Friday, September 7, 2007

Intimate Independence

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" (Genesis 2:18)

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I argued that we don't have to read that verse and assume that Adam was lonely. God didn't lament Adam's loneliness. He lamented that Adam was the sole human being on earth - his "aloneness". We don't know exactly why God said it wasn't good for the man to be alone, but I suspect it had more to do with God's eternal plan of salvation than with any psychological or emotional deficiency in Adam.

The reason I argue for this view is because I think it is most faithful to what the Bible says, and because of that, a subtle form of idolatry can be avoided. It is not good to attribute the creation of Eve to Adam's loneliness because that leads us to believe that one cannot survive without the intimate companionship of a spouse. We know that Jesus wasn't married, and we suspect that Paul wasn't married (at least he implies as much in his letters). They didn't seem any worse for the wear. Man wasn't created to be a sponge. He was created to be a fountain.

In my contemplation of Bonhoeffer's great book on community, Life Together, I wanted to make another connection to the realm of marriage. I will take the liberty of supplying the word [marriage] where it fits the context. In his chapter entitled, "The Day Alone" we read:

"Many persons seek community [marriage] because they are afraid of loneliness. Because they can no longer endure being alone, such people are driven to seek the company of others. Christians, too, who cannot cope on their own, and who in their own lives have had some bad experiences, hope to experience help with this in the company of other people. More often than not, they are disappointed. They then blame the community [marriage] for what is really their own fault. The Christian community [marriage] is not a spiritual sanatorium. . . . Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community [marriage]. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God's voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has singled you out."

This is so insightful, it is amazing his book is not a best seller. Well actually his book is not a best seller because it is so insightful. People don't want to be told their problem is themselves. People want to be told their problem is their spouse, or their distant father, or doting mother, or genetic disposition, or chemical composition or string of circumstances.

But Bonhoeffer hits the nail square on the head. Most needy people, dependent on others, can't stand to be alone with just themselves and Christ. They're looking for a distraction. In marriage, they're hoping for a lifelong distraction. How many people get married because they can't stand the thought of being alone? How many people can't stand being alone because they can't possibly see a lifetime of satisfaction in Christ alone? That's why many are disappointed with their marriage. They just can't seem to make it give them what they're demanding - intimacy on their own terms - a replacement for communion with God.

In his chapter on "Community," Bonhoeffer writes: "The more genuine and the deeper our community [marriage] becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is alive between us." This sentence is one of the most sublime I've ever read. I have seen a couple live out this vision. The man has gone to be with the Lord, leaving behind his wife. She is among the most secure, happy ladies I know. And when he was alive, they were the picture of Christ-centeredness. One could literally feel that Christ was the glue holding them together. Christ was the compass guiding their lives. With each year, the talk of Heaven became more frequent. You might think their marriage would be boring or lack intimacy being so Christ-centered. In fact, just the opposite was true. They were so intimate, yet so independent of one another. They were truly happy with who they were alone in Christ. And that made all the difference when they came together as man and wife.

I pray for the day my own marriage will reflect such intimate independence. I long for Christ to be the one and only thing alive between Amanda and me. I strive to live in such a way that Amanda feels her freedom. I hate that my love isn't always the love of Christ that serves. It is way too often the selfish, needy, greedy love that seeks to bind her to myself for my own security. She needs to feel her freedom in Christ, not her bondage to her husband. This kind of thinking seems so counter-intuitive. Won't such freedom lead to a lessening of her love? No. It is actually the only thinking that will lead to true love. Only when couples are secure enough to live independently of one another, are they secure enough to be intimate with one another without threatening their devotion to Christ.

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