Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!


Yesterday, I wrote a post about some implications of Advent on sex. And, of course, I stressed the goodness and beauty and transcendance of that act as God intended it.

And it was one of my least read posts in a long time (as an update, interestingly, this is to date one of my most-read posts of all time!). I’m wondering if people are tired of hearing Christians talk about sex ad nauseam.

It is my humble opinion that the American Church right now is currently obsessed with sex. Well, to be fair, it’s always been obsessed with it; but now, it seems, the obsession is with “taking it back” and yelling and screaming about how Christians are just as sex-crazed, sex-eager, and sexually exciting as the most ardent secular hedonist.

Of course, they all qualify it by saying (as I even said yesterday) that this (oh my god really amazing Christian sex that we value so much) has to be “within the confines of marriage”. And so, this sex-obsession often expresses itself in an equal obsession with marriage. Preparing people for it, encouraging people towards it, beating up guys that aren’t “pursuing” women (or at least “preparing to”), and giving women tips on how to attract a “good, godly husband.”

And yet, yesterday, when I was thinking about the Advent of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and the idea of the Incarnation, I realized something:

What is the story of Advent but the story of a virgin girl who has a virgin birth of a man who will remain a virgin his whole life?

The story of the Incarnation is, relatively speaking, one of the most “sex-less” stories in the Bible.

Sex played no part (conspicuously so) in any of the most important events in history–events that are the basis of the most intimate self-definitions of humans. And so, it seems that sex and marriage* play no essential role in the most important parts of who we are or in how we define ourselves. What ultimately defines us are things and events that had nothing to do with marriage or sex.

What I get from this is that sex and marriage are incidental, not essential to the human experience and life to the fullest. It is “extra” and, in a sense, an optional “add on” to humanity. Yes, single people long for it, and yes, it offers very deep intimacy and knowledge of another, but how many times do single people have to hear married people tell them that it comes with its own set of deep losses, pains, and struggles before they will start to simply relax? Sex and marriage are not essential to human life.

Singleness, however, is essential, not incidental. And by “essential” I mean in the philosophical sense of our very essence as humans. Singleness is how we come into the world, it’s the state in which most of our growth takes place, and it’s how we leave the world. It’s much closer to who we are as humans than marriage is.

No matter how much two married people have sex or have decades together, the other person will, to some extent, still be a mysterious Other to them. This “oneness” we truly long for is not known in this life; it’s merely a shadow. If we put the expectation of “essential-ness” on sex and marriage (which Evangelicals often do), I fear we set people up for more marital failure than joy.

Learning to be a healthy and mature single person is much closer to becoming a healthy and mature human-being in general than endlessly obsessing over becoming a wife or husband (of any degree of health or maturity). When pastors equally obsess over this on behalf of their flock, I’m starting to think it actually stunts the growth and flourishing of the humanity and lives of their people.

Yes, sex and marriage are beautiful (as I said yesterday). It is an essential picture of Christ’s love for His People, lived out among them. I fully believe we all need marriage as an integral part of our lives, even if we’re not the ones in it. We need to see good marriages that are self-sacrificial and honest. We need a diversity of people in a diversity of relationship statuses living life deeply with one another.

But we need to remember that sex is dangerous. Nearly all of Jesus’ interactions with the idea of sex during his life was in the midst of picking up the pieces of broken sexuality. I can’t think of any time that Jesus acts or speaks about sex, or even marriage, in its goodness. He talks about lusting, divorce, re-marriage, fornication, and adultery, but you have to go to other New Testament writers to see Christians extol the beauties and goodness of sexnand marriage.

Yes, I believe Jesus believed in that goodness and beauty of sex and marriage, and that there is a way to do both those things healthily and lovingly. But this is mostly theory, and I think that even the healthiest married couples experience these “ideals” only in moments or maybe even seasons, and it’s not the default mode of their existence together.

But Jesus came to address reality, not simply theory, and sex in its reality is something full of power–and it’s a power that very often hurts and destroys. It’s not some experience that “singles” should giddily be obsessed with getting. Nor is it an experience pastors should obsess over from the pulpit.

Christians need to re-gain their place and value of celibacy and chastity (here’s a book to help us start). There needs to be a healthy place in Christian communities for those to lament their own lack of that earthly shadow of intimacy, but also be supported and loved, not as second-class members of the community. There should be elders and pastors in Protestant churches that are single and celibate. (As I’ve written before, this can also help the Church’s response to homosexual brothers and sisters.)

We need to be reminded that celibacy is an expression of our sexuality, and not a repression of it. It takes activity, strength, discipline, and effort to act celibately rather than sexually (perhaps even more effort). This needs acknowledgement and celebration.

Advent shows us that when God came to accomplish all that is most essential for joy, life, community, and love, his physical body came into the world, lived, and left it with neither marriage nor sex as an integral part of it. I hope this might offer encouragement and strength to many of us in the Church to do the same.

[image credit: “Le Pardon (Forgiveness)” by Istvan Sandorfi]


20 thoughts on “Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!

  1. * And before I get the whole “well, Jesus is married to his Church”: Jesus often partook in the earthly manifestations of ultimate heavenly realities. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Supper to come, and yet he still ate it. There’s no theologically essential thing that would prevent Jesus from having a wife and loving her well as a foretaste of His love for His Heavenly Bride.


  2. I completely agree with your perspective and wish it wasn’t so rare to come across it. Celibacy and chastity have become not just countercultural within society but within most churches. It’s easy to see why singles struggle with their singleness, whether they’ve never been married or are divorced or widowed, when there are few messages out there affirming them as they are, as the people God created them to be.


  3. Pingback: Welcome to Advent, 2012. | the long way home

  4. Paul, thanks for these advent meditations.

    If the question is maturity in celibate singleness versus marriage-obsessed singleness, then, I think it’s easy to say which is the more healthy and mature way.

    But I wonder, how is singleness reflected in the Trinity? I think it would be fair to say that Christ, while celibate, experiences the same intimacy in the Triune God that is foretasted in sexual ecstasy.

    That ecstatic communion with the Triune God is the thing. I don’t think we are ever supposed to stop longing for the ecstatic wholeness that comes in communion with Christ and the rest of the Godhead. To the extent that marriages (man/woman, christ/church) reflect that communion, they are to be longed for. Right?

    Maybe we could say that our longing for something other than singleness should extend into marriage, but shouldn’t stop there, as marriage is only an incomplete, disappointing, and difficult shadow dance with the kind of ecstatic intimacy that the Trinity promises.

    And an aside: I think there are maybe not theological, in a systematic sense, problems with Jesus having a wife and kids. But wouldn’t it have been a real bitch to be the son of the Son of God?


  5. Good thoughts, Paul. Reminds me of finding Josh’s blog on celibacy shortly after I met him. I was disappointed because I thought it meant he wasn’t interested in getting married, but it also increased my respect and admiration for him. I think it’s so important for us to find our security and joy on our own in Christ before endeavoring to also pursue joy in life with a spouse. Keep up the good work 🙂


  6. Good thoughts, Paul. Reminds me of finding Josh’s blog on celibacy shortly after I met him. I was disappointed because I thought it meant he wasn’t interested in getting married, but it also increased my respect and admiration for him. I think it’s so important for us to find our security and joy on our own in Christ before endeavoring to also pursue joy in life with a spouse. Keep up the good work 🙂


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  11. I am a Catholic wife and mother who tries to live my faith everyday in every way I know how. I came here from Leigh’s blog, and I am so glad I did. This is one of the best things I have read in months. The next to last paragraph is so beautiful.


  12. In the Protestant world, I have never known a single preacher or a single deacon and I’ve never seen a single person light an advent candle. Why? Because the family is the idol of the 21st century. Paul would not know the woman/child worship, sex-obsessed church today.


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