Walking through the Siq, the narrow gorge that leads to the ancient city of Petra in the country of Jordan, is an experience in itself. About a mile long, and usually no more than twenty feet wide, the Siq is lined with niches where religious objects once stood, as well as the remains of water channels and guard posts from the time almost two thousand years ago when thirty thousand people lived in this city that flourished in the desert.
As we passed through this gorge, suddenly our guide called to us to stop, instructed us to stand in a line one behind the other, put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, then close our eyes and shuffle forward until he told us to open our eyes. When he did, there it was—the sight we had come to see, visible through a narrow opening at the end of the ravine—the famous Treasury Building carved deeply into the rose-red rock of a high-walled canyon. It was our first glimpse of “the rose-red city half as old as time.”
No matter how well prepared you may have been through movies or pictures, it is a sight that takes your breath away. As you wander through the rest of the site, you cannot help wondering what life was like thousands of years ago for the desert-dwelling Nabateans who lived there. Despite the barrenness of the surroundings, the community flourished until a series of strong earthquakes in AD 6 caused the city to be abandoned.
Over the years I have had the privilege of visiting these and other impressive ruins of the ancient world, such as the Coliseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, Masada in Israel, and Ephesus in modern Turkey. Even in their disarray, these ruins possess a magnificence and are mute witnesses to what once was but is no more. There is glory in what remains, but it is a broken, marred, distorted, and damaged glory.
Broken, marred, distorted, and damaged glory—we deal with that very thing in our own lives. Specifically, as in the subject of this booklet, we wrestle with distorted and impure sexual desires. Where do they come from?
If God created humans in His own image, with marriage as His divine provision, what went wrong? If, as God-given, sex was good, beautiful, and holy, how has it become the source of so many of our heartbreaks, our guilt and shame, and our problems? How did something good get distorted in so many different ways and become the source of habits that enslave us? Why are marriages and relationships so often frustrating and difficult rather than fulfilling? Why do we fight the same temptations over and over?
Unless we correctly diagnose the problem, we cannot possibly discover the appropriate cure. If the roots of our sexual struggles are primarily informational, we should look to research or education for our answers. If our problems are rooted in social oppression and power-wielding majorities, we should look toward liberators or revolutionaries who can help us throw off our shackles. But if our problem is, at root, a spiritual one, we need to look beyond these things to God himself.
To find the answer, therefore, we need to go back to the beginning, to the place where everything went wrong. We need the clear-eyed realism of the Bible as it exposes the complexity of human sexuality after the fall. Such realism will keep us from naive and simplistic diagnoses of our problems, as well as superficial and deceptive promises about, or solutions to, our struggles. It will challenge our temptation to idealize and idolize the sensual and the sexual, in the foolish belief that these can function as our deliverers. A biblical balance will also keep us from a reaction that spurns the physical and the natural. The fall distorted God’s intention for sex just as it distorted everything else. But despite the brokenness of our sexuality, true goodness remains.