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By Peter Sellick - posted Thursday, 30 August 2018

Having, in my last post, argued for the possibility of divorce for Christians, I would like, now, to discuss the nature of marriage and under what circumstances it can be judged to have failed.

There is a wonderful hopefulness in Adam's voice when God presented him with the woman:

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.


Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen.2: 23,24)

The promise of being one flesh is a promise of a natural intimacy. It is given while the first couple live in the garden of Eden, before their Expulsion. On the other side of the Expulsion, where the ground is cursed and we must earn our bread by the sweat of our faces, the promise of natural intimacy is problematic. The serpent, the woman and the man are cursed. The curse that falls on the woman goes as follows:

I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.
(Gen. 3:16)

It seems that the easy and natural intimacy between the man and the woman has been lost and gives way to the rule of the husband over the wife. Any attempt to justify patriarchy from this misses the point, patriarchy is part of the curse.

Not only do Adam and Eve lose the natural intimacy between each other, they also lose intimacy with God, who, before the Expulsion, could walk in the garden "in the time of the evening breeze" and converse with his creatures. Thus the Expulsion ushers in a double estrangement, humanity is estranged from God and men and women are estranged from each other. All our relationships are fraught by difference. Thus the journey into the Other be that other God or neighbour (the marriage partner is the nearest neighbour) is a journey into darkness, into the unknown. This realization destroys any romantic projections we may make about God or the Other. God as helpful friend is absent. The beloved becomes more hidden from us. We begin to feel the cold breathe of the universe.

There are three ways we can deal with difference. The first is to ignore difference and exist as self-contained individuals. This is the position of stasis in which we exist in the cage of the self and fend off any intrusion. Difference is not dealt with and we remain alone, from God and the partner. The second way to deal with difference is idealistic. This way is the way of the spiritual hero who gives him/herself over to the Other to the extent that the self is completely sublimated. We give ourselves in order to give ourselves away. It is also the way of patriarchy in which the woman becomes mute. Again, difference is not really dealt with and intimacy does not grow. All we have is the destruction of one of the selves.


The third way of dealing with difference is, of course, found between the two as we might expect of a Hegelian dialectic. This way requires patient waiting, openness to the voice of the Other (be that God or Human being) and the willingness to shed precious parts of the self that impede the journey. The journey into God and into the Other involves kenosis, the pouring out of the self, not so that the self ceases to exist, as in the second option above, but so the self may be intensified and that we may draw closer.

This process runs contrary to the self-esteem movement in some of its manifestations. The bits of ourselves that we must discard are usually to do with unreal self-images; that voice inside that protests that we are a good person. We may well be good, even morally spotless, but that misses the point that Fall and Expulsion define who we are, that alienation lies at the base of the self.

After the romantic phase of marriage dissipates we begin to see the Other in their weakness and that weakness requires a corresponding voice that comes out of our weakness. Pretending that your' OK and I'm OK will stall any possibility of real intimacy and lead only to loneliness. What is at risk here is the defended self.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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