This time, all of the letters concern “What If We Love Each Other?” I get more email from college students about heterosexuality than about anything else — except for homosexuality. If you’ve ever wondered why I write so often about sex, now you know.
The student whose letter prompted “What If We Love Each Other?” wrote a good reply which began like this:
I’d like to thank you for your help. My girlfriend benefited from your letter just as I did, and it made a big difference for our relationship. The funny thing about the whole thing was that the Lord began to show us the light about sex just after I wrote to you. He truly works in mysterious ways.
To him I say, you’re welcome, and may the peace of the Lord be with you.
The next reader states that abstinence improved her romance. Does that seem crazy? I’ll bet your great-grandparents would have understood. That was before we got so smart that we forgot our common sense. More about that later, in another letter by someone who caught on too late. In the meantime, here is her letter:
I just read “What If We Love Each Other?”, and I really identified with the topic. My boyfriend and I tried to justify having sex in much of the same way as the young man who wrote to you. Finally we stopped, repented, and asked God for forgiveness. We have abstained for about a year, and I am happy to say that our relationship is better than ever. We have plans to marry, and are happily waiting until our wedding night to consummate our marriage as God intended. Thank you for this article. This “webzine” has truly been a blessing.
Other readers, like this one, were more critical:
I was disappointed with your response to the young man in “What If We Love Each Other?” You failed to focus on the main stumbling block in his path, to wit, his comment “we would get married if not for our remaining years in college.” Why does he think that being a college student is incompatible with being married? Professor Theophilus, is there any reason why you didn’t just advise him to marry his sweetheart? Are you, too, part of the heartless adult cabal that unconditionally opposes all undergraduate marriage?
Am I part of the heartless cabal? Hardly; my wife and I were married after our first year of college. We had our first child two years later, and our second when I was in grad school. I did take off a few years during college for work, but it was good for me. Would I recommend marriage before graduation to all college sweethearts? No. Would I recommend it to some of them? Sure.
I was surprised by the number of letters that tried to beat me over the head with the Bible, like this one:
I just read the article by Professor Theophilus. He stated several things about what the Bible says about premarital sex, but what’s funny is that he didn’t give any references to where the Bible actually says this stuff.
Here’s an even stronger one:
Why didn’t you use any Bible verses that say God hates premarital sex? You spouted your opinion, and used Bible verses only about sin and repentance. I think you blew it, bud.
Frankly, it surprises me that so many students ask this particular question. What it reveals is that they no longer READ the Bible. They glance at the Ten Commandments, find “adultery” but not “premarital sex,” and think “I guess that’s it.”
With the help of a concordance (that’s a kind of index) or a bible gateway (that’s a free internet search engine), it takes only seconds to find passages like Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, and Colossians 3:5. The problem, though, is that unless you’re familiar with the Bible already, a concordance or a gateway won’t help you either. You can plug in the phrase “premarital sex,” and you won’t get a single hit. By contrast, if you know the Bible well enough to realize that you ought to be plugging in “fornication” (King James Version) or “sexual immorality” (New International Version), then you’ll probably know already that these are the expressions the Bible uses for various kinds of sexual impurity, including — here it comes — premarital sex.
The Bible is a book — in fact, a small library of books. You have to read it like one. Try to grasp its whole pattern of values — its whole world view — not just a few scattered rules in a few scattered verses. The rules weren’t written to help us find excuses, but to point us to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Another surprise was the number of letters expressing hostility to symbols and ceremonies. Here’s one:
I admire any publication that upholds marriage, but you didn’t answer the gentleman’s question. I think he was trying to ask, “What’s the difference between having a marriage ceremony and not having one?” There are a number of instances in the Bible where people are viewed as having become “one flesh” — married — by having sex. If the gentleman and his mate want to be married in the eyes of God, I believe they already are.
Did Adam and Eve have a ceremony in front of a church? How many people in the Bible did? The marriage is neither the ring nor the ceremony; the marriage is the commitment. If the two have had sex, they’ve just made that commitment, whether they like it or not; and if they choose to break that commitment, it will hurt just as much as divorce.
Thanks for the wonderful advice, but I wonder why the young man thinks marriage is completed with a ring. In our church we don’t even use rings. We feel that if people need a symbol to remind them that they are married, there is something wrong. Only the grace of God can hold people together, not a band of metal. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
I see we have three things to talk about: sex, ceremony, and symbol. As to sex: Yes, the Bible does speak of people becoming “one flesh,” but bodily fusion can be established inside or outside of matrimony. Scripture consistently presents marriage as a covenant — a holy promise between the spouses before God. To suggest that they have a promise without promising, just because they’ve fused their bodies, is absurd. That doesn’t mean that becoming “one flesh” is unimportant! Made to be more than the animals, we were designed in such fashion that the actions of our bodies have spiritual consequences. The flesh of a woman to whom you have joined yours will forever mean something different to you than the flesh of any other — maybe good, maybe bad, but different. For the meaning to be something good, it has to be contained by covenant.
As to ceremony: No specific wedding rituals are prescribed by the Bible, but we know that God likes them: His son performed His first miracle at a wedding (John 2:1-11). In fact the Bible is filled with ceremonies. There are ceremonies of passover, of first fruits, of baptism, of communion, of Temple dedication — and, yes, ceremonies of covenant-making too. If ceremonies are foolish, then God is foolish. May we all be so foolish.
As to symbol: Would you say that if people needed water to remind them that they were being baptized, then there must be something wrong with their baptism? Or that if they needed bread and wine to remind them that they were having holy communion, then there must be something wrong with their communion? If you really believe that symbols hinder meaning, then you should abolish words, because we would speak better without them, and numbers, because we would calculate better without them. No, there is nothing wrong with using physical symbols for spiritual realities; we cannot make ourselves “more spiritual” than God has made us. It was His idea to give us bodies; matter was his invention. Let us be grateful for the gift.
One reader posed a practical question about abstinence — not about the “whether” but about the “how”:
Thank you for pulling me back to center with your latest article on abstinence. My girlfriend and I won’t have sexual intercourse until next year when I finish college. Nonetheless, we waver and struggle with the question of how much physical contact is permissible. Are there rules about this? Is intercourse the only line not to cross?
He added (and for this I hope his girlfriend loves him!),
In the midst of all my questions, I have a nagging feeling that God has something better and higher for those who will seek not just His rules but His heart. My girlfriend and I keep reminding each other that we want to have absolutely no regrets when we step into marriage.
Seek not just His rules but His heart: Exactly. He commands us to be pure, but beyond all commandments, purity is a calling: a festival summons into the heart of the blazing Love who made and rules the universe.
But I’m forgetting myself — my reader was asking for practical advice. Here are two more letters about the same practical problem. The first:
Your article contained good advice, but it tackled only sex outside of marriage. Apart from that, how can I tell how far is too far, physically?
And the second:
I love a girl I’ve been dating for two years. What hurts my walk with the Lord more than anything else is lust. We don’t have sex, but we often mess around well past our proper limits, and it’s getting worse. What can a weak-willed person like me do about this problem? Any ideas? God bless you.
Good questions. Many young Christians assume that when they find themselves in situations which weaken their sexual self-control, they should just stay put and be tough. That’s a huge mistake. Scripture doesn’t tell us just to stay put in the face of temptation. It tells us to flee temptation. Avoiding it will require some changes in your relationship, because the first thing an unmarried man and woman need to do is stop spending their time together ALONE. Alone is what you do on your wedding night; that’s why it’s so cozy. So when you spend time together with your sweetheart, do it where others are present. When you date, go out with a group. When you pray, have others join you, because this is the most intimate time of all. Sounds odd, right? That’s just because we’re no longer used to it. It used to be called common sense.
I’ve written about the other part of common sense in other columns. Do you want to save sex for marriage? Then don’t do anything that gets your motor running. God invented sexual arousal to prepare your bodies for sex; did you think it was for something else? And don’t think “We’ll do things that arouse us, but we won’t cross that line.” That’s like turning on powerful rocket motors, but saying “Don’t lift off.” If sex is for marriage, sexual arousal must be too.
The final letter shows why these matters are so important:
My girlfriend and I have been physical (without actual intercourse) from the very beginning of our year-long relationship. We see now that this isn’t right, and we’ve repented, but things are very difficult. We’re trying to make the relationship work, but the problem is that we always have some new relationship problem to deal with. The physical part always made things seem all right. Is it too late for a loving future? And what exactly does it take? Thanks.
My dear brother in the Lord, I don’t know whether you and your girl friend have a future, but the fact that you can’t stop quarrelling isn’t a good sign. You see, sex helps a marriage but hurts a romance. If you hadn’t been so “physical” in the first place, then probably the two of you would have noticed your problems early — and either worked them out or broken up. Being too “physical” kept you from doing that by generating the feeling of intimacy where it didn’t yet exist. Though it might not be too late for the two of you to learn better habits of dealing with your problems, this will be difficult, because your heightened sexual feelings will also heighten your hurt feelings whenever you have setbacks. It will also be difficult to find out whether you have a basis for true affection, because the old sexual feelings and memories will get in the way and confuse you. Your best chance as a couple is this. Put some distance between you for awhile. Then start over, this time conducting the relationship the way you should have conducted it the first time. See how it works. One more thing — read the advice I gave the last three readers, and follow it. Good luck.
Copyright 2000 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.