Biblical Sexuality and the Knowledge of God
(I will be teaching on biblical sexuality at this conference http://bcdasocal.org/training/fall-2012-conference. My recent notes on suffering and these on sexuality are part of my study on the issues)
We can know things by direct experience, and we can know things by analogy. For example, let us say that someone spoke to you of Zuma beach in California. Let us also say that you have never been to California, but you have been Florida. One could say that Zuma beach is like Daytona beach. You could take your experience of Daytona beach and begin to imagine Zuma beach, by using the analogy of thing to understand the other.
Such analogies are necessary for human beings to understand God. God uses many anthropomorphisms to explain himself. An anthropomorphism is a figure of speech in which God speaks as if he were a human being: For instance, God speaks of his hand and arm (Jer. 32:21). Now, God being spirit (John 4:24) and thus has no “arm”. The figure of speech, God’s arm, is given to help us understand what God has done. We look at our own arm, and we understand how our arm functions and we get a glimpse of God.
We are not eternal uncreated spirits, we are human beings. Thus, without God providing analogies in our life (like arms and eyes), we would be unable to understand a great deal of what God has said. It would be like trying to imagine the beach and having never seen even a pond of water.
Marriage and sexual passion are one great element of God’s analogies in this world. God did not need to create sexual passion and desire to ensure the propagation of human life. Nature demonstrates that sexual reproduction need not entail passion or emotional desire. Why then would God create such a thing?
At one level, sexual passion has been the fount of extraordinary woe for human life. Sexual disruption runs through the biblical narrative as a deep and wide pit into which men as godly as David fall (2 Sam. 11). Paul lists out the destruction which sin brings to the human being, and sexual disintegration plays a starring role (Rom. 1:26-27). Why would God let such a passion free among human beings especially since we don’t “need” it.
John Piper in his first sermon on “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ” writes
Therefore, I say again: God created us in his image, male and female, with personhood and sexual passions so that when he comes to us in this world there would be these powerful words and images to describe the promises and the pleasures of our covenant relationship with him through Christ.
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.
Human sexuality creates an analogy to understand God. Just as knowing Daytona beach gives you a glimpse of Zuma, so human love creates an analogy for the divine love of God.
Think of the many times wherein God refers to himself as the devoted husband and passionate husband of his people:
14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. Hosea 2:14–15 (ESV)
Now we must be careful of drawing too tight a connection between the picture and the original, for later in the same book, God refers to Israel as “my son” (Hos. 11:1). We must not understand anything graphic about the relationship between God and his people.
Yet, what we can see is that the passionate desire which God holds for his people finds its image in the passionate desire which a husband must hold for his wife:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:25–33 (ESV)
Indeed, when reading through this passage, it can become difficult to know where Paul has in mind a husband and wife or Christ and the church.
It is interesting then to understand that one’s sexuality becomes a means of knowing God. Because in the act of learning to cherish one’s wife, the husband learns in part what it means when God expresses his love for his people. Consider our beach example: Let us say that rather than merely visit Daytona Beach, you also travel about and go to San Diego Beach and Santa Monica Beach in California. As you learn more about other beaches, you will begin to have a better idea of what Zuma Beach.
In the same way, the husband who better loves his wife begins to better understand what it means for God to love his people. By understanding the picture of human marriage, the human being begins to learn the depth of God’s love. You see, God created human sexuality as a basis, as an analogy to communicate to us the depth and character of love.
Since human sexuality exists to create an analogy for the understanding of (and thus relationship with) God, human beings are not free to use sexuality in any manner which we choose. Our sexuality is charge which we must keep to best understand our Savior. Piper explains:
Therefore, all misuses of our sexuality (adultery, fornication, illicit fantasies, masturbation, pornography, homosexual behavior, rape, sexual child abuse, bestiality, exhibitionism, and so on) distort the true knowledge of God. God means for human sexual life to be a pointer and foretaste of our relationship with him.
Christians will often times say that marriage is a parable of the Gospel for the world, but they can easily forget that marriage is a picture given for our own knowledge. Thus, as a husband loves his wife, cares for his wife, protects his wife, the husband teaches his wife in part what it means for God to love her. By drawing the analogy, the wife may better understand the original.
Piper notes that this knowledge also helps to protect our sexuality: As we understand the depths of the love of God, it protects our hearts and thus our bodies from sexual sin. The better which we understand the love of God, the less we will be willing to sin against him.
Piper makes a similar point in his sermon, albeit form a different angle:
Each of these texts teaches that knowing God revealed in Jesus Christ guards our sexuality from misuse, and that not knowing God leaves us prey to our passions. Romans 1:28:
Since they did not see fit to have God in [their] knowledge God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (literal translation)
Suppressing the knowledge of God will make you a casualty of corruption. It is part of God’s judgment. If you trade the treasure of God’s glory for anything, you will pay the price for that idolatry in the disordering of your sexual life. That is what Romans 1:23-24 teaches:
They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
This is the old way. When we come to Christ, we take it off like an old garment. Ignorance of God’s wrath and glory does not fit us any more. The new way is sexual holiness, and Paul contrasts it with not knowing God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5:
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.
Not knowing God puts you at the mercy of your passions—and they have no mercy without God. Here’s the way Peter says it in 1 Peter 1:14-15:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.
The desires that governed you in those days got their power from deceit, not knowledge. Ephesians 4:22:
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.
The desires of the body lie to us. They make deceitful promises—promises which are half true as in the garden of Eden. And we are powerless to expose and overcome unless we know God—really know God, his ways and works and words embraced with growing intimacy and ecstasy.