Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Are Romantic Relationships For?

The previous posts allow us to see why God might take such an issue with believers dating unbelievers, but there is more to it than what we’ve discussed so far. Our romantic relationships exist for a primary reason: to raise up covenant children.

In Genesis 1, we are told that God creates the heavens and the earth, but before He does the state of the earth is described in verse 2. In the second verse of chapter 1, we come upon the state of the earth in chaos; and that chaos is described in very specific ways. The descriptions we see there all pertain to human existence or rather human nonexistence. First, the earth is described with two Hebrew words. The first word is tōhû. The word tōhû appears throughout the Bible as a word that describes an unlivable environment. It is often seen as a desert or some sort of wasteland where human existence is either difficult or impossible to maintain. The term tōhû does not describe a place where existence of all creatures is impossible, but specifically has to do with the human factor. It is very important to note, therefore, since animals can live in the wasteland, that the very first word that describes the earth in Genesis is a word concerned with human existence, or rather, the lack thereof. 

This is confirmed by the second word that describes the earth in verse 2, the Hebrew word bōhû. The word bōhû only occurs three times within the Hebrew Bible; and it is always in collocation with the word tōhû. The word bōhû, as opposed to tōhû, does not describe an uninhabitable place, but instead describes the very lack of human existence within that place. In other words, if tōhû describes lack of human habitation, bōhû describes lack of human inhabitants—the one describing the absence of a livable environment and the other describing the absence of humans who do not live within it. 

This understanding of bōhû is confirmed by the fact that when it is used of a desolate city, due to its lack of human inhabitants, it does not negate the presence of animal life (Isa 34:11). Hence, all we have in the description of the earth in Genesis 1:2 is a statement that humans cannot live there and therefore do not live there. If there is any doubt about the hostile environmental conditions, the rest of the verse paints a picture of the earth that confirms its inability to support and sustain human life. Not only is it described as a dark place, a place where there is no light, but it is also described as a place enveloped by the primordial waters. As such it cannot support human existence. 

The problem of the earth existing in its primordial state, therefore, is that it cannot support human life, and this is the purpose of the actions God takes to create the world. He wants to make it a place where humans will thrive.

In fact, we are told in verses 26-28 that God made them male and female for this purpose: to fill up the earth with covenant children. Let’s break the passage down a bit.

Verses 3-25 are meant to reverse the state of tōhû, where God has made an environment capable of supporting human life. The disordered state of the world that disallowed such a human existence now is ordered, and thus beneficial for human life (this is what the Hebrew word bw+ “good” means in this text—it does not refer to a morally good or perfect quality, although it does not preclude it either, but to what is beneficial, i.e., "good" for the existence of a human-filled world).

In verses 26-31, we have the reversal of bōhû. Notice that the reversal is not just in making the man and woman, but in making them “male and female” for the purpose of filling up the earth with their human children. In this regard, they are called God’s image because the image in ancient Near Eastern culture represents the rule and victory of the deity over chaos in that area. The presence of the image displays that God’s rule is present there. Hence, their participation in the role as God’s image is directly connected to them “being fruitful and multiplying.” It is through this means, through the having of children, that they will cultivate and turn the world from a human-less place to a human-filled one. In other words, they participate in God’s creative work in the world as His image, and this is accomplished by the male and female sexes that come together for that purpose.

Hence, marriage is primarily (not solely, but primarily) for this purpose. It is to allow God to bring about children through the relationship. The problem is that in Chapter 3, the Fall occurs and humanity is there divided into those who seek to follow God and those who seek to follow themselves. In other words, there are now two humanities (as we discussed before). So the job of those who would follow God now is to continue true humanity that follows God. Hence, it is not simply the bearing of children that is the goal, since the situation we are now in does not guarantee that those children will be followers of God, but instead our role is to have and raise them in the Lord. Hence, the goal is to have godly children who have God as the center of their lives. This is the work of creation. This is what Genesis considers good. To work against this by seeking relationships for the self is to participate in the destruction of true humanity. It is to do evil. And this is worked out through the rest of the book, on through the Pentateuch, and throughout the rest of the Bible.

Hence, instructions to parents, and really the whole community, is to teach children to saturate their lives in obedience to the Word of God (Deut 6:5-9). In Proverbs, we are told to instruct our children in the fear of God as the wise author is doing with his son. And the hope of the Christian parent is to do all of this in view of Christ and His work as Timothy’s grandmother and mother had done (2 Tim 1:5 with 3:14-15).

So we can imagine how much of a sin it truly is to enter into a relationship with someone who will work against this simply by nature of their thinking and lifestyle. In contrast to believers who are said to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are told that unbelievers are the temple of demons rather than of God.

Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. Now in a like exchange--I speak as to children--open wide [to us] also. Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,"  Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor 6:11-7:1)

Contrary to popular belief that this refers to business partnerships, Paul contrasts the temples when speaking of more physical and spiritual unions (cf. 1 Cor 6:13-20). And we can see the importance of such a prohibition, since it leads to a demonic influence in one’s own and in one’s children’s lives. To marry an unbeliever is to join with them rather than to come out from among them and be spiritually separate from them. Such is all the more difficult to accomplish when one joins a holy temple reserved for God with a demonic temple that exists for the idols of the self. Hence, Paul uses the phrase “unequally yoked” to depict two oxen pulling at different rates that will inevitably lead the yoke to sway and pull in opposite directions, the one working for and the one working against making a holy family with godly children.

Hence, in Malachi 2, God is sickened by the Israelites who attempt to maintain good standing with him through religious rituals, all the while marrying women who were not believers. They were religious, to be sure, but they were not devoted to YHWH God. They were the daughters of a foreign god. The Israelites are thus rebuked for abandoning their Israelite women (i.e., believers), with whom they were to be raising and setting an example for their children, to marry unbelievers.

Yet, God tells them that He made them "one," a reference to the male and female union of Genesis 1-2, for the purpose of raising godly offspring to the Lord. The KJV and NKJV translate this difficult Hebrew passage closest to what I would.

But did He not make [them] one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one?  He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.

We have come full circle, then, as God prohibits such relationships, precisely, because they work against His goal of filling the earth with covenant children. He, therefore, refers to divorce as something He hates (because it interferes with the godly upbringing of children) and He refers to the marrying of unbelievers as an abomination (the same word used for God’s disgust with homosexuality) because it sets the sexual/romantic relationship as antagonistic toward the bearing of godly children in the same way that various forms of sexual immorality do.

Hence, God says that the person who marries an unbeliever is to be cut off from among the people (i.e., the OT equivalent to damnation). Thus, rather than giving grace in the area (as grace is given upon repentance, not in the lack thereof), God is pleased with the spearing to death of the Israelite man who enters into a romantic relationship with an unbeliever who is not devoted to YHWH (Num 25:1-15). Such relationships are born for corruption of children and the breeding of new chaotic agents who work against a human-filled world. They are the anti-creation, false humanity, and as such, the act of entering into a romantic relationship with an unbeliever is itself an evil act that works toward chaos and against the work of God in the world.

Thus, this is no minor sin. It is the sin of sins, as it throws off the very purpose of true humanity that seeks to worship God as His image by filling up the earth with godly people, and adopts a relationship that interferes with and works against that purpose.

Now, if you have not made a promise to the Lord to follow him, and do not consider yourself a Christian, then this won’t mean that much to you; but if you have, then it is important to review the nature of that commitment and understand what your next steps should be if you have thought about or already have entered into such a relationship with an unbeliever. We’ll pursue that next time.

[Let a widow be considered as a godly woman to be taken care of if she is] reported to have good works, i.e., the raising up of children . . . (1 Tim 5:9)

[The marks of a godly man to be considered for the eldership are that he is] above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion . . . (Titus 1:6)

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