I recently watched a television ad that showed a woman buying a scanty outfit to wear for her husband in order to “get his attention” when he came home. It bothered me, and at first I couldn’t quite figure out why. After all, the woman said she was married and she was trying to make herself more attractive for her husband, which was appropriate. There’s no reason not to encourage accentuation of beauty in a marriage context. Still, the ad kept coming to mind.
It finally occurred to me that the ad irritated me because it was on television in the first place. Something that used to be so sacred that it was almost never discussed had been perceived as trivial enough to be displayed in public via a visual medium. Even though nothing sexual was explicitly shown, it was a casual treatment of both the beauty of the human body and the sacred intimacy of marriage.
Profaning the Sacredness of the Gift
Sexual intimacy is one of God’s marriage gifts to man. It is a way whereby the bonds of marriage can be strengthened and whereby we can fulfill the command in Genesis 1:28 to “[b]e fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…” Because it is a gift from God meant only for married couples, it is something sacred, i.e. held in the highest respect and kept from all profane things. This is part of why it is a sin to have sexual intimacy with someone before one is married or with someone else other than the spouse if one is married. It profanes the sacredness of the gift and makes it something given cheaply to whomever catches our attention. It’s like pretending that a priceless treasure made of solid gold is nothing more than a gilt bauble. The same can be said of viewing the human body in a sexual context without desiring to know the soul and spirit of the person as well. It takes away the sacred aspect of being made in the image of God and makes the person into an object to be enjoyed.
Besides being held in the highest respect, the sacred is not to be seen by all eyes. This is why, at least until more recent years, there was a screen in Catholic churches between the priest and the congregation when the Eucharist was being prepared and held aloft. Catholics believe that the wafer of bread is transformed into the sacred body of Christ during the mass, so it should only be seen by the priest.
An even older example was the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Tabernacle. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter there, and only on certain days of the year. The Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God when He chose to come down among the people, was regarded as sacred and so hidden from the rest of the congregation unless the Israelites were actively moving camp. Even then, it was only the Levites who were allowed to carry the Ark, because they had been assigned to care for it. Thus, as a sacred gift from God, it is also true that sexual intimacy between husband and wife should be kept from the eyes of everyone except the husband and wife themselves, since they are the receivers and caretakers of the gift.
A Bitter Indulgence
In today’s society, sacredness has not been completely forgotten, but the marital act is far too visible. It’s on television and in movies and it’s written down and read about in books. In fact, it has been viewed and heard about so commonly that people now question why exactly such an act has to be limited to marriage. After all, if sexual intimacy is no longer a sacred gift from God to a married couple, why should we reserve it for marriage? It becomes a toy to enjoy whenever the mood is right.
In this case, ironically, the sexual act still works at least partly the way it was intended to work. Mankind will still multiply and the earth will still be replenished (if abortion, population control, and eugenics don’t completely abolish new life, that is), but it will become a bitter thing to those who indulged in it at the wrong time. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Magician’s Nephew, “For the fruit always works – it must work – but it does not work happily for any who pluck it at their own will.” Many have plucked this fruit at the wrong time and now rue it bitterly.
It is tremendously sad that mankind has forgotten how precious and beautiful is the intimacy of marriage. It used to be held in supreme regard, “high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens…” (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). In other words, it was something sacred among other things sacred, and so cherished and protected as was –and still is – right. By unveiling it, many have tried to pretend that it is not sacred and meant for marriage, and many more have been deceived by this argument. We can only hope that someday marital intimacy will be restored to its proper place of beauty and sacredness. Then the concealing veil will again be drawn across the stage to hide it from the audience so eager to look in at it.