What is a biblical theology of sexuality? Part 2

In the first part of this two-part post, I set out what I perceive as the first four of eight affirmations about sex and sexuality in the broad narrative of the Scriptures. Look at this ‘big picture’ is an essential complement to the discussions about detailed texts, and without it the debate can sometimes get lost in the details.

The first four affirmations were that: sex is a good gift from good; that we are bodily creatures, not merely spirits trapped in bodies or purely material creatures; that our bodies are sex-differentiated into male and female (sex dimorphism); and that God intends us to live lives of integrity, where our outward actions, include our experience of sex, should line up with our life commitments.

The second set of four affirmations offer some essential counterpoints to the first four, and the theology of sex and sexuality we find in scripture lies in the connection and tension between all eight affirmations.


5. Sex is potent

You don’t need to read the Bible to know that sex is a powerful force in the world. In his 1985 book that followed on from Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster address the questions of Money, Sex and Power. He wrote:

No issues touch us more profoundly or universally; no topics cause more controversy. No human realities have greater power to bless or curse. No three things have been more sought after or are more in need of a Christian response.

Sex has the power to end our loneliness, to bring us into the deepest, most profound and most fulfilling communion with another human being. But, when misused, it has the power to destroy lives, and those who have been harmed by it bear the deepest of scars.

National destinies are also shaped by issues around sex and childbearing. Historically, we are in a strange place in the West; with our near-universal adoption of contraception, we have become a culture where sexual activity is almost seen as a right, but childbearing is becoming perceived more and more in cultural narratives as problematic, an obstacle to the fulfilment of our desired lifestyle in terms of earning power and career progression. The result of this is epidemic-levels of sexually transmitted diseases alongside a birthrate that has, for some time, been below the ‘replacement level’ necessary to maintain a steady population. (Ironically, in both these regards we are moving closer to the pre-Christian reality of the Roman Empire.) In many Western countries, population growth has only been sustained by immigration (note Angela Merkel’s amnesty for around 1 million immigrants in Germany last year), and the immigrant communities typically have a much higher birth rate than the indigenous population, increasing the ethnic and cultural mix of the population as a whole.

In some contexts, such differential rates of birth have serious political consequences. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) once said that ‘the womb of the Arab woman is my strongest weapon’; he knew that if the refugee Palestinian population continued to grow, then they would be impossible to ignore in world politics. 750,000 Palestinians left or were expelled from the infant nation of Israel in 1947–8; there are now 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip alone. In fact, both Israeli Jews and Palestinians are engaged in a demographic war of childbearing.

Scripture recognises the power of sex. The first commandment of God to humanity is to ‘be fruitful and multiply’; having families and raising them is depicted as the primary way in which humanity is to exercise the power of God’s delegated dominion over the earth. The narratives of the Old Testament are littered with examples of desire and sexual relations that go wrong, wreaking havoc in the lives of individuals and families. David’s desire for Bathsheba, as he sees her bathing on her roof when he should have been leading his troops in battle, destroyed the life of her husband Uriah and nearly destroyed both David and his kingdom (see 2 Kings 11).

For both Jesus and Paul, sexual immorality, along with other vices like greed and malicious thoughts, has the power to ‘defile’ (Mark 7.21) and prevent our inheritance of the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6.9).


Come and join us for the Third Festival of Theology on Tuesday 8th October!


6. Humanity is fallen

A central theme in the Bible’s description of humanity is that we are ‘fallen’ in some sense. God created the world good, but things are now often far from good; we were made to be in intimate relationship with God, and at peace with each other and the world, but all these relationships have become distanced and distorted. Scripture sometimes describes this in terms of the deliberate choice of individuals to do the wrong thing rather than the right; at other times it describes sin as a power which spoils and breaks our lives; and at still other times it talks about the whole world being out of joint, groaning in futility.

In the creation narrative, the state we are in is depicted as the turning of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, away from the command of God, being seduced by the promised of even greater power and knowledge. In God’s unfolding of the consequences of this, the impact on sex and childbearing is at the top of the list:

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you (Gen 3.16)

The reciprocity of equality-in-difference that was so carefully spelled out in chapter 2 has now been twisted and distorted, so that there is asymmetry of both desire and power.

In the gospels, Jesus often teaches about money and its seductive dangers, and he is often opposed by those whose power and influence he threatens. But, as John Nolland has demonstrated, he teaches about sex and sexual morality at least as often, including reference to sex in all his vice lists. In his exposition of the true meaning of the law in Matt 5.27–48 (‘You have heard it said…but I say to you…’), he begins by expounding the true meaning of sexual morality in relation to adultery and divorce and remarriage.

Paul explanation of his understanding of the gospels to Christians in Rome starts by demonstrating (in chapter 1) how Gentiles are captive to sin and, in parallel, how God’s people the Jews are also mired in sin—so that he can conclude that ‘all [i.e. both Jew and Gentile] have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ and are therefore all in need of the offer of grace, forgiveness and redemption that is found in Jesus. In the first half, the critique of Gentile life and culture, he deploys a traditional Jewish argument highlighting Gentile sexual sin: Gentile acceptance of same-sex sexual activity demonstrates how far they are from God, since they reject the bodily form of male and female and in so doing so reject God’s expression of himself in creation.

Paul is not here merely demonstrating an obsession with sex; he is showing how complete is the effect of human sin and our turning from God, that it penetrates to the very heart of human relationships. He locates that at the centre of all the other ways in which sin is manifest (‘They have become filled with every kind of wickedness…’ Rom 1.29)—and is clear that his Jewish readers, cheering him on in his Jewish condemnation of Gentiles, are also quickly silenced, since ‘you who pass judgment do the same things’ and are affected by sin in just the same way (Rom 2.1)


7. Sexual activity is strictly bounded

When I did chemistry at school, we used to sit on stools at benches in the chemistry lab, and at the centre of the benches, sitting on glass trays, were intriguing thick glass bottles. The most intriguing were labelled ‘Concentrated Nitric Acid’, ‘Concentrated Hydrochoric Acid’ and ‘Concentrated Sulphuric Acid’. We could tell that these things were powerful; if the teacher brought out some ammonia, the tops of these bottles smoked with potential for action! We also thought that these things could do some good—they were obviously important in certain kinds of reactions. But in the hands of teenage boys, they could clearly do a lot of damage, which is why they were in thick glass bottles. I suspect that nowadays they would be placed in securely locked cabinets for that very reason.

This is how we need to read the strict prohibitions on sexual activity in the Bible. Within its various cultural contexts, the different parts of the Bible are quite distinctive in the limits and prohibitions they put around sexual relations. Same-sex sexual relations were allowed in certain contexts in all other parts of the ancient near East; the Old Testament is unique in prohibiting such relations in all forms. Israelite law contrasted sharply with the Egyptian context from which it emerged:

To the Egyptians, sex was a life staple, on a par with eating and sleeping and therefore not something to be sniggered at, embarrassed about or avoided. The Egyptian language for example – like modern English – had many words for sexual intercourse, with the most common being nk. This was used to describe the male agent of the sexual act and was acceptable in daily parlance.

Incestuous relationships were not uncommon, and gave rise to congenital malformations and still births which gave rise to a fascination with grotesque forms and images. Tutankhamen suffered from congenital malformation of his legs, most likely as a result of his incestuous conception; his father and mother were brother and sister, and he went on to marry his half sister.

In a similar way, the Christian sexual ethic set out in the New Testament, which carried forward the restricted Jewish ethic of the Old Testament, was distinctive in the first century in its prohibition of sex outside marriage and in its symmetrical ethical demands on both men and women. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, notes the measurable impact of this ethic on the growth of the early church. In chapter 5, ‘The role of women in Christian growth’, he notes how the rejection of female infanticide and abortion, the lower level of sexual diseases, and the greater care of women through childbirth all contributed to biological numerical growth amongst Christians.

The restrictive sexual ethic in the Bible which is then manifest in a restrictive ethic in the church is commonly interpreted (both within and without) as either a prudishness or an expression of fear and anxiety about sexual relations—and when it is detached from the earlier affirmations that sex is a good gift from God, then it can become this.

But when held together with the other things Scripture says about sex, our identity as bodily creatures made male and female, and God’s good intention in creation, these restraints are properly understood as limiting the damage done by a good but powerful force that is subject to human sin.


8. Penultimate

Despite sex being a good gift of God, and despite sexual intimacy within male-female marriage being assumed as the norm for most people, the New Testament offers us a startling challenge to the idea that sexual experience is essential of human happiness—or even a necessary part of life. Both Jesus and Paul were single!

Although not completely universal, it would have been normal for a rabbi in first-century Judaism to have been married, not least in order to model what a good Jewish family life might be like. In fact, it would have been normal for any man to be married, and being single would have been unusual though not impossible. Despite ill-informed and sensationalist speculative by Dan Brown and others, there is no doubt that Jesus was not married. And we need to pause here and consider the enormity of this fact:

The person who lived the perfectly fulfilled life, the one who offered us ‘life in all its fulness’ (John 10.10), lived out that full and perfect life without experiencing sexual relationships. If he could, then we can too.

This presents a major challenge in at least three directions: communities without and outside the church that present marriage and having children as the way to live a fulfilled life; contemporary culture which finds it hard to imagine a satisfying life that does not involve sexual experience; and Jesus’ Jewish context which held on to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ as the first and essential commandment.

Paul’s offers some practical reasons for his own singleness: ‘an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided’ (1 Cor 7.32–34). There is a danger that we interpret this as mere pragmatism, rather than having theological significance. But Jesus’ reworking of kinship identity around loyalty to him makes the theological issue quite clear.

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12.48–50)

In the first creation, we exercise the dominion of God by being fruitful and multiplying—by marrying and having children. And the existential condition of being alone is addressed by the gift of intimacy with another through sexual union in marriage. But in the new creation, which we are stepping into as we are baptised into the death and resurrection life of Jesus, all this changes. We see the reign of God now come as we share the good news of new life in Jesus and as others receive it: it is through effective evangelism that we are fruitful and multiply. And the end of aloneness no longer comes only through marriage and the associated formation of kinship groups; now, our kinship comes through Jesus our brother, and the brothers and sisters we have amongst fellow disciples in the family of believers. That, at least, is the vision of the New Testament, even if it is poorly realised in practice in church life. It is striking that, when the believers come together in sharing their possessions in Acts 2.42–47, they are enacting the sharing of possessions between husband and wife that was set out in Gen 2.24.

All this means that sex and sexuality cannot define human identity. It is not that the Scriptures are ignorant of the power of and claims made by sexual desire; in the first century world the whole range of sexual relations and desires were known. Rather, Scripture rejects this way of understanding what it is to be human. ‘Orientation’ is not a fundamental constituent of human being; it is being made bodily, male or female, in the image of God which is primary.

And the reasons for this become clear when we consider where we are heading. The intimacy and union of marriage anticipates the intimacy and union that we will one day enjoy with God. In the New Jerusalem, the giant cube that is the holy city has become both the location of the people of God and the Holy of Holies where God himself dwells. The space inhabited by God and the space inhabited by his people are coterminous, as they live in intimate union with him. This is why the coming of the city and the final revelation of the age to come is described as the ‘marriage feast of the lamb’ with his bride (Rev 19.6–9), the people of God who follow him.

The singleness of Jesus and Paul, and the singleness of any of his followers, points forward to this reality.


These two posts together set out eight affirmation that I find in Scripture:

  1. Sex is a good gift from God
  2. Humanity is created bodily
  3. Our bodies are sex dimorphic as male and female
  4. God intends us to live integrated lives
  5. Sex is powerful
  6. Humanity is fallen
  7. Sexual activity is bounded
  8. Sex is of penultimate, not ultimate, importance

My conviction is that we need to hold all eight affirmations together. If we emphasise one at the expense of others (for example, thinking sex is a good gift without recognising it is not of ultimate importance, or thinking that we live out our inner life without recognising the boundaries around sexual activity), then we get into problems.

And a Christian sexual ethic needs to be shaped by the wider vision of sex and sexuality in the Bible, and not just by the details—though the details, rightly understood, build together into the whole.


If you enjoyed this article, do share it on social media, possibly using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

20 thoughts on “What is a biblical theology of sexuality? Part 2”

  1. “In the first half, the critique of Gentile life and culture, he deploys a traditional Jewish argument highlighting Gentile sexual sin: Gentile acceptance of same-sex sexual activity demonstrates how far they are from God, since they reject the bodily form of male and female and in so doing so reject God’s expression of himself in creation.”

    Culture.

    Even the term ‘God’s expression of HIMself’ is possibly open to question. Can God not be ‘HER’ as well?

    The ‘incest’ bit is a straw man (or woman). Just because incest can have harmful effects, that does not mean that natural sexual orientation, especially when expressed in faithful, caring relationships, is wrong. There is no connection.

    “The restrictive sexual ethics in the Bible and the Church… are properly understood as limiting the damage done…”

    What possible damage am I doing in loving my wife, and caring for her, and sacrificing for her. Fidelity certainly matters, and that is as much a heterosexual problem, but what damage does two women loving each other do to anyone else?

    “All this means that sex and sexuality cannot define human identity.” People are far more than just sex. But it is integral and it is precious. It’s how we’re made, how we’ve evolved, we are sexual. None of that stops a few people living celibate lives, but for most people expression of their sexuality is healthy, and that includes gay and lesbian people.

    “‘Orientation’ is not a fundamental constituent of human being; it is being made bodily, male or female, in the image of God which is primary.” I think that’s a slogan. We are far more than just our bodies. We are our minds as well. Or to be more precise, our minds are body too, and probably the determining sexual organ in our lives. ‘Orientation’ is deeply experienced and deeply relevant to people. You can’t just demote or erase it as not fundamental. It’s a huge part of who you are. You fancy your partner, don’t you? That’s not marginal. That’s you.

    Gay and lesbian people have as valid relationships as you or anyone else who loves, and cares, and sacrifices for their partners. Their love can be precious, intimately expressed, deeply fulfilling, and worthy of honouring in the community. Sexuality is who we are, along with everything else we are, and we should not stigmatise some people’s sexual orientation because it clashes with Paul’s Jewish traditions and the cultural assumptions of his time. To teach that gay and lesbian people should be celibate all their lives: is almost risible to society today, and I think to demand celibacy is unnatural, harmful, emotionally dangerous, deeply restrictive, culturally backward. Sex is healthy, and that includes gay and lesbian sex, if the care and the fidelity and the sacrifice are there.

    This cultural regression is, I fear, inept and alienates so many people from the gospel. And that, not my own desire, is what truly distresses me.

    Reply
    • You said previously that you weren’t going to comment any further…but your comments are welcome.

      You seem here to be asserting your views over against what I have written. But the question is: is what I have written a fair summary of scripture?

      If it is, then I think your comment is a fairly straightforward rejection of the scriptural perspective.

      If you think that my comments are *not* a fair reading, then you need to explain why you think that…if you do want to add any further comments.

      Reply
      • Apologies for the confusion, Ian. I meant I would not comment on the other thread, but actually you make a fair point and I won’t comment further on this pair of threads. And also, thank you, because I sincerely appreciate your courtesy and patience.

        Ian, as I have said before, at the surface level of what scripture says – through individual verses, and collectively (as you are approaching it here) – I agree with you, and I think it is a perceptive summary. As I have said previously, I think you have a gift, and in many ways I find your studies helpful.

        I don’t reject the Bible, though, just because I use a different methodology to read and understand it. You obviously think I do, and if I was an isolated individual my approach would be of little matter (perhaps it is!)… but you know very well that in the Church of England today, many people approach scripture in a similar way.

        You, very perceptively, summarise ‘what the authors of the scriptures have written’. However, as I have pointed out previously, it’s possible to go back one step from this surface acceptance of scriptural text, and question the extent and correctness of what the authors assert, and whether some of their narrative is culturally influenced, or fallible, or mistaken. After all, they were human beings.

        I wouldn’t say you were being ‘unfair’ because you are being true to your particular tradition of understanding the Bible. You are both true to that tradition, and skilled.

        But it is possible to use different methodologies in understanding scripture, which recognise that the authors’ statements may not be infallible or culture-free, and still develop a biblical theology.

        So I think your reading is a fair reading, if you accept that all your component sections are based upon what the authors of the scriptures have written being true and correct, and not open to critique.

        However, along with half the Church of England (probably more) I don’t embrace your traditional self-defined ‘restrictive’ sexual ethics. We accept and have no problem with gay and lesbian sexuality. It is sincerely possible to read the Bible differently to you, and ‘getting behind the surface words’ does involve questioning their insights, their cultures, their time, their worldview, their knowledge and the limit of their knowledge.

        You and I both know that the Church of England is edging towards an accommodation of more than just the traditional view of sexuality. So it’s not as if I’m some kind of lone maverick, for putting the case for reading scripture in a different way to you. None of it means we need to disrespect each other. I feel fondly towards you for your givenness to your ministry. The thing is, at the wider level of the Church, we must pray and strive for love for one another.

        The fact that you even let me post on your website (Christian Concern don’t) is a huge courtesy and I am grateful.

        I am a writer as well as a registered nurse. I have major writing projects coming up. Part of the discipline involved (you’ll know about that) means I will need to step back from this site and others like it. So you shall have some peace! I genuinely would love to meet you one day. I respect you. I believe in your vocation. I catch glimpses of the person behind all these articles, a human being, a decent person with principles.

        But we live in a Church which is struggling to maintain respect and kindness, and our differences of opinion are sincere. I do ‘get’ where you’re coming from theologically. I agree. Read your way, I think the Bible condemns man-man sex. But so-called liberals like me don’t read it your way.

        Susannah

        Reply
        • ‘You, very perceptively, summarise ‘what the authors of the scriptures have written’. However, as I have pointed out previously, it’s possible to go back one step from this surface acceptance of scriptural text, and question the extent and correctness of what the authors assert, and whether some of their narrative is culturally influenced, or fallible, or mistaken. After all, they were human beings.’

          I think you are clearly saying here that you *don’t* believe that ‘all scriptures are God-breathed’ if they are limited by their culture (which is different from being expressed in the context of their culture’ and mistaken. I think you are also clearly saying here that you *don’t* believe that Scripture is ‘God’s word written’.

          That is a coherent and defensible position to hold, but it is not the belief of the Church of England.

          Reply
          • I agree that the belief that Scripture is God’s word written, and therefore sets the standard for faith and practice, is the position of the Church of England – in theory. But in practice the Church of England is appointing to high office (deans, archdeacons, bishops) again and again people who not only hold a contrary view but promote it shamelessly and with impunity.

        • Dear Susannah

          Contrary to what you say, I doubt whether Christian Concern are blocking you – so far as I know, they are not a comments website. It would probably be a full time job to keep up monitoring all the shrieks of anguish they would receive as their opponents’ masks slipped.

          Reply
  2. Thanks for another excellent, thoughtful, thorough and insightful piece and for linking me to it. I’ve always thought that the specific language and terminology that Paul uses in relation to marriage compared to celibacy is akin to that which Jesus uses when he talks of God and money being two separate masters. Love to hear your thoughts on this. I’d also mention Isaiah 56:3-5; Matthew 19:12; and 1 Corinthians 7:1-9,25-38 with regard to singleness (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+56%3A3-5%3B+Matthew+19%3A12%3B+1+Corinthians+7%3A1-9%2C25-38&version=ESVUK)

    I’ve written a few piece on this area which may perhaps interest you here:
    https://theologyseekingfaithindurham.wordpress.com/topics/#5

    and here:
    https://theologyseekingfaithindurham.wordpress.com/topics/#8

    Thanks again.
    Kind regards,
    Ben Somervell.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Ian for these two posts. I was more than happy to read these positively constructed articles…. and to share them. For me one of the great summary points is “The person who lived the perfectly fulfilled life, the one who offered us ‘life in all its fulness’ (John 10.10), lived out that full and perfect life without experiencing sexual relationships. If he could, then we can too.”

    Reply
    • Thanks. Yes, I agree that that is important—but it too must be read alongside the others. We are still in an age when, for *most* people, the norm is marriage and childbearing. That is a creation mandate which our culture frequently fails to recognise or accept.

      Reply
      • Thoroughly agree Ian. In my mind was the single reader… sometimes feeling inadequate in the light of today’s “sexual activity” norms.

        Reply
  4. Even the Roman Catholic Church now recognises that there are differences from the binary ‘norm’ in the sexuality of human beings. Reality is sometimes different from doctrinal theory, and this has now been recognised theologically. Why don’t you just stop militating against what the rest of the Church and the world recognises as an acceptable difference in gender and sexual identity in Creation as it really is?

    Reply
    • (1) But there are blips in the graph in all areas of life. In how able-bodied they are. in how typical their formative experiences are. Etc.. We need to understand the blips aright. The science says, commonsensically, that this is not a matter of a person’s essence (such that you can accurately identify a homosexual person by looking at them or examining them). This being the case, this cause’s elevation to a matter of ‘equality’ (when all the other equality dimensions like sex and pigmentation are perfectly apparent whereas this one is not even slightly apparent) is highly generous/favouritising. Are any other special interest groups about to be similarly rewarded. (Unlikely, because sex always provides additional motivation.) But this social development can easily be accounted for – it was arrived at through pressure from those who wanted (a) to indulge sexually and (b) to be officially guilt free.

      (2) ‘As it really is’? – But you have known for decades that all real things, good or bad, sinful or holy are part of things ‘as they really are’. That doesn’t get us very far. Being real is quite distant from being a good thing.

      (3) ‘Recognised theologically’ – by whom? Is theology a science anyway?

      (4) Are you saying that the Roman Catholic Church had never previously realised that some people acted in homosexual ways?

      (5) Is the Roman Catholic Church monochrome?

      (6) ‘The rest of the church and the world’ – everyone apart from Ian Paul and a couple of others in this 7.5bn world agree with you, then? That would be an accurate calculation?

      (7) So being a majority (supposing that one actually was in a majority) makes one right? How then do you account for the previous contrary majority that lasted much longer? That one was not right by virtue of being a majority, nor is anything else right bey virtue of being held to by the majority. Not that this particular thing is internationally held to by a majority anyway.

      Reply
  5. I really like your careful post, Ian. Sex is powerful, and Paul says that sexual sins are in a special category, and I think the two statements are linked: sexual sin may not be more culpable than, for example, theft – both are subject to God’s wrath if not repented of – but sexual sin is more damaging in the here and now to both the person committing it AND to others (not least any children conceived as a result), and possibly more addictive. My own shorthand for boundaries and their importance is to say “keep fire in the fireplace”; fire can warm and cheer, or it can burn the house down and take lives.

    I also agree that we should not define ourselves by sex. We are made in God’s image as either male or female, and for Christians we are also ‘in Christ’. I am a happily married man, but I do not anchor my identity on my sexual feelings – I do not say ‘I am straight’. Unfortunately, the term gay (an artificial construct) has been used (a) for political purposes to advocate for special privileges – such as being above criticism as a protected minority, and (b) to teach youngsters who experience same-sex attraction to anchor their whole identity on their feelings – which may well lessen if not fed and acted upon – in the hope that they will adopt a homosexual lifestyle. The badge ‘I am gay’ is effectively a recruiting tool handed out by activists; very cruel.

    People sometimes accuse orthodox teaching as being cruel because it imposes celibacy on the unmarried, and that it is unkind for married people to seek to uphold it. But that is nonsense; I am married now (for 30 years), but I was single and celibate for longer, and should my wife predecease me, I will be single and celibate again. We’re all called to celibacy for at least some of our lives, and even within marriage we called to be ‘celibate’ for the time when we are apart (which is the greater part of our waking hours – also when one of us is away seeing family or for work commitments).

    Reply
  6. Ian, if I might pick up on this:
    Sex has the power to end our loneliness
    I think there is some contradiction here with your later excellent point about the most fulfilled, and presumably not lonely man who ever lived. I would suggest that there is only a loose relation between sexual activity and loneliness. Many sexual relationships do not have any real human connection. There are many lonely people in bad marriages, despite the sex. Then there are very many people who are not lonely who do not have sex with anyone. The thought process “I’m lonely, therefore I should seek to get married” is not a guaranteed recipe for success.

    To develop this a bit more, if one considers C.S. Lewis’ four loves (as a way of acknowledging the different kinds of ways of human relating for which the word ‘love’ gets used), then I suggest that philia is the love which is best placed to dispell loneliness. If you think of it as brotherly affection or friendship, its inclusive nature can bring people in. Eros has an exclusive nature to it, as Kierkegaard recognised. To love someone because you find them (sexually) attractive has the significant danger that you are loving to satisfy a desire. It is problematic to enter a relationship because of what you think you will gain for yourself.

    I would say that the best marriages are those which feature all four of the ‘loves’, and that eros is an important but not dominant component. Such a marriage can be the answer to loneliness – in others. It has a strength to look outwards and invite others in.

    Reply
  7. Very thoughtful exposition. I will likely refer back to it in the future as I lead small group discussions. The theology aside, I have a problem with your chemistry class analogy.

    In high school, we performed experiments with chemicals for two years. We were very careful with the ‘powerful’ acids and bases involved. In the final week of school, my chemistry teacher invited us to drink the acids. As I remember, it was the hydrochloric acid that tasted like apples. Despite how reactive the acids were, the concentrations used were so low that no harm was done. Our fears about the chemicals we used were in many ways unfounded. Our fears were used to keep us from doing the types of things that teenagers often do.

    I don’t know what concentrations you used in school, but my experience is not unique, and unfortunately it works against what I take to be the intent of your analogy.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this comment. Your experience with acids is interesting…but I am very positive that the acids we had were concentrated, and any contact would have burned the skin!

      Reply

Leave a comment