I don't make resolutions, but here's a prediction (and for free, too!): 2009 will be the year of Twitter. Feel free to follow me at twitter.com/mattleeanderson.
To the project, then. In 2008, were talking about marriage and how it's the pre-eminent context for romantic relationships. My main objective today is to examine more closely the nature of marriage. While I have emphasized the existence of the marriage vow as central to the marriage union, I want to situate that vow not as protecting and promoting a romantic relationship of intimacy and freedom between Adam and Eve. But for the long (winded) version, I refer you to the below.....
The opening chapters of Genesis reveal that humans were made for two purposes: to tend the garden, and to do so within the context of a covenantal relationship. These purposeful and communal aspects are at the center of the human experience. As a consequence, if we are to flourish as human beings, we must live within these confines. They constitute the fence around the playground.
The idea that humans were created to exist within a marital relationship can be difficult to accept, especially for those individuals who are neither married or have once been married. But the impulse to marry is one thing: the person that we marry quite another. In his novel Manalive, G.K. Chesterton records the following conversation:
"You see all this," said Rosamund, with a grand sincerity in her solid face, "and do you really want to marry me?"
"My darling, what else is there to do?" reasoned the Irishman. "What other occupation is there for an active man on this earth, except to marry you? What's the alternative to marriage, barring sleep? It's not liberty, Rosamund. Unless you marry God, as our nuns do in Ireland, you must marry Man -- that is Me. The only third thing is to marry yourself -- yourself, yourself, yourself -- the only companion that is never satisfied -- and never satisfactory."
Chesterton's point, which I think quite insightful, is that the impulse of the marriage covenant-for better or worse, ‘til death do us part-is at the core of the human experience and as such is unavoidable. Flourishing depends not simply upon having relationships with other humans or God, but covenantal relationships.
But why? It is one thing to point out that the covenant is necessary for human flourishing. It is another to provide reasons for the position. In a society all romantic options are created equal, it is imperative to clarify why marriage is superior to its alternatives. There is something, in other words, about having a romantic relationship within the confines of a covenant that makes it better than any other type of romantic relationship.
Allow me to return, if you will, to the story of Adam and Eve. The covenant that Adam expresses is the foundation for their relationship: it is his realization that Eve is a helper in his task, and a very good helper, that prompts him to commit to being with her regardless of what happens.
But while the covenant frames the relationship, it is not itself the relationship. It is the wall around the garden, as it were, but within the wall is a beautiful and tender intimacy that our culture rarely appreciates or approaches. The covenant provides structure, meaning, and safety to the connection that Adam and Eve share.
In other words, Adam and Eve are not simply partners in their mission to tend the garden, though they certainly are that. They are also lovers. They share something with each other that no one else will have privilege to see. In a phrase shrouded by clouds and darkness, the Genesis story indicates that Adam and Eve were "naked and not ashamed."
The phrase clearly has sexual connotations. But while the reality of their intimacy includes sex, it is about more than sex. Sex is a delightful and pleasurable physical expression of a closeness and love that are themselves not physical. Sex is viewed highly within Scripture, as long as it is sex in a certain context-namely, the covenant which allows for complete emotional and interpersonal intimacy.
The idea of being "naked" within this story hints at a total uncovering of a person's interior reality, his heart and mind, to someone else. It is as though Adam and Eve had no need to hide anything from the other-no thought, no emotion, no memory had to be suppressed. And the notion of putting on masks or pretenses-of creating false impressions because we want to ‘maintain appearances'-would be a jarring and radical intrusion into their world.
At the core of Adam and Eve's ‘nakedness without shame' is freedom. Adam and Eve were able to give themselves to each other without fear that their offerings might not be found acceptable. There is no indication as to whether their self-giving always went as well we might presume. I am confident, in fact, that it did not. Adam and Eve, after all, had to go through a process of learning about each other's desires and wishes-and I would presume that learning process involved some trial and error.
But the absence of shame from their relationship suggests that though ‘failure' might occur in the relationship, it would be viewed very differently than it is now. To use a parallel case, there is nothing for a child of five to be ashamed about if while drawing a train he ‘fails' to draw it perfectly. And no parent would shame him for his effort, though he might at the same time council him on how to do it better. That sort of relational freedom-to be and to offer oneself without fear of reprisal or rejection-is at the core of Adam and Eve's nakedness.
While the absence of shame hints at the freedom Adam and Eve enjoyed, their ‘nakedness' suggests that their relationship is oriented around intimacy. The idea of ‘nakedness' implies that their entire person, body and soul, is open to the other's exploration. But here again their experience is necessarily different than our own: there is no indication that they had to self-consciously uncover themselves. Instead, in their nakedness they seem delightfully unaware of their own selves. Upon seeing her, Adam's first impulse is not to think of himself or his own state, but to praise Eve. Their intimacy is entirely unforced and natural.
The experience of intimacy, then, is not built on "self-revelation." The phrase is too active for what Scripture communicates about their experience. Rather, it is built on the freedom to be themselves without fear of rejection or isolation. The activity comes not from their self-revelation, but from their inquiry into the garden and into each other. They become self-conscious only through their confrontation with the other and the world around them.
The intimacy and freedom Adam and Eve experience are what we have been created for. To know and be known without fear of rejection is an experience so good that it is hard to communicate to those who have not yet tasted it. It is also an experience that is necessarily productive: it enables us to fulfill our mission within the world. Adam and Eve were told to "bear fruit and multiply," a phrase that indicates not only the procreation of children but the subcreation of culture and cities. Their love-their perfect acceptance and freedom-was meant move beyond the confines of their own relationship to the world around them.
It is the marriage vow-"bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh"-that forms the context in which this freedom and intimacy can occur. Though Adam and Eve may not be conscious of it, the permanence and stability of the marriage covenant provides a safe haven in which they can be free to examine each other and the world around them. They do not, after all, have to worry about rejection or isolation.