“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends….” -Jesus Christ, John 15:15
“I don’t really care if my friend loves his wife or not; that’s his business. I don’t really want to hear about it at all.” Such were the words from our language teacher as we asked about the linguistic distinction between “I like” and “I love.” Our questions were innocent enough – just sincere efforts on the part of short-term volunteers to understand the language and culture of the strangers among whom we are spending these few short months. But his answer has continued to fascinate me. Perhaps his response indicates only a reticence to discuss intimate emotions, but I think there is something more at work in the way that I have heard Kurds talk about marriage, and I think it stems from a particular view of the relationship between man and God.
Christians believe that marriage is “a great mystery that refers to Christ and the Church” (Gal. 5:32). And just as the most significant aspect of the relationship between Christ and the Church is self-sacrificial love, so also love is the highest ideal attainable in marriage, and marriage portrays Christ’s glory well when it is at its most loving. Indeed, Christ is so convinced of the primacy and importance of love that it is the essence of both the first and second most important commandments (Mark 12:30-31). The gospel is all about the uncontainable love of God overflowing both in the creation of the world and in the redemption of that world after it fell.
But in Islam, we are slaves of God, not primarily lovers of God. The very word “Islam” and its derivative “Muslim” both carry connotations of slavery and absolute submission to God. This differing conception of our relationship to God finds manifestation not just in the relationship of individuals to the divine, but also in most spheres of society that initially do not appear related to theology at all. In marriage, the highest ideal between spouses is not mutual, self-sacrificial love; instead, the wife is to be unquestioningly submissive to the husband, who rules over her with absolute authority that even extends to the right to physical discipline if he deems necessary. Love is secondary to this; few husbands intentionally attempt to show their love to their wives by continuing to pursue them after marriage, and many women live in fear that their husband will one day bring another replacement wife if the first wife ceases to please him. Whether in the Central Asia or in the Midwest of America, the gospel has much to say to such a relationship. When the powerful love of Christ breaks into a culture, that culture changes in fundamental ways. Pray that marriage is redeemed among the Kurds through the message of the love of God displayed for sinners on the cross.
On a picnic with a family of locals recently, one particularly (and abnormally) feisty husband repeatedly asked us how to say “kiss me” in English, and no sooner had he mastered the pronunciation than he declared with a playful, almost child-like glee: “Wife! Come kiss me! Kiss me!” After she grinned and shook her head at him, he laughed heartily at himself before informing us, “You see, she’s not really even like my wife; she’s more like my friend.” At that moment, I was joyful that these two lovers seemed to have such a genuine, loving relationship in which they enjoyed each other’s company so obviously, unapologetically, and deeply. But I also felt the bitterness inherent in his wording; wives are rarely the friends of their husbands, and though their marriage appears to be marked by mutual love, this type of marriage relationship does not seem to be the norm in this region of the world – nor, lamentably, in my own country of America. But if it is true that the gospel not only redeems souls, but also explains, clarifies, and guides marriage, then we ought to be doubly motivated for the salvation of the Kurds. Pray that God’s love for rebellious sinners would become evident to the Kurds, and that the Holy Spirit would woo them to Himself just as He has done with all those who bear His name.