Sexuality is a deeply significant aspect of our personal identity. These days, because we assume we construct our selves however we want to, we similarly assume that we are free to construct our sexuality however we want to, or feel like. In this post, evangelical sexologist Patricia Weerakoon examines the stunningly counter-cultural idea that our sexuality might have objective purposes, given to externally us by our creator God – and that these external purposes aren’t oppressive, but good and healthy, therefore liberating.
God is a purposeful God. He is not random – he made the world, and humans, purposefully. As our creator, he has the right to define what sex and marriage are for – their purposes.
Genesis shows us that mankind (man and female) were created to rule over the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:26). As image bearers of God, man and woman were created to rule, and not be ruled by, creation. They were to keep the good order that God had created: that is, God > humanity > rest of creation.
They were to do this as a couple. In Genesis 1, God creates humanity male and female; Genesis 2 expands the story by telling us how he did so. God created man first and gave him the role of leader, and then created woman as the perfect and suitable helper and companion, for the task of ruling the world – as Genesis 2 puts it, cultivating the garden – and procreating for the future. Psalm 8 praises God for giving frail, insignificant humanity such an exalted position of cosmic rule. Hebrews 2 shows how Jesus fulfils Psalm 8. He is the true man, the second Adam, who rules not only the world, but the universe, and the supernatural realm, and even rules over sin, death and hell. But he did not do all of this only for himself – he did it for his people, Christians, who are described as – his bride.
In all of this, God gives us several purposes for sexuality, which interlock and mutually reinforce each other.
It was not good for the man to be alone. We are not meant to be self-sufficient individuals; we need relationships. Marriage, and sex in marriage, are the most intimate human relationships possible. So, one purpose of marriage and sex is relational fulfilment.
Adam and Eve’s unashamed nakedness, combined with the erotic descriptions in Song of Songs, shows that bodily beauty and sexual pleasure are good. Physical pleasure is another purpose of marital sex.
God made man and woman for each other as complementary humans. Same-gender friendship is great. But marriage and sexuality is heterosexual, across gender. The relational and physical joys of sex belong within heterosexual marriage.
Marriage itself is outward focused. God did not simply make humanity male and female in his image: he appointed them to rule the world. Adam and Eve were not just made for each other, they were to tend the garden. Marriage and sex are ‘private’ in that they belong exclusively to the couple. A husband and a wife belong to each other; they have sex with each other, and only each other. But the married couple now go out into the world as a married couple, who belong to each other, and who owe sexual loyalty to each other. Also, the relational and sexual pleasures of marriage are meant to enable the married couple to engage in their other relationships, their other responsibilities, with renewed vigour. The married couple are not meant to be simply obsessed with each other – that’s just selfishness with a thin romantic veneer. Their home is meant to be a hospitable place – a place where others without the relational and sexual pleasures that this couple enjoy – single people, childless couples, foreigners – can be drawn into, and share in, the love that the couple enjoy. And, strengthened by the love they share, the couple go out from their home into the world, to work productively and industriously. In this sense, marriage is not ‘private’ but a ‘public’ institution: it affects the married couple’s place in, and approach to, the rest of the world. Marriage’s purpose is to strengthen society.
Marriage and sex is meant to produce babies. Sex is meant for procreation. It’s an aspect of being outward-focused and productive. God commanded humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Sex, love and productivity are bound together. Love brings a couple together; they enjoy love together; and their mutual love brings forth new life – children!
The most amazing purpose of marital sex is: evangelism. Mutually caring, fulfilling, life-bringing sex, between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to each other for life, points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave his body for us, so that we could have eternal life in him. This is why the Bible can use marriage as a metaphor of God and his people in both old and new testaments. The virtues that characterise the gospel – other-focused care, commitment, sacrifice – demonstrate both the character of the Triune God himself, and the character of good sex in a healthy marriage.
And in all this, sex honours God. It is right and proper that we honour and thank God for giving us this good gift of sex. God wants us to use sex the proper way – his way – because he wants us to be happy and healthy. He is delighted when we conduct our sexuality so as to serve and care for each other, because that’s how he wants his children to behave. That’s why the Father was so overjoyed in Jesus: because Jesus only ever served and cared for others, even to the extent of dying to forgive his enemies. The highest purpose of sex, which knits all the other purposes together, is to glorify God.
These purposes are not independent: they interlock and reinforce each other. This is why God’s way works. When we conduct our sexuality in light of his purposes for sex, we can expect everything to work in a happy harmony that genuinely feels good – because it is good, for everyone.