Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alike, Yet Different: A Wedding Sermon

The Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, began his short, but masterful book on The Christian Family by observing that the history of the human race begins with a wedding. This is significant because marriage is one of the things that sets human beings apart from everything else that God has made. Man is unique in this relationship. He is created differently in this respect from those creatures both above and below him—that is, differently from both angels and animals—and created for different purposes, too.

The animals he created by the word of his command. He literally spoke them into existence:  “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures,” he said, “and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:20). And in obedience to his command, they sprang into being. “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds, livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so” (Gen. 1:24).

And God blessed the creatures he had made and bid them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And so they have done to this day—but only by blind biological impulses, only by the force of instinct, not out of the distinctively human motives of love and commitment.

The account suggests that God created many pairs of each kind or species of animal, and not just a single pair of each. And it seems that the angels were created all at once, in their full number, without the need, for either marriage or procreation, for Jesus tells us that the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. 

But the Lord was pleased to create man differently. He made only a single pair, not many; and he created them with the utmost care. He didn’t merely speak Adam into existence, but carefully formed his body from the dust of the ground. His soul he created by breathing into him the breath of life. 

Eve he crafted from the substance of Adam’s own body, from his “side.” I say “crafted” because in verse 22, where the English text says, “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman,” the Hebrew says he “built” into a woman. The word, and thus the imagery, is taken from the world of architecture. So, too, is the Hebrew word that most English translations render as “rib.” Literally, it means “side.” And the word is often used of that which gives a structure its form and strength. There is craftsmanship, and indeed artistry implied in the use of the terms. Rabbi Moshe David Cassuto says the idea is that just as a builder takes raw materials and constructs a beautiful building from them, so “in the hands of the Lord God, the raw material taken from the man’s body received the lovely form of the woman... [F]rom an ordinary piece of bone and flesh the Lord God fashioned the most comely of his creatures.”[1]

There also seems to be a sacral aspect to God “building” Eve. This Hebrew word, which is translated as “rib” and refers to what gives a building its strength and form, appears most often—almost exclusively, in fact—in connection with the building first of the tabernacle in the wilderness, then of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, and finally of the eschatological temple mentioned in Ezekiel. The use of this particular word to describe the building of Eve suggests a sacred aspect to the joining together of a man and woman as husband and wife. Marriage truly is a sacred institution.

Before giving the precious gift of a wife to Adam—in fact, before he even made her—the Lord wished to teach Adam to value her above all things, and to look upon her as his only true counterpart and equal. And so he brought all the different kinds of animals to Adam, to see what he would name them. And undoubtedly Adam noticed that with each kind of animal there was both a male and a female. They were like each other, yet different. And the differences were such that they were complementary to each other; not complimentary in the sense of giving each other compliments—saying nice things about each other, but complementary in the sense of completing each other. Adam noticed that each animal had a true counterpart that was both alike and different:  alike in species, but different in sex. “But for Adam, there was not found a helper fit for him [or, corresponding to him]” (v. 20). There was no one like him, yet different, as was the case among the animals. 

Adam was alone. 

And the Lord gave his judgment—his assessment—of the situation. “It is not good,” he said, “that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And so the Lord remedied the situation by making a woman. He didn’t make another man, as if what Adam needed was merely male friendship, as important as that is; rather, he made a woman to be his only true counterpart and equal, and he hers.

Andy, I trust that you have now and will continue to have very meaningful friendships with other men. And Vanessa, I am sure that you have very meaningful friendships with other women. What a godsend it is to have good and faithful friends! It really is a tremendous blessing. But it is not they who complete you; they are not the ones whom God has given to you to be your counterpart in life. Andy, he has given you Vanessa. She is your Eve, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. She is the one who completes you. And Vanessa, Andy is your Adam. God made him for you, and you for him. There will be times, Andy, when you go out with the guys and have a good time together. And Vanessa, there will be times when you hang out with the girls, and that’s all well and good. But both of you remember that you have something really special and unique in each other. Devote yourselves to one another and cultivate your relationship.

When the Lord had finished building Eve, he presented her to Adam, and Adam said,

This at last is bone of my bones
            and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
            because she was taken out of man (Gen. 2:23)
 
“This at last,” he says, “is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” The Lord had marshalled all the different kinds of animals and brought them before Adam, to be named by him. And as the day wore on, Adam must have marveled at God’s creativity as he saw this great menagerie paraded before him. But he must also have wondered:  “Is there no one like me? Is there no one made for me?” And then finally, when God built Eve and brought her to him, his joy was palpable. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” How delighted he was! Here at last was someone who was like him. And what a beauty she was, the feminine form in its perfection! 

It is fascinating to consider that in this scene the Lord is acting not only as Creator, but also as matchmaker and Father of the Bride. “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”

And then we are given this further instruction, “Therefore [that is, because of what God has done in creating a man and a woman and bringing the two together as true complements of each other] a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24).

We might recognize in the creation of Eve a theme we find throughout God’s creative work in Genesis. We find a series of events in which things are separated from each other and given a distinct form and identity and then joined back together again into a new form as complements of each other.

In the first instance, we find the Lord separating light from darkness. The light he called Day, and the darkness he called Night. And then he joined the two back together again in a complementary fashion so that a period of light, followed by a period of darkness makes one full day. The two come together to make one.

On the second day of creation, the Lord said,
“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven [the sky] (Gen. 1:6-7).

Here find the formation of the heavens and the earth. It takes place by a process of separation. Two things are separated from one another and given a distinct form and identity, yet joined back together again as complements, neither able to fulfill their purpose without the other.

We find the same thing going on as the Lord gathers the waters under the expanse into one place so that dry land emerges. The dry land he called Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called the Sea, neither existing independently of the other, but the two of them together forming a complementary habitation for all his creatures.

I trust you can see where this is going. God did the same thing when he created Eve. He separated her from Adam. He took of the substance of Adam and from that substance, he made Eve. He gave her a distinct form and identity and purpose, and then he joined the two back together again in order to make one.

Andy and Vanessa, the Lord calls you each into this union in order to complete each other. The Lord said that it was not good for Adam to be alone; and had he chosen to create Eve first, he would have said the same thing:  “It is not good for the woman to be alone.” In making them male and female, he made them to be perfect complements to each other. And they were perfect companions for each other because they were just the same, except entirely different. Just like Adam noticed among the different kinds of animals, a male and a female—like each other and yet different—so he now noticed in this woman standing before him someone who was both like him and yet different from him—and that their differences were exactly suited to each other, exactly what each needed.

Men and women are different. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. And they are different by God’s design and for his purposes. How are men and women different? They are different anatomically, of course. That much is obvious. But they are also different psychologically, in their mental and emotional make-up. This is only controversial in a politically-correct environment. Otherwise everybody knows men and women are different. You don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to figure it out. You only need a little experience with life. As much as our culture wishes us to believe that the sexes are interchangeable or that their differences are not innate but merely culturally conditioned, we know better.

The differences, of course, give rise to the proverbial battle of the sexes where we think we have to ask the question, “Which is better, a man or a woman?” Let me be the first to tell you that this is a foolish question because it’s an unanswerable question. And it’s unanswerable because it’s incomplete. It’s like asking, “Which is better, a hammer or a saw?” You have to ask the further question, “Better at doing what? Better for what purpose?” A hammer is better for pounding in nails, and a saw is better for cutting lumber. Tool-makers have designed each for a specific purpose and given them a composition and form suited to the purpose. And God has done the same for man. He has made men and women to be different, and he has given them natures that are suited for the purpose for which he created them. Rather than allowing these differences to become sources of contention and strife, we ought rather to cherish the differences, to enjoy the differences, to rejoice in them, and to benefit from them. The differences are meant to complete us. If we fail to recognize this we undermine the God-given potential of the relationship.

A man should be glad that his wife is different from him. Do you remember the scene in My Fair Lady where Dr. Henry Higgins, a character played by Rex Harrison, is frustrated in his relationship with Eliza, played brilliantly by Audrey Hepburn? At one point, Higgins breaks into song and asks “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I am sure he is not the only man who has ever had that thought cross his mind. And I am sure that there has been more than one woman in history who has asked the same question…except in reverse. The differences between men and women have led one author to write a book with the provocative title, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. And sometimes it does seem like we are from different planets!

But I say again that a man should be glad that his wife, as a woman, is different from him. Sometimes the differences might prove to be a source of frustration to him…you know, much like they might prove to be a source of frustration to her. But unless he has a brick where his brain ought to be, he’ll understand that the differences are good. They are beneficial because what she brings to the table as a woman completes him, in the same way that what he brings to the table completes her. Her strengths as a woman compensate for his weaknesses as a man; and his strengths as a man compensate for her weaknesses as a woman.

Andy and Vanessa, recognize the differences, acknowledge them, appreciate them, understand them, and enjoy them. The Lord has created you with a need for each other.

Give yourselves wholly, entirely, and exclusively to each other, heart, mind, body, and soul as long as you both shall live. Amen.


[1] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis:  From Adam to Noah, pp. 134-135