now has everything to do with "another dimension in the Garden that we DON’T HAVE ANYMORE", but it isn't a physical, psychological, or emotional dimension as Charis believes. What Adam and Eve had different was a lack of selfishness. Their relationship was different not because they had different needs than now but because they went about meeting those needs through mutual, uninhibited, unconditional sexual abandon. They lived out Paul's admonishment in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4: "The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband {does;} and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife {does.}" Unfortunately, after the fall, we introduced such selfish, ungodly concepts as "sex is a weapon/dirty thing/bargaining chip/right/chore". That is why we "deprive each other" (v. 5) and some people come to the conclusion that "good and frequent sex does not a good marriage make". I am sure that people in a (intentionally) sexless marriage can find ways to build oneness and meet each other's needs. But they are going about it abnormally, outside of God's design, and in a way that would have been completely foreign to Adam and Eve. Sex may not be the only way to edify the marriage relationship, but it is the best way, and more importantly, it's God's way.

And that is why sex is important.

1. A good review of the health benefits from sex for women can be found in the articles Oxytocin in Women and How Frequency Affects Women at www.themarriagebed.com. Note that this site deals with adult subject matter and should not be viewed by children. The health benefits from sex for men is discussed frequently in the magazine Men's Health and include: reduced risk of heart disease, reduced depression, improved prostate function, pain relief, and an improved immune system. WebMd also has an entire section devoted to the health/sex relationship.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gadgets and Widgets and Hacks...Oh My!

I have always been a tinkerer and blogs and websites hold particular fascination for me. Within TT&tOT, I have even created a number of gadgets or widget hacks to help enhance the blog experience for my readers. I have now set up a small web site to keep these inventions of mine and to share them with the world. You can see all of my gadgets and hacks along with full instructions on how to use/implement them at http://gengwall.netau.net/. I will be writing about each one in turn in this category so that others can provide feedback and I can provide some minimal support. So if you are looking for gadgets for your website or widget hacks within blogger, check these out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rejecting the "Hot Babe" Deception - Part 2 (Concluding the "Hot Babe" Series)

In the "Hot Babe" series[1] thus far, I have looked at Christian authors' points of view regarding physical beauty and physical attraction, as well as biblical history's treatment of the subject. In this final post in the series, I will discuss what the bible teaches us about beauty and physical attraction.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - ancient Greek axiom
The age old adage above hits on much of what we know about the human condition and what I have discussed thus far in this series. We are visual creatures, and in particular, visual in the sexual sense. We make judgments and selections based on what we see, even in seeking a mate. Those judgments are subjective. Although this visual selection process has roots in our nature, it is also influenced by our experience in that we build models of "beauty" based heavily on cultural inputs. These models serve as our benchmarks in the judging process.

The saying also contains some good news, although it is subtly suggested. We, as the beholder, have a say in how we interpret what our eyes behold. I would suggest, that we also have control over when we exercise the beholding. The fact is that we need not be completely subject to either our nature or our culture. We can act independently of both, or more appropriately, we can choose when to manifest both in our lives. It is with this realization in hand that we can find profound instruction in the bible. God made us this way, and did so for a very good reason. But because of the fall, God's good design is under attack. We have been manipulated and deceived about our sexuality and our biology so that what God designed exclusively for the purpose of oneness and relationship building in marriage has been unleashed far and wide outside of that sacred covenant.

In short, I suggest that God intended our visual biology, at least as far as its sexual manifestation, to only be exercised within the marriage relationship. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but we are only to behold one person with an eye toward beauty, that person being our spouse. When doing so, our entire model for what we see as sexually beautiful should be based on that person and that person alone. Moreover, it should adapt over time (through constant "beholding") so that we are continually reassessing what is "sexy" to be in synch with the changes that time and even tragedy bring to our spouse's physical body. This is a radical idea, and I can already hear the cries of ridicule and scorn that I even entertain it, yet I will now show that such a paradigm is exactly what the bible teaches.

The Complete Biblical Teaching on Physical Beauty and Attraction

Proverbs 31
v 30 - "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (NIV)

I will progress through this review from dating to marriage. The fundamental passage for single men in search of "the perfect woman" is Proverbs 31. The 19 verses preceding verse 30 outline the attributes of a praiseworthy woman by illustrating those attributes at work in marriage. I have seen lists of these attributes ranging from the low 20's to (not coincidentally) 31 in number. The key is that none of the praiseworthy attributes of a woman have anything to do with her outside looks. But the passage doesn't leave us wondering, because it contrasts in verse 30 those praiseworthy female attributes with what is decidedly not praiseworthy, namely charm (flirting) and physical beauty. The biblical teaching could not be any clearer: when looking for a mate, look to the inside and, quite literally, ignore the outside because it is misleading.

Proverbs 5 and 6
Pro 5:1-8 - "My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not. Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house" (NIV)

Pro 6:20, 23-25 - "My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching...For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes" (NIV)

So, does marriage save one from being misled by "charm" and "beauty"? Certainly not! These two passages show that even within marriage, "greener pastures" syndrome can easily ensnare you. So how do we prevent our ruin? The next two passages show the proper approach to beauty within marriage.

Note - although the beauty of the woman in question is not mentioned, Proverbs 7 carries instruction for unmarried men which parallels these sections very closely. It does mention that the enchantress is "dressed like a prostitute", which may suggest less than modest clothing which accentuates her physical form. The lesson is simple: single men in search of a bride should not think they are immune from the entrapments of physical beauty and sultry charm.

Job 31
v 1 - "I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?" (NKJV)

Job is speaking from the perspective of the married man. Knowing the natural tendency to seek greener pastures, he covenants (makes a deal) with his eyes that he simply will not look at anyone (sexually) but his wife. Two things need clarification here. The look Job speaks of is not lascivious, but it is sexual. Simply put, it is a look, even fleeting, that triggers the natural sexual response all men have when looking on the female form. Note this response may not be felt as physical arousal. Some men use that as an excuse, but the reality is that we all know when a look is sexual and when it isn't, all physical feelings aside. As best he can, Job will avert his eyes if he fears a woman's beauty will trigger a sexual response. Only when he can look upon a woman with the purest of intentions and reactions will he allow his eyes that access.

The second clarification deals with Job's focus on "young" women. The reason for this is that is where men are most tempted. But it may not be so for every man and so the general admonition needs to be kept in focus - it is the kind of look being dealt with here, not the age group that the object of the look falls into.

One might think that Job was privy to current research when this was written. Recent studies have shown that men build up models in their minds regarding the female form, in particular, hip to waist ratio. Two separate studies were conducted with basically the same methodology and both concluded this. The interesting thing was that the preferred hip to ratio differed based on the study group's culture. The important finding: the preferable hip to waist ratio was the ratio that was most prevalent amongst marriage age females in the general population of that culture. In other words, men of all ages build their sexual preference models based on what most young women in their culture look like. Apparently, Job was onto something when he focused on young women in his covenant.

Also in this chapter, Job mentions "lurking by my neighbor's door". This is the exact opposite of what Proverbs 5 recommends if you have "made a covenant with your eyes", namely, stay far away "from your neighbor's door" as you can. This idiom refers to "stealing glances" at, and engaging in (supposedly) harmless flirtations with, someone not your wife.

Proverbs 5 - Part 2
v 16-21 - "Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths." (NIV)

The previous passages tell us what not to do, but now we get some serious instruction on what we must do to not only avoid adulterous behavior but to ensure the blessing of sexual fulfillment within marriage. This passage expresses the full depth of our key adage for this post: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Not only are we to "only have eyes for" our wife, but we are to build our model of beauty based on what we see with those eyes regardless of what it actually looks like. This is necessary throughout marriage because "beauty is fleeting". Only when we ignore what the culture tells us and guard against models of beauty based on women other than our wife, will we be able to resist the temptations that truly exist in every "doorway" we encounter. We must teach ourselves to use our god designed biological attraction mechanisms in the way that God intended them to be used - solely within the marriage bed.

Song of Songs
It is fitting that I end with the book of the bible that mentions physical beauty more than any other - Song of Songs. There are two major interpretations of this book as romantic (some would say "erotic") poetry, and I will show how each supports the main thesis of this post.

(Note - If you believe that Song of Songs is an allegory of Christ and the church, you need not read on as there is then no sexuality within the book.)

The traditional interpretation of Song of Songs is that it is a tale of two lovers: King Solomon and the Shulamite woman. Throughout the narrative, they praise each other's beauty, going into great detail at times about various body parts. Some may feel that this is license for young men to indeed use beauty as a criterion when finding a bride. But to do so misses the point. The entire time they are praising each other they are married. Song of Songs is not about a courtship, and it certainly is not about "hooking up". It is a wonderful portrayal of intimacy and what fuels it within marriage. In a sense, it is an eight chapter discourse on Proverbs 5:19.

There is a second interpretation of Song of Songs, called the "shepherd theory" or "shepherd hypothesis" (A great detailing of this interpretation can be found here). In this interpretation, the book actually describes a love triangle. Solomon is the villain in this version, stealing the Shulamite away from the chaste relationship she has with the shepherd boy she loves and trying to seduce her into his bed. In this view, all of the praise of her body is just "a line" to get her to fall for the King. But she stays steadfast in her love for the shepherd and is eventually reunited with him leading to their wedding.

Not only do I think this interpretation makes more sense from the text itself, but it illuminates the biblical teaching in a profound way. It shows how we have been corrupted into thinking that beauty is the most important attribute in a mate. Solomon, shallow and vain, both falls for and perpetuates the lie in his seductive praises. But the Shulamite does not buy it, for in addition to her beauty, which indeed will fade, she possesses those attributes like the Proverbs 31 woman that are truly praiseworthy. It is these non-physical attributes that have drawn her true love to her and have endeared him to her. Song of Songs, taken in this context, is a wonderful beacon of light pointing us away from the worldly view of courtship and marriage exemplified by the shenanigans in Esther, and back to the pure, godly form found in the garden.

What I have related above is a complete review of the verses in biblical teaching that deal with physical, sexual attraction. I could add a couple of prophetic, allegorical passages from Psalms and Ezekiel 16, but we would not see a break in the pattern. And what pattern is that? The biblical teaching is absolutely consistent: whenever a passage speaks negatively of beauty and an eye toward it, the vision in question is extra-marital; whenever a passage speaks positively of the same, the vision is exclusively marital. In my mind God could not be any clearer. Yes, we are designed to be visual. Yes, we are designed to be sexual. Yes, our visual nature feeds our sexual nature. But, the only appropriate, godly manifestation of that natural process is within marriage. Any other expressions are representations of our fallen, sinful flesh.

So, what do we do about this problem? Does God expect perfection? Well, yes and no. God expects perfection and knows perfection is beyond our grasp. The next best thing to perfection is intention. We need to strive for the godly goal. Here are a number of things that people can do to help return to a godly expression of our biological realities:

1. Refuse to "lurk outside your neighbor's door". Don't watch that movie or TV show that you know has sexual situations and nudity. Don't go to the beach or the pool without a plan for avoiding the buffet of flesh being presented. Don't hang out with people who like to "dress like a prostitute" and engage in sexually stimulating conversation and behavior.

2. Don't be part of the problem. If you have been the one "playing the harlot" in the past, stop. Not only will you find a better class of people from the opposite sex that are interested in you, you will be behaving in the way God says is praiseworthy.

3. If you are married, male or female, stop believing the lie. It is not alright to "look but not touch", let alone the more ambiguous "look but not lust". It takes time, but you need to purge your mind of the baggage you carry regarding what is beautiful. Once done, you need to start building a model of beauty from the ground up based only on what you see laying next to you when you wake up in the morning. Not only is this the godly way to create oneness in marriage, it is the best way to build and maintain intimacy for the long haul.

1. The "Hot Babe" series: