Graphic Novel (pt. 2)

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That’s good news and precisely where the gospel begins. But what is God’s plan? Saving us from our sins is imperative, but many see Christ coming to earth as Plan B. That presents a problem, as a Plan B gospel doesn’t include our body, especially our sexuality.

One of the more popular gospel tracts is “The Four Spiritual Laws.” A friend shared it with me in college and I came to faith. Law One has some wonderfully good news: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That’s exactly where the gospel begins. In Law Two, however, the central picture for the good news gets overlooked.

The ancient gospel begins with God is love. Love is enjoying another. Love is the desire to expand the circle. In eternity past, Father, Son, and Spirit determined to expand the circle by having the Son wed a bride. God’s wonderful plan for our life is to “marry us.” This is Plan A – the union of divinity and humanity. It can sound nebulous, so God created the nuptial union of husband and wife as a graphic picture of the gospel. God’s plan for our life is stamped right in our bodies as male and female, right in our sexuality.

This is why “a man shall leave his father and mother,” Paul wrote, “and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” He is quoting Genesis 2:24, a description of sexual union before the fall. Nuptial union was created as a picture of Christ coming to earth to wed his bride – a picture given long before the fall. This is the ancient gospel – Christ coming to “marry us.” It’s Plan A: Creation – Cultivation – Consummation. God creates a bride, the bride prepares for marriage by cultivating the earth, and Christ comes to earth to wed his bride. They consummate the marriage. This is God’s plan for our life.

Of course, it takes two to tango. Tragically, Adam and Eve severed the union of divinity and humanity. As their descendants, we tend to resist marriage to Jesus. But Plan A is still in effect. Christ is still coming to earth to marry his bride. This however requires winning back his bride, saving sinners. But salvation is not Plan B. There is no Plan B. Plan A is still in effect, simply with an amended storyline: Creation – (Catastrophe) – Cultivation – Consummation. In Plan A, Law Two reads: “We are essentially image-bearers of God created for marriage to Christ and accidently sinners.”

The distinction between essential and accidental is key. In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object what it fundamentally is. We are essentially image-bearers of God, designed to be the bride of Christ. Accident is a property that an object has contingently, while retaining its identity. We are accidentally sinners. In Plan A, Law Three reads: “The gospel remains God’s invitation to the wedding ceremony. But this marital bond is only granted to those who respond to Christ’s marriage proposal.”

Plan A explains why Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt. 22:2). It explains why Paul described salvation as being betrothed. “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy;” he wrote the Corinthians, “for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (II Cor. 11:12). Betrothal is similar to modern engagement, except that the couple was considered married yet living apart to demonstrate their unwavering devotion to one another. A “betrothed” bride was to be a pure virgin for her husband.

Betrothal was also a period when the groom prepared a place for the couple to live after the wedding feast. It was the sign of a devoted husband. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Christ reassures his church. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14: 2-3).

The gospel as Christ coming to earth to marry his bride explains James’ description of unfaithful believers. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (James 4:4). Adulteress, a feminine noun, sounds a bit gender bending until we recall that church is a Greek noun with a feminine ending. It would seem James is assuming the church is the betrothed Bride of Christ, already married to Jesus. Only a married person can commit adultery. Singles can’t.

From my comments you might assume I don’t like “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Not true. It’s a message that does get people to heaven. But it doesn’t seem to connect God’s love with our loins. For instance, while 88 percent of all Americans report engaging in pre-marital sex, fully 80 percent of evangelical young people admit to doing so as well. I think it’s largely because they imagine Jesus coming to earth as Plan B. They assume Plan A called for us to while away our time on earth and then waft our way up to an ethereal, disembodied heaven. After we blew it, God came up with Plan B – Jesus coming to save us from our sins. But a Plan B gospel overlooks how Christ was always coming to earth to woo, wed, and bed us. Christians saved by a Plan B gospel find the Plan A gospel – pictured in a couple’s kiss, a woman’s breasts, and in marital sex – simply too graphic.

In the Song of Songs, as Pope St. Gregory the Great observed, “kisses are mentioned, breasts are mentioned, cheeks are mentioned, loins are mentioned.” These words paint “holy pictures” which “are not for mockery or laughter” but, rather, “to incite us to holy loving.”1 The graphic gospel produces godly loving. It’s no coincidence that the Apostle Paul says the first thing a Christian must do to arm for battle is to “gird your loins with the truth” (Eph. 6:14). It’s no coincidence that Jesus began his public ministry at a wedding. His message was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” but went well beyond “You are sinful and separated from God.” That’s a Plan B gospel. In Plan A, God’s plan for your life works its way into even your loins.

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1 Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization (New York: Image Book, 2012), p. 49.

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7 Comments

  1. A very important and fundamental topic for discussion. I see this major disconnect in our evangelical thinking and pray fiercely that its people can see the difference between an escapist salvation to a salvation to be owned in this earthly spatiotemporal existence. I understand exciting people about the kingdom and taking seriously the work that should be done here, but I have to be honest I am having difficulty with how my loins and a proper understanding or usage of them meet the standard of “essential attributes of Godly image” when God doesn’t have loins. It just seems that this part of betrothal is a human to human identity carried out in physical terms but clearly holding significance in the meta-physical (soul) part of me. Do you think there is a difference and should one guide the other through reality?

  2. Mike,
    Good comment, as always, and an interesting perspective.
    While your assertion that we are “accidental sinners” is technically correct in a philosophical sense, it’s a claim that is easily misunderstood as “accidental” is used in common language. The only accidental part of original sin is that it was not, as you point out, essential to our nature.
    So even though you are right, I wonder if there was a better way to make your point. Kind of like when we say “corporate worship.” I know what the speaker intends, but it comes out sounding like worship sponsored by IBM.

  3. Mark:

    You might be right – it’s just that you think on a Big Steak level. It’ll take me a bit of time to chew on your thoughts!

    David:

    Yes, I get your point. “Accidental” is not an “oops!” It is a driver saying screw you and not wearing a seat belts – and then wrecking the car. The damage, while technically termed the result of an “accidental,” is intentional and catastrophic. Such is Original Sin. Good word.

  4. I just read Parts 1 and 2 in a row and they got me thinking about a conversation I just had with a friend about how a recent study of those in their 20’s that come back/to the church for whatever reason, a higher percentage were young people who had not been raised in church (Worship/Sunday school). That is a sad commentary on the discipling of our children that those who know nothing about church believe in higher numbers that it might be an answer to a challenging situation in their life when they go seeking than those young people who were raised “in the faith” who know for certain that the answers that they were given growing up aren’t substantial enough to turn to.

    Your description of sanitizing the Bible and disconnecting our bodies from the equation seems to me one of main reasons our young people don’t count on the church for their own concerns (which are mostly “bodily” concerns, such as premarital sex, getting a job, use of alcohol/drugs). Combined with some of your previous posts depicting the lack of intellectual rigorism in our churches and you’ve done a great job of showing why many churches are no longer relevant to people’s bodies or minds. Many of them are still good social clubs though.

    Interestinly enough, you are helping me put into words the reasons I was completely unfulfilled at the church my wife attended when we got married. Everything they said was good and salvation is vital, but its step 1 not the only step as God gave me a mind and a body to go along with my soul. Thanks.

  5. Mike,

    Sometimes I read you articles and I just want to hug you. But instead, I think I will find my way over to the donate button.

    🙂

  6. I like the idea that our time on earth is the betrothal stage…Jesus is getting our permanent home ready and when he comes back, then the wedding feast will commence.

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