This month my church held a summit called “In His Image: Sexuality, Scripture and Society.” The purpose of the event was to grapple with homosexuality in the context of church life and wrestle with the question: How can we as a body value people with same-sex attraction while still living in harmony with what we believe the Bible teaches about the homosexual lifestyle? Some called the conference “anti-gay,” but that’s an unfair characterization of it. While our church’s official position at this point does not support the homosexual lifestyle, those involved with the conference affirmed and re-affirmed the value of those living it and a desire for relationship with them.
Miles of blogs, articles, films, posts, and threads on this matter stretch out in often-fruitless debate. I prayed earnestly about how to make a contribution that will perhaps at least simplify the discussion and maybe, prayerfully, lead us all closer to Jesus’ side. Here’s what I believe God gave me:
It seems the whole issue revolves around longings—relational, romantic, and sexual longings that God has placed in each soul. These longings predate sin, for God said it was, “not good for man to be alone,” and Adam was, after all, with God, so alone only in human sense. We all long to love and be loved; God has organized human life such that we get some of our love needs met horizontally. Inborn longings drive this give and take without which we’d descend into jungle mode. Imagine a world where, rather than seeing each other as potential sources of fulfillment and pleasure, we’d see only resource competitors and irritants? Longings and the relationships they buid, in turn help build society, marriage by marriage, family by family, community by community, and nation by nation.
But longings can be problematic.
The person who expects each longing to be fulfilled, who exercises no tolerance for the stretched-out empty hand of desire, ends up in mad chase for an unachievable goal. The idolatry of longing has fueled our astronomical divorce rate. Extramarital affairs imbibe of its spirit, as well as the wild, slobbering casual sex in our world. Consenting adults obey the “follow your heart” siren song of the age, eventually following their hearts right out of God’s will. Exalting our human longings to a place where they must be honored and fulfilled binds us in powerful chains to an unsatiable false god.
But keeping them within the design of the One who instilled the desire for love in the first place, creates a space for Him to work. They will at times lead to fulfilling marriages, friendships and communities. Other times a spouse in an emotionally dead marriage will ache for true intimacy, and a single person will long for the embrace of a lover they can’t find. But even in those less-happy times, longings will do something miraculous. They will drive us to the river of God’s love. There is nothing like the soft water of agape on the dry cracks of a lovelorn heart. I’ve hated my disappointments in love, but later loved them because of how God loved me through them.
Viewing the issue of homosexuality through the lens of longing makes the discussion much more fair than it has been. Those who argue against the homosexual lifestyle because they believe the Bible forbids it would also argue against longing-driven divorce and remarriage and heterosexual extramarital hookups. If homosexuals must deny their basic longings to stay within God’s design, so must everyone. If, on the other hand, longings constitute a justification for the formation of a sexual relationship, we must be consistent and give a pass to, for instance, the man who leaves his aging wife for a trophy half his age or the middle-aged single who, prospectless and frustrated, goes hunting for the night.
Before you conclude that my God coldly disregards our deepest desires for human connection, recall that He created and instilled those desires in the first place. And yes, He allowed for the frustration of them as a result of our planet’s slide into sin and brokenness, but only so that that emptiness could receive Him. If instead of fighting for our rights to the human objects of our longings, we would divert that longing heavenward, we’d enjoy a connection to Jesus like none other. There are benefits to unfulfilled longings. Don’t despise them. They may be your best friend in the quest for communion with the God whose love is “better than life.” (Psalm 63:3). “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God,” (Psalm 42:1, 2).
Come. Drink. Let your unfulfilled longings guide you to the water.