beauty, celibacy, chastity, childhood, Christ, Christendom, college, culture, grief, homeschooling, idealization, idolization, ignorance, innocence, knowledge, lust, Luther, marriage, passion, Purity, sex, sexless, sexuality, singleness, subculture, suffering, truth, virtue
Martin Luther, prior to wedding his worthy wife Kate, once said that he remained unmarried, “not because I am a sexless log or stone but because daily I expect death as a heretic.” Such unequivocal honesty is astonishing in today’s age because he presumes on a presently much eschewed reality: that it is possible to not be a sexless stone while still a godly man (or woman) yet unmarried.
I want to talk today about the Cult of Ignorance which has marched over conservative Christendom, taking premarital sexuality under lock, stock, and key. As a perhaps natural reaction to the hypersexualization of our culture (with its graphic and violent media, objectification of both men and women, and sex ripped from its sacrificial, marital, and procreative context), far too many parents (and particularly their daughters) have opted for the idealization (and idolization) of childhood innocence.
What am I referring to? I am not referring to innocence as in guiltlessness (not even children have that), but rather the ignorance of children when it comes to both the evil of the world and their own sexuality. While we all have a natural nostalgia for the days of our youth, (when our hearts were full of unblighted hope and wholeness), Christendom has gone far beyond nostalgia to the point of prolonging and elevating the ignorant mind. We cloak this phenomenon in terms of “innocence,” as if children were without sin natures and if kept ignorant of the facts of life would remain so indefinitely.
I think of Christian college students who have no conception of broken families (even the brokenness of their own classmates), the chilly silence when it comes to depression, abuse, and addiction, and most particularly I think of the strange pressure put on young ladies to be sexually asleep for the decade(s) until marriage. The sad part is, while these beautiful young women can be lulled into a sexual sleep through a steady stream of negative messages, they can not just snap out of that sleep once married, when suddenly they need to desire their husbands. While Luther could acknowledge that celibacy is a perfectly good thing for the “sexless stone” who has the gift of singleness, today many who aren’t even remotely “burning with passion” are still marching to the alter.
Again, as a subculture, we have idolized ignorance, as if “not knowing” was a virtue in itself. When it comes to sex, the bible is clear on two points: that we are to be chaste until marriage and free from lust. Two difficult tasks, but clear ones. Yet somehow these mandates have been expanded within Christian culture to a sort of sexual cluelessness. A friend once told me that the majority of her sex education came from Shakespeare. Hah! But for many, sexual desire comes naturally with teenage hormones. How are young women to wade the waters of sexual purity, complete with bodies coursing full of desire, when their community reacts with a horrified hush and treats such feelings as only belonging to men? (Men whom Christendom, oddly, never expects to be “unawakened.”)
I have girlfriends, too, who if they have any desire have never so much as whispered it. Or, it is at least veiled in vague terms and spiritual niceties (read: “He has fine eyes and I think very highly of him. We’d make great prayer buddies.”). Many of my female friends haven’t the foggiest idea of how their own reproductive system works (just imagine what dangers that puts them in). Again, we have equated ignorance with purity. As if, maybe, if you don’t know any details—or have never felt your body react to the opposite sex—you are somehow more pure or of a higher moral fiber.
In contrast, I want to share with you an incident which happened shortly after I’d gotten married. For several months I had struggled to relate with the secular, singles’ culture of my workplace. Then I got hitched—and all my unfulfilled desire found glorious resting place in my husband’s arms. Now, at least, I had sex in common with my co-workers! Or so I thought.
But one day I walked into the office the morning after an office-party. The lights were off in the cubical-complex next to the lobby, (just about everyone had a hangover). A group of women were huddled around each other, talking in low tones and giggling over their iPhones. As I joined the group, I caught the undertones of a conversation on who-slept-with-who in their drunken state the night before and oh-look! photos. I wandered off, feeling like a child who stumbled into an adult conversation, or had been sent to bed early.
And then it clicked. I had expected to relate with them! After all, I knew how sex was done, and how to do it well! But it didn’t make any difference. Because it wasn’t about knowledge—it wasn’t even about experience—it was about purity. I had expected that sexual knowledge—loss of ignorance—would make me less pure. But it hadn’t! Because purity isn’t about ignorance—it is a way of life, a kind of Being in Christ. I was just as pure as before marriage, and would go on being pure (God keep me) even when I am old and have a dozen grandchildren.
And isn’t this the beauty of Christ? That in Him, all things are pure and beautiful? After all, was He, in the sense I have described, ignorant? Guiltless, yes! Pure, absolutely! But lacking knowledge? As Lord of all Creation, there is no beautiful thing, nor horror of evil, which He does not see. Furthermore, Jesus Himself on earth knew so much evil first hand: the loneliness of the outcasts, the brokenness of the prostitute, the injustice and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He ate with them. He put His hands into their wounds, on their leprous and lecherous heads, let them kiss his feet, and with His own suffering won them for Himself.
If we are to be like Christ, there is no place for ignorance. Let children grow in the bubble-wrap of “innocent” happiness if need be, but we do nobody, least of all the unbeliever, any favors by being barricaded, naive adults.
So whether you are in your teens feeling the hot rushes of sexual awakening—or the crushed and world-weary traveller first learning of Christ—know that it is not what you have done or experienced which constitutes your purity but rather the purity of the Holy One whom you know! In Him your past is renewed, and in Him our experiences find their proper place—whether that be laboring alongside the broken, bringing light to dark places, experiencing grief, or your very first kiss from your beloved, He orders all things.
Let us not then disorderly value the ignorance of our childhood, but know that as we grow in Knowledge, in Christ we also grow in Beauty and Truth.