A most provocative sentence in Bruce Marshall’s novel The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith (1944):

The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.

I think Peter Kreeft is on the right track in his analysis:

I think a secularist has only one substitute left for God, only one experience in a desacrilized world that still gives him something like the mystical, self-transcending thrill of ecstasy that God designed all souls to have forever, and to long for until they have it. Unless he is a surfer, that experience has to be sex. We’re designed for more than happiness; we’re designed for joy. Aquinas writes, with simple logic, “Man cannot live without joy. That is why one deprived of true spiritual joys must spill over to carnal pleasures.”

Drugs and alcohol are attractive because they claim to feed the same need. The lack the ontological greatness of sex, but they provide the same semi-mystical thrill: the transcendence of reason and self-consciousness. I do not mean this merely as moral condemnation, but as psychological analysis.

In fact, though they sound shocking, I think the addict is closer to the deepest truth than the mere moralist. He is looking for the very best thing in some of the very worst places. His demand for a state in which he transcends morality is very wrong, but it’s also very right. For we are designed for something beyond morality, something in which morality will be transformed. Mystical union with God. Sex is a sign and appetizer of that.

Moral absolutists must never forget that morality, though absolute, is not ultimate. It is not our Summum Bonum. Sinai is not the Promised Land; Jerusalem is. And in the New Jerusalem, what finally happens as the last chapter of human history is a wedding between the Lamb and His bride. Deprived of this Jerusalem, we must buy into Babylon. If we do not worship God, we will worship idols, for we are by nature worshippers.

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14 thoughts on “Sex as a Sign and Appetizer of Something More”

  1. lander says:

    Pretty sure that line originates with Chesterton: “The man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.”

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      It’s often attributed to Chesterton but I’ve never come across any attribution or verification. I know the Smith source is legit. If anyone comes across an original source of Chesterton saying it, let me know. I believe the Chesterton Society says the quote is falsely attributed to GKC.

  2. Guillermo Rosas says:

    Thanks, Justin! This is an excellent post that helps us to understand that we fight sin in the wrong way when we forget that God designed us for joy in Him. And that all substitutes, including morality, steal from us the possibility of fulfilling our deepest longings. Very good!

  3. Justin,

    This is the best post you’ve had for a while, and they’re all good. I think it’s realistic to say that the world’s worship of sex and sexual pleasure falls right in line with Satan’s typical counterfeiting scheme — get people chasing a convincing semblance of the truth, and many of them likely will never arrive at the Real Thing.

  4. Gary H. says:

    This is brilliant! Right on! How I wish that preachers, teachers, and parents really believed this, took it to heart, lived it, and taught it to their children. How much freedom we’d all experience if we would stop moralizing and pursue joy and satisfaction in Jesus!

  5. Sharon says:

    C.S. Lewis mentions in “mere Christianity about this; how God has given natural, God-ordained desires and how sin has corrupted these.

  6. Bryant King says:

    I remember asking a friend of mine if, in his experience, LSD was addictive. His response was “Feeling good is addictive.” That answer stuck with me and seems to be addressed here.

  7. Victor says:

    This is why I am a Christian Hedonist.

  8. Trudy VanderMolen says:

    Malcolm Muggeridge said “sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”

  9. Oh my, that is staggeringly true.

  10. Phil says:

    Justin, now *this* is why you’re on my blog reader. Another great, insightful post!

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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