It was a drizzly autumn morning. I was marching my seven-year-old daughter through the rain trying to get her to school on time. As I tried to hurry her along, she gazed curiously at billboards along the street.
"Dad," she said, "is that poster supposed to be selling shower gel?"
"Yes”, I answered.
"Then why is the bottle of the shower gel so small compared with the naked woman in the shower!"
Quite innocently, she had observed, what familiarity can blind the rest of us to. Using our desire for sex is generally deemed a better sales tactic than desire for the actual product. There are few things in our culture that are more discussed, deliberated, sung about or the basis for stand-up comedy than sex. As my daughter spotted, it's used to sell everything from toothbrushes to TVs. But among all that talk, there are many competing viewpoints. What has God got to say about sex and our sexuality?
1. Sex doesn't make us human
Of course, unless you are a test-tube baby, you wouldn’t be a human at all without your parents having had sex. But there is a strongly promoted and equally strongly-felt view around. Our culture seems to suggest that to not have sex is to somehow be less than human.
Recently a group of Christians approached me and a friend in the street and asked if we would like to be prayed for. We must have looked particularly in need of it that day. In any case, we were happy to accept their offer. Halfway through their prayer, they began to pray for my wife. About a minute later they asked if I actually had one. When they discovered that the friend who was with me didn't, their prayers focussed on asking God to provide the right wife for him and preparing him for that day. Of course, they meant well, but the whole assumption behind their prayer was that life would not be complete until he was “partnered-up”.
The thing is, if a sexual relationship makes us complete people, then Jesus was subhuman. And Paul was temporarily insane to say to the unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7 "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do." But Christians believe that Jesus was in fact, the most perfect human that ever lived. If he, Paul and other key figures in the Bible didn't need to have sex, it can't be central to what it means to be fully human. To put it another way, you can be a complete bona fide human being—without sex.
2. It's a gift from God
The casual observer might think of Christianity as the religion that says “NO” to sex. In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible teaches that God is not ashamed of sex. He invented it (Genesis 2:24)! In fact 1 Timothy 4 v 4 tells us that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Enjoying what God invented, his way and giving thanks for it, is how to do religion right. In fact, forbidding people from enjoying sex in that context is not described as holy, but demonic.
It's worth saying that it’s an explosive gift. Like fireworks. I live near a big London park and get to enjoy huge firework displays synced up to Stormzy, George Ezra and the Jackson 5. They are precious and powerful. But we treat them with respect so that we don't get hurt. It's the same with God's gift of sex. The fun is best enjoyed within the right framework.
3. It's not the only way to experience intimacy
Intimacy is about being known deeply by another person. It can happen in family relationships, friendships, and sexual relationships. A few years ago Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins were interviewed by Vanity Fair about the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Both of them have been stunned by its success. Even Nelson Mandela wanted to talk about it when they met. One of them said that perhaps most surprising, is the fact that “it’s about the friendship of two men without a car chase in it … two men who really loved each other”. Closeness, affection, even love, without sex. In other words, intimacy is not the sole privilege of those in a sexual relationship.
Despite the fact that intimacy can be found in different kinds of relationships, as a culture we seem to increasingly neglect non-sexual forms of intimacy. We have fewer friends than ever—so much so that some have spoken of a "friendemic." The technological power to connect with more people seems to have left us more alone. Perhaps it's time to nurture friendship a little more than we have.
4. It points to something better
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 84:10. It says "better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere"’ To be near to the living God blows any other relationship clean out of the water. It is a mind-blowing privilege to know the warmth, love, and care of God from now into eternity. I may never travel to all the places on my bucket list. My relationships may not have lived up to my hopes and expectations. And yet there is a blue sky kingdom waiting for God's people that shines like the sun from the brilliance of its king. A touch from his powerful hand, a word from his marvelous mouth will make any sacrifice worth it.
A relationship with Jesus doesn't require some special meditation or holy space. It's not dependent on my social-media profile being on point. We just need to ask. His promise is that as we come near to him by faith, he comes near to us (James 4:6-8), and the keys to his everlasting mansion, a seat at his incredible banquet, a place to listen at the feet of the Lord of glory, are all ours.