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Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

Marriage has all kinds of romantic and spiritual functions. I’ve tried to explore them in my previous four posts. But it also has some practical functions. The practical ones are the ones I’m focusing on today.

Ultimately, if nothing else, I believe God invented marriage to take care of some essential human needs.

Basically, I believe marriage is meant to guarantee that every human being who chooses to be married has a partner to care for his or her needs for the rest of his or her life. It hasn’t always worked that way, to be sure, but I believe that’s what it’s meant to do.

The conjunction of male and female means that the unique gifts/strengths/abilities of each sex are available for meeting the needs of daily life. Marriage between a man and woman increases the number of talents and abilities to draw from more than any other relationship because it combines the strengths of both genders. And I really believe that each sex has unique strengths to offer.

When thinking this through, at one point I actually concluded that marriage is primarily designed for the benefit of women. I have since reconsidered, and decided that it was made for both sexes equally, but I still concede that marriage is pretty important for women.

Marriage was designed in part as insurance that each woman gets properly taken care of.

Here’s how I thought about it. I figured God must have been able to foresee that because he made men physically bigger and stronger, and designed women’s bodies to bear children (thereby making them more vulnerable, especially when pregnant), that men would abuse and exploit women. And he was right: they have, and they do.  Men quickly began to wield all social and economic power, too. So God decided, “Every woman should have a husband to protect and defend her, and her offspring, against other men. Each man must commit himself to only one woman, and not go around impregnating all kinds of women and then abandoning them. He must take care of her, and all the children she produces, for life.”

See, the difficulty with creating women to bear the children is that it makes them intrinsically tied to their offspring, and thus more susceptible to neglect and abuse, unlike men. A man can technically walk away from the relationship the moment he has impregnated a woman and never look back. A woman at least has to bring the child to term, and then feed the baby from her own body. So God said, “No way – you’re sticking around, gentlemen. ONE WOMAN AND THAT’S IT – FOR LIFE. So make it good.”

So he came up with marriage, to serve that practical function.

(Unfortunately, lots of men decided to take lots of wives anyway. And even within monogamous marriages men have abused and exploited women horribly throughout history. But the principle behind it makes sense).

But then I later came to understand that women are just as necessary for men as men are for women. God created women to save men, too. After all, he called Eve Adam’s ezer kenegdo. That’s the Hebrew term used in Genesis 2 – the term that has been lamely translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in most English translations. According to Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, though, ezer kenegdo is better translated as “sustainer beside him” or something to that effect.[i] In fact, ezer is often used in the Old Testament to describe God when he saves his people. You know that verse, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”?  (Ps. 121:1-2, emphasis added). The word that’s translated as help here is the same word for Eve – ezer.

That’s what Eve is to Adam. His ezer. His lifesaver. His help in times of desperate need.

And what did Eve save Adam from?

I personally think she saved him from isolation. And that’s what all of us women do: we rescue men from eternal isolation.

I mean that on a deeper level than just the literal. Sure, Adam was literally alone at first, and so when God made Eve she saved him from physical solitude. But I think it’s more than that, too. I think that if God had populated the earth with thousands or millions of Adams, the problem would still be there. Men would remain isolated, because they don’t have the gift of relationship that women have.

Men tend to be much more violent, reserved, self-absorbed, and territorial. They’re not nearly as good at empathizing, bonding, nurturing, sharing, reading people’s emotions, or expressing themselves as women are. I’m not just listing stereotypes, I’m repeating what I learned in Psychology 101. Women are much better at all of these things. Guys, in general, suck at connecting.

This is clear from history: men have almost always had the majority of the power in most human communities and civilization, and as a result have flooded human history with violence. Men stab and blow each other up because they can’t connect. They can’t get outside their own egos. I truly believe that as women gain influence in societies, they bring with them their powers of empathy and connectedness, and this is a good thing. These qualities help civilizations get along. Men need women to help them not kill each other so much.

I’ve heard it said, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” I deeply believe that this is true. Often it is a wife, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be – it could be a mother or sister.  Every successful man must have a woman somewhere who made him who he is.  Without wives, mothers and sisters, men would not be able to come out of their caverns of self-absorption and learn to love.

I believe that this is true of mankind in general but also on an individual level. Most men need women to help them connect with other members of the human species. I know my husband needs me for this purpose.

I once read that statistically, that if an elderly woman loses her husband, she can usually go on living for many more years if she is physically healthy. But when an old man loses his wife, he usually dies shortly thereafter. He has lost his link to humanity and thus expires.

I’m not saying by any means that woman’s only gift to humanity is her relational powers, nor that a man’s only contribution to a marriage is his strength in beating off violent offenders.  But I think that these are some of the practical reasons God instituted marriage. Eve’s ability to nurture and empathize rescues Adam from his self-imposed isolation, and Adam’s bodily strength protects his physically vulnerable wife.*

Men need women and women need men. That’s why God created marriage – to enable men and women to rescue one another, from man’s violence and from eternal isolation.

This is my theory, anyway. What do you think?

What am I forgetting? How else do husbands and wives or men and women save one another? How else does each of the sexes contribute to the cohesion, health and success of the human species? How else does marriage serve a practical function? Also, is there a better way of describing Eve’s strength than ”gift of relationship” or “relational powers?” I sense that these terms are lame.


[i] Eldredge, John and Stasi. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson, 2005. 31.

*I’m also not saying that every woman and every man has these gender-specific gifts, or at least not in equal share. But in general, women are better at the one thing and men are better at the other.

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If you’ve been sticking with me for the last week or so, I’ve been exploring the purposes of marriage. So far, I’ve explained that I think they are (a) not to achieve happiness; (b) to grow us up; and (c) to teach us about God.  Another purpose of marriage, I believe, is (d) to teach us what it means to be human.

Let me explain.

# 1. Being human is about acknowledging and balancing our “composite nature” – in other words, the fact that we are both material and spiritual.

I, along with the majority of humanity throughout history, believe that human beings are somehow both earthly and celestial; both mortal and immortal; both carnal and divine. Aristotle called human beings “rational animals,” highlighting our paradoxical nature. Philip Yancey elegantly describes us as “angels wallowing in mud, mammals attempting to fly”[i]. He elaborates: “Although our cells may carry traces of stardust, we also bear the image of the God who made those stars”[ii]. We are a mysterious blend of earth and heaven.

I believe that marriage allows us to see this fact most clearly.

The sexual union which takes place in marriage is both the most animalistic and the most transcendent of human experiences. On the one hand it is merely biological – the meeting of organs and bodily fluids. It is an act we share in common with toads, cats and antelope. But on the other hand, it is one of the most personal and intimate of acts between two people.  In human sexual expression, souls touch.

We know that sex is different for humans than it is for animals because no other species on the planet makes such a big deal out of sex. No other creature seeks privacy in copulation. No other animal seeks exclusivity so intensely, and expresses such rage and sorrow at having that exclusivity intruded upon (Just think of how passionate lovers feel when they find out their partners have had an affair). No other species makes jokes and feels embarrassed about sex, as if it were somehow unnatural. Only humans recognize that there is something profound and otherworldly about sex.

No other act makes humans more aware that they are a strange and mysterious blend of the earthly and the divine.

Moreover, the experience of purposefully spending a lifetime with a single human being also teaches us how paradoxical we are, as we must take care of one another’s most basic, physical necessities at the same that we must consider each other’s highest emotional needs. We are an odd species indeed.

#2. Being human is about living in community and learning that we need one another.

Homo sapiens are a communal species. We are social by nature. Yet, we are eternally plagued by a desire to be selfish, to serve our own needs at the expense of others, and to pull away from one another when we experience conflict.  A part of us wants to be individual, to be special, to be above one another. In these times, we fight against our nature, as we fight to be separate from and better than one another.

Life by ourselves makes us less human. Life with other people makes us more human.

One of the most basic and natural ways in which we humans forge community is through marriage – through falling in love, making commitments to one another, living together, and creating families.

One of the most natural pulls we humans have to one another is that of sexual attraction and desire. That attraction and desire brings us to do all kinds of unnatural (or, one might say, transcendental) things, like swearing to remain loyal to a single human being for the rest of our lives. That powerful, instinctive drive for a sexual partner ensures that we seek out communion with another human being, even when we would often not choose to.  The instinct for marriage draws us into community.

The instinct for marriage, in short, keeps us human.

#3. Being human is about making sacrifices for one another and finding out that we’re better off for having done it.

Commenters on my previous posts have already pointed out that marriage creates an atmosphere where you need to make sacrifices to one another, and in doing so you become more like the person God wants you to be. Jesus and experience teach us that when we willingly sacrifice ourselves to others, instead of losing ourselves we actually gain.

Again, I think that no relationship exemplifies this fact like marriage. We have to surrender our time, our comfort, our desires, and our energy to make our relationship work – day after day after day.  And in the end, we win. In the process we get a constant lifelong companion who makes all kinds of personal sacrifices for our sakes, too.

As C. S. Lewis puts it, “one of the first things Eros [which he defines as “being in love”] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving”[iii]. When you are in love, giving and receiving become identical. When in love, you delight in giving good things to your beloved so much that it is like giving yourself a gift.

The same is with sex: when you give your body to your beloved an act of supreme vulnerability, you win.

Marriage, then, teaches us the truth about giving and about the nature of humanity.

In these ways, then, I believe marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

What do you think? Do you think marriage helps us to understand what being human is all about? Does my second point, especially the last part, even make sense to you? (My husband wasn’t so sure). Am I overlooking any other very important aspects of being human, or marriage?

*Note: For my next post, I think I’m going to take a break from all this heavy philosophizing and tell you a dumb story about my husband, and what he said to my friends to make me wish he had a mute button. It is a teensy bit very scandalous.

Then I want to finish my series with What is the Point of Marriage? Part 5: To Fulfill Basic Human Needs

Also: Yes, that’s me and my husband on our wedding day in the photo. Is it cheesy to post my own wedding pics on my blog?? I’m nervous about taking other ones from the internet and inadvertently breaking the law.


[i] Yancey, Philip. Rumours of Another World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 38.

[ii] ibid., 39.

[iii] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.

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