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Naked and Not Ashamed

Welcome to 2009! 

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.

Exit question:  New Years resolutions, anyone?

Comments

I think 2008 was the year of Twitter. Although it may not happen this year, I hope a much more open messaging system will emerge. Laconica is good, but it takes a very long time to gain critical mass in number of users...

I think that Twitter made huge inroads in 2008, but it still hasn't jumped into the popular world like Facebook or blogs have. People know what blogs are--by and large, most people don't know what Twitter is (the people reading this, after all, are disproportionately more "wired" than the general public).

I'm intrigued by Laconica. I didn't know indenti.ca was built on it. Open source stuff is always interesting, but then I'm a touch nerdy so I'm intrigued by the philosophical underpinnings of the movement......

I liked this exposition. Clear and compelling. Again, though, your reticence to make points on gender roles is visible for those (not necessarily me) who are looking for them since Genesis 1-3 is often a center of discussion on gender roles.

On shame, your explanation of Adam and Eve's pre-Fall relationship indicates that shame is a proper response only to sin (or moral failings). You say there were probably relational missteps, but these shouldn't (and in their case didn't) evoke shame. But once shame is experienced, it begins to attach itself to actions that aren't in its proper sphere. So now we are often ashamed of many things that, strictly speaking, we ought not be ashamed of.

Resolution 1: Exercise 3x/week
Resolution 2: In the evening, read something on paper (book, article, etc.) before turning to the computer.

Also, I still don't get the appeal of Twitter.

Burglar,

Thanks for the kind words. It is true: I am reticent to draw implications for gender. I would rather people ask some different questions about Genesis 1-3, if only to allow us all to remember that there's other stuff in there to think about.

I think your summary of my position on shame is exactly right. I have a difficult time understanding how shame can exist in a context where moral failing is not a possibility. Thanks for clarifying htat for me.

I love your second resolution. I hope that goes well for you. In fact, I'm inclined to steal it and make it my resolution, it's so good!

As for Twitter, you don't want to know what I'm doing EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY? I'm offended. Seriously.

Matt

I think this is your best post.

"Their love-their perfect acceptance and freedom-was meant to move beyond the confines of their own relationship to the world around them."

This entire post is profound. It certainly is written for a mature adult audience. My sixteen year old could not entirely grasp these concepts. I think you have to be at a deeper spiritual level to understand God's gift of marriage.

Spiritual depth = marital intimacy

PS I want to read more scripture, less books
(I've been using my time reading books and blogs when I should be reading the word of God more)

bluediamond,

Thank you for the kind words. They mean a lot to me--I am VERY glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

I think you're right that a 16 year old would struggle to grasp these concepts (if there are any reading, do speak up and let us know how it went!) but I would argue that it is precisely these ideas that 16 year olds need to be thinking about, especially since so many of them are sexually active or have friends that are.

As for your resolution, I think it's awesome. I hope it goes well for you (though, selfishly, I hope that you don't spend any less time here!).

Matt

Another comment. After reading this post again, I was thinking the other day about why I think a life long commitment to one other person is a good. I'm not sure I know the answer to that, but I realized that most likely neither does your target audience. And yet that is the fundamental question: Why is a life-long commitment to one other person a good? At first glance, such a commitment looks constricting. So how do we move beyond the perception that life-long commitment is a ball-and-chain existence? I think the ideas in your post are working toward doing that.

That is precisely the question that I have been asking since the summer after my junior year of college. And this chapter is the best I've got.

Speaking of this chapter, I have more coming, but two days of jury duty have thrown everything off for me this week, so it's late. But then if you were following me on Twitter, you would know that already.........

Genuine question: Is it strange that we both don't know the answer to this important question and yet we are both married?

I think we're not giving ourselves enough credit. Or maybe your not giving me enough credit. : ) I think we do know why marriage is a good--we just might not be able to articulate it as well as we ought.

So, I definitely like this post (and while I haven't followed all of your stuff, this is the best I've read so far), but I'm still a little...confused...about why the marriage vow is so important to you. I mean, I guess I get it to an extent, but I seem to remember one of your blogs pointing out the hazards of a couple, for example, writing their own vows.

I guess the thing that confuses me is twofold: first, the marriage vow does not make or break a marriage. In fact, the vow itself is nearly meaningless - pardon my bluntness, but words spoken are not reality lived. Which leads me to the second thing, your focus on the marriage vow seems to be peripheral. I'm gleaning much more from your blogs here than the seeming importance of the marriage vow - why choose the vow as the primary subject instead of a study on marriage (or relationship, or covenantal relationship) in general?

I'm not against vows, they are important, but I kind of feel like they are secondary to the real work of living in a covenant with another person regardless of how formal, informal or articulate your vows may have been.

Know what I'm saying?

Jesse,

Sorry for the delay. I spent all weekend working at my day job, so I have fallen behind here.

I appreciate your kind words. Though I think you should repent for not following all of my stuff (I kid, I kid).

I think your point about the marriage vow not make or breaking a marriage is interesting. There's clearly something to it: common law marriages, after all, are still recognized by many states. However, for most people the vow does in fact differentiate marriage from any other form of relationship--and it should. Common law marriages slip in the back door--there's almost an ad hoc recognition that a vow has functionally been in place. But no one I know recommends that strategy of entering marriage.

I would challenge you on the idea that the vow is "nearly meaningless." I would even challenge the idea that it has a secondary status to romantic relationships. I think words are powerful--so powerful, in fact, that they can create realities that did not exist before. The vow is one such set of words. It shapes the reality of married life. Even when the vow isn't kept well, it still shapes everything that happens afterwards in a different way. For instance, in the context of a vow sex outside the relationship takes on an additional level of wrongness because there was a promise that was broken. That allows for true healing to occur: because the nature of the relationship was clear, the brokenness of that relationship is also clear. This is why when the marriage vow loses its importance within a culture, confusion takes its place.

I am going to comment in the post above about this, but I'll say it here too: I don't think anything I've said indicates that a marriage vow is a sufficient condition for a healthy romantic relationship. Clearly something else has to be in play. But to think that we can have healthy romantic relationships outside the context of marriage goes against reason and experience.

matt

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'from fire by fire' is a place to explore issues of singleness, romance and God. I want to ask better questions about these issues than any you have yet encountered...


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