Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Sexuality: Nature vs. Notion?
What does the word "natural" mean?
According to Merriam-Webster, "natural" is defined as "existing in nature and not made or caused by people; coming from nature; usual or expected."
When the Bible talks about sexuality, it uses terms like "natural" to describe heterosexuality. And, up until the past few years, no society on Earth has really had any reason to presume otherwise. At least, to presume that heterosexuality being "natural" meant that it was our default sexuality. Even those people who did not believe in God or advocate for Biblical sexuality never challenged the practically unanimous interpretation of heterosexuality being our default sexuality.
Yet with recent explosive shifts in Western concepts of sex, our societal ambivalence towards traditional sexual morality, and the embrace by many modern thinkers of homosexuality as a viable - and even desirable - alternative to heterosexuality, we Christ-followers are being excoriated by our Puritanical hostility towards, as J.I. Packer calls it, the "Gay Way." Sexuality has become a lifestyle and, instead of an activity, a characteristic of one's identity. Gender is believed to be changeable, and based as much on emotions as biology. Divorce has become established as an acceptable component of interpersonal interactions. Adultery is cheered in our entertainment. Pornography, by most accounts, is epidemic.
And as profound milestones like gay marriage rapidly appear to validate deviant sexual practices such as homosexuality, and as sincere Christ-followers grapple with the many questions over "nature vs. nurture," it's as if suddenly the idea has popped out of the blue; not to endorse sexual deviance, but to try and explain why much of it seems to natural: Did God actually create us as being predisposed to heterosexuality?
Some social scientists have doubted it for years. And might they be right? After all, how exactly does such an idea contradict the Bible? Is heterosexuality "natural," in that it's organic and inevitable, or is heterosexuality one of several forms of sexuality, along with homosexuality, bestiality, or bisexuality? Depending on the source, some sex researchers list up to 22 different types of sexual preferences.
Has God created us as sexual beings, neither heterosexual or homosexual or otherwise? Does the sexuality we embrace develop as a product of how we are raised, plus social norms, faith and morality, preferences honed by personal experiences, whether or not we've been sexually abused, and various other socialization factors?
To be sure, the truth of the Bible has been - and always will be - that homosexuality is a sin. And, to be sure, the ways we followers of Christ have historically treated homosexuals have not always been honoring to Christ. But has our response to homosexuality been based on a presumption that might be as old as our hostility towards those practicing it?
The Bible defines homosexuality as "impurity" and the "dishonoring" of our bodies (Romans 1:24). It is a sin as much as heterosexual adultery, theft, greed, and being drunk (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
In the Romans 1 passage, the word "natural" that is used is the Greek phuskios. According to Strong's Concordance, phuskios generally means "produced by nature; inborn." However, Strong's specifies that in this particular passage, the word can also be used to mean "according to nature."
Of course, in terms of functionality, heterosexuality is the most "natural" use of biological anatomy. Without being unnecessarily graphic, let's say that Protrusion A is inserted into Slot C. The parts fit between man and woman. However, the parts don't fit between man and man, or woman and woman. Homosexuality tries to make them fit, but in ways that are not "natural." I mean, just because Protrusion A can be made to fit into Slot B, doesn't mean that it's the best exercise of anatomical functionality. For one thing, the female arousal apparatus is missing. And for women to achieve a similar arousal from another woman, a completely artificial stimulant must be used.
And we're not even talking natural procreation here. This is strictly the pleasure principle for which sex is so widely deployed.
Shucks, it's not even like standards of pleasure remain constant over time. When the Bible was being written, apparently bestiality was somewhat popular, since the topic is mentioned four times in the Old Testament. Doesn't that strike you as a bit bizarre? If the Bible were being written today, would something like bestiality merit four different mentions? Perhaps this is an indication that sexual sins can be trends, due in this instance to whether or not a society is more agricultural or more post-industrial.
Indeed, we cannot be blase about guarding Biblical sexuality, whether heterosexuality is our default disposition or not. Humanity has proven itself adept at finding creative ways of sinfully exploiting everything good that God has given us. How much more dire, then, the consequences of mistreating something as personally powerful as sex. Not that sex is so crucial to our personhood that God intends for sex to be an intrinsic part of our identity. Celibacy is actually celebrated in the Bible, but not the eunuch type. Indeed, if we're going to honor God with our sexuality, we need to do it His way.
And God rarely forces us to do anything.
There's a confusing doctrine in Christianity called "free will." It's a concept hardly anybody seems to fully understand, and entire denominations have been formed as people take different sides in the debate over whether God lets us be self-determining agents, or whether He ordains our steps from conception to Eternity. Yet if we're going to acknowledge that there's free will someplace in our humanity, isn't our sexuality a big free will arena? We decide if we're going to lust, or if we're going to have an affair, or whether we're going to procreate out of wedlock. We do stuff sexually because we think it feels right to us. It may even make sense to us, and seem so... natural. Like the song says, "if loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right."
Heterosexuals do it. Homosexuals do it. We create our own stumbling blocks, not God. If God does not pre-program us as heterosexuals, how much more responsibility must we have before God to honor him with our sexual choices? Can a heterosexual defend their fornication simply by their preferred sexual orientation? Can homosexuals do the same with theirs? If Original Sin and the Fall of Man introduced all sexual sins into the panoply of possible human experiences, shouldn't we be shocked into another reality regarding how dearly we need to keep God's commands?
Not because God flipped a coin when it came to deciding that heterosexuality would be His holy preference. The distinct biological nature of heterosexuality proves it is His design. Heterosexuality makes the best use of the bodies God gives to each of us - bodies made in His unseen image. Heterosexuality demonstrates not just human differences, but human union, as disparate parts fit together. Heterosexuality depicts Christ's relationship to the Church, which is also described as His "bride." Perhaps God could have made special flaps and locks on the parts of His created anatomical structures that He didn't want same-sex partners to use sinfully. But He left them open and available, not to tempt people to sin, but to represent opportunities for His people to deny themselves, and exercise self-control if they felt a sinful urge.
God allows temptation to exist because people who ask Christ to help them defeat temptation demonstrate faith in Him. If life were easy, and temptations didn't exist, what value would faith in Christ be? Some people are tempted to eat more than they should. Some people are tempted to drink more than they should. Some people are tempted to talk more than they should (and maybe that's what I'm doing right now!). Some people are tempted to have sex with a person of the opposite sex who is not their spouse.
And some people are tempted to have sex with a person of the same sex.
So, is our battle against homosexuality? Or is it against all sexual sins? You know what tempts you, and I know what tempts me. Is it easier for us to figure heterosexual sins somehow matter less to God because they're "normal," or more "natural?"
I have a notion God despises all of our sins, heterosexual or otherwise. And I have a notion all of these sins happen because He doesn't set us on autopilot. Sexual or otherwise.