Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Homosexuality & The Love Of God

Biblegems #102
Question: How does one reconcile the apparent contradiction that God, who is love, condemns homosexuality, even when two people of the same gender genuinely love each other? And what if that same couple love God as well? Who are we to judge?

There are many who read this question for whom the answer seems so straightforward they can’t imagine how anyone could be confused. They would say something like: “God says homosexuality is sin, end of subject.” However, many others reading this are saying something like: “Finally, someone has the courage to ask what I’ve been wanting to ask for so long!” In either case, I hope you will read on, because even if you are not asking this question, you know people who are—but who may be to afraid to ask out loud. And there are too many Christians afraid to answer the question out loud.

There are several components to the question above: The love of God, human love, the nature of homosexuality, passing judgment on others, etc. I cannot possibly answer all of these interrelated questions in one 500 word blog. So this will be the first of a multi-part response. I know as I post each blog some readers will be saying, “Yeah, but what about…” —because I have to approach this piecemeal, not as a whole. Please be patient, and try to see each blog post as one incomplete part of a larger whole.  

I have used 200 words already just introducing this topic. Therefore, for this week’s blog post, the 500 word limit I attempt to impose on myself for your easier reading begins now:

God is love.
         1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Love is the very essence of God’s nature. It is not so much what He feels, or even what He does, it is who God is. That is very different from human love. Human love at its most superficial reflects how we feel, and that feeling is fleeting, inconsistent. God’s love is constant, unchanging. Human love at its highest chooses to be loving even when not being loved in return— something also achieved with great inconsistency. God always loves, and always acts in love, because He is love itself—unselfish, self-sacrificing, always seeking the welfare of those who need His love.

Obviously, then, true love must be measured against the highest, perfect standard, which is God. The goal of true love is not for God to love like us, but for us to love as He does. So when John says, Whoever does not love does not know God, God is the standard: whoever does not love [i.e., as God loves] does not know God.

So how do we love as God loves? Jesus gives us the answer:
         John 14:15 If you love me, you will obey what I command.

To disobey God is to selfishly choose what we want rather than lovingly choose to live as He designed us to live. We did not design ourselves. We are created with a carefully crafted design and purpose by a God whose very nature is love. We are designed to be like Him:
         Gen. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
         God designed human sexuality as a union between male and female, and that union is designed to be a mirror image of Himself.

Gen. 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
Gen. 2:22-24 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
The “suitable helper,” according to God’s perfect design, was not male to male or female to female, but the union between a man and a woman who share a similar essence, but who have been intentionally separated by God into two genders. It is part of God’s design for human beings that we find our truest self by becoming united with our “other half.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Are There Children In Heaven?

Biblegems #101
Question: Are there children in heaven?

The Bible does not have a lot to say on this subject, but neither is it left a blank.

Children In Heaven Now
Jesus said…
Matt. 19:14 Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
This passage tells us that heaven, right now, is full of little children because, as He says, heaven belongs to them! This would include aborted infants and all who die too young to be morally accountable for sin.

When King David lost his son, even though that child was born from an illicit relationship with Bathsheba, he knew with certainty he would see his child in heaven:
2 Sam. 12:23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, [i.e., in heaven] but he will not return to me.

Children in the Millennium
Scripture contains several references to children during the Millennial Reign of Christ, but these two from Isaiah tell the story pretty well:
Is. 11:6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
Is. 11:8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra
Children In Heaven Forever
For there to be children in heaven throughout eternity one of three things would have to take place: 1) Either, those entering heaven now as children would never mature—which seems very unlikely—or 2) God would create children whenever He wished, continually adding to the glorified human population in heaven without the participation of human parents—for which there is no Scriptural teaching, or 3) that glorified human parents would be able to conceive children.

While I personally think that parenting children in heaven is very unlikely, the fact remains that human beings in heaven remain human beings. Glorified, yes; without gender, no. Even the interpretation of the reference below that is so often used to teach that there will be no sexuality in heaven is entirely fallacious:
         Matt. 22:30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

The point of Jesus’ teaching is that the act of two people getting married is an earth-bound practice that is eternally binding. There will not be marriage ceremonies in heaven, even as the angels have no marriage ceremonies. Unfortunately, many have understood Jesus to mean that angels are genderless and, therefore, people in heaven will be genderless as well. However, the passage clearly says nothing about gender. Jesus was reminding the Sadducees that the marriage covenant on earth is binding.

This “forever union” is pictured beautifully in Ephesians 5:21-32, where Paul compares the union of a husband and wife with the union of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31).

So, the possibility of a couple conceiving a baby in heaven is at least hypothetically possible. HOWEVER, where the Scripture does not teach, we should not presume to go. Some surprises are better left until we see Him face to face!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Destroying Strong Sheep?

Biblegems #100
Ezekiel 34:11-16 talks about taking care of the sheep as a Shepherd, giving them rich pasture etc. and then it ends up saying "I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy." Wouldn't you expect them to get strong after such good care?

The answer to this question is found in the context of the entire chapter. Ezekiel 34:1-9 portrays a scene in which Israel is compared to a poorly cared for, abused flock of sheep by its shepherds. In verses 10-16, the Lord declares that He is going to remove the self-centered shepherds and take over the task of shepherding Israel personally. God has in view here the period of the Millennial Kingdom, when He will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land” (23-24).

We know this is the Millennial period because it will be a time when David reigns over Israel once again (13), when wild animals will no longer be allowed in the land (25), when foreign nations will no longer be a threat (28), when famine will be thing of the past (26, 29), and when the people of Israel will know they belong to their shepherd God (30-31).

However, because Israel’s shepherds have been negligent, the sheep have been left to care for themselves. This is why the Lord has to rescue them (11). This is precisely how Jesus found the masses of Jewish people of His day:
         Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

This condition brings us to the problematic verse in question, verse 16: I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. With the absence of any real shepherding care, God has to judge how the sheep treat each other:
         Ezek. 34:17 As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

In the absence of good shepherds, the strong, fat sheep have pushed aside the weaker sheep:
         Ezek. 34:21-22 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

For the sake of the flock as a whole, the Lord removes those sheep that are abusive.
         1 Cor. 5:11, 13 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. …God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

This has always been God’s approach in dealing with individuals who are destructive to the body of believers as a group, and a lesson the Church at large often needs to relearn.