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How beer and sex are proof that God is good and wants what is best for us

I gave a talk at Griffith University’s Mount Gravatt and Nathan campuses today for Griffith Christian Students. It was titled “How beer and sex are proof that God is good and wants what is best for us”.

Here’s the transcript (this approach was very much inspired by Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing).


I want to start by asking you to use your imaginations.

Imagine you’re in love.
You’ve met the perfect person.
You’ve flirted.
You’ve been out for coffee.
You’ve had that awkward first date; and desire has awakened. You think this person might be ‘the one’…
The fires are lit. Metaphorical ones. There’s a part of you that is newly aroused — hoping for new possibilities… There’s anticipation in every touch, every moment of your skin brushing against theirs. The thrill of the chase — and of being chased… It’s like a dance…
You enjoy a nice dinner together; there are candles.
You find yourself together; alone at last; the barriers between you coming down. You feel safe to be yourself, shameless.
You come together. Your bodies joined. Your skin tingles. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. Your breath quickens…
For a fleeting moment you experience ecstasy. Pure bliss. You wish it could last forever…
You’re left wondering when the next time will be. Imagining it. Chasing it. Fantasising or researching how to extend that feeling… That bliss…
It feels like Heaven.

For some of you this story is a future hope — you are waiting for someone, somewhere, who’ll flesh this out for you… For others here it might be last weekend… Last month… For some of us this is the sort of illicit fantasy that might both thrill us and leave us feeling a bit dirty. Ashamed. Especially if you’ve grown up hearing Christians only ever talk about sex in hushed tones or about purity and sin… About the “price tag” sex has… It’s also the plot of just about every romance movie or novel ever written…

Here’s another story.

Imagine there’s a party. All your friends are there. There’s bunting, hipster lighting, the music is on point. There’s dancing. Laughter. You’ve never been funnier; you’ve never heard conversations that stimulate your imagination like this; you’ve never looked better. The food is amazing — dish after dish brought out for you to enjoy, it’s like someone gave you their Uber Eats account and said ‘go nuts’… And the beer. It’s not that cheap nasty stuff that students survive on… This is some hipster micro-brewed craft stuff — it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. There’s complexity in every sip — flavours you can’t quite describe, it’s like the word for them appears on the tip of your tongue and then disappears only to be replaced with some other exotic idea. You feel the warmth of the alcohol working its way through your system — what was already a great night is suddenly even better. You’re totally relaxed. You have another sip and the coolness of the beer as it hits the back of your throat is exceptionally refreshing. The sun is setting — you want to capture this moment forever. Instagram won’t do it justice. This feels like heaven…

For some of you this story is the picture of the party you went to last weekend — or it’s the party you hope to throw. Some of you can’t stand the taste of beer or understand why anybody would bother, some of you have decided not to drink alcohol for very good reasons… Some of you are possibly not old enough to legally drink… I’d invite you to replace the beer in this scene with the best version of whatever drink it is that you enjoy.

The point is, there are all sorts of good things in this world that give us pleasure. That satisfy us. Sensual experiences that excite us, leave us hungry for more, and that might even lead to an addiction… And so I want to ask this afternoon…

“What’s the point?”

Do sex and beer have a point beyond themselves? An ‘end’ in the philosophical sense to which they are a means, are they just pointing to themselves as a source of a particular sort of pleasure?

What’s the point of pleasure? Our bodies are hardwired to receive it; to be stimulated by it; to enjoy pleasures — there’s a link between sensuality and our senses.

Why is that?

Where are you looking for pleasure? Where are you looking for satisfaction?

I want to make the case this afternoon that there’s a reason these sublime moments — the taste of joy via our senses — sex with a lover or a stunningly good beer — there’s a reason these fleeting moments feel like heaven.

It’s because they were made to by a good God; and more than that, that there is a purpose to these pleasures, and that’s to point us towards Heaven. Towards a connection — a relationship — with him as our loving and good creator.

I want to suggest there’s at least three bits of evidence for this claim —

One. The problems that come when we see these pleasures as “ends” in themselves, and build our lives around them.

Two. What the Bible says about God and his creation and what it is for, and that these pleasures are even better when we listen to him.

Three. And that better than that, we will truly flourish if instead of fixating on these pleasures — being captivated by them — we look along them to what they point to — this eternal reality.

The first two points are points you might even be able to leave today pondering and agreeing with without accepting the third; but the third is where the real punch is for Christians…

In a nutshell, what I’m claiming is that good sex and good beer are a taste of the good life with God for eternity; that being one with God is a greater source of intimacy and pleasure than a fleeting, orgasmic, moment here on earth — an eternal orgasm even… And that the best most fleeting bits of pleasure that come from food and drink now are a taste of the abundance of God — the banquet he prepares for us to enjoy eternally in a new creation — and that these things are meant to point us to God now, the danger is that because our hearts are turned away from God and towards ourselves — we take these pleasures and instead of directing them where they were made to be we pursue them for our own sake and end up owned by them; captivated… Enslaved… And so they lose their lustre as they lose their connection to their God-given purpose.

I’m saying that we get into trouble when it comes to beer or sex when we look at them as a source for satisfaction rather than looking through them… Imagine that I gave you a pair of glasses now and you had to choose between looking at them and looking through them — they might be an exceptional piece of craftsmanship and optometry so that you can appreciate them as glasses, but it’s only when you look through them and they correct your sight that they’re doing what they were made to do. This is the difference between seeing sex and beer… Or other pleasures… As ends to pursue with your life, and seeing them as a means to an ends.

The Dark Side of beer and sex
There are obvious problems when we look for heaven on earth — and these are problems that reveal a dark side of our hearts.

We’re not just wired to experience pleasure; we’re hardwired to love, to pursue some picture of a good life, to build our lives so that we’re living in some sort of story where we want a happy ending and we choose what that ending looks like by choosing what we love. Sociologists and scientists have started writing about the power of story in terms of what makes us human; it’s story making, story telling, and story keeping that sets us apart from the animal kingdom — the ability to give meaning to our experience of pleasure and then organise our lives around the pursuit of some good things flows out of this part of our humanity. We dream in stories — our subconscious, when left to its own devices, tells stories — and they’re stories where we are at the centre, we are the hero, this isn’t just a sub-conscious thing, it’s our experience of the world… We’re naturally wired to put ourselves first and to assume that we are the centre of reality because we are the centre of our own reality; our own experience. Some Christian theologians who saw the danger of this way of life described this reality — the reality that we are lovers and self-centred-story-tellers — as our hearts being curved in on themselves — even when love flows out from us towards a person, or a pleasure, it’s for our own good, our own joy, our own satisfaction… This is basically what the Bible calls sin, it suggests that instead of curving in on ourselves; instead of first being lovers of self and so lovers of the things that give us pleasure, we were made to be lovers of God and have that love shape everything else.

The consequences of this new natural inclination, our loves, being shaped like this, are disastrous… And sex and beer prove this…

Let’s talk about sex…

If you approach the goodness of sex, and sexual pleasure, with yourself at the centre then even in a relationship, one built on commitment and love, your relationship — and the sex within it — will be built around your pleasure, on your orgasms, the other person in your relationship will be there for your pleasure; a servant even… There are more destructive versions of this story…

Let’s assume you don’t want commitment and the responsibility it brings — that you’re part of the Tinder generation and more interested in hook ups, in pleasure with no strings attached… At that point while there might be mutual moments of bliss, sex has become a transaction, the other person purely a means with sexual pleasure as an end, with no greater purpose. It becomes hollowed of anything significant; it’s not part of the bringing two people together like the story we imagined at the start… It’s someone you might never see again — not even a friend with benefits… Sure, a Tinder hookup might lead to something more long term, but the mechanism is designed to make sex as frictionless as possible.

But for the people who can’t get a ‘swipe right’ — or the people who aren’t satisfied by the amount of sex or pleasure delivered in their encounters with a partner there’s porn and prostitution…

Now; while you might be here not thinking there’s anything inherently wrong with porn or prostitution, and while you might be expecting me to ride some Christian moral high horse at this point — quite apart from the question of sin, which is where they land according to the Bible, there is real harm done to women in both these industries — they aren’t the liberating, empowering, things that the Sex Party claims they are…

Porn rewires your brain and resets your expectations for real world relationships — counsellors and medical professionals have started telling horror stories of teenage girls being pressured into violent sex acts by their porn addicted boyfriends — but it’s worse than that, some research suggests a link between the desensitising effect of pornography when it comes to normal ‘in the flesh’ relationships and both an inability to orgasm in normal sex, or premature orgasm amongst those who use porn for a ‘quick fix’… Porn kills love. It kills sex. It removes any chance of a ‘greater’ end for sex, and turns it into a means to a quick release; where your imagination is reshaped so that your partner is simply the object of your fantasy — typically women are being turned into objects of the ‘male gaze’ — I heard a filmmaker, a woman, talking on the radio the other day about how the ‘male gaze’ in normal movies means women and their desirability are almost always presented on male terms, which means a male standard of beauty and sexuality is presented to our culture — porn takes this and amplifies it in a way that is destructive… To both men and women…

Then there’s the relationship between prostitution and the pornography industry and sex slavery — the women on screen, or in brothels are often trafficked; brought to the west on promises of liberty and prosperity and locked in places by lies and threats, forced to perform sexual acts for meagre financial return, and no love.

When we approach sex from ‘dark hearts’ — hearts curved on ourselves — as an ‘ends’ or for our own pleasure — we hurt others and we hurt ourselves. It’s not just those ‘moral high-horses’ that Christians like to whip so often that makes this case — it’s the #metoo phenomenon that reveals again what men with power do to women with that power, and it’s the staggering rate of sexual abuse on university campuses and in the world beyond the campus… And cultural issues around consent…

Add our darkened hearts around sex to the impact of those same hearts on how power plays out in systems and structures and the interactions of individuals and there’s a real ugliness to how sex is used in our world.

Sometimes one person’s pursuit of Heaven produces an experience like Hell for another person.

You can make the same case, or a similar one, with beer by pointing to alcoholism, alcohol fuelled violence, the effect of binge drinking, drink driving, and the link between excessive alcohol consumption and heart disease — the biggest killer in Australia. There’s, on the flip side, some evidence that moderate drinking actually provides a degree of protection from the heart disease thing — you can have too much of a good thing.

The point is we’re made to love and to pursue life by choosing what to love and if we put sex or beer or pleasure at the centre of our love rather than people or God, then that desire for pleasure warps all our other relationships, and starts to deform our bodies and our experience of life in the world. If I had time I’d argue that putting people in that central spot rather than God produces a similar warping of all our other relationships while loving God ultimately transforms our relationships with others, but that’s another talk… Because what I really want to talk about is how putting beer and sex in their right place transforms our relationship and helps us see the goodness and love of God.

The bright side (created for pleasure)
Sex and the raw ingredients of beer are made by God for our enjoyment — but our rejection of God’s design; and of God’s place in our hearts distorts that good design.

The story of the Bible begins with God telling people to have sex — to ‘be fruitful and multiply’; with his declaration that it isn’t good for us to be alone, and with the creation of marriage. God made us as sexual beings and part of the Christian account for how and why our bodies experience pleasure is to affirm that God wanted sex to be pleasurable.

The first pages of the Bible also have God giving people plants to nourish us, and the instruction to cultivate and create with the good things he made in the world as we reflect his creativity — that’s part of what the Bible means when it says we’re made in the image and likeness of the creator. I’m not sure what better product you can make from the combination of grains and hops, but people have been making beer for a long, long, time.

Christians have been known for being anti-beer and anti-sex — at times we’ve overreacted to some of the bad stuff we’ve just outlined above… And chosen to say no instead of saying yes to these good parts of God’s creation. The Bible warns about loving created things more than we love God — and about the disasters that follow for us when we choose to put those things at the centre of our lives, but it doesn’t say we should reject those created things to avoid loving them too much; it says we should see them as revealing God’s nature — that’s in Roman — and that we should receive them with thanksgiving — we should look through the glasses and see God and the world as it really is, rather than looking at the glasses and seeing them as ‘the main attraction’…

The apostle Paul, who wrote heaps of the New Testament, gets a bad-wrap as a killjoy; but he warned against the sort of people who’d turn up saying we should reject good gifts from God to stay ‘pure’ — he writes to his friend Timothy, and in the same letter that he tells him to “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine”… He talks about this sort of person who he says will:

“… Forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” — 1 Timothy 4:3-4

For the Christian, these good things God made are meant to prompt us to turn to the creator, to love God above the things he has made and see these good things as loving gifts from a creator that we should thank him for… Part of ‘receiving them with thanksgiving’ is receiving them on the terms set out by the creator in his user’s guide — the Bible — you can’t truly receive something with thanksgiving at the same time as flipping off the giver… So the Bible suggests alcohol in moderation will bring pleasure and be good for us, and Jesus even turned water into incredible wine as his first miracle… And it says the best place for the best sex is in a marriage, which it describes as built on unity, mutual service, and love. This is the antidote to making sex all about your own pleasure — for it to be an expression of love… And not just love as some ‘curved back to ourselves’ thing we do for our benefit or advantage, but love defined as ‘self-giving’, the sort of love that puts the pleasure of your spouse above your own pleasure… And that doesn’t just emphasise ‘one off’ moments of bliss, but a lifetime pursuit of togetherness…

Plus… It turns out, that according to a bunch of studies, over the course of life, married people — people who stay married — have much more sex than people who either aren’t married or who leave a marriage. If sex is a taste of heaven, then marriage is the best way to enjoy this part of life.

So that’s point two — God made sex and the ingredients we make beer with — and he wants us to enjoy them in ways that bring us joy not destruction; in ways that lead us to thank him because he is good… And if you want to pursue the goodness of sex and beer this seems from the various observations and bits of anecdata i’ve laid out so far, to be best pursued in something like the way the Bible describes rather than being pursued wholeheartedly — from hearts darkened by self-interest where this pursuit of pleasure comes at the expense of ourselves and those around us.

I can’t imagine anyone seriously trying to argue that excess is better than moderation on the beer front, given the serious social, scientific and medical evidence to the contrary… And I suspect the same is true about stacking up ‘less sex with lots of people’ against ‘lots of sex with a person you love’… As a vision of a ‘satisfying’ or ‘good’ life…

The good life in Jesus 
So here’s the trickier case to make — that beer and sex and the pleasures they deliver are a taste of Heaven; that there’s a reason those stories at the start are stories of heavenly experiences — and that’s that these pleasures aren’t an end in themselves; that they aren’t just things to thank God for or to enjoy on their own terms — that they don’t just point to God’s goodness in themselves — but that they point to something bigger than themselves — that they aren’t just a nice pair of glasses but that they help us see something true and grand…

I want to suggest that those two stories we imagined at the start — that story of intimate, erotic, love — the unity of two people culminating in orgasmic bliss, and that story of a party where the food and drink flow abundantly in ways designed to excite us — these two sensual stories — are actually two pictures the Bible gives us of eternal life with God in the sort of relationship the Bible invites us to enjoy with Jesus… That our fleeting experiences of bliss now aren’t just meant to push us to thanksgiving to God because he is good, but that they are meant to pull us towards this eternal reality; they are meant to leave us breathlessly wanting more… And some of the dark sides of our pursuit of pleasure through beer and sex are the result of these eternal desires being applied to temporary solutions that leave us craving more; things that can’t bear the weight of our longings because these longings are actually created to connect us with God… I want to invite you to make the switch from pursuing satisfaction and ultimate meaning in things that can’t deliver — in sex and beer — and switch to seeking satisfaction in Jesus and seeing sex and beer as good things from a good God best enjoyed on God’s terms…

This might seem abstract — the idea you can replace a concrete reality like your experience of pleasure via your flesh with something abstract like loving and being loved by a God you can’t feel with your senses; but the abstract idea actually changes the ‘concrete’ realities in ways that are better for you, and connects you with something eternal and beyond our limited comprehension. It’s something that works for Christians all over the world, and throughout history. It’s also part of what makes us weird… What makes the world seem ‘weird’ to Christians is the apparent determination to keep looking for satisfaction in temporary things and fleeting moments of bliss if the ‘real thing’ is real…

This might seem like a long bow to draw if it wasn’t for the evidence on how destructive asking sex and beer to bear the weight of our apparently insatiable desires obviously is.. To us as individuals, and to our society… And it’d be ridiculous if we weren’t actually taking the Bible on its own terms.

One way to understand the story of the Bible is to think of it as the story of God pursuing a beautiful lover — the Old Testament is full of language that describes God’s people as his bride; and then as an unfaithful prostitute — it’s the story of God seeking to rescue and redeem his beloved from the clutches of an evil dragon; the stuff our romantic fairy tales are made from — the Bible talks about God’s people as ‘the bride of Jesus’ and about his return as the wedding day; the moment two become one — the moment we are united with Jesus in blissful, eternal, sacrificial love. The barriers down. Shame gone. Pursued by God through the history of the world and brought to that moment where he delights in us as we delight in him. Here’s how the Bible describes this scene, just after the king, Jesus, has defeated the dragon, Satan:

“Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” — Revelation 19:6-8

The coming of ‘heaven’ in the Bible is a wedding between the lamb, Jesus, and his bride, the church. It’s a party where the food and drink are abundant… It’s the culmination of a romance — right from the start of the Bible weddings are about union; about blissfully becoming one.

Our experiences of unity and oneness and bliss in this world are a pointer; an entree; a ‘taste of heaven’ — they’re something not to look at, but to look through towards what heaven is really like.

And here’s the revolutionary part of looking at these temporary pleasures this way — knowing that they are not ultimate, it means that those of us who are captured by this vision, who choose to order our lives and the pursuit of pleasure around the belief that God, as creator, and Jesus as God’s redeeming king, are the source of the ‘good life’ that we should put them first in our hearts, and order the rest of our relationships and experiences around this commitment… Ordering our love this way means we love people and things and pleasures differently; it means a re-prioritising of our approach to beer and sex that might involve us freely choosing to not pursue them because we’re happy to approach them on God’s terms, according to his design, because we’ve taken hold of the idea that there is something better. It frees us to be radically different in a world where so many of the people around us define their lives, in terms of how satisfying they are, based on how much sex — how many orgasms — they’re getting or how drunk they are on the weekend… It frees some Christians who won’t, or don’t marry to not feel like they are less human than others, but instead that they’ve been caught up in a story that will lead to eternal bliss, and in turn that produces a less destructive approach to sex and power and abuse in this world… This may be the story of some people here — and you need to know you’ve grasped hold of the best and most satisfying thing if you’ve grasped hold of Jesus — no finite thing compares to the infinite bliss promised to you if the Christian story is true… Those who take this path are still embodied; still wired for pleasure; still sexual even, but the ‘ends’ of their sexuality is not some limited, fleeting, moment of bliss — or the accumulation of such moments — it’s not a dirty part of us that can only be made ‘pure’ in procreation or abstinence — it’s part of our humanity that is like a homing signal pointing us towards the God who loves us intimately and asks for our faithful love in return… Who promises to satisfy our desires with good things…

This new vision of satisfaction also frees some Christians who observe the damaging effects of alcohol in their own lives or the lives of others to practice abstaining… This might be some of you here, and you need to know that as good as a craft beer is, you’re not missing out on much and there are plenty of sensational sensual alternatives to enjoy…

Christians don’t take these paths because we want to say ‘no’ to a good thing, but in order to demonstrate that we’re saying ‘YES’ to something better. We don’t want to take good things on our own terms in rejection of God because we believe that leads to disaster… both here and now, and for eternity.

Sex and beer are great gifts from God; they point to his goodness as the creator of both our bodies and our ability to experience bliss… Joy… Pleasure…. And they point to the reality that real satisfaction for our desires is not found in ‘created things’ but in the creator, through his love story; his proposal; to us in the life and love of Jesus. The real ‘taste of heaven’ is heaven itself…

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Living Faithfully in the ‘sexular age’ (a talk/panel thing)

A couple of months ago the Presbyterian Church of Queensland met for its AGM, we call it ‘Assembly’, and our committee (The Gospel in Society Today) presented a forum on how the leaders of our churches might process the rapid upheaval in our world around the areas of sex, gender, sexuality and marriage.

I ripped off Stephen McAlpine’s ‘A Sexular Age‘ pun on Charles Taylor’s work to provide what I believe is a framework that is both Biblical and ‘real’ to describe the age we live in and what’s going on in conversations around these topics. We filmed the thing. Here it is. I don’t always blow my own trumpet, but if you want a tight summary of the thinking behind all the stuff I’ve written about sexuality and marriage here on this site, it’s probably 30 minutes of me talking that is almost worth watching… the panel discussion is better because there are more voices and people’s actual questions.

We also launched a website for the committee which you should check out (which has a mailing list you should subscribe to).

“Born this way,” sexual orientation, freedom, and “slavery to the flesh”

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea that the outcomes of my life are determined by my biology – something I have no control over – pretty repulsive. It robs me of my individuality, my identity is chosen for me… who’d want to live like that?

The whole “born this way” juggernaut has been rolling for a while now – championed, most famously, by Lady Gaga and her anthemic Born This Way…

Image Credit: Mashable

I reckon the best bit about Easter Sunday – and the resurrection – is that it kills the idea that “born this way” cuts it when it comes to deciding who we are.

The song isn’t just musically problematic – it’s also both anthropologically problematic and theologically problematic.

The anthropological problems with Born This Way

Let’s take the anthropological issues first – because their solution shows why Christianity is actually one of the most progressive accounts of what it means to be human competing in the intellectual marketplace…

In the Bridge of Gaga’s song, we’re given a comparison between race, gender, and sexuality that many of us take for granted – and each is said to be both innate (something we’re born with), and essential (something that defines part of our essence).

“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.”

Doing what our genes tell us – what our birth gives us as “default” is something that we should apparently embrace without question as “the right track” which will apparently lead to our surviving (especially if we love ourselves).

That’s a level of biological fatalism that I’m uncomfortable with – and I’m the sort of Christian who takes such a high view of God that I sign up for predestination. I’ve got no qualms with agreeing that people are born with a race, a gender identity, a physical gender, and a sexual orientation, and that these are complicated, and that our society should not just accommodate people with whatever biological permutations and inklings the complex biological sequencing that makes humans humans throws up, but see people as people. Equal. Complicated. Messy. Broken. No matter what state we’re born in – choosing “straight” or “gay” or “bi” or anything as a marker of identity, on the basis of biology is, I think, a silly use of labels. Especially the “straight/not-straight” binary – if you’re going to bring a Christian account of humanity and sexuality to the table – we’re all sexually broken. Anyway, I’m drifting into theology…

When it comes to the “born this way” argument, It’s politically useful to keep trotting this line out when you’re fighting for whatever “rights” or “equality” you want to be tied up with something you’re born with. How can we argue with biology, mother nature, God, or whatever entity we choose to ascribe such a choice, and such control to… Gaga gives God the credit..

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

And we’ll get to the theology later.

But what sort of life does this leave you leading? What about one’s capacity to move beyond one’s station – what about liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What if deep down I don’t want my biology.

The whole born this way thing is clearly ridiculous as soon as you throw gender into the mix. If there are two aspects of gender that are biological – anatomy (your bits), and identity (how you are wired to think of yourself) – then which bit wins out? Typically it’s thought to be your identity – because the bits can be chopped and changed. But this is pretty arbitrary… It’s even more clearly ridiculous if we start suggesting that people are born biologically wired to all sorts of behaviours that are socially unpalatable – but that’s where the Bible goes… but again, we’ll get to the theology later…

Anyway. I read this interesting article from a blog called Social (In)queery suggesting maybe, just maybe, the GLBTI community should move beyond the “born this way” trope towards something a little bit more, well, freeing. Something that gives the individual a little more liberty to move away from their unchosen biological tendencies.

“The problem with such statements is that they infuse biological accounts with an obligatory and nearly coercive force, suggesting that anyone who describes homosexual desire as a choice or social construction is playing into the hands of the enemy.”

It’s worth a read. It’s about time people started thinking this way. The idea that we’re slaves to our flesh… err… I mean our “biology” is one of the more depressing outcomes of our modern naturalistic approach to human identity – and it immediately falls foul of what Hume called the “naturalistic fallacy” – he said we can’t say that something is how it ought to be, simply because that’s how it is in its natural state.

Who wants to be stuck being allergic to peanuts if that’s biological and can be fixed. We can’t force everybody to be fixed – that’s an equally dangerous flipside. But denying individuals the opportunity to make decisions about their own lives because we decree they have no choice in the matter because of their biology… Well. That’s an awful form of slavery.

The theological problems with Born This Way

The first theological problem with Gaga’s account of humanity is the idea that because it is “natural” it is something that God says is good.

That’s certainly not true for a Christian understanding of life in the world described by the Bible.

Sure. We were made in God’s image. But that was broken pretty early on. The whole point of the narratives in the Old Testament and God’s repeated use of sexually broken characters, who couldn’t be trusted to keep their sexuality on the straight and narrow (as defined by God at creation – one man, one woman, one flesh), is that all people are broken. That even those who are meant to be most explicitly bearing the image of God can’t. Or won’t. Or don’t. The patriarchs, the priests, the kings – they all stuff up. From Abraham (who pretends his wife is his sister and gives her to Pharaoh), to David, to Solomon… the big characters in the first half of the Bible are clear examples of this.

The OT stuff is relevant because people still want to claim that Paul made up the idea that people were broken, or that God’s image was tainted by what’s called “original sin,” when he wrote Romans. But Romans is completely consistent with every other description of humanity in the Bible. Especially the image of God stuff.

The idea that we have to obey our biology – without choice but with total compliance – is something Paul would describe as slavery. Here’s what he says in Romans 6.

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey.

The best thing about Paul’s account of humanity is that he isn’t claiming to be anything other than a broken human himself. In fact – he claims to be just a normal bloke, a human, who experiences a struggle between two powerful internal forces – the residual bits of being a person made in the image of God, and the bits of him that want to serve his biological desires – his selfish genes – the genes that tell him that the way to be truly happy is to “love himself” because he is “born this way”… that’s slavery. Paul doesn’t want to be a slave to his nature (which he says is “sinful” – which he means leads him to do things that aren’t consistent with bearing the image of God)… but he can’t help it. Here’s what he says in Romans 7.

“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me

Paul is saying exactly what we should all be saying – the idea that we must conform to our biology to be truly happy is a limiting prison that defines our lives, rather than frees us.

We’re faced with two choices – when it comes to our anthropology – as humans. We can conform. Or transform.

We can be slaves to our broken nature – or even just to our biology if we want to reject the idea that our nature could possibly be broken. Whichever way you cut it – this is a form of slavery. Not liberty. If who you are is determined for you, not by you, and you have no choice, that’s awful.

Or we can try to transform ourselves in a positive direction – this might mean taking the path suggested towards biology-free sexual enlightenment described in the link above, or it might mean, if we’re like Paul, looking for some sort of rescue.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This is where Christianity is truly progressive. 

If the resurrection that will be celebrated all over the world tomorrow really happened. In history. If Jesus really is “Lord” – if he calls people everywhere to turn to him for their identity – which is the scope of his claims over people, if he is God, and became man, and died and was raised… If these things are true then the implications for every aspect of our lives – not just our sexuality, not even just our biology – are huge.

And we have a choice. It’s not forced on us – this reality being forced on people would bring the same lack of liberty that being forced to conform to your biological reality would bring. But it’s a choice about who to serve, and where to draw value and fulfilment from – flesh, nature, biology… or Jesus.

Paul might step out of the frying pan of slavery into the fire – but at least he’s making a choice. He says following Jesus is just another form of slavery (to righteousness, not the flesh), but a slavery of your choosing, a voluntary slavery, is, in his mind at least, superior to a slavery you can’t choose.

The delivery Jesus offers – the transformation Paul says he offers – is a stunning account of what it means to be human. To be free from biological obligation. To be free of slavery to things beyond your control. To find your value in something outside of yourself. To find your identity based on choice, not just biological complicity. And to have the image of God not just restored in your life – but renovated. Here’s how Paul opens chapter 8…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

He starts fleshing out the anthropological and identity implications of this freedom. It changes what it means to be human.

How we think…

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Our future prospects…

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Our identity – we’re not slaves, but loved children…

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Christianity offers a more compelling and progressive vision of what it means to be human because it’s not about conforming to something you can’t choose – that was chosen by the random intersection somewhere in space and time, of two people who carry the biological data that made you, who bring all sorts of genetic baggage, and leave you as a person made in their image – forced to embrace your biology… it’s about being transformed, voluntarily, into the image of the person space and time was created to host – Jesus – and becoming a loved child of God – a God who knew you, planned you, and loved you, before your biology started kicking into gear.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

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Making “headlines” today

I’m reconsidering the Sydney Morning Herald’s place as my news source of choice. What do other people use?

The writing is as good as ever – there is no political commentator as astute as Annabel Crabb, and few sports correspondents can match it with the likes of Peter Roebuck and Will Swanton.

But when your banner of featured stories looks like this you’ve well and truly jumped the “sex sells” shark…