This series ends with a sad story about rusty showerheads.
My two sons played high school sports. I remember our surprise at learning how sweaty athletes would forego showering at school and drive home stinky – showering there. The showerheads at school had become rusty from disuse. However, rust wasn’t the reason athletes didn’t shower together. They were afraid others would see the scars.
For many weeks we’ve been considering the ancient gospel – the union of divinity and humanity. It’s pictured in human sexuality, most poignantly in sexual consummation. This isn’t the only gospel metaphor, but it is the primary one (Eph. 5:32). Christ is coming to earth to “marry us.” “This astounding visitation is itself an astounding invitation,” writes Christopher West. “At the heart of the Gospel is the God-Man’s gratuitous offer to every human being to enter into this same nuptial exchange.”1
This is why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding where the wine had run out. In the Old Testament, God described his people as a withered vine whose wine was exhausted. “Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.” (Hos. 9:16). “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer. 2:21). Reviving a withered vineyard requires pruning it (Jn. 15:2). In launching his public ministry with this miracle at this wedding, Jesus was saying he came to renew the gospel – and this would include pruning.
But don’t mistake pruning for being a prude. Jesus took six stone pots, each holding 20-30 gallons of water, and turned water into wine – at least 75 gallons of superior alcohol. He had two messages bottled in this one miracle. Jesus is really into marriage – as the central picture of the gospel – and the gospel is really in need of revitalization.
This might be an appropriate message for much of modern evangelicalism. Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, much of modern faith is like a wedding ceremony winding down, having run out of wine. The gospel has been degraded from the ancient “full-body” rendition to a modern disembodied faith. This message omits the human body, creating a vacuum regarding how people understand human sexuality and desire. Nature abhors a vacuum, so pornography and lust replace sexuality and desire. This withers faith, as the writer of Proverbs warned: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life” (4:23). A great many believers recognize this verse, but how many are familiar with the extraordinarily devastating effect of sexual sin?
“Extraordinary” means “beyond ordinary.” Sin ordinarily yields death (Rom. 6:23). Even believers practicing a disembodied faith “get” this. However, they overlook how sexual consummation is at the heart of the gospel. Sex is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill experience, so sexual sin has extraordinarily devastating effects. It rips the heart out of the gospel. Sexual sin comes with a bodily price tag, as the Apostle Paul warned. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (I Cor. 6:18). Sexual sin scars the body. “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27)
Human sexuality is a fire burning within us. It’s not wise to play with fire. A “full-body” faith properly fans the flames of desire. Pornography fans the flames of lust, burning the flesh. All sin scandalizes the conscience but sexual sin also scars the flesh. A scandalized conscience yields shame, mostly felt in the loins. People soaked in porn hide their loins in what would otherwise be appropriate public settings, such as showers. The scars explain rusty showerheads. It’s a graphic result of a culture soaked in pornography.
There’s also an irony. People typically view porn in private settings. They feel quite free to privately ogle men and women performing all sorts of sordid sex acts. The irony is they don’t do this in public, and don’t feel free to expose their bodies to others in appropriate public settings. This isn’t to say every athlete reluctant to shower at school is soaked in porn. But it does speak to a collective conscience corrupted by a culture of pornography. Consequently, most everyone is intuitively afraid to expose their loins in what were once considered appropriate public settings, such as high school showers. Since a herd mentality typically wins, a collective conscience affects even those unsullied by porn.
This intuitive fear is not easily articulated. It’s due to our bodies being made in the image of God. Anyone can know the human body without knowing God. You can be hungry without having faith. You can feel shame without knowing why. The good news of the graphic “four-chapter” gospel is that it can explain our intuitions. A disembodied gospel can’t. It doesn’t understand the nature of the beast since it doesn’t understand the nature of the body. It can’t explain rusty showerheads.
In closing this series, I recognize that I risked offending a few friends. One of them, a pastor, wrote to me, confessing he was at first offended. But he came to see his problem was a seared conscience and scarred body. Kudos. There will be no renewal of the church and of the world without a renewal of marriage and the family. This however is unlikely to happen apart from the “full-body” gospel graphically told in our loins. You cannot gut the heart of the gospel and expect it to get traction.
If the graphic gospel is unfamiliar to you, consider Mark Twain’s comfort: much of education consists of what is unlearned. Coming to faith is only the beginning of becoming undeceived. If you’ve been duped by a disembodied gospel, spend the rest of the summer reorienting your body toward a “full-body” faith. For starters, read Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners. Take it to the beach in a brown paper wrapper (just kidding) and browse through the pages. Learn how the Bible explains our bodies, including rusty showerheads, the male fascination with female breasts, and why most beachgoers in most places wear swimsuits. I bet you’ll find your summer vacation more rewarding and perhaps even renewing.
1 Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization (New York: Image Book, 2012), p. 7.