One summer youth camp, a friend commented to me, “I hope I don’t have the gift of celibacy.” I found his comment odd, illogical, unbiblical; yet I understood.
I, too, had been troubled by the same notion as I found his comment echoed and resonated a phenomenon increasingly prevalent, not only in our culture, but in our pews.
The Coercive Curse of Celibacy
In my previous article discussing the moral complications of online dating, I raised the question whether contemporary church cultures promote healthy romantic relationships. Digressing from this issue and drawing back the metaphorical onion layers further, I feel a common experience of many young adults is that of an intense expectation to marry.
Probing questions from parents, elders, our pastor, peers, and the rest of our congregations increase in frequency as we stack up our birthdays. The blessing and inherent gift of celibacy dissipates and is replaced by a curse one feels they did not deserve and was beyond their control.
In justification of this mind-set, we find in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 9, Paul comments speaking of the unmarried and the widowed, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
All the while, we have forgotten Paul’s commendation to the unmarried two verses earlier in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 7,“I wish that all were as I myself am.”
Speaking of his singleness, Paul concedes he wishes that all were as him. He later explains the reasoning for this stems from the undivided devotion to God a single life provides.
Yet, we too easily memorise Paul’s comments in verse 9 and exclude his preceding comment in verse 7.
In the world, this sentiment has resulted in the Incel (involuntary celibacy) movement. While this is a phenomenon experienced by many people, it is iconic in contemporary culture for being dominated by young males who have lashed out in anger for lack of a romantic or sexual relationship.
While one would be stretched to find this behaviour in the church, the seeds are too easily set by our corporate behaviour.
The Instantaneous Irritation of Instagram
The rise of Instagram, and the like, has now painted an environment where a few seconds of scrolling through our newsfeed manipulates and exaggerates our emotions. We begin to drive ourselves deeper into comparisons.
How many times do we toy with the right filter, the right lighting, the wittiest caption, or the profound hashtags? And in response, we read these posts. First, we laugh, comment, or ‘heart’ the post. Then we compare that which we do not have for what others already have based on a single post.
We also know that we are often inclined that, once we feel a certain emotion, we will act in a way that will exacerbate its intensity. If I am feeling unsatisfied, I will seek to find that which I believe will satisfy me, and by extension I look for what others have that satisfies them.
Instagram and social media create the perfect environment to feed this. The struggle with relationship, singleness, and loneliness is no exception to this.
The Biblical Counter-Narrative
Before I am called out for my hypocrisy, yes I am a young single male writing on the matter of involuntary celibacy. I write this, not out of frustration, but out of brokenness for the predicament the church is in and the fruit that will bear forth if we allow these seeds to grow.
There is a plethora of articles on the issues of social media; this is not one of those. This is an attempt at a reminder of the counter-narrative we must continuously wrestle with.
This is a call to self-control as a fruit of the Spirit. The self-control to be content with the grace we have been given each day as we seek to honour God through our lives. In response, we must earnestly ask ourselves whether using social media as a platform for comparison honours God.
This is also a call for a more radical shift in our churches. It is not a novel call, it is another warning bell amongst many others. In the realm of relationships, discontentment, celibacy, and social media, we have a secular society which mirrors our own actions in many facets.
In some fashion, secular society is almost identical in its treatment of this awkward young adult phase many of us experience and the continual questions of marriage.
This should scare us, but I don’t think it does for the very reason we are already too caught up in our Christian cliques. We are too caught up in our own comparisons to realise that the only comparison that matters is where we sit before God and God alone not only as beloved sons and daughters, but also as stumbling saints ever in need of abundant grace.
Hailing from North Auckland, Blake Gardiner sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.