Do you love your wife or a picture in your head?


I’ve been reading throug a blog discussion between Rachel Held Evans and a guy called Tim Challies ,who’s further unknown to me, (see the discussion 1 2 3 4) about a supposed commandment that according to some should be ‘biblical’ and that says that women “should not let themselves go’ and do everything to remain attractive to their man. A lot of the discussion is going on about what is ‘biblical’, and I’m with Rachel here, since the Challies guy seems to be just pushing American values forward under that word, which to me -as a non-American- sometimes just seem irrelevan, and not very related to the used prooftexts (if there are any).

But I wanted to go back more to the question of Rachels first post.

(so, the blog discussion is about married relationships, but it applies to all other couples equally. And I think you should be able to switch sexes also, I just write from the viewpoint of a man because I appear to be one…)

So according to some people it would be biblical to command women to ‘not let themselves go’ and do everything to remain sexually attractive for their husbands. This seems connected for some reason to the false, twisted and toxic logic that if the wife is not able to do that, she’s responsible if the man would commit adultery. How Christians could ever defend such logic is beyond me. My first comment would be that I don’t see why such a comment should be gendered. We all should try to be attracive to our partner anyway, and not just in bodily appearance. Men who don’t do as much effort to stay in shape don’t have any right to ask such a thing from a woman… But underneath the discussion I do smell something else; something very fishy and unhealthy. And I think the problem is not in the woman here, but in the man and the standards of our culture.

How do we look at women? Most basic answer: with our eyes… Now, eveything we percieve through our senses is a mediation. We don’t percieve reality directly, but through our five senses. If we would be able to see light of other frequences like UV-light (bees do that), if we would have a radar (like dolphins or bats) or if we could ‘feel’ vibrations and oscillations with our ears (like snakes) or feel very small electric fields (like sharks) we would have a totally different reality around us. So we don’t see directly, but reality is mediated, in this case through eye vision, which our brains interpret.

So what do we see when we look at a person of the opposite sex? What’s the most important? The person herself or an object sexual attraction? Do we see a person that’s so beautiful we find attractive in all ways including sexuality, or do we see a sexually arousing object that coincidentally happens to be a person too. The second way of looking is very reducing, an insult to humans as created in the image of God (and a violation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28) Female beauty is more than something sexual, especially in the narrow sense of the word. I liked my wife as a beautiful person long before I would ever have thought of her as sexual being the way lovers do.

So, what does a woman mediate when she alters her appearance to be ‘more beautiful’ with make-up, special clothes, whatever? Does she mediate her inner self,  or something else? I do not at all believe that altering your physical appearance will automatically channel your ‘inward beauty’. Even more, I ‘m affraid that if you don’t see the ”inward beauty’ of a woman when she’s just dressed casually and as neutral as possible, that you’re just not able to see that beauty! A woman that you do not find attractive when she’s just plain and naturally herself you just do not attractive for who she really is. If you need dresses and make-up to find her attractive (or sexy underwear and I don’t know what) you don’t find her attractive, but something she’s not, most likely the pictures in your head of how a woman should look to be sey, which she will only resemble by changing her appearances. In the end you end up making love not to your wife to a dummy that”s just channeling some fantasy woman in your head. Which is very close to conceptual adultery if you ask me, and it sounds pretty unhealthy anyway…

In the end it’s easy (and practically unavoidable to a certain extent) to be influnced by the unrealistic ideals of female beauty of this world. Our idea of what a woman is, is a simulacrum, a picture of which no-one knows what the origin is, if there would even be one. Yes it is vaguely based on the idea ‘woman’ in platonic sense, but also of pictures that are based on pictures based on etc…Historically grown and evolved. But this should not be our standard. Our standard should be real women around us, in their ‘natural’ state, not in their ‘altered’ state, nor the accumulation of the unrealistic and unnatural ways of how women look in magazines, on Tv, etc… Look at the real thing in front of you! Base your standard on the reality, which is for you embodied in the your real lover!

So what do I say? Love your wife for who she is,  not for who she becomes in an altered state of outward appeareance. Train yourself to see her beauty in her ugliest moments. That’s when you’re really able to see her beauty. Look at her with Gods eyes. All make-up and dresses and whatever should be channeling and accentuating that beauty that’s always there, and not something else that isn’t there in those ‘uglier’ moment so that her real self should be hidden behind a more pretty appearance to be sexually interesting to you.

And since this discussion is also about what Christians should see as ‘biblical’, I think it’s important to think about the commandment to love our wives as Jesus loves the church. I know that in the end in the New Earth and heavens she will be glorified as a pure spotless bride, but look at Jesus fiancée now. Sometimes church can seem such a strange bunch of hopeless lost people. Doesn’t Jesus also love the church at her worst, her ugliest, and then cry for her? And still Jesus sees the beauty in all of us, and in the Church as a whole.

We should love in the same way, not only our spouse, but everybody. (But of it doesn’t work with our spouse to begin with, it won’t work at all) It will make all of us beautful in a way that trancends all make-up of the planet!

Shalom

Bram

5 responses to “Do you love your wife or a picture in your head?

  1. Thanks for this post, Brambonius.
    I’ve been lurking on both comment feeds for those posts and it’s been really frustrating seeing how many men- and women- just don’t get this. Thanks for speaking up. :)
    God bless,
    Natasha

  2. Absolutely right, Bram. I found Tim Challies’ post rather strange and very male-centred. The view of marriage it portrays seems extremely shallow and not Biblical at all in my opinion.

  3. Natasha and simon

    Thanks for the appreaciation. I feel like this post was hastily and clumsily written, but I think it’s something that needs to be said more. As and outsider and non-american I have no affinity with this kind of male–centeredness, at least not in a christianised version with the bible as excuses.

    I’ll have to think more about the idea ‘conceptual adultery’ that I developed when writing this post, because I feel it might be quite important and a problem in a lot of relattionships: If you don’t love your wife except when she conforms to some weird standards in your head, then you’re not really loving her, but a fake woman in your head!

  4. I think it would be well worth developing the “conceptual adultery” idea a bit more. Fantasy is at its heart, as it is with much adulterous thought and behaviour. It is a mental image of how “I” would like things to be and it is very dangerous to a relationship if it is not acknowledged for what it is. It is escape from reality rather than embracing it. In the end, it becomes idolatrous.

    What annoyed me most about Challies’ post was the onus it placed on women to live up male ideals (fantasies), and I’m not surprised that feminists reject this version of Christianity as having no good news for women.

  5. Thank you for visiting http://www.patheos.com/community/karenspearszacharias/2011/06/03/for-men-only-a-word-of-warning/

    and adding to the conversation. I really love the way you put it — What do we meditate on when encountering each other? Or when we look at ourselves? What is the meditations of our hearts?

    That’s lovely.

    Karen

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