Your Sexuality is Purposeful
‘If God doesn’t want people to be in gay relationships, why would he give people desires they can never act on?’ This was a question I was asked by a young guy at a church in the Midlands a little while ago. (Back in those long-gone days when we could visit different parts of the country and be in the same room as other people we don’t usually live with!) It’s a question I think lots of people can relate to. I certainly can.
Growing up in the church, pretty much all I heard about sex was that I should wait until I was married to a woman to have it and that I should try and suppress sexual desires until that point. On the surface, this may seem like fairly straightforward advice. But for a guy who was feeling pretty trapped in viewing pornography and who was acutely aware that his desires were for other guys rather than for girls, it didn’t offer a lot of help. Why did I have sexual desires if they were just going to cause me to do stuff that made me feel miserable and were never going to help me find someone to marry so I could express those desires rightly? I don’t think I would have articulated it in this way at the time, but ultimately, the question I was asking was, ‘What is my sexuality for?’
What I needed at that point, was Ed Shaw’s new little book Purposeful Sexuality: A short Christian introduction. As a same-sex attracted guy, with a similar background to mine, Ed recognises that the key question about sex that we need to ask and answer is not ‘What can we do, and when can we do it?’, but ‘What are our sexual desires actually for?’
Ed opens by addressing the reality that talking about sexuality is difficult. It’s difficult because we all have unique sexualities, those sexualities are all uniquely damaged, and they are also uniquely damaging to others. But though it’s difficult, there is hope. God, in his word and in the Word made flesh, has given us the help we need to talk about and to handle our sexualities well.
In chapter 2, Ed highlights the importance of this key question about the purpose of our sexualities and outlines the common Christian explanations: sex is for marriage, for procreation, and for pleasure. There’s truth in each of these, he notes, but they don’t offer much help to those who are not having sex.
We therefore need to consider the question again. Chapter 3 does just this, and Ed helps us to see, from the Bible, that our sexual desires are meant to help us to appreciate God—his passionate love for us and the depth of the offence of our sin against him. This means that for all of us, even those not having sex, our sexuality is purposeful. And our sexualities also provide a trail of heaven. Sex and marriage are a trailer for the great union to come, that of Christ and the Church. This means that for those of us who don’t have sex in this lifetime, it will be no great loss. We may miss out on the trailer, but who really cares about that when they get to see the actual film?
Chapters 4 and 5 help us to understand the implications of this for us. How does it help? Ed explains how these truths show that the biblical requirement for sexual difference in marriage is not arbitrary, or even cruel, but is purposeful. He includes fascinating insights from secular authors, including gay men and women, who have found in their own experience that the lack of sexual difference in gay sex seems to be to its detriment. He also helps us see how our appreciation of human beauty is meant to point us to the beauty of God, and how this perspective on our sexualities can help us to think rightly about sexual pleasure and about sexual temptation.
The final chapter acknowledges that sexual temptation and unfulfilled sexual desires can still cause us to question God’s plan. Ed poses a brave question, ‘What does God know about how hard it is to try and express sexual feelings rightly? … He hasn’t really got a clue about what he’s asking of me, or of you – has he?’ (p.44). But then, still firmly rooted in Scripture, Ed shows us that God does.
In the incarnation, Jesus took on humanity, including a sexuality. Unlike us this sexuality was untainted by sin and was always expressed perfectly, but this means Jesus can understand, from the inside, our experience. And the glorious good news of the gospel, is that even though every one of us is a sexual sinner, we, in Christ, receive Jesus’ perfect sexual history and his constant help through the work of the Spirit in us. God is wonderfully able to help us to live out our sexualities well.
This is a book that shows us how we should talk about sexuality so that everyone—married or single, gay or straight—can recognise and enjoy their own sexuality as a good gift of God to them. I’m not sure I know of many—if any—other books that do that.
Leaders (including youth leaders) should read Purposeful Sexuality and teach what it explains. All of us who are Christians (including teenagers) should read it, be blessed by it, and receive the good news: our sexuality is purposeful.
Purposeful Sexuality will be published by IVP this Thursday (21st January).