“If I have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2
Like it says in my bio, I write on anything that strikes my mind long enough to make it onto the computer. It’s usually sparked by something in my life: In this case, it was an episode of Bones.
This particular episode features a child who’s been systematically abused by both her mother and father. As they’re being interrogated, the husband knocks the wife to the ground to stop her from admitting the abuse. Immediately, the interrogating agent yanks him upright, shoves him against a wall and knocks him out with a punch. The anger on his face is, if possible, even more angry than his punch, and as I watched it, I became angry myself. To be honest, I don’t think any person could watch this without getting caught up in it. But why?
After all, I don’t get caught up in it as much with the “regular,” run-of-the-mill murderers in the show. I don’t get as angry at the prospect of someone killing a stranger for his money, or killing their boss out of anger. In theory, beating someone isn’t as bad as outright killing them, so why am I so angry? Why does this infuriate me so much more than the “normal” murders on the show?
I think it’s this: There is something sickening about a man who assumes authority without love. There is something loathsome about a man who uses his authority to harm rather than help.
Paul knew this. He knew that when he told wives to submit to their husbands, that there was potential for men to seize upon this idea of authority and twist it. And so immediately after that, Paul tells us that the duty of the husband is “to love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her… Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” This is in no way of less priority than the authority and headship Paul speaks of earlier. It is, instead, of greater authority: Paul repeats himself, tying it repeatedly and explicitly to Christ’s love for the church.
And the love Paul speaks of here isn’t a mere passive feeling; it is active. Bound up in this idea of love is protection and service and self-sacrifice. This isn’t the qualification for an “exceptional” marriage: This is what marriage itself is supposed to be. This is not a suggestion, or a helpful tip, or something “extra”. This is the God-given duty of every husband towards his wife, and it’s a duty that the husband is generally specifically suited to fulfill.
So back to Bones. That man was physically stronger than his wife. He was more aggressive, better able to handle physical pain, and highly protective–all traits which were supposed to be selflessly used in her defense. He was meant to be protective of his wife and wildly aggressive towards anything which would threaten her, using his strength and even his very body, his flesh and bones, to defend her, no matter the pain it brought him. He was meant to be willing even to die in her defense, as Christ did.
So why is my reaction, my anger, so much stronger towards the man who beats his wife and child, instead of the common murderer? Part of it is that the man is using what God gave him for the protection of his family to harm his family. He used his strength to beat his wife and daughter. The only person he cared to protect was himself, and he turned his aggression towards his own family when he was threatened.
He is inhuman. Moreover, he is unmanly. And, to be honest, all sin is inhuman. All sin is a perversion of what we are supposed to be: Misplaced passion, wrong desires, twisting and distorting what should have been good until it becomes evil. But this–this is a complete reversal, an utter and complete betrayal of everything it was supposed to be. There is nothing good left in it, when it could have been and should have been an amazing instance of theology in the flesh, a literal incarnation of the great love Christ has for His Church.
The man who beats his wife is less than a man, and I think almost everyone understands that on some level. But that’s only a part of it. Because as I think about it, I realize there is something else in the anger. It’s the knowledge that every selfish decision on my part, every time my first instinct is to serve myself instead of my wife, is a step in that direction. It’s the knowledge that a husband could become that, that it happens, that men who apparently set out to love their wives can devolve into that. It’s the knowledge that I could become that. It’s the knowledge that this is what happens when authority is separated from love.
And it terrifies me.
Yet, I have hope. I have hope in God, and in the love he has shown to us. I have hope that because God loves me, I can love my wife. I have hope that I can remain a man, that I can love her in leading her and serving her.
When marriage goes wrong, it goes very wrong. But when marriage goes right… when marriage really goes right, it is literally a taste of heaven on earth, an earthly manifestation of a heavenly thing, a mystery as profound and marvelous as the Israelites’ Tabernacle, covered in precious metals and sparkling with precious stones.
And that is what I strive for, every day.