Is Christian practice of chastity futile? Chastity is, culturally speaking, fairly peculiar as a life behavior. In the rare instances that one finds the broader, western/American culture endorsing chastity, it is for selfish reasons: “Wait to have sex until you’re ready. Find someone you love or at least find attractive.”
In generations previous to ours, there was a sense of shame from the community. “If I have a child out of wedlock, the neighbors will talk. I don’t want them to think I am a whore (or, if a man, a “cad,” perhaps).” This is no longer a concern for most people, having been replaced with a concern for personal pleasure.
Sex is, for many, something akin to expressing one’s own humanity. Indeed, sexuality is something which humans possess and which, when suppressed or removed, causes us to fail to image God as we do when it is intact or expressed. Take, for example, the Old Testament rule for eunuchs being disallowed from service or worship before the Lord:
“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
–Deuteronomy 23:1, ESV.
That seems so backward to us. We tend to simultaneously divorce a person’s worth from sexuality (“That’s so horrible that they couldn’t worship God!”) and bind it together with their worth (“If I have to give up sex, I’ll be less than human!”). The question would seem to be: is chastity futile? Is it suppressing someone’s desires in an unhealthy way? Is it redirecting those desires to other ends? Is it a command of God? What is it? And, are the rules different for people who are gay?
The Bible sets up the normative pattern for human sexuality: whomever is married, they are to consummate that relationship. Those who are not married are to abstain since in the sex act, one gives of oneself in that “the two become one flesh.” Some of my readers will read that statement and immediately retort, “Says you!” And yes, I do say this. However, so does Scripture. The foundational difference is that as a Christian, I accept Scripture as being normative over my behavior in matters of sexuality. The question of which laws still apply to people on this side of the cross is a fascinating study, but I’m dealing with expectations laid down to Adam and Eve in the marriage template given in Genesis 1 & 2, which makes that very important question fairly irrelevant to the discussion I’m currently involved in.
Is it frustrating that given my current (and nearly continual) affinity toward men I cannot marry in a way that is consonant with the biblical template? Yes! I’m extremely afraid of dying alone. But marrying isn’t something which guarantees that I would have someone alongside me as I died. (Just ask C. S. Lewis, Horatio Spafford, etc.) Am I suppressing my sexuality by not having sex? In all honesty, I have to say no…not at all. Am I suppressing my desire to have sex outside of marriage? Yes. Does it make me less human to resist what my body wants?
Well, to hear some people tell it, yes. But I don’t buy it. I think we’ve (as a culture) rightly ascertained that our Victorian-era forebears were wrong to see the body as something which God rejects and the mind as something more pure. But instead of coming to a biblical understanding of the goodness of God’s gift of a flesh-body, we’ve become hedonists…hedonists who don’t care to wait for gratification. Delay or denial of gratification is seen as monstrously inhumane.
I’m going to conclude by tossing this out: why is it so inhumane to deny myself sexual gratification? Why is it so odious to deny anyone sexual gratification? Why is the concept of humanity so bound up in sexual expression? Is there nothing MORE foundational to your existence…life, even…than your sexuality? Sexuality is one gift among many that God has given people. And if we realize that it’s the Imago Dei that sets us apart, not our sexuality, from animals, we will be closer to understanding the proper order of things.