Monday, July 11, 2011

Apocalyptic Hook-Ups

"Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey, give me everything tonight...for all we know we might not get tomorrow" -Pitbull, "Give Me Everything"

It’s the reoccurring nightmare of every Christian kid reared in a fundamentalist home: Sleepy eyed and dishevelled, your little self awakens in the morning and walks in the kitchen only to discover that everyone is gone. After briefly contemplating the possibility that you could be re-creating Macaulay Culkin’s serendipity a la Home Alone, your happiness quickly turns to horror. The unthinkable has just occurred: The rapture has happened and you’ve been left behind.

Fast forward to your teen years: That dream has since evolved into a scenario far more frightening. This time you KNOW the rapture has happened, because hey, there you are, caught up in the clouds with Jesus! Instead of rejoicing, however, you’re secretly a little pissed. “Really, God? Now?” You are now on your way to heaven without ever having had sex.

"It's like THE most tragic thing to die a virgin," so would have said my 13 year-old self. Even at that young age, the possibility of living a sex-free existence here on earth was very, very scary. And ironically, I have my church to thank for that...

Every single sermon from my youth group days (at least the ones interesting enough to be remembered years later) can be lumped in one of two general categories: A “Don’t Do It” sex talk and a “Get Your Life Right; Jesus is Coming Back” scare tactic spiel on the end times. I’m not sure who developed this particular sermon series, but may I say that it isn't the wisest strategy to pair these two topics together. The first admonition will (in many cases) only lead to curiosity or determination to break said rule, while the second offers the prime opportunity for action. The ever brilliant teenage mind quickly concludes: If I’m ever gonna see what this whole sex thing is about, I’d better do it quick. After all, true love waits, but the rapture might not.

Tim Keller, a Manhattan pastor, eluded to the concept of the “Apocalyptic Hook-Up” in one of his recent sermons. Apparently, the New York Times did an article in which they explored this “recent trend” where people make it their goal to hook up with someone far more attractive than they are. This experience, Keller noted, served as a self-esteem booster for many in order to prove that they could, in fact, get some from someone gorgeous.

When I first heard this new term, however, the possible definition that came to mind was not a one-night stand of epic proportions, but a hasty hook-up spurred on by a fear of the Apocalypse. In this case, it didn’t matter if your partner was super hot, just willing to share an experience that, if it didn’t happen now, might never happen at all. Although the New York Times-defined version might be new, I'm thinkin' that the "Last days = last chance for romance" idea probably first took flight 40 or so years ago...

From what I've gathered, the Jesus Movement didn’t seem too interested in discipleship. Back in the 70’s, with wars, rumours of wars, and the production of terrifying Christian movies about the Great Tribulation, the focus was on the present, not future. Therefore, Christians pushed evangelism; getting people saved was the ultimate priority. All that lifestyle stuff the Bible talks about (um, discipleship??) quickly took a back seat. There simply wasn’t enough time for that now…

Seeing as I didn’t even exist in the 70’s, I don’t claim to be the expert on this. I only know what my mother told me. My mom got saved in the Jesus Movement when she was 15. That same year, she got pregnant. As thankful as my mom is for her salvation experience, she desperately wishes they stressed different subjects in church back then.

“They really made you think that Jesus was coming back tomorrow!” she says of her own youth group sermons (Twenty years later in the 90’s, things hadn’t changed much. My experience was the same).

So, what else is a poor kid to do? “Eat, drink and be merry,” the Bible says, “for tomorrow we die” (discipleship 101 in a last days world). Live it up was the motto for all the youth who never even considered that the Lord might tarry long enough for them to actually get married (to have sex). And at 15, my mom certainly never pictured that one day she would be a grandmother of seven…

While I’m the first to chuckle at the fact that sex is a big enough deal in the mind of a teenager that it absolutely has to happen at all costs before Armageddon, I do find it disturbing that young people are so adamantly convinced in the ultimate satisfaction of it. Why is death as a virgin the worst thing in the world? I guess because, according to the world, it’s the best you can get. Love, closeness, and pleasure (in the most ideal scenario) can all be found in the embrace of another human being. As glorious as it may be (not the expert on this, but I'd venture it's a fair assumption...), I'm convinced there is infinitely more to life than this. Going back to that teenage dream for a minute: The dilemma is heaven vs. sex. And the sad reality is, most choose the sex.

This proves that we know absolutely nothing about heaven. In our finite brains, we can’t grasp the concept that something could provide FAR greater amounts of love, closeness and pleasure than doin' the dirty. But it's true! Only in recent years of studying the Bible as an adult have I discovered the book of Revelation is, in large part, NOT about the end times. (That truly came as a shock to me, I’m embarrassed to admit…). This book (often titled some form of the word Apocalypse in many Latin-based languages) is actually about the incredible beauty and greatness of God. Not to mention the perfect and perfectly satisfying home that He has waiting for us.

Just a few days ago, I was describing the California-based preacher/author Francis Chan to one of my friends. “Basically,” I said, “No matter what the subject of his sermon is, he always ends up talking about heaven.” In fact, Chan is perhaps the only person I’ve heard preach on Revelation without 75% of it (or more) being about pre, mid or post-trib theories and the implications of being “left behind” after the rapture (be-headings, anyone?). Nope, none of that: Chan just talks about the beauty of Jesus. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone talk more passionately about the anticipation of God’s glory revealed in heaven as Francis Chan (I take that back…Chan, and John Piper. See below). He is absolutely convinced that nothing on this earth could ever come close to knowing the Lord in His fullness. (I highly recommend his sermon “The Holiness of God” from Cornerstone Simi Valley Church. When I first heard it, I was speechless…).

John Piper, another preacher whom I deeply respect, is also known for touting God’s glory in each book he publishes and every sermon he preaches. His analogy pertaining to the heaven vs. sex argument is profound. In a sermon on singleness (continuing our “lack of sex” theme), Piper admonishes singles that the season they are in (whether permanent or temporary) offers them an opportunity for a unique covenant with God that married people don’t have. Its true: God makes the promise in Isaiah 56 (read the commentary on it). The problem is, Piper says, singles don’t actually believe experiencing the fullness of God to be a great reward (and certainly not a good trade for no marriage). Instead of cherishing the treasure of their singleness, they ask God for both: “Can’t I have the Biblical benefits of singleness (see 1 Corinthians 7) AND the whole marriage/sex thing?“ The two are absolutely incomparable, Piper says. Opting for human marriage over a rare closeness with the Almighty, is like God giving you the entire ocean, and you tugging on his shirt sleeve and asking, “Um, can I have a thimble too?”

(When it’s put in that light, we suddenly realize how foolish it is to desperately desire something so silly compared to something so beautiful).

Heaven or sex? Well, hopefully it's both :) But if it comes down to revelling in the lusts of the flesh (sex outside of marriage) or soaking up the beauty of Jesus, it should be a no-brainer. 

I pray that both myself and my students will have a relationship with God where we truly trust His ability to satisfy us more than anything else in this world. Oh, that we would look at that question and boldly choose the right answer...


  1. Apparently a "Apocalyptic Hook Up" google search brings me to your page.

    By chance, did you ever find the article Keller credits for coining this term?

  2. I think that besides pop music that a lot of classical music displays apocalyptic romantic relationships, especially in opera. One case and point is the English opera "Dido and Aeneas" and here is a great analysis of the piece.

  3. Not to play devil's advocate, (and I know what you're saying), but there are a couple of problems with John Piper's statements about singleness.

    Assuming the passage he was referring to in Isaiah 56 are verses 4 and 5: "For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off."

    1) There's a significant difference between a eunuch and someone who sincerely longs to be married and enjoy sexual intimacy as God designed, but just hasn't met their spouse yet. Jesus backs this up in Matthew 19:12, where he says: ""Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Who can. Two words with a lot of implication! Plus, God's words from the beginning in Genesis 2:18 always throws a big wrench in the works: "...It is not good for the man to be alone."

    2) He himself is married. "He married Noël Henry in 1968, and together they have four sons, a daughter, and several grandchildren." (Wikipedia) I always find it interesting and frankly, hypocritical of speakers to talk about the glories of being single when they themselves are married. Their words just don't carry any weight with me.

    Just saying.