As I begin this sermon today, I feel a bit like the young pastor who was once asked to preach a sermon on sex. Being somewhat reserved he found himself embarrassed when he came to write the word “sex” in his notes while preparing his sermon. To remove this discomfort, he decided to simply put the letter “S” wherever the word “sex” was to be used.
During his preparation the young pastor’s wife came in and looked over his shoulder. She noticed the letter “S” planted liberally throughout the text and asked him what the topic for the sermon was. Embarrassed even to tell his wife the topic the young pastor said, “s…s…sailing! That’s what the sermon’s about, sailing.”
His wife thought it a bit of an odd topic for a sermon but guessed sailing might form a good analogy to the Christian life.
Come Sunday the young pastor’s wife was ill with the flu and missed the worship service. Her husband however preached a terrific sermon. Although he started nervously he warmed to the topic as the sermon progressed and handled the matter most tactfully and helpfully.
During the following week a member of the congregation was speaking to the young pastor’s wife.
“Oh, your husband preached a beautiful sermon last Sunday. He handled a difficult topic most sensibly and I found what he had to say rather helpful.”
“Well that is a surprise” said the young pastor’s wife. “I’m afraid I didn’t think he’d be of much help to anybody. After all, he’s only ever done it twice, and both times he abandoned ship!”
The question I want to deal with today, in our series entitled “Ultimate Questions” has probably, already, stirred up more conversation among people simply viewing this question on our bulletin board than any other question in this series. The question is: Why did God make the sex drive so strong?
There are probably a number of reasons why this sermon title provokes response:
- There are still a number of people in the world who think the whole topic of sex should not be discussed in public.
- There are people who think that church and sex have nothing to do with each other.
- Some people probably read this question with a knowing smirk, thinking the missing word in this question is: male. Why did God make the male sex drive so strong?
In response to reason number 3, let me quote to you from most people’s go-to source these days for medical information, WebMD:
Birds do it, bees do it, and men do it any old time. But women will only do it if the candles are scented just right—and their partner has done the dishes first. A stereotype, sure, but is it true? Do men really have stronger sex drives than women?
Well, yes, they do. Study after study shows that men’s sex drives are not only stronger than women’s, but much more straightforward. The sources of women’s libidos, by contrast, are much harder to pin down.
In the course of pastoral counseling I did talk to a couple once where the woman had a stronger sex drive than the man. So, there are exceptions to the rule.
In response to reason 2, I must beg to differ. I think church and sex have a lot to do with each other. I read an article just this week by a psychologist writing in Psychology Today who says that church attendance and our desire for sex are driven by the same thing: our human desire to connect. Dr. Noam Shpancer calls both church and sex “interaction rituals”. He writes:
The results of such interaction rituals—whether at church or in bed—are also predictable: the solidarity between participants increases (at church, we’re united under God; in bed, we’re faithful to each other), the mental energy builds up (I’m strong in my faith; I am deeply in love). From the encounter, especially if it’s repeated, canonical memories will be chosen to symbolize the relationship to the partners (forty years in the desert; forty minutes at that boutique hotel in Ventura), certain objects will be imbued with a sacred quality (a cross; a wedding ring), and certain gestures will be chosen to clarify the boundaries of the relationship—demarcate what is ours only and distinguishes us from others (we drink the blood of Christ; only we can touch each other there).
Let me also say this, if religious people of old were not interested in talking about sex, then you would have a hard time making out that case from the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, I would say sex is one of the leading topics discussed in the Bible from all different angles. In fact, there is one whole book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, that is a series of love songs which refer rather blatantly to sex. There have been Jews and Christians down through the ages who have been disturbed by this. So much so, that they have tried to read the Song of Solomon as being about God’s relation to his people. On one level, yes, one can certainly allegorize the Song of Solomon and say it is about God and his people. But it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to do that. I think the Song of Solomon contains a series of rather straightforward love poems, and they are poems that are not even about a husband and wife.
You may have been surprised today by the fact that Taryn sang a secular love song in our worship service. Part of the reason why I asked Taryn to sing that song is because it’s hard to find a good piece of sacred music that deals with the topic of sex. And besides, I don’t think God sees any division between sacred and secular. God is interested in all of life—including our sex lives. After all, God created sex.
Taryn has sung a number of so-called secular love songs in our 4:30 service. It is interesting to me, when listening to the lyrics, to see how many of these songs can be transferred, as it were, to our relationship with God, much more easily than the Song of Solomon. And this raises a question for me: could it be that our desire for union through sex is really an echo, or a shadow, of our ultimate desire for union with God? It is something worth thinking about.
In regard to those who think we should not talk about sex in public, I say: how is anyone ever going to learn if we don’t talk about it? You may say, “Well, people learn by practice.” Yes, and they learn an awful lot that is just plain wrong.
When I preached a message on sex in a previous church I had the mother of a teenager in the church say to me: “Our teenagers are already thinking about sex all the time, you are just making it worse.” No, I don’t think so. Teenagers do think about othertopics and talking about sex in church doesn’t make the problems with sex in our society worse, rather it sets our sexuality in the right context, and helps us to see sex as what it really is: a gift from God.
With that preliminary introduction behind us, allow me to get on to the question at hand. “Why did God make the sex drive so strong?”
Now I must admit that this question is never posed in the Bible and so it is never answered directly either. But I think an answer is suggested in the passage we read earlier this morning from Genesis 1:26-28.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Last Sunday we looked at this same passage and we talked about how God created human beings to exercise a benevolent dominion over creation, including the animals. But there are some other things we can also learn from this passage…
First, God created human beings in his likeness.Theologians have debated for centuries what that means, that we are created in God’s image. Personally, I think one thing it means is that we are made to be creative like God is creative. And isn’t it amazing that God invites us to be involved in the process of creating other human beings?
Secondly, part of being in God’s image means that we are created to be in relationship just as God is in relationship in the Trinity. God did not leave the first human being alone. He created male and female.
Thirdly, God commanded human beings, to be fruitful and multiply.Basically, God was saying: “Have sex and a lot of it!” This command is repeated 7 times in the book of Genesis.
Fourth, we read in Genesis 1:31 that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Thus, God created sex and he viewed it as something very good.
I think that means that the strong sex drive God gave to humanity was also a good thing. Without it, human beings might never have filled the earth and subdued it as God originally intended.
Then you may ask, “Well, why is the sex drive still so strong when we don’t need to fill the earth and subdue it? After all, the earth is overpopulated as it is.”
I think there may be more than one answer to that question. One answer is to say that human beings have a strong sex drive, not simply so that they can procreate. It seems obvious to me that God also designed sex for human pleasure and to establish a sense of connection.
Here is a fascinating thing I read this week from a female author…
Male brains are bathed in less serotonin and oxytocin, calming and bonding chemicals. Oxytocin is divine, drenching us in feelings of calm, happy and connected. It is because of the lower oxytocin level that it takes a man longer to form emotional bonds.
Women have 10 times more oxytocin bathing their brains than men. For women, conversation is a key distributor of oxytocin. If she talks out her troubles to a friend, her brain releases oxytocin.
Guess when the level of oxytocin in men is equal to that of women? At the time of male orgasm, oxytocin is released by the bucket fulls. At the time of orgasm, our men feel complete bonding with us. At the time of orgasm, their brains are happy as clams!
So, our sexual urges are driven by chemicals. Surprise, surprise! But that release of oxytocin helps people to bond with the person they are having sex with. Some studies actually show that oxytocin aids couples in remaining faithful to one another.
Still, some people believe that there is something wrong with the human sex drive. One of those people is my literary mentor C. S. Lewis. In Mere Christianityhe writes:
The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.
People often ask me if I disagree with Lewis on anything. I do think this is one area where I disagree. I think Lewis is failing to recognize at least two things here. One is that the strong sex drive of human beings may go back to creation itself and be for the purpose of making sure the earth is populated. The human sex drive is not a bad thing, in and of itself. On this point, I imagine, evolutionary scientists and the Bible are agreed.
Secondly, Lewis fails to recognize, at least in this statement, that sex has a purpose beyond procreation. Pleasure is part of its purpose. Cementing connection and companionship is part of its purpose.
But I do agree with Lewis that our sexuality is fallen just like everything else in this world. Some Christians have mistakenly thought that sex was somehow the cause of the fall. I do not think so. Rather, sexual brokenness is a result of the fall. Time does not allow me to quote all the stories in the Bible that illustrate our sexual brokenness. Nor does time allow me to quote all of the biblical proscriptions around sex because of our fallen nature.
But I wonder: is there anyone in the world who would seriously disagree that our human sexuality is broken? Has not the “Me Too” movement been confronting us with the many ways we sin against each other in the sexual realm through harassment and abuse? Does not this ultimate question, in and of itself, suggest something “not quite right” with the human sex drive as it stands today?
I think we can see how this ultimate question ties into the same overarching theme in Scripture that last week’s question tied into. That is the theme of creation, fall, and redemption. As part of God’s original creation, sex and sexuality was God’s good gift to humanity. But where we stand today, we must admit that human sexuality is broken; it is fallen from its original, perfect nature. The good news is that God is in the business of redemption. God is in the business of fixing what is broken.
What might “redeemed sexuality” look like? In short, I think redeemed sexuality is channeled sexuality, it is sexuality directed in ways that build up ourselves and others through love and faithfulness rather than tearing down others through selfishness and unfaithfulness.
I think the wisest thing I read about redeemed sexuality this week comes from the pen of author Philip Yancey. A number of years ago Yancey wrote an article entitled “Holy Sex”. In that article he said,
Charles Williams, a colleague and close friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote that romantic love gives us a new vision of one other human being, an insight into his or her “eternal identity.” For a brief time, at least, romance gives us the ability to see the best in one other person, to ignore or forgive flaws, to bask in endless fascination. That state, said Williams, gives a foretaste of how we will one day view every resurrected person, and how God now views us. Romantic love does not distort vision but corrects it, in a very narrow range. The Bible uses explicit romantic images to describe God’s love for us: What we feel in passing for one person, God feels eternally for the many.
Thus, our sexuality, and even our sexual drive, gives us a picture, in a way, of God. That is why, I think, in some ways, the Catholic Church has always been correct in that they see in marriage and sex—a sacrament—a visible sign of an invisible reality.
When our sexuality is channeled into a life-long relationship of love and faithfulness, we learn things that are hard to learn any other way. Yancey concludes:
Marriage strips away the illusions about sex pounded into us daily by the entertainment media. Few of us live with oversexed supermodels. We live instead with ordinary people, men and women who get bad breath, body odors, and unruly hair; who menstruate and experience occasional impotence; who have bad moods and embarrass us in public; who pay more attention to our children’s needs than our own.
We live with people who require compassion, tolerance, understanding, and an endless supply of forgiveness. So do our partners. Such is the ironical power of sex: It lures us into a relationship that offers to teach us what we need far more—sacrificial love.