(Okay, here's another adult-level blog entry. Not for kids...)
In our culture, it's the Big But.
"I like Jesus, BUT..." and the "but" is usually followed, one way or the other, with an objection about the Bible and... sex. People think something's deeply messed-up with a belief system that says two consenting, unmarried adults should refrain from sex. Something's amiss. Something's backward. Maybe you think that, too. If so, let me suggest something you may not like:
You may need to expand your horizons a little bit.
No, seriously. The moralistic Bible-thumpers may be more broad-minded than you are on this one. Perhaps you're offended by the Bible's philosophy on sex not because you're so thoughtful on the issue, but because you haven't thought that much about it. (Of course, you could rule this argument out-of-bounds from the start, but that might just confirm it. I do expect some people have already stopped reading, by the way.)
Every culture has its objections to the Bible. The Bible is an equal-opportunity offender. Thing is, cultures are different, and so we find different things to be deeply offended by. For us, here, and now, it's about sex, or sexual autonomy, to put it more simply. We just hate the idea that a loving God would put sexual limits on us. The Bible says sex outside of marriage -- all sex -- is a sin. The Bible says homosexual behavior is sinful. The Bible says lust, itself, is sinful. The Bible has offended our sensibilities.
The Bible even embarrasses some Christians, who are desperate to make what it says conform to our culture, here and now.
Author Tim Keller makes a great argument: In the middle-east, they're not offended by the Bible's teachings about sexuality. It's the whole forgiveness thing that rankles them. It's not that they don't "get it". They get it, all right. They just don't want it, and find it impossible, ridiculous, and even morally repugnant.
Like we said: Every culture has its objections to the Bible. And our culture worships sex and romance. WE are the ones who've decided a life without having sex is somehow a life devoid of meaning, a nightmare, and impossible. The Bible has the audacity to say our culture is wrong on that one. It suggests that sex is a gift of God, to be celebrated, to be sure, but not what defines The Good Life. That good life can be lived -- and has been lived -- by millions, who've gone without sex.
I feel strangely guilty for even typing that last sentence, like I just denied the moon landing, or spat on the flag. It's kind of like -- no, EXACTLY like -- I've committed some sort of heresy, this time against my very culture. But Christians have always been heretics this way. From the very outset, in the Roman world, they challenged the idols of their culture, and were even called "atheists" for doing so. And idols are often something good, made into an Ultimate Thing, and in our culture, that good-turned-Ultimate is sexual autonomy and romance.
The Bible challenges that idol, just like all idols. Our culture doesn't like it, and can't imagine how it could do that. In the West, we don't burn the Bible. Oh, we're much craftier than that.
We just try to make it fit us.
Oh yes, we're offended. But -- and here's the big question -- if it were true, wouldn't it do just that? Wouldn't it offend every culture at some point, even the ones who think they've just evolved higher than the others?
And isn't it possible that the reason we find it so backward, so strange, is that we can't imagine stepping out of our own cultural biases? To us, of course, the mere idea that we would be restricted expressing our individual sexuality is ludicrous! -- but we're creatures of a certain time and place.
So here's another Big But: Sure, the Bible offends us on sexual matters, BUT... is it possible -- just possible -- we might see things differently, if we took off our cultural glasses?