Distorted Sexuality and the Fall

We are tremendously sexually immature as humans. In our day and age, sex is often viewed as a god to be worshiped and pursued for fulfillment and pleasure. On the other extreme end, sex is also viewed as a grotesque act that is only reserved for occasions of consummation and reproduction. These two views sum up, in general, the way sex has been viewed historically since after the Fall of man, which has produced great destruction to the body and soul of real life humans over thousands of years.

Actually, I believe it is the Fall of man that has skewed our sexuality to the point where sex has become either something you worship, or something that is dirty. This is a problem, and we must get to the root of our sexuality issues if we are going to make a lasting change in our culture. I want to expose three primary effects that I feel the Fall of man (sin) has had on human sexuality: 1) separation; 2) shame; 3) swapping of roles. As we define and address these issues, my prayer is that we can begin to have hope to build a new foundation that brings back glimpses of shalom (the way things were supposed to be) that God intended for our sexuality and stop destroying one another (especially in the church) with our sexual abuses.

Dr. Dan Allender in his book The Wounded Heart, describes the result of the Fall in a very eye-opening way: “The fall into sin was the most absurd, groundless, unexplainable violation of glory known to man. How could man who had it all but one thing, absolute authority and knowledge, desire to know more? There is no other answer because words and logic can never capture something so patently crazy. The choice to abandon vulnerable dependance on the word of God brought man to ruin.”

Since the Fall was a result of abandoning dependance on God, and the result was brokenness throughout the whole person, it is implied that our sexuality is ruined as well, due to being separated from the Creator of our sexuality. We would do well to understand the reality of this separation from God. In Genesis 1-2, we read that God is the creator of sex between a husband and a wife, giving them separate genitalia that serves very different purposes sexually. After God created man like He did, He said that it wasn’t just good, but that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:28, 31)! They were naked and not ashamed of their nakedness in the garden that God created for their good and His glory.

When we learn that the Fall of man created a separation between all mankind and God, then we understand that there was a natural consequence from that separation with the Creator. The most significant consequence is that we no longer have a right understanding of who we are (physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and sexually), and this negatively affects the way things were supposed to be. God created Adam as a male, and Eve as a female, and they were to come together under the covenant that God created them into, to give of themselves to one another (Gen. 2:24).

Separation from God distorts our understanding of who He is and what He is like. This implies that we are sexually broken and unhealthy on our own as creatures separated from the Creator, much like a flower broken off from the stem. This separation allows room for endless sinful ideas of how our sexuality can be used, how we can gratify our sexual desires, how we were created to relate sexually to other people, and on and on. Separation from God is the source of all of our sexuality issues which creates shame, insecurity, false identity, fear, anxiety, anger, restlessness, self-centeredness, and many other problems that we humans have. In all, separation from God destroys the shalom of our sexuality.

Even as humans are reconnected to God the Father through faith in the risen and conquering Son, Jesus, they must work and labor hard towards having a right understanding of who they were created to be sexually. But none the less, the cross of Jesus is central in our healing process and in restoring us sexually. The cross enables man to have faith in God, thus reconnecting man to God, and man is no longer separated. God is the life giver; apart from him, we cannot live. Jesus died and rose again to reconnect us to the Life Giver. Now, because of Jesus, separation doesn’t have to be our reality and our sexuality can begin to be restored the way God intended. But again, this is a journey, and most of the time, it takes years of struggle and intentional counseling with godly men and women, and of course with the Holy Spirit as well.

Shame is the second effect that sin has had on our sexuality. It says in Genesis 3:7 that once Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” No one had to tell them that they were naked; this was the reality of their separation from God. They were given knowledge that God did not want them to have. They were informed by their sinfulness, that they were naked and it was not acceptable, so in their shame of being completely exposed, they hid.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in their book Rid of My Disgrace, define shame as such: “Shame is a painfully confusing experience—a sort of mental and emotional disintegration that makes us acutely aware of our inadequacies, shortcomings, and is often associated with a shrinking feeling of failure.” (90).

Dr. Steve Tracy, in his book Mending the Soul, defines shame as “a deep, painful sense of inadequacy and personal failure based on the inability to live up to a standard of conduct–one’s own or one imposed by others.” (74). Tracy goes on to state that an implication of shame being a failure to live up to a certain standard, is that shame produces a sense of self-loathing. This is the very reason why Adam and Eve were driven to hide themselves from God, who had never given them a reason to feel anything but love and acceptance from Him, thus it pushes them further away from God.

I must note that Dr. Tracy makes a distinction between healthy shame that comes from conviction, which leads us to the cross and redemption, and unhealthy shame (or toxic shame), which never leads us to the cross or redemption. I take the time to define and explain shame because I believe the more clearly we can define it, the more clearly we can see how shame interrupts our sexuality. Shame is a silent killer that goes unnoticed too often, and we would do well to understand this not just to become sexually whole, but for the good of ourselves and others. In Wounded Heart, Allender describes four elements that are important for us to understand about shame (61):

Exposure (61-63): The things we do in private that we are comfortable doing are not seen as shameful, but if these private things become public knowledge or seen in public, then we would be full of shame. A good illustration that Allender gives is nose-picking (61). We can freely pick our noses in the privacy of our own homes, but we would never dare to pick our noses in a mall or a busy restaurant. Therefore he says that “shame is an experience of the eyes… it requires the presence of another, in fact or in imagination, for its affect to be felt.” (61). This is seen in the response we see from Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 when they hid from God.

This kind of exposure can cause us to do things that seem irrational, such as trying to hide from an omnipresent God behind a tiny bush. On the outside, we see this action as foolish, but if you were in their shoes feeling what they felt, you would likely follow suit. This is why we run from intimacy within a good marriage, or never allow ourselves to be known too deeply and forfeit joy in our sexuality. Fear of being exposed can destroy marriages, ministries, and our mental health by isolating our true selves and never becoming intimate with others.

Revelation (63-67): The point of revelation is where you realize your worst nightmare has come true; you are naked and terrified! Now the result of what it revealed to us is not cut and dry. At times, we feel healthy shame when our nakedness leads us to feel terrified and drives us to Christ. But there are also times when we find ourselves to be naked over and over again and the terror becomes a companion. Dr. Tracy would say that this kind of shame is “toxic”. As Allender put it, “Legitimate shame exposes depravity, and illegitimate shame shines a light on some element of dignity.” (63).

The funny thing that Satan does with shame though, is that he turns it upside down. For example, we should feel legitimate shame for verbally slighting a fellow employee, for cheating on our taxes, or lusting over another person, which in turn is sin against God Himself (Luke 15:21). We should be humbled, contrite and full of shame when we fail to worship Jesus with all of who we are and all of what we have. Instead, we feel illegitimate shame when we are found out by others, failed by others, or when we ourselves fail.

Dread of Consequences (67-68): This is yet another element of shame. The dread of consequences is referring to being rejected by others once we are found out. When someone perceives us as being deficient, rejection (or feelings of being rejected) is almost always the end result. Allender wisely states that “if life and continued relationship with our false god depends on the quality of our sacrifice, then performance is required for life.” (67).

This is a tiresome journey of trying to manage your behavior and the way people view you. This is enough to emotionally break anyone down if continued for a prolonged period of time. This can get so intense, that performance and acceptance based on your performance can easily become your reason for living. If at some point you can’t maintain our performance, then the shame you feel is so huge that you can’t find much reason to live, let alone be healthy sexually. The cost of being rejected becomes too great, so you give up trying to give of yourself to your spouse, you stop dressing up nice on a date, or you stop pursuing healthy relationships that have the chance of “working out” or pursue false relationships with pornography because it’s safe; it can’t hurt you. The dread of shame stems from the fear of being permanently abandoned or discarded by others.

Empowering Trust (68-71): The final aspect of shame that Allender outlines complicates shame all the more; “trust”. When trust is absent in a relationship where approval is deeply desired, shame is compounded and messier than ever. For example, if we have placed someone on a pedestal in our life and we live for their approval, and one day they break our trust or we break their trust, debilitating shame typically follows. We live to please this person whom we’ve given a role if judging ourselves, but only God can assume this role. No one has the right to judge us in the way that gives or takes life, except God alone. For anyone in our life to be given that right over us, means that we are worshiping them as god, which is idolatry.

Idolatry is looking to anyone or anything to give us something that only God can give us. Idolatry can also be worshiping anything or anyone other than God. When we fail our idol or our idol fails us (and we can be sure both will happen), then we will experience shame. This is obviously debilitating to our sexuality, and idolatry will never lead us to be free the way God intended. All of these elements of shame are enough for anyone to avoid shame like a deadly plague. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve tried to avoid shame by blaming instead of repenting. As long as we are not willing to let legitimate shame lead us to repentance, then toxic shame will be the normal and predictable outcome in our lives.

In the Fall, we see the beginning of the reversal of the male/female roles, which is also the beginning of the male chauvinism and feminism that has disrupted our sexuality ever since. Now, I know this is a touchy topic today, but I think it’s worth talking about in respectful ways, so I’m going to give it a shot and ask that you do not crucify me for the stance I’ve taken out of a desire to be truthful to what God intended, and know that I completely understand there are other stances and I respect those who have differing opinions. My prayer is that we could lovingly engage with one another and not slander and hate. Sound good? Ok.

When Adam failed to lead in Genesis 3, Eve stepped up to fill the void of the leadership that Adam was created to give her.  But we see something very peculiar here at the onset of the Fall. We see that although Eve sinned first, God seemingly holds Adam responsible as the head of his family. It was Adam whom God called to give an account for the sin in his family. It was Adam whom God rebuked for listening to his wife (Gen. 3:17) when he should have listened to Him.

Then God went on to fulfill what He said would happen if they rebelled from His good word (Gen. 2:17); death. God pronounced a death sentence upon Adam and all who came after him for this original sin that he committed (Gen. 3:19-24). From Scripture, it seems that the “responsibility” of this rebellious decision fell on the shoulders of Adam, although Eve’s sinful choice was not dismissed by God. From here, it is necessary to go back to Genesis 1 and 2 to identify God’s intention with His creation before the death sentence enters the scene.

In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created man (generic) in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female (specific) he created them.” The Hebrew words for male and female are better translated as “the piercer” and “the pierced” or “the planter” and “the receiver”. These words are definite references to human sex organs. The very next command God gives is this: “Be fruitful and multiply…” (Gen. 1:28).

So God, from the beginning, gave specific sex organs to the male and the female that complement one another to the point where more humans could, by God’s decree, be created by the male piercing the female. God said that this was not only good like the rest of creation, but that it was “very” good. As a part of this “very good” creation, each male and female are perfectly created in God’s image.

Before the Fall, God intended for men and women to have separate roles that complement one another so that life could be created. Within their separate roles, both the man’s and woman’s value and dignity are no less than the others’ because one has a different role than the other. Their roles are simply the way they are because God created it that way and He said it was “very” good.

Now we go to Genesis 2 and read that God said there was only one thing that could be wrong with His creation, and that was if the man remained alone (Gen. 2:18). Here we do not see another creation account, rather it is a more specific and detailed account of how God went about creating the woman in particular. God created a woman from one of Adam’s ribs, and when Adam saw her, he knew that she was the suitable helper for him.

It was visibly clear that their separate physical parts were created to come together to make new life. Andrew Comiskey, in his book Strength in Weakness: Healing Sexual and Relational Brokenness, draws our attention to means by which God used to create Adam and Eve:

“God formed the man “from the dust of the ground” (v. 7). This predisposed the man toward a special relationship with the soil; he would tend to be more identified with the work of his hands than would be the woman. She, on the other hand, was taken from the man (vv. 21-22). Eve was thus inclined to define herself more in terms of her relationships. We could say that her greater strength lay in her capacity to be for others, while the man’s greater strength lay in his doing. These inclinations emerged out of creation and were free from particular role prescriptions.” (24)

From before the Fall, we see Adam and Eve standing before the Lord with equal value and dignity, bearing the same image with complementing parts. In Eden, before the Fall, there was no power struggle or jockeying for position of authority between Adam and Eve. Instead, they each complemented the other in a way that revealed the best of each person; their differences were the very thing that brought unity and harmony. But this unity and harmony depends on one’s own personal ability to find their identity as a male or female. “Thus gender security matters profoundly” says Comiskey (25).

After the Fall, a child can now either grow or not grow into their created identity because of the role jealousy that sin brought with it. “Whereas biology determines one’s physical sex, gender identity involves the more complex process of acquiring a sense of oneself as male or female.” (25).

All this to say, is that for us to sexually function the way that we were created, we must embrace our identity as either a man or a woman and understand that before the Fall, we were made to complement each other. This is central to our image bearing. This is also central if we are to have a proper understanding of our sexuality and how we are to relate to the opposite sex.

The Fall has caused the man and the woman to war against one another, to desire power over one another, to want to do what the other does, and to covet what the other has been given. “With a cross-shaped lens, we behold the beauty of man for woman, and woman for man. None of us has ever lost that original design. No matter how broken we have become, we have never lost the potential to be good gifts for others!” (31) . This at the core, is the way back to biblical sexuality.

As I close this out, I want to draw our attention back to our culture today. The topic of sexuality is a current issue that the church is currently facing. Up until the last couple generations, many people married in their teens, but today’s generation is waiting longer than ever to marry. This extended period of temptation and prolonged adolescents, coupled with the openness of sexual images in public, increasing access to pornography, and our culture’s approval of premarital sex, has made it a very difficult climate to be sexually responsible. It is especially difficult for people who want to heed Solomon’s advice to not awaken love before its time (Song 2:7) and to be healthy sexually in this post-Fall climate.

Maintaining a healthy view of our sexuality is almost impossible, so we need to start talking about it more and the church needs to make it a normal part of her communication and teaching as she seeks to make disciples of all nations. This is a task that I pray many of us are willing to take on in all love, patience, and humility. God help us.


2 thoughts on “Distorted Sexuality and the Fall

  1. Interesting essay. The Western world does not yet have a mature, healthy, rational appreciation of married sexual love. That is a shame. We can thank the Church for that. The Christian Church’s sexual pessimism towards the married state is not found in Scripture and does not originate in New Testament times. This sexual pessimism really got going in the late 4th century thanks to Augustine and others.

    The only thing that Christian married couples can do is to bypass the Church’s ineptitude in the area of sexual love. (Celibate priests do not understand the sexual love between the spouses. The “unitive” is independent of the procreative aspect of sex.) It is very encouraging that Christian wives are now reclaiming their sexualtiy and are rejecting this nonsense that sex in marriage when it is not for procreatition is somehow tainted or “dirty”. Protestant wives are taking the lead here, but even Catholic wives are coming around.

  2. Jeff: an excellent delivery of God’s truth on the subject of human sexuality. Understanding sexual brokenness founded upon the debilitation of humankind’s original sin is essential. The perversion introduced by the Fall of God’s perfect intention for the relationship between man and woman has convoluted and mostly prohibited open and clear dialogue in the church. I applaud your sound thesis which (in my view) is biblically correct and the type of primer material we need to instigate a broader conversation in the universal church. Thank you for tackling a very difficult, controversial subject, which is essential to healthy Christian living!

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