Gay Marriage as Metaphor?
Last week, President Barack Obama affirmed his personal support for gay marriage, pushing the issue into the political spotlight once again. Of course, it’s much more than politics. It’s a spiritual issue, too.
When faced with the question of gay marriage, Christians will often rattle off buzz verses that explicitly condemn homosexual practice, such as Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Others take us to the garden, where God established marriage and set the marital standard for the human race. All legitimate texts, to be sure, although not without controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural contexts, and so forth.
We’re certainly free to expound on these verses, but they may not be the best place to start when setting up a biblical theology of marriage. After all, these truths have deeper roots. Because every one of God’s laws reveals something about his nature and character, we must look beyond the standard proof texts to the bigger picture: what does marriage say about God?
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always bridegroom; his people, the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-32). John the Revelator shows us what the shadow of marriage pointed to all along: the future union of Christ and his people at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). And we could go on.
For the biblical writers, marriage is a living picture of the gospel—a portrait of God’s faithfulness toward his covenant people.
So imagine what happens when we mess with the metaphor. Marriage between two men signifies two god-figures—a picture of polytheism, the absolute antithesis of the Christian faith (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6-8). On the other hand, marriage between two women signifies two sets of people and leaves out the Savior entirely, making the metaphor nothing more than an emblem of atheism. There’s no gospel to be found in either metaphor. In both cases, an important and necessary part of the redemption story is missing: either God or his people. The metaphor only works with one man and one woman—and the metaphor matters.
As the issue of gay marriage makes its way into our homes, our churches and our ballots, the culture will demand answers from Christians seeking to protect the institution of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman. Even without quoting the quintessential texts that specifically mention homosexuality (and any other sexual or marital sin for that matter), the metaphor gives us biblical grounds to oppose anything that takes the Good News out of marriage. For the Christian, the issue of gay marriage is not merely a war to protect long-held Western values. When we stand for marriage as God defines it, we’re standing for the gospel.
Bryan can be reached at The Happy Alternative