Catch Up (If you’re up to speed, you can skip this bit!)
If you’ve not been to this blog before, or at least not for a while, you might want to know that I’m in the middle of a series of articles setting out a positive and life-enriching Christian understanding of sex. Part of what I’m trying to do in these posts is to describe the Christian understanding of why sex has been given to us, what its significance is, and how it should be used. Throughout these posts I am relying on the idea that because sex is a gift from God, we should look to God to understand it. We do 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.
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).
Sex Should Be Faithful
Last week week I argued that sex is designed to be passionate and shows the overwhelming nature of God’s love for us.
Passion (whether sexual or not) is wonderful and is part of the way God has designed us. We are created to be passionate – we sense this whether it is in the fervour of the crowd at a football match or the desire of a bridegroom at his wedding. Yet passion can be dangerous. It can lead us to use other people as tools to satisfy our own desires. Passion can be the inspiration for great love, and the root of great evil. It needs to be controlled and channelled well if it is to be enjoyed and used well. The corollary of our belief that sex should be passionate, therefore, is that it should be faithful.
The Power of Sex
Together with the intimacy and passion that sex brings, it also joins people together. The Genesis text which is then later quoted by Jesus and Paul says:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
This means that sex is not simply something that we can treat casually.
This is an area that our culture is incredibly confused about at the moment.
For fifty years Western culture has pushed harder and harder in the direction of sex as simply a recreation – little different to jogging. This is the vision promoted in films and TV; it is the assumed value many young people operate with. Moreover, because sex has been understood as essentially recreational, little social constraint has been placed on its use save for the requirement of a belief that the other party consents.
Recently, however, a series of scandals in which brave women have been saying that actually they are being harassed and put in positions in which they are doing sexual things and they feel violated or demeaned or badly hurt have called this idea into question. Even those who have embraced the sexual revolution feel an instinctive and correct revulsion at what has happened. In part this is because of the absence of clear consent and the realisation of how poorly that bare requirement protects the vulnerable. But it also reveals a deep conviction that fifty years of trivialisation have not erased that sex is somehow different from everything else.
For example, being sexuallyassaulted is notthe same as being merely assaulted, however unpleasant that may be. Sex is different; sex is powerful. It has the power to bind or to break in a way that other human activities do not.
To use Scriptural language, when we have sex with someone else we join ourselves to them. This is obviously true physically: men and women are designed so that when they have sex they are actually joined together. Yet it is true emotionally and spiritually as well.
It is for this reason that the Bible says God designed sex to be used in the context of a relationship between a man and woman of commitment and love. As Jesus himself said, ‘what God has joined together, people should not try to separate.’
The Goodness of Marriage
For Christians, sex is intrinsically linked to marriage because marriage is a commitment to love and be faithful to another forever. To put it bluntly, if we are not willing vow to be faithful to our partner, to give ourselves to them, to put their interests ahead of our own, and then to live out that vow, we have no business becoming one flesh with them.
The goodness of this principle is rich and deep. But let me point out some of the ways it is good for all of us in society:
- It protects the weak. In human life there are all sorts of power dynamics that make human relationships susceptible to abuse. By requiring the strong, particularly men, to commit to their partners we protect those who are weaker whether physically, economically, or socially.
- It promotes security and allows vulnerability. When we know that our partner is committed to us, has vowed to love and support us, then we can be vulnerable to them and they can be vulnerable to us. We don’t have to worry about looking out for ourselves but can commit to something new.
- It provides stability for families and for society. We’ll come back to this next week.
It also speaks most powerfully of God’s faithful commitment to us. God is not interested in using us to get something and then moving on to someone else. He is totally committed to us. He will never leave us or fail us. Christ’s love for us extended to giving himself for us, bringing us to himself and now will include holding us forever. Listen to these promises from Scripture:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Christian refusal to remove sex from the context of marriage, whether through singleness or faithfulness to a partner in the face of temptation, witnesses to God’s faithfulness to us.
In the words of the marriage service, God loves us:
to have and to hold (his love keeps us secure)
for better, for worse (he never turns his back on us);
for richer, for poorer (he doesn’t care about how materially successful we are);
in sickness and in health (he loves us in good times and bad);
to love and to cherish (he values and genuinely enjoys us)
until death brings us into his presence forever.
These are some of the reasons Christians believe that sex should be enjoyed and used within the context of marriage. Next week I’m going to look at why Christians believe sex should be sacrificial.
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.