Are marriage and sex appropriate images of our relationship with God? While reading an article on Christian marriage I came across what I consider a pretty shocking statement. The writer began by comparing man's relationship with the Lord to human marriage. Then he went on to say that we must "marry God" and even suggested that, in the context of this union, Christ plants "spiritual seeds" in us so that we can "give birth to new life." I find this highly sexualized language both offensive and confusing. It's one thing to talk about the church as "the Bride of Christ." It's something else to suggest that we can actually interact at this level of intimacy with God! Many Muslims reject Christianity for this very reason. They think that when we speak of Jesus as God's Son, we're implying that the Father had sexual relations with Mary. Shouldn't we do everything we can to avoid such misunderstandings?
We can see why you feel so strongly about this. The last thing we want to do is place unnecessary obstacles to belief in anybody's way by using inappropriate human analogies to characterize our relationship with God. This practice, which is sometimes called anthropomorphism, is always theologically risky. If we're going to use it at all, we have to employ it with great care. But while it's crucial to use such language as judiciously as possible, it's almost impossible to avoid using it altogether. Human beings are temporal, earthly creatures. As such, they tend to understand only what is explained to them in human terms. Jesus says that God is Spirit. We cannot see Him face to face with the eyes of the flesh. Accordingly, we have to learn to think of Him in terms of several different humanly comprehensible images-for example, as Parent, Friend, Husband, Master, Savior.
Marriage and sexuality can also be helpful in this regard. Used properly, they can serve as useful images of the believer's relationship with God. They do, of course, have some obvious drawbacks and limitations. And yet the Bible often employs them in this way. We can see this in several places in the New Testament. Paul says plainly that the "mystery" of marriage provides us with a picture of Christ's union with the church (Ephesians 5:32). And John compares the New Jerusalem to "a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). We find the same thing in the Old Testament. Several Old Testament writers describe God's passionate love for His people not only as marital but even as explicitly sexual in nature (see, for example, Ezekiel Chapter 16; Hosea Chapters 1-3; Isaiah 57:8-9; and, of course, Song of Solomon in its entirety).
Naturally we don't take this to mean that any of us has actual, physical sexual relations with God (as the Mormons say concerning the virgin Mary). That would be a gross misunderstanding. This is symbolic language. It's always possible that some people may fall into this very trap. But we can't for this reason disown the words of Scripture. Nor should we deprive ourselves of the richness of the biblical imagery. Instead, it's much better to take the time to explain the real significance of these word pictures for those who may be confused about their meaning.
If you'd like to discuss this subject at greater length, don't hesitate to give us a call. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
Becoming a Christian