“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen 2:23)
In my estimation, the second chapter of Genesis is among the most beautiful descriptions of human nature ever written. This ancient story contains a paradox: in order to make human nature whole and complete, God must split the human being in two.
When God creates the first human being out of earth and breath, that being is lonely and incomplete. When God tries to create a partner for the human being, none of them are adequate. In the end, rather than creating another human being out of earth and breath, God splits the human being in two. After waiting in loneliness for true companionship, the man responds, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
This story tells us that human nature is communal. We do not simply want community; every human person is communal. We come into existence through community and we are held in existence through community. Gestures and words of love slowly bring a human person to life.
If an infant child is not spoken to and held, that child will die. When a community loves a child into being, they do so through patient and steadfast care. Similarly, throughout our entire lives, human beings need loving relationships to grow and thrive. For example, when people are imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement, the isolation has horrible effects on their mental well-being. This forced isolation is dehumanizing and contrary to the dignity of human nature.
Being made for community means that human beings are codependent; we need one another. This confronts us with another paradox: our need for community is at once our greatest strength and a source of weakness. We are vulnerable to one another. Hence, Genesis says, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25)
In this story, nakedness is a metaphor for vulnerability. Because we are not made to be independent individuals, vulnerability is a necessary part of our communal nature. When we accept this reality, our relationships grow as we learn to support one another.
So, what does this have to do with Christian Marriage? Of course, not all human relationships and communities are the same. Some of us like to spend more time alone, while others thrive in large groups of people. Throughout human history, marriages have also taken many different forms. From one culture to another, from one century to another, Christian marriages have been beautifully diverse.
My marriage is different than my parents’ marriage, and my parents’ marriage is different than my grandparents’ marriage. Just like all Sacraments, no single form of celebration can do justice to the deeper Mystery it reveals. However, all Christian marriages share one common quality: they embrace the communal and vulnerable nature of humanity.
Therefore, the Sacrament of Marriage is a vocation that witnesses to the human need for relationship. A marriage is a community. When we embrace relationship, we make the Image of God present. (Gen 1:27)
When we enter into the covenantal relationship of Christian marriage, we make God’s covenantal love present. Genesis says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) When a couple celebrates a marriage, they are choosing to cling to one another. That imagery of “clinging” is striking. It implies strong desire. It implies treasuring something precious.
Whenever I teach the Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon), I tell my students that this beautiful, erotic poem found in the Old Testament can be understood as a longer meditation on the concept of “clinging to one another.” In this poem, two lovers describe their desires as they continually search for one another: “Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go . . .” (Song 3:4) The love we experience in romantic relationships is a gift that drives people to cling to one another. The human capacity to fall in love pushes us toward more fully becoming the Image of God and becoming more fully human.
At the foundation of Christian Marriage lies the belief that human beings were created to be in love and form communities based on that love. These communities are the Image of God and every human person that is created out of these communities’ shares in that divine image. As a Sacrament, Christian Marriage is meant to reveal the source of life: a Divine Love that overflows into all of Creation.