We’re considering Richard Beck’s post at his Experimental Theology blog summarizing four arguments for affirming same sex marriage. He did not endorse or advocate these arguments.
4. Love and Liberation
The fourth argument for [a pro-gay marriage (or pro-GM)] position regarding same-sex marriage is a direct appeal to the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
In some hands this appeal is a simple appeal to love and compassion in embracing our shared humanity as beloved children of God in affirming same-sex marriages. 1 John 4.8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
In other hands, the appeal is for justice, often informed by a biblical and prophetic appeal to liberation theology: God’s preferential option for those who are oppressed and suffering. Following the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4.16-21), the Bible must be read as “good news” for those who are suffering in the world due to hate, violence, oppression and marginalization. As it says in Romans 13.10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” …
[Y]ou can make the appeal for compassion and justice (Argument #4) more compelling and urgent by citing statistics about gay teen suicide and homelessness.
Of the four argument, this is the one hardest to refute. To me, the first three aren’t really serious theology. They are rationalizations.
But this one is different. Now, it’s tempting just to announce that love isn’t the point, truth is! However, God is love. That’s how he presents himself. And that’s the truth. And so I always recoil at attempts to set truth and love in opposition to each other. No, when they appear opposed, we’ve likely just not done enough homework to fully understand one or the other or both.
(1 Jn. 4:16 ESV) 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
On the other hand, the love that God is is not a Pollyannish middle school, romanticized world of unicorns and glitter glue. This same God who is love sends the damned to gehenna. He allowed the Romans and Babylonians to defeat his elect people and impose unspeakable suffering on his children — very sinful children, but children nevertheless. God is not just love but God is tough love.
That is, the wrath of God is a doctrine that runs from Gen 3 to Rev 22. Even while promising us a new heaven and new earth, eternal bliss with God forever, God says,
(Rev. 22:12-15 ESV) 12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
“Sexually immoral” could be translated “fornicators.” As the word was used by Jews and Christians at the time of the writing of the Revelation, it unquestionably includes homosexual activity. “Dogs” likely refers to homosexual prostitution, typically associated with the worship of pagan gods and so especially repellant to God’s people. (See, for example, Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 39:382–383.) Therefore, fornication picks up other forms of homosexual activity, not just prostitution or idolatrous practices.
The God who is love damns fornicators, including those who participate in homosexual acts. And here we have to repeat a point made in Part 1: The scriptures condemn homosexual conduct, not homosexual people. In that world (as in ours), some heterosexuals engaged in homosexual relations, as did heterosexuals. Therefore, it was the sex act that is condemned, not the orientation.
Therefore, the endless debates about whether homosexual orientation is a choice are pointless theologically. I don’t know whether alcoholism is a “choice” (I rather doubt that anyone would choose such a life), but drunkenness and addiction to alcohol are sinful regardless of your genetic disposition. And that means that for some people being sober is much, much harder than for others — and their genetic nature is not their fault. Nonetheless, they are call be scripture to lives of sobriety and self-control — even if it’s difficult and even miserable.
I don’t think that means God is unsympathetic to the difficulty of the command. The fact that some find resisting alcohol harder than for others is surely known and felt and understood by God and taken into account in his grace — but sobriety is still the command.
Just so, I know people who struggle to control their tempers, who’ve had anger-management issues their entire lives. It may well be genetic. The command to control one’s rage remains even for those for whom it’s very difficult — nearly impossible.
No one ever pretended that the Christian life would be easy or not require sacrifices. In fact, the scriptures are plain that it will cost us everything. We are to love God with our with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds” (Matt. 22:37 ESV). That means all of who we are — body and soul, flesh and blood. Our entire beings are dedicated to God. (Indeed, the likely reason God required the Jews to be circumcised was to reinforce that their sexuality was given over to God.)
So how do we reconcile all that with the love of God? What is it about banning homosexual acts that is driven by God’s loving nature?
I confess that I’m not entirely sure. And that leaves me with two choices.
- I can seek to overrule the very plain teachings of scripture (and despite all the books published arguing otherwise, the scriptures remain very plain) with my personal sense of what God’s love ought to be; or
- I can seek to better understand God by understanding why his teachings on homosexual sex are loving.
That is, I can judge the scriptures or I can let the scriptures judge me. The Christian must submit to the scriptures —
(1 Jn. 4:6 ESV) We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
— even if means martyrdom —
(Rev. 2:10b NET) Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.
It has often been noted that if gay Christians may not enter into homosexual marriages, they will be forced to live lives of loneliness. The same is true of many heterosexual Christian men and women who have not found a mate to marry. They must live abstinent lives. However, not all are miserably lonely. In fact, I find many single Christians who prefer the single life to the married life — or find great contentment in their singleness.
There is, of course, a difference in that single heterosexuals have hope of finding a marriage partner — and many single people desperately wish to be married. I understand. And I’m not here offering easy, pat answers. I don’t have them.
But I do know that Judaism and Christianity have rejected homosexual activity for over 4,000 years, without exception. And I’ve read the arguments of both sides, and the pro-gay marriage arguments have yet to persuade me. (And it’s not like I’m afraid to take a non-traditional position.)
As Americans living in the post-modern age, we feel that we have a right to be happy. We think the deal is that we believe in Jesus, get baptized, and God makes us happy. But happiness is not part of the promise. (As a chronic pain sufferer, I’ve thought about this a lot.)
For some reason, we skip all the passages about suffering as a mark of Christian living. In fact, one of the most prominent teachings in the NT is that we should suffer as Jesus suffered. It’s a doctrine I don’t much care for, and I’d happily explain it all away — if I could do so and remain an honest commentator.
(Matt. 16:21-17:1 ESV) 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
(Acts 5:38-42 ESV) 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
(Rom. 5:2-5 ESV) 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Rom. 8:16-18 ESV) 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
I’m just getting warmed up. I could fill pages and pages with NT passages that promise Jesus’ followers a life of suffering. (Jesus and the apostles evidently failed to understand how to market his message to consumers.)
There is, of course, a good reason to endure the sufferings —
(Rom. 8:18-25 ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
I apologize for so many lengthy quotations, but context matters — and we’re not going to get this with pithy proof texts. We have to dig in and grasp the flow of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching. Please take the time to read the entirety of the quotes.
Ultimately, while the Christian life provides joy and even abundant life, our reward is after death. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to live in an age and at a place where Christians are not persecuted and where the cost of following Jesus isn’t very steep — but these are exceptional times and places. It’s far more likely that following Jesus leads to suffering and even martyrdom — as a matter of history, and the NT pulls no punches.
So this doesn’t mean we get to make each other miserable just because, but it does mean that no one said the Christian life would be easy or even that God’s goal is that we be happy today.
The goal is joy, not happiness — and joy comes from believing the promises of the afterlife.
(1 Pet. 1:6-9 ESV) 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
So we have to be careful of the dread “Baptist bookstore effect” — not to pick on Baptists, but they own all the Christian bookstores in this part of the country. We love to buy plaques and refrigerator magnets that rip God’s promises horribly out of context — and so we immerse ourselves in promises of being lifted on wings of eagles and God’s wonderful plans for us — as though the OT prophets were speaking to my needs for emotional fulfillment today rather than the fate of God’s chosen people over the millennia. And so when life doesn’t go to suit our tastes, well, it’s God’s fault.
Thus, when the question of what God’s love should produce in my life, the answer is heaven on earth — right now. Of course. That’s the deal.
But it’s not.