Beyond the Bible: Putting Purity into Real-Life Context4:28 PM
Another conservative girl writes about the dangers of holding hands before marriage. Another newlywed coos about about the beauty of a first kiss saved for the altar. Another camp emphasizes the side-hug-only rule. Another middle school couple gets in trouble for failing to leave room for Jesus on the couch -- at least seven inches.
These rules and regulations become almost laughable. Oh, I'm sorry -- there's an appendix to the book of Song of Songs about the do's and don't's of courtship? These stories of waiting for physical affection become ho-hum. Um, hello -- Isaac kissed Rebekah before they got married. All the books on courtship vs. dating and how far's too far -- to be honest, many girls I know are sick of it. And those who aren't, well -- they've tuned out the clamorous appeal for a prepackaged version of good girl purity and started looking to the Bible.
The Bible's absence of condemnation for hand-holding, kissing before marriage, and cuddling on the couch gives many girls comfort that these activities -- as long as they don't go too far, of course -- are perfectly valid forms of loving expression. Good grief -- I kiss my mom goodnight, I snuggle with my siblings, I hold hands with my girlfriends as we skip. How do such innocent things suddenly become tools of the devil himself in dating? Get real.
And that's exactly what we need to do -- get real. Get beyond searching the Bible to pull verses like "guard your heart" out-of-context in order to arm twist passionate couples into following certain rules. The details of all wisdom are not contained in Scripture. They don't contradict Scripture, of course, but don't fall into the evangelical ditch of excusing everything you do as totally fine because the Bible doesn't say otherwise. Truth and wisdom transcend the Bible to make up God Himself, who cannot be contained (though He is found) in a book. He wants a holiness and a participation in Himself and His kingdom that goes beyond every do and don't found in the New Testament. End side rant.
One thing that purity gurus either failed to mention or I failed to understand is that making wise decisions about physicality does not stop at what the Bible forbids. Why? Because God wrote other truth within His creation...namely, you. Namely, your body. Namely, your latent sex drive.
Yuck, you might think. I'm dating. I don't need to think about that. Actually, you do. One thing that I missed is that sexuality is an important part of who you are and a very important part of marriage. If you don't have a Christ-centered perspective on your sexuality now as you're dating, you're going to make stupid, sinful decisions.
Instead of making a "Biblical" argument for strong physical boundaries -- e.g. verse by verse exegesis -- I'm going to make a physical argument, using the reality of God's design for bodies, sexuality, and guy/girl relationships.
Lawrence Namale writes for Intentional Today (an amazing blog run by a married Kenyan missionary to America for newlyweds and singles -- read it if you're in a serious relationship!) about "The Anatomy of Sexual Impurity." He describes the slippery slope, the cycle, of how something as innocent as holding hands can erode boundaries and numb consciences until the point where you do something with your love that's far from innocent. And now you've got the guilt and the ick of sin smothering your otherwise wonderful relationship. Read it. And even if you still want to show physical expression and whatnot with your love without temptation, consider these truths:
(1) You are not immune from great sexual sin. And you're especially not immune from "minor" sexual sin.
(2) Your body and your sexuality work automatically. When you touch your love, it feels special and different -- way different than cuddling with your siblings, curling up next to your mom, or giving a bear hug to your best friend. That specialness, that difference, enables a physical and emotional intimacy necessary for marriage. It's pre-programmed.
(3) Don't pursue that special feeling. You cannot pursue purity and the inklings of intimacy at the same time. If you keep trying to get that special feeling, you're going to end up experimenting with other physical touch (the slippery cycle Lawrence describes) or feeling extremely frustrated...which again might lead to that cycle or it might cause unneeded stress and worry about why you don't feel fully loved and close to your significant other.
(4) The sex drive -- that God-given desire for intimacy -- is hard to shut down. And by that I mean, if your physical boundaries don't make you feel a little empty inside, a little more distant than you like, you're doing it wrong. Keeping wise boundaries and avoiding temptation requires dying to self. You should not feel physically and/or sexually fulfilled before marriage in any way.
(5) Purity starts with your thoughts. Don't fantasize about things you cannot do in real life. Don't replay a certain show of physical affection over and over again (that's pursuing the special feeling). It sets you up for failure; it awakens desires that cannot be fulfilled.
WAIT A SECOND! What about the other truth about physicality -- the truth that some people give and receive love primarily through physical touch? How can any emotional closeness be established without the natural gift of touch?
By the grace of God? To be honest, the whole dating relationship seems to be riddled with deprivation -- separate families mean separate weekend plans, long-distance means more Skype calls than face-to-face time, the unmarried status means, well, no physical intimacy, and lack of privacy at school and home means constant interruptions from friends, siblings, and real life. Dating means waiting for a lot of things. It means separation. It means sacrifice. It means missing and longing and pining.
At the same time, not all physical touch between girlfriend and boyfriend is sexual or arousing in any way. Sometimes it's merely friendly and comforting. Sometimes it's badly needed -- like when the other person is sobbing. You need to know the difference, to be smart about what's temptation and what's normal, to be aware that something friendly and fun can go way inappropriate super fast. Maybe only express physical affection in public? Maybe find a mother or a dad or a super wise older sister and ask her opinion on your level of physical touch with your significant other?
It's your decision to hold hands or full-frontal hug or tickle each other or kiss -- gray areas, not inherently sinful or sexual. Just don't think that because "the Bible doesn't forbid it" means that no trouble can come from them. We're more than intellectual rule-followers -- we're bodies and persons and sinners still in need of the Spirit's guidance and grace.