Sexuality and the Kingdom of God

 

[We Were Made for Ecstasy!]

 

 

 

I recently read "The Journey of Desire - Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed Of" by John Eldredge. Itís been a long time since Iíve come across anything quite as mind-expanding and uplifting.He brings out some most interesting and profound points - one being that we were created to experience ecstasy.In his book, John Eldredge gives Christian believers permission to explore more deeply the God-given passions that lie within the heart of every person.

Mr. Eldredge states that "Our problem, as C.S. Lewis has said, is not that we desire too much, but that we desire too little.Desire was given to us as a good and holy gift.Christianity refuses to budge from the fact that man was made for pleasure, that his beginning and his end is a paradise, and that the goal of living is to find Life."

"Two things contribute to our sanctification, " wrote Pascal. "Pains and pleasures."And while we know that our journey is strewn with danger and difficulty, "the difficulties they meet with are not without pleasure, and cannot be overcome without pleasure."God is realistic.He knows that ecstasy is not an option; we are made for bliss, and we must have it, one way or another.He knows that happiness is fragile and rests upon a foundation greater than happiness.

Walter Brueggemann suggests that faith on its way to maturity moves from "duty to delight."This is the great lost truth of the Christian faith, that correction of Judaism made by Jesus and passed on to us: the goal of morality is not morality - it is ecstasy.You are intended for pleasure!

In chapter eight, John tackles beautifully the question that naturally arises when we realize that we are meant to eternally experience intimacy and ecstasy: "Will there be sex in heaven?"This chapter confirms what I have always known in my heart - that sexual union and intimacy are a direct reflection of what our relationship will be with God.Shocking to some, but true!†† But how could it be otherwise?

Below is a condensed/slightly edited version of this wonderfully inspiring and beautifully written chapter:

 

Several years ago I gave a series of lectures on eternity to a group of singles on the East Coast.Over lunch one afternoon, several of the women asked if they might have a word with me.I sensed they wanted to ask a question that they didn't feel comfortable raising during our group discussion.†† After a bit of nervous hemming and hawing, they got down to the point.Though successful professionally, they were feeling the ache and disappointment of singleness.

And as the years seemed to be racing by, they weren't feeling so young anymore.A lifetime of singleness was becoming more and more a reality for each one, though by no means her heart's desire.What I had been saying about heaven was certainly attractive, but still, they could not shake a fear that they will forever miss one of the deepest joys of human experience."Will there be sex in heaven?"I smiled at their courage; it's a question many haven't let themselves wonder, even though they do wonder.

To understand the importance of the question, you've got to recognize the ache that seems to be met only through sexual union.When God created Eve, as you will recall, he took her straight from Adam's side.None of us have fully recovered from the surgery.There is an aloneness, an incompleteness that we experience every day of our lives.How often do you feel deeply and truly known?Is there another soul to whom a simple glance is all that is necessary to communicate depth of understanding?Do you have someone with whom you can commune in love?This is our inconsolable longing - to know and to be known.It is our deepest ache, which we feel to be healed only in our union with another.Even physically, there is an incompleteness until our bodies are joined together.

But let's take a closer look.What are we looking for in the opposite sex?

In the Song of Solomon, we see what has stirred the woman's heart - it is to see her man's strength.And she invites that strength to come to her in the night.There is an emptiness in the woman that only her man can fill.Is this not physically true?But it is more than just physically true.Our bodies are an outward sign of an inward reality.So too, the woman completes her man in a uniquely beautiful way.Her beauty and grace are most alluring.Her dark eyes are as rich and deep as pools of water, soft as doves.She is mysterious, but her mystery is not one that forbids, rather, she is captivating.

There is no union on earth like the consummation of the love between a man and a woman.No other connection reaches as deeply as this oneness was meant to; no other passion is nearly so intense.People don't jump off bridges because they lost a grandparent.If their friend makes another friend, they don't shoot them both.The passion that spousal love evokes is instinctive, irrational, intense, and dare I say, immortal.

Small wonder that many people experience sexual passion as their highest transcendence on this earth.This love surpasses all others as the source of the world's beautiful poetry, art and music.Lovers reach for the stars to find words fitting enough to express what the beloved means to them and still feel those words fall short.Granted, much of it is hyperbole, expressing more the dream than the reality.But that is precisely my point.

It is not merely hormones and sex drives projected outward.It is a clue to a deeper reality, a reach for something that does exist.For this exotic intimacy was given us as a picture of something else, something truly out of this world.

After creating this stunning portrait of a total union, the man and woman becoming one, God turns the universe on its head when he tells us that this is what he is seeking with us.In fact, Paul says it is why God created gender and sexuality and marriage - to serve as a living metaphor.He quotes Genesis, then takes it to the nth degree: " 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery -but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Eph 5:31-32).

A profound mystery indeed.All the breathtaking things in life are.The Cross is another great mystery. But these things are now understood when the Bible is studied as a whole.We must see the Bible for what it is - the greatest romance novel ever written.God creates mankind for intimacy with himself, as his beloved.We see it right at the start, when he gives us the highest freedom of all - the freedom to reject him.The reason is obvious: love is possible only when it is freely chosen.True love is never constrained; our hearts cannot be taken by force.So God sets out to woo his beloved and make her his queen.

If you're writing a romance novel, love is the goal; you must allow for the possibility of betrayal.This is precisely what God calls our turning away from him.The Hebrews thought that he would be satisfied with some religious rituals and rule keeping.God calls them an "adulterous" wife, of all things.The hero's heart has been broken. He rails with a jealous fury that flows only from a lover who has been rejected.But the story does not finish with their divorce.True love never fails; it always perseveres.God will fight for his beloved.So the Old Testament ends with a promise of reconciliation.

To give yourself over to another, passionately and nakedly, to adore that person body, soul and spirit - we know that there is something special, even sacramental about sex.It requires trust and abandonment, guided by a wholehearted devotion.What else can this be but worship?After all, God employs explicitly sexual language to describe faithfulness (and unfaithfulness) to him.For us creatures of the flesh, sexual intimacy is the closest parallel we have to real worship.Even the world knows this.Why else would sexual ecstasy become the number one rival to communion with God?The best impostors succeed because they are nearly indistinguishable from what they are trying to imitate.

We worship sex because we don't know how to worship God.But we will.Peter Kreeft writes, "This spiritual intercourse with God is the ecstasy hinted at in all early intercourse, physical or spiritual.It is the ultimate reason why sexual passion is so strong, so different from other passions, so heavy with suggestions of profound meanings that just elude our grasp." (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven)

 

Will there be sex in heaven?A better question might be, will there be worship in heaven?†† For sexuality as we know it is only a dim glimmer of the intimacy and ecstasy that will be experienced when we are truly at one with God in his kingdom.

Don't let your disappointing experiences cloud your understanding of this. We have grown cynical, as a society, about whether intimacy is really possible.To the degree that we have abandoned soul-oneness, we have sought out merely sex, physical sex, to ease the pain.But the full union is no longer there; the orgasm comes incomplete; its heart has been taken away.Many have been deeply hurt.Sometimes, we must learn from what we have not known, let it teach us what ought to be.

God's design was that the two shall become one flesh.The physical oneness was meant to be the expression of a total interweaving of being.Is it any wonder that we crave this?Our alienation is removed, if only for a moment, and in the paradox of love, we are at the same time known and taken beyond ourselves.In The Mystery of Marriage Mike Mason asserts, "For many people, certainly, sex is the most powerful and moving experience that life has to offer, and more overwhelmingly holy than anything that happens in church. For great masses of people, sex is the one force which can actually tip men and women completely off their accustomed centers of gravity and lift them, however briefly, right out of themselves."

As Allender says, our hearts live for "an experience of worship that fills our beings with a joy that is so deeply in awe of the other that we are barely aware of ourselves."Many people have a hard time conceiving of this kind of intimacy with God.For their entire lives they have related to him in a distant, though reverent way.Our worship services don't get anywhere near something like our wedding nights.Men in particular have a hard time relating to the bridal imagery used in Scripture.Do we take on femininity to relate to God?What does it meant to know God as our lover?

It is a mystery almost too great to mention, but God is the expression of the very thing we seek in each other.For do we not bear God's image?Are we not a living portrait of God?Indeed we are, and in a most surprising place - in our gender."So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27).Follow me closely now.Gender - masculinity and femininity - is how we bear the image of God.

 

"I thought there was only one kind of soul," said one shocked friend. "And God sort of poured those souls into male or female bodies."Many people believe something like that.But it contradicts the Word of God.We bear his image as men and women, and God does not have a body.So it must be at the level of the soul that we reflect God.The text is clear; it is as a man or as a woman that the image is bestowed.

God wanted to show the world something of his strength.Is he not a great warrior?Has he not performed the daring rescue of his beloved?And this is why he gave us the sculpture that is man.Men bear the image of God in their dangerous, yet inviting strength.Women, too, bear the image of God, but in a much different way.Is not God a being of great mystery and beauty?Is there not something tender and alluring about the essence of the Divine?And this is why he gave us the sculpture that is woman.

You men will know what Mason means, though perhaps you've never made the connection;

My wife's body is brighter and more fascinating than a flower, shier than any animal, and more breathtaking than a thousand sunsets.To me her body is the most awesome thing in creation.Trying to look at her, just trying to take in her wild, glorious beauty ... I catch a glimpse of what it means that men and women have been made in the image of God.If even the image is this dazzling, what must the Original be like? (The Mystery of Marriage)

What, indeed.God is the source of all masculine power; God is also the fountain of all feminine allure. Come to think of it, he is the wellspring of everything that has ever romanced your heart.The thundering strength of a waterfall, the delicacy of a flower, the stirring capacity of music, the richness of wine.The masculine and the feminine that will fill all creation come from the same heart.What we have sought, what we have tasted in part with our earthly lovers, we will come face-to-face with in our True Love.

 

For the incompleteness that we seek to relieve in the deep embrace of our earthly love is never fully healed.The union does not last, whatever the poets and pop artists may say.Morning comes and we've got to get out of bed and off to our day, incomplete once more.But oh, to have it healed forever; to drink deeply from that fount of which we've had only a sip; to dive into that sea in which we have only waded.

It is a manifestation of the humility of God that he creates a kingdom so rich in love that he should not be our all, but that others should be precious to us as well.Even in Eden, before the Fall, while Adam walked in Paradise with God, even then God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." He gives to us the joy of community, of family and friends to share in The Sacred Romance.

Is it not the nature of true love - to be generous in love?This is something of the reason that married couples long to have children; they want to share in their happiness.The embrace of lovers does not stay confined to the lovers; rather, it builds a home, it fills a household.And so our longing for intimacy reaches beyond our "one and only."We come to discover that others mean so very much to us.There is no joy like the joy of reunion because there is no sorrow like the sorrow of separation.To lose those we love and wonder if we shall ever see them again - this is our deepest grief.

What is vital for us to grasp now, is that the life we now have as the persons we now are will continue in the universe in which we now exist.By all means we shall know each other's name - not if - but when we see each other in God's great kingdom.We'll hold each other's hands, and far better than that.The naked intimacy, the real knowing that we enjoy with God, we shall enjoy with each other.George MacDonald wrote, "I think we shall be able to pass into and through each other's very souls as we please, knowing each other's thought and being, along with our own, and so being like God."

Brent used to call it multiple intimacy without promiscuity.It is what the ancients meant by the communion of saints.All of the joy that awaits us in the sea of God's love will be multiplied over and over as we share with each other in the Grand Affair.Imagine the stories that we'll hear.And all the questions that shall finally have answers."What were you thinking when you drove the old Ford out on the ice?""Did you know how much I loved you?"And the answers won't be one-word answers, but story after story, a feast of wonder and laughter and glad tears.

The setting for this will be a great party, the wedding feast of the Lamb. Now, you've got to get images of Baptist receptions entirely out of your mind - folks milling around in the church gym, holding Styrofoam cups of punch, wondering what to do with themselves.You've got to picture an Italian wedding or, better, a Jewish wedding.They roll up the rugs and push back the furniture.There is dancing: "Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well" (Jer 31:13).

 

There is feasting; "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples" (Isa 25:6). (Can you imagine what kind of cook God must be?). And there is drinking - the feast God says he is preparing includes "a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines."In fact, at his Last Supper our Bridegroom said he will not drink of "the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:18).Then he'll pop a cork.

And guess what?It will all be held right here on the good old earth.The earth was the scene of a Paradise before, and it will be our Paradise again. We seem to have forgotten - or perhaps we've never been told - that we get the earth back.Too many of us have placed eternity somewhere "out there," in a wispy and ethereal "heaven" that we cannot imagine; in the clouds perhaps.

 

"I love the earth," wrote a friend, "and it makes me sad to think it will be destroyed one day."We have all probably shared in this sadness.But we needn't."Behold," says the Lord, "I will create new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17, Rev 21:1).When he says he is making all things new, he includes the earth.

All the strip mines and strip malls, all the incredibly ugly things we've done to the earth will be cleansed and healed, once and for all.Thus John (the writer of Revelation) sees the New Jerusalem not floating in the clouds, but descending from heaven to the earth, and he hears "a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God'" (Rev 21:2-3).

The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue in the universe in which we now exist.The earth has been our home and will continue to be our home in eternity.This is a great consolation.When we place eternity "out there somewhere," in a place we cannot conceive of, we are left longing for home.†† To lose the only world we have ever known - a world so full of memories, so rich and beautiful, with so much left to explore - is to lose something deep and priceless to our hearts.

 

[Editing and comments by Bill Lenhart]

 

 

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