Form and Function

I am thinking of a question asked over at Boundless - a young man who was wondering about pursuing marriage with a woman who had type 1 diabetes. This young man had questions about how this would affect their life together, and how this would affect their ability to have children. (1) I've been thinking about the question for about a week, and it's still rattling around in the back of my mind, and if you would bear with me, I'd like to talk it out with you.

There's a story in the Gospels - a parable - called the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler. (Bear with me, I'm going somewhere). The parable gives rise to words you likely know, that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich person to get into heaven. I went back and read it again, in 2 translations: The Message, and my NIV study bible (my old one, I confess, I was hoping their were some notes on the parable in it)

So, the parable has a rich young man, a powerful young man, coming to Jesus. Teacher, he says (and in my head I hear this as a peremptory request) how do I get eternal life - and he uses an interesting turn of phrase - he asks what Good Thing he has to do. Now, those of you who are Christians will immediately see an issue - we don't earn eternal life. Jesus runs him through the 10 commandments, and the young man insists that he has kept all of them. One can almost see him saying "Yep, yep, yep, got that one, Oh, I'm really good at that one, yep I'm good!"

Finally, Jesus takes it one step further. He says "Give up everything you have, everything you own. Everything that makes you the rich young ruler. Then follow me." We know the end of the story, that the rich, young ruler 'goes away sad, because he had much wealth'.

We have this idea about marriage. If I told you the story of our wedding rehearsal, perhaps it would make more sense. It is tradition, in the Anglican Church, that when you do your wedding rehearsal, you don't actually say your vows. That's for the next day. Rather, what you do is a bit of joking. As I recall, I promised to clean the bathroom, cook and wash the floor. Mr. Spit promised to vacuum, lift heavy things and kill spiders. (I'm not sure if he promised to do the laundry, or if that was the result of extensive contract negotiations later. . . )

Did you catch it? Do you see the point? Suddenly I did. We go into our marriage, and we preen and puff, and spiff ourselves up, and we say I have this to offer, I am good at being a housekeeper, I'm good at communicating, I'm good at cooking, I'm good at taking out the heavy stuff and killing spiders. We come in, looking at who we are, everything that makes us, well us, and we say to our partner "Now, measure up. Show me what you bring that makes you equal." Equal makes us worthy.

At any rate, we come into marriage with the concept that we each have our skills that we bring, that we are equals, that we will compliment each other, that we will each do our fair share. We come into marriage with the idea that we each have our good parts, what makes us, us, and then we see that what makes us, us is perhaps not so good, that we are not so perfect, so skilled, so strong as we thought.

This young man is coming into his marriage with a partner, who at least on the surface, is profoundly unequal, in that she's physically unwell. He's coming at the issue from a position of wellness, a notion that if he is physically well, and she is not, they are not evenly matched. She's perhaps not worthy. He's wondering if this is going to hinder their marriage.

Now, I suppose, if he was going to stick with this attitude their whole marriage, that would be a problem. But, knowing how I was, how many of us were, I'm inclined to think that this is something that married life cures us of. We learn that marriage is not about two perfect equals agreeing to create an even, perfect life; but that marriage is about two broken and messy people agreeing to forge a common life filled with mistakes and sins.

Perhaps, in some sense, this couple is spectacularly fortunate. They won't have to spend a lot of time at the side of the road, looking at Jesus and holding on to their stuff. Wishing they could follow him, but unable to let go of who they are. They can get over being sad, and get on with giving not just their obedience to the laws (the function) but giving their whole being (their form).

On the whole, I'd say marry her.

(And Mr. Spit, thanks for marrying me. . . . )

(1) These probably aren't bad questions to ask. No, really, they aren't. There's an empirical difference between issues and diseases we find out about after marriage, and those before, and it takes a specific type of person to be able to be a help mate to a chronically ill spouse. It takes a particular type of person to be able to accept that help.