I have begun to have a better understanding just how difficult it is to have frank talks with people about sex! I don’t mean discussions that guys have in the locker room, or in the privacy of their apartment with each other, or the discussions women have when they are out together, or having a slumber party. But I mean, real, honest, open discussions about sex, their sexuality, and how it fits into the Biblical context. Is it not any wonder that some parents find it so difficult to have this discussion with their kids? But by not having that discussion, who is left to teach their kids about the proper way to express their sexuality, and in what context, according to God’s Word? Certainly our culture will pick up where the parent’s left off, or where the parents had even failed to start. Hollywood will do it. Media. Advertising. Internet. Magazines. Movies. Music. Television. You get the point. All of these mediums are screaming out and vying for the attention of young people. So it is with this in mind that I decided that I needed to be honest with my students about the topic of sex. If the church can’t share this news, then who can? And really, shouldn’t we as Christians be the first to be open about sex, especially since it was part of the design by our Creator, God?
So who cares if my face gets red from blushing, as I speak out words that my students have never heard come from my lips. My momentary embarrasment is worth it, if I might help others through the heartache and pain, or help rescue some students from going in the wrong direction sexually, or if I might be able to help shine God’s redemption on their past failures.
Last night was the second talk in my four part series on Sex, Christianity and Culture: Created Goodness, Sinful Distortions, and Redeemed Potential. On January 26, I began with an overview of Sex, Christianity and Culture, and last night I picked up on the theme of “Created Goodness.”
One of the most important messages that I wanted to convey to my students last night was that sex is a good thing. A beautiful and wonderful thing. But only when it is expressed in the proper context and relationship that God intended for it. When it is expressed outside of those boundaries, than all kinds of things go haywire, and we fall into what Lewis Smedes referred to as “sinful distortions.”
So why a talk on the Biblical foundation of sex? First, because as I mentioned before, with everything else in this world begging for your attention, and for you to follow their ideas and rules about sex, I think it’s about time that we look at what the Bible says. Second, since we as Christians view God as Creator of everything, from the universe, to the earth, to humanity, then isn’t it important that we look at what His original intent, or design for sexuality was and is?
With that in mind, let me say that the topic of sexuality is a very heated and controversial subject, because it really cuts to the core of who we are as creatures and people made in the image of God, reflecting His likeness.
“How to feel about our sexuality is part of a larger question. For the Christian believer, at any rate, the larger question is how to feel about creation. If our sexuality belongs to creation, our feelings about it can be of a piece with God’s feelings about what he made.” (Lewis Smedes in Sex for Christians).
With that in mind, I approached last night’s sermon, wanting to accomplish a few things. One, I wanted to look at a passage of Scripture that I believed really set the foundation, and gave guiding principles as to who we are as sexual beings, and how we are to live that out. Second, I wanted to allow the text to speak, to allow the mystery of the passage permeate our thinking, and not to simply try and pull systematic principles out of the text. Sex, marriage and relationships, are much too complicated and mysterious to simply put in simple, mechanistic terms. Third, I wanted to stir up their thinking. I wanted to pick a text, and to preach an angle on the text that they were probably not used to hearing. I think that my goal, and our goal as Christians in preaching is to stir people to think. To not simply provide some simple answer so that they can nod their heads up and down, and uniformally fit into the right group.
The Bible does not say tons about our sexuality. If you are looking for a sex manual, the Bible is not it. Though some might argue for Song of Solomon. If you are looking to the Bible to lay out clear and simple do’s and dont’s as to how far you can go physically, the Bible is not that either. Rather, the Bible provides a strong Biblical foundation that we can build on. That is why I began in Genesis, using that as the foundation for our sexuality.
With Genesis as our foundation for Biblical sexuality, there are three things that I want all of my students, and you as readers to keep in mind. These are three problems, or assumptions, or biases that I think we all can carry at times that keep us from having a healthy perspective on our sexuality, or sex in general:
1) I think that a lot of Christians hold a very Gnostic, dualistic view of sex, and especially our own sexuality. What is a Gnosticism and dualism? In very simple terms which don’t quite do it justice, it is the belief that all matter is evil, and that spirit is good. Therefore, anything related to the flesh, or its desires would be evil, and not of God, while those things related to the spiritual would be seen as good. For more details, read up on gnosticism. This was an early heresy that a great part of the church was fighting, as well as the author of I John, where in I John 4:2-3, he writes, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.” You see, many gnostics and dualists did not actually believe that Jesus could have come in the flesh because their view was that only spirit matter was good, and flesh was bad. I think many Christians still carry this view around with them unconsciously. They have been taught, either at home, or in the church, that any type of desires that they have, and that are related to their fleshly urges are automatically bad, and therefore, could not be related to the spiritual and divine matters related to God. My professor friend confirms this idea from the sex questionnaires that she issues as part of her class on Biblical sexuality. Most students she says, still carry a negative view of sexuality with them based on this dualist, gnostic, heretical view.
2) Speaking more specifically to men. I think and believe, that how we as men view women in the creation account, will greatly affect not only our future marriages, but how our sexuality is expressed in that relationship. What do I mean? When God says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate,” the Hebrew word “ezer” is used, meaning, suitable helpmate, co-laborer, helper, etc. That is what God has intended for us as men. But I think in many Christian circles, men prefer to use, or confuse the word “ezer” with “eber” which is slave, and which is picked up after the Fall. And I think how you decide to view women, as helper and co-equal, or as subservient, and a slave, will have drastic implications on your sexuality, and sex life in marriage.
3) As creatures, people made in the image of God, what does that mean for us then? If we our sexual beings, and we are made in God’s image, what does that say about God as a sexual being? Or maybe we prefer not to think of God in those terms, as having sexuality. But doesn’t our sexuality, point back to a Creator, who sees sexuality as something that is to be important? We are made in His image? Part of this goes back to the gnostic views, but I think we are more comfortable as viewing God only in terms of divinity, and not humanity, so we would prefer to keep our sexuality on a lower level of nature, than our spiritual. These views will affect not only what you think about your sexuality, but about God as well.
It is important that we are aware of our biases, or assumptions whenever we approach a subject, or when we look in the Bible. Because our prior assumptions and biases greatly shape what we read and interpret, sometimes blocking out what God is trying to say to us. So with those three assumptions fresh in our mind, let’s begin by looking at the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, and how they help us set a Biblical foundation for our sexuality.
In Genesis 1:26-31 we get a very brief account of the creation of humanity, as in comparison to what we will read in Genesis 2. But Genesis 1:26-27 says:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ ‘ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'” (NRSV)
From this passage we get a quick snapshot of the creation of humanity, and the distinguishing of the sexes, male and female. God then commands them to be fruitful and to multiply. We already see then that a male and female relationship is the foundation of our sexuality, and a sexual union is established, where they are asked to continue to multiply.
But then we come to Genesis 2, which I believe is one of the most beautiful, most mysterious, and most poetic passages in all of Scripture. One of the beautiful things about going through seminary was the studying of Greek and Hebrew. And as I read through Genesis 2 in Hebrew, I realize how much of the beauty, and poetry, and mystery of the text is lost in the English translation. In Genesis 2:7-24 we pick up a very amazing story.
In Genesis 2:7 we find the creation of “man”, or the “adam”. “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” God takes from the ground, from the dirt, the materials to form “man”. And then God breathes into his nostrils and the “man” is given life. In the Hebrew text, the word for “man” is “adam” (not in the proper name sense; by the way, the proper name Adam, is not used till Genesis 4:25), and the Hebrew name for ground, earth, dust is “adamah.” Leaving many theologians and scholars to say that this creation of “man”, is a creation of really this “earth creature.” This creature, that is created out of the dust of the ground, who shares the almost exact sounding name to that of the ground. He is a creation without any sexual differentiation. And this “adam” is put in the garden to tend to it.
Then we come to another remarkable passage in 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'” Though “adam/man/earth creature” was there in the garden, in communion with God, that was still not enough. God then begins to search for a suitable helper, or partner, “ezer” in Hebrew.” So then God forms out of the same ground, and earth, and dust, that he formed ‘adam” out of, he begins to form every animal of the field, and bird of the air. This is more evidence for scholars to believe that the creation of “adam/man”, is more similar to that of “earth creature”, because they were formed from the same material. God brings all these creatures to ‘adam”, and ‘adam” names them, giving them an identity. “But for the man there was not found a helper as his partner” (2:20). A very funny story if you think about it. God realizes that it is not good for “adam/man” to be alone, so he creates all these animals and brings them to “adam/man”, but none of them were suitable. A very early version of dating as one of my Fuller professors jokes about.
So in Genesis 2:21-22 the text tells us, “So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” So beautiful. God doesn’t take from the earth, or the ground, or the dust, the same materials that he had used to create “adam/man/earth creature” and all the other creatures. But rather, he tears open the “man’s” side, and takes out something close to his heart, something close to the core of who he is, a rib, and he forms woman out of it.
And then the Hebrew changes. In Genesis 2:23, it says, “Then the man (adam) said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman (ishah), for out of Man (ish) this one was taken.'” Did you catch that? The “earth creature”, “adam”, or “man”, who was formed from the same materials as the animals, is given a new name, a new identity. He becomes ‘ish”, or ‘Man”, and the “Woman” is “ishah”. It is not until “Woman” is created that the “adam/man/earth creature” realizes his full idenity, realizes who he is. Where there was no sexual differentiation in the text before this passage, there is now sexual differentiation in the union of “Man” and “Woman”, of “ish” and “ishah.” For a closer look at this passage in Hebrew and English or here.
Then the passage closes in Genesis 2:24-25, saying, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to hiw wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” A mystery for sure. Two people, with full identities, coming together as whole persons, and becoming one flesh. Not explainable. Only something that God can do. And the passage closes with a reminder of why sex should only be expressed between a husband and wife, a man and a woman, in a commited, marriage relationship. They were both naked, and not ashamed.
And that is how that beautiful story in Genesis 2, of the creation of man and woman ends. So what does that story have to do with our sexuality, or with sex in general? Everything! Sure there are other places in the Bible, such as Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7, where we could turn and read. But would you start a novel at the tail end of the story? I hope not. So why do we read only parts of the Bible, or read only the New Testament, without properly building a solid foundation from the beginning. Jesus fulfills the OT in the NT, but the OT is not replaced. Genesis is our solid foundation. In this text in Genesis 2, we are given a solid, Biblical foundation of humanity, of sexuality, of our relationships with each other. So what exactly does this story in Genesis 2 have to say to our sexuality? Good thing you asked. Here are some things that I think we can take from this story:
1) Sex is a great and beautiful thing when it is expressed in the right context. God forms man and woman, and unites them as one flesh in a sexual union. It is a union made in God’s image, which points us back to the Creator, who is a designer, and designed sex, and delights when the sexual act is expressed in the right relationship and context. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” (I Timothy 4:4).
2) The right context, the right relationship for sex, in only in the union of man and woman. Together. They are “ish” and “ishah”. Man and Woman. Nothing else was suitable for ‘adam”, for this “earth creature”, but this woman. And it is when these two come together that they exhibit, or display the full image of God. We have a full realization of who we are, when we are in relation, between a man and woman. We can have this realization in a non-sexual way, between friends, between a man and a woman, where there is sexual differentiation, and we are not simply ‘adam”, or “earth creature”. But for a sexual union, for sexual expression, the only place for it is in the marriage relationship of a man and a woman.
3) Other sexual unions are not a proper expression of the Biblical account. Whether it be between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or between something more perverse, those are not Biblical, proper expressions of sexuality. The only proper expression is between a man and a woman, and anything outside of that leads to a distorted and sinful view of our sexuality.
4) Not only is sexual expression only proper between a man and a woman, but it is only reserved for marriage. And this expression in marriage, is best understood when each partner, man and woman, has the proper understanding of helpmate, or partners, of co-equality. A woman is not subservient to man, nor vice-versa. Paul will speak on this act of mutual submission in Ephesians 5, and any interpretation of Paul, or the role of women in the NT, is not properly understood, unless it is viewed at in light of the Genesis 2 account and other OT passages.
5) Sexual expression through marriage is a joining of two people, two individuals. A man and a woman becoming one flesh. It is a joint union with both people bringing all of who they are together, not half and half. I think that in many sexual relationships, and marriages, especially in the church, it is taught that the joining of two people, means both people will have to leave part of who they are behind, in order for the two to come together. And in Christian circles, this usually means the woman. I know you can think of many examples. If not, call me, and I will give you some. The woman is often taught that she is supposed to surrender her identity as a person, as a woman, in order to be formed, or joined with the man. This is not a good view. (If you don’t think we inherit some rough baggage in this area, then read up on some of the early church fathers, and their views of woman; even Augustine, who didn’t view women too highly, was barely gracious enough to say that women would be women in heaven, and not turned into men). Rather, the Genesis account displays to us, two individuals, man and woman, coming together as their whole selves, and becoming one, in a mysterious union that only God understands. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke has some great insight on this, when he says,
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky…………..Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate–?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”
6) When sex is expressed in this proper relationship, there is no shame, no guilt. Because it is being expressed in the relationship that God has designed, there is not fear, or reservation in the sexual act.. How many of us carry around some shame or guilt because we have been in a sexual relationship outside of marriage? That is not freedom. There is hesitantness and reservation, and shame over many things, i.e. “will we get pregnant”, “am I being used”, “are they committed to me”, “do they really love me.” But in marriage, sexual expression between a man and a woman achieves its highest pinnacle, because it is where God created sex to be, without restraint, and guilt and shame.
This is what I have learned from the text in Genesis 2. And I believe this is the best text to convey the most comprehensive understanding of sex, and our sexuality. And, I think that rather than breaking everything down into some philosophical or theological system, the story narrative of Genesis 2 best expresses the understanding, the mystery, and the complexity of the bonding of man and woman in sex.
This is just the beginning of our journey as we look at the created goodness of sex. We will head next week into looking at what happens when our sexuality expresses itself outside of these boundaries that God has laid out, and heads into the area of sinful distortions. And in two weeks, we will look at what God does with our pasts, and how he can, and does bring about redemption and healing for our lives, when our sexuality was expressed in the wrong contexts.
But for now, let me leave you with a very insightful, and blunt quote, by the late ethicist and theologian, Lewis Smedes:
“Our sexuality is the form we take in life as persons. In this sense, sexuality has to do with much more than genital sex. People cannot live by orgasms alone, nor even by exquisitely sensuous love-making. Any two persons who are living a full life together as persons know that their sexual relations cover a lot more ground than the few moments of intercourse. Sexuality is involved in the quiet hours of communication and contemplation as much as in the volcanic moments. The sexploitation of our time is actually a vast shrinkage of sexuality becuase it concentrates almost wholly on the biological experience of orgasm and everything that stimulates people towards it.”
For further study, or reading on this issue, check out:
Sex for Christians
*bad title, but a landmark book in biblical and human sexuality; also very controversial; read with caution; I am not a proponent of all his views, but he says some things better than anyone else out there in this area.