The Viagra commercial includes a warning. If you experience a certain condition lasting over four hours, call a doctor. The Passion Week suggests it might be closer to three.
Passion Week began yesterday. It’s a commemoration recalling the sufferings that Christ experienced during his final week on earth. That week he was betrayed, beaten, cursed, and crucified. Christ suffered at the hands of others but didn’t resist. The French word for this sort of thing is paseo, from which we get two words: passion and passive.
This combination of passion and passive can be problematic. Few can endure suffering at the hands of another for any length of time. Most capitulate, which is why passion is often equated with evil desire, greed, and idolatry (Col. 3:5). Three hours at a pop might be the limit, as Christ endured the cross for that length of time.
Capitulating to passion is not always wrong, however. Jeremiah rebuked Israel’s idolatries, likening them to “the wild donkey that sniffs the wind in her passion” (Jer. 2:24). This is a startlingly sexual metaphor. The donkey is wild since animals in heat are driven by sexual passion that defies control. It’s their nature and there’s nothing wrong with that. This sort of passion is a good thing, but not when human beings act this way.
In their first meeting in 1961, President John F. Kennedy shocked British Prime Minister Harold McMillan by telling him that he suffered excruciating headaches if he went too long without sex. Kennedy was a wild donkey. He didn’t take his marriage vows seriously. He didn’t embrace the Apostle Paul’s view of nuptial union.
Paul urged those who lack self-control to get married, “for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (I Cor. 7:9). The apostle saw sexual arousal and consummation—passion—as a good thing, but only inside nuptial union. If you are aroused all the time and unable to curb it, best get married and be faithful to your spouse. A proper passion is learning the joys of sexual restraint and release inside nuptial union.
I don’t mean to sound prurient but the picture that Jeremiah and Paul evoke is of sexual consummation. This is why if you claim to be passionate about something all the time, it’s like saying you’re experiencing an erection lasting over four hours. Call a doctor.
You won’t have to make that call in eternity. There, believers will enjoy consummation with Christ forever, which, by definition, means “permanent completion by sex.” Passion will not be problematic as we’ll be able to endure this level of intensity indefinitely.
This is why so much of today’s patter about passion actually cheapens it. We claim to be passionate about almost anything. At a recent conference for Generation Z (those born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask), the talk was of how they want to take an active role changing the world. “It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion” is how one person described them. But this cheapens passion as it’s not aligned with how human nature works. We’d benefit from a passion “aligned with reality,” notes Andy Mills, the former CEO of the Thomson Financial who now co-chairs the Theology of Work Project. What’s happening in the Middle East is one example.
In 2003, the American-led invasion of Iraq replaced the relative tolerance of Christians under Saddam Hussein with sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that drove Christians away. In 2011, the last of the American forces left. Destabilized, the Middle East is being de-Christianized, particularly in recent months when militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) have expelled, murdered or persecuted hundreds of thousands of Christians. These Christians are experiencing passion. Told to convert or be murdered—or watch daughters forced into marriage—many find it hard to endure for any length of time. My hunch is these Christians would take no solace in our endless chatter about passion.
The Viagra commercial reminds us there is a cap on how long we can endure genuine passion. The Passion Week, culminating at the cross of Christ, might cap it at three hours. Beyond that, we’re probably exaggerating.
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