God, You, & Sex

God, You, & Sex

David WhiteBy David White33 Minutes

Excerpt from God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White


Chapter 1

Sex and God

There has been a lot of bad press in recent years about Christianity and sex. The prevailing notion in secular culture seems to be that Christianity is repressive and negative about sex. Where did this idea come from? You will not find it in the Bible! Scripture unashamedly teaches that sex is a good gift from God that he invites us to delight in. God rejoices in human sexuality. Most people are only aware of the ways the Bible limits sexual activity. Admittedly, these restraints seem to go against the grain of our natural tendencies. But the guardrails God places around sexuality aren’t just for our practical good, they are absolutely critical to understanding the “profound mystery” that sex points to God’s love and delight in us.

Tragically, the church has done little to help the cultural conversation. The typical approach to sexuality has been embarrassed silence. Of course, there are notable exceptions. It’s not hard to find fiery sermons against adultery and homosexuality, many of which ignore the real-life sexual struggles of Christians in the congregation. And then there is the youth pastor, whose job description usually includes an annual, “Wait until you’re married!” Sunday school lesson. The fact that the Bible’s restrictions on sexuality are often counter to our sexual inclinations, as well as our failure to communicate the wonder and beauty of God’s design, are significant reasons why millennials are leaving the American church in droves.1 Apart from a clear articulation of how sexuality reflects the gospel, the mandates of lifelong, heterosexual marriage seem arbitrary and antiquated. Further, I work with many millennials who grew up in the church and received only negative messages about sexuality, which caused significant challenges once they entered marriage. Ill-equipped to joyfully embrace their God-given sexuality, they experience shame and guilt in the very area of married life that should deepen intimacy and oneness.

Prudish or shame-based views of sexuality are foreign to the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is unashamedly positive about marital sexuality. As we will see, a robust understanding of God’s design for human sexuality is a beautiful proclamation of the gospel promise that God will be our God and we will be his people.

 Seeing and Hearing “I AM”

All of life is about God. From all of creation his voice calls to us, wooing those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. This reality is echoed beautifully in these lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s epic poem, “Aurora Leigh”:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes—
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.2

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, instructing him to remove his shoes, he revealed his name to be YHWH, meaning “I AM,” expressing his self-existence (see Exodus 3:13–15). In all areas of life, God cries out, “I AM!”

Psalm 19:1 announces, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” But God’s glory is not seen only through brilliant, billowing clouds or a sunset over the Grand Canyon. He is calling out to us through every facet of existence. The delights of sex invite us to approach the God of sex. Yet most of us do not take off our shoes to worship; instead we pursue earthly pleasures, oblivious to the Giver of gifts.

Sexuality Reflects Our Relational Creator

As Scripture unfolds, we read how marriage and sexuality are infused with glory, but the very first chapter of the Bible hints at this profound mystery. The first hint of the Christian teaching that God is a Trinity—three persons in one being—is found in the creation story, in which God, who has existed in relationship for all eternity, creates not a singular being but a couple to mirror his image to the world. The first chapter of the Bible teaches that humanity is modeled after the “community life” of our Creator, and marriage in particular serves to express this characteristic.

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.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

By indicating that the first humans were made “in the image of God,” the Bible sets them apart from the rest of the created order. Of all the creatures in the world, this designation is for humanity alone. And, importantly, this image includes sexual diversity as part of its expression. Though sexual differentiation is something that humanity shares with the rest of the animal world, nevertheless the created plurality of the human family appears to reflect the nature of the God whose image we bear. Did you notice the interplay of nouns and pronouns that refer to God in the passage? In verse 26, God (singular) says “Let us make man in our image” (plural). In verse 27, humanity was made in “his own image” (singular). The same pronoun dance occurs as verse 27 continues to describe humanity: “He created him” (singular) followed by “he created them” (plural). Why is there this shifting between the singular and plural? It appears that God is one and yet is also able to speak of himself in communal terms; likewise, humanity is singular, yet differentiated into diverse members of a nevertheless unified family. This is the first hint of the glorious unity and diversity within the Trinity and within the human community the triune God created.

We only get glimpses of the triune, communal nature of God in the Old Testament, but as redemptive history moves to the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus, the New Testament teaches that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is especially evident in texts such as the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16–17, where all three persons are present.3 The Trinity means that all three persons of God existed together in personal relationship from eternity past. The creation of two sexes reflects God’s existence as a communal being. God’s complementary existence as Father, Son, and Spirit—most gloriously displayed through their corporate work for the redemption of humanity—is depicted in the complementary relationships in human sexuality. Like a child’s shoebox diorama of the Rocky Mountains, human sexuality is a tiny picture of the divine reality that shaped the cosmos.

This means love predated creation. Because of God’s trinitarian existence, when the Bible teaches “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), we understand this is literally true! God’s personhood has always existed in an eternal relationship of love. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “[Christians] believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.”4 The created universe is the overflow of God’s trinitarian love. Because God is love, he created a universe to have even more to love. And he designed a diverse humanity as his image-bearers to reflect the wonder of his love.

Corresponding Puzzle Pieces

After Genesis 1 provides the broad brushstrokes, Genesis 2 zooms in to look at the formation of humanity. God first creates Adam, making a single being from the dust of the ground, and places him “in the garden of Eden to work and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Then we read something astonishing. After the repeated refrain throughout Genesis 1, in which we hear that “God saw that it was good,” the Creator now looks at his handiwork and makes a jarring assessment, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18, emphasis added). His specific concern is humanity’s solitary existence—Adam is alone and needs a helper fit for him. The Hebrew is important here because a more literal translation would be “a helper like opposite him.”5 Adam does not need a duplicate but an individual who mirrors him and corresponds to him, like puzzle pieces fitted together. And since both sexual intimacy and procreation are clearly part of this design (see Genesis 1:28; 2:24–25), this complementarity of male and female is distinctly sexual. There are obvious implications for this when we consider God’s design for marriage. God’s intention at creation was complementary partners, uniquely crafted to be fitted to one other. Although this applies to physical, sexual differentiation, as we’ll see, this “fittedness” transcends our physicality. The unique complementarity of male and female is further expressed through the emotional and spiritual oneness fostered in marriage.

But how did this creation of two different, related humans happen? Prior to resolving the problem of humanity’s solitary existence, God dramatizes that problem, drawing it into focus. He creates the animal kingdom and parades it before Adam, who names each of the animals as they appear. “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). The absence of a partner, which God had declared to be “not good,” was thus made part of the man’s experience.

I think it’s a safe bet that Adam felt something was off. We may imagine his mounting unease: with each successive incompatible partner, his gnawing sense of aloneness grew. Would there ever be someone with whom he fits? Apparently even in paradise God wanted his children to trust him and to wait for his provision.

And so, in God’s time, “the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). This is the only time this Hebrew word is applied to the human body.

Elsewhere, it refers to the rings “on the side” of the ark or a man walking along a “hillside.” As we consider what follows, I think it’s helpful to see this surgery as a “splitting asunder” of Adam, rather than the simple removal of a bone. (As an aside, I remember being told as a child that men have one rib less than women. Let me set the record straight here: ribs are always paired, and most men and women have twelve pairs.) God seems to work against his original creation of Adam, taking apart what he had previously made in order to make something new, something better. It creates a situation in which humanity is no longer complete without relational union. Just as the woman’s existence comes about because of the man, so man’s existence in his present form is fundamentally shaped by the creation of the woman and his relation to her. Adam does not remain unchanged in the process of Eve’s creation; both man and woman are what they are because of one another.

It is against this background of two humans formed from one another that we hear the archetypal love poem: “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23–24, emphasis added).

After facing life without a helper, the man is now overjoyed. The period of waiting for the Lord to act has been worth

  1. Although we are not privy to how he knows the information, Adam is clearly aware Eve was taken out of him and that therefore they belong together.

So, what is at the heart of the marriage union? The single image of God separated into the two sexes is reunited in a physical union powerful enough to create life. This is why John Stott commented that while it is possible for humans to have various sorts of sexual relations, only in marriage does a reunion occur. Reflecting on Genesis 2, Stott wrote, “It is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again.”6 And it is because God has reunited what was once separated that Jesus commands us to honor marriage: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9, RSV).

Stop for a moment and think about this. In married sexuality, the image-bearers of God, who were torn asunder, are brought back together in profound pleasure that generates life. In the pleasurable experience of sexual union, we reflect the joy of union within the Trinity. Married love is thus a reflection—imperfect but real—of the glorious existence of the Father, Son, and Spirit as they’ve lived in perfect harmony, joy, and pleasure together from eternity past.7 With sex as in all of life, God is calling out to us “I AM!” and inviting us to worship him. In this way, wedded sexuality is profoundly God-like. It should lead married couples to deeper worship.

Babies Matter

I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter that we are sexual beings because we are creatures. This is how God designed us to produce offspring, and it is something we share with the rest of the created order. But, despite the creatureliness of our procreation, this too points us to the wonder of our Creator. It is easy to see the power of sexual addiction rooted in pleasure. But this pleasure is inextricably linked in God’s design to the ability to produce life. This is a significant reflection of the power of sex that ultimately comes from God, who alone is the Giver of life.8

Can you feel the creative exuberance in Genesis 1 as God commands everything he has made to flourish, reproduce, and fill the earth? Beginning with plant life, which is endowed with seed for reproduction (v. 11), God commands all his creatures to “be fruitful and multiply” (v. 22, sea creatures and birds; v. 24, animals on dry land; v. 28, humanity). While the production of offspring is not the only purpose of sex—as we have seen, sex is about God—nevertheless, procreation is a central function of God’s design for sexuality. Although sex is for more than procreation, and although not all married couples are able to have children, it is important to highlight this aspect of human sexuality because sex is widely viewed as primarily a recreational activity today. But as we think about biblical sexuality, it is crucial to acknowledge that one aspect of God’s creational intention for sex is that it would produce fruit.

As the author of life, God designed sexual activity to include the potential of creating life. God desires that all of his creation would reflect back his beauty and fruitfulness. Biblical sexuality does not mean married couples should care only about procreation, and it does not diminish the beauty of sexuality for couples unable to conceive. But we should always have in mind that this physical act was intended to bring forth life.

Sexuality as the means of producing offspring points to a God of abundant life. God’s design of sexual differentiation, especially since humanity is made in his image, provides a reflection of the delight experienced within the eternal three-in-one relationship within the Trinity. Keep in mind though, we are always seeing only tiny glimpses—little snatches of light, fleeting moments of clarity—as we try to understand mysteries infinitely beyond our creaturely capabilities. Our loving God provides these signposts to spur us on in our pursuit of him.

It’s about Oneness

The true invitation of image-bearing sexuality is to be naked and not ashamed. This is the last glorious snapshot of pre-fall humanity: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). To be made in the image of God means we are created for relationship (with God and others) and intimacy. God’s intention for marriage is a relationship in which we are known and accepted. This is one of the reasons the enemy hates marital sexuality so much—it reflects our Creator as his power and goodness are on display in the realm of human relations.

While writing this book I officiated the wedding ceremony for two of my good friends. They asked me to include in their service this quote from Tim Keller, which articulates the power of married love: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”9

This loss of our original unashamed nakedness helps to explain why feelings of loneliness can be exacerbated when we are surrounded by other people. It is so painful to not be known by others, yet the way of the world causes us to live in isolation from one another. One of the loneliest seasons of my life was when I was a college student living in a little efficiency apartment in downtown Philadelphia. In the midst of a near constant crowd, I was deeply hurting but no one knew or had the capacity to help. Being surrounded by people all the time while feeling “unknown” made everything worse.

We long to be truly known by others, but at the same time we are incredibly fearful of being exposed. All of us live with some sense of shame, believing that if others really knew us, they’d reject us. So, we’re trapped in a classic Catch-22. We long to be known, and, simultaneously, we deeply fear intimacy. This primal fear of exposure lives in our human relationships, but it is fundamentally rooted in our estrangement from God. Prior to the fall into sin, marriage was the original context in which people were “naked and unashamed” in the sight of one another and were walking together in fellowship with God. The devastation of sin ruptured this picture entirely—our intimacy with one another has been stolen, but so has our intimacy with God. Through his self-sacrificing love, Jesus restores us to himself and to one another. In Christ, we are free from shame and free to be known. This freedom comes from being naked and unashamed before the only One whose love and appraisal of us truly matters. Because of Jesus, we are assured of acceptance. Even though he knew all the worst things about us, he “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). It is an astounding reality that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

First Corinthians 13:12 points forward to the day when we will know fully, even as we are fully known by him now.

This deep, profound knowing—free from shame—is the destiny of redeemed humanity. We are invited to taste that now in our present relationships as we grow in intimacy with one another. When I am living in the hope of God’s reconciling love toward me in Christ, I am free for those closest to me to know the worst things about me. In fact, I embrace transparency because I realize how much I need the rest of the body of Christ to reach maturity (see Ephesians 4:15–16). God intends for this intimacy to be at the heart of every marriage—a willingness to be absolutely naked and vulnerable with another human being in every way. This deepest human intimacy, rooted in emotional and spiritual oneness, is what separates human sexuality from the mere mating of our fellow creatures.

There is a reason why the word used frequently in the Hebrew Bible to describe sexual activity is yada, which means “to know.” This reflects the wonder of image-bearing sexuality. This naked and unashamed knowing is the culminating celebration of the emotional and spiritual union created by marriage. Marital sexual union is so much more than physical coupling because humanity has emotional and spiritual depth unlike other creatures. We are created to be truly known in a one-flesh relationship because we are image-bearers. It is the coming together emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically, that makes human sexuality a reflection of our Creator.

I entered marriage to my late wife as a new believer with a sinful past, so there was a long road ahead of undoing the attitudes and approaches I’d developed around sex. Formerly, I approached romantic relationships with a view toward my sexual experience. But after being married for several months, I had a profound experience that marked the beginning of a shift in my perspective on sex and its place in my marriage. At the end of a long day, we were getting ready for bed and having a great conversation. As we sat on the bed together in various stages of undress, the thought flitted through my brain, I wonder if we’re going to have sex after this? My next thought was a completely novel work of the Spirit: Actually, it really doesn’t matter because this conversation is amazing! More than twenty years later, I can’t remember what we were talking about. And, beautifully, I can’t remember if we had sex afterwards. What stuck with me was the realization that I was connecting with my wife emotionally and spiritually in a way that I had never experienced before, in a way that was thrilling and actually transcended physical intimacy. Sexual pleasure had always mattered more to me. But on that evening I discovered something deeper. And this deeper “one-flesh” reality of marital intimacy points to the most wondrous, profound mystery of all: our relationship to God through our union with Jesus.

Order your copy of God, You & Sex by David White

End Notes:

1 “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church” Barna, 2011, accessed April 16, 2019, https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/.
2 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh,” in The Complete Poetical Works of Mrs. Browning, ed. Harriet Waters Preston (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900), 372.
3 Other Trinitarian references include Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; Acts 2:33; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Peter 1:2.
4 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 175.
5 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Volume 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 68.
6 John Stott, Our Social and Sexual Revolution: Major Issues for a New Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 199.
7 There is only one horrific experience of this union torn asunder, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). And this was to secure their union with us for eternity!
8 See Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 100.
9 Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York: Penguin, 2011), 101.

Excerpted from God, You and Sex: A Profound Mystery © 2019 by David White. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.