Of all the things broken by sin, it’s hard to imagine anything more broken than human sexuality. We see so many distortions of it that we have lost sight of its original beauty. We can, however, begin to reclaim what has been lost as we see human sexuality within the broader biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.
The story of our sexuality begins in creation. We were made by God as sexual beings. We see in Genesis 1-2 how God made man and woman to be equal, yet gloriously and wonderfully different. It was God's design for them to come together to become one entity--stronger, more beautiful, and more complete.
This beautiful picture of man and woman made to complement each other is epitomized in the physical act of sexual union. The climactic conclusion to the account of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.”
God made husband and wife to come together to become one flesh, a deep union expressed through the physical act of sex. The goodness of sexuality is affirmed in the very next verse, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). This is a picture of human sexuality in the Garden of Eden. We are given one fleeting glimpse of it before it becomes distorted and tainted by sin. It is an important glimpse because there in the Garden, in the presence of God, we see husband and wife naked and unashamed. We see them created by their Maker to be sexual beings and to enjoy their sexuality as a good gift from God. It is a gift that will bring pleasure, intimacy, and oneness. It is also a gift that will enable them to fulfill their mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number,” while at the same time bringing pleasure, intimacy, and oneness.
As Christians, we need to see the goodness of our sexuality because so often its inherent goodness has been denied. God created and designed sexuality to be enjoyed and celebrated within the boundaries of biblical marriage.
But what is beautiful and untainted in Genesis 2 unravels explosively in Genesis 3. The newlyweds in the Garden fall into sin, bringing all of humanity with them. They rebel against their Creator. The very first manifestation that something was wrong in the Garden appears in the area of sexuality. They are no longer naked and unashamed. Instead, the writer says in Genesis 3:7, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.” So they scrambled to cover themselves with fig leaves, each seeking refuge from the gaze of the other. For the first time, shame is linked to their sexuality. In that moment, all sexuality became broken. What was made to be beautiful and good became distorted and tainted.
As the story of Genesis unfolds, we see this broken sexuality manifest itself in different ways. In Genesis 4, polygamy enters human history when Lamech marries two wives. In Genesis 16, Abraham sleeps with his slave woman, Hagar, to try to build a family through her instead of his wife Sarah. In Genesis 19 the men of Sodom clamor to gang rape Lot’s male guests and Lot offers up his virgin daughters for molestation instead. Later on, Lot’s own daughters get him drunk and sleep with him. On and on the stories go of broken sexuality, and we haven’t even left the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings. By the time we get to the New Testament, the brokenness in sexuality is so pervasive that most of the lists of sins in Paul’s letters begin with sexual immorality.
When human sexuality became broken by sin, it opened up a box of all kinds of distortions. Women are objectified. Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Young girls are trafficked for sex. Advertising taps into the human hunger for sexual fulfillment, using sexual lust to sell anything from cars to a bag of Doritos. Teenage girls dress seductively because our culture has taught them to find their identity and power in their bodies. Even Christian marriages struggle against broken sexuality. Wounds from the past hinder intimacy in the present. Guilt abounds and breeds pain. Lust rips apart the bond of one-flesh. One spouse pursues sex as an act of self-satisfaction instead of self-giving. Another withholds sex as a means of manipulation or punishment. The joy of sex is robbed by the pain of infertility. We live in a world of broken sexuality.
The remedy to this problem is not to shun the appetite but to satisfy it in the right way. The goal is not to excise sexuality out of our lives. The goal is to redeem it, which brings us to the third movement of the biblical story.
We know that God sent his Son to redeem a world broken by sin. The Christian hope is that Christ came to put right all the wrongs unleashed by the fall. But what does that look like in the arena of sexuality? Where can we turn to find a glimpse of sex redeemed?
One place we can turn is to the Song of Songs. The great value of the Song of Songs is that it fills what would otherwise be a void in the biblical story as it relates to sexuality. We see a fleeting glimpse of sexuality’s goodness in the Garden in Genesis 2, and then we see story after story of sexuality’s brokenness from Genesis 3 on. In the midst of all this brokenness, the Song of Songs offers us a refreshing glimpse of sexuality that is being redeemed. The short book is a collection of love poems celebrating love and sex within the God-ordained boundaries of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Some of the poems are written from the perspective of young lovers who are anticipating the future delights of sexuality within marriage, and others are written from the perspective of those who are already married.
In the Song of Songs, we hear echoes of Eden. We see a man and a woman in a garden again, naked and unashamed. The garden language and imagery is woven throughout the whole book. It depicts the delights of sexuality and the Garden of Eden restored. This is intimacy regained and sexuality being redeemed.
Redeemed sexuality, as we see it in the Song of Songs, delights in physical touch and affection ("Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" - Song of Songs 1:2). It celebrates beauty and physical attraction ("How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful" - Song of Songs 1:15). It honors covenantal love, love within the bond of marriage between a man and a woman, as the deeper reality expressed through sexuality (in the book’s 116 verses, love is referenced 28 times). To use sexuality outside the covenant of marriage is like trying to run a boat on dry land. Not only does it make no sense, because the boat is made to be used in water, but it is destructive to the vessel.
In the Song of Songs, we see a glimpse of sexuality that is being redeemed.
However, the story doesn’t end here. The final movement in the biblical story is consummation, the kingdom of God fully realized in the new heaven and new earth. It is significant that the biblical story begins and ends with a wedding. It begins in the opening chapters of Genesis, where the first man and woman are pronounced husband and wife by God himself in the Garden of Eden. It ends in the last chapters of Revelation with the wedding of the Lamb to his bride, the Church. “The wedding of the Lamb has come,” John says, “and his bride has made herself ready.” The climactic end of our story is pictured as a wedding feast where we bask in our union with Christ on a new earth.
This means human sexuality is but a foretaste of an even deeper union. It points us ultimately to the union and satisfaction we find in Christ. This is the substance of which human sexuality is only a shadow. The Song of Songs gives us a glimpse of sexuality redeemed and glimmers of Eden regained. But it ultimately points us beyond all this to the complete harmony and deep union that await us in the consummated kingdom.
We can begin to reclaim the beauty of sexuality when we see it in light of the biblical story. God invented it as part of his good creation. Though it became grossly distorted by sin, it is being redeemed. It points us ultimately to the union and satisfaction we will find in Christ when he comes again to make us his bride.
So how can we celebrate sexuality to the glory of God?
We can reclaim what has been lost as we see human sexuality within the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. To God be the glory.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra