Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Changing Notions of an Unchanging God
I don’t feel that I have anything to say about the events in Orlando that hasn’t already been said numerous times, and more eloquently than I could manage. I don’t feel the need to express a deep sadness and frustration, because they ought to be so automatic from every single person that it can be safely assumed that I feel them. They have been expressed by other people, and I have nothing further of any value to add.
However, naturally the events have sparked a lot of debate. The BBC opened up the story for comment, and inevitably a small number of people blamed ‘religion’ for the attacks. I wearily took up my keyboard to try and explain why I think they’re wrong. During this exchange, the traditional Christian views of homosexuality were raised and used a springboard to attack Christianity as a whole. I pointed out that I’m a practicing Christian with no problems whatsoever with homosexuality, and that I considered that each part of the Bible needs to be understood within its own historical and cultural context. I received the following reply:
“A single question: as a practicing Christian, do you believe your God is now very happy with homosexuals, and will embrace them without condemnation or concidering (sic) them to have sinned?”
Unfortunately, this occurred during my lunch break, and I didn’t see that message until the next day when the thread had already been closed. The BBC’s format of 300 characters and a maximum posting rate of once every five minutes is deeply frustrating when you’re trying to articulate a complex point, so I would like to try and answer that question here.
It will be easiest to deal with this a piece at a time. Firstly then, do I considered that God is now happy with homosexuals? No, of course not. I think that He’s always been happy with them. God is unchanging. I should clarify and say that by ‘happy’, what I mean is that I don’t believe that God considers homosexuality, in and of itself, to be a sin. Same-sex couples are as prone to sins as anyone else; adultery (both physical and in the heart), jealousy, anger, pridefulness etc. However a gay person is not any more inherently sinful than a heterosexual or asexual person.
What I believe has changed is people’s views of both what God considers to be sinful, and more importantly, their notions of God Himself. I do not believe that a lot of the Old Testament is literally true. Instead, I view it almost as a record of humanity’s evolving understanding of God, from one tribal deity amongst others, to the sole, strict and authoritarian ruler of the universe, and ultimately to the creating, giving, loving, sustaining God of the Incarnation and the Redemption. It is not the case that God has changed His mind, it is that we never properly understood it in the first place. Five hundred years ago, the educated classes thought that there were four elements. Nowadays that’s jumped to one hundred and eighteen. No-one believes that a hundred and fourteen elements have popped into existence in the last couple of centuries; it’s merely that our understanding of the world has developed. I believe that the same is true of our understanding of God. In the same way, I don’t by any means think that we have achieved a perfect understanding of God today, even so far as humans would be capable of it. No doubt our understanding will continue to change and evolve as we received fresh insights and revelations.
Is God ‘very happy with homosexuals’? No more or less so than with anybody else, which is probably to say that no, he isn’t, very. They are human beings, and as frail and prone to failure as everybody else, and just as inclined to self-centeredness and pride and bitterness and anger. Sadly, because so many have received so much ill-feeling and outright abuse from the hands of both the church and individual Christians, perhaps fewer of them are likely to turn to God for help, which would make Him happier. However, that doesn’t mean that He loves them any the less.
Lastly then, do I believe that God will ‘embrace them without condemnation, or considering them to have sinned’? Possibly a deeper question than the asker realises. To take the last part first, will He consider them not to have sinned? No of course not, because inevitably they will have done, but I don’t believe that He will consider being homosexual, in and of itself, as being amongst those sins.
Do I believe that He will ‘embrace them without condemnation’? Yes. A thousand times yes. They can shrug off that embrace; they can duck aside from it; but if they want it, then yes, because God has taken on the condemnation that is rightfully theirs as sinful human beings, has expunged it and absolved them, has offered His all-embracing and all-consuming love to them, as He has to every human being. If they want to be, then yes, He will embrace them without condemnation, because that is what my God does. He is a God of love, of compassion, of forgiveness, and of grace, and all who believe in Him shall not perish, no matter who they were or are, or what they have done.
That is my God.