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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Yearning for Intimay

Sex is big business. 


It’s hard to comprehend, but the combined receipts of every live stage production in America – including symphonies, musicals, plays, and pop concerts – is exceeded every year by the revenue generated by strip clubs alone.


According to a cover story in Time, the annual profits of the pornography industry exceed those of the four largest global corporations combined. It’s estimated that at least 25% of all websites have pornographic content.


America is by far the world’s biggest producer of adult films and videos. More than 200 such products are created just in southern California every seven days.


Such eyebrow-raising metrics are front and center in America’s culture wars, which have raged now for more than half a century. Voices from the left and right routinely weigh in on the relative healthiness and “normalcy” of a society that seems to have become obsessed with sexuality.


So, where does the New Testament land?


When first century people heard the Bible’s dictums on sex, they rolled their eyes: “You have got to be kidding.” For the ancient Greeks and Romans, celibacy outside of marriage was flat-out ridiculous. Twenty-first century people, based on their behavior patterns, seem to have reached the same conclusion.


It’s not that Christianity is anti-sex. Far from it. The Christ-following life affirms the goodness of the body and physical intimacy as a joyful gift from God.


The crucial point is that sex must not be allowed to assume a role that only God can play.


Myriads of Americans have come to believe they simply have to experience what Ernest Becker called “apocalyptic romance.” In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Becker asserted that if we don’t see ourselves being rescued by some kind of divine savior, we will yearn to be saved by great love, great romance, great sex – something big enough and transcendent enough to fill the cavernous emptiness of our souls.


But only God can do that.


Our culture’s sexual obsessiveness is best understood as idolatry. An idol is anything more important to you than your creator – anything that claims to provide what only God can provide.


“You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you,” sang Dean Martin – a myth that our culture has swallowed hook, line, and sinker. While “love” is certainly not to be confused with sex, the primary Happiness Temptation of our society is that sex is a shortcut to love – recurrent moments of pleasure that will unfailingly reassure us that life is worth living. Nobodies are transformed into somebodies.


But our idols always disappoint us. And, if not dethroned, they will always destroy us.


The New Testament’s take on sex might be summarized as a resounding Yes accompanied by a compelling No.  


Physical intimacy is an experience in which we give ourselves completely to one other person. It is a way of saying, symbolically, “After this, I have nothing left to give to you. I have nothing left to reveal.” 


When people ask, “Why are Christians so hung up on sex outside of marriage?” the Bible answers: Non-marital sex is a life-uniting act that happens without a life-uniting intent. God’s core purpose for sex, from the beginning, has been an exclusive experience of unity and self-revealing lived out under the canopy of fierce and unyielding marital promises.


We cannot give such a gift to just anybody, or to a string of somebodies, and still believe that its God-provided mystery won’t be compromised.


The irony of sex outside of marriage is that it robs sex of its ultimate pleasure and power. Both partners know they can walk away at any time. They both remain autonomous and “in control.” But sex is about surrendering autonomy for something better – the unconditional, self-giving love of two persons.


No wonder bungled sexuality can be so immensely destructive. We see it every day in the news.


Years ago I heard a presenter say, “Sit down and make a list of all the things that will happen to you if you mishandle your sexuality.” He had done that. He preached into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, and read his list aloud. 


He told us that if he stepped away from God’s intentions for this area of his life, he stood to lose his marriage, the trust of his children, his capacity for experiencing intimacy, and his ability to worship. He’d undoubtedly end up facing guilt and fear, the temptation to become a hidden person, loss of character, crushing damage to his reputation, weakness the next time he felt temptation, and the deep sadness that he would be passing on a legacy that would compromise his children’s ability to trust God.


He then added that he kept that list in his pocket all the time.


The Bible’s No concerning sexual misbehavior is immensely strong. But the Bible’s Yes concerning the goodness of physical intimacy is even stronger. 


Our call is to fill ourselves with what we’re really hungry for. We’re hungry for God.


If we haven’t let God himself address our deep yearning for emotional intimacy, sexual “acting out” in some form will always look good to us – a quick and easy way to convince ourselves that life might have meaning after all. 


Sex may be big business.


But the real business we need to be about is discovering anew that letting God be God is what we really need.

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