Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 42. Enough of Sex
1 Tim 3:15 you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Our Purpose: This is an area where so much more could be written but I have written what I have – and this will be the end of it – because we live in a world where confusion reigns and no more so than in the realm of sexual attitudes and behaviour. The Bible does not make a meal of it because, frankly, life in Israel was such that things such as sexual identity or sexual failures were the exception rather than the growing rule as today. Some people say that it was Paul and not Jesus who spoke about homosexuality and so it is not an issue, but the point is that it was not an issue in Israel, so Jesus did not need to speak of it, whereas Paul was addressing a much wider audience, where it was more likely to have been an issue that needed addressing. It needs addressing in our world because it is something that has been forced into the open in our world and even made the subject of law.
My concern in these four studies (No.39 – ‘Gender Issues’ on) has been to ask questions that challenge some of the things that are apparently accepted uncritically as the norm, while at the same time, for Christians (onlookers and participators, if I may put it like that) face the realities here, as well as the Biblical challenges, but in a pastorally gracious and uncondemning way.
Recap & Clarification: Perhaps it would be helpful to itemize some of the things we have considered along the way, by way of recap, and maybe even seek to clarify some of them more:
- The context is of a fallen world where much is no longer ‘normal’ i.e. no longer like it was before the Fall and after God will remake it at the end.
- We established some basic sexual definitions to do with identity and orientation.
- We acknowledged that physically there can be diversions from the norm (fairly rare) that raise extremely difficult questions of identity.
- Moreover, whether it is genetically caused, relationally or psychologically caused, some people do struggle with gender identity, that veers away from the norm (Never forget that the vast majority of the world’s population is heterosexual, that is ‘the norm’, especially in the light of the Bible’s declaration that God made ‘male and female’, and that clearly was His standard design.)
- We suggested that a person’s ‘spiritual orientation’ is in fact a bigger issue to be considered before any subsequent gender issue.
- Self-control or the absence of it leading to promiscuous behaviour, whether in the heterosexual or homosexual realms is an issue when we consider God’s design for the world, and behaviour within a community generally.
- We wondered exactly what the truth is when a young person ‘comes out’. Is this an unwise misunderstanding of a phase of social, physical and psychological development, or is it genuinely an expression of something that has been there all along as we said above, genetically caused, relationally or psychologically caused? Whatever the cause, that young person now sees their self as different from the norm and is looking for understanding and acceptance.
- Part of that understanding requires consideration of the difference between friendship and a developing deeper relationship and a commitment context is needed to make sense of that, otherwise it simply becomes just a plea to have sexual experiences that vary from the norm.
- Finally we considered the subject of ‘desires’ noting good ones that promote life, and not so good ones that cause upset and harm.
- We recognized a distinction between committed relationships and uncontrolled and uninhibited promiscuous sex. Although the latter may be what the media portray as a potential norm for western society, we see there are dangers, that are only slowly being recognized and acknowledged, that sex separated from a loving relationship creates a struggle to ever know what true love is. Trivializing relationships and making them based upon sex, and not other aspects of being human together, weakens the possibilities of long-term relationships, for when the sex ceases to be ‘good’ the relationship starts to fracture.
A Lost & Confused World: While I believe our statements about how the media portrays sex and relationships, are absolutely true, I feel increasingly like the boy in Hans Anderson’s story of ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ who has not been let in on the belief that the con-men have produced invisible clothes that only clever people can see, and who, when he sees the naked emperor, has the temerity to shout out, “The emperor has no clothes,” and only then does everyone else acknowledge it. The unquestioning cult of promiscuity that seems to lurk in the background of modern life, whether heterosexual or homosexual, accepted and even promoted by TV script writers, largely exists without challenge in high places or newspaper columns. At the same time we have gone through several years of revelations about sexual abuse by ‘celebs’ and are shocked. How can we take the brake off sex generally and then be surprised when it had bad spinoffs in so many directions?
Church, an Alternative Community: In case you have lost the thread, this series is all about redemption and perhaps we dare think about redeeming society by example. The example is to be different, and our norm is to have lasting, lifelong committed relationships of members of the opposite sex. Yet, where there is a breakdown, or breakaway from that, we should be a place of compassionate security where people struggling with their identity can be loved, and people struggling with breakup of relationship can be helped back to a good place, and we will go on to consider this latter problem n the next study.
Accepting the Different: The church I led before I retired was largely middle-class, middle-of-the-road evangelical-charismatic, with very ordinary people, and one day a middle-aged man wearing a Mohican haircut and a coat of many very bright colours, turned up. We welcomed him without reserve. It turned out that he had just been released from a mental institution following years of prison for having committed arson and murder. One of our men had visited him for some time while incarcerated and he had made a profession of faith while in prison – but he was still (and remained) a seriously distinct character who stood out among the ‘ordinary people’.
So can we ‘ordinary people’ extend the mantra that we so often use – “God loves you exactly as you are, but loves you so much that He has got something better for you than what you have at present” – to include anyone who is different from us, here with gender identity issues, people who are struggling with sexual self-control, people who are abused, people who are suffering relationship breakup, and can we truly be a healing redemptive community? That is the challenge, to seek the wisdom of God to face these issues with integrity while remaining full of compassion, to be a real healing redemptive community through whom God can move to change lives.
End Goals: I don’t know what the latter part of what I have called my mantra may mean for an individual – “but loves you so much that He has got something better for you than what you have at present” – but God does. In studies 28-30 we considered “Redeemed to”, the things the Lord seeks to bring into our lives and in study 33 “God’s End Goals” we sought to focus on this challenge that God is seeking to move each of us on to be something better than we are today. For those of us struggling with life – in identity crises, or who are struggling with ‘being different’, or who are struggling with the nightmares that still occur from past abuse, or those who are struggling with the aftershock of breakup of relationship, or maybe are struggling to prevent that breakup – we all need the wisdom, love, care, compassion and grace of God that should come through others who can stand alongside us, weep with us, anguish with us, and be there for us – and that is what the Church is supposed to be. That is how this ongoing redemption is worked out, or at least, should be worked out. May we rise to that. We would do well to end with the apostle Paul as the Message version puts it:
“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20 Msg)