Sex in the Shadowlands
Part 4 of a 6-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality
This is the fourth of a 6-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. If you think good sex produces fireworks, just imagine the fireworks that will take place at the fulfillment of that to which sex points! The thing about living in the shadowlands is that everything good points to something even better.
In this post, I’m going to start to answer some questions that Rachel Held Evans posed about sex:
- Are authority and submission “erotic necessities”?
- What does it mean to carry male-female roles over into the marriage bed?
- What makes complementarian sex different from egalitarian sex?
I say “start” because my answer got so long I had to split it into two posts. This just became a six-part series. But it’s about sex, so hey, . . . that should keep you interested!
Some of you may wonder why I published three posts establishing the relationship between complementarity and mutuality before answering the sex questions. It’s because sex is the place where complementarity and mutuality kiss. Holy, covenant sex is the symbolic act where their essential meanings climax. I wanted to establish the relationship between complementarity and mutuality before I discuss how they reach their zenith in covenant sex.
We live in the Shadowlands
God created manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex because He wanted us to have symbols, images and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who He is and what a relationship with Him is all about. These symbols point to profound truths about the Godhead and to Christ’s relationship with the church. Without them, we would have a tough time understanding concepts such as desire, love, commitment, fidelity, infidelity, loyalty, jealousy, unity, intimacy, marriage, oneness, covenant and family. We would have a tough time understanding the Gospel.
The Lord gave us these images so that we would have human thoughts, feelings, experiences and language adequate and powerful enough to understand and express deep spiritual truths. The visible symbols display and testify about what is unseen. They’re temporary symbols that point to eternal spiritual realities. C.S. Lewis called it living in the “shadowlands.” We bring God glory when the shadows we cast here on earth match up with their heavenly counterparts. Sex in the shadowlands is supposed to tell the story of God.
The following diagram captures the idea. It uses the Bible’s head-headship-body imagery to depict how male-female complementarity in marriage and in the church shadow greater and more eternal truths:
Marriage is the most profound shadow of God’s story. In marital sex, two complementary beings come together as one flesh. The two become one. “Oneness” is the ultimate aim for marriage and is likewise—though on a different level—the ultimate aim for the community of believers. Through our oneness we display the fact that God is one. We also point to the day when Christ’s covenant will be consummated, and we will be one with Him—the day when God will be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:28, Eph. 1:23) Jesus prayed,
“That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21–23)
The Meaning of Sex
So what does this have to do with Rachel’s questions? It has a great deal to do with them. You need to understand the meaning of sex before you can understand its “necessities”—erotic or otherwise. You need to understand the symbolic nature of male-female complementarity in marriage. You need to understand the relationship between complementarity and mutuality. You need to understand that the ultimate goal of sex is to tell the truth about God and to point to the oneness we will enjoy when Christ is united with His Church. I can’t hope to answer your questions about sex until I give you the big picture of what sex is all about.
Simply stated, sex is a powerful symbol that points to the fulfillment of a covenant. When a husband and wife have sex, they testify to their own covenant, and also point to the time when the Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride will come together in fulfillment of the New Covenant.
Sex symbolizes covenant fulfillment
The covenant comes first. When our physical union with Christ takes place, the covenant will be fulfilled. Union is the point of consummation—the climax. The covenant is the essential context. If there were no covenant, there would be no union. Christ’s covenant is what makes a relationship with Him possible. That’s why the Bible says no sex outside of marriage. Sex outside of a marriage covenant violates the meaning of sex. It goes against the bigger truth that sex is supposed to symbolize.
Earth and heaven—time and eternity—will intersect at the union of Christ and His Bride. It will be a union that will “produce fireworks” like no other. The temporary will give way to the eternal. The natural will give way to the supernatural. The symbol will give way to the reality it symbolized. Earthly marriage will give way to the heavenly one. Desire will give way to fulfillment. We will be united with Jesus, the lover of our souls. We will be perfectly one with Him. And we will experience pleasures forevermore.
I can hardly wait. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll use this theological base to outline four “necessities” for God-glorifying sex, explain how sex is the place where complementarity and mutuality kiss, and finally answer all of Rachel’s questions.