Looks like that, do we
Now then. For those of you following this informal series on the Biblical sex ethic, last time I talked briefly about my disinterest in approaching this through a proof-text or word-study line of reasoning (such as has raged over Paul’s use of the word porneia). Here’s the thing: if to make my case I have to rely primarily on one particular word rather than the theme of the book as a whole, that’s a rather weak argument either way.
Besides, as Chad noted (albeit in slightly more technical language), belief isn’t so far from action. I certainly don’t hold to this view of premarital sex because it’s fun or easy. When I began struggling most keenly with things like alcohol consumption, swearing and so on, I sure as hell wasn’t satisfied with “the church says so” or “the Christian cultural view.” There damn well better be a good reason for denying myself the chief pleasures of youth if I was to consign myself to a dry spell during the primary life-season for such revelries! In some places, I did indeed become convinced certain more-conservative views were just inflated pieties based on a superficial reading of texts.
In other cases no such answer has been readily available. Sex is one of those. So on Wednesday I challenged SBC to approach the issue from another angle. What is the purpose* of sex, anyway? Almost any casual observer, atheist or otherwise, would surely be compelled to note its role in procreation and the continuation of species. While it is possible to have sex without having children and to have children without having sex … it would be hard to talk about sex without this creative function somehow being a part of its purpose. So one part of sex is practical then.
Another component SBC alluded to is the unitive or bonding function of sex. Indeed it does this so well we might also conclude that ideally sex is meant to serve relationships and intimacy by drawing two people together. Related to that is a component of pleasure. I would argue part of the purpose is also simple enjoyment of each other and ourselves.
In attempting to highlight the distinction between purpose (ought to do) and function (does or can do), I noted that while the disc drawer in iBaby 1.0 could be used as a cup holder (and if urban legends are true, has been), clearly that’s not consistent with its purpose and could even interfere with operation according to its purpose. But let’s see we disagreed about its purpose. I say it’s supposed to be used to play CDs, my friend says it’s a laptop-side coffee-cup stand. How are we to decide? Contacting the manufacturer would be a logical choice here, for purpose usually gets determined at the origin or something — or even in the pre-origin planning.
Likewise, I find the book of Genesis particularly important to understanding the purpose both of human beings and our sexual relationship to each other. The first passage concerning this is near the end of Genesis 1:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”For the first time in the creation** sequence, we have a creature that is modeled after the divine creator — who apparently enjoys pre-existing community. The very first thing stated is that special imaging relationship to the creator/artist, therefore this must be one of the most important if not the signal quality of that creation. From this immediately follows a special authority over the earth and all the previous creation. But not that filling the earth — paring off, mating and multiplying — is also a significant part of the mandate for humanity.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
To summarize what we have so far, mankind was created as distinct from all the other creatures in that we alone bear a special resemblance to — “image” — God and hence occupy a special position of authority and responsibility for all other beings on the earth. This could hardly be the solitary occupation of one man, however. Hence there were to be people — a life in community — which further resembled the divine community and also enabled obedience to the creator/artist’s mandate that mankind “increase in number.”
From this it surely follows that that our sexuality in general is meant to be part of imaging God. Indeed, the two sexes must be complementary for the language indicated that it is only as a unit they succeed in imaging Him; one or the other sex cannot do this alone. But likewise, sexual union in particular must also follow the purpose of resembling God, and is practically speaking a part of obedience to that initial command. It is clearly an inherently good thing (contra those who take the natural-law stance of for-children-only), but also a good thing with a very particular purpose (contra those who think sexual relationships can be conducted any old way).
If resembling/imaging God is so important to all of this, it might be important to take a closer look at Him, no? I’ll tackle that piece next week.
*I recognize that those who think the world resulted from chance feel no need to assign a “purpose” to things; they just are or do such-and-so on. If life resulted from intention rather than chance, it stands to reason things have a purpose — something they were meant to do.
**By which I do not mean to here take a stance on the process of origin. I use this and related words primarily in the sense that a painting is an artist’s creation.