It’s taken me some time (finally!) to work through JRD Kirk‘s short (just 202 lovely pages) Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? because of, well, life. But I’ve wrapped it up this weekend in anticipation (finally!) of NT Wright’s 1000+ page Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Sometimes we need external motivators. Ya know?
Anyway, chapters eight and nine of JHLBP? provide the juicy sizzle to Kirk’s monograph. These are the chapters on sex in the gospels and in Paul’s letters. I read them with a flashlight under the covers so mom wouldn’t find out.
The picture that Kirk paints in chapter eight (“Sex in the Plot of God’s Stories”) would not be unfamiliar to anyone who spent their teens in youth group. The biblical ideal is clear: sex has always been meant for the context of a lifelong committed relationship. Thankfully, Kirk, unlike so many youth conference sex talks, also gave a good deal of the biblical basis for this stance.
What struck me, however, was a statement Kirk made as he juxtaposed the biblical ideal (also shared by Jesus and Paul) against our Western sex crazed culture:
We need to start acting like we actually believe that the Christian story line of sexual oneness in lifelong marriage is a better plot than the one on offer in the world around us. … Can our theological imaginations be so transformed that we can start believing that the Christian story of sex is beautiful and depict it as such (165)?
I like this question. Although Kirk doesn’t provide an extensive answer, he’s right to raise the point. Among my teenage frustrations was not receiving a strong image of the beauty and inherent health in the biblical sexual idea. Don’t get me wrong, I was neither a rebellious nor promiscuous youth, but like any other 16-year-old, I had one persistent question on my lips: Why? Aside from “the Bible says so,” why is this the best path forward? What are the benefits in reserving sex for a single, committed marriage, particularly when it appears other narratives are providing a good deal of happiness?
These days, I’m beginning to see what wasn’t well articulated in my teen years. I’m exceptionally grateful for the model of fidelity exhibited by my own parents (still married after nearly 40 years), especially when placed alongside the struggles of friends who grew up in the midst of divorce or separation or worse.
Now that many (OK, all) of my friends are married, I wish nothing for them but that they’re able to fulfill the “death do we part” portion of their vows. Anything less would be devastating, not just to them but to all the rest of us as well.
Now that I’m (still) single (with a blog like this, can you believe it?!) with a few heartbreaks in my past, few words mean more to me than fidelity. I don’t know that I could have imagined at 16 the power of someone telling me that they would stick with me through thick and thin, through successes and, especially, horrible failures. Such a narrative might not have penetrated my teenage heart.
But I realize now that what we really mean (or, at least, should mean) when we talk about the power of love, we’re not talking about the power of electric sex, but the power of complete undying commitment.