Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. That this post deals with the topic it does has little to do with the day and a lot to do with something I read this last weekend that shocked me. Al Mohler added grist to the mill a couple days ago (radio show, blog). Now I can’t get the ideas for this post out of my head. Kind of a “write or be tormented by it knocking around in your thoughts until you do” thing. I hoped to post this yesterday, but the combination of a migraine and an ice storm knocking out my satellite Internet connection pushed things into this fateful day.
Although I hold to a Sola Scriptura position on the authority of the Bible, I feel that some folks who share my position do so at the expense of other means by which God reveals Himself and His will. One of the means by which God speaks that perpetually receives short shrift from the most ardent Solas proponents is general revelation, best thought of as the created order. General revelation doesn’t speak against special revelation (the revealed word of God in the Scriptures), but supports it.
To ignore general revelation is to forget that God Himself appeals to it. When God confronts Job, He doesn’t quote Scripture to him, but summons visions of His divine authority from His created order:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”
—Job 38:1-16 ESV
“Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. “He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword! For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play. Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh. For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him. Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth. Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?”
—Job 40:15-24 ESV
When God punishes the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, He warps the created order to humble the haughty king:
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
—Daniel 4:28-33 ESV
Paul reinforces the power of the created order to testify to the truth of God’s will:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
—Romans 1:18-20 ESV
What truth are these men and women trying to suppress? Not special revelation, but general. They curse and rail against the created order. Just as God pointed Job to the created order to prove truth, Paul teaches that He still uses that means to speak to us.
Christ Himself appealed to the created order when faced with a doubting disciple:
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
—John 20:24-27 ESV
The body of Jesus conformed to the created order, proving to the doubter that he touched real, physical flesh. Though fully God, Jesus possessed a fully male human body in keeping with the created order. He was born of a woman in line with created order. And he died a real death.
Even with the existence of special revelation, general revelation’s ability to speak about the nature of God and His creation continues. The truth of created order found in general revelation can only be ignored at our own peril.
Which brings us to sex.
Because I have roots in the Lutheran Church, I still follow trends and events in the historic church Luther founded. Much of my theology contains what I learned in that church. Without the Lutheran Church, I wouldn’t be here.
This last weekend, I followed a link through The Boar’s Head Tavern to an increasingly common story of a minister facing removal from the pulpit. The reason? He professed his desire for another man.
The shock to me? This Lutheran pastor and I graduated from the same class in high school. We ran in some of the same cliques of people, too.
I grew up in a churchgoing family. I got “the talk” when I was in third grade, so I knew about sex. But I was a good kid and never pushed the issue. You saved yourself for marriage and that was that. The mere thought of disappointing God or my parents by having sex outside of marriage definitely kept me in line.
As for other forms of sexual expression outside of typical heterosexuality, my naïveté lasted well into my mid-20s. I suppose I read over all those biblical passages talking about homosexuality and just didn’t quite understand what the word meant and wasn’t all that bothered by not getting it. Whatever kind of sin it was, it didn’t apply to me. And those taunts I heard some other boys called in school, I knew they intended to convey some message about being less than a man, but the depth of those words didn’t register
Only when AIDS hit did it dawn on me that men had sex with other men. Even then, I didn’t exactly understand how.
I thank God that I led such a sheltered life for so long. I’m saddened that my son won’t have that same opportunity.
I’ve never written about homosexuality here. I’m not as naïve as I used to be, though. I voluntered with a ministry in Chicago that went into gay bars and ministered to the men there. The stories would break your heart. Watching lanky teen prostitutes selling themselves on the street corners to tired old men who long ago lost their looks in what is a subculture of appearance. The anger. The loneliness. The palpable feel of the demonic as we would walk those streets and pray. Volunteers in that ministry struggling with homosexual dreams at night after praying through the streets of the neighborhood. The overwhelming oppression.
The violence against the created order.
When Paul appeals to the created order in Romans 1, noting how those who flaunted it succumbed to the punishment of God by having normal affections warped against that created order, he’s not quoting Scripture but Creation. He melds the truth of general revelation with the preponderance of sexual imagery in the special revelation of Scripture. He appeals to archetypal imagery of God as Initiator and His people as the Receivers of His Spirit and riches. The Lover and the Beloved of Song of Songs. The Bridegroom and Bride. Christ and the Church.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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 1:27-28 ESV
You won’t hear this expounded this way in too many pulpits, but the first command of God to Mankind was, “Have sex. Often. Fill the earth with your offspring.” Our sexual dimorphism exists to create life, expressing in our sexuality the very creative power of God Himself because we’re made in His image. It reflects the union of Christ and the Church, the fecund riches of God poured into His people. The Initiator entering the Receiver. All of receptive creation is feminine against the masculinity of God expressed through His acting on us as the prime Initiator. The created order not only reflects sexual dimorphism expressed through heterosexuality, it demands it in order to show the fullness of God. Particularly in God’s highest creation, Mankind.
Created order provides all the wisdom we need to understand that homosexuality cannot be condoned by the Creator God, as Paul notes in Romans 1. The first command of God fails in light of a world subject to non-reproduction, to barrenness replacing fruitfulness, to Receivers casting off their position to become Initiators instead. Or Receivers receiving apart from an Initiator. It’s the old argument from the Garden, “You can be like God.” In rejecting the truth of Initiator/Receiver, homosexuality seeks to supplant God Himself. All sexuality that exists apart from the intent of created order does.
I felt the delusion permeating the raw streets of the Hilltop region of Chicago. The truth of God exchanged for a lie.
It’s easy to find the simplistic path, though. It takes no effort to blame and point fingers, to condemn. But that’s not the way of the Lord. As much as I’m thankful my church upbringing sheltered me from perversion of the created order, in another way, I’m disappointed.
My hearing nothing about homosexuality in my young Christian days reflects the painful reality that no one in the church gave one damn about homosexuals. Better they just keep to themselves, stay out of sight, so our own little ivory tower won’t pick up their squalor.
If Christians hadn’t completely ignored ministry to homosexuals decades ago, we wouldn’t be fighting a lot of the moral battles we are now. The Church’s utter lack of care for homosexuals sent them running to whatever group would listen. We weren’t listening. The feminists were. We know the results.
As you all know, I worked in Christian camping ministry for a number of years. Poll the staff if camping had a profound effect on them as youngsters and every hand would go up. How could anyone not give back to something that had so dramatically changed life?
Contrarily, many people who can’t find help from some professional or institutional source take it upon themselves to rectify the lack so someone else won’t face it. I know scores of people who couldn’t find help when they encountered a crisis, so when they got on their feet they rectified the lack by becoming a helper.
For this reason, I believe one of the reasons we’re seeing so many homosexuals in pastoral positions is in part because at some point in their lives the Church kicked them in the head. The Christians in their lives were the ones yelling, “Faggot!” at the top of their lungs. They received all of our condemnation and none of our love. Not very Christlike.
So they rectified the lack.
Rather than going out to deal with real people facing real problems and real temptations, we people “who got it right” walled ourselves into our ivory towers. Now instead of possessing the land because we went out into neglected highways and alleys long ago, we’re finding our comfortable Evangelical castle stormed, asking how to get back to Camelot, but forgetting that we left the very people attacking us out of the Kingdom.
A sad situation. But we sowed the wind and now we’re reaping the whirlwind.
Don’t get me wrong here. I do NOT support practicing homosexuals in the pastorate. But neither do I support practicing adulterers, practicing alcoholics, practicing liars, and those who practice their woeful pride 24/7/365. God knows we have enough of all of those already. Sin is sin. All sin demands repentance. Demands it!
As Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ bids a man, He bids him come and die.” We are no longer our own. Our lives, whatever they were before Christ, are now hidden in Him. As a married man, all other women had to die to me so that my wife may enjoy my body all to herself. But this does not mean that she is my fulfillment and I hers. Only Christ alone can fulfill.
God deals with people’s old nature differently. Some parts of it die right at the foot of the cross, never to trouble again. Not all of it goes quietly, though. We struggle with the leftovers of that old nature until the day we die. Sanctification guarantees that Christ in time will deal with even the most ingrained sin, even if death alone provides it finally. Homosexuality is no exception. As part of the old nature, the Lord can choose to kill that desire at the cross, or like Paul’s thorn, He might leave it in to drive a man or woman to Himself in times of darkness.
For this reason, I will not condemn Christians who war with their homosexuality as long as they understand Christ stands against that sexual remnant of the old nature, that rejection of His created order. Adam’s original pure nature included a desire only for Eve and for God. His fallen nature, on the other hand, does not. But a New Adam came, and He calls us to be remade in His image. Any man who struggles with homosexuality must understand that to be a pastor, the created order must be maintained and the old nature must die. Just as I made an exclusive promise to one woman and to one Lord, so he must make an exclusive promise to one Lord. If the process of sanctification works so that he desires a woman one day, then praise God. But if not, then his affections must be channeled to God alone. The Lutheran pastor in this case crossed that line and now must face the penalty for his error.
What a waste. Worse yet, it looks like the ELCA Lutheran assembly will technically defrock him (as they should), but they’ve put off his removal date until after their summer conference. I’ll let you guess what’s going to come out of that conference.
Maybe I should start shaking my head now.
I read Al Mohler’s cautionary post and watch the devastation now rending the Anglican/Episcopal Church, and my heart breaks. How can we think God’s only going to judge the homosexual community, that somehow we’ll get a free pass for how we’ve dealt with them?
How to fix it? Apart from a supernatural move of God, the whole issue resembles Pandora’s little indiscretion. I don’t have a perfect answer except to pray that God moves and that we move, too. We need to stop treating homosexuals as Untouchables and enemies. How do the Scriptures say we should heap burning coals on the heads of those who oppose us? By loving them more than they despise us. In the same way, we must lovingly continue to call for repentance. Though some treat those two ideas as incompatible, they’re both sides of the same love coin.
We need to follow Jesus to the true meaning of love. And of sex.