More about the Christian life

Sexuality and Spirituality

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
—Matthew 22:30, NIV

It’s interesting to watch sexual creatures discuss a completely nonsexual topic and somehow devolve it down to sex. It doesn’t matter if people are discussing theoretical physics, or football, or theology—any topic is an occasion for salacious stories and ends up in sex. It doesn’t take a demon to seduce us from contemplating the face of God and to direct our gaze into other people’s underpants, we do it quite well all on our own.

I wonder how God, who is not a sexual being, views the sexual preoccupations of His sexual creatures, particularly when those sexual creatures esteem themselves as spiritually minded. Probably with a bit of amusement. After all, the joke is on us. Eventually, we will all be cured of our preoccupation with our sexuality. Men who are reading this can remember a time when they dreaded junior-high school teachers who required students to stand when answering a question. When you are 15, it is impossible to go five minutes without thinking about sex, and at 65 it is difficult to think about sex for five minutes. Young people can learn this from scripture, older people know it all too well from personal experience: sexuality fades with age and passes away:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
     and the years approach when you will say,
     “I find no pleasure in them” —
before the sun and the light
     and the moon and the stars grow dark,
     and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
     and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
     and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
     and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
     but all their songs grow faint;
when men are afraid of heights
     and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
     and the grasshopper drags himself along
     and desire no longer is stirred.
—Ecclesiastes 12:1-5, NIV

When we are transformed at our Lord’s coming—whether we go to Him in death or He comes to us on clouds of glory—we are freed from our sexual bondage; for in heaven there is no marriage nor giving in marriage, we are sexless creatures, like the angels, as Jesus says in the scripture above. It is no coincidence that marriage vows end at death. After death, we trade the momentary ecstasy of sex for the endless ecstasy of the contemplation of God. We trade the momentary partial knowledge of another for the eternal total knowledge of all:

     Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
—1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV

So why this obsession with sex?

We are hybrid beings at the moment, sexual like the animals and spiritual like the angels. The animal part of us serves to redeem the spiritual part of us, and then it will pass away.

Now some say that the purpose of sex is procreation. If we were talking about frogs, I would agree. Frogs play an important role in the ecology—they eat insects. Without frogs, the world would be overrun by insects, triggering some sort of ecological catastrophe. Since frogs die, there must be some way of replacing them, and that way is sex. But sex for frogs involves no virtues and therefore also no vices. Frogs do not live in loving relationships, they are not monogamous, they do not commit adultery, they do not rape, they do not have abortions, they do not abuse their offspring, and tadpoles are neither wanted nor unwanted, nor do they care. Among frogs there are no prostitutes or battered spouses. In the case of frogs, it is true, and I agree, the purpose of sex is procreation.

But in the case of humans I must disagree—for you see, I am not an evolutionary materialist. Unlike frogs, humans play no role in the ecology, in fact, we damage it. If humans were removed from the world, the ecology would suffer no catastrophe, in fact it would probably be better off. Like frogs, humans are in the world, unlike frogs, humans are not of the world. We do not serve the ecology, the ecology serves as the arena of our redemption:

     The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
—Romans 8:19-21, NIV

We are the gardeners, it is the garden in which we learn and demonstrate stewardship. Frogs have a function, but humans have a destiny. Unlike frogs, humans have no need to replace themselves, not only because we perform no natural function, but because we are immortal spiritual beings.

Humans have sexuality because we are animals, and animals have sexuality. Therefore, many humans mate and have offspring. While it is true that much of our sexuality results in rape, adultery, betrayal, abortions, abused and abandoned children, battered spouses, and prostitution, these vices are only possible because we are capable of virtues.

And herein can be found the true purpose of human sexuality. In Christianity, there is no docetic dichotomy between spiritual and material, between law and grace; one is lower and the other higher, and the lower one serves the higher. In the same way, our sexuality serves a spiritual purpose, even if we are chaste or childless. Our sexual urges force us to be social creatures, for without it we would be content as hermits, never learning the joy of fellowship, never learning the give-and-take of love or friendship, never practicing upon each other the skills we need to be in full fellowship with God. The primary purpose of our sexuality is not procreation, rather it is to teach us how to love, how to have fellowship; and when we slough off the cocoon of sexuality, we emerge as creatures fully able to contemplate God, fully able to have fellowship with Him and with each other.

It is a bit much to ask of sexual creatures, but let us look beyond our sexuality to our ultimate purpose: to know and contemplate God in His glory.