Wednesday, January 11, 2012

evangelicalism is a world without eunuchs ... or is it?

If there is a segment of Scripture about which virtually no evangelical would shout, "That'll preach" these days, Isaiah 56, with its poetic discourse about eunuchs, could well be one of them.  Women who blog about faith and sexuality and singleness have often (and we know how often if we've read even three such blog entries) about the plight of singleness.  There will also be some not altogether puzzling hand-wringing about "it is not good ... to be alone."  This shall often be followed by "wait on the Lord's timing."

This is where I say we get to the eunuchs because whereas women can look to the passage on Isaiah about the barren woman and indirectly apply that to single women today as a form of hope for marriage in this life a castrated royal servant has absolutely ZERO chances of a family "legacy".  Even though Jesus said some were born eunuchs, some were made eunuchs by men, and others made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God you will not find evangelicals, as a rule, preaching about eunuchs.  The whole point of the eunuch was his physical condition is not the kind of thing that could get reversed.

Thanks to the marvel of modern medicine it is possible for a man to get snipped and then unsnipped.  There's an episode of Scrubs in which Dr. Cox gets snipped, then unsnipped and then snipped again.  It's a comedy, of course, but the joke hinges on the reality that the medicine is practical in our time.  If you were living in the time of Haydn there was basically one approach to making a castrati and it had a high failure rate and as the boys who bled to death often discovered, this was an utterly irreversible procedure!  A barren woman could hope against hope that maybe a pregnancy could take and her husband could pray that things worked out.  In the ancient world a second wife might be taken up to make sure there was an heir to spare.  But if your testicles were crushed so you could serve in a royal functionary job ... well ... that wasn't exactly something where your situation was going to change. 

There are some passages in scripture that only make sense when you've gotten old enough and widely read enough to have any idea why the passage is significant.  Let me broadbrush things a bit from my own experience.  When you're a fifteen year old high school boy in America you can read Isaiah 56 and the prophet's discussion of eunuchs and have absolutely no idea what a eunuch is or why that's significant.  You might have "book learning" about what a eunuch was but you wouldn't be in a position to appreciate what it would actually mean. 

Isaiah 56 opens with a blessing on eunuchs.  "Let not the foreigner ... "leads into "Let not the eunuch say `I am a withered tree'."  The eunuchs who hold fast to the Lord will receive a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.  There is much to consider about this but I want to move on to the second part of the chapter.

Isaiah 56 closes with a denunciation of the watchmen and leaders.  These men are described as dogs who cannot bark and who only eat and sleep and accomplish nothing but seeking their own advantage.  The leaders are as bad, paying no heed to the flock and spending their days drinking alcohol and talking about how tomorrow's celebration will be greater than today's.  If you ever want to tackle a 20th century poetic rumination on how Isaiah may have come across to his contemporaries go dig up the poem about Isaiah by Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen.  It's a worthy read.

Now maybe when people are in their 20s and are sexually frustrated they can imagine that they just have to hold out for the right person or they just go for it with whomever happens to be close by. The idea that they will turn 30 and not have found "the one" or have lost their virginity may simply not occur to them.  Still less may it occur to them that whether or not they die virgins is actually not really all that much in their control.  They don't know what eunuchs are and the potential of being a eunuch in a less literal way because of circumstances they can't control simply doesn't occur to them.  Women in evangelical settings who aren't finding themselves "pursued" may be aware of this but this hardly means that men who have asked out various women only to get shot down haven't thought about it. 

But if we consider Isaiah 56 for a while which of the two groups of men would it be better to be?  The eunuchs with the Lord's favor or the watchmen who are mute and lazy dogs and the leaders who take no heed (not unlike the evil shepherds mentioned in Ezekiel 34 from an exilic setting now that we're on that subject).  There is good news for the eunuch and some very bad news for the watchmen and the wicked shepherds, the spiritual leaders and guardians of God's people.  Where the barren woman is promised by the Lord through Isaiah to have more children than she who bore them, the eunuchs are promised that if they remain steadfast to the Lord they will have a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. 

When is the last time you heard a preacher discuss the blessing promised to the eunuchs by the Lord through Isaiah?  When is the last time you heard someone even bring up the passage, let alone attempt to see how the situation of the eunuch might have anything like a correlation to the experience of men in contemporary society?  Some stuff to consider.

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