We Are Not Garden Snails

“In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). For years I had been trying to get to the bottom of this troubling passage, and it all started with a conversation about garden snails.

“Do you know where Plato thinks human sexuality comes from?” my friend Jack asked.

I had not.

“He writes about it in the Symposium,” he began. “Until God split people into two halves, they had both male and female parts, like garden snails.”

“Ah,” I said, trying not to picture it.

“The idea is that as either male or female people are less than they used to be,” he continued. “Ever since the Great Split, love has been a hunt for what’s been lost—sexual wholeness.”

“Okay,” I said.

Jack looked at me.

I nodded. “Okay, so…”

“So don’t you see?” he asked. “Plato’s myth makes the goal of all loving absolutely unattainable. No matter how tightly a woman clings to a man, she could never be him, and he could never be her. They will always be other. Complements, not copies.”

“Men and women cannot be the same,” I shrugged.

“We should not want to be the same. Plato’s myth is a nightmare,” he said. “We are not garden snails.”

At first, Jack’s blank statement made me feel awkward. People just don’t say things like that. But as I sat there, I started to think about how we are not garden snails. Obviously. But then I thought about the book of Genesis, and about the old lines, “In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” It has become the great stumbling block of our time.

 

[Note: this essay was first published by Crisis Magazine and is reprinted with permission.]

Breaking Androgyny’s Shell

Whether the topic is gay marriage, surrogacy, women’s ordination, birth control, or even parenting, one thing is clear: sexual differentiation breaks contemporary social conventions. The male-and-female image of God is a summons, an invitation, a rebuke. It is the biological prophet, and if there is one thing the world cannot stand it is a prophet. The eternal Son of God born of the virgin Mary was crucified precisely because he was incarnate as a man and not a mollusk. To this day, like garden snails, the world prefers darkness (John 3:19). It cannot endure the countenance of the New Adam.

But when the triune God made humanity he did not make an androgynous mollusk. He made Adam and then he made Eve. He wanted them to be fruitful and to multiply. In Eve, Adam discovered the joy of receiving something “counter, original, spare, strange.” The fruitfulness of human otherness, the rich diversity of being male and female, is creation—children, life! an-other life!—and this otherness is the joy of human existence. It is the longing pursuit of God after his chosen people, the joy of the marriage supper of the Lamb. This, I thought, must be some kind of clue to what it means to be human, a key to life full to the brim.

Sexual polarity was made to tell of God’s glory. It’s a signpost, a herald, a never-ending story. Adam and Eve are a historic fact, yes, but they are also a symbol; and some symbols, I believe, are inviolable.

I wonder if the cry in our hearts against being garden snails is a reminder that we are meant to live a life in Christ, not as demigods or as mollusks, but as men and women. To be a man or woman who is fully alive. Deep down we feel a hunger pain. We want to live a story that is about something more than just “me and my happiness.”

How rich and sweet and root-down-deep it is to love, how heavy a burden it is to be made in the image of God. Human sexuality is a tiny snapshot of God’s supreme glory in creation, new creation, and consummation. Human sexual differentiation, epitomized in marriage, is a vision of God through the lens of Adam and Eve. In my book, Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred, a book written in my Protestant days, I put it this way: “Christ wants to capture every part of ordinary life and redeem it. He wants us to delight in what he has always been: the beginning and the end, the center and the circumference, our first and everything. And marriage can be a window in the personality of God.”

In Colors Rich and Enduring

Scripture and Church Teaching paint the story of Adam and Eve in colors rich and enduring. But we must labor to wean ourselves off the milk of the world and onto the rich banquet of God’s creation and glory if we are to see it.

Sexuality is a parable of heaven. Marriage is a picture of the covenantal relationship between Christ and the church. In heaven marriage will cease because we will have the real thing. We won’t need the parable anymore. We will be married to God.

Someday earthly marriage will cease (Mat. 22:30). But sexual differentiation will never cease. You will never stop being a man or a woman. When Paul wrote that there is “neither male or female in Christ” (Gal. 3:28) he was not suggesting that God’s redemption annihilates God’s original and good creation, but celebrating the church’s unity in Christ, telling of how in baptism “we are all one man in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In Christ, men and women are one and yet more truly themselves.

God saves us from sin, not from the way he made us. So God does not save us despiteour sexuality. He saves us through or within our being male and female. “Grace does not destroy nature,” says Thomas Aquinas, “but rather perfects it” (Summa I 1.8ad2). God the Son became man in order to create a new humanity, to fulfill and renew the “male and female”image of God in man (Gen. 1:27). The new creation will not be a great androgynous blob, but rather a “unity in diversity,” an end of the sexual alienation that came with the Fall, a holy restoration of sexual differentiation. In heaven, we will “neither marry nor be given in marriage”because we will be married to God.

What the world needs today, more than anything else, is to know and love God—that sovereign, romantic, just, happy, holy Trinity of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The exuberance of God in being God is manifest in his male-and-female creation. By beholding the miracle that is Adam and Eve we are, as if through a window, beholding God’s grandeur. We can make that glory manifest, more and more, through our lives as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

We will forever be what God originally made us to be: sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, made in God’s image so that we might enjoy and magnify the glory of the most adorable Trinity.

So let’s get this male and female thing right. Let’s find out what it means, why God made us this way, and why sexuality is how we are to see and to imagine and to live salvation. And it starts with Christ the “new Adam,”and the Church the “new Eve,”with the marriage of Christ and his Church.

Get ready for a wedding! Heaven and earth are getting married. All of history is moving toward this one great goal. And our being made male and female is tailor-made to tell the story.

Read it in Crisis Magazine.

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