I Hope I Never Forget:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mother of God and Evangelicals

Timothy George has written a helpful article on the proper place of the Virgin Mary within Protestant piety.

It seems to me that only the question of Baptism (and maybe apostasy ...and drinkin', and...) trumps this issue as an indictment of the sincerity of modern evangelicalism's commitment to Sola Scriptura. I can remember sitting through a sermon "based" on Luke 1:39-45

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” ESV

The speaker felt the need to point out that it was the unborn Jesus- to the strict exclusion of anyone else-who was being honored by Elizabeth. This led into a lengthy exposition against the ugly idolatry of Mary worship.

Now, I don't want to argue for Mary worshipin'. I'm not for that. But how...(I'm hesitating to rub my face anew)... how can you look at this passage and not see that it was the visit of the "mother of our Lord" that caused the old woman to dance about? Of course it was because she was the mother of OUR LORD that Elizabeth's excitement was justified, but...well, that's the point.

It's a precious thing that God allows us to participate in his work. Our Lady is the clearest and fullest image of that.

I've often longed for the time when Christians can say positive things about alcohol without the inevitable disclaimer of "Don't get me wrong. I'm against drunkenness, you know." I think we will know that we have grown up a bit when we can proclaim "Man, I love beer" and leave it at that. We will have "gotten past something that needed to be gotten past." That will be a good day. Just so, I pray that God hastens the time when we can praise Christ's mother, when we can declare "Blessed art thou among women" and the only response will be a thankful "Amen."

To My Lady, Sandi

My lady is…
a gemstone,
of ruby fire
and holy air,
The Glory-Cloud reflecting

My lady is…
a blossom,
with petal soft
and fragrance lofting,
higher with the pressing

My lady is…
a fierce thunderstorm,
whose life giving rains
and deep-crashing refrains,
make fools of the assuming

My lady is…
a ripened peach,
hot-pierced flavor bleeds
far surpassing hunger’s needs,
and mine alone for the tasting

My lady is…
a stalk of wheat,
whose golden kernels fall
earth anchored, reaching tall,
her image six times repeating.

My lady is…
a kitten,
whose batting paws at play
and mischievous dark eyes say:
a tree is for climbing

My lady is…
a foreign land,
whose unknown mountain faces
and pagan, dark-forested places,
make joy of each night’s exploring

My lady is…
a summer evening breeze,
with tantalizing tastes
of cool refreshing grace,
day’s labor’s heat rescinding

My lady is…
the face of God,
my Beatrice
who fans the lust,
for Him who is Life Everlasting.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

DESIRE 101- Part 9

Of the Living Dead and Sailing Ships
Copyright © 2006

Christians are confused. And we confuse those around us. Many think that a Christian is someone who doesn’t do wrong things- at least not the biggies. Even more, a Christian doesn’t hang around with those who do. I know you see how crazy that is. Christians are those who are called to serve and love others- especially those who are the most unlovely. Christians aren’t those who “don’t”. They are those who “do”.

It’s those don’ts that I want you to notice. I have a problem with them. They define God’s people negatively. I’m against that.

Humanity was created to glorify God; and as St Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” We are called to truly and fully live. Not a bad assignment, huh. Christ is the new Adam and we are the new humanity. Our goal is toward something. We as a people are “for”. This is very important. Now I know that every time we say “yes” to one thing, we must say “no” to another. But… we say “no” in order to say “yes”.

Many Christians are really good at saying no. Nothing but “no”. No, no, no. The point of emptying a cup, however, is making room for something else- something you’d rather have.

In all of the unattractive “no- saying” your likely to hear that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we shouldn’t sin against it. It’s hard to argue with that. How does one sin against the body? Well, apparently there’s many ways- all of them identified by a combination of pleasure and uselessness. Nothing good comes from them- except enjoyment. Specifically, don’t smoke, drink, chew, or…whatever trendy prohibition our culture and infant science happen to be enchanted with at the time. But whatever the current taboo, the point is often missed. The apostle’s point in the passage quoted is that there is only one sin against the body.[i] Only one. Besides the fact that the passage is being abused, I want you to notice what that one sin is. It is a sin of sexuality. Why is this sin against ourselves? What could this mean?

Again, think back to the story of Adam and Eve. We often read God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as a test with a punishment. We think he said “If you eat of this tree, then I’ll kill you for it.” But much like the innocent tobacco leaf above, we’ve read that into the story. Take a look at it yourself. God simply said that if you eat, you’ll surely die. Do you see the difference? He, like any good parent, warned his children of the dangers that existed in their front yard. Don’t play in the road- you’ll get hit by a car. Only two on the trampoline- someone will get hurt. Don’t eat those berries- they are poisonous.

Human beings were made to share in the life of God. We were his masterpieces. We pulsated with his indescribable glory. We were his precious and powerful self portraits. This is what it means to be a man and woman. Like a broken vase or a rusty car frame sitting on concrete blocks in a front yard, those who understand can see what we once were; but… we aren’t that anymore. We are broken, bent and falling apart. Worse than potently evil, we are sad, pathetic and helpless.

Adam and Eve were blindingly clear likenesses of God. And yet the serpent taunted them with the possibility of being like God. What was he offering? What was the temptation? For all the glory that God had graciously shared with these two, there was something that didn’t- that couldn’t- belong to them. They were images. They were creatures. They were dependent. They were not God. The sin of the fruit was in wanting to be wise- in wanting to simply be- apart from God. There is horrible guilt in this. Thanklessness is the soil that sprouted the first sin. Everything that belonged to him and that a creature could possibly bear, God gave to his children. But it wasn’t enough. They wanted what they could not possibly have. They wanted to exist apart from God.

No one has to tell you how ugly ungratefulness can be. It just feels ugly. Our first parents got what they deserved- got what they asked for, really. There’s no question- the resulting death was just. Agreed. But do you see that instead of being an arbitrary penalty a judgmental God dropped on them, it was simply the outworking of the way things are?

God made us from nothing. He pulled mankind out of the lifeless dust and breathed his own life into him. We were made to share in the life of God. We live and exist through that life. Separated from him, we return to all that’s left- dirt. Separation from God leads to death. That’s just the way it is.

When we sin, when we fall short of what it means to be truly human, we begin to fall apart. In fact, sin is falling short. It is falling apart. Stop and think about how much sense that makes. When people sin, they begin to decompose. Rotting flesh has its own smell. There is nothing like it. It’s immediately recognizable. No one had to tell you to stay away from it. No one had to explain that corrupt tissue is disgusting. Another image: we would never mistake a bubbling mass of death for the living being. Nor would we prefer it. We would never swap a healthy muscular limb for a leprous, corrupt and weakened one. Not unless our mind itself had become corrupted to the point of madness.

Purity is the opposite of corruption. Now here’s a word that’s gotten a lot of bad press. It’s right up there with Godliness and Holiness. Makes you want to yawn just reading it, doesn’t it? If so, then you’ve been cheated again. To live a pure life is to live a life with nothing in it that oughtn’t to be there. It is to be fully and truly human. It is to be wildly and strongly alive. Purity is a strong grip, a deep and appreciative appetite, an afternoon of joyful play. If you look at it like this, then all sin is impurity. All sin is something anti-human that is present in a human. Sin is ‘the-way-its-not-supposed-to-be.’ That is true; but usually when we speak of purity we are speaking about sexuality. Our language has taken that particular route for a reason. It has to do with the nature of sexual sin.

If sin is acting in a less than truly human way, if men and women are most fully alive when they act as their creator does, and if God has existed throughout eternity as a communion of love so that God is love, then sin is simply means acting in an unloving way. This is exactly what Scripture tells us. Love fulfills the law and the prophets. Another great friend of God, St. Augustine, once said that a Christian should love and then do whatever he wants. This makes great sense when it comes to just about every sin. If you love your neighbor, you won’t talk bad about him or hit him on the head. If you love your neighbor you won’t cheat her or take advantage of her. It makes sense when it comes to certain sexual sins as well. You won’t cheat on someone whose interest you’ve put above your own. You won’t sleep with your neighbor’s spouse- not if you truly love them.

But what’s wrong with giving great pleasure to another person? How can giving pleasure to someone who wants you to do it ever be unloving?

We’ve talked about lying with our bodies in regards to commitment. That is incredibly important. There are hidden issues of love there, for sure. And they are more than enough. But there is even more going on, and I think it’s this: most other sin has to do directly with another, but issues of purity have to do with me. While sexual sins are often acts of violence against another, even if disguised as love, they are always a sin against ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be controlled by our desires we cease being human and become indistinguishable from the creatures we were created to shepherd. I hope you understand by now that the desires are wonderful and good. But to be controlled by them is to be a slave. It is to be a beast. It is to begin to die as a person. This is why purity has a special reference to sexuality. It is about us, ourselves. It is the foundation of all other loving behavior.

This wonderful godlike gift of being able to control the awesome power of Aphrodite is called chastity. Like “purity,” many people think “chastity” simply means not doing certain things. It’s an absence- a negative. It’s a bore. But that’s exactly wrong. Chastity doesn’t mean not being hungry. It means not spoiling the feast you can’t wait to sit down to. Chastity is power and action. Unlike impurity, which is doing nothing so that you are swept along by the force of Aphrodite’s river or devoured by her when she appears as the lion in your path, Chastity requires great effort so that you can go where you want to go- no matter what the river says- and tame the lion so that she walks at your side. The world is filled with half drowned people who sputter for breath before being dragged back under the water’s surface. There are more than a few stinking corpses along the river’s edge, as well. They think they know how to live. They call their way of life “wild.” No. They are sad, pathetic, and helpless. There are many more that are afraid to venture out into the street for fear of being eaten. How much more gloriously alive is the person able to swim confidently, or better yet, to walk on water. What would you think of the man who walked up with a massive fawning lion on a leash? Boring or truly wild?

Aphrodite and Eros are powerful indeed. Does this mean that they should have the final say? Do we allow any other great power to run wherever it decides? Wouldn’t the result be devastating? Why doesn’t everyone see this? It’s because they are slaves. They aren’t free. They haven’t the power to choose and they mistake the pitiful consequences for life as it was meant to be. They know no other way. They are like the prodigal son if he had decided to stay in the pig sty. They’ve married and had children. Their descendents have created a whole culture of politics, art and entertainment in the pig pen…and they’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in the Father’s house.

Purity and Chastity are about the kind of people we are. Often we think of evil in terms of consequences. We believe something is wrong because it hurts another. This can be a helpful way of looking at it. But the problem with purity is that it requires of us action when it’s not clear who would be harmed. I believe a better way of thinking about evil is in seeing that it doesn’t exist in itself. God made everything good. He said so, Himself. And everything comes from God. Well, what of evil? Where did it come form? The answer is that Evil isn’t something. Rather it’s nothing. It’s the absence of something. Evil occurs when something is missing that ought to be there. Evil can’t exist without a good to corrupt. Evil is a parasite. It is a corruption. Think of some examples and you’ll see what I mean. No one chooses pure evil. Everyone chooses a good. That is all there is to choose. Evil happens when we choose that good apart from the reality God has made. Remember, we reject the gift that was given and grasp at one that was not.

Many times we are tempted to do things because we believe no one will get hurt. Have you ever stolen something really small- something no one could possibly miss- maybe a peanut out of the giant peanut display at the grocery store? Why is taking a single peanut wrong? How is it unloving?

While it is true that the owner will never miss it, it isn’t true that no one is harmed. You have been. You’ve stolen. You’ve marred the glorious god-bearing image that is you. You’ve added corruption by taking away what ought to be there- integrity and self-control. You’ve chipped away and weakened. If viewed from the perspective of consequences to another, it’s no big deal. But if you are concerned about being who you ought to be, it’s huge.

Maybe you think that’s something of an exaggeration. Huge?

We tend to think of ourselves as finished products. Usually we see ourselves as basically good people. That’s where we start. We are good people who occasionally lie, for example. But the truth is that we are not finished. We form ourselves everyday. Every act and thought is done in the name of heaven or hell. Each one forms us in the culture of one of those two cities. We live as things are done in this Present Age or we live as things are done in the Age to Come. St. Paul calls this living according to the flesh (this fallen world) or according to the Spirit (the even more physical world to come) And in so living, we become what we do. It’s impossible to steal and not become a thief. It’s impossible to lie and not become a liar. When we use others we become a predator.

What we are determines how we will treat others. How we treat others will mold what we are. See the circle dance? Ultimately purity is an issue of love towards our selves… and our neighbors. C.S. Lewis tells of a fleet of ships sailing for a far off land. In order to reach the far port three things must happen. All must agree on the destination. Each must be careful to avoid collision with the others, and each ship must keep itself seaworthy. If one falls behind, the others must slow their pace. If a rudder cable is allowed to rot and snap then a collision becomes likely.

In this parable the first condition answers to idolatry. Human beings must agree on what it is we want to be. Is our destination the likeness of the Triune God or one of our fellow creatures? We must love and serve each other- not run each other down. This fulfils the law and the prophets. Purity is the point of the third. To grow slack in the preservation of our ship is to endanger all the rest. St. Paul makes the same point in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. See if you find the anti-journey of idolatry, impurity, and violence.
Keeping a ship strong and beautiful in the midst of the sea is a full time endeavor. It never just happens. It’s always the result of purpose and effort. A decision has to be made and the work put in.

The same is true of our humanity.

Every person is born with an almost limitless number of potentials- things that we may accomplish or become. Half of these are glorious and beautiful. The others are ugly and pitiful. We can never point to ourselves or another person and say “this is all that you or I am.” As long as we are living, we are still becoming. Does that make sense? We are never finished.

Saying “yes” to one potential always means saying “no” to another. Putting in the time to be a world class tennis player probably won’t allow you the time to become a virtuoso violinist. You can’t spend most of your time at the office and be involved in every aspect of your children’s growth. You can’t act courageously and also be a victim of fear.

Each choice opens up new possibilities and closes the door to others. Every decision is a chisel mark in the stone that will be your masterpiece. Work carefully and on purpose. It will take your whole life story to define who you are- to show the finished product.

So, purity is a glorious goal, but what does it look like? Does it mean deadness to the fiery attraction of the other? Does it mean denying the almost intoxicating power of physical beauty and sexual attractiveness? Does it consist in treating Aphrodite as the fly that must be swatted away upon the first buzzing note of her arrival? Is purity blindness and numbness? Is that how we know we’ve attained the goal- when we are immune to the wondrous bodies of those we live among?

It might be that a commitment to chastity calls us to such means. It may be that we must close our eyes and cage our appreciation in order to maintain a loving heart to the other. But this isn’t purity. It is the necessity created by our impurity. Cauterized numbness is not the goal. But it is often the necessary remedy to the situations we find ourselves in.

There is a story told of two bishops who came across a nearly naked prostitute. Immediately one of the bishops cast his eyes to the ground, away from the provocatively revealed body of the young woman. The other bishop, St. Nonnus of Edessa, watched intently as she passed. “Look away” the first demanded. St. Nonnus replied with tears, “How terrible that such beauty is being sold to men’s lust.”

Which of the two responded with the purest heart? The first was certainly right in looking away. He knew his own heart. He knew that he would regard her in an unloving way if he were to gaze at her. But it was the delighted, loving attention of the second man that the young prostitute noticed. She was later converted by his instruction. God used the door of the second man’s pure admiration to give new life to the one who would eventually be known as St. Pelagia. St. Nonnus looked and saw not a sexual morsel for his consumption, but the precious person herself, and through her the God whose great pleasure was in creating her just so.

To be able to look with the Creator’s own loving enchantment and joy at the attractive body of another is the true standard of purity. This is how human beings were intended to function. It is the way it once was. Purity is not an issue of disinterest, rather it is an issue of…well, purity.

Very few have been given the grace that St. Nonnus was given. And to return to our previous picture, it is much better to avoid the flood altogether or to cage the fierce lion than to be destroyed by their uncontrolled power. But that precaution, that negation, isn’t purity itself. Rather, it reveals a wise and praiseworthy desire to keep our own impurity at bay.

Shackling ourselves points to our own impurity- not purity. Does that make sense?

I can hear you asking “So you’re saying that a person who is pure in heart would not only notice the sexually attractive aspects of another person, but also enjoy and glory in them- all without sin?”

Yeah, that’s what I mean.


No, I really believe it to be true. That’s why St. Paul said to the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure[ii].

Otherwise, think for a moment what must be true: mankind- both fallen and redeemed- are inevitably motivated and controlled by sin. The gospel declaration that Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, is Lord is simply not true. Rather Mars, Mammon and Aphrodite sit on the world’s throne. Their prophets- Nietsche, Marx and Freud[iii]- were right: ultimately all of life is about power, wealth or pleasure. The selfish quest for one of these three always and inevitably directs the actions of every man, woman and child.

Is that our belief?

If Christ is Lord, and if he has given his own Spirit of Life for the empowerment of his people to live a truly glorious human life, then we cannot say that lust or greed or any other evil inevitably lies behind any of the responses, feelings or appreciations God, himself, designed for us to have. There is such a thing as being led by the Spirit. And this reaches to every area of our lives- including our sexuality.

Part of the difficulty in believing that a holy sexual appreciation of an attractive person is even possible is that we are using a faulty standard.

One way we bend and warp the yardstick is by equating sexual attraction itself with sin. We’ll talk a lot more about this later, but for now you know what I mean- only your husband or wife is noticed…at all. No other hotties exist…anywhere. “Real” purity turns that sensor off; but if you do notice, the attractiveness certainly isn’t supposed to make your heart glad; but…. if you do find yourself with a glad heart, well…it’s best not to let anyone know. It’s simple enough; but I hope you see that simple or not, this view is wrong. Helping you see this has been one of the main reasons I’ve written for you.

Writer Christopher West tells of being in the middle of a worship service when a very attractive lady, sitting a few pews ahead of him, flipped her hair over her shoulder. There was something in the movement that combined with her beauty in an almost intoxicatingly thrilling way. His mind had been focused in worship and it spontaneously lifted this experience heavenward. “Wow! What was that, Lord?” Somehow his sharing of his admiration with the Father caused him to see in this woman the dazzling glory of all women and the creation they ritually embody. She showed him the enticement of entering the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem- and the bliss that awaits God’s people.

What had he done? He had blessed this clearly sexual attraction. He found God’s love in it by offering it back to God.

While this might seem an unlikely way to respond to a sexually attractive person, we must remember that in the beginning it was not so. There simply wasn’t another option, apart from the reality denying posture of sin. The purpose of reality hasn’t changed. And in Christ creation is what it was intended to be. Our King has died, risen, and sent the Lord and Giver of Life to make all things new. But the fact that this seems so unlikely takes us to the next point.

Apart from a faulty standard, perhaps the main problem in admitting the possibility of a godly appreciation of another’s sexuality is an awareness of our own sinfulness in this area.

What are we to do with that? Let’s look and see.

[i] I Corinthians 6:18
[ii] Titus 1:15
[iii] These three men have been called the Masters of Suspicion because they taught that all men and women are controlled by a desire for power, wealth or pleasure. From the viewpoint of our Faith each of these men denied the possibility of an unselfish and loving motive. They denied the possibility of Godlike love- agape. They claimed they could see into the hearts of all men; and they saw only selfishness there.


DESIRE 101- Part 8

Sharing Secrets
Copyright © 2002

Like the rest of creation, secrets have something to teach us. They whisper the same message that our bodies declare- the mystery of exchange. This message lies in the way we go about telling or not telling our secrets. The more terrible the secret is, the more meaningful the fact that we have shared it. We feel honored when another person trusts us with theirs, and we are very careful about who we entrust our secrets to. With many serious secrets we literally place ourselves or others into the hands of another person. Maybe this explains the strong desire to talk to someone else when we’ve become vulnerable in a new way. Can you think of why this might be true?

Have you noticed that when you have a crush on someone, it’s never enough to simply enjoy the attraction yourself? For some reason, when we are attracted to another we feel an almost overwhelming need to let them know. How crazy is that? Often we keep it to ourselves, but that’s usually out of fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of being rejected…of being ridiculed.

Even with this danger, we often go ahead with it. The desire is that strong. Why would God place such a desire in our hearts? You know the answer: Once again he’s allowing us to channel his glory.

Look how God has set this thing up. We dread the potential rejection because we are offering our hearts. The rejection couldn’t be more serious. It’s a rejection of us. But in order to enjoy this exchange, we have to place ourselves in the care of the other. We hand ourselves to another and wait to see what they will do with us. We hope that they will cherish us and then return the gift by placing themselves in our hands by letting us know that they enjoy our attention.

Can you see the Circle Dance going on here? Someone pleases you; You entrust yourself to them by letting them know; They are excited by your gift and they trust themselves to you by letting you know; You’re excited further by their response….

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where everyone handled you with compassion and love? The Genesis story describes such a world. There Adam and Eve loved each other unselfishly. They were safe in each others care. There’s a detail in the story that points this out. Adam and Eve were both naked, but neither was ashamed.[i]
Does this make sense to you? Our bodies aren’t simply “clothes” that our spirits wear- having little real significance. Our bodies reveal us as persons. To be naked before another is to be exposed and vulnerable as a person. It’s not unimportant that our redemption involved our Lord being stripped by his tormentors.

If this is true of our bodies in general, it is especially true of those parts of our bodies that most powerfully speak of our calling to be gifts to others- our genitals. As soon as we reach an age where sexual energy and value are felt, we instinctively keep that part of ourselves covered.

We also feel a special interest in that part of another person’s body. We are drawn to look. We want to see. Sometimes, even…we may feel a strange desire to be seen. Do you see the good principle behind this- what it was about “in the beginning?” Can you think of various evils that have changed it into something else?

God was so enamored with this way of showing forth his Perichoresis that he decided to make it a part of just about every living thing. It’s everywhere. One of the most obvious but overlooked examples is in the beauty of a flower. Did you know that plants have both male and female parts…that plants have their own sexuality? Do you know what the flower itself is? It is the sexual part of the plant. It’s a plants answer to our own genitals; and our God didn’t leave this for Plant Scientists to figure out. If you look closely at a blossom- a lily or orchid, say- then you’ll see both men’s and women’s bodies there in the parting petals and the upright pollen-bearing stamen.

It’s a favorite theme of God the Artist. Don’t let anything I’m about to say cause you to forget that.

Now, the moment true love ceased to be “the way things are just done” in Eden, Adam and Eve felt the need to cover themselves. They were ashamed and afraid. No one told them to be. They simply knew.[ii] Obviously they must have felt something within themselves that hinted at what the other was capable of, and it scared them.

What were they feeling? This new experience couldn’t have been physical attraction for the other. This had been their gift from the beginning. Aphrodite didn’t enter the garden along with sin. She was one of God’s original creatures.

In fact nothing new had entered at all. Rather, something had left. That something was pure love. In the beginning the man and woman enjoyed each other within the context of love, but now selfish “use” became an option. The great circling dance suddenly became a potential slaughter where one person devours the other. This is how the world we know was born and how secrets became a dangerous thing to share.[iii]

A man once wrote in his diary, “You will be loved the day when you will be able to show your weakness without the person using it to assert his strength.”[iv] Those days are no longer a natural part of the world. Our instinctive shame and aversion to appearing naked speaks of the awful truth we know about ourselves- we’re all werewolves at heart; but it also functions as a protection against those who would reduce us to “feed” for their belly.

We all have a desire to be truly and totally seen by another and to be accepted and loved not only in spite of what they see, but because of what they see. That is what marriage allows for. There are few things that are as meaningful as undressing for the first time before your husband or wife. It’s a dangerous place to be. It’s as if we’ve chained our arms and legs to a pillar and wait to see what sort of being will approach from the darkness. But it’s pretty exciting, too. Really that’s what every act of love is…sharing our bodies just makes it all so visible and real. That was God’s intention.

(Do you remember how in the story Adam and Eve’s fear and shame with each other was reflected in their shame and fear before God? I’m sure that by now you’d expect that to be the case. Our first and greatest desire is to be able to stand before God totally open and unafraid. Isn’t it wonderful that in Christ we can?)

Remember how sometimes people’s need to have real communion with another leads them to settle for the powerful but fleeting feeling lovemaking can provide? In a similar way people- especially women- try to satisfy their need to be truly seen and accepted by exposing themselves to anyone who cares to look. They dress immodestly. The reactions they get show why this is a mistake. The men that gawk don’t see them as persons at all. They see them as “feed,” and by dressing in this way on purpose these women seem to be saying that it’s ok to view them in this way. It shouldn’t be surprising that selfish men go on to treat them in dehumanizing ways.

As long as no one gets hurt, it’s easy to think that there is no harm done. Everyone enjoys admirers. Everyone wants to be seen- really seen. But the problem isn’t in being seen. The problem is that we encourage others not to see us. The issue isn’t that others see too much; the problem is that others don’t see enough. They see only our bodies and never our persons.[v]

There’s another thing going on here, too. Women act immodestly because of the easy and almost instant power it gives them over men. We’ll talk more about this in a moment, but I believe it is the nature of the Feminine to receive…and then complete and glorify what the Masculine begins. The Masculine may have priority at the beginning, but the beginning is always for the Feminine. There’s no Oak without an acorn, but the acorn is meant to grow into a mighty Oak. This means that more often than not, men do what they do for the attention, the admiration or the respect of women. There is hardly an exception. This is how God intended it to be, but think about the power that’s the birthright of every little girl, and how, as Spiderman would tell us, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

When a woman dresses immodestly, she is using that power in an unloving way. She is not only encouraging men to use her, but she is using men by tempting them to be less than fully human. Both are a terrible mockery of the kind of concern we are called to. Both dirty us as men and women.

I hope you see that the problem here isn’t with nudity, the desire to be seen or enjoying the beauty of another’s body. Each of these things is terribly important in the right place. The problem is in taking them down and using them as something other than what God has created them to be. The result is always hurtful- especially to ourselves.

Immodesty is not only a denial of humanity in general, an invitation for others to view us as less than a person, it is a denial of the calling of womanhood in particular. Women instinctively know this. That’s why you see them dressed as immodestly as imagination will allow and yet they’re constantly tugging up on their tops or frantically reaching to hold down the barely-there skirt when the wind whips it up. Seems a bit schizophrenic, doesn’t it.[vi]

Masculinity and femininity are great mysteries. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever pin them down with an exhaustive definition. But, unpopular as it is, I believe there is much that can be learned from the shared experience and beliefs of mankind as a whole. Our modern arrogance wants to write off as superstition the traditions and views of others- especially those who have gone before us. But when you find civilizations as diverse as the globe and history itself agreeing on an image, you’d better give it a serious look. What we casually want to dismiss as stereotype, I suspect we ought to be appreciating as archetype. It also seems likely to me that our bodies and their roles in love making that have much to teach us. After all, they are the great images of male and female. Some have defined masculinity as activity and femininity as passivity. While I think it is wrong to expect to find feminine traits only in the female and masculine traits only in the male (remember it takes both ways of being human to properly image our God. So we should expect to find both in every human individual), a healthy marriage bed will dispel the passive/active view.

Maybe a more helpful summary would be one of initiation and reception. When a couple makes love, its very happening depends on the man energetically going outside of himself. Likewise the woman graciously receives his offering into herself. This initiation and receiving is fundamental and foundational. Without both there can be no making love.

It’s not as tidy and simple as “initiation” and “reception” might lead us to believe. His going out isn’t violent nor is her reception passive and weak. Even more, he gives in such a way as to receive and she receives in such a way as to give. But there is still a difference. A woman can never do for a man what he does for her, nor can he give to her what she gives to him. There are certain defining limits that come with being a man or a woman and each should be exalted and gloried in.

At the most fundamental level a woman was created to create and preserve life. She was formed for nurturing. A man’s arms are strong and hard; but her shoulders and arms tend to be soft and comforting- even for her husband. Her breasts give nourishment. A child literally lives on the body of its mother. But greatest of all, every woman is a home. Her body itself is a place of growth, safety, peace, and nourishment. Every human being had as their first home, the body of a woman. That is what a woman is. A man can never be that. A man can never mother a child. Every woman is an image of our original home, Eden. Women are the great image of creation itself. They are the masterpieces of God’s work, summing up all people, both male and female, by just being who they are. In this sense they are worthy of the greater honor.[vii]

Women proclaim the glory of all that is worth dying for- receiving the gift, nurturing life, preserving shalom and the overcoming of superior strength through beauty, wisdom and goodness. Men image the initiating of the gift and the sacrificing of strength for all that it is good, true, and beautiful (philosophers call these transcendentals).

Men sacrifice strength for these three Transcendentals. Women overcome strength by them. Notice that a certain vulnerability is implied in being female. Strength is overcome, but not by strength. This vulnerability arises both from most women’s smaller stature, but also from the fact that a sexual encounter can leave them with a child to raise and no father to support them. This physical vulnerability isn’t simply a “fact” of being female. Its manifestation soaks through every inch of the fabric of a woman’s soul. Tenderness, mercy, grace have always been seen as being at the heart of what it means to be woman. I believe I can offer strong evidence that it was right to do so. Think for a moment: How many sexual assaults do women carry out on men? Why do you think that is? Could it be that gentleness, nurturing and mercy have a deeper home in the heart of the feminine?

On a purely physical level men have no such restraints. They are usually stronger than woman and they don’t bear children. Without the inward restraints of conscience (which is precisely what modesty trains men’s expectations towards) or the outward restraints of the law (which is all that is left in an immodest world) a man could force himself on woman after woman without any repercussions to himself. This is a hellish (literally) situation.

There have been times when these type of things happened. Understandably, women are angry about being wronged. They should be. In an effort to guarantee that it will never happen again, some women have declared not only their equality with men but also their identity with men. They seek to act as if there are no real differences- as if sexual distinction was unimportant. They have tried to protect women by denying womanhood. The extinction of The Feminine as a distinct way of being human is their agenda. They believe the salvation of the feminine comes through its denial and destruction[viii].

This is wrong headed for many reasons. Men are not women and women are not men. When men forget what it means to be a man, the answer isn’t for women to deny what it means to be a woman. Rather she must require of ever man the dignity that his gender was created to image. When the precious gifts peculiar to each are rejected, humanity ceases to be. When women begin to act as if they are on the same bestial level as men who refuse true Masculinity, when they cease requiring special respect and honor from men, when they attempt to compete in a masculine way with men- ignoring or despising their femininity- they are always the losers. It is the expectation that women require respect and honor that preserves the sexual peace of civilizations. When women say by their shamelessness and immodesty that such respect isn’t required, it won’t be offered.[ix]

Someone has said that “Women are closer to the human than men.”[x] A little thought will show that this is true. God forbid that all human beings embrace only the ideals of masculinity.

Societies are preserved by the loving protection of true masculinity. A woman’s self respect is what requires this of men. Women are the mothers, preservers, and archetypes of all glorious civilizations. Modesty is a lady’s assertion that this is true.

[i] Genesis 2:25
[ii] Genesis 3:7,11
[iii] I first learned this interpretation of the arrival of shame from John Paul the Great XXXXXXXXXX
[iv] Cesare Pavese
[vi] Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999) pp 118-133
[vii] Thomas Howard, On Being Catholic (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997) pp 194-211
[viii] This sounds very similar to the error of Angelism. Remember how it claimed that God would save humanity by destroying a part of humanity? This common thread runs through many of the cruel ways of telling the Christian story. We call these variations “heresy” and we must be on our guard against their hurtful lessons. Like all diseases, they have some fancy names, but you don’t have to know what to call them in order to know that they are present. Gnosticism claims that salvation destroys the physical. Apollonarianism teaches us that the mind doesn’t count. Monophysites say that humanity doesn’t survive ultimate salvation at all- humanity is saved by becoming something else. Each of these doctrinal illnesses can be identified by this common symptom: Salvation comes through the destruction of some aspect of humanity. For an excellent and accessible explanation of the destructive nature of heresy see C. FitzSimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1994)
[ix] Wendy Shalit points out the fundamental difference between the external authority exemplified by today’s campus and business sexual harassment codes, which assume men are animals saying “Down boy! Stop!”, and the internal inspiration authority that a culture of modesty creates. “Modesty, on the other hand, instead of treating men like dogs, invites them to consider an idea… ‘How could you take that which we did not wish to give?’…The argument from external authority labels a man as evil if he date-rapes or sexually harasses a woman. From the standpoint of modesty, he is behaving abominably, but more crucially, he is really missing the whole point. He hasn’t understood what it means to be a man.” A Return to Modesty p 102, 104
[x] Rilke


DESIRE 101- Part 7

Living Among gods and goddesses
Copyright © 2006

There are certain things that everyone understands. It doesn’t matter when they lived or where they’re from. People in Hawaii know just how great fresh baked bread smells when they’re hungry- just like you do. People in India know how wonderful a mother’s hug feels when they’ve scraped a knee- just like you do. People in Africa feel the sadness of losing a loved one; people in Mexico know the fiery anger that comes from seeing a loved one wronged; people in China know the comfort of belonging and of home. Eskimos understand the need to create. Russians enjoy a good story. Norwegians stop to notice beauty. Everyone enjoys a party and everyone dreads a test.

You can be sure that when you find something that everybody understands, you’ve found something that is a very important part of being a human person.

Being attracted to others and “being in love” are those kind of things. The men and women who lived thousands of years ago in ancient Greece felt the power of these two experiences so strongly that they said a god and a goddess must be a work. They named these two make believe persons Aphrodite and Eros. And they lived in awe of them. Who were these beings? Aphrodite was the goddess of physical attraction and Eros was the god of Romantic love.

We know that they were mistaken to believe that these two “divine” persons really existed. But we would have to agree, that we too, understand the power they personify. Would you mind if I still referred to these experiences by their ancient nicknames? We just need to return them to their proper place as fellow creatures.[i]

You and I have been talking about the excitement and wonder we feel when Aphrodite comes along and put us under her spell. She tends to choose the most awkward times to pay us a visit, but her visits are almost always enjoyable and welcome. Our bodies come alive with expectation. Sometimes another person is the cause. Sometimes…well, our bodies respond as if we’ve been physically attracted, but there’s no one around. It must be that Aphrodite has happened by.

We should be thankful that God has created us to feel the way we do. I hope that by now you can see why he chose to do so. It is a gift to be received. Sexual excitement is his servant. But I want you also to see that because they are so powerful and enjoyable, each of Aphrodite’s visits are dangerous.

Besides the danger of mistaking the signpost for the destination, there is a great danger in failing to see the other person as the great sign post that they most definitely are. Maybe a look at the charm that Aphrodite’s son Eros can cast over us will help you see what I mean.

Eros is the god of falling in love. You might be more familiar with his Latin name, Cupid. When Cupid lets fly one of his arrows…..what? What happens when two people fall in love?

When Aphrodite gets you, it’s a certain physical pleasure that you notice and seek. But when Eros pops you in the heart, it’s a particular person that you want. Do you see the difference? You want to be with them; you want to watch them, you want to touch them…In fact, you want to be one with them. Does this sound familiar? All the sweet cuddling, snuggling, touching and kissing are attempts to do this. Have you ever seen two people passionately kissing? Doesn’t it look like they’re trying to eat each other up? Certainly Aphrodite has a role in all of this. She can trigger the same physical longings for unity, but the longings she triggers have only to do with the physical pleasure we’ve talked about. Sexual excitement knows only about the body. But the interest Romantic love brings is centered on the other person- mind, soul, and body. It is this person that you wish to squeeze so hard that the two of you melt into each other. Eros asks Aphrodite to come to join him because the body is how we know the person.

Now think about that. We’re fond of our independence, right? Normally we’d punch anyone who tried to stand too close, sit all tangled up with us in front of the TV or who just…you know, stared. Forget about allowing someone to become so entangled with us in the mind of everyone else that we become just one part of a larger whole- a couple. No way.

But when Eros strikes, not only are we willing to give up our independence, we want to give it up, more than anything. It must be a very special person who causes us to lower our defenses so.

“Oh, they are special,” we explain. There seems to be no one and no thing as important as the one we love. They are so wonderful, so smart, so handsome or beautiful. It’s so obvious to us. And we think other people are yahoos for not seeing it too.

But they often don’t. They shake their head and wonder what we see in our special someone. We wonder what they don’t see. What’s going on?
One of God’s friends, C.S. Lewis, once wrote that if we could see the drunk lying in the ditch as he could one day be, fully redeemed and glorified, we would be tempted to fall down and worship him. He was pointing to the fact that there is no such thing as an unimportant human being. Each one of us is made in the image of the all glorious God. Each one of us will one day be revealed as the dazzlingly beautiful beings we truly are in Christ.

But wait a minute. What about the human monsters we see lurking through our world’s history. What about the likes of Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler? Are they truly “dazzling beings” too? I think we would have to say yes.

Have you ever heard a favorite piece of music performed by someone who really couldn’t play? Knowing how it ought to sound makes listening even harder. In a similar way, the calling that evil men have as God’s image bearers makes the wickedness they create even more horrific.

The dazzling beauty is there, at least potentially. Even Hitler was loved by Eva Braun. And that’s the point I was trying to get to.

Romantic love allows us to see a particular individual with all the beauty that is the birthright of every human being. Everyone has this value. We’re just blind to it. When Eros works his grace, that special someone glows in our heart with the value that every human being intrinsically possess. Through the charm of Eros we see people as God desires them to be.

This is why the beloved can seem so perfect to you and a yet a perfect ding-dong to others who are watching from the outside. Who’s right? Well, probably both are. The important thing to remember is that the vision Eros gives us has to do with potentiality. We receive a glimpse of what they can one day be in Christ. No one lives up to the awesomeness that is their potential- many fall terribly short.

Like every gift, Eros can be a blessing or a curse. The curse comes when we allow his vision to cause us to choose foolishly. The life that we have to live now will be lived with the person those around us see. We need to pay close attention to the judgments and opinions of those who love us. They see the world as it is now more clearly than we do when we are looking with the sight Eros gives us.

But Eros’s grace is that we see the wonder and value of individual persons in a remarkably clear way. This is how Romantic love helps us see the danger that is present with every visit of Sexual excitement: The experience of physical desire can be so strong that we forget, or even worse, ignore, the fact that it is a person that we are attracted to. The temptation is to think of them as a thing there for our pleasure. We do this every time we see them as nothing but bodies: every time we forget that the body is there to reveal the person. We do this every time we enjoy them in a way that is not good for them: every time we enjoy them in an unloving way. These ways of “enjoying” have little to do with the Loving Exchange that our relationships were created to mirror.

In fact, although we describe the spells of Aphrodite and Eros as love, they really aren’t. At least not the kind of love that God and other persons are capable of. Rather they are the raw material that we fashion this supreme love out of. Both are experiences that just happen to us. We don’t decide who we are attracted to or who we “fall in love” with. When these things happen we are no different than the particles, trees, or animals that are carried away by other things. We’re just along for the ride.

But the special calling of humanity is to choose to truly reflect the love of God. While the spells of Aphrodite and Eros can take us out of ourselves and cause us to focus on another, they are only the beginnings of true love because both can still be acted on in a horrifically selfish way. To truly love someone is to hope for and work towards the greatest good for them. It must be chosen. Sexual excitement and Romantic love can get us going along that path, but we have to choose to keep both from becoming terrible images of selfishness. Aphrodite can tell us of our need for another. Eros can make another our greatest joy; but only god-like love can lead us to let go of the one we love, if that’s what their good requires.

Again, it comes back to the option of lying or telling the truth with our bodies. It’s not Aphrodite or Eros that we serve and image. We are the image of the Triune God who created Aphrodite and Eros and whose love was most clearly revealed on a cross. It is this Triune God that we must image if we are to live in a truly human way.

Romantic love and Sexual desire shine brighter than any of the other natural images. They have the potential of declaring most clearly the beauty of exchange. We don’t have to guess about the divine glory they are pointing towards: the greatest thing is to love and be loved in return. Where other creatures whisper or speak, Desire and Romantic love shout at us with great power and authority. It feels so right to listen to them and so wrong to deny them our obedience.

But it is never right to simply obey them. It seems as if most people don’t believe this. They seem to think that there is nothing greater than being in love. What ever you need to do is ok as long as it is motivated by ones romantic love for another. People have left their spouses and children- even killed for Eros. We have to remember that he is just a creature, and that great evil always comes from worshiping other creatures- even ones as magnificent as Eros. To serve him as if he is the end of life is to be guilty of nothingbutteryism. And like all forms of idolatry it will keep us from being the glorious beings that men and women alone can be.

There will be many times when truly reflecting the divine love of the Trinity will mean saying “no” to these beautiful and precious images. If we don’t, they will cease to be beautiful and we will loose a further part of the glory that is our humanity. Remember, Divine love is a love that seeks the greatest good for the one we love, even if it means our own sacrifice. True love chooses to protect the other, even if from ourselves. Since the greatest good is God himself, do you see how encouraging someone to do something that would hurt their relationship with him can never truly be called love? Can you see how helping someone do something that will cause humanity’s glory to glow more dimly can never be called true love? Can you see how obeying Aphrodite or Eros while hurting another we have sworn commitment to can never be an instance of true love?

All of God’s creatures were made for our blessing and for us to bless. This certainly includes these two. But because of the power that comes from the clarity of their image, we need to remind ourselves that they are our servants- not our masters. We must handle them with grateful caution. Sometimes this means telling them that now isn’t a good time for their visit. There’s no good in denying them their power and charm; or to act as if they haven’t paid us a visit when they have. Thankfulness to God requires we answer the door; but he has left it up to us to decide whether godlike love would invite them to stay.


At the end of the last chapter I pointed out that even though sex is holy, you don’t have to act like your going to a funeral to keep it so. In fact the opposite is true. At the end of this chapter I want you to know that the humanity of another person isn’t necessarily denied when we turn to them to fulfill a need. There is a proper “use” of another- even sexually[iii].

Many godly people would disagree. They see the ultimate standard between right and wrong behavior as being whether or not another person is “used” at all. They talk about Disinterested Giving. By this they seem to mean that we should give without any desire of a return. True giving is impossible if we get any enjoyment out of the enterprise. We would then be giving in order to get. Our giving is simply disguised selfishness.

My problem with that is a simple one: it would find our Lord falling short. Do you know why Christ endured the pain of the cross? The writer of Hebrews said that it was for the “joy set before him”[iv]. Christ did what he did because of the joy he would receive from its completion.

A brother of yours once wrote "all men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. . . . The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." I think this is true.

Another has written that we can know what we value most by the pleasure it gives us. Pleasure is not God's competitor, idols are. Pleasure is simply a gauge that measures how valuable someone or something is to us. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. Does that make sense?

If I want to know what type of person I’m becoming, I shouldn’t ask "how self-denying am I being with this other person?” Do you understand why? I can deny myself all sorts of things –all out of selfishness or pride. Rather I should ask "What type of interaction with this person gives me the greatest pleasure?"

Is the standard of right and wrong “disinterested self-sacrifice” in all our actions or is it treating another person in a way that does not violate her best interest- that is, treating them in a loving way? As odd as it may sound, it seems to me that the former takes me as the focal point (my disinterested self sacrifice) while the latter takes the other person as the starting point. In fact, if you think about it, the only way that I could give to another and not care whether they were please by the gift is for me to not care for them at all. Not only does the “Disinterested Standard” start with me, it can only consider me.

You see, that’s what this is about. Is it wrong to turn towards another because I need them? I don’t see how this can be true.

If turning to another person because I feel a need, which that other person can satisfy (and they alone can truly satisfy because they are a person), is an objectifying of that other person, then doesn't it follow that my turning to our God for mercy or a child's turning to his mother out of fear during a thunderstorm is a using of both God and the mother? Do you think a mother is dehumanized when her child instinctively reaches up for her when frightened? Do you think God is diminished when we turn to him because we need him? Hasn't our God told us in innumerable places to come, taste and see? Aren’t we to "Delight (ourselves) in the Lord"? (Psalm 37:4) Am I wrong to go to God because I wish to be delighted...or comforted, or blessed, or rewarded, or forgiven....?[v]

In fact, instead of insulting or demeaning another, we actually praise and honor them when they give us pleasure by being what they were created to be. We show what we value by how much pleasure it gives us.

Something else, which may be a little more difficult: if Masculinity and Femininity are complementary manifestations of God's image, then doesn't that mean that the sexual attraction that is meant to image the exchange of our God is foundationally sinful because the attraction is the outworking of an incompleteness that makes the other gender necessary- there is attraction because there is a need.

I could go on for a while, but maybe I’ve given you enough to begin thinking this through. Sin doesn’t occur when we enjoy or “use” another person. It’s okay to hire a gardener to tend your garden. It’s okay to go to a dentist because your tooth hurts. It’s never okay to treat your gardener or dentist in an unloving way. Sin occurs when we enjoy or “use” another person in a way that denies that they are a person. It is possible to turn to another as a means to an end while always remembering their value as a person. It is possible to enjoy another as a person.

Remember how God’s loving exchange looked one way in himself throughout eternity past and another way when he turned towards his fallen creation? Enjoying ecstatic bliss and wiping smelly feet may seem worlds apart, but they’re really not. It wasn’t wrong for Christ to clean Peter’s feet. Nor was it wrong for Peter to allow him to do so. In fact Peter’s refusal to accept this loving gift was proof not of his concern for Christ but of his own pride.

There may times when we are feeling lonely, insecure or sad, there may be times when we are just bored or maybe even happy, there may be times when Aphrodite has simply come by for a visit… and we turn to the warm body of our spouse to be affirmed, consoled, distracted, celebrated, pleasured, or secured. Some people would say this falls way short of what love making was meant to convey. But this is exactly what real love making is about, loving our spouses with our bodies. It is good and holy.[vi]
[i] This is the symbolism assigned by C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (San Diego: Harcourt, 1960) pp-131-135
[ii] What follows is my caveat to the Theology of the Body as taught by John Paul the Great and his expositors. While I appreciate and admire the great work these men and women have done regarding the grammar and meaning of both the body and sexuality, I cannot endorse the Personalistic standard that they meld with their understanding of the body’s gospel- at least not the Kantian foundation that it presupposes. I encourage the reader to bear in mind that on one hand we have the opinion of quite possibly the greatest saint of the 20th century and on the other the opinion of a press operator (who deep down knows himself to be a sorry bastard) from Georgia. That being said, while almost persuaded, I remain unconvinced; conscience compels me to point out what I believe to be shortcomings- and significant ones at that.

[iii] Romans 1:26-27
[iv] Hebrews 12:2 "looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."


DESIRE 101- Part 6

Totally Yours
Copyright © 2006

Like the rest of creation, our bodies and the bodies of other people are meant to be understood as God’s love to us. Bodies are the way we see and experience each other; and we are those who were created to show forth the dazzling glory of God. This explains why the human form is so darn fascinating and enjoyable.

Remember how it works. It is God’s glory that truly attracts our hearts. Imagine a dark and cold piece of glass that suddenly sparkles with shimmering splendor when a bright light is placed behind it. Creation shines forth with beauty and splendor because it is being lit from behind by the glory of God himself. Every one of us, following the example of our Father Adam, have seen those sparkling stones (whether money, knowledge, nature, relationships… or whatever God’s gift may be) and have sought to take them and use them apart from the Light. We sneak them down from their backlit pedestal and tuck them into our pocket so that we can “really” enjoy them. Can you guess what happens when we get into the next room and pull them out again? They don’t look the same. They appear and feel cold and dark. They aren’t beautiful anymore. Should we be surprised?

Do you remember how the manna gathered against God’s instruction turned to worms?[i] If we grasp at creation apart from God, we not only miss out on God but also loose our enjoyment of creation as well, at least in the long run. If we seek Him through the joys of creation, then…well, we receive them both. Seems an easy choice, doesn’t it? But people make the wrong one all the time. Can you see why sin is called folly?

What is the key to truly enjoying the many gifts of God? It is to thankfully see them as his gifts- to bless them. The opposite of joyfully receiving a gift is to whine and plot for something that wasn’t given.

Men, women and the loving acts they were fashioned for can be wonderfully glorious. But they have also been refashioned by sinful people so that they feel and look cold and dark. We need to receive them as God intended them. We have to see them correctly. We need to understand what part of God’s glory they reflect.

For people who just don’t understand, there are always rules. But rules often mislead us into thinking that what we should and shouldn’t do is an arbitrary decision. Can you imagine how odd it would be to tell a child that a toy truck mustn’t be bounced? I can see it happening, though. Can’t you? Why? Isn’t it because we expect a child to be a little shaky when it comes to reality? How much better is it when a child has learned for himself what a truck and ball are for? When he does, he won’t try to load dirt into the ball or smack a truck with a bat. Both are a really silly use of balls and trucks. The key is to realize what a ball and a truck are, what a ball and truck mean, and so what a ball and truck are for.

(Just so you know, our problem isn’t simply that we don’t understand. I might have given you that impression. It’s worse than that. We are unhappy with the fact that we can’t determine the nature of reality for ourselves. We hate that someone else is Creation’s Creator. We resent that we aren’t in charge. There’s nothing we can do to change the fact that God is God and we’re not; but people never seem to tire of pretending that it isn’t true. The result is that we live in a make believe world and distort the only reality that truly is.)

O.K., So we’ve seen that men and women, both apart and together, are special image bearers of the “oneness” and “manyness” of the God who exists as love. But there’s also another way that God’s people have considered the relationships within the Trinity. Instead of focusing on how God is within the Trinity itself, this perspective looks at the way God works outside of himself in creating, preserving and redeeming the world.[ii] This is perfectly proper since God has revealed much about this aspect of himself. We just need to remember that what God does truly reveals who he is. Anyway, when we look at his works we see a very special relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. Theologians call these types of relationships covenants.

One of the best places to see this covenant in action is in the way our Lord describes his task as something he has been given to do.[iii] Given by whom? Given by God the Father. There is both obedience and hierarchy. The Father commands and Christ obeys. Some have seen this as an indication that Our Lord is less than the Father. They do so only because they have believed the modern idea that being equal in value means that persons must be equal in functions. Our God teaches us differently.

This relationship between the Three has as its focus the glory and blessing of the other. Remember we’re talking now about what they do. It is the Son’s life to obey the Father. It is the Father’s delight to bless the Son. It is a covenant of love in which each of the persons of the Trinity gives himself wholly to the others, denies himself to bless the others, and humbles himself to glorify the others.[iv] This covenantal relationship mirrors the unity of being we’ve already discussed. In fact, in John 17 Christ says that he and the Father are one. He then prays that we (his people) will be one with him and one with each other just as he and the Father are one.[v] This can’t be talking about the oneness of being we’ve talked about before. As close as we may come to another person, we can never be one as Christ and the Father are one. They are one. What must St. John mean?

St. Paul gives us the answer when he declares that marriage is an image of the union between Christ and his people.[vi] (We ought to be expecting it by now; but did you notice God has done it again. Something intrinsic to who He is has been imaged into the fabric of creation. Men make covenants because God himself exists in covenant.) Marriage says something about Christ and his Church; and so about Christ and his Father. Likewise, the Father and Son say something about Christ and his Church; and so, something about marriage.

What might the Father’s actions toward the Son and Christ’s actions towards the Church teach us about marriage? Commitment! The Father has committed his all into the hands of the Son. Christ is His Word. He is the final declaration of who and what God is. If he were to muff it up, there would be no undoing of it. But God’s reputation was always safe. Don’t you agree?

Christ took complete responsibility for creation. In fact he became (he put on) creation. What she did, he was willing to answer for. Should there have been any doubt about how things would turn out for her? Was there ever a chance that things would get to hard or messy for her husband to deal with? No. There’s no way Christ would let that happen. How do we know that there was total commitment? Because we know there was complete love.

This is what marriage was created to make visible: God’s total loving commitment.

Remember how I said that the Covenantal Union is tied to God’s Union of Being: God’s actions reveal who he is? If lovemaking images this union of being and marriage images the covenantal union, what must men and women do to keep from telling lies about God with their bodies and their relationships? How must lovemaking be viewed, if we are to receive it as the gift that God truly offers? How do we keep it from turning to worms?

Lovemaking and marriage go together. Not only like chocolate chip cookies and milk (although they should), but like heat and light. There should never be one without the other. If we find either alone, something unnatural is going on.

When two bodies unite they are declaring “I belong to you, forever. I give myself to you totally.” How sad to know that someone is saying such a thing but lying the whole time. What a terrible thing to say about God.

The desire to be with someone we love is so strong, that often people want to say this thing with their bodies before they are willing to say it with their mouths. They believe that because they are ‘in love’, they are committed. But isn’t that what a marriage is…a serious “I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is” commitment?[vii] Isn’t it a vow before God and witnesses that you belong to each other alone… “til death do us part?” If people are avoiding marriage, aren’t they avoiding commitment? If they do have a commitment, is it really any more than “I’ll stay with you until I decide I don’t want to stay anymore?”

Do you see the lie in refusing to actually commit while saying “I belong to you forever- I give myself to you totally” with our bodies?

“I promise!” looses it meaning on the lips of someone who habitually breaks their promises. No matter how sincere they might be, they have no way of really sharing what’s in their heart.

A new habit of integrity can repair the damage, but the heart remains mute until the healing is complete.

It may sound as if our bodies just “say” things. This isn’t really true. What we do with our bodies brings to pass what it is we are saying. For example, do you hug someone just to let them know that you care for them or to actually care for them even more by doing it? Isn’t it both? Making love doesn’t just say people want to be one, in a very real sense it makes them belong to each other.

This is a big deal. And everyone feels the truth of it.

Because the pleasure that can be received is so intense, sometimes people who don’t even care for each other at all try to act as if what they are doing with their bodies doesn’t mean anything. They know it’s not so, though. People who have given themselves away over and over to many different people often arrive at a place where they feel hollow and empty. Do you know why? Giving yourself totally to someone who isn’t willing to really, in every way, give themselves back is a sure way to end up used and hurt.

Lovemaking has been compared to Scotch tape. It was meant to hold two people together. But what happens to a piece of tape you try to use over and over. How well does it bind? Do you see what I mean?

There’s a beautiful word for this ideal. It is Fidelity. Its beauty comes from all the wonderful virtues that it fulfillment requires: Faithfulness, justice, compassion, self-control, and above all, self sacrificing love. Each of these things is offered to the other when we offer to them our Fidelity.

But fidelity to our husband or wife is also fidelity to the thousand of men and women who live around us. Faithful love making binds a husband and wife together and opens them up to the likelihood of children. Lovemaking is the warm fire around which a household gathers. When you consider that households are the bricks of society, then you can see that all great nations have their foundations laid between the sheets of a million marriage beds.

Like any other great power, it is suicidal to allow sexual desire to go unbridled. Sometimes people act as if its power or “naturalness” makes attempts to control it unnatural. But they’ve got it exactly backwards. It’s simply not true that our lack of real fidelity is no one else’s business. Every honeymoon evening a man and woman join hands with the other men and women whose great round dance spins out home, community, nation and world. To love only one person is to dance with all the others. It is to take and keep our place in the great frolic. When we turn loose, when we reach to pluck another from the line, when we take the gift without joining the dance at all, we dance alone; and home, community and nation begin to break apart and turn to shadow. [viii]

We can simplify this a great deal. God has written rules for those who haven’t grown up enough to see what that gorgeous man or woman mean. These rules are very clear. Don’t make love with anyone but your husband or wife.

But simplifying it into dos and don’ts might allow us to miss the excitement and beauty of it all. For those who want to understand the delicious world that he has given us God says “Remember. Love-making is at the heart of marriage. Marriage is the image of God’s Self-Giving love. Eat it up. Devour it. But protect it so it doesn’t spoil.”

For many people this part of their lives is shameful and embarrassing. Not because they’ve done anything wrong, but simply because it is what it is. I hope you can see that the Trinitarian understanding of sexuality makes the important and dignified glory of this part of our lives very clear. But that presents another problem for some people. If this way of loving carries so much spiritual significance, then perhaps it is being misused unless it is performed with the solemnity and seriousness of a Levite entering into the Tabernacle of God. Perhaps it misleads unless each and every sexual encounter is as ecstatic as our Triune God’s existence.

Maybe you can figure this one out on your own, but let me give you a hint. Everything and every action bear the awesome weight of communicating God’s glory. The question is really about whether joy, laughter and play are legitimate images of God’s existence. Many Christians believe they’re not. These people are very fond of gray flannel, cold morning showers and boiled chicken. But I believe they are mistaken. Do you know why? Because I believe that God created the heavens and the earth- all things visible and invisible. Not only did he give us what we need, but he gave us that which is pure extravagant pleasure- peacock feathers, umpteen varieties of cheese and… the beauty of men and women who will never belong to us.

Christ pointed to children, not craftsmen or ascetics, as examples of his Kingdom. And this seems perfectly fitting when you consider which activity best images how our Triune God spent eternity. I can remember you asking me long ago “What did God do before he made the world?” Do you remember what I told you? Was he most like a minister gravely and diligently preaching through the Law or does a group of laughing children lost in a game of “ring-around-the-rosy” come closer to God’s life within himself?

Painful sacrifice can glorify our God, but only in a fallen world. Laughter and play, however, were before the world began. Loving roughhousing, giggles, and the healing forgetfulness of the outside world that only a well played game can provide don’t lessen the bedroom’s sanctity- they are part of its Holiness.[ix]

[i] Exodus 16:20
[ii] Theologians refer to the first as the Ontological Trinity and the second as the Economical Trinity
[iii] John 8:29
[iv] Smith, Ralph. Eternal Covenant (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2003) pg 52
[v] John 17:11, 20-23
[vi] Ephesians 5:23-32
[vii] Genesis 2:12-25, Mark 10:6-9
[ix] “The maxim for any love affair is ‘Play and Pray’; but on the whole do not pray when you are playing and do not play when you are praying” Charles Williams as quoted by Corbin Scott Carnell, Bright Shadow of Reality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1999) p126


DESIRE 101- Part 5

What Did Your Body Just Say?
Copyright © 2006

The story in Genesis tells us that God created a single individual. He named this individual Human, or better Earthling because he came from the ground. That’s what Adam means. Then God said it wasn’t good for the Earthling to be alone. What did God do to fix this? Bet you said, “He made Eve.” If that’s how you answered, you’d be wrong. That’s not what God did- at least not right away. Scripture says that he first brought the various animals to Adam so that Adam could name them. Sort of odd, huh? Did God believe that Adam might find a suitable mate among the animals? I doubt it. God must have wanted Adam to realize something, himself. There’s a difference in being told a truth and feeling it yourself. God wanted Adam to feel the truth of something. What do you think it was?

We don’t have to guess about the effect this experience had on Adam. Scripture tells us that he realized he was alone. This must mean that he knew that he was different from all the other creatures around him. What was that difference? Unlike the animals that were brought to him, the Earthling was a person.

We tend to think of personhood as being defined by consciousness. You know, a person is someone who thinks and feels; but if this is true, then we must say that animals are persons, too. So there must be a difference that goes beyond mere consciousness. And it was a difference that Adam was able to observe, because he discovered this by naming the other creatures. Looking at animals and people today, what differences do you see?

I’m sure there are many, but two seem to stand out to me. Men and women are conscious of what they look like as they go about doing whatever it is they do. Animals are not. Have you ever had to “go” really bad when other people were around? Did you drop your pants and do it right there in front of everyone? I bet you didn’t. Why not? Has that concern ever stopped a dog or a cat? Do you see what I mean? People are self-conscious. This means that we are aware of ourselves. But in addition to that, we decide whether what we see ourselves doing is bad or good. Then we make a choice based on that judgment. Another way of making the same point is to say that people have free will. While an animal acts on instinct,[i] persons decide what kind of being they wish to be. We become what we do.

A dog or cat can be a wonderful companion, but because they are by nature inferior to man, they can never be a “sustainer-beside-him.”[ii] God wanted Adam to realize that he was alone as a person and that he needed an equal as a partner.[iii]

When God made Eve and brought her to Adam, Adam exclaimed “At last! This is someone like me”

Adam and Eve, male and female together, also reflected the image of God.[iv] There are two distinct ways of being the image of God. Adam was one and Eve the other. Genesis is very clear about that.

Why did God not create a duplicate of Adam to complete this Image of Himself? As we’ve seen, in a very important sense he did. Both Adam and Eve were individually image bearers. Apart from Adam, Eve was alone as a person, too. But in another sense she was wonderfully different. And it was a difference Adam could see. It had to do with bodies. It had to do with sex.

Did you know that sex is about something you are? One day you might have to fill out a job application and they will ask you to indicate your sex. What are they asking? They want to know “Are you a boy or a girl?” Being male or female is what sex is about. Why did God want this sexual difference? It must be that it “says” something that needed to be said.

What is it that makes us male or female? First and foremost it is about our bodies. There are many differences between a man’s and a woman’s body, but the one our minds immediately focus on are the two different ways God has fashioned our genitals- a man’s penis and a woman’s vagina.

Now, what do those things mean? I’ve said that all of creation declares God’s glory. Well, what does the penis and vagina say? I guess they say that God has a sense of humor, but is there more?

We know the man is for the woman and that the woman is for the man. They mirror the persons of the Godhead this way. But what is it that is going on in the Trinity. Each of the persons give and each of the persons receive. Love is going on in the Trinity. It took the bodies of both men and women to show that. A world filled with the bodies of a bunch of Adams wouldn’t yell this out. Nor would a world made up only of Eve’s.

Here’s why: Each of the persons of the Trinity is distinctly themselves and yet each of the persons totally fills the others. They are many and yet one. When this God created the two different Earthlings, he intended that they become one flesh. In some way they too were to image the “manyness” and “oneness” of their God. But more than that, just as the eternal dance of the Trinity resulted in creation spilling out, from this human oneness was to come new life.

What sort of oneness would that be? God decided on this: Just about every living thing begins as two separate halves that combine to make one new and whole individual. These halves contain the plan- the DNA- that directs how the new body will grow and develop. This plan determines what color eyes you will have, your hair, the shape of your nose- everything about your body. This plan is contained in super tiny bodies called chromosomes. It takes 48 chromosomes to form the plan for a complete human being.

Half of these chromosomes come from the mother and half come from the father. When they are brought together, a human person begins to grow. This plan isn’t simply information that gets handed back and forth. It is only contained in the bodies of the mother and father. A part of the body of the both the Mother and Father is given in order to give life to a child. Every human being begins as two separate persons whose bodies meld to make one new person. Every human person, with the exception of one[v], is literally half her father and half her mother. How cool is that!

This special giving of bodies is part of the “oneness” we’re talking about. It is the visible enactment of all the other ways men and women can be one, as well. God said that the man and woman should become one flesh. He meant it. This is done when the woman allows the man to place his penis inside of her vagina. Their two bodies become one. A part of the man- his contribution to the new child’s being- passes into the mother’s body. It remains there for a short time after their physical union is over. If it is able to find the other half, the mother’s half, a new baby begins to grow. It’s as if the man and the woman have melted together to form a third.

When this union of bodies takes place it is very pleasurable for both the man and woman. While creating another life, they give each other great joy. In fact, while it should always be very nice for both the husband and wife it can be truly ecstatic. This enormous pleasure was God’s idea. There are parts of a woman’s body that have no other purpose than to feel pleasure when this happens. This says a great many things when you remember who it was that designed her. This pleasure pleases our God.

The importance of personal choice is highlighted even here. God has ensured that we have to choose this path. A woman has been designed so that a man must thoughtfully and unselfishly lead her to this great pleasure. It is possible for him to enjoy himself, while she does not. Such a relation is sad and selfish. The feast of feasts takes restraint and gentleness on the man’s part. But to those who have experienced it that restraint is beautiful and delicious, hardly a sacrifice at all. The fulfillment of our physical longings declares the truth that Godlike desire gives itself to another and hopes that the beloved will give back in return. Evil desire gives only when a return is guaranteed. The image reaches its purpose when the husband gently and unselfishly, out of a great desire and appreciation for the woman, places himself in her hands for her pleasure and she responds by opening herself to him for his pleasure.

The woman’s body becomes a gift to her husband by giving him great pleasure and the wife becomes a gift through her body to the man. They are gifts to each other. The woman’s body declares the glory of receiving love. The man’s body declares the glory of giving love. Together they declare the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s eternal circle dancing. This is why we call this very special act “making love.”

It would be a mistake to think that being a woman means always receiving or that being a man means always giving. Sure, our bodies were designed to make visible one or the other halves of the great circle dance in a special way. But the truth is that we give when we receive and we receive when we give. Making love makes this truth real in a way that nothing else can. It’s impossible to know where the giving ends and the receiving begins. If God has called you to marriage, you’ll know what I mean one day.

This is the answer to the question of “what do male and female bodies mean?” By itself the man’s body doesn’t make a lot of sense. You know, what’s that for? Likewise the woman doesn’t make sense by herself. Together, they make sense, especially to two people in love.

That’s the secret: Men’s and Women’s bodies declare that they are for another. Being a human person means choosing to be a gift to another person.[vi]

This doesn’t mean that we are called to make love to everyone nor that God makes love in the Trinity. Neither is true. Remember that creation and mankind are images of the Trinity. The Trinity isn’t an image of creation[vii]. Rather, our bodies make visible the great truths that God is love and that we are called as persons to give ourselves with faithful integrity and selfless surrender for the good of another. Though the value of every individual person cannot be measured, we can only truly fulfill ourselves in another. Every encounter with another person, no matter how trivial, should enact the pattern that the marriage bed makes so joyfully obvious. That’s what true holiness is- living out the glory of the marriage feast in every encounter of our lives.

We live out the meaning of our bodies when we serve and help other people, when we think of ourselves as being created to be a gift to others. This is what we were created for; and just so we won’t forget it, God has stamped that image onto our bodies. Every time you undress for the shower, your body says to you “Hey, you are a gift for other people.” It ought to be hard to forget. But we forget all the time.

[i] We tend to think this applies to what animals do, but perhaps more important to a comparison with human behavior is the fact that it also applies to what they don’t do. If instinct says “stop eating, your sick”, then an animal fasts. If instinct says “you need to get up and run” that’s what the animal does. People on the other hand are just as liable to answer “but it looks so good” and “but I’m so comfortable”.
[ii] This is literally what God calls Eve in Genesis 2:20. The word translated “woman” in Genesis 2:23 means “from man”. Some people have taken this to mean that she is a step below him, but the point (as the rib from his side makes clear) is that she is his equal. In other words, the fact that she is taken from man indicates “what she is made of” not “who her natural superior is”
[iii] Paul Borgman, Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001) pp 24-27
[iv] Genesis 1:27
[v] Luke 1:35
[vi] Just about everything said in this chapter was given to me through John Paul the Great’s teaching on the Gospel of the Body. Perhaps the best introduction to this magisterial pastor’s thought is Christopher West, The Theology of the Body Explained (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2003) As a comparison will show, I owe as great a debt to this brother, as I do to his Teacher.
[vii] We aren’t saying God is a giant chicken when we show that a mother hen’s protection of her chicks is like God’s own protection of his people (Psalms 91:4, Luke 13:31-35).