Ps. 19:1-14, Rev. 21:1-8, John 4:5-26
One periodic objection leveled at Christians when it comes to the topics of sex and marriage is that we are unnecessarily politicizing private preferences. The implication is that the Christian impulse to care about the way our culture speaks about and enacts our sexuality is like turning food or clothing or sports preferences into deep moral and political issues. And sometimes well-meaning Christians swallow some of these assumptions and agree to a truce that is deeply at odds with the way God created the world. So the first argument is over how important being created male and female is, how important human sexuality is, and how important marriage is to human flourishing and public life. We are sometimes told that Jesus was far more interested in matters of justice, or systems of political and economic oppression, than He was about sexual ethics and marriage. But not only is that a significant misreading of the gospels, it is a significant misunderstanding about the public nature of sexuality and marriage. To be involved in the work of Christian mercy and mission, we must have a biblical understanding of God’s creation and salvation here.
Sex & the Pursuit of Happiness
Even though Christians generally know sexual intimacy is reserved by God for marriage, it is not always clear why that is the case. Perhaps especially in America where the “pursuit of happiness” is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, it’s difficult to know what to say to someone who says their “immoral” relationship makes them happy. If someone’s sexual relationship is their own private business, what kind of perverse do you have to be to care? In the Old Testament, a man who slept with a woman prior to marriage was fined fifty shekels of silver (Dt. 22:29). The Bible insists that sexual sin is a form of theft. In other words, we might ask what price tag would you put on loyal, chaste, and heartfelt love? Moderns are scandalized by the thought of putting a price on virginity. But in the place of this outrage, they de facto insist that a woman’s virginity is worthless. And yet, no one can quite figure out why it’s still such a scandal to participate in pornography and prostitution. Related to all of this is the fact that sexual relationships never remain completely private. A woman who has been mistreated sexually is far more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol. Despite the ugly promises of birth control, children are still born. And sometimes diseases are spread. These are all matters of public concern. On the flip side, men who are not held accountable for their sexual actions are being trained to be impulsive and irresponsible. Infidelity goes hand in hand with joblessness, crime, and lack of productivity. We should also note that an institutionalized form of so-called “marriage” between members of the same sex where childlessness is assumed and infidelity is normal is also a matter of public concern. On the positive side, God created families to be powerhouses of productivity and mercy (Gen. 1-2, Prov. 31, 1 Tim. 5). Sexual infidelity, in addition to all of the emotional scarring, is a supreme waste of time and resources. Human beings are the most precious resource in the universe because they alone are made in God’s image.
The Samaritan Woman
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, there were any number of buzzworthy dynamics potentially at work: racial/ethnic (he was a Jew, she was a Samaritan), religious (deep theological divisions between Jews & Samaritans), political (both are people out of power, perhaps angling for power), gender (not common for a man to casually chat with a woman), even sexual (would the woman or others, mistake Jesus’ intentions?) (Jn. 4:9, 27). But what Jesus chooses to address with the woman is theological (Jn. 4:10-15) then without skipping a beat, sexual (Jn. 4:16-18), and finally liturgical (Jn. 4:19-26). For Jesus, the fact that this woman has had five husbands, and is now living with a man who is not her husband is not unrelated to the “living water” that he is able to give her. And while some believe the woman is trying to change the subject, Jesus does not seem to think that right worship is unrelated either. In other words, if we are to follow our Savior’s lead, and we claim to care about the living water that Jesus gives, and we claim to care about worship in Spirit and in truth, then we must also care about who someone is sleeping with. It seems likely that this woman has some standing in the Samaritan town since her testimony convinces so many to believe in Jesus (Jn. 4:39). At the same time, having been with six men is clearly not an indication of happiness. Clearly, she is a woman in search of happiness. She is thirsty.
Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and they speak in every language known to man (Ps. 19:1-3). They are like a great tent that God has set up for the sun, which travels throughout the earth announcing the glory of God in every tongue (Ps. 19:4). This glory goes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and like a strong man, running his course (Ps. 19:5-6). And in the next breath, David begins extolling the glory of God’s law (Ps. 19:7-11). In other words, whether or not every tribe of men has known exactly what the sun in the sky meant, it actually proclaims God’s word, His character: it is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. In other words, marriage between one man and one woman is impressed indelibly on nature itself. When Christians stand for marriage, we are not standing for a quaint old-fashioned value like horse drawn carriages or bonnets. We are standing for something as old and as plain as the sun in the sky. But someone will say that I’m making too much of a metaphor in poem. But having extolled the goodness of God’s law, David does what we all must do and prays that God would keep him from all sin, small and great (Ps. 19:12-13). And yet even then, he closes in great humility pleading with God to make him acceptable in His sight because God is our Redeemer. That word for “redeemer” is the same word often translated “kinsman-redeemer,” like Boaz who married Ruth to save her from poverty and barrenness (Ruth 4). A kinsman-redeemer is a husband, a bridegroom who comes for a woman in desperate need, like Jesus came for the Samaritan woman, and came for the woman caught in adultery, and came for all of us.
If the Christian Church has often failed to remain steadfast about the goodness and glory of marriage, perhaps just as often we have failed to remain steadfast about the goodness and glory of the Great Marriage, Christ’s marriage to His Church. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that he might make her holy and clean, that He might present her to himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:25-26). In Jesus Christ, every spot, every wrinkle, every blemish is paid for out of the infinite treasury of God’s love poured out in the precious blood of Jesus. How much is loyal, chaste love worth? It was worth the death of God’s Son, that all things might be made new (Rev. 21:1-7). And this glory is a city, a public place descending out of heaven.