attended a church service recently in which the preacher made a surprising claim.
One result of his sermon might be, he suggested, that members of the congregation
would become better lovers. No, he was not making that claim in jest. Since that
is probably the last result one might think about when contemplating going to
church on a Sunday morning, however, the preacher's claim merits some further
thought, not only on Valentine's Day, but any day.
Consider this. One of the
words that comes closest to defining the nature of God is love. Many Christians
will tell you flat out: God is love. Well, if that's the case then it seems only
logical that those who know God know something about love ... indeed have access
to the very source of love insofar as they have a relationship to God. Still,
many will find that logic difficult to grasp, for there is such a strong distinction
in popular culture between spirituality and sexuality, and the love that ties
a community of faith together is understood to be qualitatively different than
the love that ties husband and wife together, not to mention the passion that
is shared by two people who are "in love." Further, religious leaders seem preoccupied
with manifestations of love that they disapprove of, while spending all too little
time discussing the joy, beauty, and, yes, the spirituality of love making. For
these reasons the good news contained at the very heart and center of our faith
Popular impressions aside, there is strong biblical warrant for the
view that genuine faith can contribute to satisfaction and fulfillment in one's
love life. Consider the creation story in the opening chapters of Genesis. Note
the crucial verses in chapter 1 (27-28): "God created humanity in the image of
God, male and female, God created them. And God blessed them and said: 'Be fruitful
There are two aspects of this passage that bear closer scrutiny.
First, humanity is created in the image of God as male and female. Our gender
differences and our sexuality are right there from the get go, and in some deep
way our sexuality flows from our being created "in the image of God." Second,
one notices the very first commandment that God gives Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful
and multiply." Make love! Multiply! There is nothing here about caution or restraint.
There are no words of warning. The Bible states it clearly and explicitly: we
are created as sexually active beings. "And God saw everything that was made,
and behold, it was very good." There could be no stronger endorsement of human
sexuality than this, and it is contained in the very first chapter of the very
first book in the Holy Bible.
To be sure, the complications and problems
that arise in human sexual relations are well documented in later passages of
Scripture, but the essentially positive view of sexuality communicated in the
opening verses of the Bible is never contradicted. In wrestling with the problems
associated with sexual behavior, biblical writers sometimes did come off as sounding
negative about sex itself. This is especially true, for example, of the letters
of St. Paul. The reasons for this are too complex to be addressed here, and even
Paul is more positive on this point than is generally understood.
aside, the words of Jesus about love provide a more specific reason to conclude
that Christians, in fact, have sufficient motivation to be better lovers. Note
what Jesus had to say about love: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first
commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.."
Loving God and loving another human being are thus equal in importance and in
It strikes me that this double love commandment lays the groundwork for
a renewed understand of what it takes to be the very best lover you can be. The
starting point for all Christian ethics is the profound sense of self worth that
flows out of an awareness that one is, in fact, a child of God, reflecting the
goodness of God in one's own nature. Ideally, a Christian moves about in the world
fully aware of being loved by God, and empowered by God to enter into a loving
relationship with others.
In the act of making love, nothing leads to
satisfaction more reliably than the conscious effort to satisfy one's partner.
Hence, the secret of being a better lover can be condensed into a single phrase,
spoken by Jesus Christ himself: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Further, when
a person of faith enters into such a mutually satisfying relationship with another
human being, giving and receiving love, in the manner suggested by Jesus, then
one also becomes aware that in the depths of one's love for another person one
feels closest to the God of love.
So it should not seem strange or unusual
at all to suggest that Christians make better lovers. Rather it is both tragic
and surprising that this is not commonly understood. For if it were, you can safely
bet that our churches would be packed to overflowing and our faith revitalized
well nigh over night! Happy Valentine!
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.