The Harder They Fall

When you Google “biggest college football upsets,” Appalachian State upending Michigan is at or near the top of the list. It’s the old adage – the bigger they are, the harder they fall. This axiom also explains the two things that fell hard in the fall – and why recovering them will require a right-brain approach.

University of Michigan football fans were not happy campers the first September weekend in 2007. UM is the all-time winningest NCAA program. It opened against an inferior foe, Appalachian State. Final score: ASU 34, UM 32. It was the first win ever by a team in Division I-AA over a ranked team in Division I-A. ASU’s upset is one of the biggest in football, proving the old adage – the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

This adage also explains what fell particularly hard in the fall. The story starts in eternity past, when the Father, Son, and Spirit decided to expand the circle of love by having the Son get married. They set to work, with Jesus doing the heavy lifting (Col. 1:16). A fourth being however was present, a woman named Wisdom (Prov. 3:14-20). She worked beside Jesus and “was daily his delight” (8:12-31) – which is how Christ describes his future bride. “How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!” (Song of Songs 7:6). Wisdom is a forerunner of Jesus’ bride, the church, working alongside him, linking work and marriage. Work is a means for making cultures. Marriage is the main metaphor for the gospel, the union of Christ and the church. They are big in the gospel story, which is why the adage – the bigger they are, the harder they fall – explains their hard fall after the fall.

Take work. After the fall, God forewarns how “the pain of childbirth” will increase (Gen. 3:16). Pain is being used as a picture of work deteriorating. The same word is rendered as toil in 3:17. It pictures how work, which was always going to require industriousness, is going to be difficult and often feel dehumanizing. Just as the fall exacerbated the pain of childbirth, it will also cause people to loathe having to work.

Marriage will also suffer. “Your desire will be for your husband,” God warns, “and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Desire and rule picture how marriage will deteriorate. These two words reappear in Genesis 4:6, when God warns Cain: “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Desire is a prompting to evil. Rule is harsh conquest. God is warning how marriages will often go south, becoming adversarial and acrimonious. Indicators include the wife’s desire becoming devious, similar to sin’s craftiness. She will use her body to manipulate her husband, withholding or dispensing sexual favors. The husband’s rule will be like Cain battling sin. Husbands will try to dominate their wives, often resorting to belittling, bullying, and – in the worst case – brutality. The tragic outcome will often be divorce.

The linkage of these two is why Christian faith traditions have historically highlighted renewing work and marriage. Over the last 50 years, America has had a significant increase in the number of these ministries. There are now over 900 ‘faith and work’ ministries. Over 1,400 books have been published. However, this exponential growth raises a question. In Coming Apart, Charles Murray documents the dramatic decline of work and marriage in America over the last 50 years.1 How is it that work and marriage ministries have grown so dramatically while work and marriage have collapsed?

There are at least two possibilities. Marriage and work might be in even worse shape had these ministries not existed. That’s possible, but there’s no way to determine whether it’s true. The second possibility is the faith community has difficulty seeing the big picture and measures the wrong things to determine success. Based on Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary, this option is not far-fetched.

McGilchrist is a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He claims Western society thinks in an unprecedented way, starting in the brain’s left hemisphere and moving to the right. Every society in history led with the right hemisphere. Our Western aberration is problematic, as left-brain cultures don’t think in metaphor. They think in principles and abstractions. They use numbers for counting; not for context and how they reflect cultural impact. Given the rise of work and marriage ministries concurrent with the decline of work and marriage, is it possible the Western faith community is aping Western lead-with-the-left thinking? What would this look like?

First, it would reduce marriage – the main metaphor for the gospel – to a series of ‘biblical principles’ or abstractions. But since people don’t live by abstractions, divorce rates for Christians would be similar to those in the wider world. That’s exactly what’s happening. Second, left-brain Christians would be very uncomfortable with mysterious metaphors. They wouldn’t hear a sermon linking Wisdom, work, and marriage. They wouldn’t see the heights of work and marriage, so they wouldn’t see why it fell particularly hard. Third, success would be measured by size and book sales – not whether the Bible’s definition of work and marriage is taken seriously by leading institutions.

The fact that these things are happening in America leads some to say the church is in exile. The precedent for our present times occurred over 2,500 years ago, when the Judeans had a false sense of security. They felt their families were fine and measured success by big, as in their big temple (Jer. 7:1-7). But the Judeans had lost touch with reality. They were not a blessing to the world. So God sent them to Babylon to renew work and marriage. Success was measured by cultural context – Babylonian marriages and businesses flourishing (“as the Babylonians flourish, so shall you” – Jer. 29:7). If today’s church is in exile, the way home would require returning to an ancient lead-with-the-right faith, leading with metaphor, embracing mystery, and measuring the right outcomes. All the more reason to return next week to The Master and His Emissary.

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1 Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012), p. 130.

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7 Comments

  1. An interpretation of some details:

    Hebrew usage is determined by context. In Genesis 3 the man and woman land in broken trust and seek to repair it of their own fallen power.

    The man’s remedy reflects an isolated left-brain, to “rule over” (radah as in 1:26, 28; not mashal [“govern”] as in 1:18). In other words, to the woman he says, “Do what I say and we can be one again.”

    The woman’s remedy reflects an isolated right-brain, and the shuq (“desire”) for her husband is a “desire for” not “over.” In other words, to the man she says, “Hold me close and we can be one again.”

    The left and right brains have their needs for expression, but sin derailed both.

    Now the shuq of Genesis 4:7 is an opposite shuq — a “desire to tear apart” and as the verb in play refers to the crouching of a lion about to spring on its prey. Or in cognate Babylonian etymology, that of a demon about to pounce.

    The real remedy is Christ and his church, what we learn from that metaphor, and the language of Ephesians 5:21, “submit one to another” as complements and equals.

  2. Hmmm. . . a very left brain interpretation of details of a very right brain concept. Interesting. Very good.

  3. Then based on the time and place of those observations with Adam and Eve isn’t the root of western cultures lopsided ill sequenced thinking much older than 500 years? And if by chance that is true, what are the ramifications?
    Still a mess,
    Pb

  4. Mike, we all know the biggest upset was Navy beating Notre Dame in Southbend after 43 years! C’mon man! Was listening to a professional golf coach this week talk about a notorious player who’s been struggling with taking to much time before he pulls the trigger on the shot. The coach’s diagnosis was “clearly he is not leading with his right brain, he focused on mechanics and leading with his left.”

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