One of the things I love about teaching is the opportunity for unexpected conversations. Earlier this week, my apologetics class ended up taking a lengthy detour to discuss biblical teachings about homosexuality. Such classroom digressions are hardly unusual, but this one stuck with me afterward because the conversation vividly illustrated a tension and a struggle which I’ve felt myself when I get the opportunity to witness to a homosexual. My students believe the Bible. They recognize the reality of sin and the need for a savior. And they really, really don’t want to have to tell the nice gay guy with the friendly smile that he’s not allowed to pursue true love. I don’t want to either.
It really doesn’t matter whether you are born gay or choose to be gay, or a little of both. The fact is, right now, I’m talking to someone who is gay. And maybe he’s in love with another fellow, and feeling all the butterflies I remember from when I first looked at my wife and hoped I’d never have to stop. Or maybe he’s just hoping, waiting to find the right one. I remember that feeling too, and how the anticipation was almost fun at times, and terribly hard at others; but always the encouragement that maybe today would be the day I’d meet her. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to want another man, but I know very well what it’s like to want Someone–and that’s exactly who I’m telling my gay friend is off limits, forever.
I want to tell him that God will help him desire women and he’ll find a wife and start a family and have a little house with a swing set in the backyard, and I know that may not be true. And I know that even if it is true, it’s little help at the moment. The prospect of someday maybe having something you don’t want if only you’ll give up something you do–there’s an appealing bargain! No, if he repents and turns from his sin he’s going to know precisely what the Apostle Paul means when he speaks of the old self, crucified. And anyone who has seriously challenged a homosexual to repent knows how unreasonable, how cruel, it feels to stare into another human being’s eyes and tell them to crucify themselves.
It feels monstrous, and many Christians–especially young Christians–wonder if it’s really necessary after all. If you truly love someone, can it be all that wrong? Well, yes it can. (Just ask Bathsheba.) And the Bible makes it very clear, in both Old and New Testaments, that sex is for a man and a woman who are married. Genesis begins with a woman made to be with Adam, and Revelation ends with the marriage feast of the Lamb and his bride. In between, Leviticus commands, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female,” Paul warns, “Do not be deceived; neither… effeminate, nor homosexuals… will inherit the kingdom of God,” and they are just part of a unanimous and unambiguous chorus absolutely prohibiting homosexuality.
So the Bible is quite clear on the question of homosexuality, and the more one digs the clearer it gets. But this just creates a glaring and painful disconnect between what we see in the world–nice, decent gay friends and colleagues, some in loving and committed relationships–and what the Bible says about their conduct. When we line up the Scriptures with what we observe, something seems awry. And for some reason we find that surprising.
We find it surprising even though the first story in the Bible tells of a fruit that looks delicious and is deadly, and recounts a warning that was ignored because our first parents trusted their eyes more than their God. We forget Abraham and Joseph and Moses and all those who learned that faith is trusting God even more than our own eyes and our own experience. The whole story of the Bible tells us we live in a world of shadow where not everything is as it appears and our only certainty comes from the word of God–which brings our focus back where it ought to have been from the beginning: God himself.
The prohibition of homosexuality is not some rationalistic bit of ethics. It is the command of God, and we know something of the God who commands, just as Abraham did when he was told, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah…” Like Abraham, we are not called to blind faith. We know the God we trust and whose commands we challenge the gay unbeliever to obey. He is the God who spared Nineveh when it repented; who seemingly could not finish a threat of judgment against rebellious Israel without extending an offer of hope as well; who wept at the tomb of Lazarus and lamented over unrepentant Jerusalem; and who, of course, gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. The God who commands the homosexual to crucify his old self is the same God who was Himself crucified 2,000 years ago and bears still in His hands and feet the marks which testify that sin is not something to be taken lightly. Is it not safe to assume that the One who suffered for the sins of the world knows whether homosexuality is one of them?
When we look at the law against homosexuality in isolation, it may seem terrible, a stab at the heart of decent friends and neighbors. When we look from the law against homosexuality to the pierced hand that holds it, we remember that not every pain is gratuitous and that some wounds heal. When the cancer is real and the doctor is trustworthy, a true friend can only encourage the operation.
This is not some bit of abstract theology. It is an entirely practical fact: the Christian who hesitates to witness to a gay neighbor; the Christian who is witnessing to a gay neighbor; the gay neighbor himself, all need to look to our Father in heaven and know that He is real. If He is, then the only thing left is to say with Christ, “yet not My will, but Yours be done.” And that glance heavenward offers far more than a mere mandate. I want to promise my gay friend that he’ll be able to resist the desires that fill him, and I can’t make myself sure he will. But the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” I want to promise that he’ll find someone to love, but I don’t know if he’ll ever desire a woman, or find one if he does. But the Lord promises, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” I want to tell my gay friend it’ll all work out in the end, but I’m not sure I see how. Then we hear the Savior speak, and He says, whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.