Repeating the Pattern

The title of the previous article, that is, The Pattern of Sin, is somewhat misleading, since the evidence adduced revealed that the pattern established by the sin of Eve was also a general pattern of behaviour which, in the absence of law, is quite acceptable, indeed, in some cases, demanded (cf. Dt. 12:7,12ff.; 14:26; 26:11). I have already intimated that the Augustinian idea that the flesh and its passions are sinful is quite erroneous on the ground that they are natural and only become sinful when law is transgressed (cf. Rom. 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:56; Gal. 5:23). What God appeared to require of man made in his image from the outset was dominion or regulation of what is earthly, including his own body (cf. Col.3:5), according to law. But is this really the case? To answer this question we clearly need to examine more evidence.

God’s Own Attitude

I have intimated above that the pattern of behaviour was established by or instigated with Eve. But again, was it? Further reflection on the first chapter of Genesis made me realise that it is said there, in verses 4,10,12,18,21,25 and 31, that God himself ‘saw’ what was ‘good’ (kalos). Of course, it is not then said that he ‘took’ what he saw even legitimately, except in Adam’s case (Gen. 2:15), but arguably that may be inferred, especially when we recognise that blessing follows on the divine work of creation. As Wenham says (p.24), “The blessing of God is one of the great unifying themes of Genesis. God blesses animals (1:22), mankind (1:28), the Sabbath (2:3), Adam (5:2), Noah (9:1), and frequently the patriarchs (12:3; 17:16,20, etc.).” Even more appositely he adds, “God’s blessing is most obviously visible in the gift of children, as this is often coupled with ‘being fruitful and multiplying’.” He goes on to assert that the latter is central (cf. 1:28; 9:1,7; 17:6,20; 28:3; 41:52; 48:4), and it is in one sense a continuation of God’s creative activity which enables man to imitate him, that is, God, by procreating. Just as God sowed the creation he had brought into being (cf. Gen. 1:11), so the sons of God (Gen. 1:26,28; 5:1f.; 6:2; Luke 3:38, cf. 1 Cor.11:7-9) tend, till (cf. Gen.2:15)  and sow both the earth or womb (Ps.139:13,15) from which they are taken and the garden of delight or womb of their wives when they ‘know’ (Gen. 4:1,17,25) or ‘go in to’ (Gen. 16:4; 29:21) them. At least this would seem to be the conclusion drawn by the author of Genesis when he says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24, RSV).

It is hardly surprising then that when God himself sends his own incarnate Son into the world he ‘overshadows’ Mary (Lu. 1:35) as he had creation in Genesis 1:2 (cf. Ps. 104:30; Ex. 40:35). And even less surprising, in view of what has just been said, is it that Mary was blessed (Luke 1:42,48, cf. 11:27). While it can hardly be denied that Jesus emphasises the superiority of the spiritual over the physical (Luke 11:28), it remains true that the one is dependent on the other (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23,46; Gen. 8:21f.). In other words, just as the material creation derives from the invisible (Heb. 11:3), so it serves an invisible purpose that transcends it. Or, as Paul says with regard to our own earthly lives, the physical precedes the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46) but with intent. It might be noted here that when spiritual fruit fails to emerge when it is swamped by the fleshly or material in Genesis 6, the earth is threatened with an annihilating cataclysm that is only obviated by the covenant with Noah which promises better things in the future – the fulfilment of God’s purpose of salvation (Gen. 8:21f.).

Gods’ Love for Israel

It should not pass without notice that the divine pattern to be followed by man receives further confirmation in God’s own love for Israel, which, among other metaphors, is sometimes cast in sexual and nuptial terms. Whereas in Hosea he is betrothed to Israel forever (2:19), in Isaiah God himself is represented as a husband who fertilises a desolate wife (54:1-8; 62:5). This, however, prompts the question of what happened in history.

First, we note that Abram was born in Ur. From there he is taken to Canaan, intentionally by Terah (Gen. 11:31) and actually by God where he becomes very fruitful (Jos.24:3, cf. Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 28:13f.; 32:12). Just as God had taken Adam before him and put him in Eden and made him potentially fruitful, so now Abram is taken to Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land of the future. And it is here that the original promises made to Abram regarding his fruitfulness (Gen. 13:16; 17:2,4,6, etc.) are eventually fulfilled, at least on the physical level (1 Kings 3:8; 4:20). Again we note that just as Adam was one man who became many, so Abraham was one who also became many (Isa. 51:2). Even in the OT, however, we are led to believe that the purpose of all this was ultimately spiritual, for Israel was brought to physical birth so that the Spirit could be poured out on his descendants (Isa. 43:1-7; 44:1-5; 46:3f.; cf. Joel 2:28ff.). But here, especially in 43:4 (cf. 63:9), Isaiah gives tender expression to Israel’s preciousness in the eyes of God who loves as a husband loves the wife of his possession (43:1), who bears him children who will build his city (45:11-13, cf. Dt. 32:6b). Mention of the eyes of God reminds us not only of Eve’s eyes and her consequent desire but that God’s eyes and heart are on the house that Solomon has built (1 Kings 9:3) just as they were on the land from the time of the exodus (Dt.11:12). All this is in conformity with the assertion that God has loved his people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3)  which, having resulted historically in Israel’s call and election (Ex.19:1-6, cf. Dt. 4:37; 7:8,12f.; 10:15; 23:5), has culminated in a similar call to the Gentiles. For God’s love spills over in the NT to the whole world (John 3:16; Rom.5:8).

Christ’s Love for the Church

The love of Christ for the church is expressed in various ways such as a shepherd’s care for his sheep (John 10 and note Luke 22:15 which refers specifically to Jesus’ deep desire). But Paul, following on Jesus’ reference to the marriage feast (Mt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13; Luke 12:35-40), portrays Christ’s love for the church in husband-and- wife terms and actually quotes Genesis 2:24 (Eph. 5:31). He also refers to the unity of the believer with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17) as, of course, does Jesus himself (John 17:21-23, cf. 14:20). It is perhaps in the book of Revelation that we are given the most graphic portrayal of the marriage of Christ with his bride, the church. It is consummated in heaven itself of which Eden was but a pale reflection. (It should be noted, however, that the preaching of the word is presented to us in the NT as the sowing of seed in the hearts and minds of people. While Jesus produces no physical seed like the first Adam, he most certainly produces spiritual children, see Mark 4:3ff., cf. 3:35; James 1:18,21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9, who together constitute his bride).

It is important to recognise that my ruminations on the pattern began with Genesis 3:6 and sin. But it soon became clear that the pattern as such did not always involve sin (cf. Eph. 1:18). It was only when law intervened between natural, God-given, desire that problems arose. While I have tried to argue that the basic pattern is rooted in God himself, the Bible clearly warns us that God and his law are not alone in the field. Not for nothing did Jesus tell parables about the role of the devil, the god of this world. Capable of posing as an angel of light, he also imitates God. When he is not snatching away the seed God has sown (Mt. 13:18), he sows his own seed which produces weeds (13:25). Elsewhere we learn that these weeds are the children he fathers (1 John 3:8,10).  And needless to say, it is again a question of like father like son (John 8:44). The sons of the devil behave like the devil and like him will not gain entry into the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9f.; Rev.21:8; 20:10).

And so while the pattern of seeing, desiring and taking is fundamental to mankind, since it is a re-enactment of God’s own practice, and can be grossly perverted by illegitimate indulgence (cf. Jer. 6:13; 8:10; 22:17; Is.56:11), we are forced nonetheless to draw the conclusion that the Augustinian view of passionate love as sinful is itself a perversion of biblical teaching. It needs to be strongly stressed that Augustine’s Manichean views on sex and marriage which have haunted the church, especially the Roman Church*, for so long must be jettisoned in favour of a more healthy view. Once we recognise that the origin of mankind’s pattern of behaviour is rooted in God himself, we can abandon the idea that ‘lust’, a loaded term, or passionate desire, especially in marriage, is sinful (carnal concupiscence) as pernicious nonsense (cf. Ezek.24:16, etc.). Indeed, we can go further and assert with the Bible that sexual attraction (and other desires not forbidden by the tenth commandment) is wholesome and good, in fact the mainspring of the fruitfulness that God sanctions and blesses (see espec. 1 Cor. 7:36; 1 Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4).

Finally, we do well to remember that the God who is love, who has chosen us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4f.) and loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), is the most passionate and persistent lover of all. And not without reason Paul tells us to model our love for our wives on Christ’s love for the church for which he died (Eph. 5:25). It goes without saying that so far as most of us are concerned our imitation of God    comes well short.

* It is a rather odd anomaly that Roman Catholicism, in contrast with Israel, advocates the celibacy of the clergy yet encourages fruitfulness in lay marriage.