Leonard Cohen and biblical sex

“He saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you, she tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair, and from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

A moment of madness, a rash act, a crazed maze of unintended consequences. One minute David was gazing longingly at a woman bathing, the next he was sending her husband to the front of the battle to cover over the shame of having conceived his wife’s child.

Avoiding the fact that Leonard Cohen neatly conflates David and Samson’s stories into one testimony of the triumph of sexual temptation, the picture he paints is one never far from our own experience. We may not have avoided the challenges of battle to recline and seduce our neighbour. We may not have lost our incredible strength by succumbing to the charms of Delilah. But I’m sure there are times when we’ve let sexual temptation steal something from us.

When we’ve let our lust take from us the hallelujah that is due to God. When we have ducked the challenges of life for the easy satisfaction that is purportedly presented to us on a plate. The chance to have what we want, when we want it, and walk away unchanged but with our needs satisfied.

Free love, that’s the tale we are told and the dream that we are sold. And was the topic for week 2 of Christchurch’s Love is a Verb series.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as free sex. Everything comes with a price. Sex is an act of commitment between two bodies. Not that I’d know, but one hears that it is an act of immense fulfilment, which creates an obligation beyond just the physical experience of the moment. Which is why sex is best within a relationship that can bear the weight of commitment in emotional, psychological, spiritual, material as well as in the physical sexual sense.

Otherwise, the free love that we are experiencing leaves us in debt. It carries the weight of more than it can hold, it either tries to hold all of those levels of commitment on a pin head or we remove the attachment it creates and empty sex of its meaning.

The problem for David wasn’t that he failed in his worship of God, but that his life did not match up to that worship. I know that feeling too well. The ecstasy of worship followed by the cascade of the fall. The love for God and the desires of self. One doesn’t do away with the other. I can love God with all my heart, I can be passionate in my worship for him and still walk in the opposite direction. I know that path all too well.

I know the grace that comes when I confess all that I have done and all that I have thought. I know the darkness of my soul that is washed clean, and rendered ruined once again.

But love and worship of God isn’t a part time hobby. It’s not something we can pop into and out of. It’s not something we can leave to the side and pick up after we are done with what we wanted to do. It’s more than a full time job. It is complete absorption in the purposes and rigour of a life defined not by yourself. It is giving every ounce that you have and know that you have given it all, and then realising that is the time God’s grace is most present. In the moment of weakness, not before we try, but once we have failed.

Two final thoughts that may make there way into further posts so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Firstly, David tried to cover over his shame, and that made things worse. It is the haunting effect of guilt that drags us into deeper secrecy and shame in a forlorn effort to cover over our sin. The fear of shame allows it to become more ingrained and more pronounced. How do we break the ties of shame that clamp us to the floor?

Secondly, and this one I almost expected. The line that sex is a great gift from God, complete with the requisite analogy demonstrating its power but also the need for it to be used in the correct way. Maybe that needs to be said, but it comes supremely close to a taunt, that it is the greatest gift you will never receive. Unless you get married. There’ll be more on singleness in a couple of weeks, both in the series and on this blog. But how do you handle this tension, the need to affirm sex as good without making the wait all the more difficult for those not in a place to experience it?

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