In class the other day we were trying to uncover the root of the world’s problem with its treatment of sexuality.
We discussed how people are taught that sex is impure and how we need to suffocate sexual drive because it’s disgusting. We traded stories of how some grew up believing that any physical contact in romantic relationships, including holding hands, or simple pecks, was just as horrible and sinful as having sex. We bounced off countless different ideas and reasons but we all agreed: there is a problem with how we discuss sex, both in the church and in secular culture.
Personally, I believe it’s because we’ve let discussions of sex distract us from taking hold of what our worth is according to God. It’s difficult to read of the sacrifice Christ made for us and run after it because we don’t believe we deserve it, or because we believe we have to do something in order to get it, which therefore makes it all seem unattainable. We’ve written it into our nature that we must try our best to make ourselves worthy of the gift we don’t deserve but in the end it always turns us against each other.
So we look at others and ourselves and we give up on trying to fit in with God’s definition of our worth because we know we don’t fit it without Christ but we want to try anyways. We begin to change what we give each other and how we look at each other because we have tried to rationalize an irrational gift, a gift no one has the right to but a gift we want everyone to try and earn.
So instead, we make our flawed human characteristics our identities. We focus on sex because we’ve decided it defines our being because it makes us man or woman and then we judge each other based on our treatment of this joyful, intimate union turned stoic sacrament. We so desperately need something to justify our actions against the actions of others, because it’s easier to point out someone’s flaws than offer them their undeserved gift and because it makes us feel a little more worthy of it. It’s easier to label a woman as a whore because it feels more powerful to lord over her. It’s simpler to label a man as an uncontrollable sexual being because we’re worried about wearying ourselves out by getting involved in his mistreatment of women. We learn to hate ourselves for our sex drives because it’s easier to hide in shame than accept the relenting forgiveness freely offered to us.
“It’s who we are” we belabor, “we cannot change the way we were made.”
But how were we made?
Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them.”
But it would be unjust to stop there so we must continue reading,
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…’”
And that’s where we finish our reading and when stop reading there we teach that God’s main purpose for us was to fill the earth or, in simpler terms, have sex and make children so those children can grow up, have sex and make more children. But that sounds like the nature of animals, and are we not a higher being than they? Thus the question returns and yearns for an answer, what is our purpose?
I would argue that the most important part comes right after we stop reading because Moses, in the retelling of the history of the beginning goes on to recount God’s words…
“And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God Said, ‘Behold I have given you every planet yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green planet for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”
And again, in Genesis 2 man’s creation is recounted along with his purpose for being on earth, “to work and keep it” (2:15).
So if anything, after reading all that, I would argue that we’ve established one thing: that our main purpose on this earth isn’t to fill it with children by having sex but to take care of the creation God has lain down before us and to enjoy its (literal) fruits. I find further evidence of this because we, unlike some other species on this earth, do not die off immediately after giving birth. And so although we may have been given sex as a way to provide us with offspring, I would hope we would being convinced, even unconsciously, that it’s the centrality of our lives.
But now that we’ve figured out our purpose, I have to wonder, what is it that makes us created in the image of God?
I could argue that its our rationality, that, scientifically speaking its because we have the most developed brain and body, a brain that allows us to be artists, engineers, musicians, and scientists. A brain that not only has the capability to know but can turn knowledge into wisdom and a body that has the ability, when paired with the mind, to create. While these things are all good and true and never to be discounted or washed over, I think there’s something bigger we often gloss over.
I believe that greater feature is our capability to rule, the ability to have leadership and authority over other beings and creatures. The power to choose to use either grace and love or fear and coercion to gain the obedience and loyalty of a targeted party. And, most importantly, in our authority we find the ability to name those before us, which could be the greatest power of them all because identity is often found in a person’s name, Yahweh himself certainly displayed this.
In these past few years, I have learned that the more something is mentioned in the Bible, the more important it tends to be and the more I need to pay attention. When I consider the amount of time spent detailing what man has dominion over in Genesis 1 and 2 and I look throughout the New Testament and find that all the commandments boil down to either loving God or loving his people because of the radical grace lavished upon us, I have a hard time thinking that my identity is rooted chiefly in my ability to think and create. Because if we are being honest, most of the things I think, and most of the things I create aren’t worth being paid attention to because of the sin that so easily twists them from good to bad. And even more so, because most often, I am asked to follow, to relinquish my right to choose, to think for myself, and to create my own path in exchange for all the Lord has in store.
Similarly, when I look at the importance of names throughout the Bible, discovering that a change in name signified either a declaration of identity or a change of identity I can no longer turn towards the culture that desperately and daily tries to change my name from worthy to worthless.
My identity rests in the grace I have been given and the opportunity to give that same grace out to others. It rests in the name I have been given through the sacrifice: beloved, cherished, holy, worthy. It does not rest in my body, it does not rest in my mental capabilities, and it most certainly does not, returning to the point at hand, rest in my sexuality.
Men are not hormonal beasts and women are not stoic virgins waiting to fulfill their purpose as child bearers, we must stop naming ourselves as so. We are influencers; we are grace-receivers and, therefore, grace-givers. We are beings that have the opportunity to deny calculated rationality for the animalistic relentlessness of deep, overflowing love. Not the love of romance, of sexuality, but the love of charity: a lavish gift from an unobligated giver showered upon undeserved recipients.
The solution to combating premarital sex doesn’t come from screaming abstinence and shaming physical, romantic contact without any hope for redemption once virginity has been “lost”. The solution to dealing with rape and sexual abuse isn’t to say it’s human nature, or ignore it, or withhold forgiveness from those who have chosen to engage in these crimes (this not to say we should withhold legal consequences, consequences can be given with forgiveness, it’s one of the highest but hardest forms of love). The solution is to remind humankind that it is made in the image of the one, true, unrelenting, illogical, passionate God. To stop calling our bodies our enemies and remember they’re our vessel. To stop abusing and neglecting or calling disgusting and revolting something the Lord himself gave us. To remind each other of our name: holy, worthy, beloved, for when we change our name and fall back in love with our identity, we eagerly change our lives to reflect it.
Sex is good, it was given to us for pleasure but it is not our life, as secular culture would like to convince us. It does not define our worth, as the church sometimes portrays it, and it most certainly doesn’t excuse our actions as other influences would claim.
We have a choice: to believe we are beings created with the opportunity to give ruthless grace that will not stop at anything to convince our fellow humankind that they are loved simply because they exist or to demote ourselves to animals that are ruled by their hormones and their need to survive via reproduction.
Where are you going to put your worth?