There are few figures in American history that loom as large and as menacingly as J. Edgar Hoover. The first and long-standing director of the FBI, Hoover abused his position to harass political enemies and amassed secret dossiers on civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. The newly released biopic, J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and staring Leonardo DiCaprio, explores what might have been the driving psychosis behind Hoover's abuse of power. The reason, according to the screenplay writer, Dustin Lance Black, who recently gave an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, is sexual repression. The narrative thesis is that Hoover, as a gay man in the constricted 1940s and 1950s, was not "allowed to love." And because he found no societally permitted outlet for his sexuality, he channeled his angst and anger by terrorizing his political opponents. The lesson, Black opines, is that denying sexual desires will only create pathological and destructive behaviors. Hoover's story resonances because so many of us feel that same sense of longing and frustration.
What is Christianity's answer to this? The Bible uncompromisingly maintains that sexuality is only for marriage: total abstinence before marriage and life-long fidelity after marriage. This seems laughably impractical and perhaps even unhealthy in our modern culture. Isn’t it wrong to deny our natural sexual desires?
But the Bible tells us that sexuality and marriage are only shadows of the true and ultimate reality. That our sexual yearnings are really a search for meaning and oneness with God. And that we are so desperate for that sense of connection and completion, that we will abuse sex as a way to fill up the inner emptiness.
This is why Jesus, when speaking to the woman at the well in John 4, turned to her sex life when she asked for the water of life. Jesus was pointing her to himself as the one true love she had been looking for all her life. This is why Paul speaks of marriage as "a profound mystery; and I am speaking of Christ and the church." (Ephesians 5:31-32) Behind sex and marriage lies the deeper truth of Christ as the ultimate bridegroom. And when you have that, there will be a profound freedom, so that sex and romance now become good things, but not the ultimate thing. The gospel tells us we can practice abstinence because we already have the reality to which sexuality points – union with Christ.
This blog is based on our recent sermon, "The Meaning of Sex."