I know I don’t talk about religion all that often. I got something to say today, but if that sort of thing isn’t cool with you, go on and skip this one. Also, fair warning, there’s a bit where I imagine Jesus dropping a bunch of F-bombs. I’ll get back to mocking ’80s sci-fi and Doctor Who sight gags Wednesday.
I went to a wedding today. Not necessarily my first choice of activities, but it was nice enough and the couple look suitably in love. My wife was forward-thinking enough to restrain me when the pastor got to the bit about how God alone defines what counts as marriage and not the state.
But in-between the usual problematic stuff about wives obeying their husbands, a really good bit about love as a choice, and a strange-but-somehow-coherent analogy (marriages should be like icebergs, not piñatas. Though I think the comparison between the betrothed and the Titanic was ill-advised), there was a little bit in there — a juxtaposition I assume was unintentional — that got me thinking.
There’s this bit in Ephesians:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
I guess I never really gave it much thought before. Too busy being upset about the whole “Husbands love your wives / Wives obey your husbands” thing.
There’s something profound there. If you look back at the old testament, there’s a big old recurring pattern of humanity fucking up, and The Big Guy responding with smiteyness. Adam and Eve. The snake. Noah. Sodom. Israel. Israel again. Israel again.
Certainly, the traditional way to interpret this is to say that humanity is just that unspeakably awful that God is constantly struggling to hold Himself back from just turning off the strong nuclear force and being done with it.
Even leaving aside that this is a pretty fucking awful view of humanity, what, in this view, are we to make of the comparison between Christ and the holy mystery of marriage?
You could read it as “Humanity was so bad that God had no choice but to put a ring on it to make them settle down.” But (1) real fucking misogynist and (2) kind of makes God sound like Cary Grant in a ’30s screwball comedy.
Fred Clark wrote an article some years ago on the idea of Epiphany. He refers back to the climax of the story of Job:
“Life seems pretty unfair and bewildering to us humans,” Job says.
“Well,” God replies, “you’re just going to have to trust me.”
“But you don’t understand what it’s like to be us,” Job says. “You don’t understand how all this looks from our point of view.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t understand how it looks from my point of view, either,” God says. “One of us loosed the cords of Orion and laid the foundation of the earth and the last time I checked, it wasn’t you. So just trust me, OK? I’ve got this.”
I have this little story I like to tell, a sort of little skit. It about what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven after the crucifixion.
God: Welcome back, son. Good work with the whole dying for the sins of mankind thing.
Jesus: Dude! What the balls, Dad! Me H. Me that fucking hurt!
God: Um, yeah, sure. Anyway, now that’s over with—
Jesus: Dad, you are not getting this. Dying really fucking sucked.
God: Language, Son.
Jesus: Do not talk to me about language, Pops. Three fucking hours. Do You have any idea what being crucified is like?
God: Do I have any idea? Omniscient, remember? I loosed the cords of Orion and laid the foundation of the Earth in case You’ve forgotten, Young Man.
Jesus: Yeah, and how long did that take?
God: Um. I just kind of magicked it into happening.
Jesus: Three fucking hours. How many times have You had to carry your entire body weight by your rib cage for three fucking hours — which, in case You’ve forgotten, nails in your wrists.
God: I just don’t see why You’re making such a big deal of this
Jesus: And that’s not even getting into the scourging and the crown of thorns. Or that I had to carry the fucking cross up the hill for them to murder me on it. It’s not enough that they’re like, “Hey Jesus, we’d like to kill you slowly over the course of three fucking hours by nailing you to a cross, and oh by the way, we’ll need you to bring your own cross; we don’t have one prepared or anything. Oh, and hey, guess which local carpenter just happened to have the big cross-building contract?
God: Son, I get that you’re upset about this. But really. It’s only a painful mortal death lasting three hours. What’s three hours compared to the entire 14-billion-year history of the universe? Or maybe it’s only four thousand years, but we’re still talking about a pretty insignificant ratio here. And, I mean, it’s not like You thought it would stick or anything.
Jesus: Do You not remember me shouting “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
God: … I thought You were being ironic.
Jesus: For someone omniscient, You can be real dumb, Dad. Let me lay it out for you: when you’re a human, dying really really sucks. It doesn’t matter if you know that there’s something better coming after. It doesn’t matter if you’re prepared. It sucks balls. It’s painful, it’s scary, and most of the time you end up soiling yourself. Seriously, have You ever asked anyone about this?
God: I, uh, I’m not really big on asking people things. Omniscient and all.
Jesus: Go ahead. I dare you. Ask Moses. Or Noah. Ask Methuselah.
God: Okay, fine. Yo, Moses.
God: That whole “dying” thing. You did that, right?
Moses: Yup. Got this close to the promised land, but You were like, “Nope!”
God: Right. But it wasn’t a big deal, right? I mean, you had a good run on Earth, and then you got to come hang out here, so it’s all good, right?
Moses (sheepish): Um… About that… I mean… Okay, look, I’m totally over it now, and we’re completely cool. One hundred percent cool. I mean, this whole thing with the Romans sucks. And the Seleucids. And the Babylonians. And the Assyrians. But anyway, yeah, like I said, I got over it. But, uh, yeah. The actual dying itself was pretty bad. You know how you always want me to come over and watch the wars with you and I always say I’m washing my hair that night? Yeah, actually, it’s just that having gone through it, I kinda get flashbacks when I see someone buy it.
God: Oh. I… Do the others feel that way too?
Moses: I don’t know about everybody. I mean, not Enoch, obviously. But me and Noah and Joseph hold a support group the first Tuesday of every month.
God: Ah holy Me. Crap. You guys think I’m a giant hooting asshole, don’t you?
Moses (quickly): Oh, no- no not at all. We all love you up here. You’re the tops, Boss. It’s just, Y’know, sometimes, uh, little things get missed. It’s cool. We all know You’ve got all that big important loosing the cords of Orion stuff and the making Behemoths. But, uh, Noah would really appreciate it if you laid off the “giant piles of drowned animals” jokes.
God: For the love of Me! I thought he loved those. Why does no one ever tell Me these things? Okay. New plan. Son, Imma need You to go back down to Earth. Let everyone know that we’re working on the problem, and maybe suggest that they try to cut back on killing each other in the mean time.
Jesus: Fine. But give Me a couple of days first? I want to go spend some time with my buddy Lazarus first. I want to make sure he’s okay.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” is a reference to Genesis 2:24, and more proximately, to Matthew 19:5, where Jesus quotes the passage and adds, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
That’s another popular passage for wedding liturgies, along with Matthew 19:14-15 (You want to skip Matthew 19:8-12 because no one really wants to be told how it would be better if those who could handle it became eunuchs instead at a wedding), the one about letting the little children come to Jesus.
It is not a popular view in most branches of Christianity to say that “changing” is the sort of thing God is wont to do, and I’m enough of a pussy about committing straight-up heresy to propose that God changed in a literal sense. Fortunately, I’ve read enough Aquinas to know that we only ever assign predicates to God by analogy. So, analogy: marriage is to two people as Christ is to God and mankind. And if in the holy mystery of marriage, spouse and spouse “are no longer two, but one flesh,” and “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” then in Christ, mankind and God are no longer two but one flesh.
I don’t believe that marriage is a union of unequals. I got married because I wanted a partner, not a pet. And the complementarians keep assuring me that just because the husband is called to lead and the wife to obey, that’s totally still equal because separate spheres and also sit down and shut up, this is a wedding.
So what does it mean if the eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, purely transcendent God ceased to be a separate being from humanity?
If you’re curious why my little comedy sketch up there mentions Lazarus at the end, it’s because (Yes, I know I’m Lazarus of Bethany with Lazarus from Luke. I don’t care.) he’s the reason for the events portrayed in the famously shortest verse of the bible. Here’s Fred Clark again:
When Job learned that his children had died, he wept. But God did not weep.
Lazarus got sick and then, like Job’s children, Lazarus died. And when Jesus saw Lazarus’ sisters weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And then God Almighty — God who laid the foundation of the earth, who determined its measurements when the morning stars sang together, God who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place, God who bound the chains of the Pleiades and loosed the cords of Orion — wept.
That’s an epiphany.
Maybe the point of the incarnation isn’t that we were so wicked that God needed to come down and straighten us out. Maybe the point is that after hundreds of years of trying to smite humanity into being better, it finally occurred to God that maybe the problem was him. That maybe He just didn’t get mortal, linear beings. And so He decided to fix that.