Kevin Shorter, the author of Prayer Coach, recently caused a bit of a stir in the Christian blogosphere when he wrote a post titled: ‘God wants to have sex with you.’ While Kevin has made it quite clear that he did not intend this bold title to be taken literally, it has nevertheless sparked a discussion about the nature of God’s love and our relationship to Him. As it transpires, a number of Christians are finding themselves confused, frightened and thrilled in equal measures when they find themselves – quite literally – falling in love with their creator.
While Kevin was using the metaphor of sex between a husband and wife to illustrate the level of intimacy God desires with every soul (an intimacy which is not necessarily sexual in nature), the post’s comments reveal that some Christians experience a love of God (and Jesus as the image of God), which is distinctly spousal; that is, they love Him the way a wife loves her husband. Such feelings naturally need an expression, and many are struggling to figure out how this spousal love should play out in their spiritual lives. While Kevin was understandably unwilling to enter into a discussion about what this deeper level of intimacy with God should entail, I nevertheless feel that it’s a discussion which needs to be had. It’s a topic I’ve spent a great deal of time praying over, and in this article, I will attempt to lay down some guidelines on how we can integrate romantic, or even sexual, feelings toward God and Christ into a healthy Christian spirituality. I also propose three ways for Christians to explore and express this spousal love for God, in a way which doesn’t reduce it to an earthly level and, just as importantly, is compatible with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality.
Is it blasphemy?
Before we can do this, though, we first need to establish whether or not it’s wrong to feel this way about the Lord, which appears to be the primary point of contention for most Christians, whether they’ve personally experienced these feelings or not. It’s a concept which many people find shocking and even outright blasphemous, but we shouldn’t let that put us off exploring the issue under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Kevin rightly pointed out in the post’s comments, Jesus’ suggestion that we eat His flesh and drink His blood initially caused many of his followers to abandon him in disgust, yet He was talking about the Eucharist, now treasured by the faithful world-over (more on that later). To find our answer, then, we need to not consider gut reactions, which may be the result of social conditioning and negative experiences, and look directly at God’s Word.
This is something which a number of Christian authors have explored in depth, and quite rightly, since it’s a fascinating topic. Bob Hostetler’s Falling in Love with God, Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli’s Falling in Love with Jesus, Brant Pitre’s Jesus the Bridegroom and Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts all explore what it means to relate to God as the long-suffering, ever-faithful and infinitely loving husband of His chosen people, who corporately make up His Bride. And these are just modern authors. Before them come a long line of saints and mystics, many of whom have experienced a relationship with of God that was so intimate it went beyond the ‘parent – child’ relationship which is the more common and widely accepted way of relating to Him, and culminated in spiritual espousal. St. Teresa of Avila’s Life and St. Faustina’s Diary are two notable examples, and these two women are by no means alone.
If this sounds like blasphemous fantasy, it isn’t. Rather, it’s an ancient tradition and way of relating to God which has deep scriptural roots. References to God loving His people as a husband can be found throughout His Word, particularly in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah tells us that God will rejoice over us ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride’ (Isaiah 62: 5). Hosea promises that God will marry His redeemed people and that they will come to know Him, a word which, probably not coincidentally, often has sexual implications when it is used in the Bible (Hosea 2: 22). The Song of Songs, which has long been viewed as an allegory of God’s relationship with Israel, Christ’s relationship with the Church, and God’s relationship with the individual human soul, is alarmingly erotic (take, for example, its beautiful description of the consummation of the relationship in chapter 4).
What’s the problem? A few caveats
If this is the case, why do so many Christians react badly to the idea of God-as-lover? The answer, I suspect, is twofold. Firstly, aversion to viewing our relationship with God in sexual terms, however metaphorical, often stems from the erroneous notion that sex is something inherently disordered – a sentiment which is perhaps best left in the pre-Vatican II era. Secondly, I believe that our earthly experiences of sex can muddy the waters further, as they are often hurtful, disappointing and spiritually damaging. A brief look at today’s sex-saturated Western culture reveals something that falls far short of what our creator intended lovemaking to be: a pure, naked and unashamed giving of the self to the other, in the context of a lifelong, monogamous, covenant relationship. Many of us have been used, and still more have seen pornography; however, these things are not of God, and it’s important not to lose sight of this.
In order to fully understand what God means when He relates to us this way in His word, we need to bear in mind His original plan for sex and marital intimacy. It’s not about using the other for your pleasure or erotic fantasy, but about fully giving yourself to them, pouring out your life for them as Jesus did for the Church at Calvary. Furthermore, God is not a human being but a deity. He is perfectly Holy. He does not lust.
Therefore, while it’s not wrong, at least in my opinion, to relate to God in a romantic way, to do so does not come without its risks. While God’s word does encourage us to relate to Him as our divine Husband, it also warns us that our hearts are ‘deceitful…and desperately sick’ a result of our sinful condition (Jeremiah 17: 9). The Catholic Church teaches we have concupiscence, a tendency toward sin which persists even after our conversion. Therefore, anyone experiencing a romantic attachment to God needs to persist in prayer and be tuned in to His voice, lest the enemy (or own nature) seize upon their feelings and twist them into something lustful and less-than-holy.
Furthermore, all Christians are called to chastity. St. Paul urged members of the early Church to, ‘kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed…all this is the sort of behaviour that makes God angry’ (Colossians 3: 5-6). The biggest danger, I fear, is that one can fall away from worshipping the One True God in favour of what amounts to little more than a fantasy relationship. When this happens, we’ve effectively taken Jesus’ face and stuck it onto a God made in our own image and decided to worship that instead, which would be detrimental to our spiritual progress at best and idolatry at worst.
To relate to Jesus merely as your boyfriend, then, might not be offensive to God, but it is potentially reductive. This is because although God does relate to us as a husband in Scripture, in reality, His love goes far beyond that.
A love beyond measure
The tag line of my old blog, ‘A catholic girl living in an incomprehensible love’, did not come about by accident. To the limited human mind, God’s love is utterly incomprehensible. However, the human mind is survival orientated; it has a natural distaste for things it doesn’t understand, and it one of the ways copes with this by putting things into categories. God knows this, because He designed us, and this, I believe, is precisely why He offers so many ways, in His word, to help us categorise His love and, as a result, to help us understand it. Our minds cannot possibly comprehend the enormity of His love, so He gets around this by telling us what His love is like. It is like the love of a father for his children. It is like the love of two dear friends. It is like the love of a husband for his wife. These are comparisons, though, and ultimately, God’s love transcends all of them.
This all-consuming, overwhelming love for God, and the spiritual intimacy that goes with it, is what we were made for, and this is what the above-mentioned Scriptural allegories point to. I personally believe that what some human minds perceive as an erotic desire for God or Christ, is actually the mind’s attempt to conceptualise something which falls outside of physical, earthly experience: the soul’s insatiable longing for union with its creator. Jesus made it quite plain that In Heaven there is no marriage (Matthew 22: 30). It naturally follows from this that that there will be no procreation either, and so I think we can safely assume that there’s not going to be any sex, at least not as our earthly bodies experience it.
If you’re in love with Jesus, though, that shouldn’t disappoint you. In Heaven you won’t be married to another person, but as part of the Bride, the body of baptised believers, you will be married to God himself: ‘Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready’ (Revelation 19: 7; KJV). Scripture doesn’t tell us what the consummation of this marriage will look like, but it does tell us that God’s ways are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55: 9). From this, we can safely surmise that the union you’re going to experience with your Divine Bridegroom in the next life is not less but more intimate, more beautiful, and more joyous than any carnal earthly encounter. It probably won’t be sexual – it will be so much better than that.
Expressions of intimacy
How, then, can Christians safely express the spousal element of their love for God while still here on earth? I believe there are three ways we can do this:
- The Eucharist
Catholics believe that when our priests consecrate the bread and wine during Mass, a miracle takes place by which they become the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Christ. They still look, taste and feel like bread and wine, but any devout Catholic will tell you that that’s where the similarity ends. It’s a gift from God, which Jesus instituted during His earthly ministry and a teaching which He really insists upon in John’s Gospel: ‘Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6: 53-4; KJV).
In the Eucharist, Jesus literally, physically enters His Bride and gives Himself – all of Himself – to her. In return, she gives herself to Him as she receives Him into herself. It’s just like marital lovemaking as God intended, both unitive and procreative, unitive because it strengthens the recipient’s bond with the Lord, and procreative because of the fruit it bears in his or her life. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser has written a fascinating short piece on this subject, here.
- Mystical prayer
Mysticism is a form of spirituality by which the soul seeks spiritual union with God. Christians who feel the stirrings of romantic love for God may therefore benefit from exploring the mystical tradition, perhaps starting by exploring the life and writings of the saints. Because this practice involves potentially opening oneself up to the spiritual realm, it’s important to go in seeking God rather than ‘experiences’, which may or may not come from Him, and to work under the guidance of a good spiritual director if at all possible. Guidelines for Mystical Prayer by Ruth Burrows OCD is an excellent instructional text for those who are interested in this way of life. St. Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits are absolutely essential and can be found for free online. Budding mystics must keep a healthy level of scepticism as well as diligently testing their fruits; for this reason, it’s not a spirituality I’d recommend to anyone whose mental health is less than optimal.
- Pour your life out for Him
I’ve always firmly believed that love is not merely a feeling but something which, by its very nature, should compel us to action. God expressed His spousal love for humanity in the most selfless way when He became a human being, lived a life of poverty and hardship, and ultimately died an agonising and humiliating death for His bride. If you truly love Him as a Husband, then, surely there’s no better way to express this than by abandoning yourself to His will for your life. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean becoming a nun, monk, missionary or martyr (although it might). It’s equally possible (and sometimes more challenging) to lay down your life for Christ in the mundane, everyday moments of existence – doing the chores nobody else wants to do, serving your earthly spouse the way He intended, turning the other cheek to the slights of a rude co-worker, and generally keeping His commandments when your flesh wants to break them.
Some words of encouragement to those who are struggling with these feelings, then. Firstly, be happy that you feel love for God. Love comes from God, and I firmly believe that any love we feel for God is actually a gift from Him, no matter what flavour it takes (1 John 4: 7). Romantic feelings for your creator might be a phase, not unlike the phase some Catholic men go through of having similar feelings for the Blessed Virgin. It may well be a harmless by-product of being a normal, healthy, sexual being, which passes as you mature in your faith. Alternatively, such feelings might be God’s way of calling you to a mystical spirituality or even some form of consecrated life, as a little foretaste of Heaven. I pray that God will pour His spirit upon each and every one of you, and grant you wisdom and discernment as you continue to experience this facet of His brilliant and infinite love for you.
This post originally appeared on my old blog, His Sacred Heart.
Image via Pexels.