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Grabbing the Duck by the Horns

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Duck feathersFrom the time Jesus walked the earth, he has used controversy to force his disciples to grow up (Mat 16.13-15). He has required each generation to articulate and stand for his word in some new way and in the face of some new movement that is trying to suppress it. This is Jesus’ own way of bringing us to maturity.

Christians, however, are typically controversy-averse, and none more than American Christians. The cultural gatekeepers have made it clear that Christians are to be seen and not heard, and Christians for the most part have been happy to oblige. But from time to time, Jesus brings things to a head, even though his disciples want to avoid it like a hole in the head (Mat 16.21-22). Martin Luther was not trying to start a controversy with his Ninety-five Theses, but Jesus was. I don’t think Phil Robertson was trying to start a controversy with his remarks to GQ, but the real question is, Was Jesus? Seems like it.

Sex and sexuality have been the elephant in the livingroom for quite some time. And when Jesus puts an elephant in the livingroom, his point is not to have us fit it with a lampshade (which is something we are good at), but to have us wrestle the elephant (which is something we are not good at). Seeing we had in fact put a lamp shade on the pachyderm, Jesus decided to drop a duck in the livingroom and have it hit the ceiling fan on the way down. Now feathers are everywhere.

As I see it, Christians have two choices: We can try to glue the feathers back on the duck (which is what most Christian media types appear to be attempting), or we can grab the duck by the horns. I vote for the latter.

What does it mean to grab the duck by the horns? It means a lot of things, but I will begin with three:

1. We need to get a clear grasp of the conflict we are in. This is a spiritual battle with cultural components, not a cultural battle with spiritual components.

God made sexuality to reflect spirituality (Eph 5.30-32), and when a culture abandons spiritual monogamy to the one true God, it won’t be long before it abandons marriage and sex as God created them. This is why Paul describes the suicide spiral of fallen humanity as a spiritual-sexual two-step (Rom 1.21-27).

When a culture insists on the right of every individual to invent and pursue whatever spirituality they want, the same culture will insist on the right of every individual to invent and pursue whatever sexuality they want. And that culture will rage at anyone and anything that stands in the way.

This is why the culture war flash-points are all sexual. This is also why only a mass revival brought about by the Spirit of the living God will turn things around. We must pray and act accordingly.

2. We have to speak the truth about sex and marriage. We have to speak it in love, yes, but we still have to speak it, remembering that to love someone is to give them what they need, not what they want. We must come to terms with the fact that we will never be able to articulate God’s design for sex and marriage in a way that will be acceptable to the forces of “tolerance” and “diversity” (which are modern euphemisms for “shut up, Christian”). When it comes to what we say and how we say it, we need to take our cues from the Bible, not from the purveyors of cultural correctness. For more on this, see In Defense of Plain Speech.

3. We must articulate an affirmative vision of the glory of marriage and sex as God created them. In our current environment, it is not enough to say, “Thou shalt not,” nor is it sufficient to point out that God condemns fornication and adultery, not just homosexuality.  We can’t beat something with nothing. We can’t beat yes with no. We must do our best to explain why God made sex for marriage only, and why he made marriage heterosexual only. I have done some thinking about this, and I want to offer what I have come up with as a starting point.

But before I jump in, let me quickly say that one of the blessings of controversy is that it gives us the opportunity—indeed, the need—to look deeper into God’s word, to see his face more clearly, to understand his bright designs more perfectly, and to share our new treasure with one another and with the world. This is a privilege, not a problem.

The why behind God’s design for sex and marriage lies deep within his glorious intentions for the human race—specifically that we, as his children, might image him and experience his life and glory (John 17.5, 22; 2 Cor 3.18; 1 John 1.1-3). Being loved by God is better than life itself (Psa 63.3). But being loved by God it does not make us like him; loving like God does. We, however, cannot love God in the same way that he loves us, for our love will always be a response to his.

This is where the glory of marriage shines forth. In marriage, we have the privilege of loving like God—of loving first, of loving unmeritedly, and of loving someone who is fundamentally other—not just in the sense of being another human being, but fundamentally other from the ground up, as in the opposite sex. In marriage, we have the privilege of loving someone who is a mystery and a wonder—someone who at the most fundamental level looks different from us, moves differently than us, thinks differently, relates differently, values differently, needs differently, and gives differently.

Loving that which is fundamentally other is the nature of God’s love for us, for there is no greater otherness than the difference between Creator and creature. And God places his Amen upon our imitation of his love by creating new life through us. No other bond receives God’s Amen in that way.

But there is more. God does not simply love us, he binds himself to us forever (Jer 31.31-34; Heb 6.17; Eph 5.30-32). God’s eternal oath to us, and ours to him in Christ, is the only context for spiritual union. Reflecting that, the only proper context for sexual union is the lifelong oath of husband and wife to one another (Rom 7.2-4). Sex in any other context flies in the face of God’s love, turns away from the privilege of imaging his love, and fails to tell the truth about who God is and who we are.

Marriage and sex as God created them are a taste of God’s life and glory. This is why same-sex sex is more than mistaken—it is tragic, and it is wrong.

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