Why Marriage as a Metaphor is a Failure
On Wednesday last week, I wrote
that: “We, the church, are the Imago Dei. We, the people, are his
banner carriers. And when one of us falls, someone else will carry the banner
while others help the fallen.”
I’ve already explained a bit of what I mean when I talk about the image of God as that of community rather than individual corporeality. To me, the individualistic tendency to say that “I,” as an individual, created being, are “made in the image of God” unnecessarily truncates and separates us from a necessary understanding of what it means be made in the image of God. The verse from which we get the saying “made in the image of God,” indeed, is a corporate reality – “male and female, he created them.”
It is important, when we discuss the image of God, to always place it within the corporate reality. Unfortunately, language is an insufficient reality to provide us with the metaphors that we need to understand this properly. Metaphors for the Trinity fall short and easily find their ways into heresies, so images of God tend to fall short as well.
I think the closest thing we get to a proper understanding of the image of God is Paul’s instructions about the Body of Christ (sidenote: it’s interesting to me that even in trying to move away from the image of God as a corporeal singularity, we use our corporeal reality as reference points).
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
I propose that these verses – moreso than the ‘your body is a temple’ or even the metaphors of marriages – are the lens through which we must look at both the role of the universal Church and of God’s actions within the world.* Many complementarians, as we’ve discussed, tend to use marriage as the primary metaphor for the relationship between the Church and Christ, asserting that the symbolism of a submissive wife and a leading husband are the key to understanding God.
That, to me, is an unnecessary limitation of metaphor and a truncation of the glorious diversity and beauty of the Body of Christ in which we participate. A wife, in of herself, cannot represent the Church. She is simply not enough as an individual (and the husband also is not nearly enough as an individual). We require all the various support systems and people playing their parts – as God has gifted them – to understand the fullness and richness that is the Body of Christ. By looking to marriage as a primary metaphor, we miss so much.
And yet, that is what we purposefully do when we talk, as John Piper does, about marriage as a primary metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. It makes the church homogenous – a singular person responding to another singular person. It misses all the diversity and grace and passion that the Church as a Body of diverse human beings is.
Look at it this way. CS Lewis talked about the diversity of persons that develop within friendships. Different friends bring different parts of ourselves out. When I hangout on G+ with friends on Sunday nights, I am a different person than I am with my coworkers on a Monday. This is not two-facedness or phoniness, as authenticity as a cultural value demands, but merely a function of how varying relationships work.
By using marriage as a metaphor, we necessarily flatten that diversity. We cannot talk of marriage as a primary metaphor because a wife is not just a wife. A wife (hopefully) has friends who support her in different ways than her husband does, and hopefully a husband likewise. Each of those people come together to make the wife who she is, and likewise for the husband.
I am, in many ways, an amalgamation of the influences my varying friendships and relationships through my life have had on me. I would not be myself without the community within which I exist, and I realize this most necessarily when I am trying to survive alone.
This is what the community of Christ and the image of God looks like – it is people bringing out the best in each other, in all our brokenness, working toward a common goal. It is people picking each other up, encouraging progress toward who we truly are. A faith lived alone is necessarily a faith lacking, just as a marriage attempted to live within a vacuum will be a necessarily lacking marriage. Rather than looking at the image of God as an individual persona – through looking to marriage as a primary metaphor – we must encourage each other to see the image of God in each and every relationship, replicating the relationships of love that exist within the Trinity.
This is what it means to be the Body of Christ – the push and pull and messiness of necessary, every day relationship, iron sharpening iron. The group of friends laughing at the table in the college cafeteria are, to me, a better metaphor for the image of God and the relationship of God to humanity than any marriage metaphor could possibly be.
*Please excuse the inexact philosophical language – for the time being, I’m functioning from the assumption that God is both inside and outside our stream of time, which may or may not be a ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. It’s too much of a rabbit hole to explicate here.