14 Aug 2012
The loneliness of the celibate life
Remaining faithful to Christ while experiencing same-sex attraction can produce a profound loneliness resulting from a celibate life. This is a theme that runs throughout Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Since he sees little hope that his attractions will change and views heterosexual marriage as the only biblically faithful marriage, he is destined to a life of singleness. Isn’t this the worst kind of loneliness?
The book’s conclusion makes a very strong case that the celibate person does not need to be hopeless or lonely. But I have heard the hopelessness contained in the above hypothesis before. Isn’t the Christian with same-sex attraction condemned to a life of loneliness in a way the Christian with heterosexual desires is not? Aren’t they trapped with little or no prospect for future intimacy? Won’t they always be frustrated in relationships, especially when they feel that their ‘natural’ sexual attraction is forbidden by faith?
We all can empathize with Hill in his book. All of us, at some point in our lives, have been lonely, even profoundly lonely. Most single men have at least thought or believed, on some level, that the lack of a sexual relationship has been partly to blame for loneliness, especially when sexual desires are strong. ‘If I were only in a position to have an exclusive sexually active relationship, I would be less lonely.’
Many Christians with opposite-sex desires remain celibate until they are thirty, forty, or even until they die. Most of them wanted to get married but for various reasons, never attained it. If they are faithful to Christ, they also have no option for a sexually intimate relationship. Are they condemned to a life of loneliness as well?
Single people are often naïve about how marriage will solve their loneliness issues. Many married couples are tragically lonely even though they are sexually active. All imperfect marriages (read: all marriages) have their lonely moments. One could even argue this loneliness in marriage is the most tragic loneliness of all, because the potential for so much intimacy was promised in the vows of marriage. Loneliness as the consequence of divorce has its own tragic uniqueness, especially when the other party was unfaithful.
So what conclusions can we draw?
- Sexual activity, even monogamous sexual activity, cannot bear the weight of ending loneliness. It can encourage an already-intimate married couple, but it can also, at worst, exacerbate loneliness or , at best, temporarily mask it.
- The solution for loneliness for all people must take a different direction than sex. Hill suggests that loneliness actually promotes hunger for intimacy with Christ and with members of the church. For the believer, this is the positive side of loneliness. We were made for relationship with Christ foremost, and this relationship puts all other yearnings and relationships in their proper place.
- Marriage, at its best, is a powerful subset of Christian community and subordinate to our relationship with Christ. Deep, powerful, intimate community can, by God’s grace, exist outside of marriage and apart from sexualization, because it exists within the community of faith, Christ’s body. Though most of us desire to experience sexual intimacy in our lives, the door from loneliness to fulfilling, intimate relationships is open to the celibate with unfulfilled same-sex or heterosexual attractions.