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        Sex and the Singles

 

All the passages below are taken from Richard Foster’s book “Money, Sex and Power,” published in 1985.

 

Hell is the only place outside heaven where we can be safe from the dangers of love.  C. S. Lewis

 

One of the great challenges for the Christian faith today is to integrate sexuality and spirituality within the context of the single life. We are fast approaching the day when single people will be in the majority. There are, of course, the young who are still anticipating marriage. Also there are many who are unwillingly hurled into single life by the tragic death of a spouse. The even greater tragedy of divorce casts untold millions more into the world of the single.

The Church can make an enormous contribution by helping singles grapple with their sexuality with honesty and integrity. But in order to do this we must stop thinking of single persons as somehow devoid of sexual needs. Singles---especially those with a serious Christian commitment---really struggle with their sexuality. They face many troubling questions. Is masturbation a legitimate expression of sexuality for a Christian? How do I deal with the feelings of lust that often seem to dominate my thinking? What is lust, anyway, and how is it different from appropriate sexual desire? What about physical affection? Is it an appropriate means of building a healthy relationship, or is it only a one-way street to sexual intercourse? And speaking of intercourse, why is so much significance given to the insertion of the penis into the vagina? Are there really valid biblical reasons for the ban on intercourse outside of marriage, or are these just social customs? These and many similar questions are faced by all singles who are seeking to integrate their Christianity and their sexuality.

 

SEXUALITY AND SEXUAL INTERCOURSE

Perhaps it is best to begin by seeking to grasp a Christian perspective on sexuality and sexual intercourse. Sometimes a person will ask, `Do you believe in premarital sex?' The answer to that question is, `yes and no.' Christianity says a clear yes to that question insofar as it refers to the affirming of our sexuality as human beings. Christianity says a clear no to that question insofar as it refers to genital sex. Let us try to understand the reasoning behind both the yes and the no.

We are sexual persons. We must never try to deny or reject that in any way. We are created in the image of God, male and female. In an important sense all that we are and all that we do has sexual implications. I am trying here to overcome the really silly notion that single persons are somehow asexual.

The single person's sexuality is expressed in his or her capacity to love and to be loved. Not all experiences of intimacy should eventuate in marriage or in genital sex. Loving does not need to be genital to be intimate, and the capacity to love is vital to our sexuality. And so the single person should develop many relationships that are wholesome and caring. Deeply affectionate but non-genital relationships are completely possible and should be encouraged.

The single person's sexuality is expressed in the need to experience emotional fulfillment. The decision to reserve genital sex for marriage is not a decision to remain emotionally unfulfilled. Warm, satisfying friendships are legitimate ways single people can express their sexuality. Emotional fulfillment is completely possible for the single person, and the Church can help here by providing a context for happy and satisfying friendships to develop.

The single person's sexuality is expressed in learning to accept and control his or her sexual feelings. Individuals outside the covenant of marriage should not deny or repress their sexual feelings. Donald Goergen has noted that `feelings are meant to be felt, and sexual feelings are no exception.’1 When we try to deny these feelings we cut ourselves off from our humanity.

I hear a lot more talk about platonic love than I see in experience. Most intimate heterosexual friendships have erotic dimensions to them. And it does us no good to deny that fact of life. Rather we should accept these feelings. But to accept them does not mean to act upon them. Sexual feelings are not to control us; we are to control them. It is an illusion to think that sexual desires are uncontrollable. Just because we may feel angry enough to want to murder someone does not mean that we will do so. We control our feelings of anger so that we do not kill, and in the same way we bring our sexual feelings under our authority.

So far we have tried to show ways by which singles should say yes to their sexuality. What about the no side of the answer to the question of sex outside of marriage?

There is no getting around it: biblical teaching places a clear veto on sexual intercourse for single people. The question is,

Why? The biblical writers were not in the least prudish about sex. God's very creation of human beings as male and female suggests a wholehearted approval of exciting sexual experience. The Song of Solomon celebrates sex as a voluptuous adventure. Paul warns spouses against withholding `conjugal rights.' Why, then, would sexual intercourse be reserved for the covenant of marriage?

The Bible's ban on sexual intercourse for the unmarried is based upon a profound positive insight. According to the biblical authors, sexual intercourse creates a mysterious, unique ‘one flesh' bond. In the creation narrative we are told in simple, yet profound, words, `Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh' (Genesis 2:24 NRSV). When the Pharisees sought to embroil Jesus in the contemporary controversy over the grounds for divorce, he appealed to the `one flesh' concept of Genesis and added, `So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder' (Matthew 19:6 NRSV). In Ephesians, Paul quotes the `one flesh' account to urge husbands to love their wives, because `he who loves his wife loves himself' (Ephesians 5:28 NRSV). His point is a simple one: marriage creates such a bonded union that to do violence to one's spouse is to do violence to oneself.

For our purposes, however, the most graphic passage of all is found in Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is dealing with the case of a man in the Christian fellowship who had been involved with a prostitute. He writes: `Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh" ' (1 Corinthians 6:16). This passage makes it unmistakably clear that Paul sees sexual intercourse as the act par excellence that produces a 'one flesh' bond.

We are now in a position to see why biblical morality reserves sex for the covenant of marriage. Sexual intercourse involves something far more than just the physical, more than even the emotions and psyche. It touches deep into the spirit of each person and produces a profound union that the biblical writers call `one flesh.' Remember, we do not have a body, we are a body; we do not have a spirit, we are a spirit. What touches the body deeply touches the spirit as well.

Sexual intercourse is a `life-uniting act,' as Lewis Smedes calls it.2 And Derrick Bailey has added, `Sexual intercourse is an act of the whole self which affects the whole self; it is a personal encounter between man and woman in which each does something to the other, for good or for ill, which can never be obliterated. This remains true even when they are ignorant of the radical character of their act.’3

Thus the reasoning behind the biblical prohibition of sexual intercourse for the unmarried goes beyond the common practical concerns of pregnancy or venereal disease or whatever. Genital sex outside of marriage is wrong ‘because it violates the inner reality of the act; it is wrong because unmarried people thereby engage in a life-uniting act without a life-uniting intent ... Intercourse signs and seals---and maybe even delivers---a life-union; and life-union means marriage.’4

Therefore, Paul is saying no to sexual intercourse outside of marriage because it does violence to the very nature of the act itself. The act draws us into the profound mystery of a ‘one flesh' reality. It unites and bonds in a deep and wonderful way, wonderful, that is, when it is linked to a covenant of permanence and fidelity. When it is not, it becomes `a hollow, ephemeral, diabolical parody of marriage which works disintegration in the personality and leaves behind a deeply-seated sense of frustration and dissatisfaction---though this may never be brought to the surface of consciousness and realized.’5

The Hebrew word for intercourse means `to know.' The biblical writers understood that in sexual intercourse a special kind of knowledge was conveyed, a special kind of intimacy came into being. This reality they called `one flesh.' This then is why the Bible reserves sexual intercourse for the covenant of marriage.

Where does this leave those who have engaged in intercourse outside of marriage but who now recognize that what they have done is really and truly wrong? Is the bonded reality of intercourse utterly irreversible? No, it is not irreversible, but it does demand the healing touch of God. To engage in a life-uniting act without a life-uniting intent wounds the inner spirit. Such wounds often fester and become infected so that they poison the entire spiritual life. At best, they leave ugly scar tissue.

But the wonderful news is that healing is possible. The grace of God can flow into the wounded spirit, healing and restoring. Sometimes, however, individuals are not able to do this by themselves. In such cases it is best for them to seek out a wise and compassionate physician of the soul---someone who is experienced in spiritual direction and healing prayer---who can pray for them and set them free.

In whatever way it is done, healing prayer does need to be given. We cannot just pretend that the affair never happened, no matter how casual it was. If it is not dealt with and healed, it will surface sooner or later. A friend of mine once counseled a 78-year-old woman. She had been a missionary for fifty years, but now her life, it seemed, was in shambles. She had fears day and night. She was afraid of crowds; she was afraid of stairs; she was afraid of everything.

And she was depressed; a deep sadness hung over her entire life. So total was her misery that she was preparing to have shock treatments.

My friend, who is very wise in the care of souls, asked if she had been happy as a child. `Oh, yes!' she responded. The next question was a simple one, `When did you begin to feel this sadness and depression?' The reply was quick, `When I was sixteen.' And so my friend asked, `Why? What happened when you were sixteen that caused the sadness?' For the first time in her life, this woman admitted that at sixteen she had had an affair with a young man. Fortunately she did not become pregnant, and the young man soon went away, but she had carried this deep wound in her spirit for over sixty years.

My friend prayed for the inner healing of this dear woman, and, wonderfully, within a matter of weeks, the fears and depression began to disappear, so that, as she put it, `I am able to remember that I used to be afraid and depressed, but I can no longer remember what it felt like!'

This ministry of forgiving and healing through the power of Christ is the common property of the people of God. We can bring so much help, so much healing, if we are willing. It is a gracious ministry that needs to abound in the fellowship of the faithful.

 

SEXUAL FANTASY

Jesus, of course, made it abundantly clear that sexual righteousness was a far deeper issue than merely avoiding sex outside of marriage. He went right to the heart of the matter by speaking of the adultery of the heart, `Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart' (Matthew 5:28). This statement was a profound advance over the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It has also caused a great deal of concern and confusion about sexual fantasies.

The single person who genuinely wants to be a disciple of Christ and who therefore reserves sexual intercourse for the covenant of marriage is often confused about how to deal with sexual fantasies. Sexual fantasies delight---they also trouble and disturb. And the confusion they cause is only heightened by the ambivalence of the Christian community. When singles turn to the Church for direction, they are usually met with either stony silence or the counsels of repression. Now, silence is no counsel, and repression is bad counsel. Desperate, however, they try to repress their sexual feelings, but their efforts always end in disappointment. The result is guilt, followed by bitterness and disillusionment. The need is great for solid practical guidance on how to deal with sexual fantasies.

At the outset we must make as clear a distinction as possible between lust and sexual fantasy. I say `as clear a distinction as possible' because we simply must admit that the lines that divide the two are sometimes shrouded in ethical mists and fogs. Although all lust involves sexual fantasy, not all sexual fantasies lead to lust. How do we know the difference?

In chapter 6 I defined lust as `runaway, uncontrolled sexual passion: Lewis Smedes has articulated the difference between the two quite well: `When the sense of excitement conceives a plan to use a person, when attraction turns into scheme, we have crossed beyond erotic excitement into spiritual adultery.’6 Lust is an untamed, inordinate sexual passion to possess, and this is a very different thing from the usual erotic awareness experienced in sexual fantasy.

Hence, the first thing that believers should do is to refuse to bear the heavy burden of self-condemnation for every erotic image that floats through their minds. Sometimes sexual fantasies signify a longing for intimacy; at other times, they express attraction toward a beautiful and winsome person. Sexual fantasies can mean many things, and we must not automatically identify them with lust.

It is also helpful to recognize the positive function of fantasy. Through fantasy we are able to hold reality at bay while we allow the imagination to roam freely. Mature people are able to utilize the imagination without ever losing touch with the real world. Some of the world's finest music and greatest inventions have come in this way.

Certainly one of the distinguishing characteristics of our human sexuality, as opposed to the rest of the creation, is our ability to reflect upon our sexuality. We can write love letters, remember the warm kiss many times over, and anticipate love's tender moments yet to come. These are sexual events, erotic experiences, and they should not be classified as lust. In fact, in marriage sexual fantasy is vitally important in awakening sexual expression. Perhaps one reason many couples are bored with sex is atrophy of their imagination.

But if sexual fantasy has its positive side, it also has its destructive side. It can be a substitute for warm friendships, which carry with them the demands and disappointments of real life. It can lead to obsession with the sexual. It can easily become a truncated preoccupation with the physical. It can be a prelude to illicit behavior.

The problem of sexual fantasies is genuinely intensified in our day because of the modern media blitz. It is virtually impossible to get away from the media's constant appeal to our sexual fantasies. Advertisers know well the power of sexual fantasy and constantly exploit that power.

However, we need to realize the authority we can have over our sexual fantasies. The imagination can be disciplined. In our better moments we can choose to place our minds on true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious things. And even in our bad moments we can confess with Paul, `It is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me,' and know that a deeper experience of obedience is coming (Romans 7:17).

You see, when bad people do evil they do exactly what they want to do. But when people who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ do evil they are doing precisely what they do not want to do. As Paul put it, `I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate' (Romans 7:15). When we are faced with such a condition, we say by faith, `That is not me doing it; it is sin in me, and by the grace of God and in the timing of God I shall be rid of it.'

One of the most healing ministries we can render to each other is to learn to pray for one another about our sexual fantasies. In this realm I have a friend who prays for me and I for him. The sharing is confidential, of course. The praying is spiced with laughter and joy, for it is a happy ministry to which we are called. We pray that we will be protected from sexual influences that will be destructive and harmful. We pray that Christ will enter our sexual fantasies and fill them with his light. We pray that our sexuality will be whole and full and pure. It is a gracious, wholesome, happy ministry, and I would commend it to you.

 

MASTURBATION

Masturbation is so closely related to the issue of sexual fantasy that it deserves attention at this juncture. Ethical judgments about masturbation run all the way from viewing it as a sin more serious than fornication, adultery, or rape to placing it in the same category as head scratching.*

One thing that is certainly uncontested is the almost universal experience of masturbation. James McCary, author of Human Sexuality, has found that about 95 percent of men and between 50 and 90 percent of women masturbate.7 It has been said that `no other form of sexual activity has been more frequently discussed, more roundly condemned, and more universally practiced, than masturbation.’8 Nearly all adolescents masturbate and many adults masturbate from time to time throughout their lives.

The issue of masturbation is particularly acute for single people who, out of Christian conviction, have said no to sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Many important questions surface: Is masturbation a morally acceptable activity for a disciple of Christ? Even more, could it be a `gift from God,' as some have suggested, to help us avoid promiscuous sex? What about the sexual fantasies that invariably crowd into the landscape of masturbation?

These questions---and many more---are of concern to all believers, but they are especially urgent to singles. Deeply concerned to do what is right, many singles find their experiences of masturbation plagued by guilt, defeat, and self-hatred. They determine never to do it again. But they do. And the pit of self-condemnation deepens.

Let us begin with a couple of indisputable facts. First, masturbation is not physically harmful in any way. On this, all medical experts agree. The old myths that masturbation will cause everything from pimples to insanity are just that---myths.

Second, the Bible nowhere deals directly with masturbation. There are no injunctions against it, as there are against homosexuality, for example. The Bible's silence on masturbation is not because it was unknown, since there are references to it in the Egyptian literature of the period. It certainly is not because the Bible is squeamish about sexually explicit topics. Now, the Bible's silence does not mean that masturbation is not a moral issue, but it does mean that any biblical help we receive will be indirect rather than direct.

Three concerns heighten the moral question of masturbation. The first is its connection with sexual fantasies. Masturbation simply does not occur in an imageless void. And many are deeply distressed by the images that do come, feeling that they qualify as the lust of the heart that Jesus spoke against (Matthew 5:28).

The second concern relates to masturbation's tendency to become obsessive. People who masturbate can become compulsive in it. They feel trapped; the practice becomes an uncontrollable habit that dominates everything. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this obsessive process is the sense of being undisciplined and out of control.

The third concern has to do with masturbation's depersonalization. Masturbation is sexual solitaire. True sexuality leads us to a deep personal relationship with another, but masturbation is `sex on a desert island,' to use the phrase of John White.

On the positive end of the spectrum, masturbation does help compensate for the uneven development that many adolescents experience in their physical, emotional, and social maturation. Many teenagers are physically ready for sex far sooner than they are for social intimacy and the responsibilities of marriage. Masturbation provides a natural `safety valve' while nature is synchronizing growth in the various aspects of life.

For married couples, masturbation can often be a mutually enriching experience when done together. Within the context of married lovemaking, it has been called `an exciting excursion into shared pleasure.’9 In fact, some couples find mutual masturbation a crucial element in the development of their full sexual potential.

What should we say to all this? Well, the first thing we should say is that masturbation is not inherently wrong or sinful. In the main, it is a common experience for most people and should be accepted as a normal part of life.

The second thing we can emphasize is its value in providing a potentially healthy genital outlet when sexual intercourse is not possible. We simply must not lay impossible moral burdens upon people, especially when we have no specific biblical teaching against masturbation. Many honest folk, told of the evils of masturbation, have prayed desperately to be set free, and in reality have been expecting God to take away their sexual desires. These expectations are completely unrealistic, and, in fact, if God were to oblige, he would be doing violence to his own creation. Sexual desire is good and needs to be affirmed, not denied.

But sexual desire also needs to be controlled, which leads us to a third affirmation: the more masturbation tends toward obsession, the more it tends toward idolatry. God is our only legitimate obsession. The body needs to be under our discipline; this is true whether we are talking about sloth, gluttony, or masturbation. The uncontrolled practice of masturbation undermines our confidence and self-esteem. Obsessive masturbation is spiritually dangerous. But we must also be aware of the opposite obsession---the obsession to quit. This obsession is especially painful because one failure can cast a person into despair. It becomes a desperate, all-or-nothing situation. And this is sad, because it is really unnecessary. We do not need to put people into impossible either/or binds. What we are after is control, balance, perspective.

Closely tied to this is a fourth affirmation: masturbation's sexual fantasies are a very real part of human life that needs to be disciplined, not eliminated. Erotic imaginings will come; the real ethical question is how to deal with them. Will they dominate every waking moment, or can they be brought into proper perspective within the far greater matters of love and human relationship? We like fantasies because they idealize life. In our fantasies we are the paradigm of sexual prowess, our partner is desirable beyond compare, and, best of all, he or she says what we want, does what we want, and never makes demands on our time and energy. This is precisely why fantasies need discipline: they can divorce us from the real world of human imperfection. And Jesus' word about adultery of the heart must never be taken lightly.

The final thing we should say about masturbation is that, although it may electrify, it can never fully satisfy. Orgasm is only a small part of a much larger whole. And that larger whole encompasses the entire range of personal human relationship. A cup of coffee together in the morning, a quiet talk in the evening, a touch, a kiss---this is the stuff of our sexuality. Masturbation will always fall short, because it seeks to perpetuate the myth of the self-contained lover.

 

PASSION UNDER CONTROL

Most cultures in the history of the world have not known the many expressions of courting that are so familiar to us. Marriages were arranged. Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for Isaac, and the choice was made before Isaac and Rebekah ever set eyes on each other (Genesis 24). And so it has been in many cultures. Love and intimacy came after marriage rather than before it. But this is not how it is for us, not in our culture. For us, there are elaborate rituals of acquaintanceship and courtship. Many of these rituals seem innocent enough---talking together, holding hands, kissing. Others seem dangerously erotic---necking, caressing, petting.

These rituals hold no moral dilemma for those who allow sexual intercourse to run free. For them, these things can be a prelude to intercourse if the conditions are right and all things work out well. But for those who reserve genital sex exclusively for the covenant of marriage, these matters are filled with moral consequence. It is to these people that the counsel that follows is addressed.

The first question that must be answered is whether or not there is any place at all within the context of Christian sexual behavior for the many expressions of love and affection. I am going to answer yes to that question, but first let us see why many people, to one degree or another, have tended to answer no. The main reason for a no answer is that the kissing and hugging are considered the first steps toward sexual intercourse, a process that, once begun, cannot be stopped. Now, if that is the sole purpose of these rituals of acquaintanceship and courtship, then it makes all the sense in the world to put up plenty of stop signs and barriers.

However, it is possible for the many acts of affection that accompany courtship to have an altogether different agenda. They can also serve the purpose of tender caring and sharing, of mutual endearment and intimacy. They can be enjoyed for their own sake without necessarily leading to sexual intercourse.

The purpose of the many acts of mutual affection should be to convey closeness without sexual intercourse as the goal. Singles need to understand this purpose with absolute clarity, because the pressure of society and the pressure of friends and the pressure of body chemistry will all push toward intercourse.

I am suggesting that, instead of denying our passions, we need to control our passions. Obviously, there are very real risks. Sexual passion is very powerful, and it can easily carry people beyond the point of no return before they know it. This gives rise to a second major question, If we accept the acts of mutual affection within the context of Christian ethics, are there any guidelines for their practice? These acts can range from simple hugging and kissing all the way to direct stimulation of the breasts and the genitals. What counsel can be given that might help singles find their way along this continuum?

Responsible passion should be guided by one basic principle: increased physical intimacy in a relationship should always be matched by increased commitment to that relationship. A diagram10 might help illustrate this principle:

 

                  Marriage--Sex

 

Love

 

     We build a solid foundation for love by moving toward commitment at the same rate we move toward physical intimacy. As intimacy grows, so does our commitment to each other. As our commitment grows, so does our intimacy. If our mutual commitment is shaky, we had better ease up on the intimacy. The early stages of commitment include such things as exclusively dating one person. Deeper levels of commitment involve such things as engagement. All along the way the privileges of growing intimacy carry with them the responsibilities of growing commitment, so that the ultimate intimacy in sexual intercourse coincides with the ultimate commitment in the covenant of marriage.

The diagram below illustrates what happens when intimacy runs ahead of commitment. When people move one inch toward commitment and a mile toward intimacy, everything is thrown off balance. There is no solid foundation for love, and the result is frustration and chaos.

I have sought to present a general principle for responsible passion that I hope will provide guidance without legalism. I would like to add to this two opinions of my own: if these are helpful, good; if not, forget them, for they are certainly not essential to the general principle.

 

      Marriage-Sex

 

              Love

 

My first suggestion is this: since our purpose is to convey personal closeness and sharing without sexual intercourse, I think it would be wise to make the genitals and the woman's breasts off limits until marriage. These areas are just too explosive to be part of a mutual expression of affection and caring short of intercourse.

My second suggestion is that the engagement period not be too long - certainly not more than six months. By the time a couple reaches the point of engagement, they are entering levels of intimacy that should not be sustained for long without expression in sexual intercourse. For Carolynn and me the engagement period, while in many ways very wonderful, was in other ways the most difficult. Our love for each other, our caring, our sharing, was at an apex. We have always been glad that we waited until marriage for sexual intercourse, but we were also glad that the final waiting period was not unduly long.

 

THE SINGLE LIFE

Some have a special call of God to a single life, as both Jesus and Paul taught. This was a genuine contribution, since before this time there was no theology of sexuality that really allowed for the single life.@

Jesus declared that there were those who were single `for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 19:12).& And Paul builds on this foundation by suggesting that the unmarried can focus their energies toward the work of God in a way that the married simply cannot (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Some have railed at Paul for urging people to seriously consider the single life, but the truth is that his words are filled with practical wisdom. He was not against marriage---in fact his great contribution to Christian sexual theology is the way he compares the sexual union in marriage to the union of Christ and his Church. But Paul did insist that we count the cost. You see, no one should enter the covenant of marriage without realizing the immense time and energy required to make that relationship work. `The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided' (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

Therefore, in the Christian fellowship we need to make room for the `vocational celibate'---the person who has chosen a single life in order to focus his or her energies more narrowly on the service of the kingdom of God. Jesus himself is an example of this, as is Paul. Vocational celibacy is not an inferior or a superior way of life---it is simply a different calling.

In Freedom of Simplicity I have written, `We do people a disservice when we fail to proclaim the single life as a Christian option. Marriage is not for everyone, and we should say so.’11 Those who are called to the single life should be welcomed into the life and ministry of the church. They are not half-people or folk who somehow cannot snag a mate. They have made a positive choice of the single life for the sake of Christ and in response to the call of God. And as Heini Arnold has noted, `It is possible for everyone to find the deepest unity of heart and soul without marriage.’12

Before concluding this section I want to speak a special word about those who are single but feel no special calling to be single. Perhaps they are widowed or divorced or have not had a chance to marry but wish they were married. The Christian community needs to have a special tenderness for these who feel shoved aside and left behind in our couple-oriented world.

In many cases their situation has arisen from circumstances completely beyond their control. For example, we tell people to marry `only in the Lord,' but because of our mechanisms of evangelism and Christian nurture, we have more women than men in the Church. What are the women to do?

Or consider the plight of the divorcees in our churches. In many cases we are not sure whether to welcome them or to ostracize them. They sense our ambivalence, and in some ways it is worse than outright rejection.

To the unwilling single I would like to speak the words of trust and hope. Do not harden your heart. God is still sovereign no matter what the frustrations of your life may indicate. He can bring about that `wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles' that Motel Kamzoil sang about in Fiddler on the Roof. Trust in him, do all you can yourself, and live in hope. And even if marriage does not come, you can know that his grace is sufficient even for that.

 

                                    *          *          *

 

In writing this chapter I have been keenly aware that it is quite easy for me to pontificate on the conditions for sexual purity for singles from the warm confines of a satisfying marriage. To put it bluntly, I do not have to face an empty bed at night or mounting sexual frustrations during the day. But whatever our station in life, we can trust the goodness of God and learn to live in his power. [114-134]

 

Notes

1. Donald Goergen, The Sexual Celibate (London: S.P.C.K., 1976), p. 181.

2. Smedes, Sex for Christians, p. 128.

3. Derrick Sherwin Bailey, The Mystery of Love & Marriage (New York: Harper, 1952), p. 53.

4. Smedes, Sex for Christians, p. 130.

5. Bailey, Mystery of Love & Marriage, pp. 53-54.

6. Smedes, Sex for Christians, p. 210.

7. McCaryjames, Human Sexuality, 3rd ed. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1978), p. 150.

8. `Autoeroticism,' in The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior, ed. A. Ellis and Aborbanel, vol. I (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1961), p. 204.

9. Smedes, Sex for Christians, p. 246.

10. This diagram was first suggested to me by Walter Trobisch, though I have modified it somewhat. His discussion is found in I Married You (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 77-83.

11. Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity (London: Triangle, 1981), p. 137.

12. Heini Arnold, In the Image of God: Marriage & Celibacy in Christian Life (Rifton, N.Y : Plough Publishing House, 1976), p. 161.

 

 *In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic church stressed the evils of masturbation because of its distance from procreation, which was thought to be the only function of sex, and even the most recent Vatican statement on the subject declares that `masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act.' And in the Evangelical Protestant wing of the Church, Erwin Lutzer, in Living with Your Passions, comes very close to a direct identification of masturbation with sin. By contrast, most in the medical profession today regard it as normal and not harmful. James Dobson, in his popular `Focus on the Family' film series, accepts it as a normal part of growing up unless it becomes excessive. Charlie Shedd, in The Stork Is Dead, speaks of it as `a gift from God,' since it can help to avoid promiscuous sex. The comparison of masturbation with head scratching comes from James McCary, in Human Sexuality, 3d ed. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1978), pp. 293-94.

 

 @ In the main, Judaism looked upon celibacy as an abnormal state: Eunuchs, for example, were forbidden to act as priests (Lev. 21:20). The only exception I am aware of to this general rule was the Essene community of Qumran. There celibacy did exist, and Jesus was likely aware of this group since his cousin, John the Baptist, was probably involved with the Essenes.

 

 & The biblical term is eunuchs, and there is considerable debate over whether this refers to a person who has never married or to a married person whose partner has left for a pagan life who does not remarry and hence is a `eunuch for the sake of the kingdom.' Whichever interpretation is correct, the practical outcome is the same---the person lives a single life for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

 

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