WE CAN’T UNDERSTAND CHRISTIANITY IF WE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH AND MEANING OF OUR SEXUALITY! Does that sound over the top? I think not. Clearly, the Bible is a story about marriage. It begins in Genesis with the marriage of Adam and Eve, and ends in the Book of Revelation with the “wedding of the lamb”—the marriage of Christ and the Church. In the Old Testament the love of God for his people is described so often by the prophets as the love of a husband for his bride (Hos. 2; Ez. 16; Is. 54:1–10, etc.) and in the New Testament, Christ actually embodies this love. He comes as the heavenly bridegroom to unite himself forever to his Bride, which is to us. The plan of God from all eternity is to draw us into the closest communion with himself, in effect, we might say, to “marry” us! To help us understand this he made us male and female. Aided by Holy Scripture we can see therefore, through the meaning and truth of our sexuality and marriage, God tells us about who he is, who we are, the meaning of life, why he created us, how we are to live and our ultimate destiny.
Perhaps to help us understand this we need to look first at the Most Holy Trinity, that central mystery of our Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. God we could say is a life-giving ‘family’. From all eternity, the Father is making a total gift of himself in love to the Son, (Mt. 3:17, 17:5, Jn. 17:25, etc.). The Son, eternally receiving the gift of the Father, makes a total gift of himself in love back to him, (Jn. 17:4, 17:10, etc.). This total gift of love from Father and Son is eternally the Holy Spirit.
If we look at the first creation account in Genesis, it says: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves,’” (Gen. 1:26) the plural here clearly implies we are made in the likeness of the Trinity. In the next verse it goes on to say: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). So in someway, God’s plan is that in our humanity, in the complementarities of the sexes, we image him. In doing so, we make visible by analogy, God’s invisible mystery—the Trinity—and become a sign of it in the physical world.
As a sign, we are, then, called to love as God loves in the Trinity that is as a life-giving family. However, as human beings we are called to do this through our sexuality as male and female, being disposed by our very physical make up, to give ourselves to each other in a love so very profound and real, that another life may come forth as a result.
From Holy Scripture, we could say a total vision of humanity emerges; in which is revealed an understanding of the body, human sexuality and marriage; which ultimately helps explain our Christian faith. We will look at this in terms of three ‘eras’ of humanity:
In the garden
In the second creation account in Genesis Chapter 2, we see the truths of Chapter 1 revealed in a more personal way through the experiences of Adam and Eve. Firstly, we read God created Adam alone, from the very dust of the earth by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life—the Spirit. (Gen. 2:7)
Adam in this situation experiences solitude, but this leads him to discover himself, that is, the full dimensions of his humanity. He has a mind (self awareness), a will (self-determination), together with a body that allows him to do truly human activities (tilling the soil—Gen. 2:15); that is, he has a body that expresses himself.
Adam’s solitude also leads him to realise that he is alone, and that he has a desire for another person. The animals clearly leave something to be desired as companions! (Gen. 2:20). God said: “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” (Gen. 2:18). When Eve is created, Adam cries out with the world’s first love song: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:23). This is saying in effect: “At last, a person like myself that I can love!”
He discovers in Eve, another human with whom he can be united, he discovers masculinity and femininity, as their sexual bodily differences are obviously intended for each other. They realise that their bodies have the capacity of expressing love; a love in which the person becomes total gift to the other, as in the Trinity, and in so doing, fulfils the very meaning of being and existence.
The two become one flesh in sexual intercourse (Gen. 2:24), and this unity overcomes the original solitude. A family is established—a unity, a relationship between Adam and Eve, which makes them now even more in the image and likeness of God.
Clearly, the desire to become “two in one flesh” was created by God. Therefore, they could gaze at their nakedness with no embarrassment or shame. As it says in Genesis: “Now both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame in front of each other.” (Gen. 2:25). Their bodies perfectly expressed who they were and enabled them to fully communicate with each other. There was no shame in loving, as God loves, for they experienced life as God intended it, with joy, peace and a deep knowledge of human goodness.
In the world
We look now at the body, sexuality and marriage as we experience them in history influenced by sin, but also as we experience them now as redeemed by Christ.
When Adam and Eve first sinned, by being disobedient in eating the forbidden fruit, they “died,” as God said they would (Gen. 3:1–7). The “Spirit” originally breathed into them, left, and their ability to love in the image of God, as male and female, died; as did their ability to draw strength from God. This was their spiritual death. Sexual desire then became inverted, selfish and self-seeking. They no longer clearly saw in each other’s bodies, God’s plan of love as mutual self gift; but rather they saw their bodies more as things to use for their own selfish desires. Lust had now entered their hearts.
We see this change clearly in Genesis, where it initially says: “they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25), but after eating the forbidden fruit we read: “I heard the sound of you in the garden … I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid” (Gen. 3:10). After sinning, Adam and Eve were ashamed to be naked before each other because lust had now entered their hearts.
Sadly, we find ourselves today in this situation. Our human body in its masculinity and femininity has almost lost the capacity of expressing true love in which the person becomes total gift to the other. Our hearts have become a battlefield between love and lust, and the beauty of the true meaning of the body is being habitually threatened.
This is what Jesus was pointing out in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says: “…if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat. 5:28). It is important to realise that “adultery in the heart” is committed not only because man “looks” in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he “looks in this way”, that is, with lust and not love. Even if he looked this way at his wife, he could likewise commit “adultery in his heart”, that’s really saying he’s lusting after his wife and not looking to love and give to his wife. How many women feel that their husband, in their sexual relationship, is just using them? Marriage is no licence for lust (1 Th. 4:3–5).
Sin has brought tension, conflict and division into marriage, and is one of the reasons why we have constantly to work at the relationship. In Genesis, after the Fall, God says to Eve: “…Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you.” (Gen. 3:16). This was not God’s plan, but the result of sin. Women throughout history have suffered greatly because of the dominance of men, and some men, refusing to face their own sinfulness, have even used Scripture verses to justify their dominance.
So despite wives being “lorded over”, bullied or even abused by their husbands, women so often still yearn for their husband’s love; so much so, that often they are even willing to tolerate their husbands behaviour however bad it is. So while men frequently dominate and manipulate women for their own physical gratification, women often use their “feminine wiles” to manipulate men as well, usually for emotional gratification. As it is often put: men will use love to get sex, and women will use sex to get love. Both are treating the other for selfish gratification, and not as persons created for their own sake.
However, we must take heart! We must listen and believe the Good News! We are redeemed! Christ takes away the sin of the world by making a total, faithful, and fruitful gift of his body to his Bride, the Church, on the Cross at Calvary (Jn. 19:34). He once again breathes the Spirit upon humanity, which had been lost at the Fall. (Jn. 20:22).
Sin and death entered human history, as we have seen, through the very heart of the unity of Adam and Eve. Redemption and new life entered human history through the very heart of the unity of the New Adam and the New Eve, that is, Christ and his Church.
The Wedding feast of Cana (Jn. 2:1–11) foreshadows Christ’s redemptive “marriage” to the Church. The water changed to wine prefigures the water and blood that flow from the side of Christ on the cross at Calvary, where he offers up his body for his Bride. The water and blood symbolise Baptism and the Eucharist. Christ’s “marriage proposal” is to all of us, men and women, as the Church, called to be the Bride of Christ. Our “yes” is to offer our bodies—our whole selves—back to him, that is to be cleansed of sin in the “nuptial bath” of baptism, and to consummate our “marriage” by receiving Christ’s body in the Eucharist. Then we conceive new life within us—life in the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:53).
Lust blinds man and woman to their own truth and distorts their sexual desires. However, living a new life in the Spirit, that is, a re-integrated life of soul and body, spirituality and sexuality, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, empowers men and women to overcome these distortions (Rm. 8:12–13; Gal. 5:25–26).
Now, although we cannot return to the state of original innocence, we can live and love as God intended “in the beginning” (Mt. 19:4–6) because of the redemption Christ has won for us. This is only possible, however, with God’s grace, which will enable us to rediscover the meaning of the whole of existence, and the meaning of life. So, then:
- We are to look on our spouse, as the potential recipient of our love and total self-gift, and not as an object to satisfy our desires.
- We are to look at what we can give, not to look at what we can receive.
- We are called to ensure that our bodies will really express true love.
In looking at the total vision of humanity, we must surely look towards our ultimate end. In considering our final destiny, we are reflecting upon the body, sexuality and marriage, as mankind (that is male and female) will experience them in the life to come, after death and the resurrection of the body. Only in this light does our existence make sense, and our origin and history take on its meaning.
In Heaven, we will experience the re-establishment of human life in its full integrity through the re-union of the body and soul, of the physical and the spiritual, by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 15).
In Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees, who were hoping to corner him into denying the resurrection, he says: “For in the resurrection, they will neither marry or be given in marriage…” (Mt. 22:30). This doesn’t mean our longing for union or marriage will be done away with, it means it will be fulfilled.
We see here an indication that the ultimate purpose and meaning of marriage, which ceases at death, is meant to point us to heaven, where we will celebrate for all eternity the “marriage of the lamb” (Rv. 19:7), that is, the marriage of Christ and the Church. This is what we are created for. This is the ultimate longing of the human heart. This is what the “one flesh” union points to from the beginning (Eph. 5:31–32). Marriage reaches fruition in heaven. Earthly marriage is simply preparation for heavenly marriage; a sign, a foretaste, of the joy to come, as we live in the eternal bliss of ‘marital intimacy’ with God himself, and rediscover the true meaning of our bodies in a completely new experience.
This is the gift Christ offers to everyone—the gift of himself. If we accept Christ’s marriage proposal and live in fidelity with him in this life, we will become the Bride of Christ in heaven, as will all those who accept the invitation to the wedding feast. We will find in our glorified bodies the source of the total self-gift of love, which will nourish the communion with every other body.
We will all live in a heavenly ‘family’ of persons as the one Bride of Christ, in an ecstatic experience absolutely superior to anything we have experienced in our earthly life (1 Cor. 2:9). Our bodily gift of ourselves to God will be in response to God’s gift of Himself to us. The nuptial gift of God to man and man to God will be definitively and eternally consummated, as the beatific vision is perceived face to face.
Wow! We can see, perhaps now, why casual sex, cohabitation, and homosexual activity are gross travesties of God’s plan of things for our sexuality.