In Defense of a Virginal Heart
by Bethany Patchin
Kiss me beneath the milky twilight. Lead me out on the moonlit floor. Lift your open hand. Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance, Silver moon's sparkling. So kiss me.
You might recognize this chorus, from one of the most popular Christian songs-gone-mainstream — it was #1 on the Billboard chart for two weeks in May of '99. It's "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer. Scan your radio channels for a minute and you're bound to catch the tune's signature descent of guitar chords and whimsical vocals.
In a recent Christian catalog I came across an endorsement for the self-titled Sixpence CD - "One of the most talked-about albums of the year!" From the discussions I've had with Christians my age, I believe it. All the talking can be summed up in a statement I found on a Christian listener's Amazon.com review:
"What in the world does 'Kiss Me' have to do with Jesus?"
It's a fair question, but I think it reveals a profound misunderstanding. You might as well ask: What does the Song of Solomon have to do with Jesus? It is called The Song of All Songs, though it never mentions God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit by name. Yet, it's an important book of the Bible because it teaches us that sexual intimacy (kissing included) in the right context is a gift from God. I'd bet Matt Slocum (songwriter and creative force behind SNTR) and lead singer Leigh Nash understand the connection between kissing and Christ, since they're both married.
I don't question Christian musicians singing a poem about kissing. I do question the rest of my Christian family separating such a deeply significant act from the One who designed it for us. Mind you, I understand their concerns. "I'm not thinking about God when I hear that song," a 22-year-old male friend of mine said. "I'm thinking about kissing my girlfriend. That's not very worshipful." My friend is trying to honestly assess his own motives, and he's right to do so. But he's missing the significance "Kiss Me" has in pointing toward an experience God intends as a type of worship. Worship literally means "to kiss the cheek of." I firmly believe that we are kissing the cheek of God when we take delight in the pleasures of intimacy with our marriage partners. Of course my friend was probably also right that he wasn't thinking worshipful thoughts. And here's where I get controversial. I also believe that kissing a romantic interest outside of marriage is not gratifying to God.
"Treat younger men as brothers ... and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity" (emphasis added) (1 Timothy 5:1b, 2b). There are two states of sexuality outlined in the Bible, celibacy and marriage — and during the transfer from the first to the second we are still under Paul's command of restraint.
Rethinking a Kiss
"Passionate kissing is: (1) a harmless recreational activity, (2) a godly way to show true love while dating, (3) something only married people should share, (4) a means of seducing your date."
My eyes were immediately drawn to the survey question-of-the-week at the Christian Web site www.singleness.org. Of the 302 people surveyed (I'd guess most were Christians), 27 chose the first answer, 76 chose the second, and 40 chose the last. Add that up and over 47 percent of them allowed that passionate kissing is acceptable outside of marriage.
Something only married people should share. I added my click and my vote to that group. At one point I might have chosen while dating, or even harmless recreational activity — but over the past few years I've found Bible verses that have convicted me otherwise. "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:15-18).
'Never' covers all of time — before, during and after marriage. Since I'm not married yet, I am responsible for guarding my husband's 'fountain' (my body, which includes my lips) from strangers, even strangers who would only take a sip. I am attempting to rise to the challenge of Proverbs 31 — "a wife of noble character ... brings her husband good, not harm, all the days of her life." Men, likewise, are responsible for drinking only from their own wells, only from their own wives, and for staying away from mine.
Christians give the actual act of sexual intercourse a great deal of spiritual significance, yet we rarely examine the motives behind our casual exchanges of physical intimacy with brothers and sisters. We don't fully acknowledge sexual intimacy as a whole package; we don't realize that the beginning and ending of passion are inseparable. Most Christians of my generation would agree with the biblical teaching of physical purity as a goal. Yet when it comes to following up in action, we make the same mistakes as our supposedly more worldly peers. Why is that?
I believe it's partly because kissing is treated so nonchalantly — it's something we exchange between dates, and it's justifiable as long as the people involved are Christians and they don't take it "too far." It has little to do with God; it has been reduced to a touch exchanged between two, instead of its intended purpose of three-way communion between man, woman and God. The Bible never says "Thou shalt not kiss" so we assume Jesus doesn't come into our physical connections until we are on the way to marriage.
I'm a sophomore in college with virgin lips. A few months after turning 16, I vowed to keep my "bow" tied until a man promises to commit himself to the whole package. My first kiss will be from my husband on our wedding day. Yes, that's quite a progression, from an inexpert kiss at the altar to the complete unwrapping of the wedding night — believe me, my friends have pointed that out. Then again, Adam and Eve managed to figure everything out in a day.
God never intended the engagement period to be a time for physical experimenting, for peeking under the wrapping paper. Kissing — which quickly turns passionate when you are in love — carries a current intended to light a fire. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "kiss" (nashaq) is derived from the primary root meaning "to kindle." I don't want to open the matchbox. "Why preheat the oven when you can't cook the roast?" as Doug Wilson puts it in Her Hand in Marriage.
We see this truth reflected in places ranging from Scripture to literature that has endured for centuries. Song of Solomon 8:4 says not to arouse love until the right time. The fairy tales of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White hold a deeper symbolism: a kiss is (and should be) an awakening. I want to guard my fiancé; I want him to be asleep to me until we are one before God. There will be other ways of showing affection without arousing passion.
A Virginal Heart
Ultimately I am not as concerned about what Christians' lips do as I am about where our hearts are. One short kiss might not spark anything (though a string of short kisses quickly becomes a fuse). What's behind your kiss is what God is concerned about. Are you bestowing devotion or taking gratification? If you truly love that person, is it in their best interests to whet their thirst when you cannot give them the whole glass of water?
Elisabeth Elliot says it best in Passion and Purity: "Can I say categorically that a kiss is a sin? I can say that it might be. I can say that it might take the edge off, spoil the taste and the pleasure later on. It might reduce power. It might distract the heart. ... It is the heart's direction that is always the central issue. God knows what the heart is set on. We can deceive others. We can easily deceive ourselves. The humble and honest heart will always be shown the truth."
God asks different things of different people. My point is not that everyone should take a vow against premarital kissing. My challenge is that this generation of Christians would take a deeper look at something we treat so lightly. That we would take the initiative in saving something so precious for the right time and person — that we would pray about grasping what Solomon meant when he said there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. That we would understand how intricately kissing is involved with Jesus and that we would ask Him how we can better obey His commands for purity.
Since I don't have a boyfriend and have never been kissed, when I hear "Kiss Me" on the radio I turn it up. I get a little dreamy and ponder on what it will be like to dance among the fireflies and moonlight with my husband. And I know that when he kisses me the joy I feel will be praise that goes straight to heaven.
Bethany Patchin is an English major at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. She wants to be a wife and a mom and hopes to sneak in writing during naptimes.