Ephesians 5:25-33 (NRSV)
1 Corinthians 7:25-40 (NRSV)
It’s a narrative you don’t really expect to rule your life as much as it does. When this Bride of Christ metaphor was first written down, I imagine the members of the churches who received the letters went, “Aha!” In a time where choice was scarce and equality unheard of, this belief in a God of Love reached them, gave them something to relate to.
Strangely enough, the man we usually quote the metaphor from was single. Wilder still, our main man Jesus lived life without preoccupation with romantic favorites.
And yet, I remember hearing a man in church sigh that he could never know Christ the way his wife does, “because, you know, a woman can still see Jesus like a lover. But obviously, as a man I can’t.”
It broke my heart to hear this. We actually think we have to divide up what loving Jesus means.
Often the argument I hear against queerness in Christianity is that then no one would know what roles to have anymore. As if the commandment to love and respect one another can be separated right down the middle when you are One. As if a man showing too much tenderness defies a loving Jesus who wept, or a woman showing too much leadership defies a loving God who made her queen (see Esther).
And where does that leave anyone who is single? Half a person, missing out on someone to do the other roles, missing out on the fullness of the incarnation? Are celibate people those who choose to be a half-person forever, or are they the only ones fulfilled by God one-on-one and everyone else half of a complete set? Or perhaps the body of Christ doesn’t work that way.
Growing up, I had some Christian “girl’s life application” books, with lots of additional notes in flowery bubbles and whitewashed aesthetics. I’ve noticed that in them, many bible verses selected “for girls” usually assumed that the girl’s ultimate goal in life is to be married off.
And it’s easy to cling to that, because the longing to be loved is real (albeit universal). When you have fewer narratives to look to alongside that, the romance is all you’ve got. It was easy to convince me of the beauty of waiting as this hidden treasure, because it was often the only answer girls got regarding any sense of yearning we had to be seen, and known.
But it’s different from what Paul told his original audience. Paul in his time was appealing to communities that seemed to be easily distracted because the surrounding culture told them they were at odds. Many were beginning to reject earthly ties, thinking “it is well for a man not to touch a woman,” in blind pursuit of becoming one with God—but then Paul turned it around to say that they might embody that oneness where they are, in their relationships. He wrote that it’s okay to get married if they couldn’t help it, and here’s how you can see it reflecting God.
Nowadays, we have the opposite problem. Now, we more often have a default of marriage as everyone’s goal in life (especially women), and that it’s merely okay to be single if you can’t help it.
Remembering the traditional scripture of God’s people, Paul reminds the confused new churches that sex in itself is not bad! Or we wouldn’t be here!: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:30). Notice how he’s even saying this from an outside perspective. Great mystery. I’m gonna relate that to Christ now.
And yet, that is not the only example we have of the love of God. They have so many names, metaphors, and parables! Additionally, when people quote scripture on love, if you go back to the context it’s not eros, erotic love. It’s much greater. It’s agape, unconditional love.
Besides the Bride, Paul even used the Body as one of his examples of our closeness/image-bearing of Christ, because body does not consist of one part, but of many (1 Corinthians 12:12).What if we never called different loves/different gifts not part of the body? What if queerness, gender non-conforming kin, non-nuclear families, and all the single people actually belonged, and not just as spectators? What if celibate, asexual, or aromantic people could call friendship with Christ better than a walk down the aisle? Perhaps some do come in a pair, like two ears, matched up and synched. Perhaps some, like arms and legs, balance each other out. And perhaps some, like the single heart at the unseen center, are most indispensible like what is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 7:40. More blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I, too, have the Spirit of God.
Prayer of Hope
Creator God, who exists in multiplicity and relationship,
We praise you for we are fearfully and wonderfully made
We thank you for the freedom to know one another,
fearfully and wonderfully made.
We pray for a future full of love, overflowing and unconditional,
We ask that you meet us in our friendships, organic and fruitful
And that any passions we feel for another of your creation
Inspire us to open doors more than close them.
Open our hearts, El Roi, God Who Sees, to where we cause loneliness
Show us how Christ lived, in closeness, in empathy.
Guide us to compassion, kinship, and agape, the greatest of these.
Resources that Lift Up Platonic Love
Jonalyn Fincher: Harry & Sally Are Wrong – Why Christian Cross-Sex Friendships Need to Happen
Faith-based discussion on modern coexistence of romantic/sexual relationships and platonic ones, with different genders, as equals.
NOTE: Take the following two books with a grain of salt as they may contain some dated views on sexuality and heteronormativity. Specifically, they were each written by gay Christian men contemplating celibacy in their journey. But they center less on conserving heteronormativity and more on dismantling amatonormativity (the expectation that everyone has a priority of romantic/sexual relationship). Their messages on platonic love are for everyone.
Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill
Thought-provoking book emphasizing platonic love in the church over romantic/sexual expectation.
Oriented to Faith by Tim Otto
Another thought-provoking book with reminders that biblical tradition emphasized platonic relationships more than romantic ones.
“What Does It Mean To Be Asexual and Christian?“ on Queer Grace
Besides people who choose or feel called to celibacy, some people are naturally asexual! This entire site is a safe space and resource for queer theology, that puts biblical gender norms and whatnot back in historical/religious context. This particular page explains the concept of asexuality and ends with suggestions on how we can change our language in everyday conversation to be more inclusive of asexuals, aromantics, and honestly just anyone who’s single.