“Safe Sex”—A Biblical Perspective

Of all the plagues and epidemics that have afflicted human society down through the centuries, perhaps none more than HIV/AIDS strikes at the very heart and core of our being. The desire for love and the drive to perpetuate life are fundamental elements of human existence. It is a sad irony that having sex today should seem to be potentially life threatening. 

Analyzing the causes behind this worldwide plague is a major step toward controlling it. Unprotected sex with an HIV-infected person and injecting drugs with infected needles are the principal ways of spreading the disease. As a result, huge efforts and increasing amounts of money are being directed toward educating people about the HIV virus, and encouraging them to indulge in “safe sex” and avoid injecting drugs. Progress is also being made in the development of drugs that could eradicate or at least contain the disease. 

But more is needed to win the war against HIV/AIDS. A largely forgotten and ignored source of wisdom—the Bible—provides an additional perspective on today’s problems. It contains instruction regarding human sexuality that, if followed, would prevent what is an unnecessary catastrophe. 

During the course of several recent interviews in South Africa, Vision asked about the relevance of biblical morality to the AIDS pandemic. Clem Sunter, coauthor of AIDS: The Challenge for South Africa, commented that morality as it is spelled out in the Ten Commandments is central to solving the problem of HIV/AIDS, but he doubted that society was ready to live by such a standard. 

Gail Johnson, foster mother of the deceased AIDS icon Nkosi Johnson and ever the pragmatist, agreed that biblical morality held the key to defeating HIV/AIDS, but she, too, expressed reservations: “Who would enforce such laws?” This strikes right to the heart of the challenge. Ultimately, individual sexual morality is something each of us must choose; it can only be self-enforced. 

The director of the AIDS prevention organization loveLife, David Harrison, stressed the importance of religion as well as parental influence in encouraging people to choose a positive lifestyle based on universal values. And David Spencer, a minister and physician treating HIV-infected patients through his private practice, emphasized that the spiritual dimension to the AIDS crisis goes largely unnoticed. Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, he said HIV/AIDS is “God’s megaphone” to get our attention and tell us that there’s something seriously wrong with the way we live. HIV/AIDS, more than anything else, is an indictment of our collective and individual disregard for biblical teaching and morality. He believes that HIV/AIDS confronts all of us with the reason for our existence and our need for God. 

Human sexuality and HIV/AIDS powerfully illustrate the relevance of Christian teaching and morality to modern life. Heeding God’s laws and teaching, especially regarding the use of sex, cannot help but enhance human relationships as well as our prospects for good health. If we see these laws as unnecessarily restrictive, some scorned relic of a bygone age, we completely miss the point. God’s principal characteristic is love. His desire is to protect and sustain us, and He wants us to follow His laws because that will benefit us. 

Simply put, these laws tell us to value the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:23–24; Ephesians 5:31; Hebrews 13:4); and to recognize the role of sexual relationships within the context of a committed marriage relationship (Leviticus 20:10–23; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7). 

This instruction is straightforward and simple—though perceived by many as unfashionable and difficult. Yet if all government policy, educational and social programs, and personal morality were directed toward these biblical objectives, HIV/AIDS would rapidly cease to be the problem that it is. 

It is only sensible to promote the use of condoms, prescribe anti-AIDS drugs and apply other appropriate measures in an effort to fend off this deadly virus. But in the final analysis, making the right personal choice is probably the principal issue in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. A change of lifestyle to the one that God advocates is the best possible way of ridding the world of this modern scourge.