My plans to complete this series have been delayed by a medical emergency in our extended family, which has necessitated an unexpected trip out of state and a lot of time in prayer and family decision-making. It was always going to be a difficult topic to write on. These events in a way bring the difficulty into fuller relief. It is difficult in that it deals with a great, joyful, and hopeful topic that we have sadly failed to fully latch onto. My goal in the end, though, is to encourage and bring hope.
Hope is indeed the topic. At the end of part 2a, I asked,
What is our message of hope to gays and lesbians, as we tell them they must never fulfill their sexual desires?… The hope I would suggest we offer instead is that God can satisfy regardless. This is a true word, and we can speak it believably, but we have considerable work to do first. Do we ourselves know that God can satisfy us when our desires go unmet? We’ll have trouble saying it credibly unless we have tested and discovered how deeply God will work it out in our own faith experience.
Sex is—have you noticed?—a big deal in our world. It seems to be a truism that every person has a right to whatever sexual experience they want, and that putting limits on sexual practice is somehow offensive to humanity. Maybe Freud is to blame for sexualizing our world and persuading our culture that sexual “repression” was a form of neuroticism. While the theistic consensus regarding morality was eroding away, the Freudian imperative arose to take its place as our source for behavioral norms. This—along with the obvious pleasures of sex—added up to making sexual expression a virtual imperative while removing most limits on what form that expression might take.
Psychologists and psychiatrists who follow Freud’s sexual theories have become hard to find. The Freudian framework has been discredited by its utter lack of scientific testability and its poor clinical effectiveness. Yet individuals in Western culture still think they must express their sexuality. So when we Christians tell homosexuals they cannot unite in same-sex “marriage,” and that they should not fulfill their sexual preferences, we’re not just being spoil-sports. It’s as if we’re saying they must deny their own person-ness and stunt their own humanity. They can’t join in the game everyone (and if you look at popular media, we mean everyone) else gets to play.
Thus my question: what message of hope do we have to offer gays and lesbians? As I said last time, “reparative therapy” is no message of hope, whether it is legitimate or not, for it lacks the believability that hope requires. I cannot say to my gay friend, “try this therapy and it will work for you.” Even the most positive accounts of reparative therapy are nowhere near that optimistic.
The hope we can offer the GLBT man or woman instead is the satisfactions of God himself. Psalm 16 speaks of the delights of God, ending with
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Life, joy, pleasures forevermore—this is indeed a great, exciting, wonderful life! Notice that the pleasures of God are not just “spiritual;” they come to us in many forms, including (Psalm 16:3) other people:
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
Jesus demonstrated joy (Luke 10:21, John 3:29), taught joy (Matthew 5:12, Luke 10:17-20, prayed for joy (John 17:13), gave reason for joy (Matthew 28:8, Luke 24:41, John 16:22). All of life is available for us to find joy. This is the message of the most misunderstood book of the Bible (in my opinion), Ecclesiastes, whose theme can be summarized as, There is much pleasure in earth that we may justly pursue, yet ultimate delight is in God himself.
The Bible never made joy depend on sex. It never made joy depend on good health, either one’s own or one’s loved one’s, as we are being reminded this week in my own extended family. Joy doesn’t depend on possessions or prestige, either. It’s deeper and less world-dependent than that; so much so that to pursue things like these as ends in themselves, apart from God, is to twist and spoil them. The joys God provides, he gives in his own name and according to his own design; which is good in all senses of the word.
But this too needs a believability check. I said this was always going to be a hard topic to write on, and it’s reaching that difficult stage right now. I am asking myself, do I really believe that God can satisfy me fully? When I’m faced with temptation, do I know that there is something better for me if I say yes to the grace of God and no to the counterfeit pleasure of sin? How consistently do I act that way? I am not entirely pleased with the answer I must give to my own question.
I am asking, too, how well does the church demonstrate this? I have counseled (and as HR director, ultimately discharged from service) a Christian missionary who said his wife was no longer “meeting his needs,” so he was going to another woman for that. Dissatisfactions of this sort are denials of God’s satisfying nature, and are largely responsible for the culture of divorce that afflicts the church nearly as much as the world.
God can satisfy. God does satisfy. Both of those are true statements, if anything at all is true in Christianity (as I am quite convinced it is); for God is a God of real love. I can demonstrate their truth propositionally, and I have experienced them existentially. (Though I am not entirely pleased with my own answer to the questions I have raised for myself, still I am very well satisfied in what God has done when I have given him the chance.) The church at large can say the same. How consistently, though, have we demonstrated their truth to the watching world? To those who cannot find fulfillment in genuine marriage we are saying, “remain celibate.” We’re telling them to leave some very significant desires and felt needs forever unfulfilled. How clearly have we shown them that we too know how to be satisfied in God, regardless of our own unfulfilled preferences and desires?
I have seen communities, fellowships, and missional groupings where the members really do demonstrate joy in Christ, whatever their circumstances. I have seen it in Korea, in Cuba (I was privileged to visit there once several years ago), in Africa, and yes, also in the United States. Christian joy is real. I only wish it were more widespread and pervasive. For then I am quite sure we could speak hope more clearly, more assuredly, and more believably to our homosexual friends and family: you can be who you are, experience the fulness of joy in Christ, and do it while living in his full righteousness.
All of us live with unfulfilled wants, desires, and even (in some sense) needs. All of us have a real need to know, both by proposition and by experience, that God can satisfy, and that he does. To treat one another as fully human is to invite our fellow human beings into a fully human and joyful relationship with God. We’ll be much more free to do that, and we can be much more winsome and persuasive in it, if we have experienced God’s deep satisfactions for ourselves.
Also posted at Thinking Christian