Christians are good at a lot of things. The guy who came up with the Big Bang theory, several of the greatest composers of all time, the woman who led New Zealand to becoming the first country in the world to give woman suffrage, and the creator of Dominoes Pizza all had one thing in common – they were all Christians.
But when it comes to talking about sex, Christians suck at analogies.
I’ll never forget one particular high-school youth group that I attended, where the minister was preaching on why you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. To prove his point, he pulled out two bottles of water. One, he kept sealed. The other he opened and took a swig out of. He then passed the open bottle to another leader, and she took a swig as well. And so on and so forth, until about 5 different leaders had all drunk from this bottle of water. Then, holding up the two bottles for the crowd, he asked us “which bottle would you rather drink from?”
I’ve seen the same basic analogy repeated a dozen times. Once, it was with a wrapped gift. Each audience member was invited to unwrap and then rewrap the present, so that by the time it made it around the circle it was a shredded mess.
Another time it was with a rose. In an auditorium filled with people, this preacher got up and passed around a rose. Every person was invited smell the rose, feel its texture, and pass it on. By the time the rose made it back to the front, it was bruised and broken. And this guy’s big crescendo was to hold it up and ask “Who wants it? Who could possibly want this rose now?”
But my personal favourite, in the long, long list of Christian-sex-analogies-that-totally-suck, has to be the piece of gum. Here’s how it goes: You wait until you get hit with the inevitable question, “why can’t Christians have sex before marriage?” Then you take a piece of gum and start chewing. You spit that gum into one hand, and in your other hand you hold out a fresh piece. No doubt you see where this is going: “Which piece of gum would you rather have?”
There’s just one problem. You’re not a piece of gum.
Like I wrote in my last post, sex is an amazing way to express authentic love. When we have sex we totally give ourselves to the other person. It’s a level of intimacy that isn’t meant to be separated from the total intimacy of married life.
So, when we have sex in situations that lack this total intimacy and authentic love, we sin. Now, most people have heard that Christians believe sex outside of marriage is a “sin”, but a lot of them (the Christians included) have never been taught why, or even what a sin really is. Sin isn’t about breaking some rule that God made up because he’s a divine kill joy. To sin is to go against the way we are made – which is for lasting love.
But the thing I hate about all of the above analogies is that, without fail, they imply that if you’ve gotten sexually intimate with someone before marriage, you’re somehow worth less; that if you’ve slept with “x” number of people, there’s no going back.
And that’s completely wrong. Virginity and chastity aren’t the same thing. “Virgin” is just a technical term referring to someone who has never had sex. It’s all about the past. But chastity is defined by what a person is doing with his/her sexuality now.
It’s never too late to start over.
See, I think that deep down, too many people assume that (if there is a God), they would need to be perfect for God to love them. The logic either goes “I screwed up, I guess it’s too late for me” or “If I can just change [insert human flaw here], then, then I’ll be worthy of love.”
But really, God wants us just as we are. My favourite story in the Bible is John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of religious leaders want to kill a woman who was caught committing sexual sin. So they take her to Jesus, and they ask him whether he thinks she should be stoned to death. To the religious leaders, this girl is worthless. She’s the unwrapped present, the battered rose, the piece of gum. As far as they are concerned, the only thing this girl is useful for is to prove a point about divine justice.
So what does Jesus do? He calls out the religious leaders for treating this girl like she’s nothing. He reminds them that every single one of them has screwed up at some point. His reply to them is “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And one by one, they drop their stones and leave. When Jesus and the woman are alone, he turns to her and says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin again.”
If you want to start over, God isn’t going to be up there thinking ““Ha! You sinned! Off to Hell you go!” God is going to to be thinking the same thing that God was thinking thousands of years ago, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God doesn’t love us more when we are being good and less when we aren’t. God just loves us. Unconditionally and always.
Even if we keep making the same mistakes. Speaking from far too much personal experience, there are few things more soul-crushing than starting over and then screwing up, again and again. You can end up feeling like the biggest, most hypocritical fake that there is. But please don’t give up. As long as you’re trying to change, God keeps forgiving, as many times as it takes.
Often, the most difficult barrier to starting over is forgiving ourselves. Because past mistakes can be the source of a lot of pain, we generally do one of two things. We either play them over and over again, obsessing on all the things that we could have done differently, or we try to sweep the memories under a mental rug, where they might stop haunting us.
Thinking about your mistakes to a certain extent is important, but only because you need to understand why it happened, so that you don’t go back there. Beyond that, don’t beat yourself up about the past. The most important day to Jesus is today.
If accepting the past is the first step, then recognising that you are worthy of love and respect is the second. Think about the people you care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint you, you still love them, you still give them chances, and you still see the best in them. Extend that generosity to yourself.
Also, remember that forgiveness isn’t a feeling. When you start over, you might not necessarily feel forgiven. The reality is that the pain of past mistakes will probably take a while to heal. But remember that the past is gone. God doesn’t condemn you for it, and you shouldn’t condemn yourself for it. You might have to tell yourself that you’re forgiven 100 times the first day, and the second day, but on the third day, it will be less, and each day after that. Until one day when you’ll be able to accept that you have been forgiven completely.
So, I think we need a new analogy. While every analogy is going to have its limitations, one I really like is the $100 bill. If I had a $100 bill, I could crumple it up, I could stomp on it, I could pass it round an auditorium filled with people, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be worth any less. It’s still going to be worth $100.
If you’ve gone through your fair share of mistakes and heartbreaks, don’t ever believe that you can’t start over. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you’re worthless.