Desire and Holiness
About the Guest
God thinks highly of the sexual union. After all, He created it. Professor Dan Allender walks us through the Song of Solomon, beginning with a description of Solomon and the first inklings of desire. What can we learn from this unique biblical book? Plenty, according to Dan, who shares some practical advice for contemporary husbands and wives.
God thinks highly of the sexual union. After all, He created it. Professor Dan Allender walks us through the Song of Solomon and shares some practical advice for contemporary husbands and wives.
Desire and Holiness
Bob: Our longing to be sexually intimate with another person is a God-given longing; but author and counselor, Dan Allender, says it’s critical that we pay attention to what the Bible says about how we satisfy that longing.
Dan: I’m not blaming that person’s desire. What I am saying is the very desire has something holy—you want back to Eden—and you will never find your way back in through pornography, through fantasizing, through emotional affairs, through affairs. Again, the very food you are eating—it’s poisonous. It will not only create more hunger, but it will eventually kill you.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. When it comes to human sexuality, there is nothing like God’s design for how we are to enjoy one another.
We’re going to explore that subject today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. For those of you who have been with us this month, as we’re going through our 30-Day Oneness Prayer Challenge, we are on Day 17. We’ve just got a couple weeks to go in the 30-day challenge. Today, our focus in our prayers is on how we build unity and oneness, even in the midst of hard times. We’re encouraging husbands to pray that God would strengthen your union, even in the midst of difficult times, and encouraging wives to pray that God would energize both of you to continue to invest in each other—especially in those times when you are facing hardship together.
We hope this 30-Day Oneness Prayer Challenge has been an encouragement to those of you who are taking part. And if you’ve not joined us over the last couple of weeks, you can still take part in the final two weeks of the prayer challenge by signing up today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Then, click on the link for the Oneness Prayer Challenge. Sign up and we’ll send you—either by text, or email, or through your My FamilyLife app—your prayer prompt each day. You can be a part of the last few weeks of the prayer challenge with us as we build into our marriage this discipline of praying together, each day, as a husband and as a wife.
Now, we’re talking about intimacy in marriage this week. One of the things that I have observed over the last—I guess it’s been since the late 1960s / early ‘70s—the sexual revolution—
—is there seems to have been a conscious uncoupling, in our culture, of the soul and the body when it comes to human sexuality—as if we can experience meaningful sexual relations without our soul being engaged at all, turning it into kind of a recreational activity.
I think, when we do that / what we’ve found—if you look at—at least, as I look at it, just sitting here—you find that, in that case, you have emptied sexuality of much of its depth and its richness. You’ve taken down to kind of the bare minimum of what God designed for it to be.
Dennis: Yes. If you really look at life and if you read the Bible, you have to conclude: “Life is a struggle between good and evil, and evil has certainly attacked the good things God has created.”
Sex, certainly, is one of those things.
And we have a friend with us in the studio who has coauthored a book with Tremper Longman—Dr. Dan Allender joins us on FamilyLife Today—the author of God Loves Sex. Welcome back, Dan.
Dan: Thank you, Dennis. Thank you, Bob.
Dennis: It is subtitled: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness. I just tell the listener: “Yes, that book is an honest conversation and so will today’s broadcast. So, stay tuned.”
Bob: And so is the Song of Solomon—but I have to start right off—because in this book, you are disagreeing with Charles Spurgeon and many other Bible commentators throughout the centuries. They have taught us that the Song of Solomon is to be understood as allegory, and you don’t think so.
Dan: I don’t believe so. Allegory is a story with symbolic characters that carries on a plot that is very—
—in many ways, meaningful to a person who is reading it.
What we know about Song of Songs are two things. Number one: It is so sexual that it is disturbing—and has been disturbing—to the Christian community and to the Jewish community. Aqaba—several centuries before Christ—actually said that anyone who would think of this, as a ditty that was carnal, will go to hell. And many of the fathers of the faith—second, third, fourth, fifth century—felt the very same.
And really, up until the twentieth century, did we really begin to see that this is actually erotic sexual poetry that is very common in the ancient near east; but it is not an allegory of Christ and the church / not an allegory of God and His relationship with His people. There are certainly other passages that make that very clear, but the discomfort with sexuality and the misinterpretation of this as an allegory has made it very difficult to bring the true sexuality of the material into a conversation in the church.
Dennis: I have a theory on this. I think that the monks, centuries ago, found themselves in monasteries reading the Song of Songs. They said: “No, this has to be an allegory. If it’s really this good, let me out of here.” [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s only a theory, by the way; and I really wouldn’t bet my life on it.
Let me go back to the book. I want to read the beginning of Song of Songs. In
Chapter 1, it says—verse 2: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Your anointing oils are fragrant. Your name is oil poured out. Therefore, virgins love you. Draw me after you. Let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.”
Dan: Whoa! I’m just telling you—
Dan: —it’s good poetry.
Dennis: It is. To make that allegory—I’m sorry—it’s the reality of a woman who was attracted to her beloved.
Dan: Well, we’ve got so much clarity that his reputation is what arouses her. Right there—it is centuries before we have done research on sexuality. What we’ve got—data—is that a man is generally aroused by sight, but a woman is aroused by reputation—by how a man handles his life / by his character—not mere popularity—but a level of respect among his peers, both genders.
What we are finding is that—wait a minute—this is centuries- / this is millennia-old poetry that’s actually speaking to the reality of how we are really made.
Dennis: You use the word, “arouse,” several times in your sentences there.
Unpack the concept of desire. What’s behind this? Why did God make us with desires?
Dan: Well, let’s start with the fact that you have hunger, you have thirst, you need air. There are physical realities that He has put within your body—and senses—we normally talk about the five—are ways that we access what our body needs. So, the fact that we are visually sensual and that we are aroused by beauty—well, God made us that way.
Let me just tell you a hard fact. A small child—three- / four- / five-day old—will turn his or her head toward a more beautiful face than toward a less beautiful face. It’s a way of saying: “Children are hard-wired for beauty. They are hard-wired to see a beautiful face and be drawn to it.” If a baby, who has not even developed language about the nature of beauty or attractability, is actually able to note it—
—well, you can say that God has created that within us. So, we were meant for beauty; and we desire it.
You know Lewis’s old phrase: “I do not want to just see beauty. I want to become one with it.” Now, we’re beyond just mere senses of desire for pleasure. We are actually asking for union. Again, if you think what I’m meaning is sexual union—male/female—I am including that, but it’s the union of heart and mind—something physical that allows us a sense of the other—the transcendent, that which we can’t see.
So, now, what we have is—God has wedded us to the physical / to the invisible. He holds together both—desiring for us to enjoy the things of this life, but desiring more than this life.
Bob: So, if that’s the longing of the human soul, how do we get to a hookup culture?—
— where people go: “It’s just like a tennis match. We just get together and have sex, and it is pure recreation.” Have we so numbed our souls to get there?
Dan: You can’t numb your soul so much that you have lost what He put in you. Ecclesiastes tells us that He built eternity into our hearts. In one sense, you can almost presume: “Anyone who begins to satisfy their heart and their body, apart from God, will end up in a path of addiction of some sort.” They need more in order to quench—that is to deny or ignore but also to satisfy. So, the more I need, the more it quells the deeper desire, but also, satisfies the small immediate desire.
At some point, you begin to realize that what you were made for is way more than what you are currently experiencing. That desire is the desire of eternity that a hookup culture still can’t escape.
Dennis: You’re saying we were made for worship.
If we don’t worship God, we’ll go on to worship creation—not the Creator.
Dan: And that’s called idolatry, which the Scriptures, also, refer often to as adultery. So, idolatry and adultery are really one in the same thing. When you are unfaithful to your spouse, you are ultimately unfaithful to God. When you are trying to find life outside of engagement with your spouse, you are ultimately trying to find life outside of the purposes of God. It will always be worship; but it will always be, in that sense, idolatry.
Bob: I watch just enough TV and movies that I’ve caught the trend that—I don’t know if this is life imitating art or art going ahead of life—but it seems to be that, at least in the movies and on TV, about the second or third date, you are headed for sex. In the culture today, that’s the innate thinking of a lot of young people growing up in our culture today.
How’d we get there, Dan?
Dan: Well, think what sex brings—it is fusion / it is union—it’s not mere pleasure. It’s a kind of intimacy that our hearts were most made to experience in heaven. Sex, outside of marriage, is an attempt to get back into Eden. It’s an attempt to find a way back to the world where there was innocence, and goodness, and no harm.
In one sense, I’m not blaming that person’s desire. What I am saying is—we want to provide you with a way to know the fullness of what that desire brings, but it will never be trying to get back into Eden because there are two angels that will guard that gate. You will never find your way back in through pornography, through fantasizing, through emotional affairs, through affairs. Again, the very desire has something holy—you want back to Eden—and yet, the very food you’re eating—it’s poisonous. It will not only create more hunger, but it will eventually kill you.
Dennis: Let’s talk for a moment about how this desire gets expressed in marriage because you point out, rightly, that there is a difference between how a woman expresses her desire and how a man expresses his. And here, in the first chapter we just read, she complimented her man. I think a wife, sometimes, forgets how powerful her words can be to her husband in affirming him for who he is, expressing respect for his character.
Dan: Oh, and for his body—even as an aging man, in my—I’m 63—I’m nothing what I was; but my wife needs to be able to put her hand on my face and say, “No one’s face is like yours.” Now, that could be misheard. [Laughter] Nonetheless, with her eyes and her presence, there’s a sense in which, “I delight in your aging body!”
That kind of sensuality—look, it’s written all through this book. When we come to Chapter 5, she’s complimenting his body, from head to toe, and everything in between. We’ll leave it as ambiguous as that on the radio. As she’s complimenting—rejoicing/celebrating—his body, let’s just note there is no thought that this culture is saying, “A man is more sexual than a woman.” This is assuming a woman is as sexual as a man but different. In that difference, of course, there will be struggles. Nonetheless, let’s not back away and say, “Men want sex, and women are more reluctant.”
Bob: Okay, you know half the people, driving down the highway, right now, just said: “That’s not the reality in our marriage. I mean, it’s my husband who is always the one—
—“I’m exhausted…; you know?” Dennis likes to say, “It is right behind sorting hangers on my list of things I want to do,”—for a wife. So, you’re saying God made it equal. Husbands and wives are saying, “Uh-uh.”
Dan: And I’m saying, “Indeed, uh-uh,” because, in so many ways, evil has actually won—through your past abuse, through your past promiscuity, through the issues of your marriage, and the heartache and hurt, through not dealing with sex.
What research indicates is that less than 18 percent of couples talk about sex profitably. Almost all the discussions about sex are blame or guilt. In that sense—like: “I want more, and you’re not….” or “This doesn’t feel good,” “Why aren’t we doing this?” It’s accusatory / it’s demeaning. Even when it is so called positive criticism, it’s without delight.
So, let’s just go back and say, “Sex will never work if there is not delight and honor.”
If there’s not respect and care, then, what did you think?—that somehow by buying the shoes, you’re going to be able to run a marathon? No, I’m sorry—it’s good that you look good in that new outfit—but you’ve got to do what’s called training.
Training will require you to leave your mother and father. And so many people have not faced how they are still bound in their family of origin; but you’ve, also, got to learn how to talk in a way in which brings honor and heartache, but then, growth and restoration. The ability to talk is essential for the ability to make love with delight.
Bob: Okay, but if you were to ask me to list: “What have been the hardest kinds of conversations to have in your marriage?”—over the years that we’ve been married, talking about sex would be pretty close to the top. Do you and Becky have this mastered to where you guys are able to—
Dan: Oh, yes, we’re so perfect! That’s what I’m here to share.
Dennis: All the hands at the table are being raised here.
Dan: Because we are all saying, “Of course, some of the most shame-based conversations are about our sexuality.” You can’t even begin to do this kind of work until you’ve learned to pray together in a way in which it’s not just a ritual—but we know we are dealing with warfare. We know we’re dealing with our own past heartache and hurt. We’re having to, now, get naked in prayer. A lot of people have never been naked in prayer. No wonder, in that sense, they are trying to have sex with their clothes on—it’s not going to work. It’s not going to work well.
So, when we begin to actually name what’s required for us to begin to enjoy the kind of sexuality that’s being spoken of so easily and naturally in Song of Solomon, we’ve got to step back and say: “The Scriptures call us to be far more than we will actually, likely, ever be”; but we are not to relent and say, “Oh, well, we can never be that.”
We are to actually dream and desire that our sexuality be actually part of our worship. Now, when you begin to name that, you are going to do the work of naming: “What’s keeping us from that?” and “What’s required for us to move toward it?”
Bob: I shared with you, earlier, that Mary Ann had a delicate neuro surgery a year ago, where we put her brain in the hands of a skilled surgeon. I almost hear you saying that the surgery that needs to happen, in terms of our sexuality, a husband and wife need to go deep and do that surgery. I’m wondering, “Can the average husband and wife sit down and do that without doing more damage than good?”
Dan: Well, what I believe most of all is that anyone whose desire is to grow in Christ, through the process of worship, will open the door to trying to name what’s blocking them—what’s keeping them. They won’t just learn to survive. That level of ownership of:
“This is meant to be so much better than it is currently. I’m not blaming you / you’re not blaming me.” We are simply acknowledging that, somehow, sex could be so much better. At that point, you’ve already done, I think, the major work. You’ve allowed desire to take you to honesty, and then, to hope.
Now, where next?—maybe, it is a therapist; maybe, it’s a good pastor; maybe, it’s a mentor couple—but owning that: “This surgery needs to occur.” It’s now opening you to the community of God—which includes a righteous church, reading the Scriptures, growing with others and having guides—sometimes, who can walk with you on certain paths that are very, very steep, and difficult, and very dangerous.
Bob: This may be where your suggestion, Dennis, that a husband and wife get a copy of Dan’s book and read through it together, a chapter at a time—he highlights his part / she highlights hers. This could be the guide that might help them take some steps in the right direction.
Dennis: And if I might add, I think, too, a discussion of: “How well are you loving each other?” Just pragmatically—just go back to the basics and say, “How are we serving one another and going out of our way to be kind?”
Then, another key area that I think can release the dam, Dan—that you talked about—is forgiveness. When’s the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you? Think back—when is the last time you went to your wife—if you’re a husband—and said, “You know, Sweetheart, I was wrong when I….”? Don’t have any excuses. Don’t try to crawfish your way out of it. Don’t try to justify. Instead, decide, before God, “You know what? We’re going to break through, by God’s grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, and some good coaching,”—which Dan and Tremper Longman provide in this book. I think you can see Almighty God show up. The same thing that happened, when Christ was risen from the dead, I think you can see happen in your marriage as well.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Dan and Tremper’s book, called God Loves Sex, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER”; and you can order a copy of the book from us, online, if you would like. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” in order to request a copy of the book, God Loves Sex; or you can call to order the book at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, we have information about the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com as well. When you click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” look for the Weekend to Remember icon. Find out more about these two-and-a-half-day getaways for couples.
We’ve got about 30 of these events that are going to be happening in the next 12 weeks. We’d love to have you join us for a fun, romantic getaway weekend at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
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And be sure to be back again with us tomorrow. Dr. Dan Allender is going to be here as well. We’re going to talk about just how meaningful things like touch can be in a marriage relationship—holding hands / hugging one another—things that you may have let slip in your relationship in marriage. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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