I want to thank everyone who jumped into the conversation on the first leg of this series (More Sex, Part 1). Your comments there have helped inform my own, and kept me from making more blunders than those that remain!
The goal in these posts is to answer the question: “Why does sex have to occur within marriage to be considered ethically ‘good'”?
As I answer this question, I have Barth on the brain, and his reflections on the theological precursors to answering questions in particular. And so I want to say at the outset that this is a self-consciously Christian endeavor. And, this is an attempt to describe something like a Christian theology of sex.
Because this is an attempt to describe something like a Christian theology of sex, what I say here will inevitably sound idealistic and unattainable. Whenever we make claims or articulate God’s vision for God’s world, even if we were to articulate a divine purpose with full perfection, we will only be able to see this as our reality as though reflected back through a dim and cloudy mirror.
Articulating a theology of sex, I find myself compelled to walk the line of cultural relevance without necessarily saying something that will ring true with people’s experience–in part because the Christian vision of sex will always not only affirm who we are and what we’ve done but also highlight the ways that we have failed and stand in need of forgiveness, and therefore call us to God to receive both forgiveness and healing.
That dynamic of bringing all areas of our lives under the sway of the resurrected Christ for freedom, healing, forgiveness, and purification, is part of the larger narrative to which that part of us that is sexual belongs.
So I fully anticipate that some of you will respond to what I’m laying out here with something along the lines of, “But the sex I had while married communicated none of those things to me, whereas the sex I’ve had outside of marriage often was those things.” Even sex (or not sex) is a matter of faith and hope in addition to love, and so we will not see or experience clearly everything that might typify sex in a fully redeemed world.
Why, then, sex only within a marriage relationship?
Because at its best, sex is a physical expression of an enduring social, emotional, economic, familial oneness, all of which express the love, faithfulness, hope, and self-control that are the fruit of the Spirit, the embodiment of Christ’s cruciform love for us, and God’s gift as the lavishly faithful God of His/Her people.
I will unpack that paragraph in future episodes.
For now, here is why I have put the matter in this way:
1. I believe that who the Spirit is making us determines the imperatives for the people of God in a way that our natural desires and inclinations does not. Our calling is to make straight the line between our eschatological, perfect future and our mixed-up, less-than-perfect present.
2. I believe that the idealism, if you would call it that, of faithfulness and self control, as inseparable aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, too often sit on the sidelines in discussions of healthy Christian sex.
3. I believe that the determining story for Christian virtue is the story of Christ-crucified, and that this narrative speaks strongly to both sexual abstinence and to selfless sexual practice.
4. I believe that physical, sexual oneness is one aspect of a holistically healthy relationship that reflects this narrative across all of its dynamics–and at its best tells this story to our partner, (re)creating and affirming the life-long oneness we have promised to each other.
5. I believe that both in the disciplined, patient waiting for a spouse and in the cultivating of sexual fidelity within the marriage relationship we are imitating the God who faithfully endures and waits and persists with God’s people and cultivates a relationship of persistent fidelity even in the face of our persistent wandering.
Storying sex is about much more than listing what’s right and wrong; it’s figuring out how our sex is cast in the narrative that, in all its parts, intends to tell the story of the saving righteousness of God. This is the outline of why I think that is best done in the marriage covenant. I’ll work out more in the next post.