Sin, Sex, and Shalom
IN THE BEGINNING, IN HIS IMAGE
The Bible begins with God, the Sovereign Lord and good Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” But humanity, being the very image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation (“behold it was very good”).
In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: he called us the image of God. This reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe.
As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature as they were created like God, by God, for God, and to be with God.
MULTIPLY AND HAVE DOMINION
Immediately after making the man and woman, God granted them a special commission: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
With the commission to multiply, Adam and Eve’s job was to produce so many images of God that they would cover the earth. Then, God ordered them to have dominion over the earth, or exercise authority over creation, managing its vast resources on God’s behalf, not dominating it, but being good stewards of creation and creators of culture.
Multiplication and dominion are deeply connected to our being the image of God. To be sure, God had no problem filling the earth with his presence, but he chose to establish his authority on earth in ways that humans could understand. God commanded his images to populate the landscape of his creation. In the command to “multiply,” God wanted his images spread to the ends of the earth. His command to “have dominion” is God giving humans authority to represent him in his world. Marital sex is the means by which we fulfill our calling of multiplying and taking dominion.
God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with his image bearers, who were to glorify him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and his wise rule, is called shalom. As one scholar writes:
In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight‚ a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
Shalom means fullness of peace, and harmonious and responsible relationship with God, other human beings, and nature, as God intended. It is the vision of a society without violence or fear: “I will give you peace (shalom) in the land, and none shall make you afraid” (Leviticus 26:6).
In short, biblical writers use the word shalom to describe the world of universal peace, safety, justice, order, and wholeness God intended. In shalom, sex is also a reflection of unity and peace between man and woman. It is a picture of two becoming one in marriage.
This peaceful, loving relationship was shattered by the entrance of sin into the world. Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and violated shalom. Sin wrecks the order and goodness of God’s world. Instead of unashamed intimacy and trust, there is shame and mistrust. Instead of grace, there is disgrace.
A foundational element of paradise, sexual innocence in community, has been spoiled by the treachery of sin. Sex, the very expression of human union, intimacy, and peace, becomes a tool for pain, suffering, and destruction after the fall.
Sin is not the last word on the world or us. God reconciled the world to himself through Jesus Christ. By dealing with sin at the cross, Jesus made reconciliation between God and humanity possible, as well as reconciliation with one another.
The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace. God’s redemption imparts grace and brings peace, including our sexual past, present, and future. There is healing, hope, cleansing, and forgiveness for all who trust in Jesus.