Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Theological Valentine

In Ephesians chapter 5 husbands are admonished to "love your wives as Christ loved the Church." This somewhat ambiguous imperative often leaves many a mate scratching his head and wondering what in the world that means. Conspicuously absent from Paul's admonishments are specific instructions on buying flowers, bringing her breakfast in bed, helping with the dishes or leaving love notes lying around. Had Paul been married, surely he would have appreciated the need for more detailed procedures. Men have difficulty translating his generalizing into precise demonstrations of our love for our better halves. Some might go so far as to suggest Paul's teaching lacks the itemized bullet-points that husbands, everywhere, need for a check list. Couldn't Paul anticipate such a need as this?

I will contend, however, that Paul knew exactly what he was doing. He directs husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, and then everywhere else gives a very developed and elaborate description of how Christ loved the Church. The "practical" teaching sought by men on how to love their wives is found everywhere Paul is engaged in proclaiming the work of Christ. Christology, ecclesiology and our eschatology will all inform about this wondrous union between the theoretical and the practical. The most elaborate handbook on developing a healthy marriage will spring out of one's theology.

I have found this to be true on a number of occasions through my marriage to Naomi. Theology informs my best course of action in nurturing the marriage. Take, for example, the time when I thought (it was my perception at the time) that I was the one initiating all intimate encounters between us. I thought our attraction to each other to be unidirectional. Finding this frustrating, in a moment of prayer I complained to God that I was tired of doing "all" the initiating, and declared that I was no longer going to do so. "Let her initiate our encounters," I whined to the Spirit; to which he respond with, "if Christ had waited for you to initiate your relationship with him, where would you be today?" Quickly losing that argument, I decided my attitude toward Naomi needed to change.

Recently, another theological/marital moment occurred just in time for Valentine's Day. Prior to that I had been reflecting on the revealing work of Christ (in the episode above I was in the midst of thinking through the pursuing work of Christ). Throughout the New Testament narratives, we see the work of Christ being progressively revealed to the apostles like a treasure or scavenger hunt. Little by little they receive the gift of the Spirit's work as the Church happens upon treasure after treasure of the gospel to the Jews, the Samaritans and the Gentiles, traveling from Judea to Samaria, and then out to the ends of the Earth. The work of Christ progressively reveals the building of his Church, incrementally showing her the great love she receive from him all at once when he died for her sin and then rose again to bring he life.

It was because of the revealing work of Christ that I was motivated to provide a progressively revealed gift to my wife, demonstrating the love she already has from me. Because of Paul command to love Naomi like Christ loves the Church, it was my pleasure to arrange a Valentine's Day gift to Naomi that would be progressively revealed. It started out by arranging with her employer for her early dismissal from work last Friday. Like Christ took the initiative to find me, so it was my duty to go find her and take the initiative in conspiring with her boss.

After that, I took her to a place she did not know about, nor knew what would happen when we arrived (some things are a given for a married couple on a romantic retreat, but that's none of your business). Nevertheless, she trusted me to lead in a romantic way. The destination included checking into our hotel before proceeding to American Airlines Center to attend a Dallas Stars hockey game. At the game the progressive revelation of my love for her continued. I had previously bought four gifts for her and (coordinating with the AAC retail staff) scattered them throughout the retail locations in the building. Before the game began, I sent to Naomi to go introduce herself at the first location. At each location, they received her with gladness, presenting her with her gift and sending her on to the next station. Her treasure hunt was to be a Valentine's Day present, progressively revealed, so that my love for her was a event with its own story.

After the Stars won, we spent the evening in Dallas, awaking Saturday morning to continue our adventure. This event was for intimacy of our minds: the King Tutankhamun exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. We explored and learned together, sharing in the rich historical and cultural experience. It was not merely for her of me... it was for us. This was a celebration of our oneness. It was a romantic 24 hours of revealing surprises and intimate sharing. It was a celebration of our union. It also gave me great pleasure to express love in this manner.

Such encounters not only grow out of my theology, but also inform my theology as well. Last weekend suggests that Christ must derive great pleasure from revealing his vast love for his Church in surprising, closeness inducing ways. It was a theological Valentine's Day that shows me just how helpful Paul is being when he suggests the tie in Ephesians 5.

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