May 06 The Gift of Sex and the Lost Adventure of Innocence

The gift of sex and the lost adventure of innocence

            We went digital last year. In search of a better signal, I bought and installed a digi-box for the TV. The plan to secure an improved picture worked for a while until the aerial fell down!

            Digi-box thus installed, I was introduced to the delights of Freeview channels. There is a lot of very good stuff being produced – e.g. some fascinating history documentaries and some beautiful Wildlife programmes. But there is an awful lot of tasteless, mindless rubbish. More than that, there is a tedious preoccupation with sex, is there not? For most people, the sex impulse is powerful and is therefore open to manipulation, a fact easily exploited for commercial profit by those who sell air-time to advertisers.

            Whilst listening to one of the new music channels, I heard the following ghastly refrain in a modern pop song:

            You and me, we’re just mammals,

             Let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel”

This kind of reductionist approach has been around for a while. In fact, Vladimir Lenin, in trying to snuff out all that remained of Christian morality, espoused the view that sexual desire is just like any other desire, such as that for food or water (the ‘glass of water’ theory). The chaos that ensued led to the Soviet Union becoming (on the surface) amazingly puritanical about sex. But Lenin’s view is often heard repeated:  You should just treat sex like any other impulse’.

Yet this is exactly what we don’t do. The fact is that the sex impulse is treated as no other impulse. I think it is C.S. Lewis who somewhere makes the point that we admit, implicitly, that other impulses must be controlled and bridled. For example, absolute yielding to the instinct for self-preservation leads to cowardice. A soldier who abandons his colleagues on the battlefield, by giving-in to his natural fear for his own safety, would be denounced as a coward.

Equally, we would say that surrender to our acquisitive impulse is to be denounced as avarice and greed. Following the collapse of the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1986, Imelda Marcos was reported to have owned 3,000 pairs of shoes. In 1987 she famously defended herself by stating : "I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty." The shoes became a symbol of her life of luxury, amidst the poverty of most Filipinos. The point is that most people denounced this unchecked acquisitiveness as appalling greed.

Every other impulse is expected to be constrained, except the sex impulse, which we are told, is to be indulged, regardless of any unkindness or breach of faith involved.

            We live in days when people will say that dishonesty is wrong; or ingratitude is wrong, or breaking faith is wrong, except where sex is involved. That impulse is allowed to condone all sorts of behaviour which would otherwise be roundly condemned as merciless and treacherous.

            A God-given gift is being misused by people unwilling to read the Maker’s instructions, and the result is deep unhappiness, disguised as liberated fulfilment. There IS a better way.

A God who forgives

            Let me make a preliminary point. We have a God who forgives. Our Lord was uncompromising and absolute in His moral standards, and yet in dealing with people, He was always tender and loving. In his tenderness he never compromised his standards but sought to bring others into conformity with them, for their own good. A good example of this is found in John 8, where we read of Jesus dealing with a woman caught in adultery. The biblical teaching in that whole area is stark and clear. Adultery is wrong. Yet, when dealing with the woman, Jesus did not reject her, but neither did He condone her lifestyle. He offers her a new beginning. He offers a fresh start, yet does so with a challenge: ‘Go now and leave your life of sin”.

            When we go wrong in the realm of sexuality, we need to know that there is always a way back, through repentance and faith, to the God who forgives the penitent.

A God who guides

            Sexuality is such an inherent aspect of our humanity and such a potent force at work within us that it is hardly surprising that the Scriptures set forth clear restrictions and guidance regarding its expression. The unleashing of that force in the wrong context risks distorting our humanity, damaging our personalities and, at worst, can lead to an increase in violence of a sexual nature.

            Marriage is not a human invention, it is a divine institution, introduced to us in Genesis 2. There we read of the differentiation of the sexes (male and female) and of the provision of marriage to meet the human social need of companionship. The key verse runs “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” The use of the word ‘flesh’ here, and also in connection with the differentiation of the sexes, suggests that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is not simply a union, but a reunion. There is something mysterious here, which is why the intimacy of marriage is more than merely the union of bodies, but the blending of vulnerable personalities towards the primal undifferentiated oneness of humanity. There is something spiritual going on here.

            Thus marriage is instituted as a monogamous heterosexual union. A man and a woman are united in a publicly acknowledged way (there is a leaving), and are united to become one flesh (in a committed and exclusive relationship)

            The Bible envisages no other form of marriage and no other proper context for intimate physical union.

            Let me apply this:

1) Singleness: It is clear from the scriptures that not everyone is called to be married (MT 19:11-12, 1 Cor 7:1). Just as marriage is a calling of God, so is singleness. The assumption that singleness is somehow ‘second best’ is nonsense (what of Jesus?) There are certainly blessings in marriage, but equally there are blessings in the independence and opportunities of singleness.

            I have occasionally been asked, ‘Is so-and-so not married yet?’ to which the answer ought to be ‘why should she be?

            The single person obviously has to come to terms with their sexuality, accepting the biblical teaching that means they are not called into the God-given context for sexual love. However hard this may seem, it is not God’s purpose for them. This need not result in the individual becoming a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions (just as those called to marriage need not experience it as a loveless battleground). Embracing God’s standard is only hard if we resist it and rebel against it. Christ’s yolk is easy, provided we submit to it.

            Alongside any pain of loneliness, there can be joyful fulfilment in the service of God and others, and the blessing of friendships with others, of both sexes.

 

2) Living together: If the proper place for sex is within the commitment of a marriage relationship, then living together is wrong. If you love someone you should love them enough to wait. Love blossoms amidst the security of commitment which is articulated in wedding vows.

            Sex can be properly understood as God’s wedding gift. Unwrapping the gift before the event detracts from the occasion and risks distorting relationships. I wonder if this lies behind the growing popularity of weddings in exotic places, themed weddings and weddings made imaginatively ‘special’ because the real special-ness has been lost? Having opened the gift, having missed out on the adventure of innocence that a wedding night can be, substitutes are desperately sought. 

             In reading for this newsletter I have come across a significant body of literature (most of it secular) indicating that there are huge advantages to people not living together. Those who have not lived together typically have better, more permanent relationships; typically enjoy being treated with greater dignity in relationships and when they marry, enjoy better marriages. These are generalities but the evidence clearly suggests that people are happier and enjoy happier marriages when they don’t live together beforehand. We should not be embarrassed to pass this information on to our young people who, for many reasons, are being pressurised to live together and experiment outwith marriage.

            This is not to suggest that people who live together never enjoy stable or happy relationships. Many do, and may go on to be married (perhaps at the urging of a minister!) But the evidence suggests they are less likely to enjoy stable relationships, and the Bible makes clear that the extra-martial arrangement is not God’s purpose for us.

 

3) Homosexuality. Now we touch on an area of growing controversy within the Church. Yet again, if we believe God’s standard is best, then we must accede to that standard. Homosexual activity is wrong (an ethic framed in the light of the institution of marriage, through the Old Testament ‘Holiness code’ – Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and into the New Testament – e.g. Rom 1:26-27) It is not being a homosexual that is wrong, it is the expression of that orientation in sexual acts. It is not identity, but activity. As is the case with all of us, it is not what we are, it is what we do with what we are.

 

            One of the sad aspects of the whole sexuality debate is the way people are labelled and often dehumanised in the labelling. Regardless of sexual orientation, we are all precious human beings, made in the image of God, yet fallen, and therefore carrying the tragedy of brokenness that comes in the wake of sin.            Recognising our vulnerability, especially in the context of intimacy, the divine constraints, which place sex exclusively within the context of the marriage relationship, is not God being a spoilsport, but God protecting us from ourselves. When I prevented my children burning themselves in the fire, I was acting as a loving father, not a spoilsport. There are many psychological and emotional ‘burns’ out there, which could have been avoided if God’s pattern had been followed.

            A recent Pop song by the group Rilo Kiley, entitled ‘Portions for Foxes’, sums up something of the sense of regret which many live with. The song describes loneliness reaching out for companionship: “Talking leads to touching, and touching leads to sex,

                                    And then there is no mystery left, …and its bad news….”

            There is honesty there. For those who can echo the regret, there is a need to remember that we have a God who forgives.

           

            Your minister and friend,

            Martin Thomson

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