Friday, September 6, 2013

Imago Dei

Burgers sizzled, potatoes were chopped into fries in one fell swoop, and the general din of In-n-Out Burger simmered all around us.  My son stood up on the bench next to me, flirting with an older lady through the glass half-panel; my wife and I chatted over our burgers and fries, pausing to share with Junior or take sips of icewater.  Seated across from my son's target and her husband were two young men, of college age, both wearing very nice watches and with well-groomed hair.  They had been there when we arrived, deep in conversation; they would be there when we left, deep in conversation; the nice older lady would cast a bittersweet, lingering glance at my son and pregnant wife as we walked out the door.  What can never be...

"Mom, Dad, I'm gay" is probably a sentence that keeps many Christian parents awake at night.  What do you do?  What do you say?  What did you do wrong?  How could you have missed the signs?  This isn't OK.  Is it OK?  What will this do to our relationship?  How do you separate sin and sinner in your affections and actions?

I am not much of a counselor, so I make no approach to the wrenching practical questions posed above.  I do, however, think a lot about these sorts of things, and Rosaria Butterfield's book got me thinking more.  The session of my church apparently thinks I am fit for youth ministry, and as we work to get a college group organized, I have no doubt that this topic will come up.  It is on the mind of our nation now as never before, and it is high time that the church began an honest, thorough, and Biblical discussion of homosexuality and related questions.

Long before Oscar Wilde blithely dubbed it "the love that dare not speak its name", homosexuality was taboo in the West (I simply lack knowledge of the East, so this omission is in no wise an inference).  The Greeks were pretty open about that sort of thing, the Romans less so, and so from the Christianization of Europe to the twentieth century, these things were buried deep and sealed.

The problem with sin, like a vampire, is that it will not stay buried (actually, an interesting literary excursus would be to analyze vampires as a mythical incarnation of sin itself, never-dying, slowly destroying, attractive, powerful, but hateful and vile - anyway - ).  And you never know where it will pop up.

How do you react to a homosexual?  Is it a Kafka-esque revulsion at the sight of someone you know now become an aesthetic abomination?  Is it a reactive denunciation of the evils of homosexuality?  Or do you stop, take a breath, acknowledge first that all are sinners falling short of the glory of God and second that this person in front of you is made in His glorious image?

What was the sin of Sodom?  Yes, they sought to violate Lot's guests (and Gibeah of Saul is guilty of the same crime), but in God's revelation to Ezekiel, in 16:49, Sodom and her sister cities are indicted for pride, excess of ease, and neglect of the poor - pride being the root of all these branches.

Consider now the scene, where a son sits before his father and says "I really struggle with pride, I - I think I'm proud". 

Seems almost trite, no?  Dad might slap him on the back and say "Well, son, we all struggle with that, and the important thing is just to keep on; I'm proud of you, boy".  Pride is so easy to confess, because it is so ubiquitous.  Nobody gasps or opens their eyes to stare if you ask God to help you with pride during group prayer. 

Pride is the root sin.  It is the meta-sin.  It is man (or devil) standing up to God's face and saying "I know better".  From "Has God really said...?" down to Sodom, to the Pharisees, to us today, the refrain of rebel mankind has been unanimous - and was penned well by Frank Sinatra - I did it my way

There's a kind of bamboo, called "runner bamboo", that I have read about.  Once it's deep down in the soil, it can't be eradicated.  It travels between yards, across streets, breaks pavement, and all because there's a root down there, growing in all manner of unexpected directions.  Such is pride to the pandemonium of man's external sins, and so it has been in all ages.  We happen to have a strong outbreak of one symptom in American culture right now, but it's just that - a symptom.  The disease is sin itself, above all, that pride which makes man exalt himself to the heavens.

So how to approach the challenge that homosexuality (or its variants across the LGBT rainbow - ironically, a symbol of God's patiently deferred judgment by fire...) poses? 

Start from the basics.  Are you God?  No.  You do not get to tell this person that they are going to hell.  You should tell them that God is holy, and they need forgiveness, but this is the happy flip side of Calvinism - you never know what sinner might be a future saint - only God does, so you get to show the love of Christ to everybody.  Next, are they made in God's image?  Yes.  Then, as James lambasts, you must not curse them or revile them, lest you be a hypocrite.  If they are made in the image of God, then they are dignified, thinking, responsible moral creatures.  They may be badly deluded by sin, but they remain Adam's seed, and are to be treated honorably as our kinfolk.  Finally, do you want their redemption?  I hope you do.  If so, present them with the full truth of the gospel as thought you really cared about their eternal souls - because you do! 

If you are using the Bible as a club, you are mishandling it.  If you give them law alone, you are withholding the gospel (which is not your right).  If you reason with them about sin and righteousness and judgment and Jesus, acting in patience and love, subordinating any personal aesthetic reactions you may have to the overriding demand of Jesus to preach the gospel to all tongues, tribes, and nations, then let God do the rest.  Either you have been an aroma of life unto life, we hope, or of death unto death, but let it be the gospel they react to, not you.

The caution comes from Ezekiel, too: Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride?  Let us never mock those who sin in ways that are particularly distasteful.  If we are pointing at another's sin, it is far too easy for other, craftier, sins to sneak up and nab us.  Let us be vigilant, loving, thoughtful, and above all, Christlike, as we seek to win all men to Christ.  He alone is powerful over all sin, having conquered it in his body on the cross.  He has made us, his people, salt and light.  Let us be savory, clear, and pure as we season and illuminate this world until our Savior comes again.

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