Thoughts on Sex

I attended a meeting last week with a group of fellow Vineyard Pastors and one of the things we discussed was singleness — particularly how to honor that in our churches. After all, Jesus was single, so one can clearly be Godly even if one isn’t married. Same thing with Paul. In fact, the Church has a pretty great history of championing singleness as a viable, even desirable, lifestyle. But that is a topic for another day.

What I want to talk about today is sex. Particularly, I want to meditate on some passages in Genesis and point out how those passages can apply to our sexuality in the Church today. I want to put two texts (Genesis 1 and Genesis 4) side by side and observe a few things. Just so we are all on the same page, here are the texts in question.

Genesis 1:27-28

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

 And God blessed them. 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.”

Genesis 4:1

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain

If you’ll allow a slightly crass paraphrase, right after God creates humanity, he tells them to have sex. Why, then, does Adam not have sex with Eve until after the Fall? Genesis 4 starts with the word “now” as in “now, after all these things”. What the heck? Adam is married to the most beautiful woman on the planet, the most beautiful woman who has ever lived (who also happens to be completely naked), and they don’t get frisky for three chapters? What gives? I feel like we are missing some pretty important pieces of the puzzle. I also think that sex may not be as important/essential as we all seem to think it is.

Does anyone else think it strange that the biological desire to reproduce is the last function to develop in human beings and the first to go? For instance, take our other biological desires/necessities — air, water, food, sleep. Those things are with us for life. Indeed, if deprived of them for an extended period of time we die. Not true with sex. One can live a long, happy and fulfilled life without ever having sex though our Western culture would scream to the contrary.

Let’s circle back to our story in Genesis. First, how cool is it that God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to have sex? I don’t know about you, but my experience in church has been that sex shouldn’t be talked about much and that it is kind of dirty, taboo. We know people do it, but we don’t want to think about it, hear about it or see any evidence of it until there is a baby bump. I don’t think the Puritans did us any favors in this department. But the Truth is that we have a God who loves, even celebrates, sex (see the end of Song of Solomon if you’d like additional biblical evidence). Sex isn’t dirty or taboo, it isn’t even an uncomfortable subject in the Bible. I think that can free us to talk differently about sex in our churches.

But what really fascinates me is the fact that Adam and Eve waited so long to get together. Now, we don’t know how much time elapsed between the end of Genesis 1 and the beginning of Genesis 4, but I think we can assume there were at least two or three days — long enough in  my book! So what’s the deal? Adam and Eve are in paradise, naked, they have no obligations except to tend to the Garden and exercise their dominion over creation, and they take a walk with God every evening — sounds like an ideal setting. I think that is the point. Adam and Eve were doing what they were created to do and were in right relationship with God and one another. They were intimate and loving in nonsexual ways so sex wasn’t really on their minds all that much. It was only after the Fall, after they felt the chasm of relational distance between themselves and God and between one another that they finally turned to sex as a means of trying to bridge the gap. Quite literally, Adam got inside Eve and he still wasn’t as close to her as when they were working side by side in the Garden. That breaks my heart. I’ve always taken the verse “It’s not good for man to be alone” to mean that a man needs a wife (i.e. someone to have sex with). I’m not sure that is what it means at all. I think that verse means we need companions, people to help us in our pilgrimage through life, not sex buddies or friends with benefits.

My heart really gravitates towards this idea of companionship, of friendship between men and women that is intimate and nonsexual. I also know that, historically, this hasn’t worked out well in general society. And so I’m caught in the “now and not yet” of God’s Kingdom.

A few closing thoughts:

  1. This story of Adam and Eve challenges my beliefs about modesty and holiness, especially taking every thought captive. Adam was able to behold a beautiful woman totally naked in paradise and his first thought wasn’t to jump her bones — that same ability is in my DNA. Are we as men really so far gone, really so fragile, that we need to clothe women head to toe in burkas in order to control our sexual desires? If so, what does that say about us as men? What does that say about our relationship with God?
  2. The intimacy I long for comes primarily from nonsexual sources.
  3. Multiplying ourselves is a biblical command, and for Adam and Eve it certainly meant having sex. That isn’t true today. Jesus is arguably the most “multiplied” person on the planet and it had nothing to do with having sex and everything to do with investing his life in others.
  4. Single people may have the potential to influence greater numbers of people than married people. They may be especially suited for work in ministry.
  5. Being married is great. Being single is great. There isn’t any need to push people one way or another. Single people aren’t deficient in any way (it may be that married people are).

Well, I think I’ll wrap things up here. Thanks for reading friends and, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ben

Navigating Love and Holiness

I’ve been thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan lately. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but in case you need a refresher, here it is.

Jesus tells a story of a Jewish man who is on his way down the mountain from Jerusalem when he is ambushed by a band of thieves. They beat him, steal his goods and leave him for dead. Sometime later, a priest comes by and seeing the body from a distance, crosses over to the other side. So to a Levite (one of the workers in the Temple) comes along, sees the man’s body lying alongside the road, and crosses over to the other side. Lastly, a Samaritan, comes along, takes pity on the man and cares for him. He provides first aid to the injured man, transports him to the hospital and even agrees to pay for his hospital bill.  Jesus points out that the Samaritan was the neighbor while the religious people were not.

Here is an interesting piece, according to the Law found in Leviticus 21:1, The Lord commanded Moses to “Speak to the priests…and say to them, ‘A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die…'” (emphasis mine). Also, in Numbers 19:11 it reads, “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.” I bring this up because it adds some really interesting complexity to Jesus’s otherwise straightforward parable.

If the priest and the Levite suspected the man lying alongside the road was dead, then they were required, by Law, to pass by. The priest was forbidden from defiling himself for anyone who wasn’t family and the Levite, assuming he had to work in the Temple the next day, couldn’t defile himself and still be allowed in the Temple. So this begs the question, “why did Jesus choose these two people as the characters in his story?”

The context to this parable is Jesus being questioned by an expert in the Law. This expert wants to know what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the most important commands are. The expert replies, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” This is, of course, the correct answer — the man knows his stuff. But theory is one thing, practical application is another, so the man asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable above and then asks, “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert agrees — it was the Samaritan.

Jesus’s parable puts the expert in a double bind by pitting the Law against itself. On one hand is the command to love, on the other is the command to be holy. In order to fulfill the most important commands of Scripture (to love) the expert would have to break lesser commands (holiness). He would need to break the Law in order to fulfill the Law. Either way he plays it, he is still a lawbreaker. On one hand he breaks the Law to love if he does not help someone in need. On the other hand, he breaks the laws of holiness if he embraces the radical notions of Neighbor Jesus puts forth in his parable. If what Jesus says is true, then he is a lawbreaker no matter what he does and that means he is disqualified from inheriting (earning) eternal life. I find that to be a fascinating predicament Jesus puts the expert in. I find it fascinating because it has such direct import to our current political situation in the United States.

One side of our political system leans heavy on loving people, sometimes at the expense of moral standards (Biblically speaking). The other side leans more towards holiness and morality, sometimes at the expense of helping people who really need it. Which side is correct?

If the parable of the Good Samaritan were all we had to work with, I think it would be easy — err on the side of love. Mercy triumphs over judgement. But this isn’t the only teaching of Jesus we have. We also have the time when Jesus was brought a woman caught in the act of adultery. In this instance, Jesus does indeed break the Law in order to fulfill the Law. By Law he was required to stone an adulteress and by Law he required to love that woman as he loved himself. Jesus chose to show mercy and not stone the woman to death, but he doesn’t leave the issue of holiness unaddressed. His parting words are “Go and sin no more.”

Holiness is important to God, we are to be holy because He is holy. We can’t get rid of the commands to be holy, to have high moral standards, and neither can we fail to love. So what do we do? The following three principles help me to navigate this complex issue.

  1. I try to continually expand my definition of neighbor. The Parable of the Good Samaritan shows me that my neighbors are people who don’t look like me, don’t talk like me, believe differently than I do, don’t live in my geographic area, are from different socio-economic backgrounds and might otherwise hate me in another circumstance. In other words, there is no one on this planet I am not called to love. I must use that Truth to constantly fight my own fear, prejudice, ignorance and indifference. Unless I am continually growing in my love for humanity I am not fulfilling the royal Law of Love.
  2. Lead with Kindness and Mercy. We are all in process and it is OK to admit that. Because of Holy Spirit’s work in us, we are being transformed into the image and likeness of God. God willing, the things which entangled me yesterday will have less power over me today and no power tomorrow. No one needs to be perfect before I extend to them the love, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. I wasn’t perfect when he first offered those things to me and I’m still not perfect even though I’ve been saturated with them every day for the last 20 years. But I trust that God will finish what he started — in me and in you. He isn’t a God of half measures, He won’t give up until we are glorious and Good.
  3. The Doctor’s Orders are for our benefit. God is not a buzzkill who enjoys rules for their own sake. Everything God commands us to do is for our benefit. Because I believe that Jesus really does want what is best for me and those around me, I have no problems trying to follow those orders and convincing others to do the same. Holiness is not a constraining and joyless pursuit — on the contrary — it is a necessary ingredient for abundant, overflowing and joyful living. Whenever possible I think we should advocate for people to live according to the Book. It isn’t necessary to understand, it is only necessary to believe it will work for our good.

We’re not going to do this perfectly, this dance of obedience. But fortunately for us we don’t have to. Unlike the expert in the Law who was trying to do everything perfectly so that God was obligated to save him, our salvation is a gift. It wasn’t given because we were deserving and it won’t be taken away because we are undeserving. The gift of our salvation gives us freedom to learn, grow, make mistakes and learn to do better. We are learning to love and follow the lead of our Savior — we’ll be clunky at first and will get better over time. Very rarely will we ever encounter a situation where we have to choose either love or holiness because Jesus, through the power of the Spirit and in accordance with the heart of our Father, creates a new option — that loving people is what brings them to holiness and purifies us as well.

My Critique of Christian Republicanism

The History of this Article

I began writing this piece shortly after the Primary races began. It started as a piece I hoped would spark dialogue between my Republican friends and I, but because I am slow to marshall thoughts, and even slower to share them, this article quickly lost relevance to the event which first inspired it. I kept it in the queue, thinking I’d roll it out in four years as a timely piece before the next round of circus.

Then I read this article by Wayne Grudem and it suddenly became relevant again. Now, you have to understand, Mr. Grudem has been highly influential in my life. His book, Systematic Theology, has been informative and inspirational and almost convinced me to pursue a Doctorate in Systematic Theology. So my first inclination, after reading an article which sickened and angered me, was to check myself. Was I mistaken? Would Hilary really be as bad as he prophesys? Can we really make the leap to saying that voting for any Democrat in any election is an immoral choice?

I don’t think so. In fact, in his article, Mr. Grudem exemplifies the sort of Nationalistic Christianity that caused me to write this article initially. I’m heartened by the number of responses to Mr. Grudem’s article by people of my generation (Millennials) because they have been kind, considerate and respectfully defiant. We are carving out new ways of understanding how our faith interacts with politics — and I’m thrilled. This will likely put us at odds with older generations of Believers, but that doesn’t mean we love Jesus (or our moms and dads) any less. We are just insisting that loving Jesus does not also mean we need to love Republicanism.

The Purpose of this Article

I wrote this article with the hope of making people think about their faith in God, their understanding of the Bible and how those two things interact with their political inclinations and the issues in our world. I’m troubled at how easily people on either side of the aisle claim to follow Christ and yet their opinions and legislative decisions rarely align with the Christian faith. More troublesome is the commingling of the words Christian and Republican, as though the two were one and the same. Therefore, into the cess pool of political opinion on the Internet, I respectfully submit my thoughts.

The Political Nature of the Gospel

The Gospel is political, there is no getting around it. When Mark the Evangelist first penned the words, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” there was already a Gospel in circulation, the Gospel of Tiberius Caesar, son of the gods. Mark’s assertion was that there was a new Emperor who actually was the Son of God and Mark wrote about his exploits. This Good News was a direct threat to the existing government and much of the persecution of early Christians was due to the political nature of their message. If the Gospel no longer threatens, critiques or corrects the worldly political system, then it is no longer the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In many ways we find ourselves in the place of Joshua in Joshua 5. Joshua has just finished praying and he looks up to see an angel standing before him with his sword drawn. Joshua gets up, goes to the angel and says, “Are you for us or our enemies?” The angel replies, “Neither. I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” In essence, the angel asked Joshua, “Who’s side are YOU on?” Oftentimes we think there are only two sides to an issue and we are relatively certain God sides with us. Yet it is often the case that God has his own side and we must make the choice to align with him.

My goal in this article is to explore that third way of God, the one that is greater and more comprehensive than either the Republicans or Democrats can understand. I will fall far short of doing it proper justice, but if I can start a respectful and thoughtful discussion than all of the labor that went into the writing of this piece will be worth it.

My Background

I was raised in a Republican home. I think I’ve maintained a good portion of my conservative values while still being able to acknowledge that there are important things besides fiscal responsibility and the sanctity of life. Because of my upbringing, I have a fondness for the Republican party that I don’t have for the Democratic one. In an interesting emotional and theological twist, that fondness compels me to be a fierce critic of the GOP, especially the wing that identifies itself as Conservative, Evangelical Christian. Because I am more familiar with the Republican mindset and ideals, the bulk of this article will be addressed to them. It is my hope that a more Democratically aligned Christian will offer a similar critique of that party. I do hope that you will be patient and at least attempt to understand my arguments wherever you fall along the political spectrum. Additionally, I’d love for you to leave your corrections and comments below.

The Issues

  • Abortion – I think the basic thinking on this issue is solid. Life is precious, sacred. According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptizer was able to recognize the life of Jesus (who was little more than a zygote at the time) when he was 6 months in the womb. It is amazing that a child, 6 months in utero, would have that kind of discernment. Even more amazing is that he was able to recognize the personhood and divine nature of Jesus who was less than 3 weeks old. To be “Pro Life” is to be “for life” in all of its stages. Republicans need to up their game dramatically when it comes to caring for teenage moms, single parents, foster parents and children, adoptive families and families with lots of kids. It is unethical and immoral to guilt someone into carrying a child full term and then effectively abandon them once the child is born.
  • Death Penalty – Again, to be “Pro Life” is to be “for life” in every regard. State sanctioned murder is still murder. Furthermore, the sentence over some of these people is questionable at best. Can we really claim to represent the One who said, “the Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth” (Luke 9:55) and kill the innocent? Isn’t it better to leave that level of judgment in the hands of God? Do we need violent criminals off the streets? Absolutely. But it is best to remember that “an eye for an eye” makes the whole world blind.
  • The Environment – This is also an issue of life – the life of the planet. We claim that God created the air we breath, the water we drink and the ground we stand upon. Doesn’t that make those things sacred? Can we really claim to love God and desire to be good stewards of all he has given us and defile the planet at the same time? I’m not even going to touch the issue of climate change because it is a tertiary issue. I think many of us are living in denial about what really happens to the junk we put in the trash can — where do we think that goes? As we continue to uncover how harmful plastics are to human health, do we not think that those same chemicals will harm the lives of other things on this planet or the planet itself? Yes, we believe in a new creation – a new heaven and new earth – but there is also the principle of being faithful with what you’ve been given so that you can be entrusted with more and better things. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that the Earth waits in eager expectation  for the children of God to be revealed so that it will be liberated from its bondage to decay? (It does, see Romans 8:19-21) That means your status as a child of God will, in part, be measured by the amount of freedom and health you bring to this planet.
  • Guns and the Second Amendment – I get it — guns don’t kill people, people kill people and guns are just a tool. And yet this tool has one intended purpose, to fling a piece of lead at high velocity into flesh, be it human or animal, in order to injure or kill. The purpose of this tool is to kill and the only time it does “good” is when it kills bad people. Killing bad people is still killing. Jesus did command his disciples to arm themselves in Luke 22:36-38, but when they tried to use their swords, Jesus rebuked them and undid the damage they caused. Jesus never taught his disciples when it was appropriate to use violence and we don’t see the Apostles carrying weapons at any other point in the New Testament. In fact, they quite readily offered themselves up to be beaten, even martyred. Throughout the world, unarmed and powerless Christians are changing the world in the face of great persecution and yet the Church thrives. They walk in a level of authority we can’t comprehend in the West and they do it through pacifism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor committed to pacifism in Nazi Germany. After much internal struggle, Bonhoeffer eventually decided to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He failed, however, and the surge of confidence this failed attempt gave to Hitler had catastrophic results. I do think there are times when bad men need to die, but I’m not certain any of us have the wisdom to know when that is and what the repercussions may be. The best we can do is act on what seems best to us and trust in a Merciful God. On the whole, however, guns seem quite unnecessary for civilians.
  • Sanctity of Marriage – What are we really trying to protect in our legislative efforts to define marriage as “between one man and one woman”? Are we really trying to protect the sanctity of marriage or are we trying to protect our right to file taxes jointly and be privy to our partner’s medical information? If we were really trying to protect the sanctity of marriage, shouldn’t we also limit people to just being married once? We would probably be best served by rewriting our nation’s laws concerning marriage. Marriage is a religious institution with intense spiritual repercussions — it isn’t an issue the government has any jurisdiction over (remember Braveheart?). If two people choose to merge their lives through a governmental procedure so that they can file taxes together and get some other benefits, can we really say no to that? What Christians insist on is a spiritual truth — that marriage is sacred and strictly defined and that anyone who doesn’t treat it that was hurts themselves in the short term and long term, but can we really legislate that? Just as the government should have no say in who can get married in a church, the church should not have a say in who gets married in the government. (Separation of church and state is kind of our big idea in America.)
  • Caring for the hungry, thirsty, immigrants, the poor, the sick and those in prison – Sorry for the giant, run on category, but these things all fit together in God’s Book. Take the case of Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Sheep are those who will enter into Life in the Kingdom of God and the Goats are those who will be punished for eternity – what distinguishes the two groups? How they treated the people mentioned above. Look, Biblically speaking, to reject immigrants is to reject Christ. To deny the sick access to healthcare is to make Jesus suffer. To refuse to care for the hungry, the thirsty and the poor is to refuse to care for Christ. Not devoting time, energy and resources to rehabilitate and free those in prison means that God won’t do that for you (“forgive us as we forgive…”). As individuals, it is impossible to do all those things, but not for a group. Until the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Republican party pushes for these things to be major agenda items, the Republican party cannot claim to have the moral high ground and cannot claim to represent Christ.
  • Taxes – Flat taxes across the board seem to be the standard Biblical procedure. The Temple Tax was the same fee for every person, no matter their income and the tithe is 10% wether you make $50,000 or $500,000. However, Jesus also says that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” God expects those who have been blessed with wealth will use it to bless others.
  • Military Spending – I get that we, as a nation, need an army. But can we Christians at least acknowledge our hypocrisy? It is hard to justify a national army when Jesus said to turn the other cheek. We spend an enormous amount of money on our military, almost beyond comprehension. Why? The majority of the nations that could potentially pose a threat to us are already allies and we have plenty of guns. Can we cut back on some of that spending and use some of it to help the people that hate us? Then, maybe, they wouldn’t hate us so much and we could cut back some more in a few years. Also, can we redirect that funding to take better care of our soldiers and their families? If someone is going to put their life on the line for me, whether I want them to or not, they deserve to be well taken care of.
  • America is a Christian Nation – Can we please drop this rhetoric? America is not a Christian nation and never has been. At least, I pray to God it isn’t and has never been. The United States was indeed founded by many Christians, but were we representing Christ when we massacred indigenous peoples and stole their land? Or were we living out the command to love our neighbor as ourselves when we forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of people from their countries and forced them into slave labor and subjected them to humiliating forms of abuse and poverty? What about when we repressed and belittled women even though there is clear and compelling Biblical evidence of women in leadership in the Bible? What about when we prohibited the sale of alcohol in this country in clear contradiction of Scripture? Jesus blessed the drinking of wine, he made it a Sacrament for crying out loud. It is our uncomfortable reality that the times of greatest church attendance in our nation have coincided with the greatest amounts of racism, sexism, bigotry, violence and hypocrisy. If that is what it means to be a Christian nation then I want none of it.

The real difficulty is that Christianity was never intended to be a ruling religion. We have always been at our best under the pressure of persecution, exerting our influence and the Kingdom of God as salt, light and leaven. When Constantine made Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire it was hailed as a major victory by the Church. But only because they were deceived into thinking they could make the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of Our God by political maneuvering and military might. Until Jesus returns there can and will be no Christian nation. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to make the world better. It just means we do what we can to represent God well and that we shouldn’t overstep our bounds and go beyond what is written in the Word about the Kingdom of God on the Earth. Last time I checked, Israel was the only nation God had covenanted with in the Bible. He agreed to preserve them and he has, but they are the only ones who can claim divine support.

  • Israel – Speaking of Israel, let’s not confuse our support of the Jewish people with the support of the Israeli government – they are not the same. The Israeli government has some real problems they need to answer for. We must creatively support the Jewish people and God’s intentions while also holding the Israeli government to high moral standards, or at least the ones we read in the Bible.
  • Racism –  When I first wrote this article I had thought the tide was turning, that white Christians were beginning to see how racist our systems, structures and institutions were. I no longer think that. Instead I hope and pray that God will soften our hearts and allow us to bear the burden our black brothers and sisters have carried for so long.  As a white male, I could very easily ignore this issue and carry on with my life with no problems. But as a Christian, racism is a forced issue. Jesus is a Jew and the Lamb that was Slain purchased people for God from every nation, tribe and tongue. Our Father has decided that he wants a large, ethnically diverse family and he paid a high price to secure it. Now he commands us to “love one another”. As long as walls of hostility and racism stand we can never represent the heart of God in its fullness.

Closing Thoughts

As long as this article is, it represents just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to be said on each item I addressed and far more items besides those listed here. My hope is that my thoughts sparked something within you and I would love to know what it is. I hardly believe this is the final word on each of these topics and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you felt it was helpful, please consider sharing it with others who might appreciate it.

Ben