The sexy thing to talk about in church these days is sex. Specifically, we have the urge to analyze, theorize and theologize over who is having sex with whom, and when they are having said sex. As we hash and rehash this conversation, we turn to the bible for guidance. This is a good idea. The bible can be an incredible resource for us as we discern how to live vibrantly and compassionately in all areas of our lives.
But, if we look to the bible for a rule book on sexual ethics, we will be disappointed. Yes, the bible is full of sex, but often times these sexual encounters are simply described, not assigned a moral judgement. Many of these encounters lay outside the boundaries of what is usually considered normative here in Waterloo Region in the 21st century. Some of these encounters would have been non-normative even within their own context.
There’s sex between Eve and Adam. There’s sex between Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Zilpah and BilIhah (the last two happen to be servants of Leah and Rachel…). There’s sex Potiphar’s wife tries to have with Joseph. There’s sex between Lot and his two daughters. There’s sex between Tamar and her father-in-law Judah. And that’s all just in Genesis!
Before you judge these bible folks for their sexual misdeeds though, you should know that Jesus’ own family tree is full of sexual encounters that fall outside of the mainstream.
So where can we turn in the bible when we want help in making decisions about sex? This is a question that might need further exploration in a future blog post. For now, let me say that I’m a firm believer that “Song of Songs” is the sexiest book in the bible, and I think it has a lot to contribute to the conversations we have in our church communities. Song of Songs won’t tell us who should or shouldn’t be having sex (the relationship status of the two lovers in the book isn’t at all clear), but it will remind us that sexuality can be beautiful. There is more to sex than the sterile, theoretical conversations that we so often have in our churches, and it says so in graphic detail right in the bible!
If you’ve never stumbled across this book “accidentally” while you were supposed to be listening to a sermon, let me give you a taste of the juicy stuff you will find here:
Oh, kiss me, touch me with your lips; your love tastes better than any wine. You smell better than any perfume; even the sound of your names smells sweet- no wonder they all love you! Come, take me, carry me off like some wild desert chieftain to his tent; take me! (Song of Songs 1:1-4 The Inclusive Bible)
Song of Songs is sexy not just because the whole book is dedicated to describing the sexual love two individuals share, but because this relationship seems mutual, consensual and empowering. “Seems” is an important word here as very little is known about who wrote this book and what their context was like. What is pretty clear, however, is that the one who does most of the talking in this risqué poem of a biblical book is a women. As Rachel Held Evans writes in her awesome book A Year of Biblical Womanhood:
To sum it up she says she’s beautiful and she knows what she wants. (Basically the lyrics to Beyoncé’s next hit.)…Her suitor is more than happy to oblige, showering her with a wild litany of compliments that I’m sure would drive any Ancient Near Eastern girl wild, but which lose a little of their potency to the modern reader.
Yes, I know that the reason this book was allowed into the bible at all is because it has typically been read as an analogy for the relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel, or Christ and “The Church.” Personally, I’m not convinced that this was the original context for the book, but even if we are reading one long analogy, Song of Songs brings something important to the conversation in that a sexual relationship is seen as a sacred enough relationship to serve as an analogy for the divine.
If we must spend time in church discussing who should be having sex with whom, and when and how this sex should happen, let’s also spend time remembering that sex and sexuality can be beautiful.
There’s no better way to do that than by reading the sexiest book in the bible at your next church meeting.