If you’ve gotten the impression that the God Christians follow doesn’t like sex, or that the Bible is a prudish book, is it a surprise to hear that isn’t true? Is it a shock to hear that God celebrates sex? Many Christians themselves are taken aback by the unembarrassed sensuality found in the book called “Song of Solomon,” which is right in the middle of the Bible. As one lover proclaims to his partner,
“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of Solomon 7:6-9)
Wow. Is that really in the Bible? Yes, it’s in the Bible!
True, there are some possibly-embarrassed theologians who argue that this love song is really only a parable about God’s love for his people, but there’s no denying that it’s plainly also about sex. What we have in this book of the Bible is a joyous celebration of a married sexual relationship—a husband and wife living together as lovers.
In fact, the Bible throughout celebrates marriage and sex. The Bible says that God instituted marriage at the beginning of time, and that when he did, he clearly intended it to have a physical expression:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:24-25)
Sex—being together as lovers—is a way for a couple to express and celebrate their marriage partnership. As Timothy Keller puts it in his book The Meaning of Marriage, “Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less….” (page 224)
So what we read in the Song of Solomon, the book of the Bible mentioned earlier, is an unembarrassed celebration of marriage partnership and the joyful, tender, sensual, sexual dimensions of it. Everything else the Bible has to say about sex derives from this beautiful starting point.
For example, the Bible teaches that married people should normally be having sex. It is healthy to have sex as a couple, it’s God’s plan for marriage! We are foolish if we don’t, that’s how strongly the Bible puts it. Paul goes so far as to advise,
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time…” (1Corinthians 7:3, 5)
Of course, some married couples find it natural to live as lovers. But for other couples, this is tough. Sometimes one or both members of a couple stop paying attention to the physical part of their relationship. The reasons for this inattentiveness can be varied (past hurt between the couple, performance anxiety, busy-ness, sexual addictions outside of their marriage relationship, a lack of gracious and open communication with each other about how to grow and develop as lovers, health issues…). Still, no matter what the reason for these struggles, the Bible sees sex in marriage as healthy, natural and good.
But what about people who aren’t married? What does the Bible have to say about sex outside of marriage? The Bible is clear that sex is designed by God to bond two people together in a life-long partnership bond. If that’s true, then we can see that sex outside of marriage is not only oddly out of context, but it actually creates damage. Sex isn’t a temporary Velcro connection between two people, it is more like superglue. It’s too strong to be used for temporary connections.
In other words, God knew what he was doing when he designed sex as an expression of marriage. And it means we are walking an unnatural path when we have sex outside of marriage. This is not a small thing we are playing with here. It is a huge gift. This is why Paul can counsel in I Corinthians,
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1Corinthians 6:18)
But does the Bible have anything to say to those of us whose sexual histories (and present realities) are less-than-fairytale quality? Oh yes. The Bible is the story of God restoring humanity to what it was meant to be. God is in the business of restoring our relationship with God, and he’s in the business of restoring our relationships with each other. God takes our “scribbles” and mess-ups in life and makes something beautiful out of them. That’s the big story.
So the Song of Solomon shows us what sex is meant to be like, even for us with our broken sexuality and our less-than-perfect marriages. There is great hope for us. For all of us. No matter where we are or where we’ve been sexually. God has the power to replace shame with innocence, hurt with trust, boredom with sensual passion, selfishness with tenderness, sexual addictions with healthy chastity. In the end the Bible not only has a high view of sex, but also has a high view of God’s ability to heal our sexual problems, mistakes, and sins.