Sex in the tWorld

Few subjects elicit a sense of moral schizophrenia quite like human sexuality.  At one extreme end, we emphasize sex as something purely “natural,” yet condemn those who indulge their natural urges with no thought of consequence.  At the other extreme we see a depth of passion—a view of sex that goes deeper than a merely physical act.  Even in modern music, sex is described in religious terms, such as when Robert Smith of The Cure sang of a love that feels “just like heaven,” or when Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sang (darkly) of sexual union that brings him “closer to God.”  Confused as our pop stars may be, they’re onto something basic: that sex is more than merely physical.

Christian author Philip Yancey suggests that many of our high-minded theories on sex point toward this same basic idea:

“The very word sex comes from a Latin verb that means to cut off or sever, and sexual impulses drive us to unite, to restore somehow the union that has been severed. Freud diagnosed the deep pain within as a longing for union with a parent; Jung diagnosed a longing for union with the opposite sex. The Christian sees a deeper longing, for union with the God who created us.”[1]

Sexuality is part of human nature, part of God’s design.  As we’ve mentioned, the tWorld—the world of tradition—bears the bad reputation of being against sex.  But what does the Bible have to say about human sexuality?

A MIRROR OF DIVINE CHOREOGRAPHY

Returning to Genesis, we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27  So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-7)

Previously we’d examined the idea of God’s “image” in the context of gender—being created “male” and “female.”  But bearing God’s image also has implications for human sexuality.

Through the Bible, we learn that God eternally exists as a community of three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.  What relationship do they share?  It wasn’t until roughly two centuries after Jesus that a man named Tertullian would come to offer definition to this concept.  Tertullian gave us the word “Trinity” to describe this relationship, and much of his language would be borrowed from the world of theater (for instance “person” comes from the Latin persona, meaning mask).  But Tertullian also noted that the Bible describes the persons of the Trinity as having fiercely intimate relationships, such as when Jesus declares: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).  Tertullian would coin a new word to describe this intimate fellowship: perichoresis.  The word itself is a bit cumbersome, but if you look very closely you can see the root of our current English word “choreography.”  More recently, C.S. Lewis adopted this understanding when he said that “God is not a static thing…but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.”[2]

If human beings are made in the image of this “divine drama,” this “divine choreography,” what does it tell us about our true purpose?   It tells us that we are created to mirror this choreographed community through our relationships.  While all human relationships do this to varying degrees, it is in sexual intercourse that our bodies penetrate one another just as the persons of the Trinity indwell one another.

Does this mean that the Trinity is sexual?  No; but it means that human sexuality is the closest we get to mirroring this divine relationship.  And it also means that before God utters a single word regarding human sexual ethics, we find the model for heterosexual intercourse embedded in the very character of God.

REPRODUCTION

In the creation story, God goes on to describe humanity’s most immediate purpose:

And God blessed them. And God said to them,  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

While even primitive societies have practiced contraceptive techniques, it’s only been recently that advances in reproductive technology have enabled us to sever the benefits of sex from the commitments of family.  But God’s original design saw them as linked: that human couples would populate the earth by having and raising children.

Even if we examine this from a purely biological standpoint, we see that sex is essential for the flourishing of life.  If you study biology, you learn that sexual reproduction ensures the most diversity of genes.  This promotes not only the diversity of life, but also minimizes the spread of harmful genes.  Could this also be an example of God’s wonderful design?

MARITAL UNITY

Sex also serves to unite husband and wife at a deeper level.  As the creation story moves from the general overview to the detailed account of husband and wife, we learn that “the Lord God formed the man out of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).  We usually take this passage to mean that man is endowed with two things: (1) a physical body and (2) an immaterial “soul”—or at least the sum total of his emotions, thoughts, etc.

So after the woman is created, the caption on their “wedding portrait” says that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  The phrase “one flesh” is obviously symbolic.  But if we understand human nature correctly, then we might understand this to mean that sex unites both our physical bodies and our immaterial souls.  It’s no wonder, then, that sexual relationships create such lasting bonds—and why young people feel so jilted and damaged when an emotional bond fails to develop after the physical bond of a one-night-stand.

Paul picks up on this same theme in 1 Corinthians.  In a time when early Christians were facing enormous difficulties, Paul reminds married couples that their sexuality has the power to keep them united:

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:3-4)

Doesn’t this also tell us why physical modesty is so important?  Christians insist on modesty not because we view parts of the human anatomy as “dirty.”  On the contrary; we see them as noble and therefore worthy of the care of privacy.

PHYSICAL PLEASURE

Finally, we find within the pages of Scripture an entire collection of love poems called “The Song of Solomon.”  Here we find a pair of lovers exchanging intimate promises to one another.  One of the opening lines is the woman saying: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Song of Solomon 1:2)—and it may surprise you to learn that the book gets far racier from there(!).

“The role of the woman throughout the Song [of Solomon] is truly astounding, especially in light of its ancient origins. It is the woman, not the man, who is the dominant voice throughout the poems that make up the Song. She is the one who seeks, pursues, initiates. [In Song 5:10–16] she boldly exclaims her physical attraction. . . . Most English translations hesitate in this verse. The Hebrew is quite erotic, and most translators cannot bring themselves to bring out the obvious meaning. . . . This again is a prelude to their lovemaking. There is no shy, shamed, mechanical movement under the sheets. Rather, the two stand before each other, aroused, feeling no shame, but only joy in each other’s sexuality.”[3]

THE tWORLD, SEX, AND MARRIAGE

Now it’s true that some of the human traditions of the tWorld were less than positive concerning sex.  Perhaps because he was something of a recovering sex addict, St. Augustine believed sex should be reserved only for human reproduction—a view that still colors some of the Roman Catholic thinking today.

But when we put these pieces all together, we find that Christianity represents a joyous celebration of sex.  This is why we should never think of sex as something “dirty” or resort to slang expressions like “doing the nasty.”  Sex is something beautiful, to be honored, treasured, celebrated.  But the pages of Genesis also hint at something we’ll cover as we proceed in our series: that because sex is so worthy of honor and nobility, sex is reserved for a couple committed to one another in marriage.  When we elevate reproduction as the sole purpose for sex, our posture becomes prudish and puritanical.  But when we elevate physical pleasure as the sole purpose, we become the slaves to our own desires.  We need God to help us understand the purpose of sex.  And we need God to rescue us from its abuses.

 

[1] Philip Yancey, “Holy Sex: How it Ravishes Our Souls,” Christianity Today, October 1, 2003.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 174-6.

[3] Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life, p. 253–54.

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