I was attending a business conference earlier this week and between meetings I went to my hotel room to check my email and get some work done. As I came into the room I decided to turn on the television so I could listen to the news as I worked. I turned on CNN and walked across the room to the desk and settled in to get started. At the time I turned it on there was a commercial on so I did not realize that the scheduled program was Larry King Live. Although I normally do not watch Larry King I had left the remote over by the television and it didn’t seem worth the effort to change it. It did not take me long to regret leaving the remote control on the other side of the room because King’s guest was singer Ricky Martin whom he was interviewing regarding his “coming out” and his advocacy for homosexual marriage rights.
I tried to ignore it and focus on my work but it was too distracting. As I got up to change the channel King asked the following question. “As you look retrospectively now, should you have come out sooner?” to which Martin answered “Like I've said, Larry, I wish I knew how good it was going to feel, I would have done it 10 years ago. But I guess I had to go through my spiritual search, my spiritual path to get to conclusions and be able to be comfortable enough to look at myself in the mirror and say, everything is going to be fine. You're a good person. And God doesn't make mistakes.” This is very similar to other statements that he has made recently. Previously on another show while discussing his public disclosure of his homosexuality Martin said "My faith back then was telling me that what I was feeling was bad, was evil," …"I am a very spiritual man and my god doesn't make mistakes. I have a really cool connection with that beautiful light up there that is constantly reassuring who I am and telling me, 'You are an awesome person.”
While it may be easy for those of us within conservative or evangelical Christian circles to dismiss this kind of rationalization it represents a trend that is becoming more prevalent. There are many people who wish to retain a sense of communion with the divine while rejecting any demands upon themselves. This kind of theology would probably not be too concerning if it were not for the fact that so many are sympathetic to its logic.
Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that everyone is a theologian, it is just a matter of whether they are a good theologian or not and ideas have consequences. For various reasons people do not want to be confronted with the truth about what God says. The biblical standard of holiness is too onerous for us and so often we prefer to create in our own mind a vision of God that selects a la carte from the things He has revealed so that we may have a comfortable and reaffirming view of ourselves. This isn’t just something that happens within the homosexual community, in fact, we all do it. Every one of us prefers not to see ourselves in the same light as God sees us apart from Christ. To face this terrible truth is something that (by God’s grace) those of us who believe are able to do in the knowledge that despite our sinfulness we are accepted through His sacrifice on our behalf.
The kind of argument that Martin gave is wrong for a few reasons. First, it ignores the fact that all of us are depraved sinners that, apart from God’s grace, are incapable of doing anything pleasing in God’s sight. Secondly, it completely misses the holy character of God which is an attribute that He has gone to great lengths to reveal to us in His word. And finally, from an ethical standpoint it is completely arbitrary.
It is important for us to always keep in mind that we possess a fallen nature and that each of us has various proclivities and natural tendencies that are opposed to God and are rebellious. To argue that any particular action or desire is good because it is natural misses an important theological truth. A man may have a natural tendency to anger and violence, drug or alcohol use, or various impure sexual desires and many other sinful proclivities that we could list but the fact that he has them and that they come from “who he is” does not validate the behaviors or the nature from which they proceed. Rather, they confirm the testimony of scripture that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; No one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV) Christ did not come here to tell us how awesome we are; rather he came to put our old nature (and its natural desires) to death and to grant us a new life so that we could have a restored relationship with the Father. God may not make mistakes but we all do.
The holiness of God is such an important part of the biblical teaching in both testaments that to ignore it would be to ignore one of the most emphasized attributes revealed to us about Him. In fact, the Hebrew language often emphasizes things through repetition (as opposed to our use of bold font, underlining, and exclamatory punctuation) and anything repeated three times is said to be in the superlative degree, meaning it is being emphasized beyond anything of a comparable class. As far as I know, God’s holiness is the only attribute of God that is ever repeated to the superlative degree in the bible. In Isaiah chapter 6 the prophet sees a vision that many believe to be heaven itself and in this vision Isaiah explains that the angels surrounding the throne were chanting “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”. This holiness consists in complete separation from anything defiled and anything sinful. Scripture teaches us repeatedly that the reaction of a person who encounters God is immediate humility; typically face down on the ground pleading for mercy, if indeed they can speak at all. To see the face of God would mean death for any human. It is only when we are “in Christ” and have Him as our advocate can we expect to come into the presence of God with anything like the affirmation that Martin describes and that only because He has given to us a new life born of incorruptible seed.
Finally, this argument fails to make any distinctions regarding behavior. Given the amount of ethical teaching in both testaments it is fair to say that God has some expectations regarding our behavior but if our choices are affirmed simply as a result of the fact that they are natural to us and God doesn’t make mistakes then there would be virtually no limit to what could be justified. If a psychopath has a tendency to murder or a drunkard has a tendency to drink, or a pedophile has a disgusting proclivity toward children we would have to accept that all of these behaviors are justified because God made them that way would we not? This argument eliminates any standard by which a person’s behavior could be judged. It is a slippery slope argument to which there is virtually no end.
The Lord has revealed to us in scripture a standard for behavior and if we are to claim to have a relationship with God we must accept Christ and the standard He taught as well. ”Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.. (2 John 1:9 ESV) The good news is that Christ has made it possible for us to abide by that teaching and remain strong in it through what he has done. Regardless of if our struggles were with sexual sin (as Ricky Martin was proudly proclaiming), pride, addiction, or whatever else we know that Christ has won the victory over it. We are to pray for His healing and power and seek His strength. If we insist on confirming ourselves in our sinfulness rather than confessing it (whatever “it” may be) we contradict God and testify to the hardness of our own hearts. As Paul explained in Romans:
”…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32 ESV)
If we have sin in our lives that we have failed to battle and are trying to reconcile it with our relationship to God I pray we would take up the matter urgently. Let us admit that such things are inconsistent with our testimony and go to our knees. Let us pray together for God’s provision and strength remembering what our brother Paul has taught us: ”For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
It is God, not I that is awesome and it is only through His grace poured out upon me, a sinner, that I have any affirmation or hope in this life. –Soli Deo Gloria