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The Complete Bible Guide to Love and Sex
The Sacramental View of Sex

It 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.

Adam 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.

It was 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.

The 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."

For a longer version of this article.

For more answers for basic questions about sexuality and spirituality.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.