One of the questions I most love answering is: ‘What’s the purpose of sexuality?’ I enjoy answering it so much that I’ve written a book that seeks to answer it.1 And here’s one of those annoying plot spoilers: one of my answers is that our Creator God has given humanity the gift of sexuality, our sexual desires and feelings, to grasp the full power of his passionate love for his people. I get this idea from passages like Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 1-3, and whole Bible books like Song of Songs.
One of the pushbacks I get on all of this is that God is just using a metaphor2 when he compares his love for his people to a husband’s love and erotic desire for his wife. People tell me I’m taking things too far. God is simply, objectors say, taking something in creation (our sexual desires) and saying his love is like that – he’s not going as far as saying that our sexual feelings exist to help us grasp his love for us, that they are purposeful in that way. I need to understand how metaphors work and not overegg things.
When God both creates an object or experience and makes the comparison to an aspect of himself, something more than a just metaphor is in play.
I’d be with them were it not our Creator God who uses the ‘metaphor’. As I read Scripture and see how often God takes something in creation and uses it to describe similar characteristics or aspects in himself, I’m more and more thinking that one of the reasons that thing or experience exists in the first place is to point us to him. He’s the one who created the visual aid in the first place – so surely one of its original purposes is to help us grasp something about him? He knew how useful it would be in explaining himself later on.
Let’s take rock as example. I know that this earth is built on rock and that the main purpose of rock would seem to obviously include being a useful material to build on/with and climb on. (I’m no geologist, civil engineer or mountaineer – bear with me). But constant descriptions of God as a rock in Scripture and its prevalence as a metaphor for his permanence and the security that can be found in him (see Psalms 18, 19, 28, 31, 42, 61 et al), leave me thinking that one of the purposes of rock in creation was and is to help us grasp how permanent and secure our Creator God is. When God is described as a rock it is, at one level, just a metaphor, but I think it’s also why we have something like rock in the very first place – so that such a visual, tangible comparison can be made. When God both creates an object or experience and makes the comparison to an aspect of himself, something more than a just metaphor is in play.
This is why I find myself agreeing with US pastor John Piper that:
...the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable. The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people - both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not).3
It's not just a metaphor.
- Ed Shaw, Purposeful Sexuality: A Short Christian Introduction (IVP, 2021).
- 'An expression that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to possess similar characteristics’. ‘Metaphor’, Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed 23 June 2021.
- John Piper, 'Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: part one', in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (Crossway, 2005), p.26.