Darkness on Maundy Thursday

Many Christians today don’t think about Maundy Thursday, the day before Christ’s crucifixion. They leap directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, perhaps offering a moment of silence on Good Friday. But Maundy Thursday is an important day, even crucial I would say, for understanding much of our role in God’s kingdom. On this night Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for the last Passover and the first experience of The Lord’s Table.  The term Maundy (not “Monday”) comes from the Latin word for commandment, Mandatum, found in the Latin Vulgate translation of John 13:34. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you that you love one another.” He gave this command late Thursday night and thus the title Maundy (Commandment) Thursday.

This was the evening that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, a precious and memorable event in our spiritual history. On this evening He also delivered His longest recorded teaching, The Upper Room Discourse, sometimes called The Farewell Discourse. He filled this time with encouragement, promise, and instruction.

But Maundy Thursday has a dark side to it. It is the night that Judas confirmed in his unregenerate heart to betray the Lord, the night that he let Satan influence him to “betray innocent blood” as he himself later puts it. We often overlook the fact that the glory of the new commandment shows brightest against the contrasting darkness of this faithless world. In many ways Judas represents all faithlessness, all rebellion against the grace of Christ.

Faithlessness is a more important subject than we might think. For one thing, the fact that God holds us responsible for our unbelief indicates the gravity of human moral responsibility. At no time do we see Judas acting against his own will in this situation. Even when Satan apparently nudges him directly at the heart level (John 13:2) there is no indicator of Judas resisting. It is a reminder of human culpability. We can blame no one but ourselves for our unbelief.

Secondly, the existence of Judas’s faithless unbelief reminds us that humanity’s problem is one of a fallen will rather than simply ignorance (see Romans 1:18-20). Judas had every reason to trust Jesus like his friends did. He was there for all the miracles, the preaching, the implications of Jesus’ divine identity, even for the foot washing! He let Jesus wash his feet along with the other disciples, for heaven’s sake! He nodded along with everybody else up in Caesarea Philippi when Peter blurted out that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God (Matt.16:16). He had his own basket of leftovers after Jesus fed the five thousand (Matt.14:20-21). But he was faking it all along (John 12:6). It is simply illogical, unreasonable, and irrational to reject Jesus as Messiah after seeing firsthand what Judas saw (John 14:11). Which means that Judas had a will that was in opposition to the realities confronting him about Jesus. The mind is the servant of the will and the will is bent in on itself (Luther’s image).

Which brings us to the final point here. Judas must have been a thoughtful person, one who watched, listened, analyzed, and made decisions, like all rational humans do.  But he was thinking autonomously. That is, he held his thoughts, his analysis, his opinions aloof and above the words and works of Jesus. He reserved the “right” to “disagree” with Jesus and the other apostles. This is exactly what Eve and Adam did. After observing and hearing God’s Word, the human creature takes upon himself/herself the divine mantle and “demurs” with regard to God’s expressed and gracious will. Satan cheers people on in the deadly illusion that our rational analysis is more important that God’s expressed word. And the result is darkness if every kind. After serving supper and washing everyone’s feet, Jesus handed Judas the dipped morsel and said, “Get on with it.”  Whereupon Judas immediately went out…and it was dark… (John 13:30). That darkness so overwhelmed him that, in a further faithless act of disobedience, he hanged himself in an effort to atone for his own evil (Matt.27:5).

But you, Christian friend, are not like Judas (Rom.8:9; Heb.6:9-12). When you sense a conflict between your will and the Lord’s will, you pray and repent and seek to do what He wants. When you fail in these, instead of trying to atone for your own sins you cry for mercy to the One whose Spirit is in your heart and He forgives you every time in Christ (1 John 1:8-2:2). When you reason, you do your thinking within the realities of your faith. Anselm called this “faith seeking understanding.” When you doubt and wrestle with skepticism in your heart, you resist with your faithful reason aided by the Spirit and God’s Word (1 John 3:20). You reject the amoral autonomy of this world and choose rather to shape your thoughts in grace through the Word of the gospel. For you, the upper room is filled with light, the presence of the Lord drawing you into the warmth of the Trinity, His table nourishing your soul deeply and often. You are safe in the grace by simple faith in Jesus Christ, the one reality Judas would not submit to. The good news is so much brighter when we see it against the backdrop of the darkness the Lord has delivered us from.

Unbelief is crucial to our understanding of true faith. No gray areas here. If you trust Jesus Christ, it’s all yours. If you don’t…it’s all dark. I find this sobering, but quite clarifying.

Just a thought,

Pastor Rick

The Shack…Again

A brief review by Rick Booye

The theological novel, The Shack, by William (Paul) Young, is making the rounds again, thanks to the release of the movie based on it. As it did back in 2007, it is causing sometimes heated discussion for a simple reason—it imagines God’s personal identity in a way nobody would guess (or even recognize) by studying the Bible.  This means that despite disclaimers, Paul Young is saying something theological to his readers.  A novel in which people talk to God, who is personified in the plot as an actual player in the story, is saying something about who God is.  That is theology and it carries an implicit claim to authority, a challenge if you will, whether the author admits it or not.  In other words, it’s not just a story.

In The Shack, Young essentially “incarnates” the Father and the Spirit, not to mention the mysterious “Sophia” figure (all as women, interestingly) as they interact with a grieving man (Mack).  The God/gender thing bothers people.  It is true that God has no gender in the human sense of that term.  In order to have gender one must have a human body, whereas God is pure spirit.  So both feminine and masculine traits are present in God.  He created male and female both in His image and together they represent his life.  On the other hand, we need to be careful to represent him in the way he represents himself in Scripture or we run the risk of violating something very important—the second commandment—which forbids us to create anything physical to visually represent him (Ex.20:4).  In Scripture the Lord uses masculine imagery and pronouns to describe himself and we should, too.  But he specifically tells us not to imagine or make any image of him.  The reason is that God was intending to become human in one man—Christ—who would be the one and only “image” of God that we should focus on (John 1:1-18; 14:6-11; Heb.1:1-3).  So, when we “imagine” God, we should do so by thinking of Jesus Christ.  By portraying the Father (‘Papa’ he/she is called in The Shack) as a great, jolly black Mom and the Holy Spirit as a diminutive Asian woman, Young deliberately tweaks the biblical revelation of who God is.  The “tweaking” is not simply about gender, however.  It is about the “incarnational” issue.

The problem is not that we should not imagine God as a woman (or a group of women?); it is that we should not imagine him as a human.  In our efforts to think of Yahweh (God’s chosen name for himself in Ex.3:14) in “more” personal terms we need to stop “re-imagining” God the Father and the Holy Spirit as humans.  The same problem presents when Morgan Freeman appears as God in the movie Bruce Almighty, (Universal Pictures, 2003) or George Burns portrays the cigar smoking deity in Oh God! (Warner Brothers Pictures 1977).  Even Michelangelo’s famous imagery on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel makes God look like an old man (albeit a pretty buff old man). Yes, these stories and images are trying to get us to relate to God personally, but they are completely wrongheaded (not least because many of them have nothing to do with the gospel or Christ).  God is a Person with a Name and has become a human in Christ.  These fictional portrayals of God imply that people can relate to him without Jesus Christ, an implication that is the exact opposite of the real gospel. (Note, for instance that none of the “God” movies include Jesus as the incarnation of God, the only way to relate to God on a personal level; and even in The Shack Mack meets Christ only after he meets “Papa.”)

Something else that bothers me about The Shack is the fact that the gospel is not highlighted (though it is sort of footnoted) and Jesus isn’t the main figure, the cosmic, sacrificial, world-changing hero, as the New Testament presents him.  In the Bible the gospel is the astounding good news that God permanently became human in Jesus Christ, who is the real star of the redemptive show.  He is the divine/human Lord of the universe, the one and only material image of God (John 14:8-11), who died and rose and will return, and who right now rules the entire cosmos, offering in His name the forgiveness of sins and membership in His eternal Kingdom.  He is also the coming judge of humanity who will renovate the universe and rule it personally and graciously forever (a theme conspicuous by its absence in The Shack). In the gospel the Lord Jesus introduces us to God the Father, not the other way around.  In The Shack these things are blurry and seem almost inverted, which means that the “gospel” in The Shack is at best obscure, and at worst distorted.  After reading The Shack, a person might have a warm feeling about God in general and even a sense of the “three-ness” of God, but one would not exclaim with Thomas, about Jesus,  “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:27-29).  One would not be awestruck with who Christ is, what He did to bring us into his eternal love, and how we didn’t deserve it.  In fact, one might not want to become “a Christian” at all according to Jesus himself in the story (speaking of hypocritical Christianity I guess, but that is not evident in the dialogue).  Many people who like this book treat it as a form of good news (gospel) about God, yet the gospel itself (the one presented in four long documents and many letters in the New Testament) is only faintly present. Is this important theologically? Yes! The gospel of Jesus Christ is not simply an isolated aspect of the broader biblical revelation. It is not just one of many things that God wants us to know, like one of several college classes in our spiritual degree program. The gospel is the Trinitarian Message of God. It is what the Bible is all about. (See Luke 24:25-27; 44-47; Rom.1:1-4; 1 Cor.15:1-10; Heb.1:1-3). To write a theodicy/theology, even in “fictional” form and not highlight the gospel is actually preaching something of a different gospel (Gal.1:6-11). A partial truth, presented as a whole truth, becomes a whole lie. Christians should think deeply and critically about any message that purports to represent the message of God in any other way than the way God presents it in Scripture.

On a positive note, though, one of the main aspects of the gospel of Christ is highlighted in The Shack. This is the story’s strongest point.  It shows God personally overriding human evil and pain in this world in a very graphic way, while gently and compassionately rebuking Mack for not grasping how loving and powerful the Lord is.  I think this aspect of the book is challenging, comforting and insightful.  Among scholars this is called theodicy, defending God’s love and power in light of the agonizing sorrow in this age, explaining how evil can temporarily exist in his world and how the Lord can and will turn it around for eternal good.  The Shack is a theodicy of sorts.  Young dramatizes how God could use even terribly violent and sorrowful things to bring long-term blessing to his people (which is precisely what the Bible says he does through the gospel).  Along the way, Young emphasizes the love, joy, wisdom, compassion, personality, and active involvement that God offers to us.  This is good, too.  Folks who find comfort in The Shack usually find it here, and I do not intend to deny that comfort for a minute.  Young is right to remind us poignantly how sovereign, providential, good and loving the Lord is in spite of how evil our age is.

Remember, The Shack is “theological fiction,” a genre that, when you think about it, seems odd in itself.  So, eat the meat and spit out the bones.  For a more serious look at how God reveals himself to broken humanity, defeating death and redeeming even the worst of human evil, read the four real gospels starting with John.

Humility and How I Achieved It … ???

Many have pointed out that humility is the essential virtue that we cannot “work on.” Think about the fictitious book, Humility and How I Achieved It. It’s a joke, right? If you’re writing a book about how you achieved humility, how much humility do you really have? Humility by definition does not focus on its own presence or quality. This is what Paul had in mind as he wrote his Philippian friends about how to live together:

“… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because humility is a supremely Christlike virtue, we often find in the Christian community the oxymoronic attempt to act humble. The reason is clear; we wish to acquire the respect that comes with being perceived in the Christian community as a Christlike or humble person, while at the same time enjoying a very hefty prestige based on this “humility.” How odd. This is especially present among long-time, well-churched Christians. It is a spiritual malady of the “mature.”

How should we respond then? Since we can’t “cultivate” humility like we would certain other virtues, is there any hope for us to actually grow in it? Good News: There Is! Christlike humility is attempting to spring up within us all the time.  It is growing through the only means possible in a pride-saturated world—humiliation. Interestingly, our culture treats the idea of humility as a virtue and the concept of humiliation as a vice, even though they come from the same root. Nobody in western society, tutored as we are in the gospel of self-esteem, embraces humiliation in any form. We are nagged relentlessly to “stand up for ourselves,” “demand respect,” “fulfill our potential,” and “get our best lives now.”

Humiliation is the acquisition of genuine humility through the most honest means available. It need not be public humiliation, or even very severe for that matter, but it is the piercing, conscious awareness of specific failure coupled with a sense of needing and receiving grace from the Lord. It is one of the essential ingredients in what the Bible calls repentance, the first step into eternal life. But it’s not just the first step, is it? Do we not learn to walk in this humble repentance always? Is this not walking in the Spirit? (Gal.5:25-26).

Let me suggest that true humility is actually growing in us when the Lord arranges for us to be sinned against, slighted, ignored, embarrassed, or in some way hurt by others. At moments like these, when angry self-righteousness so naturally erupts, we might ask ourselves the same question God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be so angry?” What would our reaction be if we really didn’t care about our reputation or prestige and only cared about the truth, the needs of others, or the will of the Lord in the situation? In other words, what would it be like if we thought like Jesus on the subject at hand?

I have heard Christians seriously teach that, “It’s a sin to allow anybody to sin against you,” which would mean of course that our Lord is the worst sinner of all time (!). Do we have to let others sin against us in every case? Of course not. Justice is also a virtue. But as Christians we have the right and the power to let others hurt us unjustly without retaliating. And the exercise of doing just that is the one way we can cooperate with the growth of humility in our hearts. How else could our Lord teach and demonstrate his famous instruction to turn the other cheek (Take a moment to look up the following verses: Matt.5:38-42; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25). Jesus saved the world by doing precisely what he instructs us to do in strategic situations—let pain and humiliation happen to us. The result in us is a true selflessness, a relief from the burden of appearing perfect, of living up to the unbearable weight of our own reputation for maturity. Under the grace of the Lord, we will sense the love, joy and peace—the relief—that comes from simply loving and being loved by the Lord himself (See 1 Cor.13).

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Prayer as a Waste of Time

It is a commonplace, not to say a cliché, to refer to prayer as “hard work.” I have never read a book on the subject in which the author did not mention the fact that prayer seems like strenuous effort, real work. This is biblical. Paul in Romans 15:30 exhorted his friends to “strive together” with him in prayer for his ministry. That Greek word means to “agonize together.” It conjures a vision of a tug of war where you are pulling hard together against serious odds. Jesus treats prayer similarly. In Luke 18 he tells the “parable of the unrighteous judge” specifically to encourage people to pray and not “lose heart.” Why did he feel the need to encourage in this way? Because quitting prayer is easy to do. It is strenuous.

But why is prayer such an effort for so many of us? How hard is it to talk? Especially to somebody who doesn’t argue with you on the spot or hijack the conversation? Come on! How arduous should this really be?

The “hard work” of prayer isn’t physical of course, but emotional, mental, and spiritual. Perhaps the most outstanding existential feeling in prayer is a feeling that we absolutely hate—the feeling of wasting time. That’s right. Very often praying feels like we are squandering our valuable hours (Minutes? Seconds? Nano-seconds?), and possibly God’s as well (If he already knows, why should I ask?). I believe that the feeling of time-wasting is the primary mental strain involved in serious secret intercession (Matt.6:6). It’s a strain on our active minds to hold them in check and focus them on issues that we have no personal power over, while talking seriously to a Person we cannot see. The fact is that we get antsy. And controlling that agitated feeling is a big part of the “work” we do in prayer. We can think a lot faster than we can talk, which means it’s hard for us to stay on task mentally. On top of that, we feel guilty for thinking about all the other things we should be doing instead of praying! (I keep a pad and pencil handy to write down the things that crowd my mind during prayer, so that I can delay the gratification of doing them until after prayer).

Here’s what I suggest for this situation. Embrace the fact that praying should at times feel like wasting time. What?! You ask. Why should I embrace such an unspiritual thought?  Well, because it is that feeling that stretches and exercises your faith (which is the opposite of sight, right? 2 Cor.5:7) and makes you put your money where your mouth is. If God is not there, you are wasting your time. Ask Richard Dawkins. On the other hand, if God is there, you are investing the most valuable time in the best way. Ask Jesus. The strain of forcing yourself to reject the atheist intuition (that God isn’t there and that your works are all that matter) and lean into the spiritual reality of the gospel, is precisely the feeling of spiritual formation at its most basic level. When our agitated, activistic, caffeine-saturated brains are “re-minded” that the Lord is really here, and we insist against our basic old-self-reliance and antsy-ness that we can and will talk to him right now and for an extended period about specific things—that is the feeling of growing in faith! Which is an answer to our prayer for spiritual maturity! Faith develops when we insist on acting precisely as if the Lord is right here, listening to our every word, when in fact we cannot see him or the immediate effect of our intercession. So, isolate that time-squandering idea and press right through it. You’re growing like an oak tree through an asphalt driveway.

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Is Jesus Really the Messiah?

A pastoral letter by by Rick Booye
So, you ran across an article on the internet in which a Jewish fellow outlined what he believed were reasons that Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah. Interesting. Let me share why literally billions of people over the last 2000 years have believed that Jesus is the Messiah.However, before I do that, I’d like to clarify something.

When Jewish folk (and others as well) deny that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, they seem to expect Christians to “prove” Christ’s identity from the perspective of their own skepticism. In other words, they say, “You must prove Jesus is Christ without any reference to the Christian eye-witness documentation about him, which we don’t accept. You must prove Christ’s identity beyond a shadow of doubt (How many truth claims can be thus proven?) to a determined skeptic, using nothing but the Old Testament and assuming all the skeptical presuppositions.” This is illicitly stacking the deck against the Christian claim, completely discounting the positive evidence laid out by the Jewish disciples of Christ in the first century and in the generations that followed. It’s like the Holocaust Denial groups today that simply refuse to accept the eye-witness testimony to the atrocities of the Third Reich during WWII. They say, “Prove the holocaust happened, but we won’t accept any of the actual research, documentation, testimony, or witness of anybody who was there or believes the people who were there.” It’s a profoundly dishonest way to argue. What the rejection of Jesus as Messiah amounts to in these sorts of articles is basically a statement like, “Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah because he doesn’t meet my/our interpretation of the criteria for Messiah.” This is not a profoundly persuasive refutation of the life and work of Jesus. “He’s not what we expected.” Well…obviously. He didn’t meet the Jews’ expectations at the time they crucified him either. But he did do a lot of other things that indicate that he is who he claimed to be. And don’t forget that all the converts to Jesus Christ in the first generation were Jews, some (like Saul of Tarsus) highly educated and profoundly skeptical prior to their conversion.
With that being said, let me lay out what I believe are three good reasons that a Jewish skeptic should take a second look at Jesus the Messiah. In order of importance, as related in the main Christian documentation, the reasons for trusting Jesus as Messiah are as follows:
1. He came back from the dead. This fact was the cornerstone of Christian witness concerning Jesus’ identity as Messiah and remains so today (Acts 17:31; Rom.1:1-4; 1 Cor.15:1-8). If it is true (and it is) this achievement by itself serves as the primary proof of Christ’s person. We agree with the Jewish perspective, based on the Bible, that God alone has control of life and death. If then a man accepts the testimony of his closest friends that he is truly Messiah, then comes back from the dead, one should be inclined to listen to him (See Matt.16:13-17:13). The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has very firm eye-witness testimony and solid textual support. This amounts to a small avalanche of historical evidence that has been thoroughly sifted, tested, attacked, and denied, yet still stands. Many books have been written about the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, none of which have been refuted, though they have been summarily denied by skeptics. But remember that simply denying something is not the same as disproving it. I would recommend renowned New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright’s recent and exhaustive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But also older books like Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Frank Morrison’s classic, Who Moved the Stone will provide compelling argumentation in favor of accepting the crystal clear testimony of Jesus’ closest friends and associates that he did indeed come back from the dead and did explain how the Old Testament is about his death, burial and resurrection (see Luke 24:25-27; 44-47)

2. He has replaced the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple is no more. In biblical Judaism the temple, along with the priesthood and the sacrificial system, forms the only way to approach YHWH in covenant. The reason for the temple and its program is that there had to be a sacrifice for sins (Lev.17:11). And Israel always had that temple, from the initial construction of the tabernacle under Moses, to Solomon’s Temple, to the Second Temple built by Zerubbabel and remodeled by Herod the Great. The only time Israel was without its temple was during the Babylonian Captivity, a seventy-year period in the 6th century BC during which the Lord disciplined the nation for its apostasy. But in that case he warned them over a period of several generations through the prophets (see especially Jeremiah). He sent them away to Babylon, but promised that they would return and rebuild the temple, which they did (Jer.29:10-14). The point is that God always used the temple to connect with his covenant people in grace. So, how is it that without any prophetic voice or warning the Lord lets his temple, the center of his personal relationship with Israel, get destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD? That’s a colossal oversight in God’s dealings with his people, unless he provided some message that explains it.
Interestingly, if you for a moment take seriously the material in the gospels, you find an Old Testament prophet (John the Baptist) prophesying judgment on Israel again, and bearing eloquent witness to another man whom he refers to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn.1:29). That man is Jesus of Nazareth, who in the next chapter of John’s gospel refers to his own body as the temple—the meeting place of God and man (Jn.2:18-21). You also find in the gospels a prediction by Jesus regarding the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Matt.12:6; 23:37-39; Lk.21:5-6), a prophecy that came to pass exactly as Jesus predicted. Jesus healed people by the hundreds, raised some of them from the dead, cast out demons left and right, made food out of practically nothing on more than one occasion, walked on water, stilled the storms with a word, and came back from the dead himself after three days in the grave. What do people want?! So, on the one hand you have the destruction of God’s personal Old Covenant temple and system, and on the other hand a prophet who points to Messiah who in turn does all these amazing things. Hello…!! If John was not a true prophet, and Jesus is not Messiah, why did God let the temple go away? How is the Holy God dealing with sin today if not through the man Jesus?
3. He does fit the Messianic bill. The Old Testament describes Messiah in terms that fit Jesus, and only Jesus. The material about this is vast and well documented in books like the ones I just recommended, so I will not review it here. But suffice it to say that the themes of Messiah in the Old Testament, notably in passages like Isaiah 9:6-7 and chapter 53, fit Jesus of Nazareth perfectly if you take seriously what he says about himself, the fact that he was a miracle worker who was resurrected, and that he will return to judge the world. But again, you must come to the texts of the New Testament with some sort of an open mind in order to come to these conclusions. If you refuse to take seriously the actual documentation written by Jesus’ contemporaries and their friends, then of course you can postulate reasons not to see Jesus as Messiah. This is what skeptics like the one who wrote that article rely on. They reject the New Testament out of hand, and then point to the fact that Jesus therefore cannot be Messiah. It’s an inverted kind of circular reasoning.
So, I would not let skepticism of this circular sort shake your faith in Christ or in his friends and family, all of whom bear eloquent witness to his identity. These people sealed their testimony with their own blood. There is every reason to trust what they say—and every reason to trust Christ Jesus as Lord.

Does God Hate Sinners?

 

A Pastoral Letter

Dear Offended Brother,

I understand why you would take offense at the idea that God actually hates unrepentant sinners. We never talk that way these days, and in fact many Christians and almost all non-Christians would reject the idea out of hand. When I said that God “hated us before we became Christians” I was referring to the idea that outside of Christ, before our conversion, before the Lord separates us from our sin, we are under the actual wrath of God, His real anger (Rom.1:18; Eph.2:1-3). I did not say, nor do I mean, that God has nothing but hatred for sinners. He has other feelings toward them as well. But I did want to clarify that wrath is personal, eternal, divine anger directed at people. We can use the term “hate” for this judicial emotion because it is one of several terms the Bible itself uses (Ps.5:5, 21:9, 78:59) and the synonym “wrath” conveys precisely the same reality (Ps.79:6; 2 Thess.1:5-10). I know it is shocking to put it the way I did. Yet it is not inaccurate to refer to unrepentant sinners as under God’s hatred for their sin. In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul includes himself as a religious Jew, a very godly man by all outward evidence. He says that we all, before our conversion, were “Children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  Elsewhere he says that we (including himself again) were sinners and enemies of God prior to conversion (Rom.5:6-11). These are strong terms. If they don’t mean that God is truly angry at us, then they don’t mean anything at all. John concurs in John 3:36, where he writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” This can only mean that people are under God’s personal wrath until they repent and trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, as I tried to clarify, God also says he loves us so much that He sent His Son (Jn.3:16; Eph.2:4-11 and many other places). What’s that about?  How is it that the Bible says God hates sinners and loves them at the same time? I’ll quote at length D. A. Carson, one of the best-known evangelical theologians of our day:

“How, then, should the love of God and the wrath of God be understood to relate to each other? One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom.1:18) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.” (Emphasis his) D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God [Crossway Books, 2000] p.69

In much (not all) American preaching, the love of God is declared without the dark biblical backdrop of the real wrath of God. The result is a huge mass of unconverted people who do not realize that their souls are in jeopardy and a large number of possibly converted people who are not surprised or grateful for the love of God in Christ. They are not amazed by grace; they are shocked and offended by judgment against their sin. They expect God to love them because they are lovable (the mantra of western society is that all people are basically good) and are offended to hear that this is not the case, that He loves us because He is loving. When they hear that God loves sinners they think, “Well, what’s not to love?” Yet, it is precisely the juxtaposition of God’s righteous personal anger and his amazing sacrificial grace in Christ that the Spirit uses to transform people (Rom.5:6-11; 7:21-8:4; Eph.2:1-11; 1 Jn.4:10 and many others).

So I apologize for causing offense or confusion by my wording. And I thank you for asking for clarification because it forces us to think clearly. I hope that clarity is the result of my offering here.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Rick

A Pastoral Letter About Gay Marriage

Dear Christian,

Your questions about how to respond to your pro-gay friend regarding homosexual marriage are common these days. One of the reasons they arise is that the gay community forcefully asserts that sexual orientation is analogous to race. In other words, they contend (with no real proof) that a person’s desire to have sex with their own gender is as fixed and morally neutral as the color of his or her skin. So to attach moral significance to sexuality, to hold that it is immoral or against nature to perform homosexual acts makes one a “bigot.” This assertion, this analogy, is the lynchpin of the entire argument in favor of legitimizing homosexuality as an honorable lifestyle and thus endorsing the idea of gay marriage. It is also a form of subtle slight-of-hand that seems to fool vast numbers of people into believing that sex is not really a moral issue. There has never been a time in Western Civilization when sex was considered a morally neutral subject. The analogy between race and homosexuality breaks down at several different levels. Others have written about this as well. (See for instance Joe Carter’s excellent article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/02/24/is-sexual-orientation-analogous-to-race/ )

We should be aware of two important points that our world seems not to grasp at all. First, if there is a God (as we believe) then sex is sacred because he created and designed it, just like race. God made people in different races (many) and insists that we respect that and live in the reality of it. He also made people in different sexes (only two) and we should treat that as sacred as well. Sex is not simply a bodily function, but a sacred trust to be experienced in what the Bible calls marriage—a heterosexual, life-long, legal union (Gen.2:24; Rom.1:26-27; 1 Cor.6:9-20). The Bible is abundantly clear that all forms of sexual immorality (sexual relationships outside of the biblical definition of marriage just mentioned) are aspects of the evil of our age and part of why the Lord will ultimately judge the world (Col.3:5-6). That’s why when a person comes to the Lord they repent of all forms of sin and ask the Lord to forgive them, which he does. Repentant people are not always successful in their resistance to temptation of course, but they feel bad about that, knowing that the thing they have done is wrong and wishing that they did not do it. The Lord picks us up and takes us forward in our battle against what theologians call “indwelling sin” (1 Jn.1:8-2:2; Rom.7:21-25; 1 Jn.1:8-10). But to arbitrarily change God’s definition of sex and marriage and then insist that because we have done this what He calls wrong is actually right, simply makes hash of moral reality.

But second, even if one is not a theist, doesn’t believe in God, and therefore does believe in Darwinian evolution (the only other possibility), homosexuality is an oddity to say the least. If Darwinism is true then reproduction is the prime directive for the human race. Given how the human body has “evolved” with male and female models specifically suited for reproduction, how can we possibly say that homosexuality is anything but an anomaly? It is hard to see how it should command so much attention and approbation. It is also hard to see why people should be criticized for not signing on to the blanket endorsement of it.

It is no surprise that your friend does not accept what the Bible says about this. The social pressure to not think of homosexuality as backward sex is immense and growing. Even many Christians are swayed by the cultural undercurrents. On the other hand, it is your right morally and legally to disagree with the minority report—and it is a minority, just a militantly vocal and influential minority. My advice is that you make your point and realize that your friend has been influenced more by a sentimental, westernized, and amoral view of sex and love than by a rational, spiritual, biblical or historical grasp of these things. The pro-gay movement is culturally arrogant in that they assume that any person, culture, or country that doesn’t think homosexuality is a good thing is backward, bigoted, and essentially evil. They are openly disdainful of all cultures that are not like theirs. This is odd, because they often consider themselves unbearably bright, enlightened and tolerant. Nevertheless they look down on all those who disagree with them, eagerly taking the “moral high ground” to defend their actions.

Your friend asked the question, “Why would God keep two people who love each other from marrying?” But of course by that logic anybody who “loves” anybody should be able to have sex with them and “marry” them. Really? This moral reasoning breaks down the minute it hits the oxygen of actual life. Just because people supposedly “love” each other does not mean that their sexual relationship is a morally right or good thing. God tells people all sorts of things that are right or wrong independent of human emotions on the subject.

You asked the question, “How do people become gay?” This is complex, as are all forms of human brokenness in a fallen world. If you ask the gay community, they will usually say it’s because they’re born that way. This mantra is more a dogma than a proof. No doubt some do feel homosexual desires from early on in their lives. But research does not conclusively support the biological theory for the cause of homosexuality. In fact, research supports no particular cause for it. There is much mystery apparently. American Psychological Association has weighed in on this subject with a firm opinion that we should not be dogmatic about how homosexuality occurs:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

(“Answers to Your Questions about Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality,” American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#whatcauses.)

Whatever else this statement implies, it at least makes us step back from the preachy media propaganda that homosexuality is always and only a biological predisposition.

 Then too, there is the power of plain old seduction, the manipulation of sexual pleasure, which can become such a persuasive force in the human soul. Sexual desire is easily molded among young people, which is why we still have harsh laws against adults having sex with minors. Furthermore the “I was born that way” defense is slippery. Most humans are born with a more or less strong desire for the opposite sex, right? Does that mean that they should always follow their instincts with regard to that? No. That’s why we have laws against pornography and prostitution. Some men have always felt sexual desire for very young girls and boys. Is that OK? Of course not. I cannot think of any other area of human moral or ethical endeavor where we allow ourselves to use the excuse that we were “born that way,” as the primary justification for our behavior.

Does this mean that homosexuals are “worse sinners” than anybody else and should be shunned and persecuted? Of course not. The Bible says that we are all constantly falling short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). That’s why the Lord saves us by grace! The best of us is not that much better than the worst of us when we compare our deeds with God Himself. And God’s grace is just as available to homosexuals as to heterosexuals (1 Cor.6:9-11). We should have compassion for each other and tell each other to repent and trust the Lord. Many Christians have not found a balance of honesty and compassion for those in the gay world.  On the other hand, compassion and civility do not necessarily mean endorsement and agreement. My advice is to be calm, loving, patient, and well-informed. But do not feel that you must agree with what is essentially an illogical and unbiblical view of human sexuality.

I hope this helps a bit in your difficult discussions with your friend.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Rick