ABC Extra – Knowing and Being Known

October 10, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

In 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the preeminent Genevan philosopher of his day and pictured in this blog, wrote a book titled Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men.  In it, Rousseau opines longingly for man’s primitive state.  Contrary to the restrictions and mores modern society thrusts on us, primitive man, Rousseau declares, was carefree, without any language, any personal property, and any need to live in committed relationships.  Rousseau declares, “Males and females united fortuitously, according to chance encounters, opportunity, and desire…They parted just as readily.”[1]  In other words, primitive society was the ultimate free love society, that is, minus the love part.  Rousseau continues, “Man’s first sentiment was that of his existence, his first care that for his preservation.  The earth’s products provided him with all necessary support, instinct moved him to use them…There was one [instinct] that prompted him to perpetuate his species; and this blind inclination, devoid of any sentiment of the heart, produced only a purely animal act.”[2]  According to Rousseau’s primitive, paradisiacal world, sex was only a brute, animal act, devoid of any pesky sentiments or connections.  There was no affection, no emotional warmth – just skin against skin, flesh against flesh.

Rousseau’s vision and version of primitive man, of course, is diametrically opposed to the Bible’s account of our origins.  Sex, according to the Bible, is not the result of brute, animal instinct.  Rather, sex is a gift from God, bestowed on humans to connect husbands and wives in every human way possible: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

The Old Testament uses an interesting euphemism for sexual relations.  Rather than using the word “sex” as a verb, it will speak of people “knowing” each other.  For example, when Adam and Eve come together as husband and wife, Genesis says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Genesis 4:1).

This euphemism of “knowing” for sex gives us some insight into the depth and profundity of human sexuality.  Contrary to Rousseau’s assertion, sex is not just skin against skin and flesh against flesh devoid of any commitment or compassion.  Sex unites people – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.  The apostle Paul explains it this way: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17).  As I mentioned in ABC, the city of Corinth boasted a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and sex.  At the temple, there were over one thousand prostitutes who serviced so-called “worshippers” in wild orgies celebrating Aphrodite.  Apparently, even the Corinthian Christians developed a penchant for participating the temple’s debauchery.  Like the pagans of Corinth, the Christians too began hooking up and breaking up.  It was a Rousseaurian dream.  But Paul knows that this kind of sexual looseness is not God’s dream.  “Sex,” Paul says, “unifies one person to another in body.  Thus, if you have sex with a prostitute, you are unifying yourself to her bodily.”  But sex does not stop with fleshly unification.  Paul also speaks of being “one with the Lord in spirit.”  This too is a part of sex.  This is why the Hebrew writers use the word “know” as a euphemism for sex.  For sex creates a deep, emotional bond between two people.  This is why divorces hurt so badly.  Two people are being ripped apart who have been connected at the deepest levels of their being.

The apostle Paul writes concerning eternity:  “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  The knowing of sexual intimacy is deep and abiding.  But it will pale in comparison to the richness and depth and breadth with which we will know our Savior in heaven.  This is the true and greatest knowledge for which we hope…and for which we wait.

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[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau & Victor Gourevitch, The Disourses and Other Early Political Writings (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1997) 145.

[2] Ibid., 161.

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