Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hope Against All Odds

There's no point in sugar coating this. This piece is about sexuality and not everyone is going to agree. So I encourage everyone to consider the following before continuing to read.

  • If you firmly believe same-sex relationships are sinful in all manifestations, and you do not wish to challenge or reexamine your convictions...
  • If you believe or feel that closely examining your convictions about sexuality may cause you to stumble in your faith or lead you into sinful thoughts or behaviors...
  • If you are searching for irrefutable proof that your sexuality is not sinful...
  • If you are searching for a way to justify actions or behaviors to yourself or others...
  • If you are searching for ways to condemn same-sex relationships...

...then this piece is not for you. Everyone is welcome to read it, but not everyone will find it helpful and some may find it misguided and even dangerous.

Not everyone who reads this will hear it the same way, but this piece is for those who are listening for hope, encouragement, comfort and love. It’s for those who are searching for answers, scared of what they will find, desperate for relief, riddled with doubts, drowning in fear, and collapsing under expectations.

The question: Is homosexuality, bisexuality or transsexuality sinful?

If you’re looking for a quote out of the Bible to prove it’s ok to be gay or bi or trans, you won’t find a handy verse to back you up. The verse doesn’t exist.

However, if you look at the whole Bible, at history and at the world around us, there is a confluence of evidence that your sexuality is not what’s important to God. In a world where everyone feels pressure to identify as straight, gay, bi or trans, it might sound simplistic to say that sexuality isn’t important. But it’s true. What’s important is living as children of God.

So what is this confluence of evidence? Well, first of all, it’s not proof. And proof, of course, is what everyone wants. Irrefutable, quotable proof, from the Bible. But I have no proof because there is no explicit verse or story in the Bible that proves homosexuality isn’t sinful. I know that’s what you’re hoping to find. I know, right now, it’s the only thing that seems important. Because if you can just PROVE that your sexuality isn’t sinful, then you can get on with your life.

I know the pattern because I lived it. You are filled with doubt. You spend hours pouring over every verse that deals with anything even close to resembling something that’s not explicitly heterosexual. And you read and re-read those verses until your head is spinning. Then you decide your translation isn’t the right one, so you go back into different translations. Then you conclude the translators got something wrong. So you go back into the original languages. You desperately try to teach yourself some Greek and Hebrew. And just when you think you might have found some overlooked nuance, you realize you’ve built a house of cards. And you collapse back into despair and desperation all over again. And as the darkness closes in around you, you can’t even bear to look at the Bible. I know, because even as I relive the memories, I’m shaking.

You should search and you should question, but what you’re looking for does not exist. You have not overlooked some loophole or some obscure reference. No translation will give you the kind of irrefutable, quotable proof you’re desperate to find. So take a break from your search and rest.

The good news is, the proof you’re searching for is not necessary. God does not ask us to prove our innocence to him - because we are not innocent. Let’s say one day Biblical scholars discover irrefutable proof that your sexuality is not sinful. That proof does not save you. Take heterosexuality: there is ample quotable proof in the Bible that heterosexuality is not sinful. Yet heterosexuals are not saved because they are heterosexual. The same is true for everyone: you will not be saved because your sexuality is proven not to be sinful.

Everyone sins because everyone breaks God’s law. No matter what your sexuality, this fact will not change. If someone were to decide never to have sex in order to avoid breaking laws God established about sex, that person would still be a law-breaker. No action or decision that any human makes can change their sinfulness. (Romans 3:11-20)

God's Promise
Since we humans, in and of ourselves, are incapable of pleasing God, God does the impossible and removes our sin for us. We are saved because God saves us - if we have believe God’s promise of life through God’s son Jesus. Jesus came from God, suffered and died in our place to redeem everyone from sin, and conquered death for everyone by rising from the dead. If you believe this, you are already God’s child. Every sin is forgiven, forever and always. That’s God’s promise. (John 3:16-18, John 11:25-26)

God’s promise doesn’t depend on human action or human decision. God’s promise does not depend on actions you take or choices you have made or plan to make. If you believe God’s promise, your new life begins NOW. It doesn’t start when you have answers to every question, it doesn’t start when you denounce your sexuality or enter therapy. It doesn’t start when your family or pastor or friends or coworkers agree with you. Your new life has already begun because Jesus IS your life. He has already claimed you as his own. You are God’s own: he knows you, he loves you and he has put his Spirit in you. (Romans 9:14-18, John 14:6-7, John 14:18-20, Romans 8:10-11)

If God’s Spirit lives in you - and he does if you believe God’s promise - then your new life is guided by the Spirit. In his death, Jesus freed us from slavery to sin. When guided by the Spirit, we are no longer ruled by passions, desires, urges, lusts, obsessions, sexuality, ethnicity, or any other force. We are instead freed from all of that and taught how to live new lives filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, self-control, etc. Just as Jesus died and rose to a new life, so we also have died to sin and live a new life. (Romans 6:5-11, Galatians 5:1, 22-25)

So what is this new life? It’s freedom. And it’s love. We are no longer slaves to our own cravings. We are also no longer slaves to a rulebook of laws that condemn our failures. Because we have died to sin with Jesus, we have also been set free from the law through God’s promise. What the law required, Jesus satisfied completely for us. The life we now live is led by the Spirit, not the law. That freedom from obsessing over obeying the law liberates us to devote ourselves to Jesus’ new command: to love one another. This is our life: freedom and love. (Romans 3:21-31, Galatians 5:1-14, John 13:34-35, 1 John 3:23-24)

This life of freedom and love does not mean freedom to indulge in sin. Through Jesus, we have died to sin and we cannot continue in sin any longer. And sin is not confined to a book of laws we can memorize. With laws, we can “cheat” on a technicality or loophole. But sin originates in the heart and it is the heart that God judges. It is the heart that God’s Spirit lives in, teaches, and directs. It is our heart God claims. So instead of following the letter of the law - laws that cannot possibly cover every circumstance - we instead walk by the Spirit and the Spirit informs our hearts so we know learn right from wrong. If we choose to harden our hearts against the Spirit (i.e. ignore him and do what we know to be wrong), we have turned away from God and are no longer walking by the Spirit. The result will be all kinds of evil within ourselves. If we listen with our hearts to the Spirit and keep in step with him, the resulting love for others will be equally obvious. We speak and do what our hearts are full of - whether good or bad. (Matthew 15:18-20, Romans 8:5-17, Galatians 5:16-25, Luke 6:43-45)

We cannot teach ourselves how to please God by following the letter of the law. We cannot teach ourselves to love others by following the letter of the law. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and life” and it is Jesus, through the Spirit, who teaches us to love. Love is the ultimate fulfillment of the law. Other laws cannot adequately describe or teach us how to love, but the love God’s Spirit teaches us opens our eyes to understand the law. Without love, we can read the law and attempt to obey the letter of the law, but our hard hearts cannot understand the law. (John 14:6, John 16:5-13, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 22:34-40, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18)

God's Own
So God is the one who saves us. God is the one who gives us his Spirit. God is the one who teaches us to love. God is the one who teaches our hearts to understand the law. And it is God who judges our hearts. What more do we need to live this new life? Nothing. Christ lives in us and we live for Christ. God has claimed us and we have put our trust in him. And if God has claimed us, who can snatch us out of his hand? No one. So have faith, listen to the Spirit, ask God to forgive you when you mess up, and trust God to guide you. (Romans 8:31-39, John 10:1-18, 1 John 1:5-10)

Do you still refuse to rest? 

Are you still filled with doubt? Then here’s a bit more. But remember, you will never be able to prove your own innocence because you are not innocent. Trust God and don’t put your trust in explanations, fancy reasoning or obeying laws.

Assertion: You cannot be gay and Christian.
Some will insist your sexuality is sinful and if you are a true believer, you must repent and leave your “life of sin”.

Thoughts: If you believe God’s promise, you are God’s own and no one can change that or take it away. God is the one who judges your heart and God is the one who guides your heart to recognize sin as sin. If you want to know what sin is, if you want to know what love is, trust in God to teach your heart. Live and evaluate your life with his guidance. Watch for growth of the fruits that the Spirit produces in your life (or lack of fruit if you ignore the Spirit). Wherever your path leads, never doubt that if you believe God’s promise, he remains in you. (John 15:1-5, Galatians 5:22-23, Psalm 19:7-13)

Assertion: You are living in sin.
Some will use verses in the Bible to condemn you and claim you are “living in unrepentant sin” because you are willfully breaking or ignoring God’s laws.

Thoughts: Condemnation is reserved for those who reject God’s promise or refuse to believe it. If you believe God’s promise, God himself holds you secure, both in this life and the next. Never doubt God’s promise. If you have doubts about the sinfulness of your sexuality or any other part of your life, ask God to help you sort things out and see clearly. He will. If you recognize that you are willfully sinning, ask God to help you to stop. He will. (Psalm 25)

Assertion: Your sexuality is an aberration caused by sin.
Some will claim your sexuality, while not something you can choose, is still an aberration caused by sin and so you must not act on sexual attraction.

Thoughts: God is the creator of life, he is the sustainer of life and he is the one who knits us into being. God creates each of us as he intends us to be. He made some of us deaf, some blind, some mute, some lame. He gave some of us red hair, some of us more melanin, some of us dimples. He made some of us as introverts, some as extroverts. God created you, as you are, and loves you, as you are. You are made by God, for God. You’re not an aberration created by sin. Reject the lies and don’t let them trouble you. (Psalm 139:13-15, Exodus 4:11, John 9:3, Colossians 1:15-17)

Assertion: Your sexuality is just an addiction.
Some will claim your sexuality is an addiction, like alcoholism, that you can break.

Thoughts: Fundamentally, addictions (like alcoholism) develop through repeated activity (such as drinking alcohol) and can be broken by abstaining from an activity (i.e. refusing to drink alcohol). If sexuality (i.e. sexual attraction) is also an addiction, it should also develop through repeated activity and be broken by abstaining. However, most people can identify which sex they are attracted to before engaging in any activity and attempts to change one’s sexual attraction through abstinence have been horribly unsuccessful. Regardless, in Christ you have been freed so don’t let anything enslave you, including your sexuality. If you suspect you have an addiction, ask God to help you discover the truth and trust him to help you break free. (Romans 6:12-14)

Assertion: You are destroying families.
Some will claim that by acting on your sexuality, you are are destroying families and confusing children.

Thoughts: Jesus called his disciples to leave their families and their family businesses in order to follow him. Jesus also said he and his message would bring division even within families. God has called you to a new family and you are to follow Christ. Your life is now devoted to loving others. So, if it is within your power, don’t do anything that might hurt or harm others emotionally, physically or mentally. Put others ahead of yourself and live in a way that is above reproach. You cannot please everyone, you cannot change some things, and you cannot control other peoples’ judgements. So in all things, trust God to guide your actions. (Mark 1:16-20, Luke 12:49-53, Romans 14:13-23, Colossians 3:12-17, Titus 2:7-8)

Assertion: You’re living a lie.
Some will claim you have been blinded to the truth and have believed a lie.

Thoughts: God’s promise is not a lie and if you believe God, then his Spirit lives in you. And it is God’s Spirit who knows the truth and teaches you the truth. So if you have doubts about anything, put your trust in God and ask him to help you discover the truth. Don’t rely on human insight and learn to recognize faulty teachers. (James 1:5-8, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 1 John 2:18-28)

Thoughts on Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13
Love is the key to understanding any Biblical law because love is the fulfillment of the law. God’s Spirit, who lives in you, teaches you to understand what love is and what love is not. For example: Love is patient, love is kind, love is not self-seeing, love protects, love is not resentful, etc. If your thoughts and actions come from love, your thoughts and actions are not sinful and you are not breaking the law - you are fulfilling it. But if your thoughts and actions are not from love, you have sinned and have broken the law - regardless of what the letter of the law says. There are infinite ways to break the laws in Leviticus - but only love obeys the laws. Listen to the Spirit, put love into action and ask God to forgive you when you fail.

Thoughts on Romans 1:26-27
If we reject God and ignore the gift of new life he offers through Christ, bad things happen. By rejecting God, we have rejected God’s mercy, we have rejected the truth that only comes from God, and we have rejected his Spirit who teaches us to love. So instead of being guided by God’s Spirit to follow love, which is the fulfillment of the law, we instead follow our passions, lusts, and cravings. Without love, and if left unchecked, we go from bad to worse, always chasing after something new to slake our ever broadening cravings. Instead of being grateful for what we already have, we constantly lust after what we don’t yet have. We steal, lie, cheat, and murder to get what we want, ultimately destroying ourselves in the process. It all starts by rejecting or ignoring God. If you believe God’s promise and trust in him, you have turned to God and his Spirit lives in you. The Spirit guides your life and you are now devoted to loving others, not satisfying your own cravings.

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
As those freed by God and guided by his Spirit, we should not be slaves to anything or be biting, abusing, harassing, suing, cheating on, or attacking others. Our lives are now lived out of love for others. And love does not hurt a neighbor. So those who do not follow love will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you find yourself on this list, ask God to help you turn back to him and learn to devote yourself to living out love.

Thoughts on 1 Timothy 1:9-11
The law that comes from God is holy and good. However, not everyone who reads and teaches the law actually understands the law. The law can only be understood by those whose eyes have been opened through faith by the Spirit. This is not a magic trick - it’s the power of God. Those with faith are freed from the law and instead now follow the Spirit who teaches us to love. But those without faith remain under the the law, unable to obey the law or escape its judgement.

Thoughts on the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) and the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19)
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities filled with people who had turned away from God. As I described with Romans 1, rejecting God leads to terrible things, such as rape and murder. Romans 1 warns that God’s wrath is being poured out on those who reject him to instead follow their own sinful desires, and Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of that destruction. Similarly, God destroys nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin for having turned away from him.

Thoughts on the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2)
God created Eve, the first woman, to be a suitable partner for Adam, the first man. They were created specifically for each other and the two individuals became one whole or one flesh. Despite being separately male and female, they are no longer two, but one. Jesus tells the religious leaders of his day, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:3-12) So God is the one who creates the two, the one who brings the two together into one whole, and ideally God is the only one who should separate the two. As those who walk in step with the Spirit, we should rely on God to guide us into suitable partnerships. If God blesses us with spouses, we should love them as those specifically given to us by God.

I hope you see the trend here. Believe God’s promise, listen to his Spirit who lives in you, and devote yourself to love for others. It’s not about looking for loopholes to justify your behavior. It’s not about building a case to convince yourself or God that you should be allowed to have what you want. Bare your heart to God and tell him everything. Don’t hold back because he knows it all anyway. And don’t try to lie or sugarcoat or gloss things over. You can’t fool God - he knows your heart better than you do. Trust in him with all of your heart and don’t try to make sense of things on your own. He loves you, he cares for you, he WILL rescue you. Don’t hide, don’t struggle to get your way, just trust him. (Job 5:8-16, Proverbs 3:1-12, Psalm 25)

No matter what happens, no matter how bleak things seem, no matter what anyone else says, remember this: God will not abandon you. He will not write you off as a lost cause. He will not reject you if you seek him. If you ask for his help, he will not turn you away. So don’t give up, don’t reject God, don’t turn your back on him. Don’t make assumptions about how God will respond - leave room for his mercy and boundless love. Don’t limit yourself to one answer or close yourself off to possibilities. None of us knows God’s mind and none of us can see where all paths lead. He loves you. He is with you. Trust that. (Luke 15:11-32, Matthew 12:20, Isaiah 55:6-9)

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