A Surprising and Disheartening Endorsement
I have been praying for you over the last few days, that our Father would enable you to recognize and rejoice in his love.
It’s been an interesting week in the world of social media (and this is to say nothing of the endless pre-election barbs that have been circulating on television and online.) Two prominent Christian personalities have come out in support of homosexual relationships: A theological legend and a popular author and conference speaker. This has set the blogosphere ablaze. So much has been written over the last 96 hours about these surprising endorsements that I would not presume to add much to the discussion in one 700-word essay. But it does appear to me that the root of the issue is a singular problem: A crisis of authority.
Which is nothing new, really.
Consider the situation at Athens nearly 2,000 years ago. It’s the middle of the first century, and the Apostle Paul finds himself immersed in a world of endless ideologies and countless deities. The religious formula for living among the gods was: “I’ll do for you, if you do for me.” If you wanted the gods to approve of you, then you made sacrifices for them. And if you worshipped them in the way that they accepted, and did enough to satisfy them, then they would (hopefully) respond favorably to you.
But to these very open-minded and uber-tolerant people of Athens, Paul says: Let me tell you about the True God, the one who made the world and everything in it. Paul says he is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24).
This is language of absolute authority. In a society where the gods competed for the affection and loyalty of humanity, Paul says, this God competes with no one. He needs nothing from anyone and is indebted to no one. He made the world, yet he stands apart from the world. He is like no one else. Paul goes on to say that “he gives to all mankind life and breath and everything”; and, “he is not served by human hands as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25).
This is Paul’s way of saying: God cannot be manipulated.
When are we most susceptible to being manipulated? It’s when we need something. A boy who doesn’t have enough money for lunch will accept just about anything in exchange for food. Give up his coat? Sure. Hand over his test answers? Certainly. A girl desperate to garner the approval of her peers will resort to just about any tactic in order to secure that elusive acceptance. Make a fool of herself? Surrender her convictions? If that’s what it takes.
But the God that Paul describes lacks nothing. So he is not vulnerable to the schemes and subterfuge of the ones he made. This God is creator of all, above all, sovereign over all, and caves to no one. Consequently, as maker of heaven and earth, and the one on whom all creation depends for existence, God Himself determines what’s right and wrong.
Said another way: This God, who is the creator and sustainer of all things, is the one we depend on; not just existentially but morally. And his commands are neither arbitrary nor irrational, but they flow out of his holy character. And his identity as God. Thus God says throughout the Old Testament, “Do this. Don’t do that. I am the Lord.”
Now, here’s how this relates to the discussion about human sexuality.
We all have feelings and opinions about everything, including sex, love, and relationships. And those opinions or feelings naturally bleed into the arena of morality. “I simply feel that this is the right thing to do,” we say. Or, “I just believe that this is wrong.” For example, as I’ve shared with you from the pulpit, I believe that it’s wrong for a woman to ask a man to go shopping if there’s no plan to buy anything. I just think that’s wrong. I think that’s a sin.
But here’s the deal. What I think or feel doesn’t determine what’s right or wrong, regardless of how passionate or sincere I am. Right and wrong is determined by the God on whom we depend for everything, and the one whose voice thunders from Mount Sinai, saying, “I am the Lord your God. … You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
The same is true about human sexuality as it is for every other area of ethics: The way I feel about something doesn’t determine what is right or wrong. What matters is: What has God said. (And, frankly, what God has said about human sexuality is unambiguous: The one-flesh union was created for one woman and one man to enjoy within the covenant of marriage; and any deviation from that dishonors God and flaunts his design.)
But here’s what’s so beautiful about what God says. God doesn’t simply give us a bunch of rules to hold us back or to squelch our joy. He gives us commands based on his character to help us to fully enjoy everything he’s made in the context that’s best for us. And then, when we enjoy things in that way, we are inclined, in gratitude, to turn to him, the giver of those good things.
I love this statement by N.T. Wright, as it relates to God’s prerogatives: “Authority is not the power to control people, and crush them, and keep them in little boxes. The church often tries to do that—to tidy people up. Rather, God’s authority vested in scripture is designed, as all God’s authority is designed, to liberate human beings, to judge and condemn evil and sin in the world in order to set people free to be fully human.”
So, as you read the discussions about human sexuality and, perhaps, end up surprised (or conflicted) by the arguments of people whose opinions you value, ask yourself the questions: On what authority are they making these assertions? How are they engaging the text of scripture, which is “breathed out by God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, corrections and instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). If they are not submitting to the authority of God, who has spoken to us in his Word, not only are their assertions misguided, but they fail to appreciate the great freedom that comes with obedience to a gracious and loving God.
For his glory,