It’s the gift giving season.
This can be both exciting and stressful. It can even be confusing and awkward. Have you ever received a gift and didn’t know what it was? You unwrap it, hold it up, and in less than a second you must decide if you are going to fake excitement or just ask “what is it?” Among adults this game is a bit trickier. It’s both harder to deceive them and, thanks to unwritten rules and expectations around gift-giving, more awkward to admit you don’t know what you’re holding. With three creative kids, I’m bound to find myself in situations saying, “I love it! What is it and what does it do?” And these questions point to two truths behind gifts. The giver of the gift determines what it is and what its use is, especially when they made it themselves.
Two years ago, I was able to sit down with Project Six19’s very own Jason Soucinek for an episode of my podcast. On that episode, we discussed the reality that Sex is God’s Idea. God didn’t create humanity and then go, “Oh crap. I hope they don’t figure out what they can do with those things…” God created us with the ability to procreate, but also to experience pleasure. Sex and sexuality are gifts given to us by God. There is a lot we understand about sex, there’s a lot we get wrong about sex, and if we’re honest there’s a lot that is confusing about sex. Instead of pretending we know everything we need to know about this gift, perhaps it’s better to be honest and ask the one who made it and gave it to us, “What is this and what is it for?”
Due to our own fallibility, even if we start by turning to God for instructions on the gift of sex, we may still end up with differing understandings. This is a risk worth taking, because turning to outside sources inevitably leads us to misusing the gift and creating a greater need than we had before. Alan Noble puts it well when he discusses pornography – one of the ways we can misinterpret or misuse God’s gift of sex – in his latest book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World. “Pornography assumes we are each our own and belong to ourselves. It’s a tool that promises to give us a kind of personal validation, a sense of identity, a taste of meaningfulness, and a glimpse of intimate belonging. But by its own logic, pornography, like modernity, is an empty promise. Rather than helping us meet our responsibilities and cope with an inhuman world, it exacerbates our condition. Rather than bringing us closer to our humanity, it dehumanizes at every turn, turning our intimacy into instrumentality and leaving us addicted, depressed, exhausted, lonely, and bored…”
The stakes aren’t this high with every homemade gift you’ll get. But the stakes are high when it comes to the gifts God has given us. Like so much in life, the potential for great hurt means there is potential for great gain as well. The gift of our sexuality opens us up to the opportunity of deep intimacy and deep hurt. We should seek to understand it before we put it into use.
So, the one who makes and gives the gift determines what is and its use. But as all honest parents know, a homemade gift isn’t always the best gift. The best gifts you’ve received in life have probably landed in multiple, if not all, of the following categories:
1. They met a need
2. They fulfilled a desire
3. They were not cheap (in quality)
4. They showed that the gift-giver cared for you.
Just the other day, I was shopping for my parents, and I thought a digital picture frame would be a good idea. They have grandkids in three different states, so having the ability to get pictures uploaded right to a frame seemed like a thoughtful idea. A Google search showed that there is a variety of price ranges to choose from and, in my own heart, this thoughtful idea quickly turned into a budget saving endeavor. Even a cheap version of the gift would show that I cared for my parents (assuming they remained ignorant of my frugality), it would also fulfill a desire of theirs (to see their grandkids), but it could end up being cheap, thus creating a need for replacement in the future. Choosing the better quality item should help solidify this gift as a winner.
God, as we’ve established, is the creator and giver of our sexuality. Does this gift, like my parents’ digital picture frame, meet any of the above criteria? I’d argue that it does.
The first command given to humanity was to be fruitful and multiply. For humans to rule and subdue the earth, they’d need a few more. This need was met in our first parents’ ability to procreate. But sex is completely utilitarian. Creation flows out of the excess of love experienced within the Trinity. We were created to experience this love and joy. One of the ways that need is met is through sex.
God saw that his creation was good, save for the fact that man was alone. This was not good. We’re told that after being shown all the animals, Adam did not see a suitable partner. God, then, created woman from the side of Adam. “The man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man (Genesis 2:23)’” You can hear the desire in Adam’s voice. “This, at last…” After Adam says these words we read, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).” One of the ways our desires can be fulfilled is through two becoming one. This is not strictly sexual, but it clearly has a sexual component.
Our sexuality is not cheap, though it is free. Unfortunately, far too many have experienced the trauma that comes from having their sexuality used and discarded as if it were cheap. The pain and hurt we feel when this happens is an indication of just how precious our sexuality is. When cheap gifts are misused and ultimately discarded, no one bats an eye. But when our sexuality is treated this way, it hurts us to our core.
Finally, we’ve already seen some ways that God’s giving us sex and sexuality shows his care for us. He saw that it was not good for man to be alone. His care moved him to do what was good for man. God, being the creator, could have made procreation a boring, utilitarian process. Sex, however, is pleasurable. So much so that humans are one of very few mammals known to have sex simply because it is pleasurable. God creates a way for us to experience love and fulfillment and he throws in a dash of pleasure just because he can.
This was all pretty simplistic and boiled down. If you have experienced sexual abuse, identify as LGBTQ+, or experience unwanted sexual desires you likely still have a lot of questions including about the innate goodness of the Gift Giver. I can empathize with that. Thankfully there are Christians leading the charge in helping restore wholeness and beauty to this precious gift. Jay Stringer’s work with Pure Desire, his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, Bridget Eileen Rivera’s work, and her Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church are all great places to begin to seek answers for those questions.
But whether the goodness of God’s gift of sexuality is obvious or is muddied given your personal experiences, we are all called to submit his intent for our bodies. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” And “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” May this Christmas be a time that you are able to see your sex and sexuality as a good gift from your heavenly father.
Dave Hallahan is a husband, father of three girls, and assistant pastor at Hope Christian Fellowship in Woodbury, NJ. As a pastor, Dave focuses on intentional discipleship and connections. He is also the host of Thinking Out Loud, a podcast dedicated to broadening perspective and deepening empathy. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram.