By Matthew VanLuik
Minister of the Canadian Reformed Church at Brampton, Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org
We live in confusing times when it comes to love and sexuality. People still have romantic notions of love, as they dream about finding Prince Charming and living happily ever after. The question today is how the old romantic notions of love are compatible with the new view about sexuality. In the past love and sexuality belonged together, but experiencing sexuality outside of a romantic relationship today is thought to be perfectly acceptable. In the past a sexual relationship outside of marriage was considered wrong, but today it has become, to use a modern term, normalized. Youth are taught that since they are sexual beings, it is okay to explore their sexuality outside of any love relationship and there is no valid reason to preserve it for marriage. In the past love and sexuality were closely related to one another; today they have become separated so that sexuality has become the pursuit of self-pleasure, which is now considered to be the highest good. It is a movement away from serving God to serving oneself, the very definition of sin and idolatry.
A permissive society
The church is often reluctant to deal with the topic of sexuality, while society tends to be quite open about it. The sexual revolution has opened the way for a more permissive society, so that infidelity has become common and the use of pornography has largely become socially acceptable. Youth are encouraged to explore their sexuality in whatever form they desire. The result is that sex for many has now become a recreational activity. Moving on from open sexuality, society has now begun to blur the lines between genders so that everyone is encouraged to choose the gender that best fits their own feelings and it in turn leads to the promotion of many alternate sexual lifestyles.
These attitude changes have a long history, but recently have rapidly become more acceptable. When sexual morality changes so quickly, we can expect much confusion about what is proper sexual conduct towards one another. Many today seem to be caught off guard as revelations of sexual abuse begin to surface. Men in places of power and prestige have fallen because of allegations of sexual abuse. Victims of abuse are not only women, but young girls and boys as well. Not only men; women also are perpetrators of such abuse. Society is now attempting to write new rules to accommodate the changing morality.
New attitudes lead to difficulties
This leads us to ask, “How did society get here?” How did it get to the point that people no longer accept any kind of sexual morality and are now confused about proper conduct towards others? In the past, people had clear sexual boundaries, and it was generally accepted that sexual activity outside of marriage was unethical. Today many no longer appear to understand that they have crossed a clear ethical boundary when they touch, kiss, or grope others. Psychologists speak about the need to maintain clear boundaries in our relationships, but it seems that people are no longer sure where those boundaries should be.
The clear line of demarcation that confines all sexual relations to marriage is no longer accepted. The new standard says it is okay to have sexual relations with anyone you desire, as long as you ask for permission and obtain consent. Since sexual relations have essentially become a recreational activity, people feel it is legitimate to pursue others for their own personal pleasure. The only caveat is that you seek permission. When you enter a consensual relationship, it now becomes morally acceptable. This leads to new problems. In the first place, it leads to unwanted advances that are inappropriate and make people uncomfortable. At the same time, people who are propositioned may feel compelled to acquiesce since they are told everyone else does it. If youth are encouraged to explore their sexuality, they no longer have a healthy sense of where they should draw the boundary in their personal relations.
This new standard also leads to problems when there is what is called a power equation. If someone has the power to give you an advance or to provide you a favour, it becomes difficult to refuse, for it can be held against you. Today many women who seem to have been in a consensual relationship are coming forward saying that it was not real consent – that they felt pressure to agree because of the consequences. This means that consent itself cannot lead to a clear and safe boundary. It only makes navigating intimate relationships much more treacherous.
What is truth?
Society did not fall into such a quagmire overnight, but we can trace it back to philosophical changes in society over a long period of time. The central issue revolves around the age-old question: “What is truth?” The biblical perspective says that God gives us the truth in his holy Word and that there is no truth outside of what God reveals to us. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.” But secular society seeks truth outside of God’s Word.
With the dawn of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, there developed a general undermining of the Word of God as the standard for truth. Also known as the age of reason, people now thought that through the application of reason and of the scientific method, they could determine the truth and solve the problems of this world. Right up to the modern period in the twentieth century, there was much optimism in human ability to determine the truth and set ethical standards. Today society has moved on to what is generally described as the Post-Modern Era. As the name suggests, there is no longer the same optimism in the abilities of reason and science; the Modern Era has not provided answers for difficult questions, nor has it resolved the serious problems faced by humanity.
Since the sentiment now is that there is no objective truth, neither is there any real interest to discover what one can know about truth. The new attitude is that since truth cannot be found, truth must be made. The result is that moral positions can change as easily as one changes one’s shirt. Therefore, the highest good today is not to find any objective truth, but to pursue one’s own pleasure. Whatever gives pleasure must be true.
Determining the truth for oneself stands in sharp contrast to the biblical truths given by God. Since society rejects the objective truths from God, they despise and mock the will of God and often feel great hostility against Christians who uphold the truth given by our Almighty God. The corrupt heart refuses to deny its own will, but seeks the freedom to pursue whatever pleasure they feel will make them happy.
The society in which we live
In our Christian communities, we are sheltered from what is really happening in our society, for the reality is that in major urban centres, sex is a commodity to be sold and bought by both men and women. As Christians, we will increasingly come into contact with fellow workers who are openly engaging in such activities. In many social circles, such as the movie industry, politics, and corporate life, it has become known that people pursue sexual pleasures at the expense of others. They face the question, “How does one avoid falling into the risk of being accused of using or abusing others?”
When their deeds are exposed, society finds itself in a conundrum. They now need to solve the problem of where to draw the line on proper and improper behaviour; but is it even possible to draw new lines? When is a sexual relationship appropriate and when is it okay to proposition someone for sexual favours? When do sexual jokes, innuendo, and suggestive language, as well as sexting, cross the line? When are they considered to be abusive towards others?
Human autonomy or dependence on God?
Also in the area of sexuality, the new wisdom teaches that everyone can determine for themselves with what gender they will identify, for if human beings are autonomous (independent from God), then each person has the right to choose their own gender. But it raises new questions. Is it proper for a male who identifies as a female to be given the same courtesy and access to places such as washrooms and other events that are usually only reserved for women? And if women refuse to give such access, are they guilty of hatred because they feel their privacy or personal well-being is invaded? And should we not accept alternate sexual relationships as being good and wholesome? Is it even possible for society to argue that certain kinds of alternate relationships are inappropriate, such as polygamy or bestiality? When truth is made because (it is thought) truth cannot be found, it leads to greater and greater uncertainty about what is appropriate, good, and wholesome. It leads to the conflicting mess we now find in our society that will lead to its own destruction.
We can understand why in the area of sexuality, there is now such a great conflict between our society and orthodox Christianity. While society wants to be open to every form of sexuality, the people of God affirm there is a standard of right and wrong, there is truth and falsehood, there is corruption and wholesomeness. Society thinks about humans as sexual creatures so that our whole identity revolves around our sexuality. Scripture teaches that mankind is created in the image of God and therefore we must find our identity in the Lord God. When he created us, he gave us the gift of sexuality, a gift that we are called to use appropriately according to his will. When used as God intended it, it is experienced as the greatest blessing, but when it is misused, it leads to much misery.
Sexuality and Scripture
In the beginning, God made very clear that sexuality is to be experienced within the bond of marriage, and outside of that bond it is corrupted and devalued. It is a beautiful gift from God, a gift in which Adam delighted when he spoke about his desire for the woman, Eve, whom God gave to him as a suitable helper (Gen 2:18). After expressing his love for her, they became one flesh. The Lord has given safe parameters in which his gift of sexuality can be enjoyed and experienced as a rich blessing.
Many today ask, “Why is marriage so important? Is it not enough that a couple just love one another?” That is God’s point: “It is not enough.” God understands that the only safe environment in which to enjoy sexuality is a committed relationship. The Lord follows the same principle when he enters into a relationship with us. God does not just say that he loves us; he enters into a covenant bond with us, to guarantee his faithfulness and love for us. And so also in marriage, a husband and wife make a vow to each other, in which they make a life time commitment to honour, love, and respect one another.
In the Song of Songs (2:6) there is this tender moment when the woman describes her total security in the arms of her beloved. “His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.” She describes an intimate moment with the one she loves, but it comes after she describes how she feels totally secure in the presence of her beloved. She delights to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to her taste. In other words, she loves to sit under his protective care because he takes care of her and he treasures her for he publicly displays his banner of love over her. This is a man she completely trusts and therefore she longs for the intimate comfort of his arms.
No one can find a secure environment in which to enjoy their sexuality in a casual relationship, for there is no lasting commitment to honour and protect each other. When sexuality becomes a recreational activity, people use one another to satisfy their own sexual desires. We live in a consumer age that tells us that the greatest good is to seek your own pleasure. Without God, the only thing we have left to pursue is the selfish desires of our own sinful heart. To fulfil those desires, we need to use others. But the gospel message is radically different. As Christ denied himself by offering his life on the cross to give us life, we are now called to deny ourselves to honour God and to care for our neighbour. In a proper marriage relationship, husband and wife are committed to a lifetime of service to one another. In our marriage vows we promise to deny ourselves in order to assist and help and protect one another.
In a safe and secure relationship, a husband and wife will experience a safe and secure environment in which they may enjoy their sexuality. That also means that husbands and wives need to be faithful to their vows, that you also need to work your whole life at creating a safe environment in which you can live together joyfully. Sexuality cannot flourish in an environment where there is hostility, where there is bitterness and resentment. Men, the Lord calls you to create a safe environment for your wife, one in which her greatest joy is to live in your protective shade and be encouraged by the care you provide for her. The Lord has given you the wonderful task of creating an atmosphere in which your wife loves to feel the embrace of your arms because there she feels completely safe and secure. It is a reflection of the safe and secure arms of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in whom we experience our eternal security.
 For a brief overview of Post-Modernism see: Richard B. Ramsay, “The Certainty of Faith,” P&R Publishing 2007, pgs. 55-59.