Sometime it seems like God is such a buzz kill.
After all, doesn’t it seem like so much of the cultural conflict in America, even in the world, boils down to conflicts over sex? Facing off against one another are the sexually liberated masses against the Bible thumping fundamentalists, clinging to archaic biblical rules, right? The sexually liberated western world seems to be crying in exasperation to the old biblical ethic, “Enough! Die already! The modern world has moved on without you!”
From the beginning of the human race people have chafed at the boundaries set for them with regard to human sexuality. So the behaviors of today are nothing new; they are in fact, ancient. From the earliest pages of scripture we see the stirrings of the “sexual revolution”, and so in that sense, what began in America, and more specifically in the radical “counter culture” movement in the 1960’s was only the latest chapter in humanity’s quest to be “sexually liberated”. The clash between the biblical people of God and the sexual revolution activists is a millennia old battle.
There is, however, a difference in how the conflict has been waged in 20th and now 21st century America. Whereas in times past the skirting of biblical sexual standards was done individually and surreptitiously in illicit couplings, in the 1960’s everything was thrust out into the open. Biblical standards of sexual ethics were seen as repressive and a tool of powerfully elite, patriarchal oppression. Sexual restraint was pulled down like a statue of some hated and now deposed political figure, smashed to bits and trodden underfoot. Following this clarion cry of a new sexual order, what had been done more judiciously since the beginning of human history when sexual ethics were at least broadly acknowledged(if not actually followed), was now done brazenly under a new standard that seemed to give it a new legitimacy.
In their 1960’s retrospective “Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the 60’s”, Peter Collier and David Horowitz give a detailed history of the radical counter cultural movement in that tumultuous time. Horowitz was deeply involved in the movement as editor of the radical newspaper “Ramparts”. They make clear that their movement was made up of Marxist-Leninists whose ultimate intention was violent revolution and overthrow of racist, imperialist, oppressive “Amerika”. They believed the United States to be guilty of violent oppression both at home and abroad, and therefore the violent smashing of all traditional standards in America was necessary to fulfill the dawn of a new, communist “liberation”.
Among the standards that had to be destroyed were traditional sexual ethics. They write of the movement’s leaders in the radical organization “The Weatherman”:
Trying to push the limits in the sexual domain as well, they initiated a “smash monogamy” campaign to destroy bourgeois sexual hang-ups in the same way that street fighting was meant to “smash” bourgeois prohibitions against violence…The campaign against monogamy was begun by the women, who had decided that sexual exclusivity led to inequality…”
The radicals of the Weather underground shed all of the traditional restraints, including opprobrium against group sex, believing they were ultimately smashing oppressive restrictions on human freedom. The last standard to fall was prohibition of homosexuality:
One of the last taboos was homosexuality, and the Weather command forced itself toward experimentation in this direction, instructing male and female cadres to “make it” with members of the same sex.
Again, sexual promiscuity did not begin with the 1960’s counter culture movement. What changed in the 1960’s was that a vanguard of radicals had the audacity to openly declare that millennia old biblical sexual ethics were dead, to proclaim that there was no longer to be shame in any sexual expression, however brazen, and to hail a new age of human liberation. Prior to this, sex outside of biblically established norms certainly occurred, but did so furtively and against culturally accepted boundaries. The counter culture movement set out to obliterate those boundaries and set into motion the ongoing clash of cultures we still see today.
What is it about those biblical standards of sexual ethics that makes them so repressive that people had to throw them off? Traditional Christians (as well as those of other “Abrahamic” religions—Jews and Muslims) cite the Bible as their standard on sexual behavior, and since they believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, are we to conclude that God Himself is sexually hung up and conflicted? Did God create a powerful instinctive urge within us that He then forbids us to enjoy freely, thus maliciously creating a tormenting, lifelong conflict? Does that make God the ultimate source of a lifelong purgatory of repressed sexual desire?
Since the theology of sexual purpose and ethics in the Bible is so large, for this post I will limit to the original intent described in the creation account and what went wrong. The more detailed unfolding of the sexual condition of humankind will come in a follow up post.
Also, although critics dispute the validity of the biblical creation account in light of modern science, one thing that seldom gets addressed in that debate is this: in the biblical creation narrative resides the best description of the human condition and of human behavior of any early creation account. No other ancient description of human origins comes close to nailing the dual characteristics of humankind’s vast potential for greatness and simultaneous possessing of the destructive warp in our nature that the Bible calls sin.
The topic of sex regarding procreation comes up twice in the biblical creation narrative of the first chapter of Genesis, first in verse 22 in which He blesses the sea life and birds and says “Be fruitful and multiply” and decrees that they shall fill the seas and the air. Then He again pronounces this declaration over the first humans in verse 27-28, coupled with His declaration of humankind’s authoritative charge over the earth:
So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
In chapter two of Genesis, Moses, the author, delves into the detail of God’s creation of Adam, then how He fashioned Eve from Adam’s own flesh. At that, Adam exclaims his delight in the magnificent creation of his mate and for the first time there is the hint that this joining is more dynamic than just for procreation (Gen. 2:23):
”This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.”
To this Moses adds commentary that give us the first indication of the mystery of God’s intention for the human marital, sexual relationship and says that in this first marital bond there was no taint, no cause for shame: (vs. 24-25):
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
This succinct narrative is packed with meaning from which several insights can be gleaned.
First it should be noted that only with man did God create the female in a separate act and indeed even the man himself was created differently from the other creatures of the earth. All other creatures He created by fiat declaration, “let there be”. Man, on the other hand, was created “from the dust of the earth”, not spoken into existence ex nihilo, from nothing. Then, when He creates the woman, it is given its own narrative and again the method is different from that of the animals of the earth. With the animals, no mention is given of separate acts of creating male and female. But the woman is cloned out of Adam’s body.
Clearly the creation of human kind was to God a special act. This is evident from the fact that He made man in His image. About the meaning of that whole books are written, but suffice to say that it conveys man as having attributes of God, the imprint of divine being: consciousness, intelligence and the ability to think abstractly, the full range of emotions, the ability to create, to grasp time, to plan and take command of his world, and much more. Most importantly, it made man, unlike the animals, able to commune with God.
Humankind was made into flesh like the animals, yet was intended from the beginning to be much more than the animals. This has numerous ramifications not least of which is how God intended human sexual relations. In short, we are not mere animals for which the sexual union is procreative only. Spiritual and relational dynamics are at play with humans that are non-existent for animals.
Note also that God presented Eve to Adam. God didn’t just form her and when Adam awoke, she was waiting there with no explanation. Instead, the scripture says that “He brought her to the man”; God introduced Adam to her. God made her through a special act and made a grand gesture in presenting her to Adam.
The man and the woman were both naked, yet not ashamed. In this pristine state, yet untainted by The Fall, sexuality as God designed it was good, created free of any hint of dysfunction or shame.
Finally, Moses immediately links this specially created union to the marital covenant. Moses says, in effect, that the purpose and pattern for marriage was established in the very first human marriage, the marriage in which the husband and wife were the direct creations of God and whose union was divinely orchestrated.
This has profound implications for how God views marriage, but for now the final observation is this: that when Moses describes that the man and woman become “one flesh”, it means that the union of a husband and wife…sexually, spiritually and emotionally…symbolizes that they originally were one flesh when Eve was yet still uncloned from Adam’s side. In the creation narrative, woman came from man and in their sexual union, she symbolically returns to oneness with him. This is part of the divine, spiritual mystery infused by God into the union of man and woman. It was the original template that God authored.
All of this occurs before The Fall, when all that God had made was “good” and remained in innocence. No sin had yet entered the creation, and so what God had created…including sex…was good. Though there is no mention of Adam “knowing” Eve to this point, when God created humankind and declared for them “to increase in number”, sexuality was implied, and that it was good.
Therefore sexuality was part of the original world that God created and in the beginning it was good as God originally designed it. In the next chapter of Genesis everything goes terribly wrong, holistically wrong in the fullness of human existence and the very fabric of the created world. That will be the subject of the next post.