Monday, October 1, 2012

Sex and the Gospel, Pt. 8-- Who's the Hero?

Part 6 and part 7 of this post have set up part 8. I was blessed to find Grace's own story as an example of one "narrative" that got distorted-- how even "Christian" versions of sexuality can be portrayed in ways that don't accurately portray God's character or the nature of sexuality. As she shared, her perception of "God's way" led her to think of God as a negotiator-- "obey Me and I'll give you the dangling carrot." I'll call this Santa Claus theology, and (although I've forgotten to write about it for two Christmases in a row) it's something I've thought about a lot. When I was single and attempting obedience, I felt a tension: "God, I'm doing the right things now! I'm maturing! Doesn't this mean You owe me a husband soon?" In a way, I bought into a lie similar to the one that Grace described. I thought God had promised, A + B = C. Since then, I've realized a number of things about this mentality that don't line up with the Christian narrative.

I'll explain. Asking God, "Don't You owe me..?" reveals a presumption that flies in the face of the gospel. If God is really God and I'm really not, He doesn't "owe" me. Period. But it also reveals a presupposition that I am at the center of my own story in a way that flies in the face of the gospel. If God is God and I am not, my story is not ultimately "about" me. Period. 

Yet here's how we presume that when it comes to sexuality. In one sense, those who do happen to "keep the rules," live sexually chaste lives, wait for spouses, etc. often are lauded as heroes-- "wow, look at how those two waited for marriage. What an accomplishment. They really deserve each other/a great life/they'll have a great marriage." Now, sexual purity should be lauded-- those who are protected from sexual sin give us a picture of how things ought to be-- But where does the glory ultimately go?

I watched two friends get married this past summer, neither of whom has kissed anyone other than her now husband. I actually grieved in the light of this reality more than I expected to-- entering a sexual relationship with no flashbacks, no bad memories, no learned patterns of some relationship other than one of total commitment, fidelity, and love?-- I can't imagine what that's like. And yet, that is what I was created to experience. Seeing their innocence, their purity, their delight in seeing the other-- and only that other-- for all time, was moving to me. It reminded me of the safety and holiness for which sexuality was intended. Furthermore, it gave me a clearer picture of what it means that the church, Christ's bride, will be "holy and blameless" before Him. It made more powerful to me the reality that those who belong to Jesus will stand before Him shamelessly and radiantly at His return, delighting in Him alone, and no other, for all time. 

Their stories-- how God protected and preserved them and how their purity mirrors the church's purity-- caused me to glory not ultimately in them, but in God, because their stories put His on display. So we should rejoice with people who've experienced sexuality "the way it ought to be;" but it would be a shame if we did so in a way that made those people the heroes of their stories. If we think staying pure is about patting ourselves on the back and thinking it means we deserve something, we've missed the point entirely. No-- sexual purity puts Christ on display. It proclaims His protection-- the fact that neither of my friends were victims of sexual abuse, for example, is merciful. It proclaims His grace-- the fact that neither of my friends' weak and sinful hearts (because yes, even virgins have weak and sinful hearts!) manifested themselves in particular kinds of impurity is only by God's grace. And it proclaims His gospel-- the fact that my friends walked down the aisle in white foreshadows not their accomplishment, but Christ's sanctifying love.

The same goes for those who've experienced sexuality "the way it ought not be." To think the story ends there, with those "sinners" and their "failures", is to miss the point entirely. See, one thing I've learned as just that-- a sinner who has failed-- is that in my failure, Christ's spousal love shines all the brighter. The fact that I still am counted as His bride, arrayed in white, shameless and radiant in His sight, reminds me that Christ is the hero of my sexual story even though it hasn't worked out the way He created it to. Sin has wreaked havoc on my humanity, my sexuality included. I've been both victim and perpetrator of evils that reveal the depth of creation's depravity. But the beauty of the gospel is that those evils don't stop Christ from telling the story of His love through my life-- in fact, the evil Christ overcomes in my life puts His powerful love on display in a different way than the evil He prevented in the lives of my friends.

Whether our sexual stories speak of God's protection or of God's rescue, we can look up and see Christ as the Hero, not ourselves. Whether we walk down the aisle-- or into a counselor's office, a hospital, a birth center, or a church-- with "baggage" or not, we can find ourselves radiant and shameless in His sight, because what makes us spotless is not our accomplishments or failures, but is His sanctifying love. And whether our stories thus far highlight what "ought to be" or what "ought not be," we can glory in the fact that they are ultimately part of The Story-- of a good creation, sin's destruction, and God's relentless rescue-- we can glory in the fact that however we started the journey, Christ extends to us the invitation to be swept up in His happy ending: the restoration of all things. It starts with seeing Him as the Hero.

What's your story? Do you feel crushed under the pressure to "perform" righteously, as if you're expected to be the hero? Or are you despairing under the weight of your failure? When you hear someone else's story, do you puff up with pride or feel the sting of shame? What would change if you looked up and saw Jesus and His sanctifying love at the center instead?

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