Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Gift of Celibacy

I have been thinking about celibacy a lot lately. Partly because it is my lot in life, partly because I don't know if I will ever marry. That's up to God. But in the meantime, I'm called to live a chaste, celibate existence. Thankfully women aren't falling over me, offering themselves to me, but it's never easy to live chastely.

I've been doing a lot of reading as well, and I've stumbled upon a lot of revisionist takes on the theological ramifications of celibacy. One book I stumbled upon in the library was a book called Saving Sex From Christians. I picked it up to see what dastardly things Christians had done to sex.

Of course the author was a "new testament" scholar from some university somewhere. It became clear as I thumbed through the book that he was merely trying to make a case for anyone to do what he wants with anyone else and say it's A-OK.

There's a whole slew of these revisionist books out there, affirming our right to have a fulfilling sexual existence. It's common to read this phrase: "Not everyone who is single has the gift of celibacy." And in another book, I read this: "Every human being has a God-given right to sexual love and intimacy. Anyone who would deny this right to any individual must prove without a doubt the grounds for this denial." Talk about tickling your ears! I like something that Clement of Alexandria wrote about wolves who run about in sheep's clothing:
"The universal instruments of trickery are the charms of pleasure or the terrors of fear." It's easy to sell people a bill of goods when you profess the belief that God has given us all the right for sexual love and intimacy.

I've been wrestling with what these authors have been writing about the gift of celibacy and what was so intrinsically wrong with it. Tonight, as I was doing some laundry it hit me. Those who write about the "gift of celibacy" seem to have it backwards in my mind. They view the "gift of celibacy" as one in which one is granted some sort of spiritual power over your sexual desires, so that the "gift of celibacy" is equated with someone suddenly becoming an asexual being. That's absurd!

The gift of celibacy is a gift given by God to be single and to be able to serve Him and the Kingdom without the attachments and responsibilities incumbent on a man or woman who is married. That's the gift! This is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7: "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife--and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."

When a man or woman is married, they are granted the gift of marriage. Does that mean that they have been gifted with the ability to chart a course through marriage without struggle? Or could one argue that because someone is unfaithful in a marriage, they haven't been granted the gift of fidelity? It's absurd to imply that because one is single and struggles with living a chaste life, he therefore has not been gifted with celibacy. It seems to me that everyone who is single has been given the gift of celibacy for as long as they are single, and they should take full advantage of it and be about the business of heaven.

God's will steers the ship of our life. If for a time some of us are single, then we need to follow Paul's admonition and to be concerned with the Lord's affairs, and embrace that fully. Isn't it a gift to be able to use our time and energies for the Kingdom of God? And indeed, in the very struggle towards chaste living we can become more like Christ, offering up our very desires at the foot of the Cross. God no where talks about a right to sexual fulfillment. He does talk about dying to ourselves, and that is part of receiving the gift of celibacy.

As for me and celibacy and marriage, I've come to view my hopes for marriage in much the same way as God's call to Abraham to offer up his son Isaac. I find that I need to continually place my hopes and dreams on the altar, because I keep yanking them back. But there are times when I leave them there, and within me creeps the faint hope that a lamb will be found in a bush nearby.

But there's no guarantee that when God asks us to sacrifice something, that he gives it back as He did with Isaac.

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