Friday, December 18, 2009

Surpassing the Love of Women

A friend came by yesterday and pointed me to 2 Samuel 1:26 as a verse that recently caught his attention and caught him off guard a bit. He said it also made for some lively family conversation.

David is lamenting the death of Saul and Jonathan, and he sings: "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women."

My friend pointed out that some people might really make hay with that sort of description. And they do. Isn't this evidence of David's homosexual proclivities? Um, no.

But it did get me thinking about the importance of male friendship and companionship for men. And I don't mean this in a sappy, sentimental, let's-all-have-a-group-hug-and-cry-on-each-others'-shoulders sort of male friendship. I don't think David and Jonathan stared into each others' eyes and nodded silently as they shared their "struggles" with one another. Gehk.

I think it means broadly that they fought next to each other. They laid down their lives for each other, and sought peace, justice, and goodness together and for one another and their families. And yes they did embrace one another, kissed one another, and laughed, cried, and suffered together and for one another. God *commands* men to exchange the kiss of peace and love with one another. So even though their friendship wasn't sappy, it was obviously warm and genuine.

But here's the point, and actually it's really a question. Sometimes I talk to men who have a particular sort of string of problems: parents, girls, and frequently theological instability. And often it's in that order. And it makes good sense to me to drawn the line back to the father-son relationship in particular but then expand that broadly to include other significant men in his life. Often, there is a significant breakdown or deficiency there and then they start having these other problems with mom, girlfriends, church life, school, etc.

And this get's back to David's lament: I wonder if David is not merely describing in a poetic way the close friendship he shared with Jonathan. I wonder if there is some sense in which the love of a brother is a foundational sort of love. Obviously, a wife becomes the most important love, the greatest duty of a man, but is there some sense in which the love of a father/brother/friend/pastor/teacher surpasses the love of women in so far as it has a particular way of training a man, grounding a man, establishing a man as a man, preparing him to be a husband?

Writing this makes me want to go back and look at Lewis's Four Loves because it sort of sounds like something he would say or talk about.

Last thought: another way of defending this idea would be to look at the Trinity. There we have the love of the Father and the Son as foundational and prior to the love of the Son for the world, the Church, His bride. The love of the Father and the Son "surpasses" in some sense the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, in so far as we mean that it was prior to it. But it was that love between the Father and the Son that flowed out into the world in creation and redemption. It was that love that enabled the Son to die for His bride.

So my thesis is that a good husband is a man who knows and has been trained by other good men, fathers and older brothers. That kind of love surpasses the love of women, but that kind of love is also the kind of love that overflows to the love of a woman, a bride.

Ultimately, this love that surpasses the love of women is the love of Christ, the Man. Men must know and love and be known and be loved by that Man in order to love their wives and children faithfully. That love most certainly does surpass the love of women, and without it there can be no faithful love of women. And it cannot come as a surprise that a man who does not know this love would also have difficulties loving all the women in his life: mom, girlfriends, wife, daughters, and the Church.


Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Really good thoughts.

Body Magic said...

You really have to go out of your way to rationalize that this doesn't mean they loved each other in a romantic and, yes, sexual way. Mature human sexuality takes many forms, including homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality. You can try all you want to deny that many men love and desire each other, but you're really just blowing hot air in order to reinforce your narrow-minded beliefs, which are based in fear of what you don't understand. Please don't degrade this beautiful ode to romantic love between men by implying it's about anything else. Just grow up and accept it for what it is, a part of God's plan.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that this passage refers to same-sex affection? Is it possible that a person of God was (or can be) a homosexual? Is it a "given" that God hates homosexuality? Is there any room in religious thought that possibly, just possibly, God made homosexuals AS homosexuals? And is there any room in conservative religious thought that maybe everyone should love and accept others just as they are, regardless of whether we understand them or not?

Isn't that the real basis of any type of love?

Toby said...

Thanks for the comments, Body Magic and Anon (and Valerie!).

I obviously disagree with you, Body. It's actually the other way around. There's a boatload of rationalizing that takes place before anyone can read the Bible and come away with the conclusion that homosexuality is an acceptable expression of love.

And to be clear, I do not deny that many men desire one another sexually. But the Biblical name for that desire is lust and is not love.

Anon, is it possible that David struggled with same-sex temptation? Sure, I'd be willing to grant that possibility. Is is possible that a Christian might have once been a homosexual or continue to fight that sin? Absolutely. Paul says that there were former homosexuals in Corinth (and I assume the same was true in many of the early churches). Your question about there being room for homosexuals in "conservative Christian thought" is where perhaps you don't understand where I'm coming from. The central issue is what does the Bible say? What has God said? He made us male and female, and He knows what His image in us is supposed to look.

And lastly, I emphatically disagree that love should accept others "just as they are." God's love for us does not accept us "just as we are." God loves us "in Christ" and for His commitment to conform us to the image of Christ. I can love a homosexual person for the same reason because I hope and pray that they will forsake their sins and cling to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness. God's love is set on changing us, and that's the basis for any human love.