God, Life, Choice and Sex: The Four All-Defining Subjects of the Universe
Article by John C. Rankin, published 2003 in Chuck Colson’s Worldview Publication
I believe there are only four subjects in the universe we need to know, and they are located in the biblical order of creation. All others are derivative. But first, some context.
Creation, Sin and Redemption
When we grasp the story of the Bible on its own terms, we can note that it is based on Genesis 1-3 and its three all-defining doctrines. These are:
creation → sin → redemption.
Or we can put it this way:
the order of creation → the reversal → the reversal of the reversal.
From the beginning, God established the order of creation, and our lives, according to a set plan that was intended for our greatest joy as his image-bearers. But through a disobedient act of the will, Adam and Eve and the whole human race have submitted to a reversal of that order, and we reap the painful consequences. Sin can thus be understood as a reversal, as brokenness. It is a reversal in that it goes in the wrong direction. It is brokenness in that it breaks relationship with God, with one another and the wholeness of his creation. Following the inception of human sin, God instituted the reversal of the reversal, the redemptive process aiming for the Messiah, designed to purchase us back from slavery to sin, and to restore to us the original purposes, trajectory and wholeness of the order of creation.
We cannot participate in the reversal of the reversal without first knowing what the reversal is, and we cannot know what the reversal is apart from first knowing the order of creation. Indeed, I am convinced that the more time we invest into understanding the genius, simplicity and depth of God’s order of creation in Genesis 1-2, the more we will have power to understand the rest of Scripture, history and life.
The Four Subjects
These four subjects, in biblical order, are:
God → life → choice → sex.
Every issue we confront finds its basis in how these four subjects are defined and how they relate to each other.
These subjects equal the content of Genesis 1-2: God is sovereign, and his purpose in creation is to give the gift of life, especially human life – man and woman as made in his image to rule over his handiwork. Then comes the gift of moral and aesthetic choice that serves the prior gift of human life. Finally, in the order of creation, is the gift of sex within marriage: here is the power to pass on the gifts of life, choice and sex through procreation to our offspring, to celebrate the height of what it means to be made in God’s image.
Or to put it another way, true sexuality is an expression of godly choice that serves the gift of human life that comes from God.
The biblical order of creation is unique among all of history’s religious origin texts. It defines only the positives that Yahweh Elohim gave us, and as such, our grasp of its essence lies in understanding such positives. No negative is present until the reversal takes hold in Genesis 3. Pagan origin texts assume brokenness in the nature of deity and in human relationships from the outset. One positive assumption in Genesis 1-2 is that the wholeness of human sexuality is located in the marriage of one man, one woman, for one lifetime.
The reversal of the order of creation is thus:
sex → choice → life →/God.
This reversal order is where promiscuous sexuality employs choice to hide from undesired consequences, and some of these choices injure or destroy human life, all in an affront against God the Creator. Pagan religion consistently celebrates sexual promiscuity through religious ritual. Sex outside of covenantal marriage proves to be the root social evil in human history. We can illustrate this with four examples.
Sarai and Hagar
First, the war today between the Arabs and Jews traces back to the brokenness of the marriage covenant, and the cancer of distrust that followed. Yahweh promised Abram (Abraham) that he would bless all the nations through his offspring, the Messianic lineage, and though well advanced in years, Abram believed. But later his wife Sarai (Sarah), being thus far without child, broke with the marriage covenant and sought to build her own family by asking Abram to sleep with her maidservant Hagar. Sarai thus treated Hagar as a piece of property, a surrogate for her own ends. Abram equally sinned in agreeing to Sarai’s suggestion.
As a result, Hagar despised Sarai for being so reified, and war broke out between the two women. Abram was powerless to broker any reconciliation, due to the emotional and spiritual depth of the broken relationships. After Ishmael is born to Hagar, Yahweh has to intervene to save their lives. Ishmael thus grows up as a de facto fatherless child. Abraham loves him deeply, but is unable to rear him due to Sarah’s bitterness. So Ishmael becomes
“… a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward his brothers” (Gen. 16:12).
When Isaac is born thirteen years later to Abraham and Sarah, then weaned, Ishmael mocks him. Ishmael is the son of a concubine, he knows painfully well, and now this much younger half-brother will inherit their father’s estate. For Isaac is born according to Yahweh original intention for Sarah. Yahweh will bless Ishmael as Abraham’s son, but by the same token, we sow what we reap, and animosity has been sewn into Ishmael’s soul due to the unavoidable fruit of sex outside of marriage. The Arab nations come from Ishmael, and the Jews from Isaac.
Second, we can look at the debate over human abortion, as our national politics have played out. Those who support human abortion as a legal and moral right overwhelmingly believe that sex outside of marriage is permissible in some or many contexts. Those who oppose human abortion overwhelmingly believe in chastity before marriage and fidelity within, and most of these people also believe in the God of the Bible.
To put it another way, abortion-rights advocates believe in sex → choice → life →/God, placing choice in service to sexual promiscuity, to the point of aborting a human life, an image-bearer of God. Of the many ideological abortion-rights leaders with whom I have spoken, with possibly one exception, locally and nationally, they all specifically support sex outside of marriage.
On the other hand, pro-life advocates believe in God → life → choice → sex, where choice is in service to life as given by God. When we look at the self-chosen positive terms of this debate, “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” we see the conflict: God → life → choice → sex. The question, for biblically minded people, is how these terms are defined and how they relate to each other. “Pro-life” can be as idolatrous as “pro-choice” when put ahead of God.
The driving force of sexual promiscuity is ratified in statistical reality. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute of Planned Parenthood, some 82 percent of all abortions are performed on unmarried women. This statistic has been virtually consistent since the late 1970s. Of the remaining 18 percent, three-quarters of these women are pregnant through adultery. I glean this statistic from my conversations with women who head up Crisis Pregnancy Centers, who between themselves have counseled thousands of abortion-minded women one-on-one, from Connecticut to California, over the past two decades. Of the remaining one-quarter of the 18 percent, virtually all the husbands are on the verge of leaving the marriage. I have seen no studies examining this question, but in having spoken to and with thousands of abortion-rights advocates over the years, none has argued otherwise.
In other words, rarely does a healthily married couple abort a child – only when they perceive a severe risk to health or life. Human abortion is rooted in sexual promiscuity and the brokenness of the marriage covenant, and it is largely an issue of male irresponsibility. Most women want to keep their child if the father will be a real father, and most hopefully, be a faithful husband too.
In 1994 I addressed a forum at Smith College with Patricia Ireland, then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Our topic was feminism and the Bible, but Patricia brought up the issue of abortion. So I defined the above reality and said that abortion was the ultimate male chauvinism. At the end of the audience participation time a woman challenged me on how I could respect women’s dignity while opposing abortion. I said, “I think that if I had the time to address the abortion issue straight ahead, you would find that I would argue that abortion rips off women as much as it rips off the unborn, and allows male chauvinists to run free.” Before I completed the final clause, the auditorium of some 500+ people broke into enthusiastic and sustained applause (with one discernible loud “boo” in its midst). I was astonished, and there I sat, there Patricia Ireland sat and there the dean of students, as moderator, sat. I did not come there that evening with more than a small minority of the audience being predisposed to my pro-life position.
Third is the matter of poverty in the inner-city ghettos. I have a friend, a minister who describes his politics as liberal and his theology as orthodox. His life has been devoted to justice for the poor. He once asked me, ca. 1994, “John, why do you spend so much time on ‘sexual politics’ when the inner-city is crumbling and drive-by shootings are rampant?” We knew this reality – literally blocks from my office in two directions, and closer yet in terms of his office.
I then asked him if he had read recent studies detailing how 70-90 percent of all men incarcerated for felonies grew up functionally or totally without a father’s presence. He said yes, he had. So I defined my belief concerning the root social evil of sexual promiscuity that produces fatherlessness. If a boy has no loving and present father to be a model, then very often the boy will become wild, get into drugs, sex, join a “gang” (which he calls his “family” with fellow fatherless boys), define their “turf” with economic and social survival in mind, and defend it with guns as necessary. Bullets will kill and maim other fatherless boys, and hit the innocent child or bystander too.
The fatherless girls become their sexual adjuncts, get addicted to drugs, become prostitutes to pay for their habits, become the repository for the sexually transmitted diseases of the boys, and then many of these young men and women die so young. It is rooted in sex outside of marriage, largely driven by male chauvinistic attitudes, and the curses careen down through the generations, with poverty, violence and early death as the result. “Sexual politics” is crucial if we care for the inner-city ghettos. My minister friend agreed with my diagnosis, and respected the reason why I devote my energies to the biblical covenant of marriage.
And fourth, let’s consider the issue of same-sex marriage. This past spring I testified before the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, saying no to legislation favoring same-sex marriage. As part of my testimony, I shared a story from my Th.M. studies at Harvard Divinity School in 1988. I was taking a class in feminist ethics. During lunch one day, three women from my class came and sat down with me. One woman said, “You know John, for an evangelical, you’re a nice guy.”
She continued and stated that she and her two friends were lesbian, and that every lesbian they knew had been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused by some man during her youth – usually by the live-in boyfriend to mom, the step-father or some other adult male. Only rarely was it the biological father, and even when not, it happened in his absence.
When I heard this, I remember praying in my spirit, “Dear God above, does the church know this reality, or do we just condemn?” I had little experience with the issue of homosexuality up to that point, and I was affected deeply by this testimony. Now the statement of these Harvard lesbians is not a statistical claim for all lesbians. But they lived in an academic and social milieu where they knew very many lesbians from around the country. Thus, it is an honest anecdote, the substance of which is known to many male and female homosexuals alike. Also, statistically, many more such abused children go into heterosexual promiscuity than into homosexuality – but in both cases, it is a sexuality apart from the order of creation.
In the hearing room with the Judiciary Committee, the clear majority of the audience were open advocates for same-sex marriage. In the two overflow rooms, the majority was the opposite. When I shared this testimony, there was an audible gasp that ricocheted across the room. I did not see the faces of the audience since I was facing the Committee. But a friend later told me that the gasps were those of women advocates for same-sex marriage, and they literally held their breaths until I was done with this portion of my testimony.
I believe the desire for same-sex marriage is so often rooted in the partial or total loss of a childhood where a married father and mother love and respect each other as complements and equals, and accordingly, love their children. The answer to such loss or abuse is not to redefine marriage downward, but to strengthen marriage to its best possibilities – to a fidelity between a man and a woman that lasts a lifetime. What child does not naturally want a loving mommy and loving daddy at home?
I believe, too, that those who seek same-sex marriage are often seeking to establish some sort of family structure where they are safe from abuse, in an ersatz replacement for the family they never had in part or in the whole. But the research is also clear – children of single parents or divorce consistently fare more poorly than children from intact families of husband and wife. And this is true, on average, in spite of the yeoman effort of so many single parents. This is the painful cycle of sex → choice → life →/God.
Across the millennia, the largely male chauvinistic reality of sex → choice → life →/God leads to the reification of women and children alike, infanticide, abortion, illegitimacy and the concomitant feuds over inheritance, divorce, orphans, sexually transmitted diseases, and the general metastasis of distrust from the broken family on outward to the war between nations.
In order to serve the reversal of the reversal, in the name of Jesus the Redeemer, an accurate diagnosis is first necessary. Thus, if we treat only the symptoms without addressing the root causes, we fool ourselves. The task is large, to understate an understatement, and it is a matter of the will if we are to start at all. Namely, how many of us honor and model the reality of God → life → choice → sex to begin with? As Hebrews 13:4 says: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”