In the Beginning: the Metaphysical Adventure of Marriage
What does the Bible teach about the very origins of marriage?
The Bible begins with Original Design (Genesis 1-2) not Original Sin (3). There is deep moral and spiritual significance to this observation. First, if we desire a biblical foundation in our doctrine of salvation we must begin where the Bible itself begins. Second, we cannot adequately fix what’s broken lest we understand it’s proper working form. We must first have a model of health for health to be restored. Otherwise, we may further damage the person and the marriage. This is one of the lesson of Genesis 4-11.
Genesis 1-3 can be read, should be read as Hebraic ontology, foreshadowing the subsequent narrative of Genesis and, indeed, the whole Bible. It’s importance to understanding scripture and life itself is so important that St Augustine, for example, wrote three separate commentaries on these passages of scripture. In more recent years, St. John Paul II has developed this tradition of exegesis in terms that have more of an interpersonal or personal cast.
Original Design — Original Experiences are characterized by Adam & Eve before the Fall
- Solitude – receiving oneself as gift before one can give oneself as gift
- Nakedness – the transparency of self is is the fruit of self-possession
- Unity – to give and receive another as one who is God’s particular gift to you
These experiences were damaged but not entirely eradicated in Original Sin. They are further damaged in the growth of sin narrative (ch. 4-11). We see, for instance, Solitude is distorted as exile in Cain’s experience. Nakedness is further perverted in Noah’s drunken nakedness. And the personal quest for Unity is perversely inverted by the perennial quest to ‘make a name for ourselves’ in the Tower of Babel episode. With the call of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 God begins a long rehabilitation and recovery of these original experiences in our ancestral parents.
Have you noticed that we can normally only learn one great lesson at a time? These patriarchal stories are diagnostics of what each generation must learn for themselves. For example:
- Abraham & Sarah exemplify the recovery of Solitude. God calls them into the desert to facilitate this re-education.
- Isaac & Rebekah exemplify the recovery of Nakedness. Nakedness — transparency of soul — is forced upon the parents by the rivalry of two sons, Jacob & Esau (a rivalry eerily like that of Cain & Abel).
- Jacob & Rachel (& Leah) exemplify the hard task of Unity, all the more difficult because of their polygamous relationship. That lack of unity brings an inevitable rivalry into the relationship which is echoed and intensified in the relationship of the brothers. This culminates in almost fratricidal behavior, echoing the sons of Adam in Genesis 4-11.
The lessons involved in a return to original experiences are deeply personal and inter-generational and are what I mean by the “pedagogy of personhood” or the “metaphysics of marriage.” My class in theology, as well as our St. John Paul II fellowship, is a deep-dive into this nuptial-laden metaphysics.
These biblical and Catholic presuppositions have precedence over programs and moral schemes of marriage, because the metaphysics of marriage is about the fundamental “why?” behind all such programs and schemes. We must ask ourselves and return to the first principles of marriage: what did God intend when He made us man and woman (husband and wife) in His image? What was this original design and what was to be our experience in light of this design?
Genesis 1-3 invites these kinds of questions and the subsequent narrative of Genesis teaches us how God restores couples to live their lives in sync with God’s purposes for marriage and family. Our series will explore the nature of this grand restoration project.
Image: Adam and Eve in paradise Maurits Verbiest, Flickr