Friday, February 03, 2006

Perfectionism

I recently came across a statement by Alan Chambers on a discussion about homosexuality at another blog. Alan's position was stated with grace and provided a refreshing contrast to the hostility and general nastiness of most of the conservative posters. At the same time, though, it contained the usual ambiguous promise of "change" coupled with 1 Cor. 6:11 (which, for the last time, does not contain any promises of heterosexuality).

What made his statement noteworthy was this one comment: "I believe it is a sin that God hates MOSTLY because it hurts those who are involved in it. It isn't that homosexuality is so bad; it is that it isn't best. In that light, it falls short of the Creator's intent for sexuality. Good is the enemy of God's best."

What first stands out in that statement is that he would go so far as to use the word "good" in association with "homosexuality" (which is actually a misnomer here, since very few Christians would still support the unbiblical proposition that the orientation itself is sin), even indirectly. It is true that one can see good flowing out of many committed gay relationship, and it's refreshing to hear someone on that side of the debate acknowledge that fact, but nonetheless I suspect that Alan may want to reconsider his choice of terms.

Good, after all, is the word God uses to describe his creation in Genesis 1. In fact, contrary to popular misperception, the Bible never describes Eden as perfect. The assumption of perfection stems largely from the influence that Plato and other Greek philosophers had on early theologians. So if good is, in fact, the enemy of God's best, then we've got a theological dilemma on our hands.

And that still leaves us with a rather problematic term, namely "God's best." Does the Bible really tell us, in encyclopedic fashion, what God's best is for every individual? Assuming, for the moment, that it does, and that one size fits all, it's a pretty safe assumption that Alan would have Genesis 2 in mind as evidence that heterosexual marriage represents "God's best" for everyone.

But does being married to an opposite sex partner automatically mean that a person has found God's best for his or her life? Should an individual with an abusive or chronically neglectful spouse remain in that marriage since leaving would mean abandoning "God's best" for them?

Does it ever represent "God's best" for an individual to marry someone that they've never been attracted to? Real life experience would suggest otherwise; the primary byproduct of most marriages where one spouse is exclusively same-sex attracted is pain and grief for both, even if the homosexual partner remains faithful. Speaking for myself, the idea of marrying a woman sounds more like hell on earth for both me and her than like something God-ordained - not because I dislike women (I have some wonderful female friends), but because, even setting aside the whole issue of having to have sex with her, I'm incapable of bonding with a woman on the deep levels that a heterosexual man could. And this understanding remains despite having spent the majority of my life trying to convince myself that marrying a woman would be a good thing.

Exodus, of course, would advocate that I could "change," even though their most optimistic numbers show that only one third of their participants actually achieve "change" (which is always very nebulously defined and ultimately has far more to do with managing external behavior than with any real shift in one's attractions). All I have to do is want it enough ("name it and claim it," anyone?). But not too much, since wanting it too badly can reportedly sabotage the process as surely as not wanting it badly enough.

So, barring any actual change in my orientation (which is roughly as likely to happen as hitting a jackpot in Vegas), that leaves celibacy. Celibacy can be described as a good thing; it's specifically treated as a positive thing in the New Testament. But we can't call it God's best, since Genesis 2 (in conjunction with numerous other passages) has already defined that for us as heterosexual marriage. And the misery experienced by many (heterosexual as well as homosexual) who have been forced to celibacy testifies to the fact that they aren't experiencing God's best. Which makes sense, since we've already established that "good" is the enemy of "God's best." Thus, while some may be called to celibacy, it doesn't appear to be something that the rest of us should settle for.

Of course, that leaves us with a serious problem: we have an entire group of people who are incapable of experiencing God's best for their lives, and God has shown little interest in making his "best" a possibility for them. Could it be that translating ideals into absolutes creates an "all or nothing" situation in which many will ultimately end up with nothing?

It brings to mind Jesus' illustration of the servant who buried his talent for fear that he might lose it. Yes, he preserved what he had been entrusted with, but his master was not pleased by his inaction. Perhaps, instead of telling people they should put their lives on hold until God comes through with a change he has never actually promised, we should encourage them to make full use of the gifts that he has given them, here and now.

Regardless of where one ultimately stands on the issue of same-sex relationships, the good news of the gospel is God's "yes" to us, not another list of "no's." It's extremely easy to become focused on avoiding and/or overcoming sin to the point of paralysis. Not to excuse or downplay the dangers of sin, but in our preoccupation with the things we shouldn't be doing, we quickly lose sight of the greater requirement of God's law, namely that we freely give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Love carries with it an element of risk, and an emphasis on risk avoidance all too frequently becomes an exercise in love avoidance. How much power might the church have to change the world if it truly loved with abandon?

But back to the subject at hand. I feel like I'm beginning to repeat myself, but it's worth saying again. We rob people of their humanity when we try to impose two-dimensional ethics onto complex issues. While "God's best" is certainly worth holding up as an ideal to be aspired toward, it becomes a tool of death and destruction when wielded as a club against those who have no hope of achieving it.

Perhaps God wasn't just blowing smoke when he gave us two simple rules to live by. Loving God and loving others is necessarily going to look different for different people. And the best way of measuring the quality of a person's love is by examining its byproducts.

3 comments:

Jimbo said...

I have heard others relate to gay orientation as a talent, but you have made the point especially clearly; and the issue of risk/love avoidance touches a real nerve here, a reminder that I really need to move on forward.

Thanks.

Noa Resare said...

You write brilliantly. Thanks.

E said...

the issue of risk/love avoidance touches a real nerve here, a reminder that I really need to move on forward.

It's as much a reminder for me as for anyone else; it's very easy to suggest, but not so easy to actually do something about.