begins in the beginning with the very first chapters of the book of Genesis. In
the beginning humanity was created in God's image; in the image of God they were
created, male and female God created them. And God saw all that was created and
indeed it was very good. Here in the imagery of the most ancient texts of the
Scriptures, life is stripped to its essence. The Biblical image of creation takes
us back to the simplest and most basic elements. Here in Genesis there is no radio
or television; in Eden there are no superhighways or high-rise apartments, no
fast-food restaurants, no Big-Mac or Burger-King. Likewise there are no schools,
no hospitals or churches, no politics, no business, no organized religion.
and Eve were created in the image of God. There is a stark simplicity in these
verses, emphasizing what is truly important. And there were two elements in the
life of this man and this woman. The ties of love and affection which held them
together as a couple, and the religious or spiritual ties that held them to the
Creator. For Adam and Eve, sexuality and spirituality were not mutually exclusive,
but rather complimentary and mutually supportive. Thus Genesis says that human
sexuality is every bit as important as a modern day champion of free love would
contend, but Genesis insists that the physical and the spiritual dimensions of
life must work together.
Jesus was building upon this same vision when he
pointed out the connection between the love of God and the love of neighbor. That's
why he and his disciples affirmed that marriage is a sacrament. Any relationship,
if it is truly a loving relationship, is acted out in a spiritual as well as a
physical dimension. Not surprising then that some of the most evocative love poetry
in all literature is to be found in the book of the Bible referred to as the Song
of Songs. And not surprising either that the poetry of that book has been
used throughout history to describe the passionate love between two people, as
well as the mystical union between God and humankind.
The Christian gospel
calls for a reunion of the flesh and the spirit, not the triumph of the spirit
over the flesh, or vice versa. Note that in the Genesis story it was a corruption
of the spiritual side of human nature that led to the fall. It was their hunger
for a higher knowledge that led Adam and Eve to take the forbidden fruit, not
mere physical appetite. So in biblical tradition pride is the most deadly sin,
not lust. Rather than seeing a conflict between flesh and spirit, as the Greeks
much later did, Genesis sees the real tragedy as the separation of humankind from
God. From the opening chapters, Genesis tells the gradually unfolding story as
humankind is divided against itself. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the city of
Sodom and Gomorrah. The original unity of flesh and spirit, God and humankind
is replaced by a tragic polarity. Not only are human beings now at war with each
other, but mind and body are divided against themselves. And increasingly, perversions
of sexual identity are associated with perversion of the spirit.
this double edged quality of evil that Jesus so clearly recognized. That's why
he identified so openly with the so called "prostitutes and sinners."
He saw so clearly that they were not responsible for the evil of the world. Jesus
identified the corrupt religious leaders of his day and time as being more responsible
for humanity's moral problems, for the self appointed guardians of goodness and
truth defined sex as evil and thus made sinners of us all. Jesus saw that self-righteous
piety is equally dangerous as promiscuity, for both these attitudes intensify
the antagonism between flesh and spirit.
real problem arises, according to Jesus, when self appointed guardians of goodness
and truth define sex as evil and thus make sinners of us all.
Today the same problem is before us. Whenever sexuality
and spirituality are regarded as separate and unrelated things, then both dimensions
suffer. For sex is demeaning when it is reduced to the level of a commodity, and
religion is demeaning when it is a matter of dry ritual or abstract doctrine.
In America today the disembodied spirituality of popular religion is locked in
fateful struggle against the dispirited hedonism of the secular world. And the
resolution to the conflict is not the triumph of one side over the other, but
the rediscovery of what I would call the sacramental view of sex. It is in the
interplay of the spirit and the flesh that we find our salvation. The real question
is not the prurient question of who does what to whom and when? The truly important
question is whether our relationships with other people reflect the love of justice
of God. In the passing encounters and the fleeting moments, do we find values
that endure. Faith, hope and love, these three, said Paul, and the greatest of
these is love. But if love tends more and more toward love making, without the
faith and the hope that give it depth and power, then love itself is lost. If,
on the contrary, one is able to infuse one's sexual relationships with the saving
qualities of mutual respect, trust, and commitment, then one moves closer to living
a life which on earth becomes all that it shall be "in Heaven."
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.