Sunday, December 15, 2019

Why Didn’t Jesus Marry?

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 2020. Bet you didn’t know that. I had to look it up.

For readers who weren’t around in 1970, this pithy summary from GotQuestions is pretty much on-the-nose: “It is an attempt to rewrite history. It makes the traitor Judas Iscariot a victim and reduces the Lord Jesus Christ to a burnt-out celebrity who is in over his head.”

I never saw Superstar back in the day, but a few of the older guys in my mid-’70s youth group loved the soundtrack and played it to death at our basement get-togethers. The experience was musically painful and theologically teeth-grinding.

She Didn’t Know How to Love Him

The most odious tune of the bunch was the big hit, the Yvonne Elliman version of I Don’t Know How to Love Him. It’s supposed to be Mary Magdalene singing about her crush on the Lord, and it went something like this:
“I don’t know how to love him
What to do, how to move him
He’s a man, he’s just a man
And I’ve had so many men before
In very many ways he’s just one more.”
Bleh, I thought, and still do. There’s sacred, there’s profane, then there’s cheesily saccharine AND profane, which has got to be at least one notch further down on the sizzle spectrum.

But it was the first time I’d ever thought about the Lord as someone who might potentially have provoked the romantic attentions of women, or have responded to them (appropriately, of course). It seemed a weird and inappropriate notion.

But Hey, Why Not?

Okay, but why is that? Why couldn’t Jesus have married? Hebrews tells us he “had to be made like his brothers in every respect,” and that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Surely if there is anyone in human history who could have done marriage perfectly, it is our Lord.

So why didn’t he? Wouldn’t a married Jesus have given Christian husbands a whole lot of useful tips about relating to their wives? Wouldn’t a married Jesus have clarified for Christian feminists once and for all what the “servant leadership” dynamic really looks like in marriage? Wouldn’t a married Jesus better help us understand the wonderful spiritual reality marriage pictures for us, which is the relationship between Christ and his church? Why deprive us of all that?

Here we are asking a question our Bible doesn’t answer, and putting words in the mouth of the Lord or speculating about the plans and purposes of God the Father is a couple steps more than I’m comfortable taking without scriptural warrant. So let’s reframe the question a bit so that we don’t go trampling holy ground with our shoes on: Supposing the Lord Jesus HAD married, how might humanity have reacted? That much we can certainly chew on without being irreverent.

Implications and Consequences

Well, let’s see. Making a marriage requires making a choice, and the Lord would have had to select an appropriate partner. Can you imagine what church history would have done with any woman personally selected for her exceptional qualities by the Son of God? Picture the “Blessed Virgin” business squared or cubed, except of course presumably without the attributed eternal virginity. You would have had the usual devoted-but-severely-confused people wandering around praying to her, asking her to intercede with her husband for us, making little statues of her and generally turning her into a billion dollar industry. You would have had believing women modeling themselves on her conjectured attributes, self-flagellating when they couldn’t live up to their mental pictures of her, or, alternatively, rationalizing away deficiencies in their own behavior by telling each other unflattering fictions about what she was really like. Ugh.

Then there is the fact that marriage usually produces children. Had the Lord married in his late teens or early twenties, which was probably normal timing in the first century, he could easily have fathered several sons and daughters by the time he began his ministry. Once again, imagine what the community of faith might have done with those children and their heirs. They would have been considered a super-race, possessed of all sorts of qualities we haven’t got and can only aspire to. Or perhaps they would have been as viciously persecuted as their father. We can only speculate. What we can be sure of is that they would have been singled out and have become a huge practical and theological distraction, a new category of being we’d all have to get our heads around. Hmm. No thanks.

Changing Dynamics and Complicated Decisions

It should be obvious that having a family would not have kept the Powers That Be from murdering the Lord of Glory. He would have had to leave his earthly family behind far too young, all the while knowing the pain this would cause them. Doubtless he could have made suitable arrangements for their care just as he provided for the care of his mother, but what actually happened is certainly simpler and kinder. Knowing from the beginning exactly what he was destined for, the Lord Jesus declined to inflict his lot on any more loved ones than absolutely necessary.

Again, we may be able to imagine what the Lord’s married life might have been like from his early twenties to age 30 or thereabouts, but what would our Lord have done with his family for the three-plus years he was ministering in public, and how would people have assessed that? “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” They sure weren’t coming with him, and if they had, the relationship dynamics with his disciples would have been significantly altered.

Numbers and Distractions

Another thought. There are currently 62 million married couples in the U.S., 124 million people out of a population of 326 million, or 38% of the population. That means that at any given time, almost 2/3 of the population is single. Never mind how unmarried believers might feel about whether a married Savior really understands their issues, which is yet another matter for speculation. It is sufficient to note that in remaining single, the Lord chose to make his personal experiences relatable to a much larger segment of the population than he might have done by marrying.

Then there is the matter of distraction. Marriage is a big one. “The married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.” Our Lord could surely have managed the conflicts, interruptions and distractions that would undoubtedly have come his way from married life. But how would his unmitigated devotion to his Father play with any normal woman? I suspect there are few who could handle the Lord’s unequaled commitment to his Father’s will.

The Testimony of the Scriptures

I notice that when we consider this subject, Christians will point out that there’s not the faintest hint of sexual interest toward his female followers coming from the Lord in any of the four gospels. Not one sniff.

They are correct on that count. Even the Lord’s enemies never once attempted to accuse him of sexual hijinks or loose living. The scribes and Pharisees certainly didn’t hold their tongues with respect to Jesus’ other “sins”, such as “breaking the Sabbath” and eating and drinking with publicans and sinners, and we know that the gospel writers faithfully recorded their objections to these activities. They would surely have just as faithfully recorded their objections to the way the Lord related to the women who ministered to him and his disciples. Yet there isn’t one accusation any time that he misbehaved in this regard. Given the reputation of men generally, his track record of impeccability is mind-boggling, especially for such an admired figure — not to mention the walking embodiment of love.

Even in the house of Simon, when his feet are being anointed by a “fallen woman”, you don’t get any sense the Lord was reciprocating her attention, or that the contemptuous Simon even thought he was. Instead, Simon criticizes Jesus’ apparent paucity of prophetic insight. If there was any evidence of heightened emotion in the room, it was surely on her side alone.

This is a remarkable fact, since it’s the very FIRST thing the Lord’s enemies would have raised if they’d thought for a second anyone would have believed them. It’s the most plausible of slanders one can raise against a man. But ... not in his case.

We can therefore be quite confident there’s no “there” there in the questions raised by Webber and Rice, and which turned up again in Dan Brown’s noxious The Da Vinci Code. Brown went even further than Superstar, positing a twenty-century clerical conspiracy to hide the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a daughter together.

Double bleh. Never happened. Just the usual round of pagans taking cheap shots.

Essential Differences in Nature

Finally, there are monumental theological and practical issues involved with the Lord taking a wife. Consider that it took eleven different normally-flawed men to collectively absorb three years of the Lord’s teaching and pass it on to the world. During that time, despite his love for them, they were an ongoing source of frustration to the Lord. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” He was gracious and good to them at all times, and he came among them as a servant and served perfectly. But in no way was he really like them. They were always struggling not just to keep up, but to even stay within shouting distance.

Fallen men can pair up with fallen women with some measure of occasional success because we are operating more or less on the same level. But how would a marriage work when one partner was literally ALWAYS right, and the other partner knew it? When the differences between partners were not just matters of role, responsibilities and authority, but went right down to the essential nature of one partner? Whatever such a relationship might be, it would be vastly different from anything you or I might ever experience, and for both parties. It would be orders of magnitude more bizarre and inappropriate than marrying your cat.

One day we will indeed be “like him” in some sense. Fit for God’s presence. Made compatible with the divine nature. That’s a marvelous thought. But we will not become gods, though God lives out his life through us. We will always be his creatures. And that’s not a bad thing to recognize.

The notion that any one woman, however (relatively) virtuous, might ever have constituted a fit partner for God in the flesh is more than a little presumptuous. There is very good reason the Church has never seriously entertained it.

Photo courtesy BroadwaySpain [CC BY-SA 4.0]

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