Covenant and Mutuality: Basis for intimacy – foundation of sexuality

The belief that God exists as “three in one” (trinity doctrine) is central to developing a healthy sexual ethic.  Here’s why:

1. God exists in perfect unity and fellowship within Godself.  Think about how Jesus submits himself to the will of the Father continuously during his human life.  “My teaching is not my own.  My will is not my own.  My judgement is not my own.  My authority is not my own.”  Jesus is the expression of the will of the Father – perfectly – from birth to death.  The Father though, exalts the son so that it’s Jesus’ name that becomes the name above every name, because according to Colossians 1, it was the Father’s desire the son have preeminence in everything.

This is a far cry from the many abusive forms of domination and submission seen in our world, both in social structures and sexuality.  The ongoing subjugation of women, documented in Half the Sky and seen in recent events in India serve as a reminder that we, collectively, get it mighty wrong as a species.   While these are extreme examples, nobody needs to look far to see examples of couples using each other for personal satisfaction with little or no regard for the other.  It might be called “friends with benefits”, but the problem is that there’s a sense to which it’s only beneficial if its mutually beneficial.  As soon as either party becomes a bother, has a need, gets sick, loses their job, faces a tall mountain of challenge, they become baggage, easily tossed overboard on the ship that’s their life.

2. We’re created in God’s image.

If the Bible’s true on this matter of God’s image, then living into the profound realities of divine intimacy is our calling as humans.  I hope it’s  evident that the mutual, self-giving, other honoring love between the Father and Son becomes our reference point.  This kind of intimacy can be displayed in various levels of depth throughout our lives, in many relationships.  Friendships can have a covenant component of mutuality and honoring.  Family relationships at their healthiest embody some elements of this too – especially  the sense of mutuality and sacrifice for one another.

Marriage, according to Paul, carries the calling to display this kind of covenant unity.  There’s a profound passage in John that reveals how this mysterious union of the godhead, with all its mutuality and self-giving love spills beyond the godhead into God’s relationship with us. Here’s Jesus praying to the Father:

“The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in me, that they my be perfected in unity…”  (John 17:22,23)

This kind of love and unity isn’t easy to live out, but it is glorious.  Mutuality, sacrifice, and service will fill relationships because the parties will themselves be infused with the sacrificial love of Christ.  Having been the recipient of his self-giving love, they will be empowered, both by the resurrected and indwelling life of Christ, and by the profound healing that comes from knowing they are deeply loved, with the power to serve, give, sacrifice.

This is the “good wine’ Jesus came to give us relationally, and we’d do well to learn how to drink of it, and serve it to one another. When it works, our sexuality becomes an expression of mutuality, self-giving, submission, trust, and the kind of vulnerability that’s experienced most profoundly only in the context of an assurance that one is beloved.

Instead, sexuality in the Christian community has become something to be feared and a source of great shame among many Christians.  Functionally, we’ve often become gnostics, denying that that the body, and especially bodily pleasures have any role in our calling as image bearers.  This is why many Christians often feel as if they need to make a choice between their faith and “feeling alive” – as if following Christ will invariably and inevitably lead to a denial of bodily pleasures. Sadly, this is often the case, as single people feel stuck in what they perceive to be a 2nd class life and a stale chastity.

Married people too, feel this same sense of frustration as fear, shame, loneliness, and gnostic overtones conspire to make the kind of playful eroticism found in Song of Solomon a distant dream for many married couples.

Some respond to all this by simply killing their longings.  It’s a complaint written by a responder to my previous column, which reads:  Wise up Dahlstrom. God is “pro-intimacy” and “pro-community”? Then he is not pro-monogamy. Look at most marriages these days!   Indeed, many marriages give evidence to staleness, lacking the joy, vibrancy and healthy sexuality that should be there when both parties are healthy and whole.  Many have found that killing the desire, or pretending that don’t have it by occupying themselves with everything else is the answer.

For others the pendulum swings into what the cultural default position has become – indulgence in either a virtual fantasy world, or an affair, with or without the emotional attachments that normally come from sexual connection.  I’ll talk about why this isn’t a healthy option in my next post, but for now know this.

Closing the door on both of these unhealthy options will leave only one decent option: opening myself to others in vulnerability and authenticity, sharing my brokenness and capacity for self-giving love, and allowing myself to receive the same.

I welcome your thoughts…

 

 

 

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Hilary

    ” . . . . the many abusive forms of domination and submission seen in our world, both in social structures and sexuality.” You don’t need to go to India for this – check out what Libby Ann in Love, Joy, Feminism over on the athiest channal has to say about Debbi Pearl, her book “Created to be his help meet” and the Evangelical purity culture in general. She’s got some words for Piper as well, regarding submission and abuse.

    There’s this:
    http://diannaeanderson.net/?p=1909

    And you might look at what Rachel Held Evens is up to, regarding sex and the church. Take your time through the comments to get an idea of what people are asking her to adress.

    http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/sexuality-church-opening-remarks

    And how do you understand mutual, monogomous, faithful, lifelong relationships that are centered around “Mutuality, sacrifice, and service” as well as love, respect and compassion even when neither person is Christian?

    Hilary

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    There’s good stuff here, but where’s the red-headed step child of the Trinity in all this – you know, the Holy Spirit? Hmm . . .


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