While writing the upcoming book titled: Singles in the American Church, I needed to address some of the faulty enculturation related to sex and marriage. The title of this post is from the analogy I make in one of the chapters about Christian culture’s view on sex and marriage. In a way, both sex and marriage are hailed as sorts of Holy Grails within Christianity. In today’s post, we will look at what I am talking about and the negative consequences associated with it.
It is beneficial to talk about the source of the term “Holy Grail.” It is from the ancient legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. According to the legend, King Arthur and his knights were tasked with finding the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was the cup Jesus used during the Last Supper. It was also supposedly used to catch some of Jesus’ blood at his execution. Joseph of Aramathea took it with him when he migrated to Britain. Since then, the term “Holy Grail” has often come to represent a prize or treasure we are rewarded with for overcoming intense trials and difficulties, like a reward for our efforts.
Christians View Marriage as a Holy Grail
When we look at the modern Christian view/attitude toward marriage, we see a similar pattern. There is an unspoken assumption that singles are incomplete until they get married. Even humorous terms like “my better half” supposes there are two halves that make one whole. However, this is far from the truth. Spouses don’t complete us. Only Jesus Christ can complete us. Looking to marriage and a spouse to complete us is the starting point for a disfunctional marriage.
It has often been said that we need marriage to “mature us”, “complete us”, and to “make us responsible.” Marriage is not the only way for us to mature, or become responsible. And in terms of marriage being a like the Holy Grail, we have started to view it as a prize or treasure we are rewarded with for overcoming the intense trials and difficulties of singleness. American Christian culture tends to view singleness as a proving ground before we enter marriage. If we are faithful enough, the we will be rewarded with marriage.
There are numerous problems with that tendency. I will address two. 1. It is not a Biblical concept. 2. It leads to unnecessary issues of self-doubt and identity issues.
In terms of it not being a Biblical concept, I have never seen a passage in scripture that portrays marriage as a reward, a promise, or a right. In terms of the New Covenant, one could argue that singleness is a greater reward for those who can tame their passions. Paul says marriage is for those who can’t to keep them from sinning. Marriage is not the prize for making it through the obstacle course of singleness.
In terms of the Holy Grail of marriage creating unnecessary issues, it is pervasive. This is an errant doctrine that has become endemic to Christian culture. When we are indoctrinated with the idea that our faithfulness to God will result in an amazing marriage, we will become disillusioned if/when it doesn’t happen, or our marriage turns sour. If we get into our late 20s and 30s without getting married, we will start to feel the social pressures. We will also begin to question whether we have been faithful enough. We’ve served the Lord x amount of years, not had sex, and we are still in a state of singleness. We can find ourselves going through an identity crisis, questioning our worth to God, because we were never rewarded with marriage. We are left with the conclusion that we didn’t pass the test.
Yet, scripture teaches the opposite way of thinking. For a scriptural way of living, we should be embracing and celebrating who we are as singles, whether or not marriage ever happens. We are encouraged to make the most of every day “redeeming the time for the days are evil.” Marriage according to Paul is neither a benchmark for maturity nor ministry. “You married? You single? Great! Get on with the kingdom” seems to be his take on it. What if we ceased to view marriage as a prize for living a sacrificial life of singleness and started to view singleness as an awesome state for which getting married would be a reluctant sacrifice of singleness?
Christian View of Marital Sex as a Holy Grail
Another thing Christian singles tend to believe is that marital sex is off the chain. In Colon and Field’s book Singled Out, they reported on a group of Christian singles in New York who have taken vows of celibacy until marriage. According to their findings, this group is viewing the celibacy aspect as a kind of foreplay leading up to marital sex. They believe that marital sex will be an orgasmic experience that explodes of any known chart. Many Christians want to get married because they want to have sex.
This tendency is further reinforced as we indoctrinate our youth groups with faulty thinking. In an effort for youth ministers to help guide teenagers through their burgeoning hormones, they regularly adopt a “wait until” method of talking about sex. When we address sex in terms of an expected eventuality, we plant the seeds of false expectations. When a youth leader says that marital sex is better than fornication, it glosses over an important dynamic. Teenagers tend to be concrete thinkers in a time when they are trying to figure out newly sensual awakenings. When a youth leader tells them marital sex is better than unmarried sex, their natural conclusion is there is a greater sensual payoff when having marital sex.
In reality, an orgasm is an orgasm, marriage license or not. There is no distinctive sensational difference between fornication and marital sex. Therefore, the “wait until” line of thinking promises a greater sexual experience that a long-term single person will continually feel alienated from. “Wait until” teachings don’t teach youth the amazing benefits of singleness and celibacy. On the contrary, it creates mental patterns in their minds that assume if they aren’t having marital sex, they are missing out on a true blessing of God, thus causing them to reject themselves as singles. This has often led to bitterness toward God, because they were never rewarded with marriage and sex. In their eyes, they have been denied their Holy Grail.
If we were to view sex and celibacy from a Biblical perspective, I believe our approach to both would be astounding. Why? Because the focus would be on a far more impacting experience. Christian mystics have often believed the human orgasm is a reflection of our union with Christ. This is because it is the highest physical experience two people can have with one another. On an experiential level, a celibate single Christian has the opportunity to deeply enhance their relationship with Christ in ways that their married counterpart cannot–due to the time demands of family. Paul says in this life, “We look as in a mirror, dimly.” It may sound a bit Platonic, but our human experiences are in some ways a dim reflection of the fullness of a heavenly life. A celibate single can experience a true union with Christ for which the orgasm is a dim reflection–without ever having an orgasm. Christ is beyond sex, and so is our relationship with him.
In the end, neither marriage nor marital sex are Holy Grails for which we strive to attain by passing the trials of singleness. The true prize worthy of our diligence, sacrifice, and faithfulness is Christ himself. We have access to Him inside and outside of marriage. In fact, marriage is not really a necessity in the New Covenant. When Jesus is our one and only focus, marriage may or may not happen in our lives. Regardless, we will walk in the fullness of all He has for us, and will rejoice in how God has made us. We are to rejoice and be celebrated whether we are single or married.
What are your thoughts about this post? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
At the TM Williams author page, it is my goal to expand your mind through the power of words.