Years ago, I read a marriage manual upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist after the near dissolution of my marriage. It was called This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence by John Piper. Feminist Christian Mark, the former administrator of our writers’ group, caught me leafing through the book and hissed that Piper was an evil man. Good! This book might be worth my time after all.
Its major premise is that the husband/wife relationship ought to model itself upon Christ’s relationship to the Church, Christ’s bride. A Christian friend recently told me that despite my claim otherwise, there is in fact an ideal marriage found in the Bible: Jesus’ relationship with the Church. I pursed my lips for this. Where to begin? Where to begin?
This marital advice we find from the nib of the pen of that proud and insistent bachelor, Paul, a self-appointed apostle. That peevish, pompous rhetorician learned a thing or two from the Greeks about tropes and figures, so he is a kind of wordsmith. Yet Paul never once expresses anything remotely approaching eros, except to perversely sneer at it (which is sadism proper). Does he ever speak well of sex or sexuality in any epistle? I can’t recall anything of the sort. But I do know that he never mentioned having a girlfriend, or pledging his love to her, or writing a poem, or getting his heart broken, let alone marrying whatever poor women pitied the guy. The only reason why a Christian should marry, Paul declares, is because it is better to be married than to burn with lust. Put that on my wedding invitation! But do you ask a hobo how to make a million dollars? Do you ask a vegan how to grill a steak? Why would you ask this fanatical bachelor how to treat your wife? You wouldn’t—it’s as simple as that.
Let’s say that though Paul didn’t have any sort of clue about romantic love—and he didn’t—at least his letters were “God-breathed” (though he never claimed that). Let’s even say that Paul’s advice about marriage is not really Paul’s advice, but that of the Holy Spirit. Did the Holy Spirit use Paul’s life and experience at all? Remember that Paul never once met the person Jesus of Nazareth. In all of the many redundant missives he fired off at his churches, does Paul even once quote Jesus? Well, yes, you got me there! He once, once, quotes a fragment from the Christ cult that Mark later also incorporated into his own gospel: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Having only one quote from Jesus makes it appear as if he had a paucity of facts about Jesus to work with. How does Paul know how Jesus treated anybody, let alone his wife?
Unless the Mormons are right that Jesus married three women (all named Mary like his mother, but not her, in case you got nervous just now), then we have a bachelor messiah. If he lost his patience with his disciples, imagine how his poor wife would fare. Well, he didn’t have a wife. His “Church” was his bride. Okay, that is a metaphor so bare that you could hang it on a Cartesian line! Jesus had some followers, sure. Were they the Church? Or did the Church come after Pentecost? I am assuming that the latter is what Christians would claim. So, not only did Paul have no idea who Jesus really was, but Jesus didn’t even give us a story about his relationship with the Church. Okay, the Bible gives zero imagery or narrative to this strange abstract marriage of a “Christ” and a “bride,” who is also a conglomeration of groups of people—men, women, and children—congregated in various places around the world. So, even though Jesus browbeat his disciples in the Gospel of Mark, calling them fools, he made a sermon on some mount (where he ironically warned that if you call your brother a fool, you deserve to go to Hell), encouraged Judas to betray him, and called Peter “Satan,” among other things. Rebuke was Jesus’ thing, and it’s basically all that he ever did. Even when the weather is stormy, he rebukes the wind! Can’t he ask nicely just once? What kind things does he say of anybody else, specifically, other than himself and some abstract group of followers who are the light and the salt and all of that? He is a miser with his compliments. Usually, if somebody praises Jesus, then he might return the compliment that they were right to praise him. He flat out calls a foreign woman a dog simply because she wasn’t Jewish! What a kind, modest guy! He did offer rewards to those disciples willing to abandon their wives and children. Would he be willing do the same to his own wife and children?
Well, by the time Jesus gets around to destroying the world with his own sword—in the ever imminent “End Times”—he addresses some now-unknown seven churches (who are seven lampstands, seven angels, seven stars…), which he looks upon with seven eyeballs when he changes shape into a lamb with a cut and bleeding neck. What inspired imagery! We have not seen this depicted much in Western Art. Back in human form, he addresses the seven churches—his collective bride. As I recall, he had something kind to say to maybe one of them. Again, the rest of them he browbeat, criticized, and threatened with violence. One in particular had a leader named Jezebel, who he threated to pin to her bed for committing adultery and have her kids killed before her eyes as she looked on helplessly. Christ and his Bride, ladies and gentlemen!
We have nothing as charming and down to earth as Jesus leaving the front door open, and Mrs. Christ calling out: “Geez! Can you close the damn door? What were you, born in a barn?” And then he rolls his eyes and says, “Mary! You know that I was born in a barn. Don’t let’s start! I’ve been working wood into doorways all freakin’ day and it’s left me quite cross.”
I very well know how “husband is Christ” and “wife is Church” is used as a teaching. The wife must submit; the man must self-sacrifice. Figure out the details yourself. But how could these two even find happiness in each other? They are not peers. They are not equals. The wife will always be the bad guy, and her husband is the one who can do no wrong. None of this makes a lick of sense, and is of little help to me personally—and I did search this book for anything that I could actually use. No wonder Christians in America boast a higher divorce rate than atheists!
Why my college-trained, doctorate-level psychiatrist recommended this book to me is beyond me. I’m a man who freely discloses that I’m not even a Christian, and that I’m married to an openly atheistic woman who has been an atheist pretty much of all her life. She is quite bossy and domineering in a way that her husband sometimes struggles to cope with. This was not the sort of help I was after! My psychiatrist is a silly person, and I knew that all along. But I wanted to amuse myself reading this book. Psychiatrist? Stick to slinging meds, not marital advice!