Monday, June 12, 2017

Do You Hate Me?

Thus far in our series Engaging the Homosexual Movement we have looked at arguments/objections from nature, morality and authority that might be raised in the interest of normalizing the practice of homosexuality. And we have offered Christian answers to each objection. Last time we began addressing another argument/objection that differs from the first three while simultaneously touching upon each. It is not so much an argument for the normalization of the practice of homosexuality as it is an objection against the God who condemns it. Given the truthfulness of the previous three answers, one might ask, “Does your God hate me?” In other words, does God hate those who approve of the practice of homosexuality? We concluded that the Bible’s answer to that question is complex. God hates those who approve of the practice of homosexuality, because their sin is a personal offense against his infinite greatness and goodness. But he also loves them in at least two senses. First, he loves them in a general providential sense. God provides for their temporal needs. As Jesus teaches in his sermon on the mount in Matt. 5:45, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Second, he loves them in a salvific sense in that he freely offers life and salvation to them if they will repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and for all those he has foreordained to eternal life, he loves them by actually saving them from their sin.

A further objection might arise after delivering such an answer, viz. “Do you hate me?” In other words, if there is some sense in which your God hates those who approve the practice of homosexuality, does that mean there is some sense in which you hate me as well? As we will see, the answer to this question is also complex.

The Bible describes the church as hating the wicked (and vice versa!) on numerous occasions. Prov. 29:27 says, “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.” Also, at least fourteen of the Psalms (5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are imprecatory prayers in which the psalmist calls out to God for the destruction of the wicked. Ps. 58:6-8 says, “O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.” We see the same relationship between the church and the world in the New testament as well. Rom. 12:9b says, “Abhor (i.e. hate) what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” And 1 Jn 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” James 4:4 is similar. The text says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” But perhaps the most shocking example of this teaching comes from Jesus’ own public ministry. In Luke 14:26-28 he teaches his disciples, saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” What does Jesus mean? He means that if we are to follow him we must learn to unreservedly love the things he loves and hate the things he hates regardless of our earthly relations. So there is a sense in which we are called to hate those who approve of the practice of sin. The Scriptures are crystal clear about this.

But if we stop there in our understanding of church-world relations, then we have stopped short. The church is also called to love the world! Jesus teaches in Matt. 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” And Rom. 12:14-21 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So how is the church to simultaneously hate and love those who approve the practice of evil? We get an important clue in Rom. 12:19. The text says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Here we see how the expression of our hatred for those who approve of the practice of wickedness should differ from the expression of God’s hatred of the same. God has the right to exact vengeance. The church does not. Now, it’s important to recognize that at this stage in the Apostle’s argument in Romans he is speaking to the church as the church and the way it should relate to the world. He is not speaking to individual Christians in their various relations as citizens of the world. For example, when Paul says “Never avenge yourselves,” he is not teaching pacifism. Individual Christians most certainly have the right to punish evil doers in the world for the purpose of seeking reparations. But the church as the church does not. The church as the church never enacts discipline in order to exact reparations. The church enacts discipline in the interest of repentance and reconciliation. Church discipline is not punitive but restorative.

So how should the church’s hatred for the wicked be expressed? It should be expressed as disapproval, revulsion, and separation. Rather than approving the practice of sin, we should disapprove it. Rather than rejoicing in wrongdoing, we should grieve over it and be repulsed by it. Rather than joining ourselves with those who practice wrongdoing in order to fellowship with them as if nothing is wrong with their behavior, we should maintain a proper degree of separation. This is how our hatred should manifest itself. It should never manifest itself as vengeance.

But what about loving our enemies? How should the church simultaneously love those who approve of the practice of sin? Our love for the wicked should be expressed in the same way God’s love is expressed. Jesus bases his teaching about loving our enemies on the character of the Father in Matt. 5:45, saying, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” As we have seen, God loves the wicked in a general providential sense by providing for their needs. We should do the same. As Jesus says in Matt. 5:41-42, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” In other words, the command to love our neighbors is not limited by a religious litmus test. We should be ready and willing to show hospitality and mercy to our neighbors, providing for their basic needs as we are able, regardless of whether they approve of the practice of sin or not. Moreover, as we have seen, God loves the wicked in a salvific sense vis-à-vis the free offer of the gospel. We should participate in that love too by inviting those who practice sin to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and by standing ready to welcome any who would come to him.

In conclusion we might answer the question, “Do you hate me?” by saying, “Yes and no. I hate you in the sense that I disapprove of, am revulsed by, and must maintain an appropriate degree of separation from those who approve the practice of any sin, including homosexuality. But I love you in the sense that I am ready to show you hospitality and mercy as my neighbor and to invite you to receive the free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”

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