Book Plunge: Redeeming Sex

What do I think of Debra Hirsch’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. It’s not much of a secret that men like sex and like to think about it. Well, maybe that last part isn’t as true. Men like to fantasize about sex. They like to dream about sex. They especially like to have sex. Not many of them enjoy really thinking about sex. I try to be different, although I certainly enjoy all the other activities, and so when I saw Hirsch’s book on sexuality, I decided to pick it up. Not only that, it’s often good to get a woman’s perspective on sex. Not only that, but it’s good to get the view of a Christian woman on sex.

Hirsch’s book details how she came to Jesus and she came from a lifestyle that had practically done everything sexual that you can imagine, and then some. Today, she says she has a more traditional stance, but when she became a Christian, she had a lot of questions about what the church had to say about sex. That shouldn’t be a shock since so many of us today have the same questions, both inside and outside of the church. Thankfully, Hirsch found a church that while they consisted largely of senior citizens while she and her friends were young rebel types, they loved her with the love of Jesus and the pastor made sure to get them to Jesus first and then let Him be the guiding light in their sexual issues.

So right at the start, I’d like to point out a problem we have in our churches. How often do we talk about sex? I mean really, how often in church do you hear talk about sex? It’s hardly ever. We barely say a thing and when we do, we tend to speak in euphemisms and if it’s some forbidden dirty topic. How often does sex meanwhile show up in the Bible? Abundantly. How much does it show up in the popular culture? Try to turn on the television and not see it! How often are we talking about it in politics? You seen all the debates going on on the nature of marriage? What are we saying about it? Squat.

Hirsch wants to have a real conversation about it and it goes beyond the “Don’t do this” that we hear over and over. It’s really about how we relate to one another. Hirsch says all of our relationships are really sexual to some extent. Of course, some of us are hearing that and thinking “What?! There are several people I don’t have sex with and I don’t have any desire to have sex with!” Hirsch would agree with you. What Hirsch means is that all relationships are to have some degree of intimacy. All involve some sharing of yourself. There is just one relationship for a Christian that is to involve genital sexuality and that is the one that takes place in marriage.

This kind of intimacy is what we all long for on some extent and even those who take a vow of celibacy are longing for it. They long for it with God, which is ultimately what Heaven is. (You know Hirsch’s book is going to be good when the first title is “Oh my God!”) The moment of release that all of genital sexuality is building up to is meant to be seen as a moment of unity and oneness. It is the end result of a final openness to one another, and it is a picture of what Heaven is like. So many in our society chase after that moment and those of us who are married when it comes to sex can suddenly find ourselves being obsessed when the possibility comes up. Personally, I’d consider it the closest one comes to having another personality. It really is reaching for something greater than yourself and getting caught in the experience of another person.

That’s what Heaven is also.

Heaven is not defined by streets of gold or by having a mansion or by playing a harp and sitting on a cloud. (especially since we don’t become angels, but that’s another point.) Heaven is defined by being in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Heaven is found by dying to ourselves and giving our lives to Him. Heaven is found by having total and exclusive openness to God and being open to all of His blessings in our lives. Heaven is standing before God naked in our being as it were with no secrets and Him making us to be who we are and giving His life to us.

Which is kind of what sex is entirely. Sex is the symbol that is meant to point us to the reality of God.

The sad thing is we can rob people of this when we tell them sex is something to be feared. Our culture wants to run to sex. We want to run from sex. In reality, Christians should be leading in the best sex that there is. Our God is the one who created sex. It’s all His idea. His pathway should be seen as the best pathway to the best sex that there is. The rest of the world should be looking at the church and saying “I don’t know what they have, but I sure want it.” Should they want us in our holiness and love? Absolutely, but that should also carry over into our sex lives that should be an example to the world.

Hirsch rightly quotes Chesterton who told us that when a man knocks on the door of a brothel, he is looking for God. I wholeheartedly agree. Our chasing after sex is a chasing after intimacy and being accepted and joy and openness. We just too often go to the wrong spot. We spend so much time with the symbol that we miss the far greater reality that sex is pointing to. We stop at the symbol talking about how good it is, and indeed it is, that we don’t realize we’re getting a foretaste. Is sex really just a happy accident in a cosmic meaningless universe, or is it a pointer to something beyond itself?

Also, Hirsch wants us to look to Jesus as our example. Jesus is indeed a sexual person. No. I don’t mean any nonsense like He had a romantic interest in Mary Magdalene or that He was having sex of any kind. I mean that everything He did, He did as a man. In fact, He also did this as a single man, which should be a reminder as Hirsch points out to those of us who can be tempted in the church to look down on singles as if there is something wrong with them because they do not have a spouse. Some of them might want one, and we can help, but some might just not want to get married, and that’s also okay. How can it be a wrong path to choose if Jesus chose it?

The sexual love that we want we often want cheaply, and this can be through promiscuous sex and through pornography. Real sexuality involves real intimacy. It involves being open to the other person entirely, which means you are capable of being hurt. Marriage is one of the most sacred institutions that there is, and it is also one of the most dangerous and risky ones to enter into. When you enter into marriage, you are tying your life to another person and saying that you are open to them. That entails opening yourself up to their love, which is good, but it also entails that you will get hurt from time to time. That’s part of the risk. I have to realize that sadly, I will hurt my wife from time to time. It’s a sad reality. I am a fallen sinful man and sometimes that flesh will come out. That’s part of marriage though. You are open to the hurt because the love you gain is so much greater.

The last half of the book focuses a lot on issues involving homosexuality. Hirsch makes a lot of good points here, though some will be a bit concerned wishing she took a stronger stance at times. Hirsch is certainly right that we have too often given the image of hate-filled and intolerant. Many of us do not, but sadly, the ones that usually get the microphone from the media are the ones we don’t want. Now in all of this, I will state definitely that I think homosexual actions are wrong. I think that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. At the same time, I do not have hatred for homosexuals and too often that is assumed. We have often treated homosexuality as if it’s a disease keeping people away from Jesus. For those of us who do disagree with homosexual practice, we need to realize still that the first way to love our homosexual neighbor, is to get them to Jesus, just like anyone else.

We also too often make a dangerous statement about God removing homosexual desires from someone if they come to Jesus. I’ve heard people say from the pulpit that Jesus will do that if you come to Him and you struggle with them. He could of course. He very well could. This is not a guarantee. As a heterosexual man, Jesus does not take away all my desires to sleep with other women, or take away all of my sinful desires specifically. There are many sins of the flesh that I still struggle with it. Why would we think that Jesus would take away the sinful desires of someone in the homosexual lifestyle and not do the same for someone in the heterosexual lifestyle? I still have my cross that I have to carry.

The first thing we have to do is to learn the person in the LGBT community as a fellow human being even if we disagree with their lifestyle to the core. I often tell men who are wanting to witness to male homosexuals is that the best thing to do is just to be a friend to them. I’m sure they’ve heard enough times what the church thinks about what they do. You don’t have to for a moment affirm what they do, but you do realize that they are human beings that Jesus loves and died for as well. Dare I say it, but maybe you should consider treating them the way you want to be treated? Of course, if they ask your opinion, that doesn’t mean you give a false opinion. If they ask you if you think they are doing something immoral, you can say that, but you yourself are also doing things you know are immoral and you are still to love yourself.

Ultimately, I think Hirsch’s book is quite good. I don’t agree with everything naturally. I don’t think the story of Origen emasculating himself is accurate for instance. The story shows up about a century later and Origen himself was someone who normally interpreted Scripture allegorically. Still, no essential point resides on such a claim. Also, while I do wish sometimes a stronger stance had been taken, I try to realize that Hirsch is trying to walk a very fine line here. There is much that is good in this book and there are plenty of parts I circled and underlined in my reading. I hope it opens us up more to a real conversation on sex and sexuality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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