Sex and Violence

I think it’s pretty clear that God made us to 1) enjoy our own spouses’ nakedness (but no-one else’s), and 2) be non-violent. The closer we can come to these primal conditions, the better. They are not unconnected, as it first appears, since both fidelity and peace are simply aspects of love. When Jesus changes the heart these expressions of love become more nearly natural to us. Otherwise, like all standards of behavior which do not carry grace, they make us despair.

Yes, sex and violence are connected in the all-embracing law of love but talk about them tends quickly to confusion, so let’s talk about them separately.

Sex: God draws bright lines. Inside marriage there is no restraint on full visual eros, but outside the nuptial bower He gives the gift of modesty, just as full. There is no biblical visual depiction of sex from the spectator’s point of view. (Contrast this with violence: there are many descriptions of violent acts, both just and unjust.) There are one phrase descriptions: “rape”, or “Adam knew his wife”. So sex was not made to be seen, from the outside. At all. (We might add that if you’re only watching, you’re falling short of the glory of God.)

In Orthodox iconography the the profile is the beginning of absence. The icon assumes a personal I-Thou relation between the viewer and the person(s) on the board. Likewise, God made the naked human form for an I-Thou moment. The female form is for the husband to look at. So in God’s visual vocabulary there are agnostic lacunae, and here is one of them. Sex is to be un-picturable. The two lovers look at each other, but no-one else looks at THEM. Why? For the same reason that hearing God’s voice is un-describable: the love is so pure the subject-object distinction breaks down — this is ecstacy — and in the midst of the act the perception of the beloved’s form is no longer distinguishable as a separate complex.

The OT is full of the assumption that bodies will be modestly covered, and Jesus and the apostles simply continue that assumption. I can’t find any text in the gospels that suggests that Jesus would have had any different sensibility about sex than Moses.

The Song of Songs? The moral color of the document is contained in its literary voice: two lovers, talking to each other. So it is precisely NOT a depiction of sex in profile, but the record of two lovers talking to each other. We get to see them court. So the Song gives us permission to be fully erotic — visually erotic — with our lawful beloved — but has nothing whatsoever to say about watching sex from the outside. Marry her, and do what you will.

“Art”? There are obviously great masterpieces of Western art depicting the nude form. But I see no biblical category called “art” which somehow carves out a moral lacuna where God’s attitude changes. We in the church have imbibed the world’s cult of genuis, that innovation of the last few centuries; if the art genii descends upon the artist, he enters a special moral world. Christians who like to think of themselves as sophisticates, or intellectuals, or relevant seem to like to prove their credentials by looking at a naked picture with a pale face.Does this mean we become Amish? No, no reason to leave the world. But also no reason to make up justifications for crossing boundaries the New Testament does not explicitly remove.

“Prude”? Somebody made that concept up in about 1920. I don’t know what the New Testament word for that is. So we shouldn’t use it to make each other feel shameful about modesty. I take my young son to museums, and don’t cover his eyes in front of Venus. We have to live in the world. So we take the opportunity to talk about why the Venus makes him feel funny, and I try to preserve his natural tendency to blush at her — not get him over it! — because his 8 year old blush will feed into ardor for his future wife.

Violence. The bible is full of violence, as her critics never tire of telling us. Of course it is, and I’m glad; in a world full of injustice, no just god could ever write a sacred book not full of both forgiveness and violence. Of course if a depiction of violence makes you more likely to act violently that is not good for you, because God has reserved violence to Himself (and the State, but that’s another story.)

But the restraint on violence is not a taboo on enjoying vengeance; biblically, it is not only appropriate to enjoy just revenge, but also to long for it. To see injustice and not want to see the perpetrator smacked around is inhuman, and a frigidity not required of us at all. We actually enjoy justice because we are like God. But we are, as Christians, so enamored of God’s ability to do perfect justice that we can wait till Judgement Day.   “How long, O Lord, till we are avenged?”

My entire point here was to draw lines where God draws them.  Sex is reserved for husband and wife and no other; violence is reserved for God, and not us. 

But, like in all other facets of God’s will for us, we should talk about these things for about 5 minutes before we remind ourselves that we need Jesus to change our hearts.  Or we despair of it all.

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