Previously on the West Wing…
I’m in the middle of a series of blogs setting out a positive and life-enriching Christian understanding of sex. So far we have considered how sex is God’s gift to us, is not all-important for human flourishing, and is not inherently shameful or sinful.
As part of these articles I have argued that the idea that sex is a part of God’s creation and given to us means that we should look to God to understand how it is intended to be used, what its dangers are, and what good it is intended to bring. We discover that in two ways:
First, by looking at the physical creation God has made. Men and women are designed to fit together – their physical bodies correspond in a way that makes sex possible and brings with it certain consequences. Yet nature is an uncertain guide because we tend to corrupt it through our selfishness, pride and so on. Our sexual desires are a very bad guide to God’s intention because they so easily become focussed in the wrong place.
Second, and more importantly, we look to Scripture. We examine what God has said about how he made humanity, how sex is good, what its dangers are, how it can be misused and the ultimate end that it points us towards.
In my next four posts I am going to argue that in a Christian understanding, sex is good. What I mean by this is that:
- it is good for our relationships with each other in society – it strengthens and enriches our marriages, renews our species, and provides for our future; and
- that it is good for our relationship with God – it reveals and shows his love for us both when we have sex and when we choose not to have it, it enables us to work with him in creation, and it demonstrates our destiny with Christ.
Each of these goods applies to us all whether we are in sexual relationships or not. The Bible speaks about sex as a depiction of God’s love for us and understanding it therefore enables us to understand that love more.
We’re going to explore this further by looking at four pillars of a Christian understanding of good and God-designed sex.
This week I am arguing that sex is designed to be passionate and it points us to God’s love for us in Christ.
As with each of the posts in this series I recommend reading the archetypal account of God’s intention when creating humanity in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:4-7, 18-25 together with the use of it by Jesus (for example in Matthew 19:3-6) and St Paul (for example in Ephesians 5:31-33).
Both Scripture and in nature show us that sex is intended to be passionate.
We need to understand that we are created to be passionate people – to experience desire. This can be a difficult idea for English people to receive. Yet to deny that we are people with passions and desires is to deny something fundamental about who we are created to be. We are created to love things, to desire them.
We are made that way because we are made in God’s image. We are made to love because this is who God is – He is love.There is a passion for union between persons that exists within God and which he extends to us. Jesus talked about this divine love in John 17 when he prays that his disciples may share the love and intimacy that God enjoys in himself:
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Inside every human heart is a desire, even a need, to be united with God and with other people. The idea of a solitary person out of relationship with others and God is alien to Christianity and to human experience. The great poet and preacher John Donne put it like this:
We need each other, we long for each other. And this longing is an echo of our desire for God. As St Augustine of Hippo said:
We are passionate people.
The Passion of Sex
This passion and desire is reflected in sex. This isn’t something to be ashamed of. The Bible affirms the desire for sexual union between people as a reflection of God’s love for us. It is reflected in the prophets – Ezekiel uses the picture of God as a King and Israel as his bride commenting on how the King saw and admired her breasts, her hair, and her beauty.
Similarly, Song of Solomon is an extended love poem between a husband and his bride. It is full of passion and joy. For example, the husband says of the wife:
While the wife replies to her husband:
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
I have dwelt here because it is central to our understanding of Jesus’ love for us. Christ’s love for you is overwhelming; it was enough to die for.
My point is that the Biblical understanding is that there is nothing wrong with erotic desire. Sex is passionate. Moreover, the erotic passion that we feel is a picture of God’s desire for us and of our ultimate desire to be united with him. The analogy isn’t exact. But sex is a picture of the rawness of joy and anticipation that God has for the church and we are created to have for him.
I want to suggest some brief applications from this.
God’s love for us in Christ Jesus is passionate. The passion people feel about sex, the joy of it, our commitment to it, are just echoes of God’s passionate love for you. If you are a Christian, rejoice and thank him for it. If you struggle with knowing that God loves you then go through the Bible, or look at these notes when they are online and learn the passages about God’s love for you. It isn’t dry and arid and intellectual; it is the love of a husband for his bride on her wedding day.
For Married People
For those who are married, make time to engage passionately with one another; it will take time and effort.
I want to encourage you to follow the example of Jesus and Paul. Be steadfast and faithful in honouring God’s vision for sex. Your lives, like that of Jesus, are prophetic. You speak to the truth that it is the Giver, not the gift, that is truly the most valuable and enriching part of life. Learn to rejoice in the love and faithfulness of God – you are a testament to it in a way that those who are married will never be able to be.
For those nursing guilt
For those nursing guilt from present or past failures, I want you to hear that God loves you. He cares for you. Jesus came for you to redeem you. You are loved, you bear his image, and you can be his child.
Every one of us has walked away from God in some way. Yet the message of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is that he loves us and wants to make us new.
If you feel guilty, he offers forgiveness; if you feel dirty, he will wash you clean; if you feel shame, he offers wholeness; if you struggle with temptation or addiction, he can give you freedom.
Come to him. Repent, and be baptised and you will receive his cleansing, healing, empowering Spirit making you new again.
If you want to read further about the ideas we are discussing in this series I recommend these two books:
- A Better Story by Prof. Glynn Harrison. Professor Harrison is the former Professor of Psychology at Bristol University and has written a fascinating, compassionate and informative account of the changes in how society has viewed sex and sexuality over the last 50 years together with a proposal for how faithfully to live and explain a Christian understanding of sex. It is very easy to read and combines depth with precision and kindness.
- Sex Talks by Matthew Hosier. Matt is the Pastor of a large church in the New Frontiers church network as well as an interesting and helpful sexual ethicist. This book deals with various issues and questions he has dealt with as part of his work with teenagers and young people. It is rigorous, loving, and brutally honest. It deals with real questions that real young people have wanted to discuss and so some of the topics may make readers feel uncomfortable.