More on Long, Hard Obedience

I’m going to talk in this article about an author who is gay and is a Christian and how his writing has encouraged me in long, hard obedience. But I have learned through previous articles that when I refer to gay Christians or Christians chronically experiencing same sex attraction, I am begging for critique.

Here are the primary critiques, and I want to address them head on.

“Why are you identifying someone as gay instead of simply in Christ?”

and

“There is no such thing as a gay Christian.”

Well, actually, there is. Using gay as an adjective does not denote overarching identity. It’s a descriptor (which is what an adjective is) for the purposes of delineating between sub categories of who or what you are talking about. There are black Christians, African Christians, lying Christians, female Christians, adulterous Christians, older Christians, disabled Christians, and so forth with much overlap between descriptors. Using a descriptor doesn’t mean a Christian finds their primary Christian identity in being African, older, the sin of lying, etc. It’s just a descriptor. They are a Christian who is from Africa. They are a Christian who lied in the past and maybe even 5 minutes ago. It makes me sad that people are so suspicious of this type of discussion that they seem to throw basic logic and good faith out the window the moment gays or same-sex attraction are mentioned in terms of Christians.

Furthermore, there are gay Christians who are celibate and sexually pure, and there are gay Christians who are not celibate and are sexually immoral. Gay is used in such situations usually to refer to the fact that they consistently experience attraction to their same sex as heterosexuals consistently are attracted only to the opposite sex.  And the temptation to sin IS NOT SIN.  Jesus was tempted in all points like us, maybe even with same sex attraction.  But the Bible says explicitly that He was both tempted and without sin.  I am disturbed that many evangelicals don’t seem to have a category for this when it comes to homosexuality.

Just as there are sexually immoral gay Christians, there are sexually immoral straight Christians. In Christ, we are freed from bondage to sexual sin, either gay or straight, and equipped to obey God’s sexual ethics. But we deny many facets of the gospel when we infer that any sexual sin means someone isn’t a Christian. Some Christians, straight and gay, are sexually immoral! I hope it does not characterize their life, but many regularly fight temptation and a good number sin when tempted. But also a lot of Christians, straight or gay, are sexually pure. We miss basic tenets of the gospel if we claim that any sexual immorality requires us to forfeit naming ourselves a believer.

Ok then. Now that we are either on the same page or you have written me off altogether as heretical, here is the substance of this post, and it is VERY IMPORTANT in my opinion.

Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship, wrote an article that strongly resonated with me this week.  I hope you will check it out.

I read Washed and Waiting a few years ago and wrote a review on it.  It was my favorite book of 2013. Though I’ve never struggled with same-sex attraction, I resonated deeply with Wesley’s thoughts on persevering for the long haul in hard situations. And his new blog post ponders similar questions. Can we really call God good when He allows certain people to experience a long loneliness and unrelentingly hard circumstances? Yes, yes we can. But the way MANY of us want to deal with this question is by creatively thinking how to relieve the burden. We hate the idea that Wesley presents of an attraction to the same sex that isn’t relieved despite relentless Christian prayers and Bible study. Wesley must be doing something wrong, we think. We want to believe that one day he will meet the right woman, sparking a natural desire that will replace an unnatural one. Yet, even for those who do enter marriage with the right person, such unnatural sexual desire for the wrong sex often remains.  And stories of long, unrelieved temptations are stories of trials.

We hate those stories of others because we don’t want to consider them for themselves.

Many can’t comprehend Job’s story, or Ruth’s or Joseph’s, without the resolution at the end. They can only handle reading about them because they know the resolution. For many of us, contemplating the long years of unknown resolution for each of them is beyond our ability. Unless we are already there.

I resonate with Wesley’s words because I am there. I have struggles in my life, unreconciled relationships and unfulfilled longings, that are probably not going to resolve in this lifetime. For a long time, I had a string of things to try to fix it. Prayer, Bible study, advice from pastors and counselors. There was a list of things to work through and try. There was hope for earthly resolution. But there came a point where the last options were exhausted. Resolution through any of them would have taken a miracle. But while God did show up again and again with sustenance for the journey, He did not show up with that miraculous resolution I longed for. Once I had finally exhausted the last option that pastors and counselors had suggested, I remember sitting on the floor in my family room, numb with no tears left to flow. I was out of things to try, realizing how much I had hoped that there would be some way to resolve these things. No more words to pray for change in this life. No more earthly hopes to sustain me.  Many of you have sat similarly, numb and exhausted of tears, as the reality of your situation set in.

Was God still good?

The long unresolved issues in our lives only really start to teach us of the deep character of God when our options for resolving them are exhausted. The last option of chemotherapy doesn’t work. The divorce decree is stamped with finality by the judge. The heart beat line on the monitor goes flat and stays that way. The casket lowers in the grave. The doctor says with finality, “This is as far as you will recover.” The loved one changes their phone number, and you have no idea how to ever contact them again.

The verdict is terminal, not necessarily in terms of a sickness of which you will die, but in the fact that you will carry this burden for the rest of your days on earth. Wesley uses J. R. R. Tolkien’s language of fighting “a long defeat” and Dorothy Day’s language of “a long loneliness.” Perhaps most important is the language of the author of Hebrews. Because Wesley, Tolkien, or Day aren’t articulating a new concept but a very old, very Biblical one.

     8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 …

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. …

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Do you see how the writer here speaks of both those who saw earthly resolution and those who didn’t? Those who experienced physical victories and those who were martyred as prisoners? Whether they saw temporary earthly resolution or not, “none of them received what had been promised.” We commend them because they persevered in faith, not sight. When they DID NOT SEE THE PURPOSE, they believed there still was a point to their suffering and value to their perseverance.

While the author of Hebrews positively encourages us to persevere, Paul in I Corinthians 10 warns us soberly of the hardships when we don’t. In verse 9-10, he says, “Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” Paul is referring back to Numbers 21, where the people grumble and complain against God and Moses. “Why have you led us from Egypt?” “We detest this wretched food!” But such complaining defeated the people. We think of them as offending God, but they were also hamstringing themselves from persevering in their struggle, from overcoming with joy. My pastor in Seattle preached a life giving message on Paul’s similar words in Philippians 2:14 to put off grumbling or complaining. That warning isn’t Paul or God being overly strict or trying to limit our voice of lament or suffering. But grumbling and complaining, which is lament with blame and suffering with bitterness, will absolutely destroy you. It erodes your ability to endure. It’s like drinking coffee or alcohol while trying to stay hydrated on a marathon. Not only does it not help you endure, it hinders you. And when you are under that much pressure in that hard of a situation, a margarita might temporarily taste good, but it will ultimately make the next mile ten times harder than the water you needed.

The final words of Hebrews 11 are beautiful and sustaining. God had planned something better for those persevering believers and us. And we will all finally realize this thing together, united with Christ in the New Creation. Persevere in your long, hard journey, dear friend. You long for something better, and it is unfulfilled on this earth. But your longing is not the problem. You are right to long for it, and it will be righteously fulfilled in eternity as your good God receives you with affirmation for your faithfulness. Then too you will realize that He was holding you tightly the whole time so that you could not fall away. He has not left you as an orphan to walk this alone. May this thought sustain you in your long loneliness as it has me.

9 Responses to More on Long, Hard Obedience

  1. Randall August 26, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    Again, you nail it perfectly. I finish your posts on this subject and feel loved, understood and encouraged. We need more voices like yours, friend.

    We need stronger, sane voices to bring us the Gospel, but it’s so hard to find in churches these days. This is a very hard burden, and it’s meant to be shared and understood in community. Instead of barely concealed hatred, we need community to share, to encourage, to teach, and to be loved. Instead, too many churches act like the blood of Christ saved them, but isn’t powerful enough to cleanse me of my sins. This attitude is causing a kind of spiritual pain straight Christians have no concept of. I have seen the video of worship services during the Gay Christian Network yearly gathering. To watch a group of hungry Gay Christians worship at the table where they’ve long been denied a seat is life changing, I tell you.

    Thank you for your love, encouragement and u derstand get of the struggle. And for learning from a gay theologian! Someday, God willing, we will split a Blenheims on you veranda!

    • Wendy August 26, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

      Thanks, Randall! I hope you KNOW that your faith and perseverance has looonnnggg been an encouragement to me in my own.

  2. Becky Gonzalez August 29, 2016 at 10:37 am #

    So thankful for this very timely post! Faith and perseverance, whether the Lord provides resolution to our trial on earth or in eternity, is the key. For so long, the struggle to have faith and perseverance while I hang on to the desperate hope that resolution MUST come in the here and now to demonstrate God’s goodness and care for me so tainted my prayers and pleas to my heavenly Father, as well as the prayers of those brothers and sisters praying for me and my family. Our trials are not of the same-sex attraction kind, but are longstanding trials nonetheless – an extended season of financial loss, of job and vocational transition, of un and under employment, of the Lord reducing and removing earthly material possessions and resources. Just this morning, the Lord very gently but firmly reminded me that He did NOT need a Tropical Storm or Hurricane to hit in order to provide for our family (we live in South Florida and my husband is an Insurance Adjuster), as I found my grasp clinging tightly to weather forecasts as determiners of God’s provision. In all these things, God is good, and He is good to me, regardless of if, how, and when resolution is provided for our long and unrelenting circumstance.

    And thanks for your insight on gay Christians – so much restoration is needed in this area in the Church today. I so appreciated and resonated with what you shared about it!

    • Wendy August 29, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      Thanks, Becky. I appreciate your feedback and encouragement.

  3. Pia August 30, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    I have a friend who I don’t get to see but a couple of times a year. This last weekend we did a four-mile walk around the top of Queen Anne (visions of Seattle, Wendy?). My time with her is always a balm to my soul as we both walk journeys, though different, that are both long and hard. Reading this post is another balm to my soul. Thank you, Wendy. And here is a third balm to my soul, read this last weekend as well, from The Valley of Vision, page 85
    Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
    it is not all briars and barrenness.
    I have bread from heaven,
    streams from the rock,
    light by day,
    fire by night,
    thy dwelling place and they mercy seat.

    • Wendy August 30, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

      PIa, that is lovely. And yes to the visions of Seattle.

  4. Deb O. August 30, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

    I have known that about which you speak. I have sat ‘numb with no tears left to flow’ even to the point of crying, ‘this is a joke … a cruel joke” that God would give me a love for my husband to last a lifetime, only to see it return void. We are now four years separated after 22 years together in marriage and will probably remain so for the rest of our lives.

    But God … is still good, and filled with lovingkindness. And is trustworthy and worthy of all praise. Even in the midst of unresolved pain. Thank you, and others, for writing this out loud.

  5. Robyn September 2, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article. I immediately went to Paul, asking that the thorn in his flesh be removed, and God simply stating that his grace was sufficient….peace instead of “healing”. Appreciate your stuff!

  6. Jay Ryder September 26, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    I commend Wesley and some of the other younger evangelicals who are endeavoring to walk in obedience to the Lord. However, as someone who has a couple of decades more experience with this issue, I’m a bit disturbed by the “Gay Christian” phenomenon.
    The situation presented by Hill and his network is that someone who experiences a sexual inclination toward their same sex can identify with the Side A Christian Network (Matthew Vines and others) who identify as Gay Christian and who allow their sexual attractions to be acted upon. Or you can identify with those who are on Side B, Gay Christians who identify as Gay, but who out of conviction and obedience chose not to act on those desires, to live celibate, but also who see their same sex attractions something that the Lord redeems and makes sanctifiable.

    Honestly, I am so grateful that when I was a young Christian that this confusion was not around. As Rosaria Butterfield says, same sex desire must be mortified, not codified, or mollified. Our union with Christ is not compatible with the gay identity. It really isn’t.

    Jesus declares that, if we are in Him, we are new creations, the old has passed away and the new has come – already, not yet. We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, and we cannot keep one foot in both kingdoms. We are not double agents and should not be teaching people to embrace such a double-minded view of personhood.

    Teaching people that they can retain their gay identity, their gay community, their gay affinities, is like placing a millstone on their necks, not freedom. Is there anything more cruel that saying: yes, we agree that you are gay and that your only fulfillment in this life as you understand it (being with a person of the same sex) is not wrong per se, but it is strictly forbidden?

    Here is the truth:
    Mark 10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.”

    This “third way”/half truth is not freedom and I think we need to understand that teaching it is not loving. Everything I’m saying is also said similarly by Rosaria Butterfield.

    Peace..