If we ask God to speak to us in Christ, if we wish to abide
with him, he simply tells us to follow, to look, and to hear.
Should we do so, however, all things will look different.
Paul does not let us escape this fact. In the transforming mission of Jesus,
even our bodies will look different. If God can inhabit human flesh, it cannot
be made for immorality. If our bodies are temples of God, we must not desecrate
them. They are, Paul says, the very glory of God.
This is difficult for us today. How dare someone tell us “You are not your
own”? We pride ourselves on autonomy. Our bodies are our property, there
for our use or abuse, our pleasure or management, ours to begin or end at will.
And yet the body is a big problem for us, whether we want to admit it or not.
Even the late, great psychologist Abraham Maslow, no churchly or Pauline preacher
to say the least, warned us of the body’s degradation in our time. In his essay “Self-actualization
and Beyond,” what he said of youth could be said of all of us:
learned to reduce the person to the concrete object and to refuse to see what
he might be or to refuse to see him in his symbolic values or to
refuse to see him or her eternally. [They] have desacralized sex, for example.
Sex is nothing; it is a natural thing, and they have made it so natural that
it has lost its poetic qualities in many instances, which means that it has
lost practically everything. Self-actualization means giving
up this defense mechanism
and learning or being taught to resacralize.
Say what we may
about the differing meanings for “fornication” in the
first century and our own, try as we might to deflate Paul’s challenge as a
form of Manichaeism and rejection of the body, the practice
of human sexuality in
contemporary culture is in no way worthy of a temple.
Familiar statistics reveal that more than one-half of our youth have had
intercourse by the age of seventeen, and half of their pregnancies end in
to unmarried teens have risen 200 percent between 1960 and 1980. Chlamydia,
genital warts, herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis have increased, despite the
condom use among teenagers in the last ten years. Stories of sexual violence
against women and the abuse of children fill our network news and our newspapers.
One estimate is that a woman is raped every six minutes in the United States.
One of the most frequently used words for women in low rap music on MTV is
the same that once rarely was heard applied to a female dog. And the September
1992 Vogue magazine featured a sleazy article called “Chain Reactions” about
sadism-photographer Helmut Newton with a gaudy photograph of a topless, bound
woman, nipples pierced, pointing a gun to her head. A caption read, “Making
a virtue out of vice.”
Maslow would wince.
St. Paul, for his part, has already advised us: We are called to a different
way. We heed a different voice. And we look at the human body as a temple,
transformed by the eyes of faith.