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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWSince Julie and I started this blog almost two years ago, one post has since received more page reads than any other post by far.  It receives more search engine queries than all of our other 95 posts combined and it draws 15-20 page views every day.  It is not the most insightful of our posts, nor the funniest.  It’s not one of my favourite, nor Julie’s but it continues to draw controversy, discussion, debate, and even from time to time, angry hate mail! And that post is ….

Question: Does the Bible Really Say No Sex Before Marriage?
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Why does this post continue to draw so many readers? It plays, of course, to our more basic instincts: tell me what I can get away with! But, by looking at the comments, and thinking back over the emails we’ve received over the past year or so, I think there are two different groups of people searching this question on Google and coming to our blog:

  1. The Uninformed: Those who grew up in religiously unaffiliated homes and are genuinely curious about what the Bible says.  We get messages, from time to time, from people genuinely curious or confused about Biblical teaching on sex and marriage.  They are often shocked to hear how much the Bible has to say about sex.
  2. The Over-informed: Those who grew up in church-going homes and know already what the Bible says about premarital sex. These are readers who are getting acquainted, re-acquainted, and re-re-acquainted with Biblical teaching about sex and marriage.  We get messages from them from time to time seeking clarification for the teaching about sex that they already know about.  They are surprised by how LITTLE the Bible says about sex.  “Why aren’t the directions more explicit?  Why can’t the Bible be more clear?”

Whether under-informed or over-informed, one things is for sure: growing up in a Bible-believing home seems to make almost no difference to your sexual behaviour at all:

BeforeMarriageIn 2011, Oxford University Press published a book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. In this book they discuss the latest psycho-social research into sexual practices in the United States.  In one study of unmarried college educated males ages 18-25, they isolated two groups: One group grew up in homes where sex before marriage was considered perfectly fine. In this group, 23% were virgins.

The other group grew up in homes where pre-marital sex was considered immoral. 28% of them were virgins. The researchers consider this difference to be statistically insignificant, so what does this mean?  It means that the teaching that you received in your formative teen years (either pro or con) has almost no impact on your sexual practices once you become an adult.  Now, I don’t want to trash promise rings and solemn covenants between parents and children, but the truth of the matter is that the True Love Waits generation didn’t.  Is it possible we are missing the point? For the 25% or so of young adults who are still virgins and are considering getting married, what made the difference for them?  I think that it is fair to conclude three things:

  1. We Need A New Imagination for Marriage: Marriage is not like a drivers license for sex.  Marriage is a physical manifestation of a covenant agreement between a man and a woman to love each other no matter what.  It is an acted out parable where we try to model the way God has loved us.  The Bible is full of beautiful pictures of the unconditional affection God has for us and that is what we are doing when we are married.  Sex operates best within the context of marriage, not because God is a kill-joy.  God wants to lead us into the most rewarding joy we will know this side of heaven.  God knows what is best for us and the question we should be asking is not “when can I have sex” but “can I trust God to lead me to my greatest joy?”  “Is God trustworthy?”  We need to be talking to our teens about that message, not what will happen if they have sex.  We are clearly not making any progress with scare tactics or promise jewlery.  We need a whole new imagination.
  2. Information Doesn’t Transform: We tend to operate in a modernist mindset that says “poor behaviour is the product of misinformation.  If I learn better I will behave better.” That simply isn’t true.  We do not operate out of a lack of information.  Kids who grew up hearing “wait for marriage” behaved almost exactly like kids who heard no direction at all.  Information is not making much of a difference.  What will make a difference is knowing Jesus better.
  3. Limiting Exposure To Sexually Explicit Media Isn’t The Answer: I don’t have good data on this yet but I can guarantee that my 15 year old son has had more opportunity to see naked ladies than I did by the time I was 15. I despair that there is no way I will be able to keep him from seeing things he shouldn’t so I am putting all my hope in training him to seek God when looking for pleasure that will last. That doesn’t mean I won’t be diligent and wise in managing media consumption in my home, but what it does mean is that I am working hard at telling a better story.

Our culture tells the story that fulfillment is found in better technique.  The community of faith need to do better than just disagree.  We need to tell a better story. Jesus is all-satisfying and what He says about me and my value as a human being is more true than what my culture says about me. Sex is a mingling of souls and is a joy and delight given to humanity but sex does not define our entire purpose.  It fails miserably to be a reason for living.  Sex is a human reflection of the intimacy we were meant to have with God.

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” -St. Augustine