A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little piece for Christ and Pop Culture about a Q&A session with Tim Keller at The Gospel Coalition conference. I asked about revival, and among other things, Keller said something about sex and the complex nature of doubt. Given that what he said was fairly conservative, had to do with sex and doubt, and, in all fairness, could have been reported more clearly by me, the unsurprising result was a lot of pushback—some legitimate and some not so much. Feel free to read the article and peruse the comment section for yourself.
Why Does He Care?
Among the various criticisms lodged against the article, there was one thread in some (not all) of the responses that caught my attention: The allegedly unreasonable concern of Evangelicals or Christians in general about sex. One commenter in particular summed up:
Isn’t it possible that for many people it’s both doubt AND sex in a winning combination I like to file under, “Does the God of the Cosmos really give a **** about who I’m sleeping with and in what position?”…Maybe it just doesn’t ring true to modern people that the God who created the universe (or multiverse?) is so preoccupied with giving people desires and then watching them squirm over all the ways his prophets and spokespeople say they SHOULDN’T be fulfilling them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
There was more to it, but response could be boiled down simply to: “Why should God care about that sort of thing? I mean, honestly, my pants constitute such a small part of the universe, why should he care who’s in them?”
To begin, this is part of my original response to the man:
“…The point isn’t that God gave us screwy desires just to watch us squirm. The story is that God gave us good desires that have been twisted, and if we follow them out apart from God’s good intentions, they lead to wreckage. You clearly don’t share that normative narrative and so many of end-result ethical positions that the NT and Christian tradition presents us with won’t make sense to you.
As for the God of the universe not really caring what I do with my body and my sexuality–well, to be honest, I don’t know where you get such a calloused view of God. See, a truly loving God would care, because we are psychosomatic unities in such a way that what I do with my body sexually affects my soul. Sexual acts are not spiritually-neutral; we are more than animals in that sense. Sex can be deeply beautiful, life-affirming, uniting, loving, covenantal acts, or selfish, destructive, and deeply distorted ones. If God is a good Father, he’ll care what his kids do with the bodies he gave them. If he’s truly that cosmically-powerful and large, then he actually is big enough to care down the very last detail–the less involved, the less God cares, the less “cosmic” he truly is.
…My point isn’t necessarily to try and affirm what “rings true” to modern people. Speaking frankly, compared to the NT teaching and most cultures that have come before it, “modern people” have problems with consumerism, the objectification of persons, approaching relationships and sexuality in a commodified fashion that make their judgment in such matters, well, suspect, to say the least. No, what I hope the church can do is present the beautiful truth, comfortable/compatible or not, in such a way that moderns understand it and hopefully makes more sense than it did before.”
Now, please give me some grace for the organizational incoherence, grammar issues, and lack of nuance—it was a bit of a quick response.
I think the broader point still stands: God cares about what you do with your sexuality, because He cares about you—all of you. He’s a good dad, not a Gnostic-dad, who knows what you do with your body is profoundly spiritual.
Rod Dreher noted as much the other day:
It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.
In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.
Dreher says that the Christian view of sex and marriage is rooted in a unique cosmology, our view of the order of universe. I think his contention can be borne out through extensive argument, but very briefly: In the order of creation, we see that when God made us in His Image to be related to and be known by Him, He did it in a bodily and sexually differentiated manner (Gen. 1:27), for the purposes of marital union which is a picture of spiritual union with Him (Gen. 2:24–25; Eph. 5:31–32). In the order of redemption, Paul argued very forcefully to his sexually confused, pagan congregation in Corinth that the resurrection of Jesus means that God is redeeming the body as well as the soul, so take care to honor Him with it (1 Cor. 6). Both the Law and the Gospel are involved here. In a world created by God through the Son, and re-ordered by the resurrection of God’s Son, sexuality matters.
The End of the Matter
The long and the short of is that the God of the cosmos cares about sex because it is part of His cosmos. He’s a good Creator who has designs and intents for His creatures. More than that, He’s a good Father who loves His children enough to be concerned with the way they use their bodies. Deeper still, He is a redeeming Lord who has glorious plans for healing and redeeming all the ways that it’s gone wrong.