When Purity Goes Wrong

purityring(It’s fine to skip the introductory story if you’re short on time. Just scroll down to the non-italicized text.)

The Creator’s Gift

There was once a village. Not a village of grass huts set alongside a dirt path, providing residence to several score people. No, this village was an entire society. Brought into being by their creator, its people lived, loved, worked, played, created, built. They were much like we are, but it would not do to think their society and lives were entirely like ours, as you may soon see.

The creator gave many gifts to the people that lived in the village to be used in the course of their lives. Set within the village, one of the gifts was a monolith. Clear like crystal, white and pure, it was imbued by the creator with a pure and glorious power. It was determined that the people of the village, each at his or her proper time, would come to the monolith and be apportioned some of its power. Thus, the power and glory of the gift was invested in the people, and the power amplified the delight that the people had in their lives and relationships. In this the creator was pleased.

But there was a rival to the creator who hated him and the people he loved. The rival hated the blessing the glory of the gift brought to the people. With shrewdness, the rival saw that the power and glory of the gift was too great to be opposed directly. It could not be destroyed outright. Crafty mind, the rival saw how he could rob the glory of the gift from the people. Versed in dark arts, the rival harnessed the power of the gift. With the power, he created other monoliths that resembled the one made by the creator. These, however, were corrupted. Tainted with evil, they were not pure like the creator’s gift, but because they resembled the creator’s gift and were imbued with its power they attracted the people.

And so, the people began to go to the corrupted monoliths and draw from their power. As they did, the people drew in their corruption. While the creator’s gift gave delight without remorse, the false gifts of the rival gave the people pain, disease, heartache, and regret. The harm of the corrupted monoliths met some in a moment. For others it became a slow-acting, unnoticed toxin. Many of the people became enslaved to the deceitful power of the false gifts.

As though this evil brought by the rival wasn’t enough, another evil befell the people. Some, having seen the destruction brought by the false gifts, determined to stop the spread of their evil by forbidding their neighbors and loved ones to go near them. The corrupted monoliths were cursed and scorned by their critics. They were spoken of as heinous and reprehensible. So, fear of them spread through those who sought to escape their corruption. But because these people feared and avoided the corrupted monoliths, without realizing it, they began to fear the pure gift of the creator because it resembled its corrupted imitations. Thus, the gift that was supposed to bring delight came to be spoken of with hushed tones and uneasy reserve. Some who approached it came with foreboding and the fear of wrongdoing rather than joy.

So it was by these two evils, the approach of the corrupted and the withdrawal from the pure, that many never found the pure delight that the creator intended his gift to bring.

The End

 

The Typical Perspective of Purity

The above story is called The Creator’s Gift. If you haven’t figured it out already, it’s an allegory about sexuality. I wrote it several years ago after reading an article in a Christian magazine describing how some Christians, after spending years trying to maintain sexual purity in singleness, feel uncomfortable or outright afraid to have sex with their spouses.

I had never even conceived of the idea before. People not wanting to have sex once they’re married?! That’s crazy! Right? Like many Christians, I grew up hearing the messages on the importance of sexual purity. They came together to seem to say, “Hold on and don’t have sex until you’re married! Once you get there you’re free to copulate to your little heart’s delight! But you’ve got to stay away from sex until you’re married! That’s what God wants!” Sure, the messages were delivered a lot better than that. But the bottom line seemed to come down to the above points. The perspective that seemed to run in the background of Christian messages on sex and purity was that everyone, especially young people, really want to have sex, but God commands us to wait for marriage. Therefore, put up every barrier, inhibition, and obstacle necessary to remain chaste until you marry! It seemed to be assumed that, once you got married, you and your honey would naturally burst into flames of sexual delight. Few motivations are as strong as the sex drive, right? But that perspective, running in my mind for many years, was abruptly stopped short the day I read that article.

When Purity Goes Wrong

Unfortunately, I can’t find the original article I read, but I remember the essence. It opened with the story of a young Christian woman who grew up hearing messages to maintain her virginity until married. So she did. But upon marrying, she didn’t feel at all comfortable with having sex with her husband. They didn’t consummate their marriage until the fourth day of their honeymoon, and, even after that, she nearly couldn’t have sex with her husband due to the psychological discomfort. The voices she heard for so many years that said, “don’t have sex,” got so deeply into her psyche that, when the time came for those voices to be silent, they instead continued to drown out the voice of healthy sexual desire. If I remember correctly, even with therapy the woman couldn’t overcome that deeply ingrained conception that having sex is bad. I believe she and her husband parted ways due to the problem. The article went on to discuss how this problem isn’t isolated, nor is it only experienced by women.

Another essay I can refer you to is one by Samantha Pugsley. Samantha shares how she grew up in a church environment that heavily emphasized maintaining virginity until marriage. At age ten she took a vow to remain abstinent until marriage. Samantha says, “An unhealthy mixture of pride, fear, and guilt helped me keep my pledge until [my boyfriend and I] got married.” However, Samantha explains that, after prizing virginity for so long, not having it felt horrible and wrong. After she and her husband consummated their marriage, she cried in the bathroom. For the rest of their honeymoon “sex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married and it was supposed to be okay now.” For a long time afterward, she avoided having sex with her husband as much as possible. Even around other people, she felt tarnished. “My virginity had become such an essential part of my personality that I didn’t know who I was without it.” After nearly two years of being married and struggling, Samantha finally began to see a therapist. After realizing the roots of her displeasure toward sex, she decided to reject all of her Christian faith. “I don’t go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn’t figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex.”

As Christians, we believe that we are supposed to be proclaimers of the truth and goodness of God. We believe that God created sex and that it’s good. We believe that its proper, God-ordained place of use is within marriage and that, within marriage, it should be deeply joyous and pleasurable for both partners. An entire book of the Bible, The Song of Solomon, is saturated with expressions of sexual delight. So why, in light of all this, are some Christians entering marriage to find sexual terror rather than delight? Why did Samantha Pugsley feel that it was necessary to reject her faith in order to be sexually healthy? Maybe this is what happens when purity goes wrong.

The Costs of Purity Gone Wrong

Purity is a good thing. Sexual purity is certainly something that’s not optional for one who professes to follow Jesus Christ. So we know that purity is good and of God. I believe the way the modern American church has gone wrong with purity is that it’s tried to reach purity from the wrong direction. Think of the messages you’ve heard on sexuality and purity in Christian contexts. What’s the bottom line that’s preached for how you should live? It’s usually something like, “don’t have sex until you’re married,” “don’t look at pornography,” or “don’t lust.” What do each of those statements start with? “Do not.” Each is a negative. The modern American church tends to approach purity from the mindset that if you avoid everything that’s impure then you’ll remain pure. I think this is a result of how the secular American dating scene is so sexually corrupted that parents and church leaders are desperate to keep young Christians from straying into it. So we react by preaching that Christians must stay away from all this sexual immorality and remain abstinent until married. It seems as though in today’s American church context that parents and pastors both breathe long-held sighs of relief if two Christians just make it to the altar as virgins. All the messages, inhibitions, and obstacles to having sex worked! Hooray! But this approach comes at a cost. Part of the cost is Samantha Pugsley being unable to enjoy sex with her husband because those messages forbidding sex did their job a little too well.

Another cost is that Christian young people often don’t learn what sexual purity really is or how it’s practiced. When sexual purity is approached from the perspective of “don’t do XYZ,” it creates an inherent sense that purity is what you avoid. Stay out of the problem areas and you’ll be pure. But what does that do to young people? I have Christian friends who honestly believe that making out, sexual petting, and even oral sex aren’t actually “having sex” (i.e. sexual intercourse). So if we only teach that purity is “don’t have sex until you’re married” then, logically, cunnilingus and fellatio could be perfectly pure! I suspect that this may contribute largely to why so many Christian young people don’t even conceive of how behavior such as groping, petting, and making out can be sinful. I think it’s why so many young people ask, “how far can I go?” instead of “how can I please God?” When purity is thought of as avoiding certain activities, we put ourselves in danger of missing the truth that purity is about the outlook of the heart. Sexual immorality proceeds from the heart long before genitals come into contact. Sexual purity is the outlook of the heart that seeks to please God and care for others where sexuality is concerned.

I’m grieved that people have been so deeply harmed by teaching that should have been edifying. Much harm can come from poor instruction. I’m even more grieved in Samantha’s case since she ultimately decided to abandon her faith in pursuit of healthy sexuality. Healthy spirituality and healthy sexuality truly belong together, and both are important. Sadly, Samantha’s experience made it difficult for her to understand and live this. Could things have been different if she had received better instruction when she was young? Yes, she’s responsible for the mistake of discarding her faith based on the lie that sex and faith are incompatible, but that doesn’t let us off of the responsibility we have to teach a proper biblical perspective of the joy, pleasure, and glory of holy sexuality. Can we teach of biblical perspective of sexuality that captures the importance of purity in light of the glory of sex as God intended it?

Toward a Positive Perspective of Purity

Have you ever heard or read a Christian quote this scripture: “Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases?” It appears three times in the Song of Solomon. I’ve found it’s often quoted in Christian literature as a warning against getting romantically involved with someone apart from pursuing marriage. It’s often used to support arguments against strong emotional entanglement and physical contact in dating or Courtship. What I never see quoted are the verses that immediately accompany this line. The line first appears in Song of Solomon 2:7. In verse seven the feminine character says, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (ESV) But right before that, in verse six, she says, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!” (ESV) Let’s think about that posture for a second. An embrace is a hug. So he has one hand behind her back. His other hand is under her head. Not behind but under? Um, are they, like, lying on top of each other? Even if vertical, the embrace is obviously a close, intimate one. Side hug this is not. So, the verse that’s often quoted to warn against intimate physical contact was spoken in the context of intimate physical contact? Isn’t that interesting! Why does the woman adjure her companions not to arouse intimate love prematurely while she is in the midst of experiencing intimate love? Here’s my theory. I think that, in that moment of intimacy, the woman such a rich perspective of the excellence and glory of intimate love as God intended it that she begs her companions not to settle for anything less. Having reached a rich intimacy, she sees that corrupted intimacy falls short. I believe this perspective of the woman is the one through which we Christians need to perceive purity. I believe a proper, biblical perspective of purity pursues the excellence of intimate sexual expression in marriage rather than running from feared, corrupted forms of sexual behavior. Instead of guiding our sexual behavior by fear, we guide it by hope.

“A proper, biblical perspective of purity pursues the excellence of intimate sexual expression in marriage.”Click to Tweet!

So what do we do? If we’ve been teaching a perspective of godly sexuality badly, how do we teach it rightly? Here’s the candid truth. I don’t know. This is the first time I’m even sharing my doubts about our manner of teaching sexual purity. I haven’t yet solved the question of how to teach it well. That’s why I need your help. Change toward something better has to come as a movement within our Christian circles. It has to come through holding discussions and asking tough questions. But I have a few thoughts. I think we need to work to recapture a biblical perspective of sexuality. Can we expand our perspective of the ecstatic beauty and glory of sexual intimacy between husband and wife? Our culture often looks on marriage as the place good sex goes to die. Can we demonstrate why two people who are united in a covenant that’s marked by the spirit of God (Malachi 2:15), unreservedly committed to each other, deeply emotionally intertwined, and intimately known by each other should expect to find deepest sexual delight in each other? And can we teach this to our young people? If we can then I think Christian youth might stop saying, “I don’t know if I can wait to have sex with my spouse,” and start saying “I can’t wait to have sex with my spouse!” If we aim for what is excellent then we naturally want to avoid what falls short of it. Who wants to fill up on McDonald’s when you’re going to a gourmet dinner? But, as the adage goes, if you aim for nothing you’ll hit it ever time. Maybe instead of urging Christian youth not to “lose their virginity” we should teach youth to be excited about “fulfilling their virginity” with their husbands and wives. I think we must regain a view of God’s gift of sexuality through a proper perspective of love for God and others, including the delight of experiencing the goodness of His gifts in the excellence He intended.

There’s so much more I could say, but this is a blog post not a seminar. In closing, I’ll say that if you feel uncomfortable with sex due to voices that urged you to stay away it then take steps now to gain a proper, biblical perspective of the goodness of sexuality. Seek the help of a counselor if needed. On the other hand, if you struggle with sexual self-restraint, look to build a sound perspective of why God instructs us to pursue purity from the heart and how to do so. Seek help from trusted friends and mentors who can keep you accountable. Living a life of sexual purity isn’t easy. But God both gives us both sexuality and purity because both are excellent and worth the challenge.

 

What do you think? I really want to hear your thoughts on this subject! Please add your comments below.

 

Photo source: Wikipedia Creative Commons. Credit/Author: TommY Gunn Photography. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sringthing.jpg. Title: Purity/Heart
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7 Comments

  • What a great post. This is a theme that has long been of deep concern to me, having grown up observing this sort of attitude which is far too prevalent in Christian culture.

    Thanks for broaching such an important topic.

    Keep up the great topics you’re writing about on your blog! (Btw, found it from the link you shared with the Courtship in Crisis Launch Team. 🙂

  • Tiara Mallory says:

    Wow! This post opened up my eyes!!! As a lover of the Songs of Solomon, it gave me clarity. “Do not awaken love until it is ready = Do not settle for less than God’s best!”

    • Justin Megna says:

      Tiara, I think you’ve nailed it in one memorable line! The woman in the song isn’t saying to avoid intimacy but to pursue its highest form without settling for less. 🙂

  • Jill Frey says:

    Preachers don’t talk about sex or sexuality enough, and rarely do they devote a whole message to it! It. Is. A. Problem. When did it become taboo??

    I’ve read books about how many Christians sadly did not learn certain key truths or get healed by being involved at church, but by going to counseling or therapy for struggles (Backus, Telling Each Other The Truth, Cloud & Townsend, 12 ‘Christian’ Beliefs, awesome books). So sad, but so true. I think counseling is totally appropriate (I kind of think everybody should go sometime in their lives), but it’s really a shame. Maybe there’s a stigma somewhere about talking about psychology from the pulpit, I dunno. But that’s a different rabbit trail!

    One of my pastors recently wrapped up a sermon series about marriage at my church, and during one Sunday sermon (aptly titled, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex – Baby’), he said some very illuminating things about researching. It’s a sad thing, but you can’t really use an internet search engine to search for sermons on sex, because you’ll come up with stuff, well, that is not what you’re looking for! I had never thought before about that aspect of sermon writing.

    I love what you said here: “I think we must regain a view of God’s gift of sexuality through a proper perspective of love for God and others, including the delight of experiencing the goodness of His gifts in the excellence He intended.” I just have one dissenting thought about the word ‘fulfilled’ – it could sound unattractive to someone who’s single and has no idea whether they are going to get married or not, though they may very well have the desire to do so. (Granted, according to statistics, 90% of people on this planet will be married at some point in their lives, but what about the other 10%?) Surely they are not…’unfulfilled’, in their virginity, and surely they are not lessened, somehow, by not having experienced the sexual union of a marriage bed. I guess it depends on the definition of ‘fulfilled’.
    Definition of ‘fulfill’, according to Merriam Webster:
    1. archaic : to make full : fill
    2. 2 a : to put into effect : execute b : to meet the requirements of (a business order) c : to bring to an end d : to measure up to : satisfy
    3. 3 a : to convert into reality b : to develop the full potentialities of
    So, fulfilled fits well. But, it could imply, that there is an element lacking to a person if they are not married with permission to have sex. What I mean is, I really think that everybody’s got a ‘sex life’ – more properly titled ‘, and is sexual, whether or not they are married.

    If you are a believer you’ve already got one Wedding you’ll be attending anyway when the Jesus returns, and marriage and sex are a window into how awesome, mind-blowing and intimate that day will be.

    It’s got to be more than just rewording, it’s got to be a recapturing of what God’s original intentions were in creating sexual human beings, and it’s got to be not only taught accurately and compellingly from the pulpit, but modeled in a church and in families, in order for it to stick. I think we need to do a lot more defining what is ‘permissible’ versus what is beneficial, too, when it comes to looking at marriage from a single person’s point of view – I know I struggled a lot with that in my mind, and I’m sure many others, young women especially, have, too –thoughts like, whether it’s okay to desire to be married since you are supposed to be ‘content with being single’ (whatever that means anyway! – another rabbit trail exploring ‘Christian’ beliefs about sex and marriage perpetuated by unbiblical doctrine), or whether it’s okay to think and dream about a future with a husband if you’re not currently with anyone.

    I think marriage is just a completely different context than singleness, under which we are to practice the exact same discipline: sexual purity. Though the motivation of the heart remains the same, the context of the heart is different, and so the results differ. In one context: learning how to live as a sexual being created by God for God’s good pleasure and expressing that through singleness, and in the other: learning how to live as a sexual being created by God for God’s good pleasure and expressing that alongside another person, through marriage. In one context: a gift well guarded. In the other: a gift well guarded.

    Too much emphasis on the ‘don’t’, rather than the ‘do’, eh? Sounds like a recipe for either willful disobedience, or rigid legality.

    Okay, sorry for the massive paragraphs (I would not be surprised if this does not go through because of its length!), I don’t reply often – I find your blog posts very good reading and I would end up commenting on all of them except I’m afraid I would write a whole nother blog’s worth! Thanks for the post, Justin!

    • Justin Megna says:

      Jill, I love you what said! So many excellent thoughts! I especially have to thank you, because you zoomed in on a facet that hadn’t occurred to me: the implications of talking about marital sex as the “fulfillment” of virginity when it comes to lifelong celibacy. You’re right when you say that a person who is celibate for life isn’t somehow unfulfilled as a person because he/she hasn’t had sex. Personal fulfillment isn’t based on whether a person has sexual experience. If I talk beyond this blog post about the “fulfillment” of virginity in marriage, I’ll be sure to address the point you raised. Thanks! 🙂

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