The past couple of days have seen some really good conversation here and on Facebook stemming from Monday’s post on the place of friendships in shaping our understanding about the propriety of homosexual relationships.
One point that has bubbled up a few times is worth singling out and examining more closely. We’ve talked about it here before, but it’s worth going over the ground again.
The issue also has to do with experience–not with experience of other people, but our experience of ourselves. People on the traditionalist side of the homosexuality debate have been especially keen to contend that we should not let our desires dictate our mores.
This is a danger that we might easily succumb to in modern culture. We are trained to see our desires as good and in need of healthy fulfillment. This leaves us at odds with Paul’s expectation that the Spirit would enable us to faithfully walk in the way of righteousness rather than being enslaved to the lusts of our flesh.
Sex and Death
I know that this is going to sound like a complete buzz kill, but I think that we need to map all Christian sexual ethics onto the broader cruciform rubric that is supposed to define the Christian life.
That is to say, our sexuality take part in the death that we die in order to find life in Christ.
Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow. Paul urges us to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to live a life in community in which the mind of Christ is realized–that mind that did not consider divine equality something to be clung to but determined to empty itself in taking human likeness and humble itself in becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross.
We can tackle the relationship between sex and death from at least two angles.
First, love is death.
When we see that “God is love,” we learn immediately that we know what love is through God’s giving of God’s son (1 John 4). When Jesus tells us what love looks like he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
And when Eph 5 talks about marriage, it tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.
“Love” is an easy card to play, but Christianity gives love a peculiar cast. That cast is determined by the son-giving Father and the self-giving Son.
Love takes on the shape of the cross. This means that it sacrifices itself for the sake of the other. This means that love, true love, is not about seeking the fulfillment of my own desires even, if needs be, at the expense of another, but seeking the life of the other even, if needs be, at the expense of my own.
Second, we are warned throughout scripture that our desires are often poor guides for living the lives that God would have us to live.
This is why God gave the Law. This is why God provided the Spirit to empower us to obey even when we don’t feel like it.
Here we are come face-to-face with one of the most pervasive conflicts between the assumptions of scripture writers and our current culture. We assume that desires are good and healthy indices about what it we need in order to attain to the fulness of ourselves, our humanity.
But scripture, as often as not, assumes that our driving desires and passions are precisely the hindrances that keep us from walking in the way of Jesus and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
The lusts of the flesh need to be put to death, because they stand opposed to the fruit of the spirit.
Through the body of Christ the world with its passions and desires is crucified to us. This enables us to participate, already, in the new creation Jesus has begun.
In formulating a Christian ethic about any issue, we cannot blow off the narrative of the cross. The way of the cross determines the way of those whose identity is wrapped up with the Crucified.
This goes for sex as well, whatever else we might want to say about it.