Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians

Involuntary celibacy is on the rise. No one wants to do anything about it except advocate waiting, and waiting is a grossly inadequate policy rule. As I write this post, hundreds – thousands? millions? – of never-married believers are suffering from chronic sexual desire. Like many Keynesian-sympathizers who see deficit spending as the solution to economic woes, Christians – regardless of sex, race, and marital status – recommend patience as the only honorable choice for singles. As a short-run Band-Aid, waiting can work; but it hasn’t proven to be a viable solution in the long-run.

In my opinion, the biblical support for singles waiting is shaky. Yes, there are passages instructing us to be patient and persevere, but persecution and vengeance are generally the concern, not husband (or wife) hunting. We have the example of Hannah in 1 Samuel, but she was praying for a child, not a husband. We have Adam being put to sleep in the Garden of Eden, but his wait had an expressed divine purpose. (And if you ask a young-earth creationist, he’ll insist that Adam was asleep for, at most, a few hours.)

I’m not suggesting that patience isn’t a quality worth pursuing. It’s just being misapplied. Many Christians see waiting as part of a paradigm, sort of a worldview in which one’s marriage prospects are solely divine business while people exercise freewill in hunting for food, a job, a house, and everything else in life. Its advocates, although well-meaning, are generally na├»ve about temptation too. A single facing temptation to use pornography or sexual experiment is rightly told to flee (1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22; cf. Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39). This eliminates the immediate danger, but doesn’t solve the problem of having unmet sexual needs. Rebounds just encourage onlookers to lecture even more about fleeing and waiting.

It’s very suspicious that the Christians advising this are, more often than not, either married (i.e., have a legitimate sexual outlet) or admittedly uninterested in sex (i.e., asexual, voluntarily celibate, or in possession of a naturally low sex drive). And they generally don’t even stop lecturing a moment to put themselves in others’ shoes. Rather than give up belief that fleeing and waiting is the only solution, many even accuse struggling singles of neither trusting God nor attempting to control themselves.

The Apostle Paul was more sympathetic. He outright says that he wishes everyone – married and single – could be celibate, yet he admits that it’s a “gift” that few have (1 Corinthians 7:7; cf. Jesus discussing eunuchs in Matthew 19:12). To those who can’t control their sexual urges, he offers one and only one prescription: marry (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9, & 36). He doesn’t say to wait. In fact, he conveys a sense of urgency, something that Christians have failed to take seriously.

Uncomfortable as it might be to accept, the biblical solution for involuntary celibacy is marital sex. The flee-and-wait approach to life will never satisfy one’s God-given cravings. As Paul suggests, it just makes things worse. I know that from personal experience, as do many others. It’s not surprising that so many Christians succumb to sin when their fellow believers make light of their situation and the cure. Until the Christian community makes a conscious decision to change the way we address singles’ sexual needs, it will continue to lose the battle against pornography and fornication.