Jesus Courts a Bride
The secular society in which we live seems to use the single word "love" to cover all sorts of things. "I love you with all my heart," can easily be followed in the same sentence by "I love chocolate ice cream" --or "I (heart) my dog Rover more than anything."
Because of this gross oversimplification of the word love, our Wednesday nights men's group (1,2) decided recently to study together C.S. Lewis's classic book The Four Loves. It's available in audio with Lewis speaking, and also in book form (3,4).
For the past six weeks we have been listening to Lewis, taking notes and commenting for an hour on what we heard that was fresh and new to us. During the week we have all been reading the book slowly and carefully. So deep and profound is Lewis in this study we decided to continue our weekly discussions for a few more sessions.
In his lectures Lewis examines the classical use of four Greek words for love: storge, philia, éros, and agape. Lewis describes God's love as pure Gift-Love--which should rule over our natural loves. He talks about the natural loves, how they function and how they are all a legitimate part of who we are. He also reminds us that that the natural loves will go bad unless God rules over all of them--they need not be repressed or discarded. Finally, God must transform each one of our natural loves in order for us to enjoy each of the loves in the next life.
Lewis mentions that God has selected only a few different metaphors to describe our relationship with Him. God is our Father (that is, if we have a relationship with Jesus)--and we are His beloved children.
Abraham was called "the friend of God," but otherwise this expression is not found in the Old Testament. At the Last Supper Jesus elevated his eleven disciples from "servants" to "friends." (John 15:13)
Thirdly, the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is frequently referenced throughout the New Testament.
But the most common metaphor for our relationship with God is that of husband and wife--Bridegroom and Bride. (5)
Throughout the Old Testament the nation of Israel is described as the wife of Jehovah. The marriage contract between God and Israel was drawn up at Mt. Sinai, but after hundreds years of spiritual adultery God was forced to divorce his wife under the terms of the Old Covenant. Heartbroken, God found a way to take His wife back, remarry her, and restore her fully under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum discusses this:
"There is a totally different picture in the Scriptures regarding the Church. What God has to say about the Church and her relationship as the Bride of the Messiah is radically different from what has been said regarding Israel as the Wife of Jehovah. Again, this shows the necessity of maintaining these distinctions.
It might be good at this time to define exactly what we mean by the word "church" when we say the Church is the Bride of the Messiah. The "universal church" is composed of all true believers everywhere, and this universal body of believers is the Bride of the Messiah. By "local church," we mean that portion of the universal Church living in a specific geographical area. But the Bride of the Messiah is not limited to some local church somewhere nor is it limited to any specific denomination. It is composed of all believers regardless of their geographical location and denominational affiliation.
The thrust of all the New Testament passages regarding this relationship of the Church as the Bride of the Messiah is that the Church is a betrothed Bride who is not yet joined to her husband. There are four key passages of the New Testament that speak concerning this relationship of the Church as the Bride of the Messiah. But again, it must always be kept in mind that the Church is pictured today as an engaged Bride who is not yet joined by marriage to her husband. (5)
The relevant New Testament passages about Bridegroom and Bride cited by Dr. Fruchtenbaum include: 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:6-9 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:9-22:5.
The passage in Ephesians 5 is well-known to most of us since a parallel is drawn between the relationship of a man and wife in marriage and the betrothal Jesus Christ has entered into with His church.
In discussing marriage, C.S. Lewis compares the sexual side aspect of marriage (which he calls Venus) distinguishing it from romantic love (éros),
"Some will think it strange I should find an element of ritual or masquerade in that action (the sexual relationship aspect of marriage) which is often regarded as the most real, the most unmasked and sheerly genuine, we ever do. Are we not our true selves when naked? In a sense, no. The word naked was originally a past participle; the naked man was the man who had undergone a process of naking, that is, of stripping or peeling (you used the verb of nuts and fruit). Time out of mind the naked man has seemed to our ancestors not the natural but the abnormal man; not the man who has abstained from dressing but the man who has been for some reason undressed. And it is a simple fact--anyone can observe it at a men's bathing place-that nudity emphasises common humanity and soft-pedals what is individual. In that way we are "more ourselves" when clothed. By nudity the lovers cease to be solely John and Mary; the universal He and She are emphasised. You could almost say they put on nakedness as a ceremonial robe--or as the costume for a charade. For we must still be aware--and never more than when we thus partake of the Pagan sacrament in our love-passages of being serious in the wrong way. The Sky-Father himself is only a Pagan dream of One far greater than Zeus and far more masculine than the male. And a mortal man is not even the Sky-Father, and cannot really wear his crown. Only a copy of it, done in tinseled paper. I do not call it this in contempt. I like ritual; I like private theatricals; I even like charades. Paper crowns have their legitimate, and (in the proper context) their serious, uses. They are not in the last resort much flimsier ("if imagination mend them") then all earthly dignities.
But I dare not mention this Pagan sacrament without turning aside to guard against any danger of confusing it with an incomparably higher mystery. As nature crowns man in that brief action, so the Christian law has crowned him in the permanent relationship of marriage, bestowing--or should I say, inflicting?--a certain "headship" on him. This is a very different coronation. And as we could easily take the natural mystery too seriously, so we might take the Christian mystery not seriously enough. Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband's headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church--read on--and give his life for her (Eph. 5:25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is--in her own mere nature--least lovable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man's marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.
To say this is not to say that there is any virtue or wisdom in making a marriage that involves such misery. There is no wisdom or virtue in seeking unnecessary martyrdom or deliberately courting persecution; yet it is, none the less, the persecuted or martyred Christian in whom the pattern of the Master is most unambiguously realised. So, in these terrible marriages, once they have come about, the "headship" of the husband, if only he can sustain it, is most Christ-like.
The sternest feminist need not grudge my sex the crown offered to it either in the Pagan or in the Christian mystery. For the one is of paper and the other of thorns. The real danger is not that husbands may grasp the latter too eagerly; but that they will allow or compel their wives to usurp it…" (The Four Loves).
C.S. Lewis reveals his delightful sense of humor when he suggests that a man should perhaps marry the most needy woman he can find in order to come closer to the model of Christ and his Bride as portrayed in Ephesians.
A charter member of the Wednesday Brothers, Mike McKenna, called our attention to the fact that men are just as needy as women--more so in fact, because of the headship role men are asked to assume.
After God created the first man, Adam/Eve he separated that one man into Adam and Eve and then presented them to one another. Adam exclaimed, "Here at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Marriage is therefore the oldest of human institutions, valid in every generation and acknowledged by every branch of the human race. (6)
In 1 Corinthians 15 we are presented the picture of Jesus Christ as the "Second Man," the head of a new race, and as the "Last Adam."
"…There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Corinthians 15:44-48)
Physical marriage and childbearing are features of life in the old creation which are not perpetuated into the new creation. The Bride Jesus is now courting is all of us--a good many million men, women, and children! It is not a literal marriage as we know marriage now in this life which awaits us in a heaven, but a full spiritual union with our Lord.
"…Jesus answered and said to them, 'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.'" (Luke 20:34-36)
Heaven is not to be thought of as a place of restricted love or limited intimacies. C.S. Lewis concludes his book on the natural loves by showing how they must first each be subservient to the agape love with is God. And secondly, our natural loves must be transformed or they will be irrelevant in heaven.
"And yet, I believe, the necessity for the conversion is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life. That they can enter it most of us in fact believe. We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our "greater body"; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition; not a condition arbitrarily laid down by God, but one necessarily inherent in the character of Heaven: nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly. "Flesh and blood," mere nature, cannot inherit that Kingdom. Man can ascend to Heaven only because the Christ, who died and ascended to Heaven, is "formed in him." Must we not suppose that the same is true of a man's loves? Only those into which Love Himself has entered will ascend to Love Himself. And these can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted--year after year, or in some sudden agony to transmutation. The fashion of this world passes away. The very name of nature implies the transitory. Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work. And the process will always involve a kind of death. There is no escape. In my love for wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself. By that presence, if at all, the other elements may hope, as our physical bodies hope, to be raised from the dead. For this only is holy in them, this only is the Lord.
Theologians have sometimes asked whether we shall "know one another" in Heaven, and whether the particular love-relations worked out on earth would then continue to have any significance. It seems reasonable to reply: "It may depend what kind of love it had become, or was becoming, on earth." For, surely, to meet in the eternal world someone for whom your love in this, however strong, had been merely natural, would not be (on that ground) even interesting. Would it not be like meeting in adult life someone who had seemed to be a great friend at your preparatory school solely because of common interests and occupations? If there was nothing more, if he was not a kindred soul, he will now be a total stranger. Neither of you now plays conkers. You no longer want to swop your help with his French exercise for his help with your arithmetic. In Heaven I suspect, a love that had never embodied Love Himself would be equally irrelevant. For Nature has passed away. All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.
But I must not end on this note, I dare not--and all the less because longings and terrors of my own prompt me to do so--leave any bereaved and desolate reader confirmed in the widespread illusion that reunion with the loved dead is the goal of the Christian life. The denial of this may sound harsh and unreal in the ears of the broken hearted, but it must be denied.
"Thou hast made us for thyself," said St. Augustine, "and our heart has no rest till it comes to Thee." This, so easy to believe for a brief moment before the altar or, perhaps, half-praying, half-meditating in an April wood, sounds like mockery beside a deathbed. But we shall he far more truly mocked if, casting this way, we pin our comfort on the hope--perhaps even with the aid of seance and necromancy--of some day, this time forever, enjoying the earthly Beloved again, and no more. It is hard not to imagine that such an endless prolongation of earthly happiness would be completely satisfying.
But, if I may trust my own experience, we get at once a sharp warning that there is something wrong. The moment we attempt to use our faith in the other world for this purpose, that faith weakens. The moments in my life when it was really strong have all been moments when God Himself was central in my thoughts. Believing in Him, I could then believe in Heaven as a corollary. But the reverse process-believing first in reunion with the Beloved, and then, for the sake of that reunion, believing in Heaven, and finally, for the sake of Heaven, believing in God-this will not work. One can of course imagine things. But a self-critical person will soon be increasingly aware that the imagination at work is his own; he knows he is only weaving a fantasy. And simpler souls will find the phantoms they try to feed on void of all comfort and nourishment, only to be stimulated into some semblance of reality by pitiful efforts of self hypnotism, and perhaps by the aid of ignoble pictures and hymns and (what is worse) witches.
We find thus by experience that there is no good applying to Heaven for earthly comfort. Heaven can give heavenly comfort; no other kind. And earth cannot give earthly comfort either. There is no earthly comfort in the long run.
For the dream of finding our end, the thing we were made for, in a Heaven of purely human love could not be true unless our whole Faith were wrong. We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love. It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His. In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself. But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do.
Jesus did not marry during His first visit to our planet. That is very clear from the New Testament. The important task of redeeming mankind and breaking the power of evil in the universe was always foremost in mind. On His return trip to earth, Jesus will be taking a Bride.
In weddings today the bride walks slowly down the aisle dressed in a magnificent wedding dress, accompanied by her father and bridesmaids. The groom, on the other hand, stands unnoticed to one side dressed like a penguin.
At the "marriage supper of the Lamb" it would be a poor match if the Bride showed up in shabby clothes showing little interest in Jesus the Bridegroom. Between now and our participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb the Spirit of God must provide us with a wedding dowry worthy of Christ the Groom. This seems like a tall order, but the wedding of Jesus will lack nothing. (7)
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” (Revelation 19:1-9)
3. C.S. Lewis reading The Four Loves, www.episcopalmedia.org
4. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, book, Harcourt, 1960
5. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Wife of Jehovah and the Bride of Messiah, MS#15, http://www.ariel.org
6. Made in the Image of God, http://www.ldolphin.org/Image.html
7. Lewis says that God does not love us because we are lovable, but because He is love. The love that comes from God seeks the best interest of the beloved regardless of the cost to the Giver. We do not easily receive God's gift love the first time we feel it extended towards us, nor do we readily learn how to love others the same way God loves us--which is what He is seeking.
A couple of months ago I met two Mormon missionaries at the post office. Instead of turning them away I invited them over to my house for conversation. They have been coming back every week since for an hour or two hours of open discussion on all sorts of topics. I have now met a total of ten local Mormon missionaries; four usually show up on Fridays. In addition to being polite and well-mannered my new friends mostly want to talk about the Bible. The Mormon belief system is familiar to me so I know when and where we are likely to agree to disagree. In recent years the LDS religion has been attempting to look more like they are mainstream Christians, but I accept these young men as individuals and thoroughly enjoy our times together.
News: I appreciate the privilege and opportunity given me to teach through Luke's gospel in the Forum Class at my home church, Peninsula Bible Church of Palo Alto. We are continuing into the summer months and currently we're about two-thirds through Luke. Weekly MP3 audio files are on my web site, and they are Podcast as well. [http://ldolphin.org/luke/]. Cassette tapes are available.
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