The “Religious Freedom” laws that are currently being signed, rejected, vehemently defended...
and even more vehemently ridiculed...
once again put the Bible’s teachings on sexuality front and center of American public consciousness. What DOES the Bible say on the subject, and is it relevant for today? How is it relevant?
The Comic Lens would like to weigh in on the subject. After all, I have suggested from the first that when we look at the Bible as a document intended to make us laugh, it starts making a lot more sense (and, hence, it’s one of the reasons we should be seeking and finding the comedy of scripture!). In addition, because “sex” is one of the most popular topics of comedy, it would follow that sex in the Bible is … funny! And because there are so many healthy, healing things that laughter brings, maybe a comic perspective to this “hot button” topic can bring a little balm, udder or udderwise! (That's a wacky Midwestern joke since it's here in the MW that the problem is presently centered, dontcha know...)
Here are some initial thoughts.
For one thing, there are many funny stories about sex in the Bible!
Like…Abraham and Sarah, for example! The story that begins the whole Jewish-Christian saga is in many ways about sex. That’s the thing that causes Sarah to laugh: the thought of “finding pleasure” from her dried up old husband when angels announce she will soon bear a child at age 100. Of course God misunderstands (He thinks Sarah doesn’t believe in His powers), so He gets mad. But that’s also what’s funny about this story…the misunderstanding and chaos that nevertheless leads to birth and new life. born.
Then there are the funny stories about how the 12 tribes came about. Funny stories about sex. Like the one when Jacob, who has worked for 8 years on Laban's farm to earn the hand of his beloved -- the beautiful Rachel -- walks into the "marriage tent" licking his chops at the prospect of what's now in store, and he's shocked to discover Rachel's older sister Leah (she of "beautiful eyes"...woof woof) waiting to be properly serviced! Laban explains of course the eldest daughter must always be wedded before the youngest. After 8 more years of labor, Rachel can be had. Oh that trickster Laban! He gets 16 years of free labor and both daughters married off. It's in this manner, with additional childbearing provided by relations between Jacob and Rachel and Leah's handmaidens, that 12 children that lead to the 12 tribes of Israel are spawned.
Ruth is a hated Moabite who comes, widowed and penniless, to Israel. With the schemes and suggestions of her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, she sneaks into landowner Boaz’ room to sit at his “feet” (wink wink nudge nudge). She seems to provide an effective “pedicure” (again wink wink etc etc), for Boaz then goes through all the hoops required to take this foreigner as his wife. The kicker to the story: they bear a child who will be the father of David, oft-xenophobic Israel’s greatest hero and king.
There’s the “Song of Solomon” which I’ve talked about in a couple of previous blogs. An ecstatically sexual poem, it was most likely the standard chant of the village as the community helped a newly married couple get comfortable consummating their union (the most important part of ancient weddings). This of course was always a most happy achievement but, more importantly, signaled the commencement of an always more-anticipated raucous wedding reception.
There’s the maybe not-so-funny…or maybe it is….story of how the Holy Spirit came to impregnate the Virgin Mary with the Son of God. No, it’s not at all funny…unless you replace Mary with Jan Brady, the most Mary-esque of the Bunch and certainly the one God would have choose for this most gallant of tasks.
There's even the pitch-black satire of what happens when the men of Sodom come to gang-rape Lot's male guests (who happen to be angels). In the spirit of proper hospitality, Lot offers up his virgin daughters instead. (!) This causes a riot and forces Lot and his family to flee to the hills. Eventually Lot and his daughters find themselves holed forever in a cave afraid to death to leave; in such a case, what are a couple of responsible virgins to do? Get their dad drunk so they can rape him and bear children, of course! (Remember, I said this is a satire and will be the subject of my next blog on Sex and the Bible….)
What I think is interesting about all of these examples, and really everything the Bible has to say about sexual behavior, is that it’s actually never really about sex. It’s about doing whatever is needed for procreation and assurance that the tribe will continue, whether it be through bloodline, which is the Jewish way of understanding God’s way of providing a future, or it’s through the creation of spiritual family – the ecclesia that Christianity is all about.
This was a more-than- practical purpose for sex in biblical times. In the ancient world, under-population was always the biggest problem. Extinction due to disease, famine, war, natural catastrophe – as well as capitulation to imperial false gods and propaganda – was always lurking around the corner, even closer. It didn’t matter if you preferred, even needed your sexual relations in some way other than with a partner of the opposite gender to whom you were properly married (orderly continuation was also necessary for proper growth); life was, bottom-line, about doing your part to ensure butts in seats.
But there’s more. Because so many of the Bible's "sex stories" are comic...intended to make us laugh…they also lift up all sorts of delightful surprise and over-the-top chaos and impropriety that would otherwise threaten the ability for new life to usher forth (especially because there are so many sexual rules believed to incur God’s blessing -- the real reason birth and butts are believed possible). So often in our scriptures, those rules, as helpful as they sometimes can be, don’t have the last word, believe it or not! Babies, very special babies, continue to be born from "the wrong people" and in some “wrong way!” And, it would seem, that’s just the way God wants it!!
Ultimately, I think, the subject of sex in the Bible is meant to bear witness to the reality of God’s unbounded and even scandalous creativity. As hard as we try to regulate everything because that's what seems to keep things afloat in a difficult and dangerous world, what our bodies…and hearts, minds and souls... are made for – for the dance with God and one another – is happily and hilariously so much more. Including the coming to an ever-new definition of what "new life" ... and for butts in seats... is all about.
I can’t help but think this is the main point about sex in the Bible -- our comic, wacky, life-giving Bible. Life goes on…more profoundly, more interestingly and more prolifically when things get tough… and Midwestern bakeries get snarkier.