With most unmarried evangelicals in their 20s apparently having occasional or frequent sexual intercourse, some say pastors should offer contraceptives, and others say they should merely offer louder "Thou Shalt Nots." Belden Lane's Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality (Oxford University Press, 2011) suggests an alternative.
A bit of background: I've learned much from John Piper and his Desiring God ministry. Basing their approach on the work of Puritan Jonathan Edwards, Desiring God notes that "God designed humans to seek their happiness in Him.?...?Joy glorifies God." Desiring God reaches secular, post-Christian Westerners by saying, "You are not nearly hedonistic enough," and contrasting short-lived thrills with the "never-ending satisfaction in seeing and savoring Jesus Christ."
Author Lane is unconnected with Desiring God, and he goes off on political tangents at times, but he aptly quotes Calvin's comment about God: "We will never spontaneously and heartily sound forth His praises until He wins us by the sweetness of His goodness." Jonathan Edwards also preached more about God's glory mirrored in the beauty of the world—"Nature teaches us God's beauty"—than about God's anger.
Puritan Richard Baxter wrote in 1650, "What a pleasure it is to dive into the secrets of nature." Lane dives, as in this example: "Ten miles deep in the ocean's abyss are blind creatures illuminated with some of the most lustrous colors imaginable. And for what purpose? They can't even see each other. It is almost as if their glory were created for its own sake"—and, more importantly, for God's. Why else would "marvelous shades of color" be found inside abalone shells?
So much pleasure: The Blue Ridge mountains are beautiful and so are cities filled with people, all images of God. The Puritans' "language of desire" honored God who created beauty in both nature and humanity. Most men four centuries ago and now feel the joy evident in Lewis Bayly's declaration—The Practice of Piety (1611)—when he beheld "the lovely beauty of Women" and exclaimed "how fair is that God, that made these fair!"
Maybe because my wife and I celebrated on June 27 our 36th anniversary, I'm impressed that, as historian Amanda Porterfield wrote in 1980, Puritans often "loved their wives beyond measure." The love was both spiritual and physical: Unlike killjoys who saw marital relations as matters of duty, Puritans said husbands and wives should "delight each in the other [during] mutual dalliances for pleasure's sake."
Wives often loved being loved. Margaret Dunham, wife of a Glasgow University professor, wrote in 1668 of the "love-faintings?...?high delightings ... love-languishings?...?and heart-ravishings" that characterized both love of Christ and love of husband. She noted "those beautiful blushings [and] humble hidings?...?on the Bride's part, and those urgent callings and compellings?...?on the Bridegroom's part."
Since it's beyond us to know the depths of God's love but not to grasp marital love, the Bible describes the former by the latter, and so did some pastors. Francis Rous, preaching on "Mystical Marriage," noted "a chamber within us, and a bed of love in that chamber, wherein Christ meets and rests with the soul." John Cotton of First Church in Boston, describing how we should long for Christ, wrote, "It will inflame our hearts to kiss him again."
A satisfying marriage points us to the satisfactions of God. As the Desiring God website states, "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him." And what if, instead of learning satisfaction in God and the good gifts He provides, we proceed on our own path? What if we have a run of encounters commemorated by sexting photographs and asterisking phone numbers on iPads? What if we cohabit without covenant in the way we might try out a variety of gods?
"You shall not commit adultery," like all of God's commands, has an implicit promise: "You shall enjoy the sweetness of God's goodness in providing marriage." In C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, Digory arrives at an Edenic garden and finds Jadis there. She has gorged herself on one of the apples, despite a sign forbidding that. She could have relished goodness, but instead becomes the White Witch. Whenever we advise the unmarried, we need to ask: God, or Jadis?
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