The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) conducted an outreach project on campus. They set up a large board and invited all passing college students to write down their “Questions for God.” Some of the responses were given to panelists to discuss at a large group meeting. I was honored to be one of those panelists.
To give us a chance to prepare for what might be coming our way, the group leader emailed us a list of possible questions. On the list was: “Why do Christians think sex is bad?”
My first thought was: Bring it! We need to talk more openly about this topic.
My second thought was: What? Christians don’t think sex is bad! Well… maybe some do, but not all of us.
My husband, Brian, and I had a good discussion that evening on the possible panel questions. The next evening, I sat in front of a room of college students—ready to engage in a rich community discussion.
Sure enough, the leader chose the sex question. He read it out loud, and I watched the various expressions on the faces of the college students as they perked up to listen. After the question was asked, there was a pause and none of the panelists spoke.
I thought to myself, heck, I’ll go. So I said, “Why do Christians think sex is bad? Perhaps because they are doing it wrong.”
The room was filled with chuckles and laughter.
Then we went on to explore more of the story around sex.
Let’s face it, sex is good!
It can be pleasurable. It can be an amazing way to connect with another person you love as you continue to build depth of relationship, and as you bond together in a long-term commitment.
There are, however, some things that sex is not.
It is not the normative cultural practice of numbing ourselves with alcohol and saying, “Hey baby, you’re hot. Let’s jump into bed for the night.”
It is not some sort of recreational sport.
It is not a superficial activity that can be reduced to only the physical act.
It cannot be reduced to hunt or be hunted—the need to conquer someone sexually or to be conquered by another.
And it is not about giving away little pieces of yourself over and over and over. In time, that “oneness” attempted with others (or many others) can make you feel incomplete, unsatisfied, and hollow.
God placed two naked (emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically, spiritually) people, a male and a female, in paradise and invited them to enjoy each other and all that was created. The male and the female were completely open and transparent. They walked with each other and God without any hint of stress, struggle, or conflict. They experienced oneness with each other and with God. This oneness involved mutual sharing and expression. It involved conversation. It involved working alongside each other.
What is intriguing to me is that the first male and female appear in Genesis chapters 1-4, but the physical act of sex is not clearly mentioned until chapter 4 verse 1. Some translations read: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant…” or “had sexual relations.”
Although I am not a Hebrew scholar, I have come to understand that the word closest to the original meaning here is actually “knew.” The verse reads, “Adam knew his wife Eve…”
It is impossible to say whether Adam and Eve were sexually involved prior to this time, but I offer this as food-for-thought: there is something powerful in reading this verse as “Adam knew his wife Eve…”
The word “knew” should cause readers to pause and take notice. In our present day, the phrases “made love” and “knew” can be worlds apart in understanding and in proper application.
For three chapters before Genesis 4, the story centers on God’s divine orchestration of his creation into existence. Humanity is intentionally formed with great care and honor. God brings forth the life of the man and then the life of the woman—and then brings them together with delight. God shares with humans a view of all that he had created. He gives them purpose as caretakers, and invites them to work with him. Humans dwell with God and with each other. They spend significant time getting to fully know each other—even after they sin and choose their own self-centered way over God’s design.
This “knowing” is a dynamic thing. In my relationship with my husband, it means that I allow myself to be completely understood and accepted in the fullness of who I am. It means that I give myself expecting to be received. In return, my husband reciprocates that same openness—to be known and to be received by me. It means that we each try to be transparent and open about the good, bad, and ugly. We recognize that we accept and love each other, and we also recognize the ongoing necessity for grace. We meet each other in this new dimension of mutual transparency. We enjoying knowing each other as we celebrate the gift of sex.
Jack and Judith Balswick write:
The biblical response emphasizes person-centered affectionate sex in marriage. Scripture advocates mutual pleasure and mutual benefit. This involves a mutual decision to give and receive in love. First Corinthians 7:3-4 clearly states that our bodies are for each other as the ultimate expression of ourselves to each other. The security that stems from a commitment to the marriage relationship provides an atmosphere of freedom and willingness to learn together through sexual expression of love. Spouses learn to mesh their lives as sexual persons in the security of relationship commitment. The biblical idea, then, is so much more that personal pleasure…it is relationship to each other on all levels… (The Family, 91).
Knowing involves being naked with each other in all aspects of self—emotional, mental, relational, spiritual and yes, physical. This is the beautiful context in which sex becomes an expression of what I believe God originally had in mind.
Sex is a part of the gift of wholeness that God desires for all of humanity.
This wholeness is a gift to myself and it is also a gift I offer out of a desire for the wholeness of my spouse. We experience this wholeness by giving of ourselves as naked (emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically, spiritually) partners. In knowing and being known there is great beauty. This is the full blessing of our God—he created us and truly desires that we enjoy wholeness and authentic intimacy. And in the beauty of giving and receiving, we know no shame, and experience joy in relationship with each other and God. This is something that happens over time—over a lifetime of commitment and an ongoing quest for unity.
If you ask me, sex that is “bad” is sex that shortchanges the beauty, dynamic, and potential for which it was created—for a wife and husband to fully (emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically, spiritually) know each other—and so that we will meet the God who wants to completely know us too.
Sex that is “bad” is sex that is less than it was created to be.