The image of Christians as puritanical zealots who fear all physical contact is both humourous and regrettable. It is humourous because of how unBiblical the concept of physical coldness is when viewed against examples like David and Jonathan, and regrettable because of how often its tenants are upheld or even encouraged by Christians.
Let’s pull back a bit and define physical contact for the sake of this conversation. For now, I would like to discuss it in the context of hugging: a simple physical embrace between two people. I put hugging on par with a Holy Kiss, elevating it somewhat above a handshake but not something that reaches the familiar level of an outright smooch. Its meaning changes depending on how fervent the hug is, its length and intensity, and the two people sharing the contact, but in general it’s fairly benign. I think that gives us a decent starting place for discussing physical contact between Christians in general.
Due to my experience, I can only define hugging in negative terms, which is to say that I cannot outright state what it is. Rather, I must state that which it is not, and allow the whitespace to highlight its shape and form. And while this may seem like an absurd concept, I suspect that I am not alone in this. I have met a number of people who seem to have misinterpreted either the aim or the execution of hugging and in so doing have perverted its definition.
In this sense, I think the correlation of a hug to the Holy Kiss is important. Hugging is not a sexual activity, nor a licentious one, but it is to be shared between two individuals who share a common understanding. Without that common understanding, its meaning and importance are lost.
- Hugging is not sexual, nor is it romantic. It is something shared between friends and family.
- Hugging is not greedy or self-serving, but an act of connection between two people, serving both.
- Hugging is not a universal greeting, appropriate in all situations.
- However, hugging is not reserved or rare–it ought to be practiced far more than we do now.
- Hugging is a gift, a balm, and a blessing. It is a way of saying to someone, “You are not alone.”
- Hugging is not a demand.
As I started to try and understand hugging for myself, at least enough to write this list, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.
This passage is a bulwark against which we can test the love we see around us. If the “love” we are seeing does not match this, it is not love. If what we are experiencing is not these things, it is not love. Similarly, hugging is those things above, and many more that I can’t think of right now. If it becomes sexual, you’ve transitioned from hugging to groping or grinding. If it is greedy, you are no longer hugging, but grasping and clinging. If it is not a gift, it is a theft.
If people are calling something hugging that does not meet the above definitions (which I’ll be talking about tomorrow), their definition has become confused and mistaken. This has a serious impact on their life, relationships, and ability to connect with others, and is something that they must address and set aright.