"It is not God’s will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy"
Sometimes I think we people, all 6.8 billion of us, believe the world exists for our own pleasure—that God made us to do our own bidding, to, as Kant suggests, make ourselves happy.
I imagine it’s why so many of us are, in reality, dissatisfied, exhausted and depressed. Because making ourselves happy is a never-ending chore, one we cannot finish, one God never intended for us to undertake.
But we do it anyway as we want to be happy, more than happy; we want completion and satisfaction and abiding joy.
God, for centuries, has equipped man for suffering, knowing that in this world we’ll grasp and yearn and complain. Because this place is not the place, not the place where joy triumphs. Not now.
In this life, we won’t find complete belonging. Or satisfaction. Or fulfillment. A little bit, yes, certainly. But not whole-ly, not perfectly.
We see glimmers, tiny peeks behind a cosmic curtain, but we do not experience the kind of drenching, soul-soaking filling we desire.
If you think you have, you’ve greatly underestimated what is possible.
We get closest to this feeling when we love, because love—which never fails and is greater than even hope—love is something from beyond, like space ship wreckage in a corn field. We don’t know what to do with it sometimes, how to handle it exactly, but we know it’s big and we know it changes everything and we know one day, when the credits start rolling on this tiny life we’re living, love will have been important, most important—the point of everything.
This is why homosexuality, for example, is so complicated to talk about as a Christian. Because, to some degree, it’s wrapped up in love. And we believe in love.
A young girl said to me about her lesbian friend, “I just can’t say it’s a sin, because if it’s a sin, loving is a sin.” She couldn’t see how her friend could help loving whomever she might love, man or woman, because love isn’t a choice.
I’m not so sure.
Before we use love as an eraser, scrubbing away the words of God we find unsavory, we ought to first evaluate our understanding of love. Perhaps our eyes are blinded by our longing for present happiness.
I think we, the world and church alike, have incorrectly defined love. Primarily, we have confused love with attraction.
When we talk about love we use words like “falling” and “chemistry” and “romance.” We say “Follow your heart,” but the problem with following your heart is that the heart is prone to wander. The feelings of excitement and arousal we feel in the presence of a potential mate can be replicated again and again with any number of other people, sometimes people of either gender. These feelings are not reliable signposts on the road to love.
But, because we identify butterflies as an indicator of love, we’ve trained ourselves to look for them and trust them—butterflies, flighty, practically weightless, almost mindless little things.
If I had trusted butterflies on every occasion my life would have been much different. I’d be wandering, like friends of mine are (straight and gay alike), in and out of a love mirage, wondering why every time I thought I’d found it, every time I’d filled my hands with the wetness of it and lifted it to my mouth, every time I drank sand.
Attraction is sand. Love is found in the company of other less glitzy, much more trying things, like commitment and partnership and selflessness.
We, in the church and the world, have sometimes made love small, made it a red heart helium balloon, always floating away, hardly worth chasing.
When we identify attraction as love, we tragically ascribe our physical desires to the spiritual gift described in the Bible, to the very nature of God. This is why homosexuals believe their sexuality is, to some extent, their identity, because sexual desire (or chemistry) is considered love and love must certainly spring from the core of who we are.
And if we are homosexual, God must have made us this way.
Clearly we’ve made our desires very, very important.
I always think of Oprah when I reflect on this, of how committed she is to seeing every person happy, wanting us to have what we want, almost regardless of what it is, of how it might hurt another or how it might offend God.
We westerners obey our appetites. When our stomachs tell us we’re hungry, we eat. When our eyes droop we sleep. When our sexual organs become aroused, we satisfy them.
We are slaves to our appetites.
Because we are, and because, in many ways we don’t think it’s wrong to be, we’ve debilitated ourselves with a lack of self-control.
A few years ago I asked a group of women to fast for lunch and pray for a coming event. The women said, almost in unison, “Oh, I could never skip lunch.”
I have friends who told me they’d “love to tithe” but they have to make payments on their big screen TV and two new cars.
We are an uncontrolled people. We buy what we cannot afford because we want it and we lack the discipline to wait for it. We eat what we know is slowly killing us because it’s delicious and we crave it. We refuse to deny ourselves even what we know will wound us.
Christians are called to be people who trust not their flesh but their spirit. We are at war with the flesh. Our bodies are, quite often, liars. And yet, so often we make them our primary counselors and consultants.
The lie that Christians with same-sex desires believe is that all appetites are of God, that desire springs from a pure place. But it often doesn’t.
Paul writes, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Men and women who desire sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex are not “to do whatever [they] want.” They are expected to show an enormous degree of self-control and complete submission to the will of God.
They will fight their flesh every day. It will be exhausting and trying, but if they choose to fight, they will not fight alone.
In Galatians Paul writes, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
God will give us His Spirit for the fight, but fight we must. When we give in, we lose.
I pray we would recognize the desires of our flesh for what they are—lies, as Paul says, invitations to death.
I pray, too, that we would learn to fight. All of us. Not just those who struggle with sexual desires outside God’s plan but also those who give in to gluttony and materialism and pride.
I pray that by the Spirit we would “put to death the misdeeds of the body” and live.