I was going to spend more time thinking of a creative title, but I’ve found that nothing grabs people’s attention more than the word “sex.” So just putting that one word as the title causes people to be at peak attentiveness. In fact, by the end of this sentence, most people will have already drifted off. SEX. See? I got you back, didn’t I?
I teach a course on the Old Testament at the college in town. Once you’re in college, you’re supposed to read the Old Testament a little more closely than you do in Sunday School, mainly because there’s a lot of gritty stuff in the Old Testament. It’s much closer to being rated R than it is to being rated G. You don’t really pick up on all of that until you’re older and, really, until someone can point out some of the crazy stuff going on.
I think what’s a bit surprising for some (most?) of my students is how prominent sex is in the Old Testament. I mean, yes, there’s some rules about sex in the Law. But there’s just a lot of stories in there too. Often, things are going haywire in a moral sense, often in a violent way. There’s a lot of tragedy related to people’s sex lives in the Old Testament. Look at good ole’ (?) Jacob. He ends up with two wives (unintentionally) and two concubines. He’s sleeping with four women on the regular. Culturally, this wasn’t too strange. Biblically, bad things happen when there’s more than monogamy. And Jacob is no different. Obviously, there’s jealousy and hurt feelings because of time and affection not split evenly. That pain is compounded when kids get thrown into the picture. Jacob’s family structure is crazy. And these kids are the titular heads of Israel’s twelve tribes!
So yeah. There’s a lot of sex in the Bible.
Unfortunately, due to some understandable misreadings and with the help of the Church being unsure if sex is anything other than shameful, people seem to think that God thinks sex is bad. Or gross. Or off-limits as a conversation topic. That simply isn’t the case, though. It’s a sub-Biblical approach to sexual relationships. God is very much pro-sex. Christians (and we’re not alone on this) believe that sex is actually God’s idea. It’s not an unfortunate glitch in the plan that’s required to keep the species going. It’s God’s design. He’s not ashamed of sex. I think he’s quite proud of his idea, actually. In our Bible is a whole book (Song of Songs/Solomon) devoted to love poetry that, newsflash, is pretty sexually explicit. There’s nary a shameful word to be spoken about sex itself in the Bible. In fact, Paul is pretty clear in his letter to the church in Corinth that married folks should be frequent visitors to the temple of love (which, for their clarity and yours, is not a temple at all, nor is it worship of any kind of god. It’s a euphemism for sex. SEX.). As I put it to my students, there’s no portion of Genesis 1, 2, or 3 where God recoils in surprise or horror when he sees Adam and Eve having sex for the first time. It was in the plan!
Now, we do have a very counter-cultural view of sex. While God is not opposed to sex at all, he does very clearly seem to have a singular venue in mind for it. Sex is the highest physical expression of relational intimacy, love, and vulnerability. That kind of physical act is meant to be expressed within the context of the highest form of commitment. Marriage between a husband and wife. Permanent, public, legally-binding covenantal love. Intimacy at that level is meant to be an expression of love at its highest commitment. Intimacy and commitment intertwined make a beautiful, glorious thing. It becomes the fundamental unit of civilization. It’s the fountain from which the future flows. The Law is often most clearly organized around protecting family units. Marriage-less sex is the fruit of commitment without the peril of commitment. And that is dangerous.
I think it’s important to understand that “sin” is not an arbitrary category. Sin is not some powerful dude in the sky’s random behavioral rule list. Sin is describing what is the Good and what is Not. God is illuminating for us the way the universe was supposed to run. There are seriously painful consequences to untethering sex from the highest form of commitment. Culturally, we just don’t believe that anymore. We don’t believe that sex is anything more than physically pleasing unless we choose to let it be emotionally powerful. And if people want to have a sexual relationship, that’s their business. There’s no consequences.
Except. Except there are consequences. We know that you more likely need to worry about STD’s if you have sexual relationships “with no consequences.” We know that there can be problems with emotional wreckage or attachment if you don’t enter into or leave these kind of relationships properly. I’m not saying everyone is guaranteed trauma or disease or anything like that. I’m just saying that the risk is higher. And sometimes those percentages don’t work out for people living that kind of lifestyle.
It’s not really acceptable these days to talk about telling people to not have sex. And that’s kind of our fault. There have been entire, weird Christian subcultures built up around “purity” which leaves kids feeling grossed out about their bodies and sex and all kinds of strange stuff. That’s not a healthy alternative to our cultural view of sex. Sex shouldn’t be a topic wrapped in secrecy and shame. But thinking it’s cheap or untethered from lasting commitment isn’t healthy either.
Let’s tell the truth about sex. Do you know that studies exist that suggest (just suggest… no proof) that married, religious people who pray and participate in their religion, have more fulfilling and “ecstatic” sex lives? True story. Of course there are levels of appropriate information for kids, but we at the very least should not only be emphasizing “DON’T DO IT” to kids. For one, that doesn’t give an accurate reflection of what those kids’ parents are probably experiencing if they’re a typical Christian couple. And second, focusing only the “DO NOT” can teach them that sex is bad or shameful or taboo, even if that’s not what you’re trying to communicate.
Similarly, though, we don’t have to only communicate “DO IT WHENEVER YOU WANT”. This diminishes some aspects of a sexual relationship. Something being reserved for a specific context or time doesn’t make that thing bad or tainted or repressive. It makes it special. I do not give Christmas present to my kids every day. Nor do I want them being screamed at that they shouldn’t think of Christmas presents or want them ever. (Note: I do not advocate a once-a-year approach to sex for married people.)
What I’m saying is that we should learn to talk Biblically about sex. Sex is wonderful. It physically demonstrates the fullness of a marriage covenant. It is the covenant sign. It (under ordinary circumstances) creates children and generates social stability. And yeah. Sex is fun. It’s pleasurable. It is God-given pleasure. But sex is meant for a very specific venue to reveal its full goodness. God is not withholding and mean. He delights in our delight. And he also knows what is best.
I know people who are not Christians don’t agree on what to do with sex. I don’t expect people whoa aren’t Christians to talk about sex the same way we do. Why would they? But Christians need to get our stories straight and we need to make them more compelling. We have to present the Christian life for what it is: A very good, counter-cultural alternative. Christianity should not make us groan and buckle down in regards to our sexuality or hide it away somewhere. We give it over to the Creator and trust his wisdom. We enjoy what he’s given in the way he’s intended. And life is better that way. Intimacy and commitment matched up rightly are a recipe for a very good thing.
God saw it all in Genesis 1, including sex. And by the end of the chapter, it’s all very good. We trust that he knows “very good” better than we do.