100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How My Son First Learnt About Homosexuality

My son is five years old, and yesterday at school one of his classmates told him what the term "gay" means. He came home to us a little disturbed by what he'd heard, and this post is about how I, as a Christian parent, handled my son's questions. I want to write about this because to me, this is what my blog is really all about... an honest look at how a Christian views the world. And how I raise my children is of particular interest, as this truly reveals the beliefs we value. My son, prior to yesterday, had never really known anything about homosexuality at all. We don't really know what his friend at school has told him, but the following is an honest transcript of how our conversation went.

Son: Dad, do you know what gay is?

Me: Gay? What do you know about "gay"?

Son: Oliver says it's when a boy likes a boy, or when a girl likes a girl.

Me: … Yeah, that's right. …

<The look on my son's face was as if to say 'Seriously? That can't be right...' So I said...>

Me: Is that ok?

Son: No.

Me: Why not?

Son: I don't know? ... They can't have babies.

<Realizing that this is going to have get serious, I sat down and put my son on my lap.>

Me: Listen... you know that boys marry girls and girls marry boys, right?

Son: Yeah.

Me: But sometimes, something inside a person is broken and instead of liking girls, they like boys. Or something inside a girl is broken and they like girls instead of boys.

Son: Why?

Me: I don't know. But lots of people are broken in different ways... sometimes people are born retarded, like that boy we know; or some people are born blind. For some reason, something inside gets broken. I don't know why. But you know that teacher at your school, Ms. Finn? She's gay... she has a girlfriend.

Son: <Shocked> I don't like her anymore.

Me: Why not?

Son: … I don't know.

Me: Listen to me... some people are very mean to gay people because they're broken. But that's no reason to be mean to someone! We've talked before about that retarded boy, and how it's not nice to be mean to him. It's the same thing. It's not nice to tell him he's retarded, or to make fun of a blind person, or to tell someone they're fat... and it's not nice to make fun of a gay person, or to tell them they're "broken". They don't feel broken, but really we're all broken people in lots of different ways, even if sometimes we don't feel broken. And it's not nice to make fun of people or be mean to anyone.

<My son is deep in thought now, and I think this is where I'll leave him. So I say...>

Me: C'mon, it's bed time...

So this was basically me teaching my son theology, and applying it to homosexuality. It's what I've explained a few times on this site before... that all of Creation is essentially broken, in so far as things are not the way they are supposed to be. But how are things "supposed to be"? To have any notion at all of things having a "way they're supposed to be", you need a God who created with intent...  that is, a God who designed, or intended, for things to work one way and not another. And with Christian theology you have that... God created us to be "in His image". We are supposed to reflect God's character, like an “image”. But none of us do, necessarily, because we are all "broken" in various different ways. Sin has corrupted all of Creation.

Now one might say, "You've compared homosexuality with retardation and obesity... but they're different, at least in the fact that not even the Bible calls it a sin to be retarded or fat." This is true, but no analogy corresponds in every respect. These examples are similar in that all of these are not the way things are supposed to be. Perhaps a better analogy for adults would be promiscuity, which is also considered fairly normal in society, but which, according to the Bible, is actually a sin and a "broken" desire in man. But it also occurs to me that whenever we take what is broken about the world and rejoice in that and glorify it, that is sin. And that would even apply to obesity and possibly retardation. We've all heard of gluttony, and that's sinful. Nobody wants to say "Being fat is cool! Let's all pig out so we can all be fat!" No, we feel sorry for fat people in some sense, as it is not what anyone generally desires to be. The analogy holds true... we love fat people and they're our friends and we make them our husbands or wives, and we treat them equally with anyone (or we ought to). But there is still something to grieve over... nobody wants to be fat, and we would discourage the overeating which feeds the problem. And I suppose we can make a similar parallel to retardation in that nobody wants to be retarded, or thinks being retarded is cool. We love those people afflicted with it, and we shouldn't think less of them, and we ought to befriend them. But there is something to grieve over on their behalf. People can't help being retarded or fat, and I would probably affirm that some people can't help being gay. But society's attitude should change, I think, so that it is seen as an affliction - a part of the brokenness of this world. That's what I think Christian theology has to say about it. And I would say the same about promiscuity, or alcoholism, or any number of different issues which affect our lives, some of which society agrees are a problem, and some of which society takes no issue with. The decider, however, is God; and God has revealed through the Bible various things which are not as they should be.

I've made this point before, but I'll reiterate... where the Bible prohibits homosexuality in Leviticus, it also prohibits bestiality and incest. Without a God who determines the way things are supposed to be, you really can't say, yourself, that "Yes, incest and bestiality are wrong, but homosexuality isn't." Why should there be any distinction at all? An evolutionist has told me that bestiality is wrong because we don't want to share our seed with other species. This seems absurd to me. Why is that an intrinsic rule of the game? What's the worst that can happen in the process of evolution; a mule is born? So what? And when I queried the Internet as to how evolutionists justify homosexuality, the answer seemed to be that "It is good to have men in the community who like to stay at home instead of going out hunting. Men are strong, and it is good to have some of them 'in the village' at all times, guarding the women and children, yet not being a threat to the men who are out hunting, as their wives won't be adulterous with such men." Well, offensive stereotypes aside, this story doesn’t even make any sense... do all the men have to go out hunting at the same time? I’m sure that plenty of straight men will hang around in the village because their talents have to do with repairing houses or, who knows, defending villages? This explanation is thoroughly a product of imagination. It's story-telling as much as any myth you'll ever find.

Now, as I said, this is an honest blog about how one particular Christian views the world. And not all Christians are the same. Some approve of homosexuality, but I don't in so far as I think it should not be practiced; and those who have homosexual feelings ought to seek Christ's help as they struggle against them, recognizing that this is a kind of brokenness in their minds and bodies. This is what I believe the Bible teaches, and if I didn’t care for what the Bible teaches then I wouldn’t care about other people’s sexuality. But I do care because I believe that what the Bible teaches is for our good, and will lead us to the ultimate good of fulfilling the very purpose of our design... to reflect the image of God. And then there are also some Christians that hate homosexuals and throw insults and abuse (even physical abuse) at them. And I hope it came through to you, as well as to my son, that this is not acceptable at all. It's not Biblical or Christ-like in any way.

We live in a broken world, and it is broken in so many ways. And some day my son and I will probably have to have one of these talks about pornography in his web history, or some such thing, and he's going to have to realize that he himself is broken too! But there is One who makes all things new...

And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."  (Revelation 21:5) 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Does The Bible Tell Us To Fear God?

Yesterday I wrote a post explaining that a Christian’s motive to be good is not out of a fear that God will punish us. If it were, that would be a kind of “fake morality”, and that’s not what Christian works are. We know that we have forgiveness and salvation, and we know that good works won’t earn us those things either; so our motive for good works is not to avoid punishment, nor are they to earn the reward of salvation. But there may be a point of confusion here, because the Bible does tell us to “Fear the Lord”. So on the one hand the Bible says things like “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18). And on the other hand it says things like “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear...” (1 Peter 1:17). This latter verse sounds like we should live in fear of judgement. But the rest of this passage reminds us that we have been saved from our sins... “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The fear Peter speaks of here is, as I see it, more of a respect for something valuable; namely the redemption we’ve been given. I find that I often carry with me this emotion... that in whatever I do or say, I want to show people what Christianity is all about; namely that Christ has given me a love of righteousness and a hatred for sin. I don’t want to mess up that witness, and so I conduct myself with good, respectable behaviour. I don’t want anyone to say “This guy calls himself a Christian, and yet look at how he behaves!” That doesn’t mean I live as a faker all my life; rather, I just carry with me this awareness of my sinful nature and a consciousness of the importance to overrule it. I recall to this day the one time I happened to use an expletive in front of a co-worker, and I shudder with regret over that! I don’t normally swear, and I have no idea why it slipped out at all. To me, this seemingly trivial episode is a big deal! The “fear”, then, is not a fear of consequences for “messing up”, but just a fear of letting God down. And not only in front of others, but we know that God watches us in private as well. So the “fear of God”, for me, is more of a sense of awe of God, and a sense of the incredible honour and responsibilities He’s given us. I think you could take the commonly occurring phrase in the Bible, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”, and paraphrase it as “Remembering the glory of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Remembering all of His attributes, who He is and what He’s done, will teach you wisdom.

Now, we know that we are saved from Hell, but there are punishments in this life that we might suffer. Most Christians should acknowledge this. We can consider the words in Proverbs which say “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.” There may be circumstances where, when we have sinned, God brings some grievance to our lives in order to discipline us. This may be, for some, a case where there is a fear of God in that sense of worrying about a consequence for our actions. While we know that we will be saved in that afterlife, there is a present life where God may put us through hardship to teach us all the more to hate sin and love righteousness, or to discover what is truly wonderful about righteousness, and what is truly grievous about sin. You may hear of these referred to as “temporal judgments” in Christian lingo. When we suffer the consequences of our sins, we can often understand then why our actions were wrong. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell our children what they ought not to do. Sometimes they need to learn (possibly the hard way) why something is wrong. Consider the difference between hearing your parents say “don’t play with matches” and actually burning your finger, for example. Suffering some consequence for our sin generally means we won’t repeat it, though not out of fear of further punishment, but rather because we now understand a little clearer what was so wrong with what we’ve done. There may be consequences for our sins; and so there should be if we have any hope of learning what is right and being corrected. A parent disciplines their child, but the child doesn’t live in fear of their parents. A child of an abusive parent may do, but that’s because an abusive parent deals harshly with their child for no good reason. But discipline is deserved and any child can tell the difference between abuse and righteous discipline. The wise father who disciplines his children is not feared, but loved and respected.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12:9-10)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why Be Good?

Today I want to talk about a Christian’s motivation for being good, because as I speak to various people from time to time about my faith, it seems that there is a common misconception of the Christian faith in regards to this matter. People will often say that, rather than do what I personally and honestly think is right, I’ll do what I think God wants me to do “so that I don’t get smited!” People think that we live in constant fear of the wrath of God if we don’t do the right thing. And I can totally understand why people would have that idea... we can consider Noah’s flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two examples of where God “smote” the people for their sins. These stories are so well known, and they do paint a picture of God as a wrathful God to be feared. This image is certainly true and I’m not about to deny any part of Scripture. In fact, I want to say that these two examples are only illustrations of something far worse... namely, the Hell that awaits sinners. But the conclusion which follows this; namely that if we want to avoid such a horrifying destiny we should stop sinning and be good... this conclusion is false.

Now it is true that we should repent and stop sinning, but that is not how we will escape Hell. Therefore, escaping Hell is not the motivation for doing good. Once you have sinned you are destined for Hell, according to the Bible, and adding good works won’t change the fact that you’ve sinned. Some people think that if we added up all of our good works and our evil works, God would accept us if only our good works were more in quantity and quality than our evil works. But that’s not how the God of the Bible thinks. No amount of good works can erase the fact that you have done evil... your good works do not atone for your evil works. Once you have sinned, your situation is hopeless. That is, except that Jesus Christ, who was sinless, voluntarily died on our behalf, and His death was sufficient to atone for our sins. Understanding how that works is, I think, something that is ultimately beyond our comprehension, and so it must necessarily be accepted by faith. But believing that this is true, God counts that belief as your righteousness (to put it in the phrasing of Romans 4).

So a Christian’s motive for good works, if they understand this, cannot be to escape God’s wrath. They know that doing good instead of evil won’t save them because they have already done enough evil to receive the punishment of Hell, and they continue to do so by nature. Rather, what happens is that, when a person accepts Christ they receive the Holy Spirit who begins to transform that person’s life so that they begin to naturally hate evil and love righteousness. Christ’s nature starts to manifest itself in us. Not entirely, however, else we wouldn’t sin at all. God’s plan is to give us our full “transformation” when He returns. So we do continue to live in a fallen world with a broken, sinful nature. And God could leave us completely unchanged until His return if He wanted to, but He gives us this “taste” of what is to come. It is this change in us which often serves to assure us that what we have is real, because after all, faith is difficult when you have a broken, sinful nature.

So we don’t perform good works out of fear, but rather out of love! Christ’s nature is one of love, and if Christ’s nature is manifest in us, then our love for others is all the more amplified because of that. And love, if you think about it, is really the basis for all true, or genuine morality. We do good not out of hope for reward, nor to save ourselves from punishment... our reward is assured and our salvation is assured. As people of faith we still sin because the time for our full salvation has not yet come. But we have this altered nature, as I said before, so that we don’t deliberately want to sin. When we slip up it is generally met with regret and repentance shortly after. If a person claims to be a Christian but doesn’t appear to live this way... that is, they deliberately sin often and have no regrets about it, it may be a sign that they are not genuinely saved at all.

But we’re in this fallen state where we are susceptible to sin, though our final relief from our sin nature is guaranteed us. Why God does this is something I think we’ll better appreciate looking back, but in the present it’s a struggle. Sin has its appeal, but we know that it’s no good for us. I think that any true Christian will tell you “What I really long for is the time when I won’t even be tempted to do the wrong thing any more!” But this struggle between hating sin and yet also seeing it’s allure and being tempted, this state of affairs is itself the punishment for our sins. Sin is, by nature, destructive, and so sinfulness itself can be used by God as a punishment. But the final judgment of mankind will come at the return of Christ, and at that time the final punishment for sins will be dealt, as well as salvation for those who have trusted in Christ’s atonement for them. This future time is what we wait for; to finally receive deliverance from sin and corruption.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. … Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? (Lamentations 3:25-26, 39)