Sexuality remains the proverbial "elephant in the room" for a lot of people as they go through life. People think about it, participate in it, but seem rarely comfortable discussing it. To an extent, this is understandable and not entirely bad: sexuality should remain a private matter, and we should not be promoting lasciviousness. Nevertheless, sexuality is a part of life, and if it is not directed according to God's purposes for sexuality, but toward a worldly counterfeit form of sexuality, sin, pain, and misery are sure to follow. Far too many people are being devastated and destroyed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually because of the pursuit of counterfeit forms of sexuality and the consequent loss of sexuality the way God intended it to be.
Many of these troubles come from the forms of sexuality promoted actively within our culture and expressed through the arts and media. At other times we have investigated the sources of these difficulties and contrasted them with a Biblical understanding of sexuality. Nevertheless, why do we see sexuality so aggressively promoted and discussed within our society? After all, it is not as if sexually deviant behavior and counterfeit forms of sexuality are a new thing; they have been around for thousands of years. Yet only recently have we seen such expressions of sexuality aggressively and actively promoted in such public ways. A lot of the reasons center on the elevation of sexuality as one of the primary gods of our society.
This is not terribly surprising when we consider greater societal trends. Over the past hundred and fifty years, all things supernatural have lost credibility in the public sphere. Emphasis is placed on that which is material and observable. The doctor and the scientist now have the pride of place once reserved for the clergy and the theologian. Meanwhile, individualism has run rampant, and virtues tend to be defined toward the maximum benefit for the individual even if it becomes detrimental to the group: liberty and independence are now understood more in terms of personal freedom to do as we please as opposed to any collective sense of benefit.
Despite (or even because of) these trends, people still feel as if something is missing in their lives. They often feel lonely, isolated, and afraid. They are concerned that no one loves them for who they are; they do not feel accepted. They surely want what is best for them as individuals, and value their freedom, and yet they still yearn for connection and relationships with other people.
These feelings are entirely understandable according to the message of the Scriptures. We are grasping for something beyond ourselves (Acts 17:26-28); we can perceive that we are separated from what will make us whole, described in Scripture as the recognition of the separation between man and his Creator because of sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Bible reveals that humans were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God Himself embodies the relational unity of the Three Persons in One (John 17:20-23, 1 John 4:8). As God is One in relational unity, so humans, as made in God's image, yearn for relationships with both God his Creator and with his fellow man (John 17:20-23).
Meanwhile, God has so designed human sexuality to be the physical shadow of the spiritual reality of the intimacy in relationship which should exist between God and mankind (Romans 1:19-20, Ephesians 5:31-32). Humans are made with sexual desire and are to seek one special person of the complementary gender with whom to develop a lasting relationship, and sexuality is designed to cement that relationship (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24). This is why there is a sense of a mystical union within the sexual bond. This is all good: God created it as good (Genesis 1:31).
But in a society which has discredited all things supernatural, the only somewhat mystical, other-worldly dimension of life left is sexuality. And what do we see in our society but the elevation of sexuality as a god, perhaps as the ultimate god for many?
When we speak of idolatry, we often do so in terms of making something which was created as good the absolute purpose and goal in life. Jesus and Paul, in Matthew 6:24, Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5 speak of money and covetousness as gods or idols. They say this because many people make it their life's aim to make money, and by their actions they demonstrate that obtaining money and things is more important than anything else. They are motivated by a desire to have more above all other things. It is not as if they bow down to a statue of money or "things," or even necessarily understand their identity in terms of money. Yet since it runs their lives, it is an idol. It is in this sense we often speak of sexuality as a god or an idol, and it is sadly true: many people allow sexuality to run their lives.
Yet, with sexuality, it seems to go even further. As we have discussed earlier, modern man still feels the pain of separation, loneliness, and isolation, and yearns for connection. Society's answer is not to look toward God but to sex and sexuality to fill that void. Looking for connection? Have sex with people. Do you feel lonely? Find someone with whom to have sex. Do you have a hard time accepting yourself for who you are? Well, sex will make you feel better, and since someone is having sex with you, they have clearly accepted you to some degree. The only other "god" which society directs people with any similar fervor is that of consumerism, and even then, many times consumerism is promoted through sexuality!
The problem, of course, is that sexuality is not God. At its best, the moment of the experience of the mystical union found in healthy sexuality does not last very long. We come back to that moment again and again, and it never truly satisfies. One can maintain even a godly, proper, and healthy sex life and still feel separated, alienated, alone, unloved, and unaccepted! Sexuality can never fully satisfy; it can be good, but it can never be absolute.
Meanwhile there are many other consequences to this big lie. People are deluded into thinking that sexuality really can fulfill, and they seek out new and more exciting experiences to see if they can find that fulfillment. In the process they sin against themselves; ironically, as they seek fulfillment, they move further away from maintaining sexuality in a single relationship and therefore become develop an increasingly dehumanized, animalistic sexuality which can never satisfy or fulfill at all (cf. Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:13-19). Such people feel it: they feel as if sexuality has been cheapened in some way. They can tell, to some degree, that they have been sold a bill of goods. Yet so many keep pursuing it anyway.
We cannot begin to imagine the amount of emotional and spiritual damage, misery, suffering, and pain caused by the pursuit of sexuality as god. How many people have recognized too late that their quest for sex has led to damaged, broken relationships? How many have entered into sexual relationships to find fulfillment and end up with someone who abuses them or degrades them? How many have thought there would be a special bond with someone because of sex and that bond did not actually come to pass? How much pain and misery has existed within relationships because of pornography and adultery? And how many have turned away from seeking true satisfaction and fulfillment in life in God because they believed they would find it through sexuality? We hope and pray many repent and turn back toward God, but how many never will?
Such is always the problem whenever something good is taken and made absolute: it becomes a distraction, it never satisfies, whatever enjoyment which could be had does not last, and life is often spent in the futile pursuit of that fleeting moment of "happiness." Meanwhile, the rest of life does not work out as well as we would like, and we might experience great distress in mind, body, and soul. Such is the end whenever we turn away from God and seek after gods of our own creation or desire (Romans 1:18-32)!
So many of the challenges regarding sexuality posed by our culture are exacerbated by its thoroughgoing obsession with it. When there is no trust in God, some god must be found in which trust can be placed, and as Paul makes clear in Romans 1:18-32, obsession with sexuality and its deviant forms are often the result. This is not the way it has to be or even should be: only God is god, and sexuality, while a major part of our lives, can never truly satisfy as the ultimate pursuit of life. Sexuality was always intended to be confined to the marriage relationship between a man and a woman; it should reinforce and heighten the physical, emotional, and spiritual bond of that relationship (Genesis 2:24). When it does so, it functions as God intended, the physical shadow of the spiritual reality which ought to exist among God and mankind (John 17:20-24, Ephesians 5:31-32). Proper sexuality points to God as its Author and Creator, not back to itself as the ultimate form of satisfaction in relationship in life.
Yet, in the end, sexuality is like any good thing in life. When exercised properly, it can be a source of enjoyment, satisfaction, wholeness, and wellness; when indulged to excess or used outside of its proper boundaries, it becomes a source of pain, misery, suffering, resentment, even betrayal. As with any good thing, sexuality can be a healthy part of human existence; when taken out of its proper context, it leads to degradation and dehumanization. All of this boils down to the choice we have in life between honoring God as our Creator and giving thanks to Him for all the good gifts and blessings in life, finding true wholeness and satisfaction in relationship with Him and with our fellow man through Him, or we turn from God, darkened in our understanding and futile in our thinking, and end up making counterfeit gods out of the good things created for our use, finding little but pain, suffering, misery, disappointment, and failure. Let us make sure that the One True Creator God is the God of our lives, not sexuality or any other created thing, properly use all good things which He has given us, and ever give all thanks, praise, honor, and glory to Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry