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The Oldest Story in the World
Few are the powers that can lure a college student away from his cafeteria. The undergraduate male sustains an enormous and primal appetite for food--even institutional food. And I was as undergraduate and as male as any other student at Grove City College.
Yet, one autumn day, I discovered a force of nature that trumps even food. Her name was Kimberly Kirk.
I spied her playing piano just outside the dining hall. The music was beautiful, but music--even at its finest, and her songs were dazzling--ranks relatively low with the undergraduate male.
At a distance, I could see that the young woman at the keyboard had a cute, sassy haircut--and a sassier smile.
I made my way over and, between songs, tried to make casual conversation. She was, I found out, very active in theater and interested in literature; her major was communication arts. She played a piece she had written, and it was magnificent. Then she sang to her own accompaniment, and I thought to myself, She could do this for a living.
I knew I had better move on, and quickly. Scott Hahn was not about to fall for another woman. You see, not too long before that encounter, I had made a firm decision to quit dating. After several relationships, I concluded that the dating scene was an emotional trap, an extended battery of mind games--hurting and getting hurt. I'd had enough. Besides, I was already triple-majoring in economics, philosophy, and theology, and working as a resident assistant. I just didn't have the time.
So, that autumn day, with a polite "Nice to meet you," I turned my undergraduate-student body back toward the cafeteria.
My mind, however, was another matter. A few days later, I was walking across the quad and I caught sight of Kimberly Kirk a half-quad away. Watching her walk, I thought, Boy, is she pretty. Then I thought back to our encounter in the dining hall: And she's really intelligent and musical . . .
Still, my stubborn will remained. I couldn't ask her for a date. Dating was out of the question at that point in my life--even dating a young woman so radiantly beautiful, so witty, and so talented. No, I couldn't do it.
So I did the next-best thing. I asked her if she would consider joining me in Young Life, a youth-ministry program I was helping to run at a local high school. She said yes, to my delight, never letting on to me that her dad had been one of the founding leaders of Young Life, some two decades before!
In this shared ministry, I really saw Kimberly Kirk. She had faith and an evangelical zeal that surpassed all her other gifts. I never tired of her company. Soon we were spending four, five, six hours a day together, punctuating our work with snowball fights, long walks, long conversations, and music, sweet music.
Within a month, my rash vow had expired. I was a goner. Kimberly Kirk and I were falling in love.
I don't mean to bore you with personal details. I know that there's nothing exceptional about our story. We met; we were attracted to one another, yet determined to tough it out alone; so we resisted the attraction till we could resist it no more. Boy meets girl: It's quite literally the oldest story in the world.
One Is the Loneliest Number
When Christians and Jews tell the story of the human race, they begin "in the beginning," with God's creation of a man named Adam. "Adam" is the name of an individual, the founding father of the human race, but it is more, too. Adam is the Hebrew word for "humanity." This is something like the way Americans use the name "Washington" to mean the first president of their country, the capital city of their country, and the government of their country. Washington's story is, in a sense, America's story. Yet Adam's story is even greater than that. It belongs to all the nations of the world and to everyone. Adam's story is our story: mine and Kimberly's, and yours.
Let's revisit that story at the beginning of the Bible. The Book of Genesis begins with the account of God's creation of the universe. In six consecutive "days," God created everything: night and day; the sky and the seas; the sun, the moon, and the stars; the birds and the fish; and the beasts of the fields. After each act of creation, God looked at what He had made and pronounced it "good." To crown His work, God created man on the sixth day and gave him dominion over all the earth. Only then did God look at His work and declare it "very good" (Gn 1:31).
We see in the next chapter of Genesis that God furnished the whole world for man's delight. "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (2:9). God gave Adam this lush, fruitful garden to till and to keep (2:15). Thus, Adam lived in a world custom-made for his pleasure, a world without sin, suffering, or disease--a world where work was always rewarding, a world that, Genesis tells us, was unstintingly good.
Yet God Himself looked upon this situation and, for the first time in the Scriptures, pronounced that something was "not good." He said, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gn 2:18).
What a remarkable statement! Remember, this took place before the Fall of humankind, before sin and disorder could enter creation. Adam lived in an earthly paradise as a child of God, made in God's own image (Gn 1:27). Yet something was "not good." Something was incomplete. The man was lonely.
God set out immediately to remedy the situation, saying, "I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:18). So God brought all the animals to man and asked him to name them--to exercise authority over them.
Even so, things were still "not good": "for the man there was not found a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:20). Though Adam could rule over the beasts--though he could enjoy fruitful, rewarding labor--he was still unfulfilled. For God made man on the same day as the animals, but He made man different from the animals. Only man was made in God's image and likeness. Thus, even with all the animals in the world, man was alone upon the earth.
What comes next in Genesis is the heart of every love story:
"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man' " (2:21-23).
Adam's world had seemed complete. He had a good job, a beautiful home, dutiful pets, and plenty to keep him busy. Yet he was incomplete. Even as the "image of God," he was only complete when the woman, Eve, joined him in life. The man and his wife became "one flesh" (Gn 2:24). "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gn 1:27).
Adam should never have known loneliness again, because he had Eve by his side in a perfect world. He could see, now, that there was more to life than fruitful labor, more to life than a beautiful house, more to life than power. There was truly human love. Nor would Adam's good company be limited to the perfect match, the "helper fit for him." For "God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth' " (Gn 1:28).
The image of God was made complete with the creation of the family. Only then was Eden truly paradise.
From Garden to Grove
Boy meets girl. Adam meets Eve. Scott meets Kimberly. You know the story. It's the stuff of most of our movies, novels, ancient epics, and popular songs. It's the substance of our fondest memories, our deepest longings, or our most aching needs. It is not good to be alone.
Whenever I read this oldest story in the world, I can't help but get nostalgic, and I can't help but identify with Adam. I had all that I thought I needed in life: three academic majors, each of which I found fascinating; an active and rewarding ministry with young people; and, of course, a cafeteria. I lived on a treelined campus that was pleasant to the sight, stimulating to the mind, and generous at mealtimes. I didn't even know I was incomplete--I couldn't know--until I saw what I'd been missing.
God had made me not just for philosophy, economics, theology, or ministry, as good as all these things might be. God had created me for much more than that, and God had created me for Kimberly Kirk. His image in me would not begin to be complete until I said yes to His clear calling for me to marry her.
God made me, as He made you and everyone else on earth, for family. All the things we see and hear and feel and taste in creation are good, but it is not good for us to be alone.
What I'll call the family imperative is a basic assumption in our culture. Universities know it, for example, and so they try to market themselves as a surrogate family to teens who are making their first venture from the parental homestead. They succeed remarkably well, creating bonds that often last a lifetime. The college I attended likes to refer to itself in alumni mailings as alma mater, which is Latin for "nourishing mother." The campus has both fraternities and sororities--literally, brotherhoods and sisterhoods--and every year it celebrates homecoming week. The folks at the alumni association know that, as long as they can keep those family associations alive, I'm more likely to send money "home" to Grove City College.
Not Your Garden-Variety Families
Marketers know it, and we know it, too. We are made for family. For many people, this is a self-evident truth; but for some, it is an empty or broken promise, an almost unbelievable proposition. In recent generations, we have seen the family, as an institution, fall into rapid decline. A century ago, most marriages ended only with the death of a spouse. Today, many marriages end, bitterly, in divorce. Many children must come to terms with feelings of abandonment by one or both parents. Many adults struggle with anger and a deep sense of betrayal. Family dysfunction is epidemic, if not pandemic.
For the victims of such circumstances, the word "family" does not evoke happy memories or pleasant associations. For them, it seems a cruel God who would create us to live amid treachery, unkindness, or even abuse.
Those who have grown up in dysfunctional homes, or those who have been betrayed by lovers, know that they have been deprived of some great good. Their anger, bitterness, and sadness overwhelm them precisely because they know they lack something essential. They have been deprived of something that is theirs by right. They nurse a deep wound, and a wound is the sign that something in nature has been pierced, cut, or broken.
The wound is a sign that they lacked something that a family should have provided. Their family was not what it should have been, not what God created it to be. The fault, then, is not with the family as God created it, but with particular families as they stray from God's plan. Family dysfunction is undoubtedly a consequence of Original Sin; but it is not something God dreamed up to torment us.
Indeed, our only hope for regaining wholeness and happiness is if we recover God's family plan for creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that we must all "cleanse our hearts" of any "false . . . paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area 'upon Him' would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into His mystery as He is and as the Son has revealed Him to us" (no. 2779).
We must make the effort to undergo this cleansing, because God's family plan is more than just a recipe for domestic order (though it is that, too). It is a fulfillment of our deepest longings: for love, for family, for home. It is a recovery of the romance we were made to enjoy . . . forever. More than that, it is the title deed to a family estate that no one, not even the tax collector, can take from us. Still more, it is the revelation of God Himself, in His deepest mystery.
For at the core of human experience is the family, which is familiar to all of us, and which most of us think we understand, while somewhere far beyond the limits of our minds is God the Blessed Trinity, Whom many people find remote, abstract, and inaccessible. Yet I propose that we don't understand what we think we understand--that is, the family--and we do possess a key to understanding what we find inscrutable: the Trinity.
I believe all this because I have seen it. I married Kimberly Kirk on August 18, 1979. We made our home, and we knew the pleasure and the joy of the union of a man and a woman. It was not, however, in the ecstasy of our bodily union that I first glimpsed how a family most vividly manifests God's life--though that union surely had something to do with it.
For me, the first revelation came when Kimberly was nine and a half months pregnant with our first child. Her body had taken on new proportions, and more than ever before I realized that her flesh was not created merely for my delight. What I had enjoyed as something beautiful was now becoming a means to a greater end.
When she felt her first labor pains, we rushed to the hospital with the anticipation that our baby would soon be in our arms. Kimberly's labor was difficult, however, right from the start. I joked that if men could get pregnant, the human race would have been extinct soon after its creation.
The hours dragged on, hours of hard labor, and Kimberly's pain grew more intense. My heart gave lie to my joking, because I would gladly have taken on her pain at that moment.