Sex, Magic, Power, and Christ
by Luke A Welch
God created the world full of magic. He used his own divine magic to make men and women who would imitate him with glorious human magic. And God said it was very good.
He told them to fill the world with his glory, to be one flesh, to be fruitful and to multiply, to conquer the land with his power. And all along he had a plan that their obedience would, by image, preach the picture of his own union with humanity, his own son coming to conquer and be one with his creation. Glory. And divine magic.
Magic is a word in need of conquest. It’s a great word. A word for people who like Lewis and Tolkien. A word for people who treasure wonder and who long for great, out of nowhere surprises. The problem is that there are some very specific and awful actions, forbidden by God that take up some of the real estate of the word magic. When I say magic, I am not talking about these things. I am not describing communion with demons, or the usurpation and manipulation of spiritual power. What I AM describing is the wonder and surprise at watching God do mysterious and powerful things. When you are a child, and the world is full of wonder, as it should be, you think of magic in this way. And that is what I am unwilling to give up. I intend to grow the land of real magic and crowd out the perverse. That’s how dominion works, and that’s what we should do even in language. So, you see, I am saying: don’t freak out if you see the “m” word.
And now for my next trick:
You already saw them – four words that I think encompass an idea: wonder, surprise, power, and mystery. I want us to note that this is a central part of why God built the world and how we relate to each other. For wonder – he wants to amaze us. For surprise – he wants to catch us off guard and give us sudden delight. For power – he wants to overwhelm us not only in that he acts, but that when he acts, great things happen. For mystery – he wants us to say: I didn’t see THAT coming. I know that sounds like surprise, but what I mean is that for all the visible that he does for us to WONDER at, he holds a lot of invisible that just serves to make us astonished at his power. Mystery kind of gets at all the other of these words at once. Mystery means we ask, like a child at a magic show, “How did you do that?” He answers, slyly, “Because I am working. I am always at work, doing great and mighty things – even if you are unaware.” And our answer is, appropriately, and still like children, “WOW.” A slow, whispered Wow.
And that means that God has built the world this way, and that means that God is full of magic.
And we are part of this world which means we got composed of a bit of fairy dust and we have these qualities too. Theologically, what I just said was: We are made in the image and likeness of God. He likes mystery and power, and so do we. And here is an evidence: flirtation and romance.
Unfortunately “romance” is another one of those words that has bad meanings too. Romance is frequently thought of as being the trappings of the ache of unrequited love – which I think is a very sad meaning to such a useful word. That’s another squatter staking out territory on land we ought to take over.
Here’s how flirtation and romance are magical. Imagine a man speaking to his beloved with playful words about how she is nice. He doesn’t just say she is nice; he finds a sneaky, clever way to suddenly declare that she is wonderful. And that is when the power works its work – he has spoken, and her heart has been changed. He has just created butterflies. Glory.
Mystery leaves notes. Mystery plans on the sly. Mystery makes a woman say, “when did you do this? It’s amazing!” Then the reply is “I work on it all the time – in my head, when you are asleep, I am always working for you.” And she says, whispering, “Wow.” Glory. Work wrought by power through mystery. Magic.
Magic found in doing the dishes when she is asleep. Magic found in buying her what she has only mentioned when she isn’t expecting it. Magic displayed in a way that tells her it matters that she is yours. The Mystery of working on her in secret tells her she owns your private mind. The power of the effect tells her you are willing to work and to sacrifice for her. So magic takes something out of us, but that’s okay; it’s taken out so it can be given away…to a her.
Now human magic is nice, and it is even powerful, but divine magic is altogether different. It is powerful in a way that we may only immitate and imagine, but which we may not cause. We might be “creative” as we work, which means we are good at working with what he have, but God’s work is creation itself. God’s work makes the raw material that we only move around. God’s work makes bad things good, and old things new. And often, God’s work makes something out of nothing. And he is even capable of taking two separate things and making them turn into one.
And this is even a good reason for a man to leave his father and his mother and to cleave to his wife: because those two can become one flesh. Glory! Power that requires us to go into secret so God can work.
And by this, I mean sex.
But sex is not like flirtation and romance. It is altogether different. It is no human magic. Sex is divine magic that we are allowed to experience. We can be loving and romantic and flirty and good to each other in all kinds of ways in our godly intimacy – but the magic of sex is a thing only God can make.
We don’t need to be any more explicit about sex to say what we need to say here – but I can be clearer:
Something happens in sex that only happens in sex. It has no substitute. There is no imitation that does what it does. There is only sex. And that gift is a magic God made for reasons that he has revealed, and for reasons that maybe only he knows. But this much is revealed:
Sex feeds us the message that our bodies are not our own, but belong to our wives. Or if you are a woman, then to your husband. Sex preaches the message that we are not even separate bodies, but are one flesh come together. Sex makes us to sing the praises of our love to each other. Glory. Power wrought in secret. Mystery. Magic.
And for my next trick I am going to tell you the bible’s word for this: covenant.
What happens in sex is supposed to happen. It is necessary to the world. It is part of the fabric of the forward motion of the kingdom of God taking over the land. If dominion is going to happen then we will have to be fruitful and multiply. Which means a lot of twos need to become one flesh and bear fruit. But children are NOT the only reason for sex.
Should we cease to be close after we grow old? Should we cease to be close when a baby is already on the way? May it never be! There is more to sex than making babies. Making babies is actually NOT the meaning of the two becoming one flesh.
I am sure that many times in history Genesis 2.24 has been used to tell people that furthering the kingdom was important. The two of you come together and then a new single flesh will be born, made of the two of you. But this is putting a good thing with the wrong words – Children are fruit. They are the produce of marriage. But they are NOT the unity of marriage. The unity is its own thing. The unity is the magic of the covenant itself.
And this unity is the heart of what I want to talk about. A man and a woman could live in the same house as husband and wife – having had a wedding. They could go all around the world having fun adventures. They could flirt and they could romance. But if they are not ever having sex, then they are settling for human magic. If they want divine magic in the marriage then the HAVE to come together. Because there is no substitute. God does something for the couple that can only be found in vulnerable intimacy – he takes the wedding and he brings it to them again. He brings the initial covenant of union and applies it again to them in communion. He takes the vows of the altar, and he ratifies that covenant again. Which is why sex is, by command of the Lord, to be regular, and repeated.
Sex is feeding us the message: “I still do.”
And we have a word for this: Covenant renewal. It is the first promise being made again and again. And it has the magical effect of creating love, and trust, and safety, and beauty, and glory. Power wrought behind closed doors. Divine magic.
But sometimes the going gets tough and it get’s tough to get together, but that is when we need it more than ever – we need promise to make it through dificulty. And sex is promise.
And this is why the apostle Paul says to us things like:
“Do not deprive one another.” (1 Cor 7.5). Which means – do not stop coming together. You need this even during a time of “present distress” (v.26). Because you need to feed each other the message that “…the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (v.4). So because we need to preach to each other the constancy of our union, even if we have to separate for prayer, we must “come together again” (v.5).
We need to hear our promise renewed again and again. So Paul tells us to avoid avoiding each other. He wants us not to forsake getting together. And this has theological implications outside of sex.
Now for my next trick, I am going to relate marital intimacy to church in a way that is biblical and not weird.
We have been told explicitly by Paul in Eph 5 that this power working in this mystery (magic) in marriage is actually a secret message from God to us about the church. So don’t think I dreamed this up on my own. The UNITY of the husband-wife covenant is ACTUALLY a sermon to us about the unity of the Bride and her Christ. Jesus is united to us in a one flesh covenant sort of way. When Jesus was writing Genesis through the Holy Spirit, he was talking about himself and the church:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2.24) This is some of the “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” which allows for corporate death and resurrection and forgiveness and freedom from sin. Because as the church, we are one with the Lord. This is the covenant working the wonder of unity with a risen Lord. We need this.
Remember Jesus made a promise to us, and he did so at the cross. And we need it. We needed it to be saved. We enjoyed the promise as it was spoken and stuck onto us in baptism. We need it still today. We need it regularly, and repeatedly, and there’s only one place we can get such a promise in the magic way God designed: In the church worship service. And because we are tempted to be lazy, or to be tired, or to not go to church when things are tough or are busy, the bible has to tell us to avoid avoiding each other:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10.23-25)
Did you see it? “Not neglecting to meet together.” (V.25) The author of Hebrews is saying, “Do not stop coming together.” Very similar to 1 Corinthians 7.5.
Despite persecution and trial, the church needs to get together. Not just to hear sermons, or to give tithes, but because worship is magical, and because something happens there that only happens there. Nothing can replace that service. God calls us to it for a reason. God created the corporate worship service to be the one place that the covenant renewal promise is made. It is the repeating of a promise. It is Jesus as the Christ, calling to his bride (the church) to say, “I still want you, and I still choose you, and I still promise.” He holds his bride protectively close by and whispers,”You look better than the day I met you.” He feeds her the bread and wine and the message that “I still do.”
Baptism is union, and Eucharist is communion. Baptism is wedding promise, and Eucharist is regular repeated re-promise.
When he baptized us, he accepted us, cleaned us, glorified us, named us, brought us in, gave us life and a home, and said, I bind myself to you today.
And each week we show up to church to hear that same promise at the Lord’s table. But it isn’t new, and it isn’t about getting made into his people. We already are his people. When he fed us his food, he reminded us. He repromised. He said, “I still want you, and I still choose you.” When Jesus gave you bread and gave you wine, he was saying, you’re still beautiful, you’re still clean, and I want you to remember that you are still MINE!
For my next trick, I will wrap up.
The words are growing long and your free time for reading is growing short, so I will have to skip over some obvious applications to get to the ones that motivated me to write in the first place. I will have to skip an excursus on weekly comunion. I will have to skip saying that we need to do the historic practice of weekly communion because the chruch has always needed covenant renewal to be regular and repeated and because there is a magic therein that can only be found therein. I won’t be able to spend the time to say that.
But I will be able to say that I bet there are some Christian couples out there with the following issues to mature out of: There are probably some Christian husbands who are really enthusiastic about sex, but who are kind of apathetic about getting to church. Look man, if you want your wonderful wife to feel like the hard work of intimacy is important, then show her how you feel about getting to the Lord’s table. Because your Lord told you where the mystery is and where his power is, and you are teaching your wife that it isn’t important to do the thing that has no substitute, just because you are too lazy to get out of bed. And you want her to do the work of getting into bed.
There are some Christian ladies out there who are very enthusiastic about getting to church – you have children who are important to you, and you don’t want them to go to hell, and you believe there is a command of the Lord that we should fulfill. You think it isn’t good enough to chat about Jesus in passing or to have on Christian cartoons in the living room. You believe that there is a mysterious necessity to worshipping God with the people of God. You believe there is something you can only get in church. So you do the work of planning out clothes and breakfast and baths in advance, because that how you get to the magic.
Your husband also has a bit of divine magic for you. And God is happy about it. And it is work. And it requires planning and self-sacrifice. But there is no substitute.
And in the end, when we all do the work it takes to get to the power and the mystery and the surprise and the wonder, God looks at it and says “Behold, it is very good.” And “look there’s my image!” Male and female, Christ and church, together. Mystery. Glory. Magic.
Luke Welch has a master’s degree from Covenant Seminary and preaches regularly in a conservative Anglican church in Maryland. He blogs about Bible structure at SUBTEXT. Follow me on Twitter: @lukeawelch