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Monday, January 14, 2013

Loneliness: The First "Not Good" of Creation

This is the first in a series of posts that support same-sex marriage by examining the biblical passages that are used to condemn it.  I could just as well have titled this one, "Why God Approves of Adam and Steve, as Well as Adam and Eve."

Maggie Gallagher quotes Norval Glenn in her book, The Case for Marriage 

"Most social scientists who have studied the data believe that marriage itself accounts for a great deal of the difference in average well-being between married and unmarried persons.  Indeed, loneliness is probably the negative feeling most likely to be alleviated simply by being married." (p.77)

Gallagher and Glenn are on to something here.  Loneliness is a universal condition which the Bible addresses from the very beginning.  Human loneliness is at the heart of the marriage issue, although not well understood or articulated by either side.  This blog post will attempt to explain how important ending loneliness is, not simply because it is an onerous human condition that no one unwillingly should be made to bear, but because it is the fundamental human predicament that first surfaced in the Genesis story of creation that caused God to reevaluate the human being.

From Genesis, chapter 2, it is clear that God's first intention for the human being, ha’ adam’ was not heterosexuality or even sexuality, for ha’ adam' was created as a "stand alone" being.  In other words, no other creature was intended.  Don't be confused by chapter 1 where in verse 27 we read, So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  This is, of course, true (and obviates the overt patriarchalism of the story).  However, it is a summary statement that concludes the events of chapter 2, a much earlier story of creation than chapter 1.  So we need to read chapter 2 before the summary of chapter 1 makes sense.

The story begins with God creating ha' adam' as someone who would be placed in charge of the garden, to care for and tend it with God as partner.  For reasons not disclosed, God observes that it is not good for the ha' adam' to be alone, and goes about making a suitable helper for him.

What happens next is unexpected and likely a surprise to some:  the first thing God does to provide a suitable helper for the man is to create animals and bring them to the man for his approval.  Ch. 2:20 says, The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.  We must take this seriously as an authentic search for a partner.

Consistent with what we have seen in God's actions, God's first experiment to find a suitable helper for the man ended unsuccessfully.  It is only after the man turns down every creature presented to him that God created the woman. Verse 23 is very telling here:  Then the man said, This at last [after all the foregoing effort] is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.

Among the many details of this story, I find three appropriate for this discussion:

1.  God's first intention was to limit humanity to "the man."  The man's loneliness precluded this.

2.  God's first choice for a companion to the lonely man was not a woman, it was a creature.

3.  No matter what the man's choice was, it was the man's choice.  God did not force the woman on the man; the man told God, this, at last, is the one for him.

God trusted the man to make the appropriate choice. The decision was always the man's.  God's role here is facilitator to end the man's loneliness, not the dictator of how to fix the man's loneliness.

There is no way that a doctrine of the priority of heterosexuality can be adduced from this story.  If anything, the woman, and sex, are afterthoughts, contingencies required of the changing situation.   This is consistent with in other texts regarding the experimental nature of God with humanity (Genesis 6:5-6; Genesis 22:7-12; Exodus 32:7-14).  Perhaps better put, God is willing to adapt to realities that present themselves owing to the nature of free will and its, often, unexpected consequences.

 From these realities, I ask these questions:

1.  Since heterosexuality is a contingency, why cannot nonheterosexuals be considered a contingency?

2.  Since God allowed “the man” to make his own choice, why is it not consistent for today's nonheterosexual person to make his or her own choice?

3.  Since overcoming loneliness is the objective, and since a nonheterosexual's loneliness cannot be overcome in a heterosexual relationship, is it not proper for a nonheterosexual to find a companion suitable for him or her?

Let's be clear about what we are asking of Christian nonheterosexuals.  Richard B. Hays, in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament, writes,

Heterosexual persons are also called to abstinence from sex unless they marry (1 Cor. 7:8-9).  The only difference—admittedly a salient on—in the case of homosexually oriented persons is that they do not have the option of homosexual marriage.  So where does that leave them?  It leaves them in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner (and there are many such): summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while groaning for the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:23)

The flaw in Hays' reasoning is clear:  the heterosexual has hope; the nonheterosexual has no hope.  The heterosexual's loneliness is capable of being overcome, while the church is unwilling to allow the same for nonheterosexuals.  This is far from being in a similar situation.  Our nonheterosexual brothers and sisters are forever denied the way out of what God called the first "not good" reality of God's creation:  loneliness.

In effect, we are not asking LGBTs to deny themselves a loving, fulfilling companionship.  We are asking them to deny their humanity, to commit suicide of their souls and consigning them to a lifetime of unabated loneliness. This I find to be profoundly unchristian and unworthy of a compassionate Lord.

So we need to listen carefully to the stories of creation in Genesis.  Since heterosexuality is merely a contingency of creation, what can be adduced from Genesis is heterosexuality, expressed as the procreative ability, is the norm, but certainly not the sole sexuality.  Yes, the couple is now told to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;" but reproductive (heterosexual) capability has never been a mandatory criterion for being a full human being who bears the image of God, or for being married.

So, Maggie, I thank you for pointing out to us that one of the great benefits of marriage is that it enables us to overcome our loneliness.  Given that God literally moved heaven and earth to accomplish this, shouldn't we have the same God-like attitude on behalf of all God’s children?

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