Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gospel:Uncut part 2: Celibacy

Sorry no posting for a while, all you faithful readers. I'm sure you're enjoying plenty of other wonderful blogs however.

It's amazing how conscious I'm becoming of writing things on here. I sense more and more the desire not to write a single word that is out of place or un-deliberated on. The fact that actual people, real people with real minds, are reading this stuff is kind of scary. A friend recently asked to see an old blogpost and I had a knee-jerk reaction to wonder if he would see anything that was not Jesus shaped(as Michael Spencer might put it). I hope you all know not to take the blog world too seriously without using the the eyes of the Spirit. I mean, I could write anything here....

I once had this plan to continue with series called "Gospel Uncut" to try to address holes in our understanding about Jesus and the far-reaching nature of the Gospel, and how the news of Jesus acts upon our minds to transfom us and save us. I still have ideas rattling around for that one. The first one is here. And Tim, if you're out there, I really appreciated your comments on that one!

Here's a few words on what my mind has been sniffing around lately(maybe I'll call this Gospel:Uncut part 2):

The assumption is, everywhere I go, that Christians are to be married. Singles are all seeking marriage, and they all, because of certain innate hormonal drives within themselves, should get married so that these don't manifest sinfully. It's patently assumed, across the board, that there is no such thing as lifelong, intentional celibacy. Temporary celibacy, i.e. not getting married as soon as possible, is a silly idea, but we don't live in a perfect world, so some people just have have that lot for a few years. Or maybe they're not pleasing God in some way and are being judged for their sin(which is simply an unacceptable notion to me). To even suggest that lifelong celibacy is good for some is to gain sidelong looks and maybe opposition along the lines of "hrrm..hmm....well, let's not get carried away in extremes here..." This despite the fact that both Jesus and Paul not only led celibate lives, but suggested that(at least for certain people) it was better to do so than to be married.

Now, a simple observation that I have had, mind you not substantiated by any facts whatsoever, is that people are getting married later. Less and less people are married by the end of their twenties. Not that I was around for previous generations to compare, but I've heard tell it was different. It evokes pity in some, disapproval in others, to see this. Again, this even though both Jesus and Paul...

I will say what I think, and then let the chips fall: I think that these are the attitudes of a culture that worships sex and marriage instead of God.

Let me interpret this situation in a new way. Single people are not broken and in need of fixing. They are not in need of some new experience that is going to fulfill them, outside of Jesus. Sex is not something it's impossible to live without, even for a lifetime. A quick look around tells us, unmistakably, that it's simply not good enough to be married. Because scores and scores of Christian married people can't even love their families, let alone their enemies, and consequently destroy those families. This is because they believed that marriage was a solution to a problem, rather than a blessing from God for their joy, perseverence in love, sanctification. Unfortunately the mere rhetoric of wife and children as "blessings" does not mean that one's mind is shaped in such a way to treat them as such. Often, Christian marriages look like people that got too hung up on their sex drive and because their moral paradigm says you can't have sex premaritally, the clear solution was to get married. Or substitute desire for love/affection/companionship for sex and sex drive. What I'm saying is, if you don't consider it from the start something to be entered into not only for personal fulfillment, but also to train you in persevering love through trial, to sanctify you, to make you holy through the sacrifice of your life, you are off on the wrong foot and will experience supreme difficulty as soon as the woozy feelings go away.

If marriage is a blessing towards the end of joy and sanctification, then that makes single people devoid of these possibilities until they get married? No, rather, God uses celibacy and singleness for their joy and sanctification also. "But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." Paul not only saw this but considered there to be an even higher possibility for these things in celibacy when he said further on,

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1Cor:7 32-35)

The world in its present form is passing away, therefore do not treat the things you have(that means a wife/husband!) as if it will last forever, or should. You will not be married, at least not as we know marriage, in the Kingdom, so do not trust too closely in the institution now for your happiness. I have blogged on this theme before: do you know that you will die someday? And all that you have now will be grass for the furnace. That means marriage...

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away(1Cor:7 27-31).

Theses verses strike terror into the hearts of countless unmarried people, and married people will endlessly rationalize their way around the statements Paul makes about celibacy. They should not. He is signaling that people should not value anything too highly besides knowing Jesus, and commending those for whom singleness is a fact, either chosen or forced upon them, so they will not doubt that God will produce every bit as much fruit through these circumstances. I would add that this passage also the cuts the cord to any ugly, creeping prosperity notion that having a wife is a reward for good behavior, or that it signifies a closer standing, or special blessing, with God
. "So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better."

If self-denial were not such a bad word in this culture, these would not be huge issues.
If you don't consider death inevitable and fast approaching(and good), and if you see personal fulfillment as the bottom line, you will consider singleness a burden and celibacy a curse that God wants to "cure." The fact is, there is great value in not getting what you want. Paradigm shift. For one thing, it teaches you not to trust the subjective desires you feel within you, because they are inevitably misguided to some extent and overrepresented in your mind. It also causes you to depend on the thing you do have, more perfectly, more supremely, and to consider it more sufficient: namely Christ's sacrifice and God's enduring love. I don't know that I would seek to kill a desire for this purpose, but having something withheld, even something you think you cannot do without, is an avenue for God to sanctify you. Remember how fasting works?

For the record, I am approaching 30, single, and "I too think that I have the Spirit of God."


Anonymous said...

i have looked at single and married, widowed and divorced, and it all has it plus and minus. no matter which place one is in i see that there are still good things about each and hardships.

in relationship to our relationship with our Lord, each person in each of these situations can put Jesus first, or not...can have someone or something take more attention, or not.

i have thought that being married to a person that believes in Jesus as a prophet, as i have come back to a life in Jesus as the Son of God, as a hard thing to deal with. but, i am sure that there are harder circumstances.

there are certainly no garuantees any way that we go in our status of any kind.

in everything i know i must look to matter what.

the most scary thing to me is having children. from the moment they are conceived, parents start to worry about their well being and the loss of them...and the thing is that never leaves. now that is a total life change.

letting go of children, knowing that i can not be in total control of their wellfair was and continues to be the hardest thing to me.

anyway...i think we all have our hard things and joys.

i do not see not being married as good or as bad.
i do not take every word people write on blogs to be something to live my life by...i think of it as talking...i just like to converse and work things out as we go along. i see it as a way to talk things out.

Anonymous said...

I just recently found your blogpage from a link from another.

Thank you for this post. Papa (God) spoke to me through your words. I needed it.

~Amy :)

Erin Hope said...

to be completely honest, this is something I have struggled with for a long time... not the thought that being single is worse, or less of anything, ...but the simple fact that I want to get married. I want a family. and I know it. I used to hate it when people would say that you always find someone when you really don't care anymore, when you're finally ok with it all...because for one, it makes you want to pretend you are ok with it....and also, that's really not the case. We're to learn to be content in whatever situation we are in- truly content...
...and the other thing I've known for a long time, but only just realized about a month ago, (if that makes any sense at all) is that there really is no replacement, period, for Christ. Not in any relationship. They aren't Jesus, they're just another human like me.

anyway, good post.

Nate said...

Nancy: good thoughts on how to read blogs. I need to think of my blogging that way as well as my reading. I'm just talking things out.
No guarantees... I like that

Amy: It's REALLY good to hear that.

Erin: It's good to want to get married. And it's good to get married when it's time. And until it's time, it's good to have that desire frustrated. Hope that was clear in the post. God bless you.

Leopold said...


Hear hear. This should be shouted from the rooftops. I decided about a year ago that I never wanted to get married (how things change). Since then, I've gotten engaged, and at the same time have been telling people that relationships are horrible things to be avoided at all costs. This only makes sense in light of what you've said so well about how we tend to worship marriage (and relationships in general, I think) and how this leads to people getting married for the wrong reasons, and hurting each other. To top it off, most relationships are stink-piles anyway. For real. Erin, I don't mean to say that you shouldn't want to get married, only that I think there is far too much social pressure on getting married, and it causes a lot of pain (>37% of the time, now). I think this comes of emphasizing the desire to be married over the desire to build a life with one particular person, who inspires you to want to marry them. Strong and active friendships are often all we're looking for. And doing something motivated by sex drive is almost always a recipe for disaster. Or by fear of loneliness.

I don't know if I'm saying what I mean very clearly here, but I love this post.

BTW, Thanks for the shout out.

Nate said...

Well and clearly said, Leopold!

whimsymim said...

I am refreshed and awakened by this post, Thank you. I have spent a considerable amount of time unraveling the joy of being single, and have found a wellspring of inspiration, spiritual sustanance and balance outside of the circus of searching. The face and sanctity of marraige is being forced to change as we approach an era where divorce seems to be more common than union. I pray for a major shift of focus. We are both unto ourselves and corporate as children of God. Our fulfillment comes with being in relationship with the Father, no matter what or who our personal story includes.

Lore said...

Yes, yes, yes! There are no half-dollars in Kingdom economics. Marriage doesn't complete us, it works through us the hope of glory, but so does singleness! Great thoughts here, I'm glad I stumbled across your blog.