“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
~Isaiah 55:8-9 (NRSV)
Does the Christian faith, or the church in its broadest setting, have a unifiable and workable answer for the great ethical questions of our time? Same-sex marriage is a good ‘for instance’.
This is not a question of legality—and what is rightly or wrongly legislated—but a question of approach to protagonists. How are we to approach gays and lesbians, pro-abortionists, and convicted paedophiles (just three for-instances) regarding Christian spirituality?
Such a question divides the Christian world; it ought not to be that way. (But it perhaps will always be this way, until the end comes.)
From the outset, we tend to have this enormous tension between being the church, which does not have its way in the world, and being a loving community prepared to accept any sinner who would walk through the doors of a Sunday, or any other day of the week for that matter. Such a tension has not yet been bridged. Maybe it is unbridgeable.
Amending Diametrically Opposed Goals
As the church, we are called to many things; at least two of them are diametrically opposed.
Firstly, we are called to reach out in the name of Christ for the saving of souls. That is, we speak the love of Jesus into all lives, because all lives need such loving grace. We cannot do this, with sufficient effect, without loving everyone we come into contact with unconditionally. That, so far, once we get over our own barriers to intimacy, is the easy part.
Secondly, in the midst of preaching the gospel, we realise a basic tenet cannot be forgotten. We cannot ignore the criticality of preaching the gospel of repentance. The gospel cannot be preached, properly, without such a call to repentance central within its preaching.
So, we preach to a gay and lesbian community and they rightly feel judged. Little do they know, perhaps, they are no worse in their sin than any of us are—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). They are not convicted of their sin in any way unless by the Spirit, just like there are situations I’m blind to my sin or I’m unconvicted of repenting from it. None of us is any different, because none of us is perfect.
But we don’t get to first base because of the perceptions of the church; ironically, the church is ‘judged’ as being ungodly.
And when all is said and done, we all need to be reminded that repentance is primarily a personal issue between each of us as individuals and our God; we are all accountable to God, alone.
Therefore, Repentance Is Not a Barrier
If we agree that repentance is a matter strictly between individual persons and God, provided there is no wanton harm done within relationships we know about, we must leave the issues of sin to each person to have out with their God.
We all have our issues; many things to reasonably fear regarding God’s definitive judgment of those matters in eternity. We may be forgiven and admitted to heaven but still there will be the personal reconciliation of sin before God.
We cannot possibly judge one person’s sin as abhorrent, provided that sin doesn’t overtly hurt people in their lives, when our sins are equally abhorrent to God. Sin is sin and, whilst God might have some way of judging some things worse than others, we cannot know, understand, or even ponder such a scale of differentiation.
Remember, the Lord’s ways are higher than our ways, all ways.
As far as it is possible for us to understand it, we need an all-encompassing approach that ensures we obey God by loving all (his) people as well as hearing acceptably with our consciences. Our acceptance of other sinners is a test for us—and for us alone. In this, first and foremost, we grow in God. It’s about our journey, not theirs.
A Possible All-Encompassing Approach
An all-encompassing approach: fair-minded ethics don’t afford the injustice of an opinion. Beyond every viewpoint is God: things of Royal Divinity ride high above partiality, common decency, and all human sense.
In the plainest terms, we need to be willing to forego our warrant of opinion. Because on many matters we cannot know God’s fullest thoughts, we reserve judgment and are therefore free to love. We are unencumbered of opinion.
An all-encompassing approach honouring the Christian way involves shelving our opinions in order to love to the fullest extent. This way we obey the second part of the Lord’s Great Commandment and we leave matters of sin, as they should do for us, between the sinner and their God. We are free to love.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.