Loving and Knowing
No doubt the use of the verb “to know” as the favored way of describing sexual intimacy in the Bible must seem an oddity to the modern Western mind. “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain….” (Gen. 4:1). The insight that this sort of language offers into the nature of our world, not to mention the true nature of love, is immense, and it is almost entirely lost in the Western world. We are living in a moment when our culture is paddling away from this insight with all its might. When our culture teaches our children about sex, what does it do? It inundates with graphic images – each to be viewed just for a moment, then on to the next – and in the process cauterizes the conscience, but also dulls the mind and hollows out the soul. It describes form and function and positions and talks about performance. It shows writhing bodies in music videos and Super Bowl halftime shows and on screens big and little. And now it even proclaims the absurd dogma that sexual organs are more or less interchangeable. It promises cheap thrills but ends up destroying happiness. It produces massive dysfunction, yet pretends to offer the solutions for the problems of its own creation.
The sexual revolution in America, which amazingly still continues apace, has produced not only a perversion of biblical sexuality, but has actually become its antithesis. It is the opposite of journeying ever deeper into the mystery of love that is knowing. Loving as knowing requires that the one who is loved reveal his or her secrets. It requires that the lover desire to know those secrets – not for self-serving ends, but for the inestimable good of genuine intimacy. In the case of human love it even offers the possibility that the one who is loved will discover secrets about himself or herself in the very process of being truly loved by another. This is the romance – the adventure – of real love. It deepens with each new mutual experience, and its potential for further deepening cannot be exhausted any more than the depths of a human soul can be fully plumbed.
There is a creek that runs within walking distance of my house – too small to be called a river but substantial enough to be flowing all year round, even in times of drought. I have spent more than twenty years getting to know its many moods. The roar that can be heard a half mile away after a heavy rain as the water thunders through the narrow rapids. The lazy, still places where the current dwindles to almost nothing on a hot August afternoon. The reflection of vibrant fall colors in those same pools in October. The two contrasting faces, upstream and downstream, revealed to an observer perched high above on one of the Civil War-era stone bridges – one side wide and meandering, the other straight, deep and fast. Over the course of twenty years and a thousand walks along its banks, I have never seen it exactly the same twice. I have a joyous familiarity with it, but it still surprises and romances me – and I have only journeyed along a relatively short section of it. If a stream can be like that, how much more a human soul, a human love?
Are we teaching our children about this inextricable link between loving and knowing? Do we really believe it ourselves? Or are we all too easily satisfied to lapse into objectification – gauging the value not only of things but also of people – even husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends – on the basis of what they can do for us, what pleasure we might gain from them, how we might use them for our own profit? Do we often live as mechanists, materialists, amateur technocrats? Knowing facts about people – as if that’s all that’s important – but not really knowing or loving people themselves. It is not hard to see what lessons our young people have imbibed, and we have no justification for being surprised by it. It is far past time to wake up. Because far more than healthy sexuality is at stake. The very key to all of life is somehow wrapped up in this mystery of knowing: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).