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Volume 13, Issue 2: Similitudes

Ecumenical husband

Douglas Wilson

I fully understand that this point is made two other places in this issue, but this here is the place to beat it to death.

Three men are seated around a table—Peter Pietist, Edward Ecumenist, and Charlie Covenant. They are discussing the adulterous antics of one Ivan Infidelity. For further insights, simply substitute the word Christian for husband throughout the similitude and see if anything interesting happens.

Peter shook his head."I canít understand how anyone could consider Ivan a husband. He walked into that restaurant last night with his new friend."

Charlieís eyebrows went up. "How does his new arm-candy make him not a husband? I can understand poor husband or unfaithful husband . . ."
"But you saw him too—I canít believe you think he is a husband. How could he be when he is acting like this?"
Charlie responded, perhaps a trifle abruptly. "Why do you think the word husband is a compliment? It seems to me to be a noun, like watch, violin, or computer. We are still just talking about what something is. Once we have established that, we can talk about whether the noun is a good one or bad one. We have plenty of time to bring in the adjectives. I agree that Ivan is a horrible husband—should have been shown the door a long time ago, in my opinion. But his wife hasnít divorced him, and that makes him a husband."
Edward interrupted. "This is the problem with you traditionalists . . . constantly obsessing over your definitions. Of course Ivan is a husband. We are all husbands, deep down. Even before a man is married, doesnít the fact that he seeks marriage indicate that he is already a husband at the primal level? The way you two talk, you make it sound as though it is possible to not be a husband. This is deeply troubling and, speaking frankly, offensive to those of us who want to spread the good news that husbanding is within us."
Peter was momentarily distracted from his grief over Ivan—he was happy with the chance to witness to Edward. "Yes, true husbanding is within us, but it is possible to not be a husband. No, a true marriage only occurs when a man invites his wife into his heart. Until he does this, he is not really a husband. Marriage is not a matter of papers at the courthouse, it is a relationship."
Charlie put his coffee cup down. "So, if that is the case, then Ivan is not really married. And if Ivan is not really married, then he is not really breaking any marriage vows."
Peter shook his head. "Well, no, he is breaking his marriage vows . . ."
"How can he be, when he isnít really married?"
Edward pushed his chair back, exasperated. "See, this is the kind of judgmental activity that is so hurtful to people. I think if we were less judging, then we could begin to try to understand one anotherís perspective . . ."
Charlie turned to Edward. "In your desire to include everyone, you simply exclude Ivanís wife, or anyone else he betrays."
"But this is only because she is still caught up in older, possessive categories. She needs to abandon her older, husbandocentric categories. Why, if she only had the spiritual courage to see it, she could be her own husband. If you love someone, let them go."
Charlie apparently thought if he let Edward talk long enough, he would eventually stop. So he sat, listening, drumming his fingers on the table while Edward dreamed on aloud about the day when everyone would be a husband and everyone a wife.
Peter had been silent for a few moments, trying to formulate an answer to Charlieís earlier question. He had missed the whole exchange between Charlie and Edward. "Well, you see it is like this. A true husband is one who makes and keeps his vows in his heart. There are people who seem to have done this, and we may be fooled for a time, but they are not really husbands."
Charlie laughed out loud. "But nobody is fooled by Ivan anymore, not even his new bed buddies. So, is he a husband and is he violating any vows? And are these (as yet undetected) phony husbands violating their vows? Or are we mistaken when we think they are being teacherous?"
"No, they are teacherous . . ."
"To what?"
"I would have to say they are violating the spirit of the covenant."
Charlie sat forward on his seat. "That makes sense if there is a covenant to violate the spirit of. But you are maintaining that there is an invisible marriage covenant that unfaithful husbands donít belong to, and that the external covenant is not the real thing. So what is the problem with them breaking something that doesnít matter in the first place?"
Peter shook his head. "I am troubled with this kind of logic-chopping . . . I love my wife in my heart. That is what matters!"
At this, Edward suddenly sat up straight in his seat again. "Yes! That is the problem! Logic-chopping. The true marriage of hearts and minds is within, not in these stale rationalistic categories . . ."
Peter grimaced. :As much as I hate to admit it, you and I do agree on some things sometimes."
Charlie sat back in his chair, and got ready to go. "Actually, I think that is right. And far more than you know."

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