That's a Good Question
Dear Dr. Tom: I belong to the Presbyterian Church, but have been reading Unity Magazine for years and always enjoy your column. There is a group of us who get together every other Monday at someone's home for in-depth discussions about living a better life through Christ. Our next discussion will be from a 75-year-old widower in our group, who desires female company, but does not want to get married again. Here's the question: What are some Christian guidelines for a widow/widower, who wants to develop a relationship with the opposite sex, without getting married?
Dear Presbyterian Friend: Somewhere deep in my mind, a little voice is saying, Shepherd, if you answer for this one honestly, you’re going to hell. Then I remember Unity people don’t believe in hell, so here goes. Jesus went on the record about human sexuality when he refused to condemn a woman caught en flagrante delicto. His well-known words to the mob were, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone ...” (John 8:7). This confrontation may not be historical, because it appears only in later copies of John and is not mentioned by the exhaustive, early church commentaries on the Gospels. Historical or not, the very least we learn is what the Church assumed Jesus believed about sexuality, and the incident as described places Jesus’ ethical position far beyond the outer limits of permissible sexual behavior in first-century Jewish society.
In biblical language, adultery referred to extramarital coitus with a married woman, a criminal offense punishable by death. If Jesus didn’t condemn her, what would he say to two people who are not violating marriage vows but simply expressing physical affection as part of a healthy relationship? Jesus warns the woman after the crowd departs, “Go and sin no more.” Good advice, considering what she had narrowly escaped.
What you are describing, of course, is not adultery but the healthy expression of a divine gift, the joys of affectionate sensuality. Arguably, the world would be a better place if everybody celebrated the holidays with gifts of kindness and acts of spiritual and physical love. I am not speaking for Unity but as one theologian responding to the question at hand. Tell your senior citizen friend God created sexuality as a gratuity/bonus for putting up with children, and the benefits need not end at retirement.
Dear Dr. Tom: I seldom disagree with anything you have written, but this one doesn't make sense to me. (The idea that there are too many people alive today for everyone to have lived many human lives is an old argument against reincarnation.) The unlimited nature of God would indicate to me that God can incarnate in an unlimited number of personalities. All 7 billion of us now extant were not necessarily on this earth at one time in the past. It could be that new personalities are being brought to earth for the first time on a daily basis. ~ J.Y., Sun City, Arizona
Dear J.Y.: Good to hear from a former student who is still doing good work in theology. Let’s see if I can play professor again. It’s a math thing, which isn’t my best subject. We are talking about living prior lives as human beings on this world, which is how the engineering of reincarnation is usually described. The fact that 7 billion humans are currently on Earth provides a baseline. Assuming we cannot simultaneously be our own parents, you can add a few billion more human lives to the total. Let’s call it 10 billion as a round figure. If all 10 billion individual people lived six or seven lives, you get many times the total number of species Homo sapiens who ever walked the planet. Are there other planets, other universes in the multiverse? Sure, devotees to universal reincarnation can keep stacking on possibilities until the system stretches to accommodate the theory. Maybe it all happened in the Absolute, which is another heavenly city to house ideas that don’t work in the here and now.
I am not saying there is no reincarnation; there are too many instances of past life memories that cannot be explained away. I am merely suggesting, to borrow your words, “new personalities are being brought to earth for the first time” may be the normal pattern rather than multiple lives for all. Anyway, keep turning all ideas upside down to look for an expiration date stamped on the bottom—especially mine!