The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God

Desiring God 2004 National Conference | Minneapolis

It’s risky to talk about the goodness of sex these days, because ours is an age of sexual hyperbole. Never before in history has the goddess of sex offered so much with so little to give. Never before has sexual pleasure been sought with such grim earnestness. Never before has so much merchandise been moved on the implicit promise that it will make you more sexy or get you more sex. If the advertising industry is any indication, the threat of AIDS and STDs, rather than diminishing or disciplining the sexual urge, has simply made it more daring and more exciting. It has raised the stakes and upped the bets, so to speak.

In the 1960s a famous graffiti appeared in Berkeley, California. In a parody of the Nazi slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work makes free,” someone had sprayed on a wall, “Sex makes free.” A few years later a friend of mine saw a more erudite version of the same thought scrawled on a rest room wall in the philosophy building of the University of Southern California. It was a parody of philosopher René Descartes’ famous formulation, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” It was “Copulo, ergo sum,” or “I copulate, therefore I am.”

With all of this sexual obsession, one is tempted to downplay the pleasures and goodness of sex — to say they are overrated. But that might do the devil’s will as much as the obsession itself. Pleasure is God’s idea, and God is the devil’s Enemy. The devil actually hates pleasure, because he hates the God of pleasure.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the devil Screwtape tries to explain to his nephew Wormwood what he finds most appalling and disingenuous about God: that God is really out to make people happy, and that even the austere parts of his program, the spiritual disciplines, are really ruses, clever deceptions to make them more happy. “He’s a hedonist at heart,” sniffs Screwtape. “All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures forevermore’. . . . He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled the world full of pleasures” (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters [Macmillan, 1944], 112, emphasis mine).

The devil’s grand strategy against pleasure is to twist it, to get us to misuse it. “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula” (Ibid., 49, emphasis mine).

I think that formula is exactly what is going on in our culture — an ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure. Look at the magazines at the checkout counter of your market. There is a weariness about them, a chatty droning about this technique and that technique, this pleasure point or that pleasure point.

G.K. Chesterton’s description of the world’s joys applies: these amount to merely “small publicity” when set next to the Christian’s “gigantic secret” of joy (Chesterton, Orthodoxy [William Cloves & Sons, 1932], 296). The gigantic secret of the joy of sex is this: Sex is good because the God who created sex is good. And God is glorified greatly when we receive his gift with thanksgiving — for the gift points back to the God who gave it — and enjoy it the way he meant for it to be enjoyed.

How do we know this is true? We know it’s true because of its place in the Bible. “The Bible is a book about marriage.” That’s the way David Hubbard put it in his commentary on the Song of Solomon (Hubbard, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, The Communicator’s Commentary [Word, 1991], 267). To say the Bible is a book about marriage is to say that it is also a book about sex and the meaning of sex. For marriage is the only natural condition for the pleasure of sex.

The Bible Is a Book About Marriage and Sex

There are five ways this is true:

1) In the very beginning of the Bible there is a marriage.

Genesis 2:23-25: “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (NIV).

2) At the very end of the Bible there is a marriage.

Revelation 19:6-7, 9: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. . . . Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”’” (NIV).

Revelation 21:2: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (NIV).

3) The central themes of the Bible are underlined with marriage metaphors.

Hosea’s bad marriage to a sexually promiscuous wife is a picture of God’s marriage to Israel. When the marriage is healed and God and his people are reconciled, the promise is, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [my delight is in her], and your land Beulah [married]; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4-5, NIV).

“Sex is good because the God who created sex is good.”

In the Gospels, Jesus said he is like a bridegroom to his people. Therefore people must be joyful in his presence, for “How can the guest of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” (Matthew 9:15, NIV). He said the coming of the kingdom of heaven is like people waiting for a wedding (Matthew 25:1-13). When John the Baptist was asked his opinion of Jesus’ rising popularity, he said it was time for him to step aside because his friend the Bridegroom had come. It’s now Jesus’ party, not his. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30, NIV).

The apostle Paul saw human marriage as a demonstration of God’s marriage to his people. After speaking in some detail about the mutual responsibilities of a husband and a wife in marriage, and of how the two become one flesh (Ephesians 5:21-33), Paul says, “This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church” (verse 32, NIV).

4) The sexual, in the Bible, is a chief arena of the brokenness of sin — and therefore occupies an important place among the things Christ came to redeem.

Genesis 3:16: the Fall fractures the sexual relationship of the man and the woman. The bearing of children will be painful, and her desire for her husband will be full of anguish and struggle. The marriage bed will become a battleground.

Romans 1:21-24: the heart of our darkness is this: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Darkness leads to idolatry. “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images . . .” Idolatry shows itself first, and perhaps most tellingly, in our sexuality. “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (NIV).”

5) Happily tucked away in the Bible, among the Law and the Prophets, is a little book called Song of Solomon; it is a collection of love and wedding songs. It offers no liturgy or commandments, no hymns, oracles, or visions — just love songs, the “Song of Songs” (Song 1:1), “the best love song of all.”

This is unique in the Old Testament. Because of its concern for the covenant, the Old Testament’s interest in sex is mainly with its relation to begetting. There are very few clues as to whether it should be fun. The Song of Solomon fills this gap. It says that along with having children, sex is for pleasure, joy, communion, and celebration. Pregnancy is not even mentioned in the book!

It paints a beautiful picture of what redeemed sex looks like. Karl Barth said the tone of the book is “eros without shame.” He described it as a poetic commentary on Genesis 2:25: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (NIV). If they didn’t feel shame, what did they feel? The Song of Solomon gives the answer. Here are some of the ways they felt:

1:2 (NLT): “Kiss me again and again, for your love is sweeter than wine.” This has to be one of the most memorable opening lines in the Bible! Compare it with other famous beginnings: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God . . .”; John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word . . .” And then we have the Song of Solomon: “Kiss me again and again.” The Hebrew is literally something like “Smother me with kisses.” The “love” referred to has strong, physically erotic connotations, as in the caresses of lovemaking. And it leaves her feeling more euphoric, headier, more “buzzed” than wine.

1:9 (NIV): “I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh.” When his beloved deprecates her physical beauty, he strongly disagrees and says she is like a mare, a female horse, in Pharaoh’s cavalry. But there were no mares in Pharaoh’s cavalry, because a mare would excite all the males into a pandemonium of sexual excitement! Precisely. Does she think she is unattractive? He begs to differ. On the contrary, her attractiveness to men is like a mare released in a corral of stallions. She not only looks good to him, she looks good to others, too.

2:3-7 (NIV): “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for

I am faint with love. His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Apples and raisins and other fruits were all ancient erotic symbols.

That’s what her lover is like to her. But he is not merely a symbol; he’s the real thing. His “shade” is his nearness, and the effect he has on her is like being brought to a banquet hall, literally a house of wine, another symbol of the ecstasy of lovemaking. The “banner” of love seems out of place, the banner being a military metaphor; perhaps it speaks of the ferocity of love. Whatever its meaning, it provides a dramatic picture of a woman swept up under the passion and protection of her man — his left arm under her head, his right arm embracing her.

In her excitement she calls for a vow — a solemn oath — expressing the exquisite passion she feels: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Remarkably, she issues a call for restraint in the name of “the gazelles and . . . the does of the field” — further symbols of passion. (For example, see 4:5 and 7:3, where her lover compares her breasts to fawns, twins of a gazelle; also 2:17 and 8:14, where she invites her lover to her “mountains” — to enjoy her contours.) Her message is that the experience of lovemaking is too powerful, too all-consuming to stir up until the lovers are ready, until they have the commitment proper to sex. She charges restraint in the very name of the things that excite her; for the sake of sex, we must restrain sex until the right time.

The pleasures and goodness of sex are heightened, not lessened by proper restraint, in the same way the Colorado River is made more powerful by the walls of the Grand Canyon. The very narrowness of the river’s channel there makes for a greater river. Farther south, as the river flows through the deserts of California and Arizona, it is shallow, wide, and muddy, even stinky in spots. Wider boundaries diminish the river; sharper, stronger, and narrower boundaries strengthen it. Less is more. The boundaries and proscriptions of sex in the Bible are for the sake of sex. Again, less is more — at least less as understood by one man and one woman together exclusively till death parts them.

2:16-17 (NLT): “My lover is mine, and I am his. He feeds among the lilies! Before the dawn comes and the shadows flee away, come back to me, my love. Run like a gazelle or a young stag on the rugged mountains.”

“My lover is mine, and I am his” — this formula appears at key points in the Song to emphasize the exclusivity of the lovers’ commitment to each other. It is also a formula on the human level of what is true of God and his people (Hosea 2:23). In the context of this glorious, amorous, monogamous exclusivity her lover “feeds among the lilies!” The covenant promise has an erotic dimension: they belong to each other to the fullest, and they may and will enjoy each other to the fullest.

“Lilies” or “lotuses” describe not only the beauty of the beloved, but are metaphors for a man’s lips (5:13), and the part of a woman’s body surrounding her breasts (4:5). She enjoys this so thoroughly that she wants it to last all night: “Before the dawn comes and the shadows flee away, come back to me, my love.” Specifically, she wants him to “run like a gazelle or a young stag on the rugged mountains.” Here she visualizes him enjoying her “mountains,” the contours and clefts of her body (see 4:6).

He too waxes eloquent with a flurry of metaphors and similes to stimulate the imagination of the most unimaginative reader.

“How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O queenly maiden. Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a skilled craftsman. Your navel is as delicious as a goblet filled with wine. Your belly is lovely, like a heap of wheat set about with lilies. Your breasts are like twin fawns of a gazelle. Your neck is as stately as an ivory tower. Your eyes are like the sparkling pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is as fine as the tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus. Your head is as majestic as Mount Carmel, and the sheen of your hair radiates royalty. A king is held captive in your queenly tresses. Oh, how delightful you are, my beloved; how pleasant for utter delight! You are tall and slim like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters of dates. I said, ‘I will climb up into the palm tree and take hold of its branches.’ Now may your breasts be like grape clusters, and the scent of your breath like apples. May your kisses be as exciting as the best wine, smooth and sweet, flowing gently over lips and teeth” (7:1-9, NLT).

Put simply, he feels about her the way a student expressed to me his love for his fiancée: “I look at her . . . and I can’t breathe!” Breasts like grape clusters? A navel like a goblet of wine? Thighs as finely shaped as jewels? Is this really in the Bible, the Word of God? It really is! How wholesome and richly erotic sex can be when enjoyed in the ways and within the context God intended. How much better it is than the cheap, toxic ways the world recommends. Contrast the joy of this text with the confusion and shame a young man experiences as he walks past the lingerie in the window display of a Victoria’s Secret store:

Just what kind of secret is 
Victoria trying to keep?
What blushing mystery pauses 
before the pursed lips of the mannequin in the window?

Whatever it is,
or whoever plastic *she* is, 
I have shuffled to a stop, 
hoping no one spies my lingering.

We’ve all done it — men, that is.

I’m not the first to be fascinated 
by the accoutrements of 
feminine mystique,
which are so many things, 
but not secretive;

panties, bras, frills, straps, and lace 
brandish a secret badly kept,
a message plain as an eye-shadowed wink. 

Suddenly, I get the message.

A purr from behind 
the window
hooks its finger,
peeling blushes off my skin, 
revealing bleeding secrets beneath.

(This poem is by Andy Patterson, a senior at Westmont College, where I am the pastor. He is also my son, I am proud to say.)

Victoria’s Secret is Victoria’s Lie. God’s good idea will always outpleasure the ersatz pleasures of the world.

“For the sake of sex, we must restrain sex until the right time.”

What are the theological foundations for this celebration of sex — and what does it have to do with the glory of God? The gigantic secret of the joy of sex is this: Sex is good because the God who created sex is good. And God is glorified greatly when we receive his gift with thanksgiving and enjoy it the way he meant for it to be enjoyed. The reason we like sex so much is that it is a little bit like the God who created it.

Therefore, the more sex is enjoyed in ways redolent of its Creator, the better sex is for all involved — to God’s glory and our sanctification and joy. The church father Irenaeus nearly reduced it to a formula when he said, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God” (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 4.20.7). The vision of God: that’s where the theological foundations come in. I think there are five.

Theological Foundations

1) The goodness of the creation. God made it, so it must be good. He said so. He made it good because he made it ex nihilo, out of nothing. To say God made it all out of nothing is to say he made it with no outside limitations, because when you make something out of nothing, the only limitations are those in your own mind. No one brought God the raw material of creation, dropped it into his lap, and said, “Now see what you can do with this stuff.”

He wasn’t a sculptor bound by the limitations of marble or clay, or a painter restricted by watercolors. What we see in this lovely world is not the best that God could do with some inferior material. It was made from the very best of “materials” — the thoughts and desires of a wise and loving God. His only limitations were in his mind.

Not so in the creation stories of the pagans, ancient or modern. Whatever gods there may be were forced to work with some preexistent material, usually inferior in quality. In the Babylonian creation myth, Marduk, the state god of Babylon, formed the world out of a furious struggle with the great sea serpent Tiamat. According to the myth, the world as we know it was formed in violence and death, out of the great serpent’s corpse. The message of the myth is that there is pain and evil and sickness and injustice in the world because the stuff the gods had to work with was flawed from the beginning. As the saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

But according to the Bible, this is not how it is with God or his world or our bodies. He created the heavens and the earth graciously and freely, using the finest of materials — whatever was in his loving, wise, and holy heart. Paul says God is for the body (1 Corinthians 6:13). He should be: he made it.

Then he did something astounding with what he made: he put us in charge of it, as stewards. What is a steward? A steward is someone entrusted with the management of someone else’s property and charged with managing it in the owner’s best interest. God’s great interest is his glory.

Marriage and sexuality is a stewardship. I must give my wife back better than I received her. And I must give the world we shared back to God better than we received it. Marriage is yet another arena in which to live out your vocation to serve Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once spoke to a love-struck couple in a marriage homily: “In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison [Macmillan, 1971], 43). We do nothing in this life unto ourselves alone. Even a happy marriage (or great sex) is not only for the happiness of the husbands, wives, and children; it is for God’s glory.

2) The reality of the Incarnation. The God who created human flesh deemed that it was a fit vehicle for the Son of God to “tent” among us in (John 1:14). To remember him and his death we are to eat bread and drink wine. As a sign and symbol of the cleansing of new birth we are to use water. Whatever one’s view of communion, it should impress us all that he told us to eat and drink something to remember him, his body and his blood. He told us to wash with water to express forgiveness and new birth. These aren’t mere psychological transactions, they are physical acts.

The physical is a fit vehicle for communion with God and for a husband and wife. When Adam knew his wife (Genesis 4:1), what happened? Did he gather information? No. She got pregnant! “This is a piquant irony,” writes Thomas Howard. “Here we are, with all our high notions of ourselves as intellectual and spiritual beings and the most profound form of knowledge for us is a plain business of skin on skin. It is humiliating.

When two members of this godlike, cerebral species approach the heights of communion between themselves, what do they do? Think? Speculate? Meditate? No, they take off their clothes. Do they want to get their brains together? No. It is the most appalling of ironies: Their search for union takes them quite literally in a direction away from where their brains are” (Thomas Howard, Hallowed Be This House [Ignatius, 1979], 115-116.).

I’ll never forget the pastoral visit I had with a woman whose husband had just died that morning. She had nursed him at home through a protracted and painful bout with cancer. When I walked into her living room, his corpse was still on the hospital bed she had wheeled beside the fireplace. I stood on one side of the bed, and she on the other, as I prayed for her. Before I finished praying I opened my eyes to see her massaging her husband’s feet, patting his cheeks, and rubbing his calves and hands as she must have done innumerable times in their marriage. I was deeply moved at what I saw, and as I drove home I thought, This is what sex is finally all about: one man and one woman to the end, loving and caring for each other’s bodies, with their bodies.

3) God made us sexual creatures. “So what else is new?” you say. This does not mean, primarily, that we have sexual drives and urges. I will not be less a male when my hormones give out. My masculinity will not be reaffirmed if I am shot to death by a jealous husband when I’m a hundred years old, as my father once quipped. The hormones are part of it, but they are peripheral to the center, which is that we are differentiated as male and female. Apart from this basic differentiation, we cannot be understood as human beings. The words of Jesus are, “Haven’t you read, . . . that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’?” (Matthew 19:4, NIV).

This is a radically different view of our sexuality than the Greek myth of the androgyne: in the beginning was a sexless androgyne that was later split into male and female. Sexual differentiation was seen as a kind of “fall,” with our attraction to each other a desire to “become one” in the sense of getting back to our origin. The goal was to transcend the sexual differentiation, and ultimately the flesh in which we are imprisoned, and become pure spirit, sexless and body-less.

We are to steward our marriages and sexuality.

That is not what the Bible means by our maleness and femaleness. To say we are sexual creatures is to say that we cannot be understood except as male and female, and except as male or female. As male and female we make up one humanity. As male or female we make up the two poles of that humanity, with our bodies as concrete expressions of those poles.

4) We are made to be together. God said of us that it is not good to be alone (Gen. 2:18). In putting us together he gave us a God-like power over each other. As Adam’s “love poem” to Eve expressed it, she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (2:21-23). It is also true that my wife will, in some sense, become boredom of my boredom, fear of my fear, and love of my love. She has the same impact on me. We become what others are to us; and they become what we are to them. I have often regarded as empirical evidence of this truth the number of elderly couples I have seen who actually look alike.

Becoming “one flesh” is one of the truly unique features of a Christian understanding of marriage. Men and women are so very different from each other. This can be cause for frustration or cause for excitement and growth. It is a lifelong adventure to love and understand this woman I live with — so very different from me and yet one with me. We have such a differing sexuality as male and female, we who are one and yet must become one! We have so much to learn from each other that it will take a lifetime! Always when I meet with a couple for pre-marriage counseling, I will urge them to take their sense of humor along with them on their honeymoon, because blessed and few are the couples whose honeymoon reaches the heights of sexual communion. Most of us have a lot to learn, and that is good — it draws us out of ourselves.

5) We find ourselves as we give ourselves away. There is great grace in the gift of Eve to Adam; she is given as he sleeps. But it is costly grace; she is formed from his own body. The great mystery of one becoming two foreshadows the greater mystery of two becoming one. God’s math is that one and one don’t equal two, but one (Genesis 2:24). And the one flesh is greater than the two that preceded it. In marriage as with the gospel, we find ourselves as we give ourselves away (Luke 9:23-24).

Therein is the tragedy and oxymoron of modern ideas of “trying out” marriage. One can no more “try out” marriage than try out death or birth. For marriage to be marriage, it must be all or nothing. I sometimes counsel students who are fascinated with this “trying out” nonsense to “try out” marriage this way: Don’t start living together after a dinner by candlelight; wait till one of you has the stomach flu — then sleep together. My suggestion is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, and it helps to make the big point about the goodness of sex and marriage: that the quality of life does not consist in the number of experiences one has, but in the depth of commitments. Illicit sex can be fun and exciting, like diving off the high dive. But it’s the swimmers who get strong.

We lose ourselves to find ourselves. In the mystery of love, as God planned it, “no one can ever figure out who is doing the giving and who the receiving,” writes Thomas Howard. Real lovers “know that giving and receiving are a splendid and hilarious paradox in which, lo, the giving becomes receiving, the receiving giving until any efforts to sort it out collapse in merriment or adoration” (Howard, “God Before Birth: The Imagery Matters,” Christianity Today, December 17, 1976, 12-13).

Thank You

There is one more thing to be said about the goodness of sex and the glory of God: Thank you. Sex is good because the God who created sex is good. And God is glorified greatly when we receive his gift with thanksgiving and enjoy it the way he meant for it to be enjoyed. Gratitude may be the greatest joy of sex, and what brings the greatest glory to God, because joy is what you experience when you are grateful for the grace that has been given you. The Greek language gives us a picture of how this works: grace, gratitude, and joy all have the same root, char, which is a word having to do with health or well-being. Grace is charis, gratitude is eucharistia, and joy is chara. The three are organically joined, theologically and spiritually. Karl Barth’s insight is vivid:

“How can anything more or different be asked of man? The only answer to charis is eucharistia. . . . Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.” (Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Church Dogmatics [T & T Clark, 1980], 41)

I must give a personal testimony here. A few months before I married the wonderful woman who has been my wife all these years, I experienced a chilling fear of commitment. I reasoned that if I said yes to her, I’d be saying no to millions of other women. I knew I didn’t have access to millions, but however many of them there might be, the door would be closed after marriage. Marriage seemed so narrow. But I have discovered that its narrowness is the narrowness of the birth canal. There has been a universe in this one person, this mystery I know as Lauretta.

In the mystery of love, we lose ourselves to find ourselves.

Now fast-forward several years to a family vacation. The six of us have stopped in Blythe, California, to use the rest room in a McDonald’s restaurant. Blythe is a town on the California side of the Colorado River. Picture me standing there holding my daughter, a few feet from the rest room doors, as a gorgeous young woman I have come to call The Babe from Blythe emerges from behind those doors. I’ll avoid as many details as I can, but she was sexy, tan, and dressed as, well, young women are wont to dress in warm desert climates. And she was looking right at me, smiling warmly!

My fatigued mind was suddenly focused. I straightened up and smiled back, flushed with the adolescent conceit that even though I was much older than she was, I must still remain a very attractive man. Babes still take notice! Our smiles and eyes met for longer than could be merely a random encounter as she walked past me. It was then I noticed my reflection in the mirror along the wall and saw who she was smiling at.

It was me, all right, but it wasn’t Ben Patterson the Mature Hunk. It was Ben Patterson, Mary’s daddy. He was middle-aged, a little lumpy, and he was holding a precious child. That’s what delighted The Babe. My first reaction was embarrassment, tinged with a little disappointment. Silly fool, you aren’t what you thought you were! But as I continued to look in the mirror, I decided I liked what I saw there more than I liked what I first thought The Babe saw. I liked being Mary’s daddy. I like it a lot. Ditto for Dan and Joel and Andy. It’s better to be a daddy than a stud. My deflation turned into elation.

Whether or not that is what P.T. Forsyth meant by God being an “infinite opportunist,”12 that’s what I mean. He orchestrated my lust and conceit into a blessed realization of my true glory and happiness. God was smiling at me through the smile of The Babe from Blythe. With one deft stroke, he seized the moment, stripped me bare, and clothed me with mercy.

I want to thank God for the gift of sex. But not sex in general; sex in particular. You see, there was a teenaged girl from Minneapolis who gave up everything she had known to come to California and live with me, March 27, 1971. She hardly knew me. And I’ll never forget the risk she took when she changed her name to mine. And a pigheaded, frightened, and lonely man has been understanding the gospel better because of her — through the one God made to be bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Thank you, Lauretta. And to God alone be the glory.

is the campus pastor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.