Hard questions part 4: His creation, His love

Now we get to what I consider the real heart of the matter.  It’s also the part most likely to upset and offend, because it is going to involve directly naming and confronting sinfulness.  However,  at the bottom of it, it involves the question of what makes humanity valuable, what reason anyone would have to believe that humans have an inherent value more than simply the sum of our parts.  So let’s get right to the question that’s been thrown out by many to Christians:

How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

To answer this question, we need to look at the very foundation of the Christian faith and worldview, and we need to go back to the very beginning.  Well, a few days after the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.–Genesis 1:26-27

This is the account of the sixth day of creation, when God made man.  The difference between the account of God making any other part of creation, whether living or not, and making man, is in the first verse: man, unlike any other part of creation, is made in the image of God.  Humanity has a connection with God that transcends the physical.  Not in the pantheistic, “We and God are one” sense, because that is explicitly unbiblical and misses the fact that there is much of God that we do not share, such as His omnipresence (He is all places) and omniscience (He knows all things, there is no knowledge that is not with God).

But one thing we do share is our existence as unique persons, and in fact having personality above and beyond the instinctual existence of even the most high-level animal.  God made us to be creatures that can communicate with Him and receive communication from Him, and we are able to recognize His handiwork in the nature of all creation.  God has given a value to humans that goes far beyond merely being members of a species, propagators of the next generation, a mere sum of our parts.  We are made to reflect His glory and to grow in grace and knowledge of Him.  This is the foundation upon which the Christian faith rests its understanding of humanity, its anthropology of man and understanding of sin as being an affront to that creative role of God as Maker as well as King, and its preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus addressed sexuality on this basis, and placed specific contexts on the marital relationship based not simply upon Levitical law, but upon the nature of creation itself:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”–Matthew 19:3-9

 Jesus did not engage with the Pharisees with rabbinical arguments about one interpretation over another.  He took them immediately to Scripture and to God’s creative purpose in making man as He did: with two sexes, dependent upon each other, and yet united as one in the covenant of marriage.  God created man and woman on purpose, God created sexuality and He established marriage as the framework it exists within.  A man leaves his family and becomes one with his wife, and this is rooted in God’s will to create man in such a way as to reflect something even deeper:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.–Ephesians 5:22-33

Just as Jesus uses God’s creation of humans as man and woman as a foundation for testifying to the nature of marriage, so marriage in turn testifies to the nature of the relationship between Jesus and His church.  Just as a wife submits to her husband as head of the family, so the church submits to Christ as head of the church.  Just as the husband’s love for his wife extends to sacrificing every element of himself for her own well-being and pursuing her with the purpose of lifting her up and helping her to become the woman God made her to be, Jesus has given Himself up as the perfect sacrifice and serves as the perfect High Priest who makes the way for His people to life and real relationship with God.

That’s a lot of words.  Are you going to answer the question now?

Absolutely.

…what was it again?

How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

The foundation of a Christian’s interaction with anyone who stands outside of Christ in their sin is rooted, first and foremost, in the fact that this person is likewise made in the image of God.  Furthermore, we engage them knowing that we, too, have walked in sin that deserves the punishment of God just as this person does.  A person who is involved in homosexuality is no different from any other person in that regard.  When anyone embraces their sin, even making it their own identity, they are doing damage to their humanity as it reflects that transcendent relationship with God as His image, and ultimately we will be held accountable for that.  Likewise, when you hold to faith in Jesus as the covering for your sins and as the Lord of your life, you see the opposite effect: your humanity is grown, strengthened, and transformed into the fullness of life as God intended.  Of course, we do not see the fullness of this effect now, but Scripture promises that Christ brings with Him in His return the true completion of that:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.–2 Corinthians 3:18

So when I am praying for those who are suffering as a result of the wicked act at the Pulse nightclub, I am able to do so consistently with my proclamation to those who are under the slavery of homosexuality that they need to repent and turn to Christ, because I am also a human, made by God, and I know the pain they are enduring.  I have empathy because I have the same mark of my Creator on me and I can love them in it, and seek to serve them.  But that love would be incomplete, if I simply sought to give them earthly comfort and left them bound for eternal destruction.  I know their pain, and I also know what it means to live as a person enslaved to sin and running after it with my whole heart.

And that’s where that word love comes in.  That’s a word we’ve heard used a lot over the last year.  Love wins.  Love is love.  But love is rooted, not in the desires of myself or yourself or anyone else.  There is no Gospel, no Christianity, no good period, if there is not love.  It’s rooted in God, in His creative will and His actions to retrieve His creation from its own foolish rebellion:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.–1 John 4:7-12

The world has twisted this concept of love into “achieving your most basic desires,” or more simply, “being allowed to follow your heart.”  But we have hearts that lead us astray, damaged by sin.  The love that John writes about, that is love that lets us both serve the hurting while calling them to repent, because both have the same goal: restoration, reconciliation, true peace.  The love the world wants is not true love, because its end is death; it is the kind of love that leads a parent to let his child do whatever the child pleases…which rarely leads to the child choosing to become a loving, kind and humble person.  This is not love at all.  God’s love does not leave His children be, but engages them, challenges their sins and idolatry and transforms them into His perfect creation.  This same love, confronted by someone who stands apart from Christ and will not heed the Gospel call, hardens the unrepentant in their sin, and so we call all the more fervently to them to repent and stop running away from the One who made them.

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So let me finish part four with this, as I have finished some of my recent podcast episodes: if you are one of my friends who is not a Christian and you’ve been observing curiously, saying “I want to at least understand where Dave is coming from on this,” I am very grateful, and especially that you’ve been patient enough with me to read all the way through.  But what I want to get across most clearly is that what I’m talking about here, is the Gospel of Jesus, the message that brings true life where there was only a promise of death.

You, and I, and every other person have been made by God, but just as He made us, from the very beginning we have rebelled.  Adam and Eve rejected God and sought to make themselves like God, and death was the curse placed upon them and all of us who have come after them as a result.  We have been infected with sin and therefore we run after it by our most base desires.  But God did not leave us to that curse, but even as He placed it, He promised that He would also be the one to restore creation out of sinfulness and into perfection, and He is doing that work founded on the cross of Christ.

If you want to know how much regard and love God has for His creation, you can know it by looking to the fact that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became incarnate as a man.  Not as a huge glowing angel appearing over the world demanding worship, not as a powerful king, but as a humble man who led a life filled with suffering, yet was perfect.  Jesus was the one man who did not deserve death–yet it came, and in fact He willingly gave Himself up for death, because by His death, all who believe in Him have forgiveness of sin, and all the rights and promises of a child of the Most High God.  Jesus broke the chains of death and was resurrected, never again to die, and the perfect God-man stands now at God’s right hand.  He intercedes for His people, and all who believe can go to God in prayer, to bring their pain, their sin, their struggles and fears and everything else, that they might know that He hears and cares for them, and will set all things right in the end.

Why would anyone run away from that?  Why would we choose to toy around with such utterly foolish things that will ultimately kill us, when life is offered and given freely!  People, the King is calling you.  Throw down everything you have, and come after Him.

This is not the last part, I want to do one more to address smaller practical questions that arise from the implications of this message.  If you have a question you want to see addressed, please post it in the comments below.  If you want it to remain private, just make a note that you do not want me to publish your comment and I will make note of your question and delete it.

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