Catholic Sex: Marriage is a Living Metaphor

Have you ever wondered that Christ would refer to himself as the Bridegroom, and His followers as his Bride? Or that St Paul would pick up that metaphor and use it in his own epistles to the various churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire?

Well, let’s go back a bit – a long bit! – to this fellow named Abraham, and his wife, named Sarah. They were Chaldeans, and God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You. I’m going to give you more descendants than you can shake a stick at!” and Abram (that was his name, back then), said, “Who, ME???” because he and Sara didn’t have any children at all at that point – and as she pointed out when the angel came and repeated the promise to her, that in one year she would have a son, she was past the age of “knowing pleasure.” (Gen. 18:12)

“Knowing pleasure.” That’s a polite euphemism for having sex, ladies.

Now – one of the things that is significant about this event is that Abram lived in a very pagan culture. Sodom and Gomorrah were bad enough that they had to be destroyed, but they weren’t singular in their licentious culture. The culture was pagan – polytheistic, and utterly licentious where sexual matters were concerned. Let’s just say that there were no taboos.

But out of that strange world, God called Abram, and renamed him Abraham, and his wife Sarah – and he had him leave all that behind and go to a far land, and Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was supposed to be past the point of knowing sexual pleasure – and Isaac fathered two sons… and so on down to Moses.

Now – the immediate thing is that Abraham and his descendants didn’t worship a plethora of deities; they worshiped the One God. And the strangeness increased as the descendants of Abraham multiplied in Egypt, until a fellow named Moses came along and led the Israelites, who worshiped the One God out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

And along the way, Moses was given the Law of the Hebrews, which established the code by which this One God expected His people to live. And part of the ethos that distinguished this people was that God commanded them to live in monogamy – One man, One woman, one lifetime. (It didn’t always work, there were some who took multiple wives, but that’s another sermon) –

And this was really radical! In a world where men possessed multiple wives and concubines, and had sexual liaisons with other men and with boys, and with beasts (remember your Greek mythology about Zeus coming as various beasts to seduce women? It wasn’t isolated to just mythology; the myth reflected a cultural reality)… This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob declares, using Moses as His mouthpiece –

“I am the Lord your God. Don’t live like the Egyptians, from whose bondage I have delivered you – I am the Lord!” – In other words, the way we live as a people reflects the very nature of the God we claim we believe in.

And throughout history, God used the metaphor of marriage to describe His love for Israel – the wife who would, despite His tender care, prostitute herself with false gods. He even moved the prophet Hosea to become a living metaphor, himself, with the prostitute Gomer, to demonstrate to Israel His never-failing, never-tiring love for them.

Now. What does this mean to us? We are His people, if we are Christians. And our own marriages are a metaphor of fidelity – Him to us, and us to Him.

But more than that, our marital love, expressed in the sexual union, is a profound metaphor of our ultimate union with Christ when we get to Heaven. The Marriage Feast of the Lamb is not just Christ’s union with an analagous “church” institution; we are the Bride – you and I, male and female as Bride – being wholly united with Him forever in a Mystery so profound and so beyond human comprehension that it can only be called the Beatific Vision.

Our joy in the marriage bed is invited – it is ordained by our very emotional and physiological construction – it is celebrated in the Scriptures: the Song of Songs is an incredibly erotic Book, and it’s in the Bible. Don’t argue with me that it’s just poetry representing God’s love for us – the very fact that the language and imagery is erotic ought to affirm for us that He intends the erotic union of husband and wife to be a joyous, blessed event!

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