Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Part III: Against Harmon's "Sex Without Form & Void"

It might surprise some on the Anglican right who wish to return to the BCP 1662 or at least the BCP 1928 (in part to remedy perceived excesses of GC 2003) that the Anglican tradition does not consider the procreative end necessary to the good of the marriage union, and so ends up ranking it below the unitive end. Fulfillment of the procreative end is conditional in the BCP 1662, not absolute, and therefore cannot be simply necessary to the marriage union. That my seem right, like plain good sense; of course good marriages may exist without children. Moreover--and this is my principal point--the priority of the unitive end, an end never conditional in the Anglican tradition, follows from biblical exegesis that takes Christ as the foundation for its interpretation rather than Genesis.

What of the Genesis texts themselves? Granted we should not start with Genesis unmoored from Christ, what might we learn looking at it through the Gospel lens of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ? After all, if Genesis must be read as inconsistent with my interpretation of the Bible on marriage and blessed unions, my interpretation is wrong. In sketching a reading of Genesis, I shall take contrast with Kendall Harmon's article here as a guide.

Harmon writes "In Genesis 2, since nothing else in all creation is fit for Adam, he is only fulfilled in community with another being like himself (Gen. 2:19–20)," continuing a line of interpretation that seems influenced by Barth. That is, Harmon thinks

First, God creates man in his own image as male and female. As Karl Barth comments, “Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation” (Church Dogmatics, 1961, III.4, p. 117).

This reading of Genesis is transparently false--contrary to Harmon, and Harmon's Barth, Adam is not fulfilled in community with another being like himself, namely Eve--moreover, he cannot be fulfilled in community with another being like himself. Community with a mere creature like Eve cannot fulfill--such community can at best only contribute to fulfillment, and will always be insufficient. It's not that anything is wrong with Eve in particular, and that some other woman would have done better--Betty of Sally--or some male--Steve, say. Mere creatures of whatever species are simply the wrong type of beings for constituting a community within which Adam can find fulfillment.

Adam can only be fulfilled in community with Christ--of course; who would argue? And Christ, on an orthodox reading of Scripture, is fully human without being merely human. He is divine, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. His marriage with Eve will not in itself fulfill him, and no Christian today should go into a marriage thinking that the marriage of itself will fulfill; any marriage without Christ is utterly doomed. Whatever we make of the impetus and reason for marriage implicit in Elohim/YHWH's creating and joining Adam and Eve, we should not portray that reason as implying Adam and Eve in Eden could have lived in fulfillment of themselves.

Contrary to Harmon, the Edenic community of Adam and Eve constituted in marriage is insufficient of itself--and the drama of the Fall has as one of its points a portrayal of this insufficiency. Behind the command (NRSV) You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die is a recognition that Adam and Eve in Eden can sin, and that prevention of sin requires warning and external sanction (the threat of death--I mean to remind you of something). In short, Adam and Eve live in insecurity in Eden--their salvation is not assured within Eden, their ongoing life with God in Eden is not merely contingent, but separation is causally accessible to them from within that situation. Even apart from the Fall, the insufficency of the Edenic situation for humanity is implied in the Genesis narrative. What the Eschaton can supply is security missing in Eden, namely a condition within which separation from God is no longer causally accessible.

The insufficiency of Eden is perhaps point enough, but I wish to add another. When Genesis pronounces So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God he created them;* male and female he created them, it should go without saying that the conjunction of male and female insufficiently images God. That is, there is more to the essence of God, to the very being of God, than any conjunction of male and female can actually show or express through their union. Any union of male and female will always fall infinitely short of the essence of God--of course, who would argue? For the union of male and female is a created union; God is the Creator. A creaturely union by its very nature falls short of its creator.

Contrary to Harmon's Barth, the union of male and female in marriage cannot serve as a norm for all other relationships. Without heavy qualification, such a thought is ridiculous: which marriage sets a norm for the Trinity? Which even could? Which sets a norm for Christ's eschatological union with the Church? Which even could?

What Harmon and Harmon's Barth give up--without much of a fight that I can see--in their reading of Genesis is what Christians should regard as most essential: the sufficiency of Christ. To Harmon, and anyone else who might be tempted by his misreadiong of Genesis, a lesson from Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in* him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in* him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The true and sufficient image of God is not the married heterosexual couple, it is Christ. When the first married couple Adam and Eve took themselves from within their union as sufficient without God, they fell, they sinned. We should not under Harmon's guidance take them in Eden as a model. They rather model insufficiency, a part of all creation yet awaiting its true fulfillment, a fulfillment that can be found for us only in God for us, God made flesh, Jesus our Lord and Savior. We should not be tempted astray by other voices to follow other masters, bowing down before other images--all of that is apart from Christ, apart from the true image of God and the fullness of God, a way that leads of itself only to death.


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