The Transcendent Significance of Human Sexuality

Couple

Image Credit:  Ade McOran-Campbell

A weirdly self-contradicting fallacy which our culture clutches like a drunk clutches a half-empty bottle of booze is that sexual identity is paramount, yet sexual activity is itself, insignificant.  The popular narrative offers confusing justification for pursuing uninhibited sexuality:  “It’s just entertainment—so it’s ok.”  “You are defined by your chosen sexual identity—so it’s ok.”   “You can be whoever you want to be—so it’s ok.”  “Also, you can’t help being who you are—so it’s ok.”  Don’t worry, I can’t follow the logic either.

The competing, religion-based Christian narratives do nothing to effectively address our cultural slide into hedonism.  Hard-liners maintain that deviant sexuality is an abomination to God and is worse than most other sins—because the bible.  Nothing heard about forgiveness or grace.  Their loving, heartfelt, and highly logical warnings are noticeably silent about the vices and failings which are quietly tolerated by evangelicals.

On the other hand, we have Christians who, in an attempt to make their religion relevant to a licentious culture, tell us that every consensual sexual expression is equally legitimate; and because God loves everyone, no moral distinction should be made between any number of sexual preferences.  This argument is usually accompanied by the loving, heartfelt, and highly logical warning (sometimes veiled, sometimes not) that anything short of exuberant promotion of deviant sexual activity is driven by hate.

Let’s stipulate for the sake of discussion that there is a Creator who ingeniously and precisely engineered the universe with a specific purpose in mind.  After all, that worldview is really the ultimate point of contention in the debate.  If we’re simply a product of random particle collisions and the violent clashes of life against life for survival, then there is no morality.  There is no evil.  Satisfying personal sexual desires in whatever manner you desire is just as valid as eating when you are hungry.  If, however, there is a Designer, then there is a design with which we may or may not be in compliance.  In our culture, those who don’t believe in a creator generally do not believe in a transcendent moral standard, although they usually live their lives in a relatively moral manner.  But in Christian circles, the argument is essentially over whether or not God specifically designed humans for monogamous, heterosexual relationships.  The natural function of sexuality, which by its very nature, is a male/female construct, is beyond dispute.  The morality of sexual activity outside of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship is what is being questioned.

We’re not likely to find perfect unity by relying on the bible as the final arbiter, because while there are many sexual “thou shalt nots” in the bible, there are also numerous examples of permitted sexual activity that we find aberrant (to put it mildly) today:  polygamy, sex with slave girls (as long as they are pleasing to the slave owner), and kidnapping women from conquered enemy tribes for forced marriage.  So every time one Christian emphatically states, “The Bible says,” then another Christian on the other side of the argument states just as emphatically, “Yeah, well the Bible also says….”  Things get silly pretty quickly, and any semblance of rational discourse is quickly jettisoned.  If Christians truly have the assistance of the Spirit of God, then is it just maybe possible that we can figure out some semi-coherent principles to guide our sexual choices?  Can we find the truth in the debate between celebration and abomination?

Far from being a mere act of entertainment, human sexuality possesses a transcendent significance that elevates it far beyond any other act of physical pleasure.

Don’t believe me?  Ask any girl who has given her heart (and body) to a boy who, having momentarily satiated his lust, wants nothing further to do with her.  Ask any man who has had a lover betray him by consummating a physical relationship with another man.  Ask a young lady who has been profoundly embarrassed by a former boyfriend who, for revenge or self-aggrandizement, posts nude pictures of her on the internet.  Stories like these are all too common, and they all carry significant emotional baggage.

Sexual abuse is quite possibly the cruelest of human actions.  While our current debate is about consensual intercourse, the irreparable harm caused by non-consensual sex should lend some gravity to the discussion of the consequences of even consensual intercourse that is not approached with due regard.

This is not to say that sex should merely be a joyless, baby-making function.  Far from it.  But as most post-pubescent individuals have discovered and as I’m about to explain anyway, sex comes with repercussions that cannot be eliminated by using a condom.  Our sexual nature is the cause of the vast majority of human drama and conflict.  Sexual intercourse always comes with an emotional cost.  It can be used to build up and fortify a relationship, or it can be used as a weapon to tear down a relationship.  It can be exercised in a manner that increases one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health; or it can be exercised in a manner that degrades the body, corrupts the mind, and devastates the soul.  That’s not hyperbole.

Here’s my reasoning.  Men and women are created to be the image of God.  He made us (both male and female together) as a reflection of himself.  Certainly we are finite creatures of the physical realm, but we were made to be the pinnacle of God’s creation—His most prestigious and glorious work of art.  Consider that statement for a moment, for it is not said lightly.  We are the artistic expression of the most talented Master of all.  He is the infinite and the ultimate.  He is not the best of everything—He is everything.  And we are His self-portrait!  Men exclusively, are not the complete image of God.  Neither are women exclusively.  But together, we form a complete (although shadowy and pixilated) portrait of God.  In that light, we should consider well how we present that image to others.  Certainly no one is perfect; but should we not do our best to reflect God’s glory on earth?  We should consider whether or not our sexual behavior, as an important part of human existence, is distorting the image of God.

But there’s far more than just the image at play here.  The Creator, with His beyond-quantum mind, designed humans in such a way that our temporal life would teach us about the infinite life which is to come.  As Frank Viola so eloquently describes, before the first man and woman found themselves in each other’s presence, the Creator had a master plan in mind.  A plan to create a creature that was a suitable partner for His son.  This creature was to be a collective race of individuals with whom His son would share his life and love.  The sexual relationship between a man and a woman who have given up their individual lives and committed their existence to each other with the understanding that they would become one flesh—not metaphorically—but literally one new, united entity—is again, a picture of the more permanent, more solid, more fulfilling relationship between the Son and His Bride.  Our sexual nature is meant to teach us about the ultimate unified relationship and to play a part in developing us into mature individuals.

Despite the cringing of my Calvinist friends for my rejection of reformed theology (and the cringing of my teachers at my use of passive voice), we unquestionably have been granted the ability to follow whatever path we choose; for without this ability, there would be no true relationship with God or with His Son.  Therefore, we can certainly choose to use our bodies in whatever way we please.  But if we deviate from the pattern He has established to develop us into the metaphorical wife we will eventually become, then we are at a minimum refusing to enter the primary learning environment which He has created for us.

For all our efforts to reproduce life by cloning embryonic cells and our ludicrous claims of male pregnancy, the male-female relationship is a fundamental requirement for reproducing human life.  In an attempt to justify the pursuit of personal lust, many members of our generation have decided to abandon all semblance of reason, in order to justify putting their pleasure above all else.  Screw whomever you want.  And by the way, you must praise my personal sexual fantasies and accommodate them whatever the cost.  If children complicate your pursuit of personal ambitions, kill them before they’re born.

Outraged that I am associating abortion with sexual preference?  The two issues are inextricably linked.  Any worldview that places personal pleasure as morally superior to sacrificial love for family will lead to both unrestrained sexual conduct and a disregard for the life of offspring.  Hence, the inevitable downfall of hedonistic societies as history has repeatedly shown.  The pursuit of consequence-free sexual pleasure is eroding our society by crippling the family, the elemental building block of society.  But can’t you love your family even if you define family differently than most?  This makes perfect sense to a world that is uses the words love and sex interchangeably.  But true love requires sacrifice.  The love that is multiplied exponentially by a sacrificial relationship will never be attained when the pursuit of physical gratification is the highest goal.

You see, there’s a temporary gratification that comes from sexual intercourse, but the physical act never brings long-term fulfillment.  The gratification immediately begins to fade once the act is complete.  Fulfillment grows and builds over time.  In a healthy husband-and-wife relationship, sexual intercourse is a function that builds up both partners and contributes to long-term fulfillment.  Outside of that relationship, sexual intercourse is a function of personal gratification and will never lead to fulfillment.  This is not to say that every monogamous, heterosexual marriage is healthy.  Yet the principle remains that the development of sacrificial love is a key purpose of human marriage that foreshadows the divine union of humanity with the Son of God.

Even in some Christian circles, personal sexual gratification is treated on one hand as being the most important expression of personal identity (LGBTTTQQIAA+) and on the other hand, is denigrated as nothing more than something done for entertainment.  You watch NASCAR; I play hockey.  You’re a monogamous heterosexual, I have an open marriage.  What’s the big deal?

Let’s consider the debate in a less emotional context.  Today’s unprecedented technology is allowing several companies to develop sex robots.  These seductive machines are receiving more and more media attention as we approach the point in which a machine with human form and electric genitalia can be afforded by the masses.  “Show me where the bible addresses sex robots!” a more enlightened and culturally sensitive Christian might demand.  “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone having an affectionate, loving relationship with a cybernetic nympho.”

As an aside, this is another example of why using the bible as an argument ender is a losing proposition.  “Jesus never condemned sex robots, so neither should you,” would be an argument similar to one we hear frequently.  Does that mean that sex robots are a gift from God to society?  What will the argument be when we see a generation of young men who haven’t the faintest idea of how to have an actual relationship with a young woman because their understanding of relationship was framed by the life-sized, smokin’ hot, anatomically correct, battery-powered action figure sitting in their room?  Do we have to uncontrovertibly define something as sin before we recognize that the course we are pursuing is futile and destructive?

A final point about the transcendent significance of human sexuality relates to the effect that the act itself has on others outside the sexual relationship.  For decades, now, permissive sexual activists have claimed that what two people do in a bedroom stays between them and does not affect anyone else.  As a relational species, our actions define our character and when our actions degrade that character, then society as a whole suffers.

The concept of family is being undermined by our pursuit of personal pleasure.  The current cultural narrative states that there is no difference between men and women, but doctors, psychologists, and the life experience of everyone over 14 says otherwise.  Children need the balance of having a mother and a father.  The fact that some children grow up without one or the other and turn out ok, doesn’t negate the benefit that comes from a two parent (M/F) family.  The shrill voices that clamor for the media spotlight are fond of denigrating both motherhood and fatherhood.  Women should be strong career-oriented leaders.  Men should be passive, spineless minions.  Motherhood is demeaning.  Fatherhood is a joke.  Two mothers?  No big deal.  Two fathers?  What’s the problem?  Our society has almost entirely lost sight of the extraordinary value of a mother and father, united in a sacrificially loving relationship and of the power they hold to influence their children for good.

The unrestrained pursuit of sexual pleasure tears apart relationships between people and hinders the relationship between humans and God.  It takes an activity designed to promote life and and relationship, and turns it into a purely carnal activity that erodes life and relationship.  Why?  Because its ultimate goal is the satisfaction of personal lust rather than long-term fulfillment and building relationships.  Sure, a married couple might agree to have an open marriage and permit each other to have intercourse with other willing participants.  But this behavior—selfish rather than sacrificial—will inexorably build barriers in their relationship rather than bonds.  The detrimental effects will be painful and will lead to guilt and regret.

On a personal level, I’m not terribly concerned about the sexual behavior of others.  If someone is a polygamist (or a polyamorist), that’s between them and their spouse and their spouse and their spouse and God.  Their sin is no worse than mine, and I think we should be more concerned with our own behavior than with the behavior of others.  But what does bother me is when Christians, offering flimsy and sophistic justifications, begin encouraging others to engage in the unrestrained pursuit of their lustful fantasies, portraying such pursuits as a commission from God rather than as the lustful, self-gratifying behavior it is.

I imagine that some will read this and think that I am endorsing a Puritanical vision of joyless sexuality.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  My point simply stated, is that we are all fallen creatures who struggle in one way or another to keep our sexual desires in check; yet we should strive to regard virtue above personal pleasure.

Others will probably take this article as condemnation of homosexuals, transgender folks, or people who choose to pursue any number of sexual activities that fall outside the realm of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship.  That is not my intent either.  I have no authority to tell anyone how to live his or her life.  As a sinful man, I am in no position to condemn anybody.  Nor do I think that one sin is worse than another.  I know that God loves us all, despite our failings.  But we do have the ability to behave either wisely or foolishly.  We can choose to live sacrificially or we can choose to live selfishly.  We can’t have it both ways.  We cannot live selfishly, and reap the fruit of sacrifice.  Nor can we pursue instant gratification and find fulfillment.  Jesus Christ sacrificed deeply to show His love for us and bring us fulfillment.  As His followers, should we not pattern our lives after His example?

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