October 4, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I remember serving on the board of the church I grew up in, and as we went around the room and gave thanks for things about our church, one woman spoke of coming from another church. She was divorced, and she had two sons. And there was a support group there for those who had been through divorce. And the pastor popped his head in to check on the group and see how they were doing. And he mentioned that they were all sinners for getting divorced. That is what brought her to the church I grew up in, where she was loved and accepted for who she was.
And we see how a plain text reading of today’s passages would allow that pastor to make such a statement of fact declaration, but what else is going on here?
First, to Genesis. This passage has been used to declare the primacy of men over women, since men were created first, and a part of man was taken to make woman. In honor, of B. D. Colson, whose service was yesterday, it should be pointed out that some have refuted this by claiming that the first was rough draft, the second was the better version. I have used this argument in reference to my older sister, to little avail.
But let us instead stay close to the text. First, Adam can be translated as “Man” in the sense of a human being, a mortal one, but it is not the word for male. And rib, which we think of as one bone in the side of the chest, is also the word for “side.” As in, there were rings placed along the ribs, the sides, of the Ark of the Covenant, so that the poles could be placed through them and the ark be lifted without touching it.
God took a male person, anesthetized him (it says, “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept”), and took one bone out of his ribcage, and closed up the surgery site and created the female from the male. This has been a traditional reading.
But the text allows, perhaps more faithfully, that God took the mortal whom God had created, and while the mortal slept, God took one side, and closed up its place with flesh. And so now there are two, each feeling like something of that original wholeness is missing.
And right away in Genesis, and ever since, life has gotten messy. When I meet with couples who are getting married, I reference this text, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” I say it is a lovely text. But it is not how we make decisions.
Some of you might remember the movie Jerry Maguire. There is a scene in an elevator when Tom Cruise’s character and Renee Zellweger’s characters see a hearing impaired couple get on and they are signing to each other, and Renee says, “Awwww.” When asked what they were signing, she says, “You complete me.”
I caution couples about thinking this way. Not because I am against romantic notions, but because it is dangerous. If indeed a couple who comes together truly becomes one flesh, then we have a single organism who has two ideas about how to park, two opinions about which way to roll the toilet paper (over or under), two different ways it wants the living room set up, two different ideas about how to raise the kids. A single person who is of two minds about everything is someone I send to Pastor Tom and he sends to see if there are good medications.
Instead, a couple who comes together to be married, rather than imagining that they complete each other, need to work together, amidst their strengths and weaknesses, to do what needs to be done. It is not a single person, but a team that is created. They also need to give each other the room to grow. If they believe they complete each other, then any growth by one can easily be misunderstood by the other as a threat to the relationship. They are now doing what I used to do, so now do we no longer complete each other? Am I no longer necessary? These stories are too easy to tell ourselves when we are fused together instead of a team working side by side.
And it gets messier. When one spouse beats the hell out of the other, whether physically, verbally, or by sheer neglect and silence, there are plenty of pastors who have said to the beaten spouse, “Well, just go home, read your Bible, try and be a better spouse, and see if your good Christian example won’t bring them back to being good.” They are just following our Gospel reading aren’t they?
After all, in Mark’s telling of this teaching, Jesus makes it a blanket statement, divorce makes us adulterers. In Matthew at least, Jesus says “except in cases of ‘unchastity, or immorality, or infidelity, or fornication,’” depending on the translation.
So this troubled couple, the next time when the beating results in the death of the one spouse, is that what Jesus wanted? Personally, I believe that the pastor who counseled that “good Christian” response would do well to serve time as well as the offending spouse. Irenaeus, Christian thinker and writer and saint of the church from the second century, declared that the “Glory of God is the human person fully alive.” One person who is damaged in body or mind or spirit by another, is two people neither of whom is fully alive.
I am not here to say that divorce is an unqualified good. It is a painful, difficult valley, even if the marriage itself was broken. But talking to mental health professionals, there are points when the covenant of marriage is broken beyond repair. And there are relationships where the relationship is a danger to one or the other spouse.
I am saying that when we seek to apply scripture to life, we must be careful to do so with a careful reading of the scripture, and with a careful understanding of the messiness of life.
We human beings, in our great diversity and strangeness, are created for covenant. And with that creation for relationship with others comes the realization that sometimes we are not capable of sustaining such relationships.
We can use today’s scripture to define and defend traditional ideas, and many do. Or we can recognize that our lives at times cannot measure up, and with Jesus there is also healing, and reconciliation, and hope. Sometimes the marriage can be saved. And sometimes the people are saved by the dissolution of the marriage. I confess, I have no final word or answer to this problem.
But I do know that God walks with us in the messy places of life, and desires us, all of us, to live.
Thanks be to God.