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Monday, June 27, 2011

Let's Talk about....

I have found myself thoroughly immersed in a conversation about premarital sex this week. Which is not normal for me. Most of my life can be divided into two sets of conversation on this topic: a) the set of conversations with conservative Christians who like to say "premarital sex (and most other kinds as well) is bad, the Bible is very clear about this" and then never want to explain why; and b) the set of conversations with everyone else which generally revolve around how nice it would be to be having more sex with very few holds barred (point of order - I have discovered that it is flatly impossible to write or talk about sex without using an obscene number of accidental double entendres; so enjoy them, they aren't on purpose). This second set also only rarely talks about why sex is so great, they just assume it is.

Not the Religious Type (where I have been getting so much of my jumping off point material of late) just posed a question about sex, namely "How do you Navigate Sexual Ethics". The discussion has been so fascinating, and dovetails so well with my recent post on morality that I thought it would be worth bringing it over to heaven and earth questions to see how y'all feel about the issue. So, while this is, in itself a relatively short posting, it requires a bit of background reading since I would ask you to go check out the original here.

I am personally really interested in your takes on the threads of conversation I have been having with Bill Sergott, Otto, and Jane. Specifically, do you think that there is a good reason that Christians are so generally down on sex outside of marriage? And do you think that all sex has intrinsic metaphysical significance?

Let me copy my most recent comment to Otto as a teaser:

 Bill Hoard - I find your distinction on integrity confusing. As I understand it, one of the reasons we ought to be careful about giving our word is the understanding that things (feelings, circumstances etc...) change. Conversely, it is precisely because we recognize the dynamic aspect of reality that we do give our words. What point would there have been in my giving my wedding vows if I expected to always feel towards my wife, all the same emotions I felt on our wedding day? The vows would have been superfluous. Furthermore, if I didn't think that staying together were, by nature now that we are married, the best thing for me and my wife, why would I have said my vows?

  If I understand you properly, you are saying that the "wounds" other people give us are only real insofar as we recognize or "give them power" as being real. But I disagree. When one person (husband or wife) cheats on the other, they genuinely wound their spouse. Treating those wounds as illusion both demeans the value of relationship and, so far as I understand from my psychologist and counselor friends, gets in the way of full healing. One of the first steps to healing is to recognize a hurt as real and then move towards the wholeness that God offers. I do not think that trusting God means seeing ourselves as we are not. I know that I am sinful, wretched and prone to hurt the people I love. I know God plans to make me into a glorious son who will someday be worthy of the grace I have already begun to receive. I know the process of that transformation is often painful. But it strikes me as counterproductive to think I am already cured. A cured person wouldn't do the things I do and wouldn't need the healing and training I still need. How can we receive grace until we recognize that we really do need it?
  I do think that divorce may sometimes be necessary, but never for things like "maturing" or "growing apart". Here I agree with a principle you referred to. The "laws" are there for the good of those to whom they are given. (I think this is clearest in Jesus attitude towards the sabbath but it shows up in other places as well) so when some unusual set of circumstances require us to set aside the letter in order to follow the spirit, we ought to be prepared to do so. But I think we are being to quick to claim our "ox is in a ditch on the sabbath". C.S. Lewis gave a helpful analogy for divorce when he called it an "operation" and reflected that "some think it so terrible that nothing can be worth it's terrible cost, other say that sometimes it may be warranted to save the life of the patient but all agree that it is more like amputating your legs than pulling a tooth" sadly I don't think we are all agreed about that anymore.

 If you are using the title "true love" to refer to someone who is easier to get along with, more attractive to and attracted to someone than their spouse, I will be happy to grant that it may occasionally be applied (though there are so many factors involved that I doubt it is nearly so often as people make out). My point was that regardless of any of those factors, it is never OK to break my word and injure my partner just because I have found a "better" one. We are more than breeding animals.

 Finally, in response to your comment that each person is can only be responsible for one person -  themselves; I completely agree. But I want to point out that, contrary to popular assumption, we can each think, pray and reason about what actions are right in what circumstances. Whether the actors are ourselves or others.


  1. Christians have a good reason be anti-premarital or extramarital sex: God calls fornication a sin. I do think that sex is always intrinsically metaphysical as well. As you know, orgasm causes the person to release the "bonding" chemical oxytocin. I would assume then, that whatever the object of your sexual drive will be the recipient of your "bonding." My challenge to Christians would be to ensure that we bond with the things that are rightfully ours as given by God. This requires faithfulness not only in the flesh, but also in the mind.

  2. Rachel, you woulf be a great person to ask on this question by the way I still tell people that you were my hero back at CIU when you would walk in on one of the reformed brotherhood bullying some poor freshmen with "in the greek" - they always got this worried look when you walked in and grinned at the) what is the specific meaning of "fornication" in the NT, I don't think we do a good enough job thinking about what God had forbidden or why He hasi pretty much agree with yoir conclusions but I am interrested in the exegetical reasoning that leads to them. forbidden it"i.

  3. Sorry for the miserable typos, I posted from my phone, which is usually a mistake.

  4. Here's Part One of a long response:

    Yes, I do think that there are “good reasons that Christians are so generally down on sex outside of marriage;” and, yes, I do “think that all sex has intrinsic metaphysical significance.” Here’s why:

    I believe for humans, sex was made (conceived of…there goes those double entendres—there’s a deep psychological, philosophical reason for that, you know, but we’ll save that for another posting). Back to my original sentence, I believe for humans, sex was made for marriage and in part marriage was made for sex. You mentioned, Bill, that we are more than “breeding animals” and I can’t agree with you more. In fact, I think the Biblical mandate to reserve sex for marriage is one of the most graceful (albeit at times frustrating) affirmations that we are not just animals (or “yahoos” in the Jonathan Swift sense of the term). If we were just animals, the question about the appropriateness of premarital sex would, of course, be absurd. But God talks about sex in the context of marriage, He limits it, why? I think because we are made in God’s image, we are not just breeding animals (though in large part we are a kind of animal and breeding is one of our functions). As such, God instructs that our animal nature be lifted beyond the physical mundane and made a beautiful tool of our God-image-bearing selves. Notice that I did not say that our animal nature is bad—it’s good, God made it. But we were made for relationship with the creator of the universe. Yes, we were given the command to “fill the earth” (breeding), but also to subdue it. That means we’re over the animal kingdom (are we good gardeners, good zoo keepers? Questions, again for another posting). We are also given the command in both the Old and New Testaments to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This implies self-sacrificing limits on my actions for the sake of another—exactly what Jesus did to the nth degree in coming to earth and dying for us. Remember Phil. 2 where Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant (limited himself) and then sacrificed himself for all of us “others.” Then think of Romans 5:6 where it says, “at just the right time…Christ died for the ungodly.” Can we not say, then, that when we limit our sex life to one person in marriage, sacrificing some of our own personal desires, we are “imitating Christ”? And, in addressing your 2nd question, isn’t imitating Christ “metaphysically significant?”

  5. Here's Part Two:
    So far I’ve been speaking a bit more philosophically than exegetically (really I believe the two must be together), but let me pull in, not proof texts, but relevant passages from Scripture that I believe speak to this issue. The Bible is an amazing piece of literature along with being the Word of God. This word “knew” in Genesis 4:1 “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived…” is far more than the weak NIV translation “lay with.” Bill, you’ve already had a good discussion about this in your blog. This is “tanimak” in the deepest sense, understanding, perceiving, being aware, comprehending, I could go on—check out Strongs Dictionary on this one. Understandably this word “yawdaw” in Hebrew is not used for casual sex outside of marriage. In Genesis 38 when Judah comes across the first Tamar we meet in the Bible (very unlucky name, I’d say), thinking she is a prostitute, he does not say, “may I ‘know’ you?” He says, (in the KJV) “I pray thee, let me come in unto thee,” (the NIV translates this less prosaically, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”). Interestingly the word “know” (yawdaw) is in this verse when it explains that Judah did not realize or know that the woman was his daughter-in-law. Anyway, the point being, the first recorded instance of sex was between husband and wife—Adam and Eve—the writer of Genesis already at the end of chapter 2 explains the nature of Adam and Eve’s relationship as one of marriage, “For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” If that’s not a statement full of inextricably commingled physical and metaphysical meaning I don’t know what is! As far as I can see, this mystical word “know” (yawdaw) is not used for casual sex or sex outside of marriage. Sex in marriage is (at least supposed to be) real relationship reflecting the deep intimate and “fully known” relationship we have with God. I honestly believe that when we engage in sex in marriage we are proclaiming to the (hopefully) unseen powers that God is good, God is love and here’s a picture of His love…at just the right time.

    So you see, I am not a prude. I don’t think sex is base. I think it’s an amazing mystery…that an act so common and “animal like” can be so holy simply because we are made in God’s image. If I choose not to hold out until marriage, or if I choose not to recognize the sacredness of this act within my marriage by using it as a bargaining chip or abusing the privilege without regard for the feelings of my spouse, then I am choosing to ignore who I truly am as fully human. I am choosing to turn my back on the image stamped in my by the God who passionately loves me. As you pointed out, Bill, I am also wounding those around me, particularly the one I violate and I am siding with the unseen powers that don’t believe God’s relationship with man can make it.

  6. Here's Part 3:
    I’m getting tired, but let me address one more issue. What if you’re engaged or at least seriously intending to marry? You might say, “Well, we’re going to get married so we’ll only “know” each other, so it’s okay, right?” I don’t think so. Ecclesiastes is wise in saying that there is a time to every purpose under heaven. I know that hormones rage between the ages of 14-30 or 70 and it just seems like it’s asking too much of a newly developed teen or young adult to burn that much. I think your friend referred to the fact that people married at a much younger age back in Jesus’ day to give weight to the argument that we weren’t expected to wait until all our youthful passion had simmered. There are a couple of things I can say to that. First of all, having been a teenager in love, I’m very sympathetic to the argument, especially when you consider that I started dating my future husband when I was 15! I understand the desire to find a cultural loophole, but sadly, I don’t think it’s there. I think if you look at the question historically you’ll find that until the 20th century, orthodox Christianity never conceived (there we go again) of sex before the formal marriage ceremony as being something right. Start with Joseph and Mary in the New Testament. They were engaged but did not have sex—that point was extremely important to both Joseph and the Holy Spirit. It was important to the Holy Spirit too that Joseph not “know” his wife even after she was found to be pregnant. Why? I think it’s because of the profound metaphysical thing about sex, which I don’t have time to go into right now. The whole discussion about marriage in 1st Corinthians 7 actually addresses this issue. People were wondering how grace changed the way they looked at their “virgins” and marriage commitment. Paul’s answer was that it didn’t really change anything. "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?” Jesus said, Matthew 19:4&5. Paul said it’s better to marry than to burn. Why would he say that if premarital sex were ok?

    Two more thought about culture. First of all, as I understand, and as is the common situation still here in Turkey, men married at a later age than women. This is also often assumed by Bible commentators as far as Joseph’s age is concerned (they assume he was noticeably older than Mary, perhaps because he is not mentioned after Jesus talks to the elders at the temple when he is 12. Also, don’t forget Isaac was probably about 40 when he married Rebecca). So, it’s quite likely that men (who, not always, but often are assumed to have more problems with “burning” at a young age than young women), in the Christian community at least had to learn how to deal with their youthful passions in a constructive godly way until they married (since joining yourself with a prostitute was considered a bad idea—Paul talks about it as becoming one flesh with a prostitute—metaphysical significance again). It’s the same expectation today and in fact, I think it is in developing this most difficult discipline that we have the opportunity to cultivate the godly discipline of fasting (in a broader sense) and self-denial (for a time) and learn how to “subdue the earth” of our own bodies so that our bodies can reflect the beauty and glory of our creator. Meeting the challenge of dealing with and channeling youthful passions for the Kingdom is a great training ground for godliness.

  7. This is it, the last installment--Part 4:
    The second thought about culture is this: I don’t think the subject of premarital sex would ever have been considered in Christian circles if it hadn’t been for birth control. I’m not necessarily advocating a ban on birth control (though to tell you the truth, I have a hard time personally defending birth control), what I’m saying is that with the advent of easy and almost “fool proof” birth control, Christians along with the society began to believe, at least subconsciously (which is the level that really drives our actions) that having children was our choice (we lost the battle on abortion long before Roe v. Wade). If children are the result of a decision, not necessarily a gift from God that comes as a result of having sex, then it becomes very easy to separate sex from one of (not the only, mind you) it’s intended results. Before the pill, the fact was that if you have sex before marriage you run a big risk of getting pregnant and then you are compromising the ideal family atmosphere for that child’s development. Why shouldn’t teens have sex? One reason is that, at least in modern society, they are not ready to be parents. Even if we can control pregnancy now, should we emotionally and physically so separate the act of sex from procreation? That, I think, is far more unnatural than holding out until marriage. Today’s society doesn’t think much about cause and effect or consequences. As a result we are more prone to be selfish and short-sighted. We need, at least emotionally and spiritually, to return to a wholistic view of sex—it includes the very real possibility of children. Sex is a part of family. If we “divorce” sex from marriage and family we also, I think, do damage to the health of the essential unit of society—the family. This is a sociological statement, but I think God agrees. Perhaps I can defend that thought on another posting.

    Thanks for reading. May God grant us all grace to lift our animal natures above the mundane to reflect the beauty and glory of God!