A Decent Proposal

A Decent Proposal

Affairs are everywhere, even reaching as high as the White House. Adultery has infiltrated our marriages, our entertainment, and our society.

As we’ve been reminded with the latest news headlines of the Ashley Madison website hack, married people are registering in droves to cheat on their spouses. The Ashley Madison website boasts about having almost 42 million anonymous users and claims it is the most popular website for married dating encounters. Really?

I realize I have the home field advantage of calling adultery a sin here on my blog, most likely being read by Christians. Place me on a talk show today, and I’d be booed and hissed for suggesting that marital faithfulness is the primary covenantal bond for the human family and should be championed as the way marriage is meant to work.

Back to the Garden

Maybe a visit to a time long past would be helpful. The Jurassic Park of our narrative is the Garden of Eden. Adam has been created but is unfulfilled. Something is missing. The animal pairs suggest to him a loneliness that cannot be fulfilled in the zoological parade.

So, in response, on the sixth day, God created a stunning new creature to live in union for life with Adam; she was called woman. I think the sixth day may have been the epitome of God’s handiwork. When the Lord presented her to the man, I believe a holy hush fell on creation. Mystery rises in the words “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). And the Creator was pleased.

When the storyteller of Genesis 1 narrates it, the pronouns go haywire. “‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (vv. 26-27). Either God is talking to Himself or God is schizophrenic. Something strange and marvelous is happening here.

The God known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is imaging these two creatures with relational capacity. The relational God is creating relational creatures. The mystery of Three who are One is re-created in the mystery of two who become one. The language is not contractual (“and God orchestrated a merger between the party of the first part and the party of the second part”) or even legal (“by the power invested in me by the state of Jurassic”). It is biological. The two shall become one and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

When you dismantle flesh, the language is not the separation of assets and custody of kids. It is amputation, severed limbs, removal of organs. These two are bound together by God and are intended to stay that way. They are naked, and there is no shame, because they are one.

All is well until the snake shows up asking questions. “Did the Creator ssssay, really ssssay, that you must not eat from the tree in the center of the garden?” (See Gen. 3.) For the first time in our story, the Creator is spoken of in the third person. God becomes someone outside the conversation of Adam and Eve’s life. Can He be trusted? What’s behind this limiting command? The snake recasts God—from gracious Creator to boundary maker, from loving provider to fulfillment blocker. Adam and Eve opened wide and swallowed whole the dooming lie that the snake was selling.

It gets ugly from here on. The marriage shows stress. “The woman you gave me, she made me eat it!” (see 3:12). They’ve learned to blame someone else rather than take responsibility for their sin. They hide and cover up. No telling what they will do to each other. In rebellion, they are ushered from the garden without a reentry stamp on the back of their hands.

The Garden of Eden is a memory, a hope, a longing.

After Eden

And how are we doing outside Eden? We are lusting after each other’s bodies. Men are consuming pornography at alarming rates, perfecting the art of turning women into objects. Women are bitterly demanding equality on all levels and seeking to escape the domination of the garden curse. We are cautious, defensive, guarded. Maybe we are from different planets, like Mars and Venus.

After the mess we made, you would think God would be glad to be rid of us. But God refuses to give up on His creation. God knows what we are capable of when we live in obedient relationship with Him and His power indwells us. The capacity for a God-resembling, God-honoring marriage still exists. In light of this, God gives interesting gifts to Adam and Eve: clothes and commands.

The clothes replace the itchy fig leaves. Durable animal skins become the necessary fashion for covering their bodies. It isn’t safe to go naked outside Eden, not because God is prudish (He opened the first nudist colony!), but because He saw what we could do to each other, how quickly we can reduce a person to naked flesh.

Clothing curbs our desire to treat others as objects. Clothing protects us from people who would use us but do not love us. Clothing keeps us shielded until relational conditions make it safe to undress. So God gave us these personal body fences called clothes.

God also gave us commands, such as “Do not commit adultery.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gets behind the command to the motive and forbids looking at a person with lust in the heart.

Lust is the mental manipulation of another person for the sake of selfish sexual gratification. It is controlling another in our mind, undressing a person mentally, living in a perpetual sexual show with self as the star.

Lust is passion without boundary or respect for the other person. And Jesus says, “No!” Not because Jesus is a prude, but because lust cripples our capacity to love as we were meant to love. Lust conditions us to objectify and use people, to take without giving, to demand without promise. A pawn is very different from a partner.

The question is asked, what is so wrong about sex outside marriage, single or married? God has rooted the marriage relationship in the physically expressed sexual practice of lovemaking. There is a celebratory bonding act at the heart of marriage. That adultery is primarily sexual calls attention to what we do with our bodies. (I would be quick to say that there is adultery that is not sexual, and just as much a sin.)

What’s wrong with sex before and outside marriage? You are affixing something of yourself to the being of a person who is not committed to staying with you. And even more, you are learning to love and leave, or use and leave. You are practicing the deadly skill of bonding and breaking, bonding and breaking. You are lessening your capacity as a person to bond and stay bound, love and remain committed. One-flesh unity becomes cheap. Therefore, we are commanded to not commit adultery.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Dancing with the Law: The Ten Commandments.

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