by Nicola Vollkommer
As a teenager in a girls’ boarding school, in every free moment I played the hits of the famous Swedish pop group ABBA. In the few precious hours on the weekend in which we were permitted to listen to music, we cranked up the lively rhythms of “Dancing Queen” to maximum volume and danced like crazy until an annoyed house mother stuck her head through the door and yelled, “Turn that dreadful music down!” When the dream pair of singers announced their separation and the ABBA idyll was suddenly over I was traumatized. To this very day I get a lump in my throat when I watch the video clip of ABBA’s last big hit, “The winner takes it all.” The tear-filled blue eyes of the singer, Agnetha Falstkog, look sadly into the camera while she sings the words that must linger excruciatingly in every broken heart:
But tell me does she kiss
like I used to kiss you?
Does it feel the same
When she calls your name?
Authentic. Heartbreaking. The video clip was viewed millions of times. The singer records in real-time the end of her own love. The anticipation that her supposedly exclusive place in the heart of a man, on whose love she had built her life, now occupied by another. The sobbing in the night as she thinks about him sharing bed, soul, and tenderness with another while she must start from the beginning again in her search for happiness. So many painful memories, the feeling of being short-changed: “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there.”
A bleeding heart – exactly like a bleeding wound in the body – sounds an alarm that something in the operating system is defective. The Bible makes clear where the fault lies. According to God’s plan the two words “sex” and “license” have nothing to do with each other. The biblical term “one flesh” means exactly that: two individuals become one. Two souls and two bodies fused into one another. One heart shared by two bodies. Devastated, when these – whether following a “marriage without a marriage certificate” or following the ending of a “marriage with a marriage certificate” – are torn apart, even if the reasons appear at first glance understandable. Many get over it, find a new love, appear to be able to handle it, at least on the outside. Some not. Agnetha, my teenage idol with the voice of an angel, spent the best years of her life in seclusion on an island in the middle of a lake in Sweden.
The exclusivity of a sexual relationship is God’s powerful image for his faithfulness to humans, whom he has made in his own image. The unfaithfulness of these human beings hurts him infinitely and takes up many chapters in the Word of God. No wonder that God feels a special compassion for those who are betrayed, orphaned, and abused. No wonder that some of his most ardent followers were those “with a past” (Rahab, Hagar, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery), that his heart beats for the “widows and orphans” (among many others: James 1:27; Isaiah 1:17; Exodus 22:21-24; 1 Timothy 5:5). In our climate of moral licence hardly anyone, whether man or woman, comes to faith without a package of sexual wounds in tow. Divorces, marriages entered into lightly and soon dissolved, marriage-like relationships that end in strife and conflict, children who grow up with only one parent or who are shuffled from one parent to another. The normal situation today.
Forgiveness and Restoration
For this reason, any reflection on the theme of biblical sexuality must begin with the promise of God that with him there can be healing and a new beginning for every person who regrets their transgressions, even in this area, and seeks God’s forgiveness and restoration. God gives in addition grace and strength to bear with courage the consequences of sexual relationships thoughtlessly entered into and to learn from them.
Part of this healing is the resolve to do things differently in the future. It’s obvious that every life brings with it disappointments and setbacks, above all in interpersonal relationships. There is no watertight protection against mental scars and bruises. But if anyone expects me to believe, on the basis of this fact, that biblical protective measures have been superseded, I only need to think of my friends who would give everything to be able to begin over again and to experience sex according to God’s rule book. Not as the satisfaction of an instinct but as the joyful, life-long crowning of shared values and of the decision to share life with a partner until the end. And the decision to remain a virgin until this partner appears.
Can love be a sin then?
Even in church circles, which for years were bulwarks for the protection of biblical values, I hear again and again arguments against sexual abstinence before or outside marriage. Again and again I have to swallow hard. Here a small sample of some of these arguments and some food for thought to go with them.
“Experiments with sex, common law relationships and such – I don’t believe it is exactly to be recommended, but it’s not so bad. The main thing is that eventually they find their way together. Times were different in the Bible. Patriarchy, no contraception, women not yet emancipated and the like…”
The Bible calls all forms of sex outside the lifelong marriage bond between a man and a woman (divorce, unfaithfulness) “sin.” In the Bible it is clear what this means. Sexual intercourse is the mutual emotional and physical joining of two people in their totality – which can exist and be healthy only in a stable and binding relationship. Quite apart from questions of protection/contraception, emancipation, patriarchy: Human nature, with its yearning for security, has not changed. When God says “No” it is not because he is a spoilsport, but because he is allergic to broken hearts.
“It has nothing to do with salvation – there is room for different interpretations.”
Really? Whoever reads the Bible references below (and many others) must have a vivid imagination if they want to find other interpretations. 1 Corinthians 7:2; Hebrews 13:4; Acts 15:19-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9; Genesis 2:24-25; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. See also the story of Joseph (Genesis 39), Job’s striving for purity (Job 31:1), Jesus’ tightening of the Torah’s regulations on sexuality (Matthew 5:28), Joseph and Mary’s purity before their marriage (Matthew 1:25).
“You can’t expect today’s youth to be sexually abstinent. They have to study so long. Often they can’t afford a wedding. “
Since when can students not marry? Or share a modest apartment with someone else? Throughout history people have seen sexual abstinence outside marriage as an expected virtue, even and especially in hedonistic, sex-obsessed societies. In the history of the church this has always been the expected way of life for followers of Christ no matter what their circumstances. Besides, a wedding doesn’t have to be an expensive celebration for which one has to save up for for years.
“Today we have protection, the pill and so on — no danger of pregnancy. Young people should have their fun and gain experience.”
With this argument one devalues sex as a pastime or a hobby to relieve boredom in the lives of youth, something like skiing or snooker. That is an unparalleled scandal. The trauma after the breakup of an intimate relationship has nothing to do with fun, and sometimes has wide reaching, lifelong negative consequences. Even with effective protection a pregnancy is not impossible. The consequence for many young women is the misery of an abortion, the ending of an innocent life, possible health consequences, tension in a partnership that was based solely on the desire for pleasure. As soon as sex is practiced primarily as an exchangeable product and for the satisfaction of a momentary urge all participants are headed for potential disaster.
“Sex has to be practiced – young people have to gain experience.”
The only “experience” that many gain is a broken heart, a distaste for sex, especially for women, and painful memories that will be brought into every new relationship. Besides, it is doubtful if a bride or a bridegroom would jump for joy if the future partner were to list his or her many sexual experiences. Sex is not a skill that one must master but rather the seal on a vow made publicly by a man and a woman who have already considered carefully whether they want to go through life together “until death us do part.” Lifelong faithfulness is not something that one “tries out” before-hand. It is something one pledges after long and careful testing. Feelings of infatuation flee quickly. Shared values, on which one can build a life, do not.
“You are so harsh – love can’t be wrong.”
Harsh, to warn people about danger? What is harsh is to go into a relationship without accepting any responsibility at all. That has more to do with abuse and selfishness than with freedom or love. Love is not the living out of egotistical physical urges, but with giving oneself (one’s whole person) to another, in good times as well as in bad times, with or without desire and physical urges. Agnetha Faltskog again:
“But I was a fool
Playing by the rules…”
No, she was not a fool. Her longing for faithfulness was normal. The rules according to which she played were those that God ordained.
“A wedding certificate is only a piece of paper.”
Really? Exactly like an employment contract? Or a will? Or the title to a property? A person who thinks this way had better not sign any contract!
“We’re planning to marry anyway.”
Then get married! To stumble into a relationship and later marry for social acceptability is an extremely bad foundation for a marriage. Whoever “slides” into a relationship faces the danger of “sliding” into other relationships. The time of sexual abstinence before the marriage is the most important preparation for faithfulness, even in bad times, in the marriage. One can lease a car, try it out, and then keep it if there is no expense involved, or because it is convenient. One can’t do that with a person.
“My children are cohabiting. I don’t trust myself to say anything because I’m afraid of losing the good relationship I have with them.”
Christians don’t change their principles just because people close to them don’t agree with these principles. We can love and accept our children (and their partners) unconditionally, regardless of what lifestyle they choose for themselves, while calmly holding to our different point of view on things. Nevertheless, we can lovingly voice our convictions. In the long run this is also healthier for the relationship with them. We never gain respect through false compromises.
“Everyone else is doing it too – no one today says anything against it.”
That was never an argument for Christians. We should be the first to go to bat for a teenager who at the age of 13 has not yet had “a first time” and is being showered with ridicule. Or when young people who want to experience sex only within in the context of marriage and to abstain until then are mocked as exotic prudes.
Emancipation of women according to the Bible
“But women today have been emancipated. Sex with multiple partners harms them no more than it harms men.”
Way off. One young woman complained recently: “I have been waiting for an eternity for a marriage proposal from my boyfriend. I want so much to have a home and start a family.” Women speak this way much more often than men. “Why do you give yourself away so cheaply?” Such things have nothing to do with emancipation, but with the highest order of abuse of women. A woman who respects herself allows no man into her bed or into her body before he has put a ring on her finger and publicly promised to go through life with her, to care for her and her children, and to give his life for her. That is emancipation of women according to the Bible.
“There is no true romance without true commitment. Our culture is virtually bloated with premarital heartbreak. Couples in love live like married couples. The ultimate in risk with the least safety. I have two recommendations for couples interested in each other. Dear Woman, give him nothing until he is ready to give you everything. That means a ring and a public commitment in which he assumes responsibility for you. Dear Man, if she should not become your wife, then perhaps she will be the wife of another. Treat her as you would like other men to treat your future wife. A bride is a precious treasure. She costs an intensity of love and faithfulness that is not to be found in a relationship in which fear of a firm bond reigns.”
(Dale Partridge, American blogger, Facebook)
Is marriage necessary?
“The patchwork family is also a valid model for living together in keeping with the times.”
The statistics tell another story. Now as always a stable, binding partnership between two biological parents is the healthiest environment in which a child can grow and prosper. That children of single parents go through life with considerable disadvantages is beyond debate, even when God’s grace for the “widows and orphans” of this world even here works wonders. Troubled youth involved in American school shootings have in most cases one thing in common: the absence of the father.
“Should a couple in love not caress at all then?”
That’s the wrong question. Our call to please the Lord and to serve him brings with it a desire to remain as far from sin and temptation as we can (see Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) – not to flirt with sin – and to avoid the appearance of sin (e.g. going on holiday together when we are not married, spending the night together in the home, etc.).
“Love does not mean tolerating everything, allowing everything. Love has boundaries. If we are not careful we begin to love things that God hates. Love often means having to engage in difficult talks, to be consistent, even to withdraw from a relationship. Sometimes love means that one cannot approve of the addiction, the unhealthy lifestyle or the bad decisions of a fellow human being. Sometimes the withdrawal from a relationship is the only way to help another to move forward. We should love people, yes. But we should not allow ourselves to confuse the one-sided definition of love characterized by our culture with real love.”
Dale Partridge, Facebook –Blog)
God’s Instructions for Use
Complicated, valuable and delicate appliances are always delivered with detailed instructions for use so that they will not be damaged and will remain in good condition for a long time. The high quality and original miracle, “humans,” was delivered not only with detailed instructions for use but also with the loving accompaniment of the manufacturer. Sex was his invention, his idea. Also the context in which sex can be experienced and celebrated as a source of happiness and joy.
But also the repair shop, at which broken and lonely hearts can find comfort, restoration and a new beginning in the heart of the Creator, who wants to be the love of our life for all eternity, whether or not we have found happiness in a relationship in this life.
Nicola Vollkommer is a teacher, pastor’s wife and writer, originally from England. She studied in Cambridge University and met her husband Helmut during a study year in Tübingen University in Germany. Helmut is founder and pastor of the “Christliche Gemeinde Reutlingen”, and the couple have four grown-up children and three grandchildren. This article was originally written in German for the Swiss magazine “Ethos” (https://www.ethos.ch ). Posted with permission.