*I’ve recently been teaching through a biblical perspective on sexuality and relationships in our Harvard college ministry, and wanted to share my (incomplete) notes here.  Five main points will be listed separately in the coming weeks.  This framework is not exhaustive, of course, but I think these realities go straight to the heart of a Christian view on these things.

“…[God’s] goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and the pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him.  In other words, the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.  The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people—both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not)…God created us with sexual passion so that there would be language to describe what it means to cleave to him in love and what it means to turn away from him to others…God made us powerfully sexual so that he would be more deeply knowable.  We were given the power to know each other sexually so that we might have some hint of what it will be like to know Christ supremely.” (John Piper, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ)

1.) Human “unity” (reflected in our status as individuals) and “diversity” (reflected in our irreducible communal identities and interconnectedness with others) both reflect radically important aspects of God’s own being and life.  Within God Himself, there is both unity and plurality (relationship!), operating together in perfect, beautiful harmony.  Our sexual identities reflect and echo this primal reality about our Creator (cf. also I Corinthians 11:3, etc.).  “Male” and “Female” (and the subsequent “one flesh” union they experience) are not random, arbitrary distinctions, but rather point beyond themselves to something inherently true about God Himself.[1]  One place we see this is in the creation account, where human plurality is associated with a (mysterious) plurality in God, and human individuality is connected to the same feature in the Creator:

Genesis 1:26—“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:27—“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

2.)  There is an intimate, unbreakable connection between physical and spiritual reality in the Christian worldview (contrast Gnosticism & “new age” spiritualities).  Absolutely everything in the material universe reflects some more fundamental spiritual dynamic or reality.  Put another way: everything is spiritual for the Christian, and everything is connected to and relevant for his or her faith in Jesus Christ.  Nothing in the universe (let alone sex and gender!) can be compartmentalized or isolated from God’s character, identity and designs for human flourishing for His glory.  Therefore, your sexuality and gender must be a central part of your spirituality and your pursuit of knowing and enjoying God.  Never separate them, for there is—ultimately—no valid distinction between “sacred” and “secular” for those who follow Jesus.

“There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.  God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature.  That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.  We may think this rather crude and unspiritual.  God does not: He invented eating.  He likes matter.  He invented it.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 64)

3.) Therefore, while sex and our gender identities are gloriously beautiful and good and joyful, they are nevertheless not ends in themselves.  They are, finally, pointers to what we were most deeply and mysteriously created for: to know and love God with all of our minds, hearts and beings.  We must, then (as C. S. Lewis was fond of saying) “keep first things first, and second things second.”  And the paradox of faith is that if we do not treat sex and gender as the most ultimate, valuable or significant aspects of our existence, we will actually preserve our fullest possible experience of joy and delight and satisfaction in them.  But if we place them above God, we will not only lose God—but we will lose out (in the long run) on the profound potential sex and romantic relationships have to fulfill us as God’s creatures.  Simply put, sex and relationships are fit as good gifts, but turn out to make tyrannical gods.  Conclusion: we must interpret and view sex and gender in the right perspective, as something subordinately good and derivatively meaningful in Gods’ wider scope of creation and relationship with Him.  We must not ascribe ultimate value and beauty and significance to them.  This must be reserved for God alone.

“The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” (Bruce Marshall, The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith, p. 108)

4.) Finally, sex and gender remind us that the ultimate, deepest contours of existence have nothing to do with us.  We are creatures, not the Creator! Rather, everything that exists always has most to do with God’s own being and life, as Trinity.  As the Gospel of John puts it, behind everything else is this relational dynamic: “The Father loves the Son” and “The Son loves the Father.”  This has always, eternally been true.  This divine relationship within God’s own being and life is valid and objectively real apart from us and before us.  Furthermore, everything in the universe (on a Christian view of things) must find its most primal source in this and derive from it.  We are relational beings, because God is inherently a relational Being.  Therefore, one radical difference between the Christian worldview and every secular, materialist belief system, is that relationship and personhood precede physical matter, they do not arise from physical matter.  Relationship is more significant than “stuff”.  The universe was created and exists, in fact, for personal relationships.  For God has been in relationship forever, as the Father and the Son know and love and delight in one another through the Holy Spirit with infinite intensity and intimacy.  God creates and redeems (John 17) to “extend” and “share” this relationship (His “glory”) with us.[2]  In order to attain this overall goal, God designed sex and gender (mainly) to give us categories for thinking about Him and profoundly thrilling experiences to more deeply relate to Him.  Sex rightly understood and practiced, then, affords us a glimpse into God’s own nature and being that we otherwise would not have had access to, nor the ability to experience or intuit in the abstract. 

The God revealed in and by Jesus Christ exists as Trinity.  Within His own being there is an eternal relationality in the midst of genuine distinctions–Father, Son and Holy Spirit knowing and loving one another in glorious fullness forever.  Therefore, human beings created in His image reflect this by being inherently relational and inherently distinct from one another.

[1] Note that both male and female characteristics and imagery are ascribed to God throughout Scripture.

[2] See Jonathan Edwards’ The End For Which God Created for this insight.