gospel Thursday, February 24, 2011
One of the most interesting features used to support a pro-homosexual lifestyle is the reference to Jesus. There are many things Jesus did not talk about, yet the interesting thing to note about this thought-process is that if He did not talk about something, then that something must somehow be okay.
But here's the real question: if Jesus did say something about...marriage, for example...then could the things He did say be helpful as a guide for the other things He did not say? Is it possible that what He did say and what was recorded was all that was important for us to know? And is it possible that from the things that we do know we are to responsibly interpret whatever else hangs on it?
I personally think that this is where we find ourselves when it comes to this issue of homosexuality. The fact that Jesus did not discuss it or bring it up, at least as we have it recorded in Scripture, does not necessarily mean that He would condone it. Rather, since we do have what Jesus said about marriage, then it seems more in keeping with the "spirit" of the matter (instead of the "letter of the law" so to speak) that we use what He did say about marriage to interpret the matter of homosexuality. In fact, that is a pretty normal way to interpret pretty much anything that anyone says.
If, for example, I tell my kids not to hit each other, then it would pretty much follow that I also don't want them to cuss each other out. The normal process of interpreting someone's words would show that...assuming my kids are thinking...my main point is that I don't want them hurting each other...with fists or with words. And we parents pretty much assume that our kids should understand that normal process of interpreting and applying our words. In fact, when a kid says, "well, daddy, you didn't say we couldn't cuss each other out," my natural response is to say, "Stop playing word- games with me! You know exactly what I mean!" Am I right?
Or if I tell Johnny not to take Susie's toys away from her, the normal process of interpreting that would naturally mean that Johnny should not take Bobby's toys away from him, or Jane's toys away from her. But if Johnny got in trouble for taking away Bobby and Jane's toys, and then had the nerve to respond, "Well mom...you didn't say I couldn't take away their toys!" then our natural response would be, "What in the world...?!!! You know exactly what I was talking about. If I said not to take Susie's toys then I mean not to take anyone's toys away from them!"
In reality, it is only a purposeful and intention desire to be obtuse and get one's way that compels Johnny to argue his point based on the "letter of the law" rather than the "spirit" of the law, if you get my drift. And it seems like only pride that drives the kid to argue with mom and dad about cussing out a brother or sister, when all he heard was "don't hit." It is a natural and normal thing to reason from what someone did say to a subject matter which that same someone did not say. Yet when we come to the words of Jesus, what is natural and normal all of the sudden is not so natural and normal? If this is the way we normally communicate with one another, and if we can agree that our kids...or anyone else for that matter...is being purposefully obtuse or difficult to argue otherwise, then could it be that those arguing in favor of homosexuality are being driven by the same attitude?
I stood before a probate judge last week to answer for two deer-hunting fines I received the week before Thanksgiving. A relative of the owner of the house I was renting for the weekend told me to throw out some corn and see where the deer were coming from. I knew it was illegal to actually hunt a deer over corn and kill it. But I didn't know that the law was specific as to the actual number of yards from the corn one had to be in order to take the deer legally. In Georgia, it's 200 yards.
I put the corn at the bottom of a mountain, in order to see whether the deer were coming from the bottom of the mountain or at the top near the road. That would, of course, determine where I set up to hunt...assuming, of course that if the deer came from the bottom they would eat the corn and then I could hunt there legally. When I tried to explain my confusion to the judge, it didn't matter. "Your honor, I realize the law says 200 yards, but I didn't know that at the time. I also realize that ignorance is no excuse. However, clearly you can see that I would be genuinely confused by the law," I argued. "After all, is that 200 yards from point A to B, or is it 200 yards along the pathway to the bottom of the mountain? If it is the latter, that pathway well exceeds 200 yards. But if it is point A to B, then that's just over a hundred yards." Her response? "It's point A to B."
Of course it is. And I knew it. I was looking for a loophole. And I knew that too. Lawyers know it when they try to do that. The effort is plain and simple, isn't it? Try to get out of being held accountable or responsible for wrongdoing by any and every means necessary...even if you have to argue that the written law is not specific or explicit about the wrongdoing. Yet pretty much any jury member sitting there is smart enough to know that a game is being played. And often times they don't stand for it...except in cases where they are instructed by a judge to "disregard" something that was said or done because they were not "allowed" to take it into consideration. That's always weird to me.
I owned up to what I did, even despite my attempt at using a loophole. The judge's job, you see, is to interpret the written law. And she did. It wasn't in my favor. I knew it. She knew it. And there was no sense in arguing it because it's pretty plain. And it's only a heart or mind that is being purposefully obtuse and difficult and prideful that will continue to push the "letter of the law" when it is plain that they did not follow the "spirit" of it. I sense that this is where we find ourselves when we read the following statement by Dr. Jennifer Wright Knust, in her article on Belief Blog on CNN's website several days ago.
Paul’s letters urge followers of Christ to remain celibate and blame all Gentiles in general for their poor sexual standards. Jesus, meanwhile, says nothing at all about same-sex pairing, and when he discusses marriage, he discourages it.
So why are we pretending that the Bible is dictating our sexual morals? It isn’t.
For the last several posts in this series of responses to Dr. Knust, I've attempted to open up each of her statements and handle the arguments in a plain and normal way, much like we'd read anything else. There is an integrity about reading and processing anything that is largely based on what type of literature we are dealing with. The Bible is history. So if we read that history as we normally would any other history, taking it at face value and working with to understand who it was written to, why it was written, when, where, etc. then we will handle what it says with a measure of integrity that takes it seriously. And based upon my previous observations it just didn't appear that Dr. Knust was doing that with the texts she was using. But again, hers was a blog post and not a theological research article.
Jesus on Marriage...and Homosexuality
However, there is some accountability to which we must hold Dr. Knust when it comes to her passing statements about Paul and Jesus. Let's examine each of them briefly, starting first with Jesus, since He didn't say anything about homosexuality, and per Dr. Knust, evidently discouraged marriage. I want to look first at Matthew 19 where Jesus engages in a little bit of Q&A with someone who basically asks, "Can I divorce my wife if she burns my toast at breakfast...or basically, can I divorce her for any reason...whenever I feel like it?"
Matthew 19:4 "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning 'God made them male and female.' And he said, 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together."
Notice first that Jesus didn't discourage marriage, per Dr. Knust's assertion. If He did, his answer about divorce would be completely different. He would have said, "Yes! Divorce her. I discourage marriage!" Instead, Jesus appeals to creation as the foundation for marriage, just as Paul did, as we'll see in a few minutes. In Matthew 19:4, Jesus is quoting Genesis 1:27 and 5:2.
Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Genesis 5:2 He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them "human."
This is the first place where we find what I was referring to earlier, as a foundation for the "spirit" of Jesus' intentions on marriage. The old adage that "God didn't create Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve" may be offensive to some, but is appropriate here. It is a fact that God made a man and a woman, and He joined them together. (See my post entitled, "What Was God's Original Design When He Made Adam and Eve?") In Matthew 19:5, Jesus continues,
And he said, 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.'
If we approach the Bible with integrity as a reliable, historical document, then Jesus' words here mean what they mean on the surface...as well as beneath and beyond. On the surface, they mean just what they say, namely that a "man" leaves his family (mom and dad), and is joined (via marriage, according to the context) to his wife (who also leaves her mom and dad's household). When they are joined they become one, united together in a mysterious but tangible, divine force and declaration. Again, this is one man with one woman for one lifetime. That's God's plain, original intention when He created Adam and Eve.
Beneath the surface is this plain intention that God is revealing the natural order of marital (and therefore, sexual) unity: one man and one woman. Beyond the surface, any relationship that does not fall within the trajectory of this plain meaning is obviously not something God intended for marriage. There simply is no room for such a relationship...whether it's cohabitation or same-sex relationships.
What follows in Jesus' continuing interaction with the Pharisees simply serves to confirm that Jesus did not in fact discourage marriage at all. Rather, He affirmed it in almost every verse of His communication. If He discouraged it, again He would have recommended divorce or He would have given some sort of affirmation that the Pharisees were right on the divorce issue. Instead, Jesus appeals to creation where God's original design and intention of marriage was clearly displayed.
It is only when we come to verses 8-12 that some people feel that we run into some trouble with regard to Jesus' feelings on marriage.
Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery - unless his wife has been unfaithful.' Jesus' disciples then said to him, 'If this is the case, it is better not to marry!' 'Not everyone can accept this statement,' Jesus said. 'Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.'
Extracted from the context of the overall interaction, it would be quite easy to see that Jesus is discouraging marriage. Instead, if we follow the first three and most important rules of interpretation (context, context, context!), we see that what Jesus was saying must be maintain within the context of the conversation about divorce. And when we do that, it becomes pretty evident that it must have been rampant...perhaps as much as, if not even more so than we see it today. That's why the disciples said what they did in verse 9. They saw so much of it that it seemed impossible to them to get married to one woman and stay married to her.
Seen in its context then, Jesus is pretty much saying that in a culture or society where divorce is so rampant that people get divorced for any reason (as the Pharisees indicated in verse 3), it is better not to marry. The disciples were no doubt feeling the pressure of the culture around them, and they were scared when they compared the situation (perhaps even theirs personally) to God's original intention and design at creation. If they felt that divorce would be always imminent in their potential marriage, it would be better not to allow that potential to turn to reality. In other words, don't get married if you have any reason at all to think that you may get a divorce, like almost everyone else seems to be doing.
I trust that makes more sense to you when you read it in light of the context. Jesus in no way discourages marriage. Rather, He affirms the sanctity and intention of marriage by referring to creation and by discouraging divorce for any reason, other than unrepentant marital unfaithfulness. If anything, the Old Testament's description of God's marriage to Israel shows us that even despite their unfaithfulness, God remained with His bride. And undoubtedly, the book of Hosea is the best story God uses to illustrate that truth. So while Moses allowed divorce because of people's hard hearts, Jesus nails it when He refers to creation and says, "it was not what God had originally intended" (v. 8). Marriage is what He originally intended.
From this plain teaching we have a trajectory of sorts created for marriage. Homosexuality does not fall within that trajectory. Therefore the teaching of Jesus leaves no room for it. He may not have addressed the issue directly and explicitly. But what He does say about marriage answers any questions about homosexuality that may come up. Again, it's a matter of appealing to the "spirit" of what Jesus says here, rather than the "letter of the law" which leads one to interpret what Jesus doesn't say about homosexuality by what He does say. That is the fourth rule of interpretation...interpreting the not-so-clear in light of the clear. What He does say about marriage in Matthew 19 is enough to lead us to conclude that a man marrying a man is not God's original design and intention for marriage.
Gospel-Designed Marriages are the Ideal
The central reason for Jesus' teaching on marriage, and His reference to the first marriage in Genesis, is to show the heart of the gospel. It is grounded upon the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises. When two people get married, they generally make vows and promises to each other. Too often, we don't keep those promises. But when God made a promise to love us unconditionally He will never break that promise. That's because He cannot break that promise. It is impossible for God to lie.
The gospel is good news because it says that the unconditional love of God for humanity has been displayed in Jesus and is offered to those who believe in Him. When they come to believe in Him, they are unconditionally loved forever. Jesus promises in John 10 that nobody is able to pluck His children from His hand. Nobody. Ever. Forever!
When we see this as the background for marriage, my relationship to my wife becomes something that preaches this good news. By remaining faithful to my wife, I am essentially modeling God's faithfulness to His family. By remaining faithful to me, my wife is essentially modeling the church's faithfulness to King Jesus. This can only take place in the confines of marriage.
But can't a homosexual marriage do the same thing? Honestly, I don't have any other reason to say "no" to this question other than the fact that God's original intention for marriage was Adam and Eve, one man and one woman for one lifetime. God did not originally create Adam as an androgynous human being. And even if He did, He ended up making a woman to accompany Adam...not another man. That's huge. And it has huge implications for marriage.
Take a recent study for example, which concluded that states which do not ban gay marriages saw their divorce rate decrease. Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight.com) reported that states that had no gay-marriage ban
"saw their divorce rates decrease by an average of 8 percent between 2003 and 2008. States which had passed a same-sex marriage ban as of January 1, 2008, however, saw their divorce rates rise by about 1 percent over the same period" (quoted here).
Bruce Wilson (Huffington Post) is quoted as saying,
"Provisional data from 2008 indicates that the Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008. What does that mean ? To get a sense of perspective consider that the last time the US national divorce rate was 2.0 per thousand (people) was 1940. You read that correctly. The Massachusetts divorce rate is now at about where the US divorce rate was the year before the United States entered World War Two" (quoted here).
This is just a sampling of the data, most of which seems to conclude with a rather dogmatic belief that (1) there isn't enough data on gay-marriage divorce rates to make a conclusive claim one way or another, and (2) even if we had the data it wouldn't necessarily argue that same-sex marriage isn't as good as heterosexual marriages. However, both Silver and Wilson's conclusions do not make reference at all to cohabitation as the possible, if not probable, reason that divorce rates are down. Per the "Alternatives to Marriage Project",
"The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88% between 1990 and 2007. - U.S. Census Bureau." See America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007)
They also quote the following statistics.
"In 1995, 24% of women aged 25-34 were cohabiting, compared to 22% of women aged 35-39, and 15% of women aged 40-44. In every age group, the percentages have increased since 1987. - Bumpass, Larry and Lu, Hsien-Hen. 2000." (See Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children's Family Contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54: 29-41)
"10.7% of the unmarried population report living together with unmarried partners." (U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2005-2007)
"12.8% of unmarried-partner households report being same-sex." (U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey: 2005-2007)
If cohabitation is on the rise, per these statistics, and if the time period covers relatively the same time period of various states lifting bans on same-sex marriages, then isn't it at least plausible that the divorce rate has gone down in those states because couples are simply choosing to live together instead of getting married? It seems like it to me personally. And this is where the gospel's implications on marriage as Jesus taught it are so huge.
Marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime in order to be a living-color model of one truth: the unconditional love of God in the good news of the gospel of Christ. Not only is that truth based on the Genesis record of Adam and Eve's relationship. But it is also based on the sanctity and purpose of marriage. If couples choose to live together instead of getting married, then there are less and less models of the gospel.
Do you see what a massive impact the gospel has on marriage and same-sex marriages? If male gay couples get married, it doesn't reflect God's original intention and design, and therefore cannot essentially be a living-color model of the gospel. The same applies to female gay marriages, as well as cohabitating couples, regardless of sexual preference. The good news seems to be inherently interwoven into the very nature of marriage as God originally designed it.
I'm open for some dialogue and interaction on this point, and would love to entertain some.