You can’t solve a mystery if you don’t see the whole story.
It’s a mystery to many why God would deny gays the right to get married. It seems arbitrary. This is to be expected, since at first mysteries don’t make sense and God is a mystery. He is also good. Reconciling these two requires seeing the whole story.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this story starts mysteriously. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s name throughout Genesis 1 is Elohim, an ambiguous noun since Elohim is plural. In Hebrew, plural nouns denote plurality or majesty, or both. In this story, it’s both. As scripture unfolds, the mystery is partly cleared up. Elohim is Father, Son, and Spirit—in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons. One divine being, one nature, yet three persons.
The nature of their relationship is love, as John writes: “God is love” (I Jn. 4:8). By its nature, love is the enjoyment of communion with one another as well as desire to expand its own joy. Enjoy and expand. An infinite God could do this an infinite number of ways, but in their wisdom, Father, Son, and Spirit create human beings in their image and invite humanity into the communion. They decide to “wed” their joy with humans.
The nature of this expanded friendship is mysterious since “God is spirit” (Jn.4:24), an immaterial being. Made in the image of God, humans are spiritual beings inhabiting material bodies (Gen.1:26). God wisely designed the human body to help us to “see” the mystery of the immaterial Trinity. For example, the individual members of our body work in harmony for our enjoyment, just as the Trinity enjoys working in harmony.
Human bodies are also designed to reflect the expansion of the communion of love. “Let us make them in our image—male and female.” God creates Adam but Adam living alone “is not good” (Gen.2:18) since God is not one person. God is one nature yet three distinct persons. As Adam begins expanding the kingdom by naming the animals, he senses something is missing (Gen.2:19-20). He could see the animals all had bodies but senses they did not share his nature. When Adam meets Eve, he experiences the expansion of love in his body. “This is it—at last! Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen.2:23). In the Jewish understanding of this verse, “flesh” and “bones” signifies the whole human being, including the genitalia. “The human body is meant to reveal and participate in the spiritual mystery of divine love,” writes Christopher West.1
Becoming “one flesh” refers not only to the joining of two bodies sexually (animals do that) but also represents the communion of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is in their bodies that Adam and Eve share this love in a mystery told in two chapters—creation and consummation. In their created design, Adam and Eve are “wed” to the community and consummate their love.
This is not the whole story, however. When sin erupts, Adam and Eve feel shame in their body. Shame is a sign of sin. God redeems them by covering their nakedness. He also prohibits the couple from continuing to enjoy the garden. This is redemptive love, for had Adam and Eve remained in the garden and eaten from the Tree of Life, they would be permanently dead. Exclusion is not always arbitrary and capricious.
The mystery of enjoying and expanding the community of love is now told in four chapters—creation-fall-redemption-consummation (or what is known as the final restoration). God’s eternal plan has always been to “marry” us (Hos.2:19)—to live in an eternal exchange of love and communion, writes West, except that original story is altered. Humans are no longer necessarily “wed” to God. It is only after God redeems Adam and Eve, covering their bodies with clothing, that they rejoin community of love and once again enjoy sexual consummation—“Adam knew Eve” (Gen.4:1).
This is the whole story that scripts the Judeo-Christian institution of marriage. By definition, institutions define reality and form boundaries. For example, the community of love between Father, Son, and Spirit is pure and eternal, so marriage as a picture of this story is monogamous and permanent. Extramarital sex and divorce destroy the picture. We rejoin community of love in redemption and will enjoy consummation with Christ after the wedding feast in eternity (Rev.19:7). Thus, marriage as a picture of this reality abstains from sexual consummation until after the wedding. Pre-marital sex distorts the picture. The Godhead is different persons—hetero—so marriage as a picture is heterosexual, between a man and a woman. It isn’t homosexual.
This is why there is nothing arbitrary about denying gays the right to get married—if marriage is a picture with a purpose. If on the other hand marriage is simply two consenting adults loving one another—if this is the story—then excluding two consenting adults is simply arbitrary. It all depends on the picture.
It is no coincidence that arbitrary is the accusatory word flung at God. In the late 1800s, Friedrich Nietzsche imagined a world rid of the gospel story. Churches would then become “the tombs and sepulchers of God” and humanity would descend into “madness,” which Nietzsche defined as the “eruption of arbitrariness.” Those making moral distinctions would be accused of being arbitrary. Prophecy fulfilled.
The modern church bears some responsibility for this eruption. It tends to be ignorant about institutions. By definition, institutions define reality and form boundaries. When the church operated as a culture shaping institution, marriage had boundaries. Distortions were obscene, which means without story, or deviating from the script. Homosexual marriage was considered obscene. Excluding it was not arbitrary. This is no longer the case, as the church is no longer a culture shaping institution. It’s why younger Christians no longer understand marriage as a picture of the gospel. Shaped more by influential institutions—especially education and media—they don’t want to appear to be arbitrary, so their attitudes towards gay marriage are softening.
Going soft is no way to solve a mystery. God is a mystery and he is good. The gospel is a mystery and it is good news. In excluding gays from marriage, God is not arbitrary, but you’d have to see the whole story to solve this mystery. Next week, we’ll see the story as told throughout scripture.
1 Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2004), p. 24.