Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Forgiving Jesus

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

A strong desire that can never be legitimately sated is a huge distraction. This remains true even if we can’t currently explain where the feeling comes from. Whatever its origin, like any other source of intense motivation, same sex-attraction complicates the Christian life and needs to be managed.

For reasons I can’t quite nail down, blaming God for unfulfilled desire is becoming a regular thing in Christendom.

Will Never Marry

In a recent installment of our weekly Too Hot to Handle feature, I quoted a paragraph in passing from this post written by a self-described twenty-something Christian man who is same-sex attracted. He said:
“How could God ask me never to marry? Never to know the deep, unconditional, exclusive love of a wife? How can he tell me sex is good, and then tell me my own desires for sex, desires I have no control over, are bad?”
Now, the writer goes on to answer his own question quite satisfactorily, I think. Still, there’s an assumption about Jesus Christ buried in that paragraph that many people have never challenged. It may even rest on an apostolic foundation.

Fearfully and Wonderfully

The scriptures on the subject are familiar ones: Paul says of the Lord Jesus that all things were “created through him and for him”. John says, “without him was not any thing made that was made”. David says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully  made”.

From these and other passages, many people draw the conclusion that God the Son directly and personally made each of us the way we are; that we are individually the products of millions — more likely billions — of very specific, personal, intimate heavenly decisions. John Calvin certainly thought so.

If so, then all genetic disadvantages must be God’s will, right? And not only God's will, but the Son of God’s deliberate choice. He personally selected everything about you that bothers you and afflicted you with it.

The Christian determinist who makes this assumption finds ways to cope with the negative features of his personal package, or somehow to rationalize the goodness of God despite them. The unsaved person who makes it forgives Jesus ... or else he doesn’t.

Do You Hate Me?

Reminds me of a song. An unbeliever who is also same-sex attracted tries to make sense of his own feelings, which he believes are baked into his genes:
“Why did you give me so much desire,
When there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire?
And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world,
When there is no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love?
And why did you stick in self deprecating bones and skin?
Jesus, do you hate me?”
— Morrissey, I Have Forgiven Jesus
Assuming Christians can muster the brass to frame the question as bluntly as unbelievers, do we forgive Jesus or don’t we?

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s another possibility.

Jesus and the Conception Process

All orthodox believers would agree that the Son of God was personally present and immediately and intimately involved in the creation of the first man and the first woman. He was “hands-on”, so to speak. And we would agree that since creation the Son has continued to uphold the universe by the word of his power. Most of us understand this to mean that the creation, including ourselves, only continues because Jesus Christ continuously sustains it. In him all things cohere. It was, after all, for the Son that we were created. Without him, neither the universe nor we would matter an iota.

The real question here is: Does the Bible insist that Jesus Christ was personally present and immediately and intimately involved in our own conception processes in precisely the same sense as with the first man and woman?

If it does, I’m not seeing it.

Intermediate Processes

Let me state the obvious: Adam and Eve were directly created by God. You and I, on the other hand, were created indirectly via agents. Mom and Dad. Sperm and egg. Adam was made of dust from the ground; Eve, from a man’s rib. You and I are each products of the happy collision of two single cells with 23 chromosomes apiece and an act of human will.

Those are two very different mechanical processes. Both require and involve God, but in very different ways.

That doesn’t make second, third and 120th generation human beings any less God’s creations, of course; and it doesn’t diminish in the least the truth that we depend wholly upon God the Son for every breath we take, every move we make, and so on. But acknowledging and inspecting the proposition that there were intermediate processes involved in bringing us to life is the first step in recognizing what Jesus Christ is and is not responsible for, and in answering the questions posed by those who are same-sex attracted.

Jesus doesn’t hate us, as Morrissey fears. He’s not to blame for the “gay gene”, if there is one.

Delegating Authority

The moment God finished creating, he started delegating his authority. Strike that: he actually started delegating authority BEFORE he finished creating. The first chapter of Genesis says:
“And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars.”
The word “rule” there is, I think, the first recorded delegation of authority. God made a rule, something that from that moment on would continue to occur naturally, meaning without requiring God’s immediate involvement. Barring exceptional circumstances, such as God’s personal intervention at the special request of one of his children, the greater light has ruled the day and the lesser light has ruled the night ever since.

Predictable Outcomes and Micromanagement

Science and simple observation of reality reveal this truth to us just as clearly as they did to the ancients. The world operates on fixed principles: rules set in place by God. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, the outcome is normally offspring. When DNA is passed on from mother to child, the new organism normally has the instructions it needs to develop, survive and reproduce. These are “authorities”, if you like, subject to God’s will, and which the Son demonstrates over and over again in scripture he is able to suspend as he requires.

God is God. He could certainly, if he wished, micromanage every “transaction” in the universe at the atomic level to ensure perfection. But there is no need to do so. He has set natural processes in place to do that work instead. In the ordinary course of events, he leaves those “authorities” to do their jobs. And ordinarily, they do.

When sin entered the world, with it came the possibility that natural processes would occasionally produce undesirable outcomes; that the “authorities” would fail to rule as they were made to do. DNA could get damaged and send faulty instructions. It is this fallen, imperfect world in which we live.

If there is a “gay gene” — which, as we saw in yesterday’s post is far from a sure thing — it is not because Jesus personally hand-crafted it for 3-5% of the population.

Poetry and Science 101

Consider again the 139th psalm. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. This remains absolutely true whether we were made directly by the hand of God or indirectly through the natural processes he has set in place. David says:
“You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
Here David is expressing himself through poetry, not teaching Science 101. But this statement too remains entirely true, whether God knitted him together directly or by proxy, as all the evidence tells us.

Surely David’s point is not that God assembled him personally, as he did Adam, but that God was intimately aware of every step of the entire natural process he had set in place.
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret.”
And again:
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.”
It is God’s indescribable knowledge of his children at every moment and his intimate care for them that David is celebrating here, not billions of deliberate choices about who we are and how we operate.

Expecting the Exceptional

One more thought here. Does this not remind us of the importance of prayer? Not just for Christians dealing with same-sex attraction, but for all believers dealing with impulses we have difficulty controlling, whether the causes are genetic, social, cultural, hormonal, traumatic or the result of physical illness or injury. Does it not explain why the Lord Jesus in the flesh prayed relentlessly, and why he told his disciples to “watch and pray”, to approach his Father confidently, and that men ought always to pray and not to faint?

It is because prayer is where all the exceptions to our broken natural laws are made. I would argue it may be the ONLY place where exceptions are made. Prayer causes God to intervene when, in the ordinary course of events, something else entirely would have happened. Because the world is fallen, that something is often rather unpleasant.

Christians have the inestimable privilege of approaching the Creator of heaven and earth in the knowledge that, should our prayers be in sympathy with the desires of heaven, a mountain may pick itself up and hurl itself into the ocean. Or the sun may stand still. Or, perhaps more practically, you and I may receive victory over some aberrant genetic predisposition that has beaten us time and time again.

Jesus is not in need of our forgiveness, and in many, many areas of life, Christians are not at the mercy of our DNA.

Unless we choose to be.

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