In this post I want to ponder the question of what loving relationships are, and whether marriage is the only place for the most loving relationships.
In a lecture last year where I was being taught about taking funerals, a minister expressed to us how moved he had been when taking the funeral of a man who had been in a civil partnership, with the depth of sorrow his bereaved partner felt for him. He had been very struck by this. The minister was wanting to say to us that whatever our views might be about civil partnerships, pastorally the situation could be as difficult for the bereaved as a wife who had lost her husband.
This was, I think, supposed to be surprising news to us. But I admit my gut response was to think – duh, of course the man loved this man as much as a woman might love her husband. For me, it didn’t seem at all logical to assume that someone is incapable of loving someone of the same gender less than a person is capable of loving someone of the opposite gender. Equally, although it is in a sense ridiculous to attempt to rank the depth of emotional feeling someone feels after losing their beloved on a kind of scale, I would not see a man losing his life partner of the same gender as being “lower down” the scale of grief a man losing his wife.
However, the more I have come to think about it, the more I have talked to people, it seems that lots of Christians do genuinely believe that the surest act of love must take place between a man and a woman, and that all humans are naturally hard-wired to love someone of the opposite sex more than someone of the same sex.
Often, as with pretty much all Biblical teaching on relationships and marriage, this understanding arises from Genesis 2. The familiar verse, “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18), in response to Adam’s loneliness, is answered with the creation of Eve. Adam is overjoyed at Eve’s creation, her being different from the animals, and he sings “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken” and the first marriage is instituted, with Genesis saying “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:14)
The standard assumption that many Christians make when reading these verses is to view Adam and Eve as a direct pattern for all men and women to follow. A single man (Adam) is lonely, and the solution is for him to marry and start a family with a single woman (Eve). Therefore, the logic runs, all single men must marry single women to combat loneliness, or else they will remain alone. To not be lonely, to love and to be fully loved, Christians believe they must marry.
This assumption has a lot of logical flaws, however. Although certainly the Israelites would have seen marriage and procreation as the norm, the point of Adam and Eve uniting together seems to be that Adam is the only human in existence and needs human fellowship. The marriage of Adam and Eve is not just their individual benefit, but for the benefit of human society at large. Adam and Eve’s marriage leads to the creation of a new fellowship – namely, humanity. So the cure to Adam’s loneliness is not just one woman, but a helper who faithfully helps him to found an entire dynasty.
All men and woman need love, friendship, company and fellowship to save them from loneliness. Not all will find this in marriage – though that should be the principal means for most to express their love.
However, this does not lessen the significance of the fact that in the Bible, love shows itself in a multitude of ways between men and women. As I mentioned in my last post, Jonathan’s love for David was “wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). This is not, as I have sometimes heard, just because David had a series of bad marriages! Neither does it imply that in any way Jonathan and David’s relationship was sexual or that they should have got married. But this does not lessen the quality of their love.
The supreme example of love, is of course, that of a single man for all of humanity – Jesus Christ. Jesus, explained that the greatest love of all was sacrificial: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) The apostle John explains how Jesus showed love in exactly this manner, in dying for us; “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
So those who are married should strive to love one another dearly. But those who are not married are also called to love one another deeply as well.