Last month, a new baby was born into my world of joys, and her parents named her “Hope.” Don’t you love it?! When was the last time you met someone with such an uplifting name? I think we’re living in a world that’s in desperate need of hope. Yesterday I hoped to sit with two different friends (coincidentally at the same hospital and close in time!) while their spouses had surgery to have tumors removed. (Although, I couldn’t find one of them! 😦 ) One is about my age, so in a sense having a tumor isn’t out of the range of normal possibilities (albeit still frightening), but the other person is a young woman who is like a spiritual daughter to me . . . so “way too young” (at least in my mind) to be going through what might be a life-threatening medical issue.
Last Sunday Alan and I went Northridge Church with our daughter Kathy and her family. As always, we heard an excellent message from their lead pastor, Brad Powell. Their current series is about going back to Square One in our lives, and this week’s topic was “Hope.”
Brad reminded us that Jesus Christ is our only hope, and He alone has the power to forgive and redeem our past, provide eternal purpose and power in the present, and guarantee the promise of resurrection and eternal life after death. If you are not a Christian, then feel free to disagree and tell me if you’ve found something that meets these needs in your life even better . . . but for me, I totally agreed with Brad’s assessment!
Near the end of the message, Brad shared a wonderful story about his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had survived a lot of hard things in his life, so even though he was given a very poor prognosis, he lived in hope, and he lived much longer than expected! However, eventually it was obvious that he was dying and there was no hope of his surviving much longer. Brad’s father went from active to passive and died within a few days. All hope for his survival was gone, and he had no interest in prolonging his death.
But, not all hope was gone. Brad’s father still retained a bright hope for life after death, and when Brad went to visit, lamenting the fact that his father was dying, his dad was still able to manage a twinkle: “You can’t scare me with heaven!” No, death was not scary to Brad’s father, because he knew that the death of his physical body was just the segue to heaven and being in the presence of Christ forever! “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Are you scared of death? I’m not. (Pain and the process . . . yes, but not my body being dead.) If you believe in Jesus, you needn’t be afraid of dying, and I hope nobody can scare you with the prospects of your going to heaven!!
(P.S.—If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die but would like to know, please click on the “Coming to Christ” icon at the top of this page. It will take you to a place that explains how to enter into a covenant with God whereby you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die.)
Alan Gomes has written the most exhaustive and scholarly book about heaven and hell that I’ve ever read, and given the pervasive interest in all things spiritual among people today, I think it’s well worth the hard work to study through it, whether or not you think there is an afterlife (which more than 70% of Americans affirm), and whether or not you think you’re heading straight to heaven after you die (which two-thirds of Americans believe is their destiny) or hell (which only 0.5% of Americans presume). And, what of the 30% who aren’t sure if there’s a heaven or hell—or if it’s even possible to know how to get to heaven if such a place exists . . . or if they’ll go to heaven or hell or nowhere after they die?
If you’d like to know exactly what the Bible has to say about heaven and hell, and how to get there, please read this book! I can’t begin—in a short post—to pass along the wealth of research that Gomes presents, but it was a book I had trouble putting down! (Which is saying a lot for someone who normally falls asleep trying to read a gripping novel. 🙂 )
In a systematic and thoughtful way, Alan Gomes presents the scriptures related to forty of the most commonly asked questions concerning our makeup as spiritual beings and the afterlife, including various theories from the major schools of interpretation. He starts by defining such common terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “heaven,” and “hell,” taking the various Hebrew and Greek words and walking us through how they are used in the Scripture. For instance, what do the various terms “hell,” “sheol,” “hades,” “gehnna” and “the lake of fire” mean and how do they relate? (Later he discusses many other words, such as “eternal” and “everlasting,” and how those terms help us understand the final state of those who have died.) He explains the concepts of “resurrection” and the basis for “eternal life.” He explains what the “universalists” and “annihilationists” believe, and whether or not all dogs (or any dogs) go to heaven. Seriously!
Here is a short list of some of the questions that most interested me: *What happens to infants who die? *Is it possible to communicate with the dead? *Is there such a place as purgatory? *Does God give people an opportunity for conversion after they die? *On what is the final judgment based? *How could a God of love send people to an eternal hell? (Does he?) *What should we conclude about those who claim to have seen heaven or hell?
I wish I could answer all those questions simply in this post, but the answers are mostly stitched together after a thorough study of all relevant scriptures. Instead, I’ll just urge you to explore the book for yourself. However, I’ll confine this blog to sharing a few thoughts from the book on what heaven is and how to get there.
“Heaven” is not the final home of believers but is rather the abode of God where believers go when they die. “To be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Rather than spending all day as disembodied spirits floating on clouds playing harps, the eternal state (ES) of believers is actually to live with Christ in a literal, physical “new Jerusalem” on a “new earth” with resurrected and glorified bodies that are sinless and immortal. But, this occurs after the Millennial Reign of Christ and the final judgment, not immediately upon death. (All of this is clearly detailed in the book.)
Although my next remark goes beyond the scriptures (and a bit beyond Gomes’ book), it sounds possible to me that we’ll be living life as ever expanding people who worship, fellowship, explore, create, learn, and progress in all things good and beautiful. I do know for sure that everyone will be supremely happy, and all sorrow will be gone: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Is it possible to know we’re going to heaven when we die? If so, how can we know, given that there is to be a “final judgment?” We read in Revelation 20:12 about a vision the Apostle John had concerning the end of the ages: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
But, I thought we are going to be judged according to our faith, isn’t that true? “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20,26). It is through our good works that faith is evident. So, if it’s a matter of good works, and we’re being weighed in the balance, what “good works” will weigh enough to declare us “good enough”? Will we just have to try our hardest and hope for the best when we stand before God at the judgment?
Thankfully, Jesus gives us the answer in John 6:29, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” It isn’t really our own personal good works that balance the scales or serve as some sort of golden ticket admission pass. It is utter dependence on the good work of Jesus, who died as a propitiation for our sins so that we can be forgiven for our sins and pass from death to life spiritually. Although our body will die, when we repent of our sins and surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our spirit is “born again” into the eternal life of Christ. At the judgment seat of Christ, when the books are opened, we will be judged as righteous, not based on our good works but on the merit of Christ, who lived a perfect life of good works and whose death was the complete payment for our sins.
So, according to the Bible, there is certainly a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. God made a way for every person in the world to be assured of passing from this life immediately into the presence of God and heaven if they so choose. The vicarious death of Christ for us provides everything we need to be assured of heaven, but we must accept this gift of eternal life. Not everyone will be saved, but everyone is offered the free gift of salvation. It’s as if there is a cure for cancer offered to everyone, but not everyone will be cured, because not everyone will believe the cure will work and will therefore take the cure. Except, it’s not cancer we’re talking about; it’s death. Not everyone needs a cure for cancer, but everyone needs a cure for death. This is it: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
For those who don’t take the cure, then they will be judged according to their own personal works, but the verdict is already out on whether or not anybody will be “good enough” to get to heaven on their own merit. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Who will be condemned? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). However, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Do all dogs go to heaven? Well, you might want to read Gomes’ book to figure that one out, but I will tell you, every person on this earth is invited to go to heaven based on faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Will you believe on Jesus?
Last Sunday night was the Super Bowl, and there was some playful bantering about which team was going to win based on the prayers of various people. Someone (not even a Christian by profession) teased that the 49ers lost because there are too many atheists in the Bay Area and more praying Christians backing the Kansas City Chiefs.
These were all lighthearted comments, but seriously, Jesus taught in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Is that a carte blanche offer from Christ to ask whatever we want, for whatever reason we want, and expect God to be like a genie popping out of a lantern, ready to grant us our every wish?
In meditating my way through the 235 times the word “ask” is used in the Bible this week, I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help as we try to discern what we should (or should not) ask God to give us. I’ll use the format of asking questions and giving answers based on the scripture.*
#1. Does God have the power to give us that for which we ask? For sure! In Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus, he asks that all might “know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:19-20). God is capable of doing above and beyond what we can even think to ask, although notice that the goal is for us to know the love of God and experience his fullness and power in our lives.
#2. Are there conditions God puts on our being able to receive help? Yes again! What are they?
Faith: This is the first condition. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). “If ye have faith, and doubt not . . . ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21-22). “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).** (If you struggle with faith, see note at end.)
The request must be consistent with God’s will: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14). I have dear friends whose daughter is in prison today for failing to take her sick child to the doctor for treatment, believing God would heal the child supernaturally. Even Jesus in the garden, prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). God gives us resources as part of his answer to our prayers, and it’s our responsibility to do all we can to accomplish whatever we need.
We must be abiding in God and keeping his commandments: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).
#3. What are some explained motives behind God answering our prayers?
So our heavenly Father will be glorified as the true God and known through His Son, Jesus: “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.15 If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:12-15).
To increase our joy: “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24; answered prayer increases our faith and joy).
#4. What are some examples of things that can be asked for (and received) in the Bible?
Life: “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him” (Psalm 21:4).
Wisdom: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).
The right path for our pilgrimage on earth: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
God’s kingdom to come to earth and his will to be done on earth: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven“ (Matthew 6:10).
Provisions necessary for our survival on earth: “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field” (Zechariah 10:1). However, as we see from the life of Christ, sometimes God allows our life to be forfeited for the sake of loving others, as in the case of Kayla Mueller, the devout Christian mentioned in last Tuesday’s State of the Union Address by Donald Trump. Kayla was abducted after leaving a Doctors Without Borders facility that aided injured Syrians. She was murdered 18 months later after great suffering, despite thousands praying for her release. Nevertheless, God invites us to pray for our daily bread: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
Protection and deliverance from evil: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Christians are martyred for their faith every day around the world—dozens daily and as many as an estimated quarter of a billion since Christ died for us 2,000 years ago. Still, we are taught to pray for safety and deliverance, so let’s continue!
Forgiveness for our sins: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
#5. What hinders our prayers from being answered?
If we are living in disobedience to God: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Asking for sinful requests: “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:2-3).
#6. What can I do if I want God to answer my prayersbut feel like He’s not listening?
If you are already a believer, confess all known sin and ask God to purify your heart: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
If you are not already a believer, then repent of your sins and become a child of God by faith in Christ: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
Ask others to join in praying with you: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
If you believe your prayer is worthy, continue praying until you receive a definitive answer, which brings us full circle from the command of Christ we’re studying today. Jesus tells us to persevere in prayer, knowing that our heavenly Father loves us and will give us good gifts if we ask.
The texts for today’s meditation remind us of this: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Matthew 7:7-11. Also: “And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:5-13).
*All emphases above are mine, not in the KJV, from which I’m quoting.
**Side note: If you don’t have faith but would like faith, ask God to increase your faith. As the bereft father prayed in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; helpthoumineunbelief.” “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is one of the good gifts we can ask God to give us, and he promises that he will if we seek for him with all our hearts! (see Jeremiah 29:13).
If I may start at the end and work backward, I’d like to begin this with a quote from the end of Karen Keen’s book on this subject: “The end results surprised me. Rather than a black-and-white answer, I heard God saying ‘freedom.’ Not the kind of freedom that celebrates licentiousness, but the kind of freedom that loves you no matter what, even when you don’t measure up.” In a nutshell, this conclusion resonates in my heart as well.
That being said, let me point out places where I question the logic in Karen’s lines of reasoning in her book, Scripture, Ethics, & The Possibility Of Same-Sex Relationships. It would take hours—possibly even a book—to adequately discuss and counter all her arguments (at least the ones I disagree with, which aren’t all of them, of course! 🙂 ), and I am open to discussing any points or details she’s written about, but for the sake of this post not turning into an alternate doctoral thesis, let me address her four main topics:
1. Attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates 2. Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances 3. Discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy 4. Reflecting on the fall in light of science
1. I agree that the overarching intent of biblical mandates is to provide for the common good of all people, and the law can be summed up in “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:36-40). Where we disagree is in what it actually means to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus expanded on that in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (See also John 14:21 and John 15:10). Our love for God is proven by our keeping his commandments, but in the spirit of love, not without it. (See the beautiful description of what love in action looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.) 1 John 5:3 enlarges on this: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we truly love God with all our hearts and souls, even the terribly difficult things we endure for his sake will not grieve us, because we understand that our self-sacrifices are done out of love for Him and for the good of others . . . which fulfills God’s mandate.
God’s commandments were given to us for our good and for the good of others. God created us; He understands us; He has given us commandments to train us in the way of godliness. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith will naturally follow from the prayerful practice of God’s commandments, and it will also result in knowing what true love for others looks like. True love will persevere through failure, but true love doesn’t condone breaking commandments for the sake of accommodating someone else’s failures. Jesus never broke any of the commandments. He fulfilled the law, although he had compassion on the failures of others. To break any of God’s commandments is a failure to love God and our fellow man, and it comes from a lack of faith. From Genesis through Revelation, God is trying to teach us to trust Him to solve our problems rather than break laws attempting to find our own “better” solutions. He doesn’t want us to take matters into our own hands, like Sarah, to make things “turn out right.” They won’t! When we disobey, we open the door to failure, not success. Compassion unhinged from righteousness creates evil, not good. God calls us to overcome evil with good, not succumb to evil because persevering in good is too hard.
Before moving on to her second point, I do want to applaud Karen for her honesty in reporting: “The Old Testament authors speak only negatively of same-sex relations” (17; see Lev. 18:22;20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). She goes on to explain, “In the New Testament, all mention of same-sex relations is negative” (18; see in particular Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Karen goes on to ask: If both the traditionalists and the progressives agree that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, “then why the debate? Doesn’t that mean the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong?” (19). I would say, “Yes! Preach it, sister! 🙂
However, Keen goes on to suggest that the authors of the biblical books may not have had insight into all forms of same-sex relationships, so they “may not” have been addressing homosexuality generally. To me, that is like saying that the Bible always condemns adultery . . . but it may not have been addressing some of the extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if your spouse has an incurable illness and is no longer sexually available? Based on how difficult it is to be celibate, might the Bible turn a blind eye to the man who seeks to relieve sexual tension and find some comfort with another woman in that devastating situation? Or, what about many single people who have the same sexual urges all of us experience but have not been able to secure a mate? What about the widows and widowers who yearn for sexual release? What about those who are imprisioned and can’t be with their spouse? So far, our society does not make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, and although most Christians would feel compassion, no one would deem such behavior godly or to be celebrated.
2. Our response to the second issue is directly connected to our view of the Bible . . . and man’s first temptation: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The basic issue is whether or not the Bible’s teachings were superintended by an all-knowing God whose precepts were and always shall be an immutable standard for life and conduct, or whether the scriptures were written by various men who were limited in their understanding, bound by cultural issues, and not aware of current scientific theories, rendering their ideas no longer binding or sufficient. Karen feels we can improve on some of them to better meet the needs of modern people.
“Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances,” in common parlance, is suggesting that even that which was ordained at the time of creation—such as God creating male and female as complimentary halves of a marriage unit—is now up for debate and possible reinterpretation. In part, Karen justifies this by saying that science has disproven the Genesis account of creation. For instance: “Instead of Adam and Eve, the data indicates Adams and Eves” (86) and makes the assertion that the scientifically approved “Y-chromosome Adam” [as the progenitor of all living males] “was not the only Homo sapiens alive in his time nor the first. In other words, he is only the father of male lineages that happened to survive to the present” (86).
To me, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the authority of Scripture with someone who no longer believes the biblical accounts are accurate. For instance, Keen claims that “both science and Genesis indicate that bodily decay and evil existed prior to Adam” (87). Evil pre-existed the fall: The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. However, the Bible clearly teaches that “by man [Adam] came death, by man[Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). Yes, evil existed, but not the principle of death and decay working within the bodies and spirits of Adam and Eve.
Keen’s theory that same-sex attraction may be simply variation in species development rather than natural fallenness is based on a failure to understand the clear teaching of Genesis. Keen says Genesis indicates that bodily decay predated the fall because Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden to keep from eating from the tree of life. This is faulty thinking. At the time they were cast out of the garden, they were in the process of decaying, but that is because they had already sinned. The Genesis record is explicit: God said they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree. Death was the result of failing to believe and obey God. Keen can imagine that scientific “evidence” proves death and decay were already present, but there is nothing in the Bible to support her claim. To the contrary, the Bible makes clear that death came as a result of disbelief and disobedience. Also, no ethical scientist would purport to be able to “prove” via any scientific examination of non-existent remains that this woman, named Eve, was predisposed to death before disobeying God. Scientific theory is based on present-day human genetic programming, which according to the Genesis account was changed by the fall rather than predating it. Sending Adam and Eve out of the garden lest their decaying bodies continue to live forever in a state of spiritual death was a mercy! It is only through being born again spiritually that we receive eternal life, and it is only through the process of physical death and resurrection that we will inherit a new, incorruptible body.
The book is filled with hermeneutical inconsistencies. As a couple of examples, she compares homosexual behavior to someone who has Tourette’s. This isn’t even close. Homosexuals make conscious choices to engage in what comes naturally to them. The tics of those with Tourette’s are not controllable by the patient any more than an epileptic can control his seizures. Also, likening people who have a homosexual preference to those who become left-handed as an amoral, natural variation is incompatible with any consistent interpretation of scripture. The 700 elite troops from Benjamin who were left-handed were praised in Judges 20:16, and God used Ehud, who was left-handed, to deliver Israel from the Moabites. Being left-handed is never condemned in the Scripture, whereas homosexual behavior is never approved but always condemned.
3. Okay, let’s have an honest discussion on the feasibility of celibacy. Keen reports: “I came to a greater appreciation that no evidence exists that it’s possible for all people [to remain celibate], I saw that setting a bar that cannot be reached renders the mandate meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” (113). This is the voice of reason apart from faith and the Judeo-Christian moral code, because the God of the Bible does demand perfection in all areas: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The purpose of the law is to make us realize our inability to attain perfection and to bring us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that we can’t keep the law does not “render the mandate meaningless,” however. Instead, it should drive us to Christ for help, as we are taught a few verses later: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:16). To say that we can’t keep the law perfectly makes it “meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” is logical to an unbeliever, but not to a person of faith. Reason without faith is not Christianity. It is agnosticism.
Lest I seem too harsh, I want to stand on record as having a clear recognition that celibacy is nigh unto impossible for most of us. However, it is how we respond to this challenge that will guide us into the paths of life! If you can be celibate, and want to be celibate, by all means do so! Great good can be accomplished by those who are not distracted by mates and family, and we should all honor and help provide community support for those who feel called by God to forgo the joys (and difficulties) of married life in order to serve God unencumbered.
However, for most of us, the awareness of our own need for sexual intimacy drives us to find a mate, and for those of us who believe that sex was created as the uniquely sacred privilege of marriage . . . well, we become driven to marry! Single people who have been unable to find a mate are not off the hook. Again, I’m sure many people feel compassion toward those who end up involved in sexual encounters outside of marriage, but such acts are never condoned in the Scripture. “Fornication,” which is the basket term for sexual immorality, (and if you use the Greek word, “porneía” it’s pretty obvious that pornography would be included) is always condemned.
Personally, my deep conviction that if I left my husband, Alan, I should remain celibate helped keep me in my marriage, because I knew my chances of remaining celibate for the rest of my life were about zippo. 😦 I would recommend that homosexuals who take the Bible seriously consider this point, because I also firmly believe that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you find yourself attracted to the same sex, and same-sex relationships are condemned as wrong in the scripture (which everybody agrees is true), then please keep taking your temptation to the Lord. People have some plasticity and ability to change. I have only known a couple dozen homosexuals well enough to say this, but of the ones I’ve known, all of them have had some interest in the opposite sex at some point in their life. I know that the dopamine rush from homosexual behavior can light up your brain like a Fourth of July fireworks and permanently rearrange and reshape your brain chemistry, but if you sincerely believe there is no way out except by learning to love someone of the opposite sex (and I do mean “learn,” as an act of the will, just the way most of us have to “learn” to love our heterosexual partner), then you may find that you are capable of forming a heterosexual union. And, eventually, I am convinced (by faith) you can find deep and lasting fulfillment with that partner, whether or not it’s the most erotic relationship you could ever imagine with a same-sex partner. Frankly, if people could be honestly polled, my guess would be that most people are married to someone who was not the single most sexually attractive person they ever met! However, I can say from experience, that sexual attraction is not the best indicator of whom will make the best life-time partner or most satisfying mate. The best mates are those most like Christ. Think about it! There is hope beyond celibacy. No one HAS to refuse attempting to develop a satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Be honest, but be willing to try. That is your choice!
4. “Reflecting on the fall in light of science.” For a starter, Keen kind of says it all: “Currently, there is no scientific consensus on why people are gay or lesbian” (91). “Genes do not cause a person to be gay” (93). Fact! To date, scientists cannot explain how people develop an attraction to same sex individuals. Obviously, there are a few (very rare) cases of true hermaphrodites (“intersex”—people born with characteristics of both sexes), but the vast majority of people who self-identify as homosexual have no genetic basis for their orientation (at least, none presently known). Research has been able to find some statistically significant correlations between birth order, sexual abuse, and dysfunctional family life, but so far nobody—including gays—can clearly trace the course of their sexual development. In the few personal histories I’ve known, most of them were abused (or allured) by a homosexual and were caught off guard at first but then “fell in love.” Seduction isn’t the whole answer, though! All sorts of people attempt to seduce others (and by far the greatest number—as reflecting the general population—are heterosexual). What makes one person “fall for it” and another shun the seducer/seductress? Our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven and complex that even we ourselves can’t understand everything that goes on within us!
Despite the “no known reason yet” of science, we are left with the reality that a small percentage of our population definitely experiences same-sex attraction. As a society, how should we respond? Karen’s answer is completely dissatisfying to me! She sees the desire of Christians to see homosexual people become heterosexual as a “lust for perfection” and suggests that we should re-envisioning how we respond. However, Jesus sets the standard at perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the Bible calls us to holiness rather than simply accommodating sins: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible never suggests we give up on our efforts to live godly lives, although it does offer forgiveness for us in our failures and imperfections. The Bible never approves simply accommodating natural fallenness with sinful alternatives. For example, someone who feels like they can’t stop lusting isn’t therefore given a free pass to watch porn without any consequences, because there are always consequences for sinful behaviors. To simply say, “It’s okay to be gay” goes against the uniform guidance of scripture on how to provide for a good and just society, and we would do well to heed the Word of God!
If I may, I would like to end back at the beginning. God does give us freedom to choose how we will live our lives, including with whom we choose to live them. He has definitely gifted us as humans with a great deal of autonomy, and in this life on earth, we are granted the right to be the master of our own fate in many ways. BUT, God has provided a way of wisdom through Jesus Christ, who is “the Word made flesh” and the living “Word of God.” If you are a believer, then “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus set us free—but His desire is that we obey his commands (found in His Word, the Bible) because we love HIM. His commands are for our own good, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).
One verse that has really helped me in my own wrestlings with the lusts of my flesh is found in Psalm 16:7, “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The counsels of the Lord in the Bible lead us into the right paths, and his reins (the restrictions that bind us) help us during the times when we are confused and can’t tell clearly which way to go. If you will allow God’s commandments and the reins he puts on us to guide your heart day and night, He will bring you to the place of fullness of joy. As David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). May God bless and guide us into the Light as we seek to walk by faith. I know it’s never easy to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12).
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)
Some topics are a joy; others are painfully difficult. This is one of the latter, but the subject of same-sex attraction has become one of the most prominent issues in our culture today, and it’s beginning to touch the lives of so many both in and out of the church that I feel led to address it. I’ve actually read a lot of books on the topic over the past couple of years, and rather than individually reviewing them, I would like to recommend a few of the ones I’ve found most helpful for trying to understand what’s going on.
Frankly, facing questions about same-sex attraction have almost become routine for our young people today, although it was virtually non-existent (as an issue) just one generation ago. (Both Alan and I first learned about homosexuality in college at the end of the 1960’s but we never even heard the term “same-sex attraction” until post 2000.) Today it’s an in-your-face everywhere issue that all young people have to negotiate. If you have children growing up in the public schools, you can be sure they will be exposed to the opportunity to consider whether or not they prefer the possibility of sexual interaction with their own sex over that of the opposite sex. Even children with robust heterosexual inclinations will be asked the question and have to consider it. So, “same-sex-attraction” is going to be on their radar, and many children and young people will find it confusing.
As parents, I think it’s important to be able to listen, guide, counsel, and give our children space to make wise decisions without responding with revulsion. I don’t think same-sex-attraction is any different from any other temptation, and as human beings, we all have to face and deal with the temptations in our lives. Our sexuality is ingrained in every cell in our body (literally), and controlling our physical appetites for food and sex are among the most difficult lifetime challenges all of us face. There’s no shame in this; it’s just acknowledging the reality of our human natures. However, how we respond to those challenges makes a huge difference in our lives and can deeply effect our wholeness and holiness.
If you are a parent with a child (or adult offspring) who is struggling with same-sex-attraction, I would like to recommend Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story, by Dr. Christopher Yuan. This 2018 book is up to date with the latest research while maintaining a balanced, sensitive approach, written by a professor at Moody who himself struggles with same-sex attraction but is living a vibrant, holy life of faith. Two other excellent resources for parents (or mature young adults, as they are heavy reading—can you tell by the covers? 🙂 ) are:
Kevin DeYoung. What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.
Robert Gagnon. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.
If you have a young person who has taken a firm stand that he/she has committed to a gay lifestyle, then I highly recommend two more books for your own mental and emotional health:
Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. This 2011 book was co-written by Christopher Yuan and his mother, Angela and gives insight into the problems and pains of both the parent and “child” (offspring), with a lot of opportunities to think through what was and was not helpful to them, and what might be most beneficial as you pray for and continue learning to love your own son or daughter.
Another excellent resource is When Homosexuality Hits Home, published by Joe Dallas in 2015 through Harvest House Publishers. This book definitely tackles the arguments from both sides (with talking points), but it also gives some really practical advice on topics like how to negotiate family boundaries, whether or not to attend same-sex weddings, and what does love look like in the face of grief?
This Thursday, I’ll be discussing the arguments found in Karen R. Keen’s book, Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships, recommended to me by a young friend who was studying for the ministry before recently deciding that it’s okay to be gay. The author of this 2018 book describes herself as someone who was a celibate gay for sixteen years but is now reconsidering her position. I’ll let you know if her deliberations change my opinion on what the scripture teaches, but meanwhile, I would also like to hear your thoughts! Thanks! I’d also appreciate your prayers, as this is one of those hot topics that’s sure to discourage some of my followers, more than a handful of whom self-identify as homosexuals. Blessings on you all as you seek to walk in the Light!
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
If you’re more apt to listen than buy a book just now, here’s a link to a very helpful and insightful discussion with Dr. Christopher Yuan on his latest book, Holy Sexuality. (Dr. Jonathan Armstrong, the interviewer, also teaches at Moody and is my son, so this conversation was especially interesting to me! 🙂 )
“Don’t cast your pearls before swine” conjures up such a provocative image that pretty much everybody’s heard it. However, what did Jesus mean when he first proclaimed it? Perhaps the most common interpretation among Christians today runs something like this: “Share the good news of redemption through Christ (our Great Pearl) with everyone around you, but if they don’t believe you, don’t keep pressuring them. Instead, share the Gospel somewhere else, among those who may gladly receive Christ and the mysteries of the Kingdom of God (also referred to as treasure hid in a field, Matthew 13:44). Everybody deserves to hear the good news, but those who don’t believe and disparage the gift of God will just trample your treasure (eternal life through Christ) underfoot, possibly turning back to harm you as well.” I think this is good advice and a fair interpretation, although perhaps more narrow than Jesus intended.
Here is a more inclusive paraphrase that I believe fits the parameters better: “Don’t cast your pearls (the wisdom found in the Bible) before swine (in this case, anyone—believer or not—who fails to accept and submit to the teachings of God’s Word).” Why? “Lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
I mentioned last week that there is one other thing repeatedly affirmed as “holy” in the scriptures. It is the Bible. The Bible is described as “his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), “the holy scriptures” (Romans 1:2) that is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15). It was not written simply by various men who were limited by their understanding of the world and locked into the culture of their time period, but rather, “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).
Furthermore, the laws given in the Old Testament were not annulled by Christ but fulfilled by him. He took our punishment for failing to obey the law perfectly, but that didn’t end the value of God’s instructions to us! After the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul affirmed their value: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). One of the things we shouldn’t give away is our confidence that God’s Word is holy: “worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness” (Merriam Webster).
Jesus warned us not to give that which is holy to the “dogs” (as a metaphor often used in the Scripture to refer to those who were without moral scruples and unpredictable). “Pigs,” on the other hand, are unclean but very predictable. Pigs are predictably dirty and have one thing in mind: satisfying their own appetites. Since pearls can’t be digested, they would be useless to a pig. In fact, casting pigs some pearls instead of slop might infuriate them. After squealing and stampeding in hopes of getting their pig’s share—only to find that pearls weren’t tasty—pigs might turn against you in anger!
So, dispersing pearls of wisdom to those whose god is their belly is a waste of time and may merit persecution rather than regenerate pigs. Extrapolating from that: God’s wisdom (found in the Word of God) is something that those who have already given up their holiness (and rejected the authority of our Holy God) will not receive. These people have become like pigs. They are intent on satisfying the appetites of their flesh, and inflamed appetites cannot be satisfied by the Words of Life found in the scripture! Falling for Satan’s “Hath God reaaally said???” is a slow process. First a person wants some forbidden fruit. Next, they refuse to accept the obvious truth as stated and try by sleight of tongue to twist God’s Words into something that will allow or (hopefully even) affirm their desires, intentionally suppressing truth (trampling it in the mud). Eventually, they become as incapable of discernment as spiritual pigs who can no longer even digest the truth, and if you offer it to them, they will be angered, preferring to feed on the slop of this world.
Where am I going with all this? It’s a warning to each of us—believers as well as unbelievers. The Bible is full of wisdom about how to live. Both the Old Testament and New Testament have guidelines intended for the good of all people. It’s the “Guidebook on How to Live” written by the One who built every model of humanity that exists and who knows how we work. These pearls of wisdom are like treasure intended to guard us from evil and draw us into the ways of life and peace. If we cast off our personal holiness and reject the authority of the Bible as the true, holy words of God . . . if we have made an idol of one or another of our appetites and don’t believe that God can really meet our need without our breaking some spiritual law, then we have cast away our confidence in God. We have become like spiritual pigs.
If you happen to read this and it makes you furious, then I wish you would pray and ask the Lord to reveal the true Truth to you, whatever it is. I’m totally open to hearing your response. On the other hand, if it makes you furious, but you have even a glimmering sense that this might be right, then I beg you to pray for God to open your eyes and heart to the truth and give you the grace to obediently follow Him, even if it means giving up something you treasure almost more than life itself. God alone is worthy of our worship!
“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:34-36).
Text for Today: Matthew 7:6, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
Recently Alan and I had the privilege of listening to the reflections of the surgeon who had operated on Alan 11 years ago. When Brian cared for Alan’s medical needs, he was young— a freshly minted surgeon who had settled in Grand Rapids after graduating from Yale, graduate school and a medical degree from the University of Michigan, and residency at Cleveland Clinic. With both PhD and M.D. degrees, Brian was on the cutting edge of research and technological training. We have been grateful for Brian’s continuing, compassionate care at his office, and we also see him often in passing at our church, where we all attend.
Brian is about the age of our oldest son (45), so we were shocked when we heard that he himself had been diagnosed with cancer, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that we heard more of his story at the January meeting of our local CMDA (Christian Medical and Dental Association). As it turns out, eighteen months ago, Brian was diagnosed with two primary cancers: sarcoma and renal.
The details of his journey are his to tell, but I have asked permission to share some of his reflections on dealing with the cancer in his life and how it has impacted his practice. He was very open about the terror he felt in waiting for further testing to actually understand the extent of his disease and get a feeling for his prognosis. Even as a believer, it’s excruciating to be in the emotional limbo that is inevitable as you wait to hear if you’re going to live or die.
He mentioned crying out to God in deep anguish, not asking to be miraculously healed, but just asking for his testing date to be moved up so he didn’t have to wait so long to know how serious his illness was. During that prayer, his phone rang, and a secretary told him there had been a cancellation so that he could be seen earlier! This answer to his specific prayer gave him a deep sense of peace that God did see and hear him, and that God had everything under control, even though Brian did not! This settled peace allowed Brian to feel secure in God’s love and trust Him, no matter what comes.
It also reminded Brian of the importance of committing our ways to God not just once, but at all times, to daily work at becoming all that God has created us to be, and to be good stewards of the time, talent, and treasure God has given us.
Brian also reflected on the benefits of being a patient. It has made him more compassionate and concerned with the quality of life, not just how long a person has to live. He now understands first-hand the terror of not knowing and how painful it is to wait for testing and results. One of the take-homes for me (as a non-medical person), is simply to be more empathetic with people who are having to deal with all the unknowns of their disease—ultimately, what are the chances for life and risk of death?
During the Q&A afterward, I asked Brian to elaborate more on decision-making styles. He said people fall into three main groups: those who want to make their own decisions based on information the medical system provides; those who want to work closely with the physician to form a treatment plan that seems good to both; and those who ask the physician to make the decision based on the doctor’s best judgment. (“What would YOU do if it were you?”) Brian says the hardest patients are those who make their own decisions, sometimes based on opinions very contrary to the best that medical wisdom can offer. He has never “fired” a patient (refused to care for them), but he says some surgeons will send patients elsewhere if they believe the treatment plan the patient demands will be deleterious to the patient’s health.
This makes me think of the way people respond to the Great Physician, the Lord God Almighty. Some people come to God, crying out for mercy and do find “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) as Brian has done. They are willing to trust God and surrender to His superior wisdom, recognizing his love and knowing that His plans are best, even though they are not what he (we) might have chosen. Some people bargain with God, trying to work out a plan based on God’s input but making their own final decisions. Some people listen to God’s Word but then disregard His teachings and choose their own way. These people are headed for disaster. I don’t think God “fires” anybody either, but He will let us go astray if we want to. Why? Because ultimately, freedom to choose is a litmus test of love and respect. God gives us the gift of freedom because He loves us. Yes, He will intervene if we cry out to him, but He won’t force us to do things HIS way.
Are you struggling to make a good decision about some problem in your life? It might be a medical issue, or it might be one of a thousand other issues, but know that God Almighty is there, and He really does care! If you cry out to him in repentance and faith, He will listen, and He will help. Trust Him! He knows what’s best for each of us, and He is not silent if you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”)
I just finished memorizing Psalm 34, and it is so full of wisdom that I’m going to include the entire psalm. Please read it! You can read it all in under two minutes. Think of it as rubbing healing balm onto your sore soul!
“I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. 3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. 8 O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 9 O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. 10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. 11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. 20 He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. 21 Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. 22 The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”