This story is about a journey—my journey, but perhaps everyone’s journey. In many ways, this brief memoir is about my mid-life crisis. It is not, though, about purchasing an expensive, foreign sports car or about a dangerous attraction to a woman fifteen years my junior. (these are the first two lines of the “Introduction” in The Race Before Us)
Usually the topic for each post I do on this blog “just comes to me.” Just before I started this post, I was wondering what I was going to write. My last post was on “running,” so I was looking to do something on “faith” (although I do not have a rule that I must alternate). I have another WSGAC post (therefore, a “faith” post) ready to go, but I just did a WSGAC post – and, then, this idea “just came to me.” My Christian friends would say that the Holy Spirit laid this idea on me or “spoke” to me. My skeptic friends would say the items discussed below are just coincidences.
The other thing (in addition to using the word “sex” in its title) about this post is that it’s a bit more serious than others and for some it will sound like moralizing – that is not my intention. Rather, I’m just trying to make some observations and see if there are any conclusions that should be drawn. So, some of you may want to click away from this page now. But, if you think it interesting or provocative, please share it with others.
Now, with all that introduction out-of-the-way, let me begin.
Yesterday I received an email that should not have slipped through our spam and other filters. Before I opened it, I could see in the preview panel some of the email that said “Life is short.” That drew my attention because I say it often and I am motivated to do many things (like study apologetics for six weeks in Oxford or walk the Appalachian trail) while I still have the requisite physical and/or mental capacities. When I opened the email, it said “Life is short. Have an affair.” It invited me to join a new internet, social club where I could have an affair with married women – because sleeping around with others that are married is much safer, because they also want to keep the affair secret. It claims to have over 20 million members! (I intentionally excluded a link to this site. If you really don’t believe such a site exists, I’m sure Google can find it from its tag line. I’d be very afraid though that within days you will get unsolicited emails from pornography sites. No – that’s not what happened to me, but I’m still fearful.) Trust me, rather than promoting internet dating (like “eHarmony”), this site glamorizes infidelity.
The “good news” is that the service is actually trying to help people’s marriages. Specifically, it offers the following:
It is proven that many people who have an affair tend to be happier in their marriage. Statistics show that many men and women after having an affair are more likely to go back to their partner and be more committed to the relationship than before having an affair.
Some of my acquaintances would have kiddingly said – “what a great idea!” or “why didn’t I think of this!?” And I am very capable of laughing at that kind of humor, but this struck me as so wrong, I wouldn’t even try to make jokes about it. Rather, I was appalled, and then saddened. I thought, is this really what we’ve come to? So call me prudish or worse. Many would say its a personal choice and who am I to suggest that they shouldn’t seek the enjoyment of an illicit affair. So I guess its official – I am out of step with modern culture. (Come to think of it, “counter-cultural” is a description we hear often to describe Jesus – so maybe this is a small step for me in the race that is set before us. As it is often said – we may be in the world, but we need not be of the world.)
Now, if you’ve made it this far through this post, you should be wondering (in addition to “has Bruce lost his mind?”), what has this got to do with “faith” and how did Bruce ever decide to post on this topic? Well, here’s the “rest of the story.”
Having checked my work emails from home (and having been invited to join this new “dating” club and still wondering about what to blog about in my next post), I left for the office. I decided to listen to a Tim Keller podcast on the ride downtown. Fumbling around with my iPhone as I headed out of the neighborhood, I just accepted whatever podcast came up when I opened the (new, iOS 7.0.2) Podcast app and touched the “Redeemer” button. What I then heard was Keller’s podcast/sermon entitled “Love and Lust.”
In this brilliant message, Keller explains the difference between what he calls “covenant” love and “consumer” love and how the Bible expects sex to be a covenant good. If a consumer good, sex is used only to satisfy selfish needs and desires. [Jesus said: ” . . . whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”] But, as Keller explains, “in a covenant, where you have made a promise, sex becomes like a sacrament (an external, visible sign of an invisible reality) – it is a vehicle of engaging the whole person in an act of self giving and self-commitment.” Sex then is sign or an example of what marriage partners have done with their whole lives – they have made themselves open and vulnerable (“naked”) to each other as part of a trusting and self-sacrificing relationship. Thus, Keller shows us that “sex outside of marriage lacks integrity because you’re asking someone to do with their body what they are doing with their whole life.”
Keller also quotes C.S. Lewis on this topic, who expresses these same thoughts about integrity and fidelity in marriage:
The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union the sexual from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.
– C.S. Lewis
I certainly can’t do justice to Keller’s entire message in this small (but already longer than usual) space. His emphasis of the covenant nature (sacred promises) of marriage and its similarity to God’s promises to us is particularly insightful. You can though click on “Love and Lust” (podcast # 12) and listen to the entire message. One final point, somewhat in contrast to the “Love is short. Have an affair” email (and certainly contrary to modern, public culture), Keller mentions recent studies and publications (including Premarital Sex in America), which show that living together before marriage is more likely to lead to failed marriages. (In Keller’s words, living together before marriage presents sex as a consumer good, and not part of a relationship based upon “covenant love.”)
By the time I got to work, I knew what my post (this post) was supposed to be about. And, if I had any question, my lunch appointment left no doubt. The midday meal was with someone I had never met, but a mutual friend encouraged us to get together. In telling me about a ministry he founded, my lunch companion (we will call him “Rocky”) explained that his own extra-marital affair ruined his marriage and much of his home life, but also how a renewed faith led him to counsel others damaged by infidelity and to start a ministry (3 Wide Ministries) for men about family, values, and faith. Quite an encouraging story – and what a coincidence considering my plans for writing this post.
A closing thought (and you may need to focus on this sentence for an extra moment): I am increasingly skeptical of coincidences.