“I can’t wait to have sex with him!” That’s what a soon-to-be-bride blurted out to me a few years ago. Good for her. She’s the ideal bride Jesus is looking for.
The last few weeks we’ve been reframing generosity. Americans’ lack of generosity is rooted in two incorrect frames—pleasures and privacy. We max out spending on pleasures and then keep our tax returns private. God gets the leftovers.
The right frame, the radical one, is love. Radical means from the root. At the root of the Christian tradition is God, who is love. God decided to expand the circle of love by having the Son wed a bride—us. Scripture gives us several prototypes of ideal brides.
You’re probably familiar with the first—Eve.
God designed Adam and Eve to give generously of themselves to one another. “Naked and unashamed” is being unreservedly giving of our total selves to another without fear. It is being wowed by wonder, evident in Adam meeting Eve. “Wow! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” Bathed in God’s love, they make love—joyfully and generously.
This love is echoed in Song of Songs 6:3: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Two become one, as Meister Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same one with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” There’s the radical frame for generous giving. Love.
The gospel of love is best told in our physical bodies, in our sexuality as male and female. The male form reflects aspects of Jesus the groom. His love penetrates us, just as a husband penetrates his wife. The female form reflects aspects of the bride, the church. She opens herself wide to be penetrated by the love of God, just as a loving wife does.
This isn’t dirty. It’s divine. Erotic love is depicted in church art, as in the statue depicting the ecstasy of Teresa. It’s reminiscent of John Donne’s “Batter my heart, Three-Person’d God.” The poem ends with a prayer: “Take me to you, imprison me, for I, / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”
Jesus seeks to ravish his bride with love. He did this in coming to earth, emptying himself (Philippians 2:7). He had no possessions (Luke 9:58). Jesus seeks a bride who has also given up all of her possessions (Luke 14:33). That’s why he warned us: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Caution: Possessions can possess us. Jesus desires a bride not possessed by possessions, whose eye is his eye—sees what he sees. One love.
As fallen people, our inclinations are not to give 100 percent. We cling to possessions. This is why I like the new Lincoln Financial Group ad: “No one has ever fallen 50 percent in love.” No joyful Christian has fallen 50 percent in love with Jesus. It’s 100 percent—or nothing. If I’m 99 percent faithful to Kathy, I’m 100 percent unfaithful.
This is why it’s wise to recall two more brides. The first is the widow who gave two mites. She gave all that she had, 100 percent. Jesus commended her. The second is the Woman named Wisdom. She existed before the fall. God made Wisdom before he did anything else. We meet her in Proverbs 8, a poetic retelling of creation.
“I was brought into being a long time ago,” Wisdom tells us, “well before Earth got its start.” She partnered with God in creating. “Day after day I was there.” She’s God’s ideal bride, laughing, playing, applauding, “always enjoying his company, delighted with the world of things and creatures, happily celebrating the human family.”
Wisdom has a bit of advice for fallen people like us: “Prefer my life-disciplines over chasing after money, and God-knowledge over a lucrative career. My benefits are worth more than a big salary, even a very big salary; the returns on me exceed any imaginable bonus. My dear friends, listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed. Live wisely; don’t squander your precious life.”
This is advice we often ignore.
These brides remind us the central issue in generosity is not struggling to give 10 percent of income. If I tell my wife Kathy I find it difficult to give 10 percent of myself to her—ten percent of my attention, affections, and so on—our marriage is in trouble. Spouses giving less than 100 percent of themselves are cheats. Christians giving less than 100 percent of themselves to Jesus are cheats. They’re not the bride Jesus seeks to wed.
Using a metaphor that mirrors marriage, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to “treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). Note the sequence: joy, then generosity. Like marriage, generous giving is more about wow and less about wealth. We see this in the Apostle Paul. He was wowed. As he prepared for nuptial union with Christ, his heart was filled with wondrous joy. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard—we can hardly imagine—what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
Advent is a time of preparation. Our entire lives ought to be a preparation for the wedding feast. Engaged couples spend great sums of money and time preparing for their special day. They can’t wait to be wed. Overjoyed, they happily sacrifice for one another. Jesus longs for a bride who does the same. Naturally, there are choices to be made—to whom to give to and how much. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Hilarious givers find ways to be generous. Next week we’ll see how the ideal bride makes these choices.