Posted by: dacalu | 22 April 2014

Forming Relationships

This post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

In my last post on sexual ethics, I set out the idea the humans should not be alone. God creates the first human in the image and likeness of God, but finds that this singularity is not right. God tries to find a companion for Adam in many types of animal, but only when God takes Adam’s rib and forms a second human, does full humanity begin. Adam says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” That, then is the context for the passage with which I began.

Companionship is the reason for these things. Generally, this is seen as the founding of marriage. Becoming one flesh is a particularly powerful image here, as they had been one flesh only moments before. The passage plays with the concepts of individuality and togetherness. For Christians, this is the first ideal image of human relationship; note that it has marriage and sex, but no mention of children. The linkage of sex and procreation, and the claim that this must be the foundation of marriage appears nowhere in Genesis 2. Incidentally, Genesis 1 has God telling the humans to “be fruitful and multiply (28), but makes no mention of, or even allusion to, marriage.

We will come back to marriage, but for now, I want to talk about relationships in general. That includes friendship, comradery, and kinship as well as sex and romance. What makes a relationship a good relationship?

Love.

This turns out to be a fairly difficult question, actually, despite the one word answer. It is difficult because we are all tempted to reduce love to something else, pleasure, fulfillment, obedience to God, self-actualization… Christianity denies those reductions. Love is the fundamental virtue in Christianity and it exists fundamentally. I can describe it, but I cannot make it into a version of something else. It is that relationship within the Godhead in which humans can only participate by having similar relationships among themselves. It will turn out that sex and marriage can manifest and strengthen that love, but first we need to know what it is we are working with. My chief resources will be the behavior of Jesus Christ – whom Christians consider fully human – and I Corinthians 13.

In the Gospels, Jesus appears to be constantly in the habit of trying to help people. He notices them when others do not (e.g., Zacchaeus, Luke 19), speaks to them when others will not (e.g., the Samaritan woman, John 4), teaches, heals, and casts out demons. I take it that love has something to do with seeing people as they really are, paying attention to what they need, and acting on that need when you can. Jesus is also open about his own feelings around his disciples, sharing not only his wisdom but his suffering (John 11:35, Matthew 26) and trusting them when he needed to be asleep or alone. I highlight this second point, because it can be easy to see Jesus relationship with his disciples as very one-directional, but the Gospels make Jesus friendship and emotional dependence on them as friends clear (particularly John). Incidentally, this makes their repudiation of him in the Passion even more hurtful. Jesus models love not only in his words, but in his actions.

I also must mention self-sacrifice. Love asks more than giving out of convenience. It calls for a willingness to treat another person with the same dignity (neither more nor less) than you treat yourself. It means being willing to give up even something as great as your life, if that loss will result in a greater benefit for those you love. Jesus love was concrete, but also open ended.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

[As an aside, I will mention a radical difference presented here between Christian love and modern secular notions of love. For some reason, romantic love has come to be seen as a ‘higher’ form of love or a deeper commitment than friendship. I am unwilling to think of Jesus as, in some way, failing to reach his full potential by not being romantically involved. As a Christian, it will be necessary to think of love and commitment in a number of ways, but not to privilege romantic love in this way.]

In I Corinthians 12 and 13, Paul sets forth a much more abstract. I will not repeat the oft quotes verses, but shall mention a few things that stand out for me. Love means being part of a community that is greater than yourself. It is about seeing yourself as a part instead of a whole, but it is also about valuing this relationship with neighbor as higher than anything else. It is not about success, or correctness (even righteousness). It is not about truth or endurance. It is sufficient in and of itself.

And so, as we move forward, this will be the standard I use to judge relationships:

Do they manifest love?

Do they make the lovers greater together than the sum of them apart?

Do the show us the image of God?

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