I finished reading an op/ed in The Jerusalem Post written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who deems himself to be “America’s Rabbi.” I’ll let the Jewish community debate whether that is true or not, but I do want to address what he had to say about marriages, what their basis should be and what he says is the inferiority of the Christian notion that marriage be based on love.
He writes instead that marriage should be based on lust and desire. He also misunderstands the Christian position on the character and nature of God, but that can be an entirely different post all together.
G-d is not love. Rather, He is utterly beyond any emotion or description. At times He is loving and at times He is jealous and punitive, as when he punishes the Egyptians at sea for enslaving and slaughtering an innocent nation. It was Paul of Tarsus, in the New Testament, who famously said, “Love is patient, love is kind… Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). What an excellent description of the virtue of love – and its limitations! This is the perfect description of love as companionship and friendship. And if anyone wants to have a romantic relationship based on these warm and cuddly attributes, that’s fine. But while love is warm, lust is passionate. While love seeks to share, lust seeks to acquire. While love can be satisfied, lust is utterly insatiable. The average wife today may feel loved. But what she really wants is to feel desired, which explains why women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey in their millions. Wives want the erotic experience of lust but they’re mostly not finding it in their marriages.
While Christianity posits love as the foundation of a relationship, Judaism has always emphasized desire in its place. The principal reason for the breakdown of marriages and relationships is that in modern times they are built not on lust but love. Several times a week I counsel couples in crisis. They come with the usual panoply of issues that surround broken marriages: an absence of communication, lack of intimacy, fighting below the belt, financial pressures, and responsibilities of child-rearing that have overtaken their lives. But underlying all these problems is the elephant in the room: a loss of desire. They love each other, but they no longer long for each other. Their marriages are now built on the softer, more comfortable emotion of love rather than passionate, more explosive and nuclear bond of lust.
First I agree that a man and wife should desire one another. I don’t disagree that women want to be desired by their husbands.
God does desire sex and sexual desire to be present in the marriage. He’s the author of it. It was his idea. He created it and said it was good. How can we deny that? It is also a symbol of love. The Apostle Paul went so far to say that a husband and wife shouldn’t deprive one another, (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Lust isn’t a bond. It fades. It is fickle. It can be misplaced and misleading. If that is the basis of a marriage then look out. We age. We gain weight. We lose physical attractiveness, etc. So if there isn’t something else there we are in trouble. If our desire is for the physical only then our marriages are doomed for failure.
Secondly, Rabbi Shmuley also avoids one of the primary teachings on marriage and what I believe marks his view and a Christian position – it isn’t so much a difference of lust vs. love, but selfishness vs. selflessness.
The Apostle Paul says our marriages are symbolic of the union between Christ and His Church:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:22-29, ESV).
What Rabbi Shmuley advocates is that you put your desire first and that is contrary to what scripture teaches. Husbands how are we love our wives? Like Christ loves the church. What did Christ do for the Church? He died. Sacrifice, put her needs first. Be selfless. Wouldn’t that also entail making sure your wife feels desired? Absolutely. If more marriages were marked by that I’d submit we’d have fewer divorces and I’m sure a rekindling of desire as well. Focusing on desire and making lust the center of your marriage will likely achieve the exact opposite result.
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