By: Christopher West
As the familiar saying goes, “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.” Something as sublime and beautiful as the union of spouses in “one flesh,” for example, tweaked even slightly, becomes ridiculous — worthy of ridicule. Our culture’s approach to the body and sex is certainly “ridiculous.” But, perhaps, despite the ridiculousness, we’re not as far off from the truth as we might think.
We Settle for the Finite…
The further one travels on a globe, for instance, the closer he is to his starting point. When it comes to God’s plan for the body and sex, if we look back from whence we’ve come as a culture, we are certainly far from shore. But if we look ahead we might be closer than we think. We can only take so much insanity before we return to our senses. If the passage from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step, is not the passage back also but a step? I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that in recognizing the gross distortions of sex in our world, we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. There is an important element of truth behind our society’s obsession with sex. For behind every false god we discover our desire for the true God gone awry.
Untwist the distortions and we discover the astounding glory of human sexuality in the divine plan. “For this reason …the two become one flesh.” For what reason? To reveal, proclaim, and anticipate the eternal union of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31-32). The union of the sexes is meant to be an icon — an earthly sign that points us beyond itself to our eternal destiny of union with God. But when we lose sight of union with God as our ultimate fulfillment, we begin worshiping the earthly image. The icon degenerates into an idol.
Welcome to the world in which we live. But do we know what it means? It means the sexual confusion so prevalent in our world and in our own hearts is simply the human desire for heaven gone berserk. Sin always involves confusing our desire for the infinite with finite things. Sexual union, as beautiful and joyous as it is meant to be in God’s plan, always remains a finite thing. It can never satisfy our desire for the infinite. The best it can be is a foreshadowing of that satisfaction, a little foretaste.
…We Desire The Infinite
Hence, Jesus tells us that when the infinite is granted to us, men and women will no longer be given in marriage (see Mt 22:30). In other words, you no longer need an icon to point you to heaven, when you’re in heaven. This also explains why some remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). When lived in the spirit Christ intended, these men and women become a living sign that heaven is real; the eternal, ecstatic union of Christ and the Church is not just an idea or a theory — it is a living reality and it is worth selling everything for.
What should I do, then, when I recognize and live in my desire for the infinite? In seeking God should I reject finite things? No! This is a classic blunder of Christians. The more we live in union with God even while here on earth, the more all the things of earth — including and, perhaps, especially, the union of the sexes — take on their true sacramental nature as foretastes of heaven. As we progress in union with Christ, all the pleasures of the earth, rather than being an “occasion of sin” as perhaps they once were, become so many icons pointing us to heaven. Even those who choose celibacy for the kingdom do not reject their sexuality (at least they are not supposed to!). They are meant to live it out in a different way, appreciating God’s true plan for it as a foreshadowing of the “marriage” of Christ and the Church.
So, rather than merely ridiculing our culture’s obsession with sex, we should try to understand it and help everyone we know to take that step back from the ridiculous to the sublime.