Sex, Marriage, Sex, God, Sex and Love
Sex In The Bible
Newcomers to the Bible often comment upon its apparent obsession with sex. Ask the average non-believer what sin is to a Christian and more often than not the answer will have something to do with sex.
There is no question that inferences to sexual behaviour are present from Genesis to Revelation. Some believers even go so far as to attribute a sexual act to the symbolism of the consumption of the forbidden fruit by Eve and there is some evidence (not least in the absence of Cain from the Genesis 5 Book of Adam’s generations) to support that theory.
Scripture unequivocally denounces sex in any form outside the bond of marriage between male and female and even prescribes, by implication, the nature of what is acceptable within that union. Some take the view that this is because God’s intention for sex is purely procreational and that any practice that does not have that aim is unacceptable. The truth goes much deeper.
Christian attitudes to sex in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were, from today’s perspective, inhibited and repressed. The idea of a single life-partner, separated from whom only by death, is anomalous to youth today. Now, anything and everything is acceptable, either for discussion or practice, and anyone who denounces any sexual ‘preference’ or behaviour is bigoted, narrow-minded and wrong. Christians have been led down this path and are now much more willing to engage in, or at least not condemn, extra-marital or pre-marital sex, homosexuality and a wide range of practices that would have appalled Christians – and many non-Christians – just a couple of hundred years ago.
The justification is cultural. Times have changed, they say, the world is a different place. Yet God does not change (Psa 33:11) and the Bible is not sensitive to the fickleness of cultural norms.
Human sexuality holds a unique place in the mind of our creator. From a purely mechanical perspective, it is the means by which virtually all species on earth procreate, but for us humans a far deeper and more important purpose exists. The true nature of God’s feelings about the sexual act is inspiring, humbling and at the very heart of our relationship with God.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Genesis tells us how God thoughtfully created the world, stage by careful stage, standing back at the end of each day to admire His work (Gen 1:18). God’s purpose shines from the pages of Genesis. Like a loving dad building a secret tree-house for his daughter’s birthday, God imagined the day that He would finally present His masterpiece to His ultimate creation – man! Mankind was to be His companion – an extension of God’s family.
Adam was not only His pride and joy, but His love, His obsession. Just as the proud father reveals the weeks of unselfish toil to his much-loved daughter, watching for the wonder and gratitude in her eyes as he points out every carefully considered feature of the tree house, so God revealed his work to Adam, His irreplaceable child:
The Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.
God saw Adam’s joy, but He also felt his sense of isolation and loneliness, God knew this because He feels these emotions Himself. He is sensitive to our needs because His, at a spiritual level, are the same as ours. It is this that makes mankind unique. A common rebuff to Christians who condemn homosexuality is to point to its presence in monkey or other animal populations to prove that it is “natural” or “normal”, but such arguments demonstrate a complete lack of understanding about the unique place that mankind occupies in God’s creation. Animals were made after their kind (Gen 1:24), but Adam was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). We are capable of, and required to, control our base instincts: it is what separates us from animals.
The creation of Eve was an act of self-denial: He hadn’t intended to share Adam’s affection but He put Adam’s needs before His own. Eve was to be more than a friend to Adam; she was provided as an outlet for all the feelings that God has for us: an unselfish desire to give and to provide for, to protect, honour and love. Eve was to have an unbreakable bond with Adam from which they both would derive purpose and security: united, inseparable, one (Gen 2:24).
The Unique Relationship
The relationship between Adam and Eve fulfilled the needs that we all have. When we see an ageing couple still together after decades of marriage, completing each others sentences, sharing private jokes and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, we can’t help envying them because we know that they have found true happiness and contentment. Whatever else may have happened in their lives they had each other to lean on. They were united against adversity, inseparable, one. When in old age one partner dies, we know that the other is likely to go very soon afterwards: unable to continue as a part of the broken whole.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
For couples like these the physical part of their relationship is often intense and intensely private. Sex is the special bond that is shared between them and no one else. Both are free to love others and to show their affection through shared experiences and with hugs and kisses, but never sex. Sex is the test of their shared, exclusive trust. Without that trust, the relationship dies. Trust is the very foundation of the predictability and security that makes the relationship unique and if broken at any time, even if the couple remains together, the ‘spell’ is gone. After an affair, the sense of betrayal can never be undone.
Despite the efforts of today’s ‘liberated’ couples to minimise the role of sex as they seek to ‘explore their sexuality’ outside of their relationships, most eventually (and too late) recognise that doing so diminishes the relationship or demonstrates that it was already imperfect and unfulfilling in the first place. Sex gives a truly loving relationship an exclusive quality that only the couple share; it is the demonstration, the proof of the bond.
With experience and maturity, this unique spiritual/sexual bond becomes our life goal, even though it is rarely fully achieved. This is often not understood by the young for whom instant gratification is the objective: short-lived relief from the loneliness that God recognised in Adam and an increasing addiction for a moment of unfulfilling ecstasy. This is why past cultures (and some today) chaperoned and guided their young people, channelling their physical desires towards a meaningful, life-long companion rather than the series of empty, fleeting intimacies common amongst people today.
It is this exclusive, ‘oneness’ relationship, comparable to that of the perfect marriage, that God seeks to have with each one of us. He has a right to our loyalty; after all He gave us our lives and everything in them. The gods that we worship today; free sex, drugs, alcohol, consumerism, narcissism and our rejection and even hatred of God are a betrayal to Him. He is angry, revolted and deeply hurt.
The book of Jeremiah most powerfully discusses these feelings. In the second chapter God deliberately chooses a spiritless animal with whom to compare the ungrateful, unfaithful people of Israel. (Translations are from the NET Bible as the modern language seems to convey the point more loudly).
You are like a wild female donkey brought up in the wilderness. In her lust she sniffs the wind to get the scent of a male. No one can hold her back when she is in heat. None of the males need wear themselves out chasing after her. At mating time she is easy to find. Do not chase after other gods until your shoes wear out and your throats become dry. But you say, ʻIt is useless for you to try and stop me because I love those foreign gods and want to pursue them!’
Israel’s determination to pursue worldly, “animal” pleasures and abandon their spiritual connection with their creator is hugely painful to God. He desperately tries to express His profound disappointment at their breach of trust:
“I thought to myself, ʻOh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son! What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!ʼ I thought you would call me, ʻFatherʼ and would never cease being loyal to me. But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel, like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,” says the Lord
“I gave you everything”
The betrayed husband despises the false promises and mendacity of the impostor that has taken and deceived his wife. He is haunted by thoughts of the moment his beloved, trusted companion crawled into the other man’s bed. How could she not know that he would have given her anything? But now in adversity, it isn’t her lover but rather her husband that she runs back to for protection.
They say to a wooden idol, ʻYou are my father.ʼ They say to a stone image, ʻYou gave birth to me.ʼ Yes, they have turned away from me instead of turning to me. Yet when they are in trouble, they say, ʻCome and save us!ʼ
In His distress, God is the distraught husband searching His memory for clues and justification of the betrayal. What more could He have done? Had he not been there for her? Had he ever been angry or violent towards her? How has she held him in such low regard that she feels the need to just walk away? His pain turns to anger: what a selfish, immoral individual she has become, what a slut!
You people of this generation, listen to what the Lord says. “Have I been like a wilderness to you, Israel? Have I been like a dark and dangerous land to you? Why then do you say, ʻWe are free to wander. We will not come to you any more?ʼ
“My, how good you have become at chasing after your lovers! Why, you could even teach prostitutes a thing or two!”
Jeremiah 2:31 & 33
God could not express His misery and bewilderment any more clearly. Yet, unlike we humans, God’s determination to forgive, time and time again, exemplifies His love for His children.
God gifted sex to us to bond the relationship between a man and a woman. He sees it as the deepest possible expression of love. That is reason enough for its recurrence throughout scripture but there is another, even more compelling reason that sex is sacred and symbolic, for in that perfect union of loving husband and wife, it brings about life and expands the family. Our deep spiritual relationship with God brings us life and His purpose is that we will be bonded together with God in His family. Sex is therefore the perfect metaphor for our relationship with God; unique, precious and exclusive.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:12-13 (King James)
He expects us to honour the bond of sex and keep it for the sole purpose for which it is intended. To do otherwise is to dishonour God; for to dishonour our own bodies is to dishonour Him.
For this is Godʼs will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
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