“I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Sir Isaac Newton
I love seashells. My affection for them began as a boy growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, Lake Erie is not known for its beautiful shells, so I saved my pennies and bought shells from all over the world. In the l960’s there was a very rare cone shell which captured the eye of avid shell collectors around the world – the Glory of the Seas cone (Conus Gloria-maris). Stories abounded of its rarity, and a quality specimen was valued over $1,000.
As diving practices improved, however, and more habitats for this rare cone shell were discovered the shells’ value changed. Today I have at least five of this cone shell, and I’m wondering how to use them in my shell artwork! Over time the value of some rare shells was impacted because they became commonplace and were readily available. They were no longer special, and although the allure of these rare shells still existed, they became something much less valuable.
The same thing has happened in our culture regarding sex. The great truth of what sex is and what it was originally designed to be has been lost as sexual images saturate us in the media. We encounter it visually every day on the television, in magazines, and on the internet. On television shows, it is commonplace to have sex as the main topic or alluded to in jokes or conversation. And many current therapists posit that sex is a biological necessity and a requirement for happiness. Restricting the “urge to merge” or routinely having some form of sexual release is considered unusual or even unhealthy.
Our culture today views sex in a way far different from what God intended when He first created the world. Sex was God’s gift to humankind, having a divine design and an intentional purpose. It was a way for us to reflect His image through our physical bodies. It was a special blessing given to a man and woman as a way to express intimacy with one another as husband and wife. God can be seen in all of His creation, but He reserved the bearing of His Image for the human race alone. One of His gifts to us as His image bearers is the ability to enjoy intimacy within a sexual union.
And so, our sexuality is innately and profoundly sacred with a divine purpose in its design. But like Sir Isaac Newton’s search for the prettier shell, our culture has lost the great truth of the sacredness of sex. By focusing only on the act of sex itself, we miss the sacred and multifaceted experience of sex—the holy gift God presented to us so long ago. That gift was a like a diamond, valuable and precious. But today, even within the Christian community, we see believers willing to substitute something in place of the diamond we were originally given.
We have seen the loss of this gift over the centuries. In certain centuries, especially in ancient times, sex was part of ritualistic, deity worship. Some cultures had little restrictions on sexual acts while in others it is more rigid. In Victorian times, sex was not discussed in good company. In our current culture, its presence dominates our media, but it is rarely referenced in the way God intended, thereby demeaning and separating it from its greater purpose.
One obvious reason sex is important in our society is that it provides physical pleasure. But if the purpose of sex was solely for pleasure, then there are plenty of other resources available with far fewer consequences. One prevalent consequence of sex outside of God’s boundaries has been the rise of sexually transmitted diseases. STDs are widespread in our country. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are 19 million new infections every year in the U.S. alone. (CDC 2012 National Data).
Even while our culture espouses the idea that sex should be sought to meet a biological need, it is associated with something far more significant. Even for the many who are consumed by sexual addiction, there is an underlying drive which goes beyond the physical. Sex lends itself to attachment because it ties into our deeply buried desire for true intimacy originally planted there by God. C.S. Lewis writes “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all other kinds of union which were intended to go along with and make up the total union.”
Our culture has polar extremes regarding sex. At one extreme it is highly romanticized in idealistic movies and reality TV. The hard work of building a relationship is minimized and veiled behind the pretense of real love. The other extreme classifies sex as a biological, almost animalistic drive which is diluted down to only physical dimensions. Both extremes reflect a lack of understanding of the deeper significance found in our sexuality. Sex, as expressed in these opposites, finds its expression as false intimacy.
We, humans, hunger for true intimacy. As image bearers of God, we desire a relationship with Him and with each other. And when a man and a woman come to together sexually, it is the highest form of being known by one another. Certainly, we can know each other within and through healthy, life-giving relationships. However, in the marital bed, there is the opportunity to know one another in a way which is like no other. Here, true intimacy is experienced on multiple levels with God-defined boundaries.
Unfortunately, our culture more often substitutes the physical act of sex as being the totality of intimacy without regard for the deeper aspects of knowing the other person. For many, achieving pleasure and a self-satisfying orgasm is the main goal, with minimal responsibility. In 2011, a film called “No Strings Attached” was released which illustrated the prevailing view of casual sex among today’s generation. The film’s director, Ivan Reitman was quoted as saying, “I noticed from my own kids that with this generation, in particular, young people find it easier to have a sexual relationship than an emotional one. That is how the sexes deal with each other today.”
The physical component of sex brings pleasure, but to fully enjoy all the aspects of this gift from God, we must discern its higher purpose. When sex is only casual or recreational outside the bonds of heterosexual marriage, it is like a cheap cubic zirconium. It may appear beautiful, but it is lacking in value. Sex, understood from the perspective of God’s original design, is like that precious diamond and thus, the expression of it is valued, respected and should be protected. The cubic zirconium can easily be given away because it doesn’t represent a great loss. But the diamond, a stone of great worth, will only be given away when its value is understood.
The Greater Gift
For us to fully value and appreciate sex, we must connect it with the Creator Himself. When we remove God’s presence, sex loses its divine connection and purpose. We live in a post-modern society in which the true source of life has been replaced or eliminated. Paraphrasing Paul in Romans 1, humankind has gone from worshiping the Creator to worshipping the created. This degenerates further to worshipping the act of procreation. Without acknowledgment of our God-given need for true intimacy, to know and be known both by God and one another, sex becomes a powerful substitute.
Early in Genesis, we read about a marriage. God gave Adam and Eve to each other also giving them the gift of sex for a variety of purposes. One purpose was for procreation—for the building of a family. We can see this throughout all of creation as animals also have sex to produce offspring. Being image-bearers of God, spiritual and physical, our sexual act also has a spiritual dimension and intent. This is why in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, believers are told to flee sexual immorality because our body is a home to the Holy Spirit.
All of the scripture esteems the beauty of God-honoring sex. The Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) in the Old Testament contains sensual expressions between a bride and bridegroom. Song of Songs 6:3 says, “I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine” and chapter 7:10 rejoices that “I belong to my lover and his desire is for me.” It is a beautiful book that is also a metaphor for how God views the church. It expresses His love for us as His Body, as His bride.
Jesus refers to the church as His bride many times in the New Testament. But we are not a “trophy bride” or a bride who is not to be touched. The level of true intimacy that Jesus desires with us is as deep as that experienced by a husband and wife. How absolutely amazing that our Creator desires such a level of deep intimacy with us!
In the book of Revelation chapter 21, the Church is defined as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” John saw the city coming down from heaven adorned “as a bride,” meaning that the inhabitants of the city, the Redeemed of the Lord, will be holy and pure, wearing white garments of holiness and righteousness. How overwhelming is God’s love for us! Fully comprehending the greater gift of what sex was and is to be, grasping what God intended, we then will have true freedom to enjoy the wonderful gift He has given to us.
When we lack understanding of its significance, we limit our capacity of knowing Him and being in full relationship with Him. I belong to God, and His desire is for me! The metaphors used in the Song of Songs are lost on us if sex has no higher meaning and purpose than just the physical. But when we understand its spiritual aspect, we can begin to comprehend how deep the Father’s love is for us. Then we can be naked and unashamed in His presence.
Disregard of the Gift…Disregard the Giver
One of my favorite cartoon strips is no longer being published. The illustrator refused to give into the pressure to franchise his characters and make millions more in revenue. He believed if you take the characters out of their settings, you somehow change them. Their uniqueness is somehow diminished when they are taken out of the environment for which they were intended. Rather than compromise his beliefs, to the disappointment of many, he no longer is illustrating the two characters that many have enjoyed for years.
When sex is taken out of the setting for which it was intended, it loses something. Those outside of Christ may realize that something is not quite right, but are unable to perceive what has been lost. Premarital sex is such a common practice that the wedding night is now no more special than any other night. It holds no uniqueness or special anticipation. Rather premarital sex has been routinely and wrongly used as a measure of compatibility before marriage. Absent is the deeper, intimate trust one gives to another through the profession of true commitment witnessed in community.
My heart longs for us to begin to comprehend the inherent spiritual reality of the sexual union. This deeper understanding of the sacredness of sex can be a vital foundation stone beneath your feet when sexual temptation arises. You can prepare yourself for these temptations that will surely come by asking yourself these questions: Am I going to use the gift meant for true intimacy as an act of narcissistic self-love devoid of intimacy? Do I want to defile and degrade this amazing gift through casual, one-flesh unions? Do I understand I am truly profaning something which is holy and sacred unto God? These questions need to be forethought rather than an afterthought. When sexual temptation arises, you are better prepared, with God’s help, to make decisions to honor the gift and the Gift-giver.
For those of us who walk in the state of singleness or the gift of a celibate life, our longing for true intimacy can be met in God. Some authors espouse that a deeper knowing of God can be achieved through the gift of celibacy. Remaining chaste (living a life of integrity in accordance with God’s boundaries for sexual expression) or celibate (a calling whereby one chooses to abstain from sexual relations and marriage) is a discipline which is honored by God. Instead of mulling over what we are missing, contemplate what we gain through choosing to live within the parameters God has given to us.
Luke 1:37 says, “For, with God, nothing is impossible.” God can cleanse us of any defilement we may have known through our sexually broken and sinful behaviors. God can restore our innocence which was taken or lost. He can restore to us the true reverence for His sacred gifts. His desire is for you and He longs for your desire to be for Him!
Glory of the Seas Cone, Conus Gloria-maris