Between Wisdom, Sorrow, and Hope: Ecclesiastes and Lord of the Rings

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 “Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” -Ecclesiastes 7:3-4


It may seem a bit strange but Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” universe and the book of Ecclesiastes may have quite a bit in common. If you know me, you may know that I have a bit of an obsessive personality especially when it comes to random, niche fantasy universes like Tolkien’s. I don’t think I can overstate the fact that the lore of Middle-Earth was created by a perfectionistic genius. It seems that behind everything in this universe is a backstory and behind that backstory is another backstory. I expect all of of you probably know of Gandalf, but do you know of the Valar (essentially an angelic being) who taught Gandalf?

Nienna, the weeping Valar of Tolkien’s universe, is one of my favorites characters within the LOTR universe. Not only did she mentor Gandalf in the way of hope and wisdom and sorrow, but she indirectly (or perhaps directly) contributed to the sparing of Gollum which subsequently led to the destruction of the Ring of Power. Nienna, many argue, is the reason Gandalf was the only wizard among the five wizards who was not corrupted in his tasks within the realm of Middle Earth because her wisdom taught endurance. Here’s what the Silmarillion has to say of her:

“Mightier than Estë is Nienna, sister of the Fëanturi; she dwells alone. She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. … But she does not weep for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope. … and all those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom.”

Nienna taught pity and endurance in hope. She had the strange ability of bringing strength from within sorrow and fusing sadness with wisdom. She does not eliminate sorrow but perhaps could be said she waters it as she watered the dying trees of Valinor to keep light and hope alive. She, among all other characters, perhaps best embodies “The Long Defeat” philosophy of Tolkien particularly because she is immortal and thus must remain hopeful until the end of all things.

The strange sorrow of Nienna always existed within the universe of LOTR. From the beginning Nienna saw the tragedy that would follow the Creation of Middle-Earth. She knew that horrible tragedy and evil would exist within the world thus her portion of Eru Iluvatar’s song which contributed to the Creation of Middle-Earth became one of lamentation:

“So great was her sorrow, as the Music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the World before it began.”

This song of Nienna was woven into the very foundation of Middle-Earth’s existence. But her song is not one of despair. As it is seen in Gandalf and those who visit Nienna, her song is one that moves sorrow in the way of hope and endurance not towards hopelessness or despair. She was perhaps the strongest and wisest of the Valar, yet her strength was mixed with sorrow. So great was her wisdom and thus great was her sorrow. The writer of Ecclesiastes seemed to know this too: “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

To hold wisdom and sorrow together is a difficult task. It seems we’d often take the alternatives of (to steal a phrase from Augustine) “delusive happiness” or despair. But there’s no use talking of wisdom if there’s nothing in the end for us. That seems to be the mysterious hope in the character of Nienna and the writer of Ecclesiastes: if all is a vapor, why write about it? If the end of Middle-Earth is an end in terror and chaos, why grieve over it and continue in hope? If evil will win, why persist in the fight against it, like Gandalf?

Hidden away in some supplementary writings from Tolkien about the LOTR universe is a debate between two characters, Finrod and Andreth, about the problem of death, human destiny, and a cause for hope. With Finrod being an immortal elf and Andreth being a mortal human you might imagine there would be some difference of opinion. Finrod at one point asks Andreth if she has hope, which she responds, “What is hope?… An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.” To which Finrod responds:

“That is one thing that Men call ‘hope’,” said Finrod. “Amdir we call it, ‘looking up’. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust”. It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy. Amdir you have not, you say. Does no Estel at all abide?”

Estel and Amdir seem to be reoccuring themes within Tolkien’s writings. A way I might distinguish them is by calling Amdir a temporal hope and Estel an eternal hope. Amdir may at times be extinguished, but Estel may still remain because it is rooted in something far deeper than human experience or present turmoil. But this hope must be rooted in something.

Andrel follow’s up this question with some remarks of those who still follow that which is called “The Old Hope”:

“They say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end. This they say also, or they feign, is a rumour that has come down through the years uncounted, even from the days of our undoing.”

Sound familiar? This tale of the Creator entering into the world to bring about restoration? I imagine this Old Hope is what Nienna and Gandalf held within them. Nienna’s grief was real and saw all the horror that can exist in life, but still she held the hope of an eternal ending that would undo all the pain and all the evil. Here’s an ending of supreme joy, an ending Tolkien would say was derived from something greater.

“This [Christian] story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true…But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”

There is no ending better, and there’s no ending more true. Amidst the sorrow birthed by disappointments and tragedies of this present condition there remains still a hope rooted in something eternal, a hope in our Creator coming to us to bring us life everlasting with Him.

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Desert Longings

There are days and weeks throughout the year that I find myself lost in dry and deserted places—places of spiritual dryness, emotional apathy, and mental exhaustion. I do not often know how or why I end up in places like them, but I can tell you that I would rather be in a storm than in a desert. I would rather the rain to be violently upon me than not at all.

I have been reading a fair bit of C.S. Lewis lately. And he, among many other of my favorite writers, is someone who really stretches my heart as well as my mind and encourages me to keep hoping and to keep longing, to recognize the Beauty beyond the beauty, and to see the Story within the stories. And for someone who has a naturally pessimistic personality, hoping is something that usually feels a fair bit foreign to me.

The longing and the hoping hurts of course, because it presupposes a deficiency — an intimacy not known, a meal not shared, a death unavoided, or a beauty only slightly revealed. Most days I feel some dull lack, while on rare days I taste something so rich, so wondrous, it is hard to imagine anything better. But those days in the desert, where the longings feel too much to bear, often seem the longest and most noticeable.

It is one thing to be searching for water in a desert, and it is quite another to have been in the desert for so long that it becomes consciously assumed that there is no water and never was any water to be found. Like a sponge shriveling from lack of moisture, the days I am tempted to give up hoping consequently are the days I assume that sponges were never intended to absorb. Hope seems to always be the inverse of despair.

Despair tells me the deficiency I feel is an existential joke— that I was created with this inconsolable longing simply because the universe is a cruel accident and unable to provide for it, and that if I can not find satiety in this life then I never will. But hope tells me the deficiency will eventually be met with fullness in eternity and in some time this fragmented and sad world will transform into something full and consummated. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

In those desert places I can not tell you that I enjoy the desert itself, but without those walks through the desert, the longing for a Water that finally satisfies would never have appeared without the sun beating down on me and without the sand burning the soles of my bare feet. It is in the desert that my tongue becomes dry for something I had once taken for granted. In the desert is where I am stripped of everything good that has made me settle short of an ultimate good. The desert reminds me how deep my longings really are, and how rarely I allow myself to sit in those longings. Again, quoting Augustine, “He has created us for himself.”

It is in these water-less places that I am occasionally reminded of the revelations of St. John, that one day all will be new and that we will sometime soon drink deeply of the One who has given us this thirst and has paid for it to be quenched:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.'”

Living in Mystery

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Whether it was me as a kid looking through my parents’ closet trying to find the presents they got me for Christmas, or the horror movies I watched where the protagonists decided to curiously read a book or enter a room in which inadvertently released some horrid evil into the story, or even so far back as Adam and Eve curiously taking a bite of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, we are all averse to mystery.

It is not to say that we do not enjoy the Mystery genre, of course, who does not appreciate the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Scooby-Doo? Even Stephen King would say that the mystery of not knowing is a vital factor which drives us deeper into a story. However, we want that mystery to end at some point. We must know how Holmes did it, and we must know who is behind the mask of the villain. We can not let ourselves sit in the mystery for too long. And if we must sit for too long in the mystery, we often attempt to find reductive and cheap solutions to our own unknowing and lack of control.

We do this often. Whether it is the miracles of Jesus being blotched away by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, Job’s comforters offering rationalistic answers to Job’s suffering, my nearly neurotic and anxious attempts at figuring out what my future will look like in five years, or our need to reduce every human behavior down to a machine-like system that we can comprehend, mysteries are only okay just as long as they make sense to us or do not leave us in the dark—which sadly and unfortunately robs them of being mysterious.

Surely, there is something deeply good in the search for a suitable mystery’s end. When I was reading Lord of the Rings, I was eager to know how and if Sauron would be defeated, I wanted to know if Sam and Frodo would reach Mt. Doom, and I really wanted to know why the Ring had no control over Tom Bombadil. I would take a gamble too that most of us wish we knew our friends, our parents, our children, or our spouses in an increasing amount as Eugene Peterson once wrote, “People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.” There are certainly mysteries we are called to enter into.

There is a big difference however between entering into a cave to explore it and entering into a cave arrogantly expecting to find a random, unmarked exit. I would say mysteries are similar. Of course if we know that there is a marked exit to the cave, we should explore it and possibly try to find it. And I am sure wisdom would dictate that there are some diabolical caves we dare not enter. But our mystery-aversion comes in the form of not being able to enter a proper cave that is not promised to have an alternate exit. Even if we do enter, we may make our way miles and miles in, set off dynamite to close off the remainder of the cave, and dig our way out to convince ourselves that there is nothing else left to explore of the cave. If we can not solve the mystery, we are often repelled by it.

It takes something profound to enter into the harder mysteries. Like the cries etched throughout the Psalms and even our own lives, the mysteries of God’s seeming absence amidst suffering and grief are mysteries we feel wary to enter. It often seems far less painful to avoid entering that mystery and far safer to coldly analyze it from a distance. Yet we lose something of significant substance, similar to what G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Introduction to the Book of Job, when we refuse to enter that particular cave:

“Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

This paradoxical cave that Job found himself in was one that seemed to lack both an entrance and an exit. Even though Job’s situation was resolved, he was still left without the understanding of “why” he was ever in the situation to begin with. Yet Chesterton concludes with saying that “It is the lesson of the whole work [of Job] that man is most comforted by paradoxes.”

In some of the caves of my own life, I have experienced and still experience the weariness of wandering alone in the dark and cold of those endless mazes. I have often attempted to rationalize my way out, or given up, or just blown my own way out, but I have found that in the deepest pits of those caves is where I am sometimes met with a mysterious tenderness and an abiding, divine embrace. I am averse to entering into mystery, yet it is often in those caves that I find something better than the exit I had originally sought. 

 

Desiring Permanence

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The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” I sometimes wonder if this means he has placed in our hearts a longing for permanence.

Unmarried or married, most of us will admit that we long for a place we can eventually “settle down” or “raise a family”.  If you are like me, perhaps you just want a place where you know that those closest to your heart are always close to your home.

Marriage and family are probably the most permanent things we can expect within our lives in the highly transitory culture that we live in. And being unmarried can often strike fear into many, including myself, because for most it sounds like a life lacking permanent companionship.

Of course, no relationship is permanent. Marriages fail, kids leave the house, tragedies happen. Death still ends the happiest of marriages, yet even the writer of Ecclesiastes knows that even though death comes to all that you should still “enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you because that is your portion in life…” Despite life being a vapor, the Preacher still knows that in our lives we find comfort in our toil through companionship. Even earlier in the book he mentions that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The Preacher recognizes our need for loyal friends (not just spouses) in the hardness of this life.

Ever since Adam was alone in the garden, we as humans have desired companions. We have desired friends to go about life with us and to help cultivate the Earth through our work. However, because of the Fall we  no longer possess a permanent residence. We like Adam and Eve are without a permanent home in this life. Yet even in being banished from Eden, Adam and Eve were sent out together. Marriage is a taste of the home we once had without actually being there. However, again, all marriages end. Even Jesus Himself said that in the resurrection, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Those unmarried taste a permanence of something to come.

As earthly marriage is, in some ways, reminiscent of Eden, being unmarried is, in some ways, a hope for the new heavens and new Earth. Both of course hope and reminisce of that which once was and that which will be. This is not to say one is better or worse than the other, but both offer complex challenges. And for those unmarried, it means the longing for a permanent home may feel more keen and more exasperated because it is not as tangible. This I find to be both a blessing and a curse. Like the Apostle Paul said, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that…For the present form of this world is passing away.” The longing for the permanence we tangibly lack hurts, yet it makes us more eager for “the things of the Lord” or more desirous of that which will not pass away, as Paul would have it. Although marriages may no longer exist, besides between the marriage of Christ and His Bride, I can not imagine that the friendships we have in Christ will ever be lost. Whereas those married may have a sample of that Marriage to come, those unmarried also get a taste of something permanent to come—vast, rich friendships when we “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. 

As we experience intimate years with friends and then hear news that they must move on, we are reminded that this life only offers glimpses of permanence. This life is damn hard, and we need those companions, whether they be our spouses, our Hermoines, our Rons,  our Eddies, our Faithfuls, our Hopefuls, or our Sams, to remind us that the fleetingness of this life is not all that is. As Paul said, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We need friends who, among many things, long for that permanence with us. 

There is certainly a better day coming: a day when friends do not depart, a day when tears are no longer lost on the graves of those we love, and a day everlasting in communion with the very One who has always been and will always be. The One who has called himself “the beginning and the end” has written eternity on our hearts, and like Augustine once wrote, “he has made us for himself.”

“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:4-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eternal Longings of Søren Kierkegaard

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The two century-old existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard has given me much to think (and agonize) over in regards to eternity. I have always been drawn to his more personal writings, and there is something ironically cathartic for me as I read them. Kierkegaard’s life was one lived out in almost utter isolation, with a deep longing to be understood, and with a permanent inner melancholy he described as “the most faithful mistress he has ever known.” Kierkegaard was also haunted til his death for breaking off his engagement with his fiance and living out the rest of his life in singleness committed to his philosophical and prophetic pursuits.

These painful aspects of his life seem to provide a backdrop for why Kierkegaard revisited the idea of eternity within a Christian worldview with such frequency. With his life in mind, Kierkegaard seemed to robustly resonate with the Christian view of suffering in this life. Within his notes, I found one section particularly insightful:

CHRISTIANITY WANTS TO MAKE ETERNITY EASY, BUT MAKES THIS LIFE HARD:
Christianity’s presupposition is that the concern that things go well for one in eternity is so great that, to find peace in this respect, people gladly go along with having this life made somewhat more, indeed infinitely more strenuous that when one does not involve oneself with Christianity. Having a genuine concern for one’s eternal salvation is in itself an enormous weight compared with the way of life which leaves the eternal in abeyance.”

In our culture that seems to do whatever it can to avoid any and all suffering, these words of Kierkegaard’s seem absurd. Yet Kierkegaard poses that we are either conscious of the eternal and thus suffering, or we attempt to avoid further suffering by ignoring the eternal. Kierkegaard’s own inner melancholy sheds some light on this as he even describes it as being a sort of prod which kept him mindful of eternity. Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh which kept him constantly looking to God for grace and strength, Kierkegaard’s melancholy he describes as such, “Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic if it is pulled out I shall die.” I can not say for certain what he means by this, but I assume if related to the previous passage, Kierkegaard’s melancholy was a means in which kept him conscious of the fact that he was living in the tension of living in the temporary and awaiting the eternal. To put it more succinctly, Kierkegaard’s melancholy kept him longing for a better country to come. Like the author of Hebrews says of the notable Biblical figures of faith,

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

I would imagine that Kierkegaard would have understood that “better country” as synonymous with the eternal. As Kierkegaard in that passage above mentions, having some understanding of one’s eternal salvation will put a great weight upon that individual, but it is a weight that is necessary.

Imagine the Israelites. If they were not given the hope of “The Promised Land”, they would never have been able to compare their suffering in Egypt (or for that matter the desert) to anything. It is not to say that they would not have experienced suffering if they had not been promised a better country, but they would never have been able to compare their experience to something infinitely better. Remaining hopeful of that “infinitely better” destination requires us to carry the weight of not having arrived there. That’s why Kierkegaard says living in ignorance of the eternal is a far easier thing to do. Yet remaining ignorant of the eternal does not make it go away.

The Christian faith assumes that this life, the temporal, will be the hardest life we have to endure as Christians, yet the life to come will be of infinite joy.  While for those who are not Christians, this life will be the best there is to be. Kierkegaard makes an alarming amount of sense to this. Kierkegaard says in a later note, “Christianity is suffering to the end – it is eternity’s consciousness.” It should be recognized that only the temporal has an end.

Amidst the turmoil of Kierkegaard’s life, I found it hard to believe as I read his notes and letters that he was able to endure the suffering of his life just off of some lofty ideas. That is why it was no surprise to have found that Kierkegaard’s eternal longings were rooted not just in the idea of the eternal but in the One in whom he would be joined to in eternity and who even holds us in the temporal:

“Father in heaven! Draw our hearts to you so that our longing may be where our treasure is supposed to be. Turn our minds and our thoughts to where our citizenship is – in your kingdom, so that when you finally call us away from here our leave-taking may not be a painful separation but a joyful union with you. We do not know the time and the place, perhaps a long road still lies before us, and when strength is taken away from us, when exhaustion fogs our eyes so that we peer out as into a dark night, and restless desires stir within us, wild, impatient longings, and the heart groans in fearful anticipation of what is coming, oh Lord God, fix in our hearts the conviction that also while we are living, we belong to you.”

Kierkegaard knew of God’s provision. He was captivated by the love of the only one who truly understood him to the depths. In his isolation and melancholy, he knew that one day he would experience intimacy and joy in his Beloved. His obsession over the eternal was, I believe, only because he knew how he would be spending eternity. His eternal longings were for an eternity with his Jesus.

“In a little while,
I shall have won,
The entire battle
Will at once be done.
Then I may rest
In halls of roses
And unceasingly,
And unceasingly
Speak with my Jesus.”

– A hymn requested by Kierkegaard to be inscribed on his tombstone

Intended for Love – Part 2: The Consequences of Materialistic Sex & Gnostic Friendships

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This post is part of an ongoing series. If you have not read Part 1, I would highly encourage you to do so before continuing. 


In the previous post of this series, I argued that we have mistaken ourselves to be creatures simply looking for sex rather than creatures who are fundamentally driven by love and in result have been left lonely and disconnected. In that post, I sought to define those two contrasting frameworks in detail while in this post I have sought to present some of the more specific consequences of operating out of that sex-seeking framework. To clarify these consequences, I have broken this post into two parts: “Consequences in Culture” and “Consequences in the Church”. The final third of this series will seek to explore some of the possibilities of moving forward within a love-driven framework.

1) Consequences in Culture

One of the most day-to-day consequences that I have seen played out in our culture while operating out of this sex-seeking framework is the sexualization and decline of friendship. As a man in our culture, for instance, I have found it increasingly difficult to pursue rich and intimate friendships with people of either the same or opposite sex without eyebrows being raised. If I put an arm around another guy, will people assume that we are sleeping in the same bed? If I give a big hug to a female friend of mine will people assume we are romantic lovers?  As a male, the solution it often seems to maintaining reasonable friendships is to remain at a physical and emotional distance with anyone who is not considered my romantic interest. Closeness would seem to be reserved for only those I want to be sexually intimate.

If we are creatures that are primarily just seeking sex and in result use relationships for that end, this consequence should come as no surprise. When we are seen as creatures fundamentally in need of sex, nearly any relationship could devolve into a sexual one. Why would they not if we are truly wired to use friendships as a means to an end? With this in mind, friendships are and have been on the decline in several ways.

If sex is the primary thing we need from people, those friends of ours that we are not sexually attracted to will always become secondary to those friends of ours that we are attracted to. Or for those married, when attractions waver for our spouses so will doubts arise of the one in whom we are committed. Only those that we are or continue to be romantically or sexually attracted to can really offer us what we most desperately need in this life (so we think). Not only will marriages suffer, but as singles we will often feel at arm’s length with friends because we do not want to or appear to sexualize a seemingly non-sexual relationship. And these fickle relationships will typically deteriorate when we are offered a relationship that will give us what we think will finally fulfill us. If you have ever been in your early to mid-twenties as a single person watching your friends get married, you might know this sort of experience.

To clarify, when I say “friendships” I mean both friendships existing outside and inside of marriage. Certainly friendship between spouses must exist in a healthy marriage, and it is evident that the sexualization of friendship has had a significant impact on friendships within marriage as well. As a celibate person, I have obviously never experienced what it is like to be married, but as far as I know when a marriage is built upon how good the sex is within it, it will eventually crumple. When sexual gratification becomes the glue of marriage, marriages will fail. Seeing ourselves as ultimately sex-seeking creatures, instead of love-driven creatures, has devalued marriages as well as the friendships within them. This I assume is because as soon as the other is unable to fulfill us sexually we will assume we are being denied “the good life” and/or our proper “soul-mate”. We see sexual satisfaction as a sort of evidence or indicator of true love rather than sex as a gift within committed and covenantal love, and as a result, we have brought an incredible strain on marriage.

If we continue to believe that love is contingent on sex rather than sex being contingent on love, marriages will begin to fail as soon as you board the flight back from your honeymoon. Of course sex is good and healthy for flourishing marriages, but like all good things that become ultimately necessary things, they cripple us. This seems to be a significant reason why this generation has such anxiety about marriage and why “Tinder” and other outlets for easy hook-ups have become more and more common. Why get married when you can find uncommitted erotic pleasure outside of marriage? Why not live with your significant other before you get married so you will know for sure if the sex will be good or not? Marriage within this framework becomes constrictive and unsustainable, and still, it is not the singular victim either… chaste singleness also becomes an absurdity.

As a person in campus ministry practicing chastity, it is interesting to see the response I get when I mention to people on a progressive campus that I am both committed to vocational singleness and yet still believe sex is reserved for the context of marriage. Responses like these are not unexpected: “Aren’t you hurting yourself by doing that? That seems really repressive.” If this sex-seeking framework were true, this response would absolutely be right. If we need sex to live, chastity could very well be considered a form a self-harm. However, if we actually need love to live rather than sex, sex should be treated as supplementary rather than necessary. I would even go so far to say that because we treat sex as something necessary to live, we will inevitably use others for the sake of sex.

It is not hard to spot how destructively sex-saturated our culture has become with the rampancy of pornography, sex-trafficking, and casual sex. If sexual freedom has become one of the gods of our time, using others (even consensually) for our own sexual gain would seem to be the worship of that god. Our culture of consumeristic materialism has made our own pleasure and happiness the ultimate good. Like a post-apocalyptic story in which people resort to cannibalism out of a need for food, it seems we will treat sex the same way if we can not find it by normal means. If we continue to operate as simply sex-seeking creatures we will do whatever it takes to continue to hopelessly seek after that sensual end even at the expense of others or ourselves. The astronomical rise of pornographic films and pornography usage should be clear evidence of this. Not only as we pursue sexual freedom and fulfillment do we slowly diminish the value of sex but this materialistic view of sex also leaves sex devoid of its spiritual purpose.

There are spiritual consequences of reckless, consumeristic sex that are easy to become immune to if we continue under the assumption that it will eventually meet our deepest longing. As sex loses its material purpose so too does it become easier to lose sight of its transcendental purpose. To put it another way: if our sexuality and spirituality are fundamentally linked (as I briefly argued in Part 1) then there is a correlation between the mishandling of sex and the increased harm of our own souls. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce says it far better than I ever could, “There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” A dramatic consequence of stopping at sexual liberation for what we think will give us ultimate joy is missing out on what we were intended for. And I believe we as a culture have been duped into worshiping brass as gold… and sexual freedom as God.

2) Consequences in the Church

While our culture has found it tempting to undervalue and overuse sex, I believe the church, out of the sex-seeking framework, has been tempted to overvalue and idolize sex in its proper context: marriage. However, in response to our culture’s materialistic views of sex we have begun to swing towards an almost Gnostic view of all other non-marital relationships. As a by-product of the sex-seeking framework, we have inadvertently assumed that marriage is the only place in which it is appropriate for two bodies to be remotely close to each other both literally and in the sense of consistent physical community.

As culture has made sexual liberation the cardinal virtue, it seems the church has similarly responded by making sex within marriage the cardinal virtue. While sex within marriage is certainly a beautiful thing, an over-emphasis of it has seemed to under-emphasize that we as humans need so much more than just sex to flourish relationally. If we continue to operate under the assumption that we are creatures who need sex to stay sane, we will continue to push for all people to get married, and in the process will undervalue intimate friendship outside of marriage because it seems too risky a thing to pursue.

This is where the consequences in culture and church overlap the most. Whereas culture condones or even applauds friendships that become sexualized, the church on the opposite end seems terrified of them. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons there is such a push to get married and not to remain single or celibate within the church. It is as if we believe the quick fix to sexual licentiousness is getting married while being single is asking for some grand, sexual failure to occur. And as a single person in the church I feel this. It is not uncommon that I find myself increasingly pushed to date this or that woman in the church so I can finally become a mature individual. It is also not uncommon that I find myself increasingly hesitant to get too close to another single person for the fear that people will assume we are either romantically interested or sexually intimate. This sort of fear breeds isolation and kills community.

Do not get me wrong, the church still seems to value friendship and community. However, it often feels as though it is a Gnostic form of friendship that we are seeking… or in simpler terms, a view of friendship that excludes bodily contact or physical presence. This gnostic view of friendship seems to be a by-product of the sex-seeking framework in which has significant consequences within the church. I understand that living in a hyper-sexualized culture means that healthy physical affection can quickly and easily be overstepped, but in our attempts to remedy the situation, we have also been too fearful to take any steps at all. In a similar way to our social-media crazed culture, our church communities have often neglected to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship that includes consistent physical presence or sensory connection (outside of the friendly handshake or once a month meeting over coffee). Tragically, we have been left clueless on how to provide that sort of atmosphere and continue to just push people to marriage. Not only does this leave single people without a script for vocational, chaste singleness that includes healthy amounts of intimacy, but it also places an ungodly amount of pressure on these marriages.

This lack of a script for singleness and this huge weight upon the script of marriage has serious ramifications for those in our churches, whether married or single. For those married, this over-emphasis can often leave many families feeling isolated and left to survive on their own strength. If marriage is supposed to be the exclusive route to human flourishing, what happens then if aspects of those marriages feel empty? If marriage is supposed to be the solution for physical and emotional loneliness, how then do we give support and a voice to those struggling in marriages? Single people need close friendships, and families likewise need those friendships. Marriages should never exist in a vacuum, nor should singles exist to themselves.

Whether it is the woman who has yet to have a man pursue her or a man who is celibate because of his sexual orientation, there are people in our churches who may never get married. That is a reality. And as someone in this category, I have found this lack of a script for singleness troubling. Not only does it unintentionally feel like there is no room for me (and others like me) in the church, but I often feel as though I become either the object of people’s pity or suspicion. Being single in the church often feels like being Pluto among the planets in our solar system… (Pluto is not a planet). And if I do not belong among the planets, do I belong among the asteroids or in the solar system next to us? This lack of a script encourages many of us to move on rather than to utilize the benefits of celibacy and singleness for the greater church community- both among families and other single people. On missing out on this script of singleness, I believe we also miss out on a fundamental characteristic of God.

I have often wondered why God created Adam initially by himself without Eve. Certainly, it was incomplete without Eve, but I still am struck by the fact that God created in the order that he did. It is not as if he just created Adam and Eve at the same time, but he created Adam, then put him to work in the garden, and then declared that it was not good for man to be alone. I have a hunch that in God doing this He wanted to show us something of his nature. Not only do we reflect God in marriage but we also reflect him in singleness. And I think Johnathan Grant nails it in his book Divine Sex. He says, “Whereas marriage reflects the intimate bond within the Godhead, singleness expresses God’s ever-expanding love for his Creation…Christian singleness must be affirmed as a positive vision of life because it engages our sexuality rather than ascetically rejecting it.” While most of the sexual energy in marriage goes primarily towards the cultivation of the marriage (and subsequently on the lives of those around it), singles have the benefit of using that sexual energy more widely in the cultivation of the Earth and in the lives of those around them. Without this affirmative view of singleness, I believe we have deprived our communities of a reflection and embodiment of God’s character in the lives of single people within the church.

Not only do we lack a compelling script for single people in the church and increase the burden on marriage with a singular script, but we have also bought into a reductive view of human sexuality in presupposing the sex-seeking framework. If sexuality is really just about the pursuit of sex, then we are essentially reducing ourselves into animals. And one of the greatest arguments against this anthropology is in the person of Jesus who was both fully God and fully man – which includes a sexual nature. Even with this sexual nature, Jesus remained chaste while simultaneously being perfectly sexual. This seems ridiculous to even write out, but Jesus did not move towards others so that He could sexually gratify Himself. Rather, out of his sexuality, He moved towards people in love. In Genesis, we learn that God created sexuality before the Fall, and that the Fall has seriously disordered our originally good sexualities. Yet, Jesus the Incarnate Son of God used his sexuality as it was intended – to move towards others in love and to cultivate life. His sexuality expressed in singleness was used in his “ever-expanding love for His creation” and, yes, his sexuality expressed in marriage was, is, and will be used in the love, pursuit, and consummation of His Bride in the long-awaited marriage of the Lamb. In reducing our humanity not only do we reduce the image of God in which He has specifically placed in mankind but we also lose sight of the Love our love-driven natures were intended for.


These consequences have certainly forced us into paying a heavy toll on ourselves, our relationships, and in our communities. However, these consequences should help lead us to believe that perhaps our assumptions have been drastically off. Rather than just trying to survive as creatures in dire need of sexual gratification, instead, we can begin assuming and seeing the fruit of living out of the reality that we are in reality, love-driven creatures.

I hate to leave posts hanging like this. It absolutely bothers me when people make mention of loads of issues but leave it as if there is nothing to be done but be miserable and despair, and it seems as if I am doing that very thing here. I urge you though to please wait for the final part of this series in which I hope to begin a conversation on what it may look like as we begin to address these issues and grow in intimacy as love-driven creatures.


*Stay tuned for “Intended for Love – Part 3: The Fruit of Love-Driven Creatures”*

Intended for Love – Part 1: Humans as Love-Driven Rather Than Sex-Seeking Creatures

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There is an ironic issue of disconnectedness in our progressively sexual culture. Why would it be that as we increase in what is most intimate that we would simultaneously increase in isolation?

I believe one essential reason is because we have confused ourselves to be primarily sex-seeking creatures rather than primarily love-driven creatures and as a result have deprived ourselves of something necessary for relational flourishing. In this post, I hope to articulate what I mean by that, so that in the posts following I may be able to lay out some of the repercussions of operating off this sex-seeking framework.

Okay, so first a bit of clarification, when I say that we are love-driven creatures, I do not mean that we are necessarily kind or benevolent creatures. It is true that often in our misguided attempts to find and receive love, we can actually be quite unloving. Without a doubt, we can still very well be love-driven and yet terribly selfish. For example, there is a stark distinction between appropriately attempting to fill our desires for love with intimate conversations, self-giving sex with our spouses, and sacrificial acts of service to our friends versus inappropriately attempting to fill them with desperate, manipulative words, illicit sex, and suffocating codependent acts. But it remains, we are attempting to fill these desires with something that we hope will make us feel that we are loved and/or are capable of loving. And yes, sex is a part of this. It can be both a beautiful gift when used in the context of marriage and comparatively a destructive force when utilized outside of its proper context.

Let me clarify just a bit further as I do not mean to argue that we are exclusively love-driven creatures. As I was talking to a wise friend of mine about this idea of being a love-driven creature, he mentioned that he believed that we are actually and ultimately worship-driven creatures as Timothy Keller would say. Essentially, Keller argues that we are all worshiping something whether that be money, sex, relationships, or something else, and worship of anything but God is idolatry— making a good thing an ultimate thing. Keller says in his book Counterfeit Gods, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'” I agree with my friend, but I do not believe that it runs contrary to being a love-driven creature. If anything, it would seem to me that we are love-driven because we are worship-driven that we seek that which will make us feel loved or lovely and thus satisfied by something… We love that which we worship. And yes, we can still be idolatrous in our affections. For the sake of this post, I will be operating under the assumption that to be love-driven is a byproduct of being a worship-driven and desiring creature, so bear with me.

To partially address this issue of isolation, I believe we must begin to deconstruct the idea that we are fundamentally sex-seeking creatures – at least not as Freud would have it. I would agree with Freud that our relationships are operating out of our sexualities, but our views of how sexuality manifests itself are quite different. First, in contrast to Freud, our sexual desires are not simply consuming desires for sensory pleasure. Also, while properly functioning, we do not seek relationships because we simply want sex. And last, we do not have a sexual appetite that if left unsatisfied will cause us psychological maladies.

Consider the modern comedy series “New Girl” whose premise is derived on the suspicion and awkwardness of a house full of guys living with a female roommate. It seems a comical idea considering our culture’s obsession with sexualizing nearly all forms of relationships. How could a woman and three men live together without there being at least some form of promiscuous behavior? The male protagonists in the show seem to divide up relationships into two categories: friends and sexual partners. Friendships (I use this word lightly) being reserved for the same sex and sexual partners reserved for the opposite sex. This show is fueled by a sex-seeking anthropological framework. For example, it is not infrequent that the male roommates encourage other male roommates to “get laid” after they act unusually [feminine] after a prolonged amount of time since their last sexual encounter. Most episodes seem to imply that a life without sex is 1) unfulfilling 2) unhealthy and 3) wrong. The show essentially revolves around a social-sexual order— an order that reflects our culture. It assumes that for a relationship to exist between two people of the opposite sex the relationship must ultimately end in sex while to believe otherwise is nearly comical enough to produce an entire comedy series. This is a flawed and crippling view of human sexuality.

So if we are not as Freud interpreted then what are we in regards to sex?

I believe sexuality is far deeper than just a longing for sex although it certainly does not exclude it. Jonathan Grant’s words from his book Divine Sex resonate with what I believe to be a better step into what it means for us to be sexual creatures: “to reduce sexuality to sex is to miss the deeper essence. The greater part of sexuality is affective or social, including our fundamental need for relational intimacy across a broad range of nurturing friendships.” We are far more driven by love and connection than the act of sex itself. To put it in a different way: we are not relational creatures because we desire sexual union… we desire sexual union because we are relational creatures. That ordering is important. It is true that we are sex-driven creatures insofar as it is true that being a sexual creature does not mean we just want sex from people but actually want people. Again, this does not mean that we do not desire sex. Clearly a majority of us do, but I believe we appropriately desire sex precisely because we desire the type of intimate love that it suggests – both on the giving and receiving end of it. Unfortunately, I must emphasize the word “appropriately” because we do not live as originally intended.

I do not want to sound insensitive or naive as I recognize some of the tragedies of sexual abuse in this sin-tainted world of ours. It would seem that all I have said is sentimental trash in light of the harsh fact that people are often malevolently and sometimes casually used by others for sexual gain. These are a result of mankind’s desires being horribly mangled by sin and not at all how we were intended to be. The last thing I want to do is teeter on a sentimental view of our reality. If sexuality is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, it is also the area where Satan and sin can bring about the most vile of distortions. As Adam once walked in glorious intimacy with God and rightfully desired intimacy with a creature like himself before the Fall, we now walk in the disorientation of those desires seeking that which can not fulfill us if not for the Spirit’s work upon us and in us. Grant, again from his book, articulates this superbly by drawing off of Bernard of Clairvaux, “the divine ‘image’ refers to our being created as desiring creatures (our essential nature), while our divine ‘likeness’ (our virtuous character) is something we lost when these desires became disordered through sin.” The Fall does not eliminate the fact that we have the image of God in us, however, it does mean that we are inherently sinful and our desires must be reordered and redeemed. But as G.K. Chesterton once said, “I should always believe the good in the world was its primary plan.” Our desires for love remain, though our quest for fulfillment of those desires are sometimes rampant and despicable.

We may seek sex improperly to fulfill us, which may lead us down some scary roads, but as St. Augustine once famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” As I mentioned previously, it is not that we are asexual creatures, but that we are sexual creatures because we long for our Creator’s love and subsequently the love of those created in His image. Our greatest longing is for a Love that knows us in our nakedness and still desires to be one with us. And if sex and marriage are both representative of Christ’s union with His Church and the communal nature of the Trinity, the link between our sexuality and spirituality should come as no surprise, and Freud’s view of sex would seem dim if not completely antithetical in comparison.

We are restless creatures in this Fallen world of ours, and we seek that which we believe will allow us to be loved. And if it is truly the love and communion of our Creator that we (sometimes blindingly) seek, it would seem evident that our apparent unrest in a hypersexual world would indicate that we are creatures who have sought sex for fulfillment and have been left alone and restless for the love of something far greater.