A Theology of Sex
Rev. Gary A. Chorpenning
We live in an age of sexual confusion. I suspect it might be possible to make the argument that human beings have lived in sexual confusion ever since the Fall in to sin described in Genesis 3.
Forty-one years ago the Presbyterian church produced “The Confession of 1967.” It was the church’s attempt to profess its faith during a famously turbulent time in American culture. In many respects, “The Confession of 1967” is a powerful declaration of the promise and hope of the gospel to a troubled and divided culture. Even now, four decades later, the confession speaks with insight into an American society that is every bit as tumultuous and divided as the 1960s.
In one particularly insightful section, the confession speaks of humanity’s “perennial confusion about the meaning of sex.” It’s diagnosis is that “anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of alienation from God, neighbor, and self.” This is a profound truth. Though by its very nature, it is a truth which secular people have a very hard time grasping.
By our very design and creation in the image of God, we are creatures made for relationship. We are not – never were, never will be – stand alone minds. We are made for relationship – body and soul, in every way for deep, rich, fruitful, intimate relationships with God, with each other, with the larger created order, and with ourselves.
Almost immediately in Genesis 3, we can see the ruinous effects of the Fall on the human capacity for relationship. Human beings did not merely become guilty. More than that we became, in the depths of our being, radically distorted and deformed. And the consequences of this corruption of our natures, as we see in the biblical text and as we experience in our own lives, is the rupturing one after the other of each of these fundamental relationships – with each other, with God, with the created order, and with our own selves.
To a greater or lesser extent, every one of the relationships that God designed us to be in has become twisted, distorted, and deformed. In one or another, no relationship in our lives ever escapes the distorting effects of sin. And so, we live in the chilling fogs of alienation. We have become, in many and various ways, aliens to each other, to God, even to ourselves.
“Anarchy” and “perennial confusion” in sexual relationships are evidences of the wretchedness and brokenness that human beings like you and me and all of our neighbors live in. But the Good News of the Scripture is that we are not meant to live in these chilly fogs of alienation and relational confusion and anarchy. It isn’t God’s plan for us. It isn’t what he designed us for. And the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God hasn’t abandoned us and left us to wander aimlessly through the cold mists of ruptured and disordered relationships.
“The Confession of ‘67” gives us a picture of what sexual redemption looks like. “Reconciled to God, people have joy in the respect for their own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality.”
God has made us embodied beings. As I have insisted from the pulpit before, I refuse to accept the statement that “human beings have a body.” That is to suggest that our humanness and our bodies are two separate things. No, we don’t have bodies. Human beings are bodies. We are embodied beings.
To be sure we are not merely bodies. We are beings of body and soul. C. S. Lewis’s demon, Screwtape, refers to humanbeings with disgust as “amphibians,” to him, a revolting and incomprehensible mix of spiritual being and animal. But what the demons find vile, the angels marvel at as a wonderful, beautiful, and mysterious expression of God’s creative imagination. We human beings are astonishing hybrids of body and soul made in the image of God.
In Genesis 1:27 we read what it means to be “in the image of God.”
So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created humankind; male and female, he created them.
We are created as particular embodied beings, and an essential aspect of being particular embodied creatures is that we are gendered creatures – male and female. Each one of us participates in the image of God. And yet, in a profound sense, the gendered nature of humanity is a crucial expression of what the image of God is. In some deep sense the interplay of maleness and femaleness makes visible the richness of God’s image in embodied human existence.
To be made in the image of the triune God means to be relational. The Three-in-One-ness of God makes it undeniable that God in his very essence is a God of relationship. [To see a very winsome and compelling portrayal of this relationalness of our Triune God, read William Young’s book The Shack.]
As creatures made in the image of a relational God, we human beings likewise are in our essence relational. And that relational nature of ours is not expressed merely in the meeting of minds. Also and just as important, we meet as embodied gendered beings. The truth is picked up in “The Confession of 1967:” “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which God created humankind.” This divine ordering is distorted and eroded by the sexual anarchy and confusion of our times and really of all human history.
The “Confession” rightly recognizes the church’s mission in light of all of this. “The church, as the household of God, is called to lead people out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ.” This is a high calling and one that the church has largely neglected. We’ve allowed the world to tell us, our neighbors, and our children what sex is. Oh, yes, from time to time the church will wake up for a brief moment and yelp about this thing or that thing that we’re against. When we are not silent, we are angrily against some sexual matter. So that in the end our neighbors cannot help but conclude that the church of Jesus Christ considers sex to be essentially a necessary evil, bad in itself but required for the continuation of the species.
Neglect and negativity with regard to human sexuality are both forms of the church’s failure to be faithful to the gospel mission. “The Confession of ‘67” strikes home: “The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by society when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.”
Forty-one years later, the church in general and the Presbyterian church in particular has not risen to embrace this high calling. Instead, I fear – and especially so after this summer’s General Assembly – I fear that the church and the Presbyterian church in particular has decided simply to baptize the sexual confusion of the world, declare that this world’s confused sexuality is “good,” and thus leave our neighbors to flounder and drown in the sexual anarchy of our time.
It is my vision and prayer that Christ’s church will rise to God’s calling. It is my vision and prayer that God’s people will strive to be a beacon of hope and clarity for all who struggle in the chilling fog of the sexual confusion and alienation of our age.
God has created us as sexual beings for very deep and profound reasons. He has a beautiful vision for our lives as sexual beings, a vision that touches on the very core and essence of who we are as human beings made in the image of our triune God.
© 2010 Gary A. Chorpenning