Earlier in his book Love into Light, Peter Hubbard talked about change. There he talked about unrealistic expectations for change. Change is an internal thing.
Discussion of change for a homosexual (as well as for any sexually immoral person, like addicts) eventually gets to the issues of celibacy and marriage. How you understand yourself if important to this discussion. If you view yourself as the world labels you (“homosexual”, “pervert” “misfit” or “dirty”) you will live out that reality. If you view yourself as God views you if you are in Christ (beloved, holy, son) you will begin to live out of this new reality. No, not perfectly. It is a progress. But God’s labels for those in Christ provide something of the goal.
He notes that we struggle with this notion of an “assigned” life or label. Deep down most of us suspect that God doesn’t have our best in mind. Deep down we think that we know the path to a fulfilling life better than God does. We forget that this is what got us in the deep hole we were in in the first place.
Additionally, Matthew Vines, he notes, talks about how homosexuals often feel left out as their friends marry and have kids. This is not something particular to homosexuals. I didn’t get married until I was 36, and a father until 39. I saw so many friends get married and have kids. I felt left out, forgotten and as if it would never happen to me. That’s the funny thing about sin, it deceives us into thinking we are the only one who feels this way. We don’t realize that others who don’t share our reasons also feel the same kinds of things. Marrying late wasn’t really MY choice. I wanted to get married, but experienced that frustrating reality that the people I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. And the people who wanted to marry me were not ones I wanted to marry.
I, like many in my state, wondered “what if God is calling me to be single, forever?” It seemed a fate worse than death at times. I wasn’t struggling with SSA. This is a human problem, not merely a SSA problem. My wife and I have many older friends who have never been married.
There are a number of people in the Bible who were never married or were widowed and remained single and alone with no outlet for their sexual desire. Jesus is pretty prominent there. As fully (hu)man, He would have experienced sexual desire. He would have found particular people attractive. But he never acted upon such desire. He mission trumped all those internal feelings and desires, such that His food was to do the will of His Father.
We also see Paul (probably widowed since he was a Pharisee of Pharisees). Paul was a sinner, like the rest of us. Paul lived in a culture with few if any sexual boundaries. There was temptation without and within. Surely there was loneliness and frustration. As the head of her household, Lydia was single or widowed as well. As that head of household, there would have been slaves or servants she could use to satisfy her sexual desires, as was common. But every indication is that she lived a faithful, obedient life that flowed out of her faith and love for Christ.
Hubbard reminds us of post-conversion Augustine, as well as men like John Stott. What Matthew Vines wants us to think is that homosexuals are different from all these people and can’t live celibate, meaningful lives unless they are able to fully express their sexual desires. These people were not losers hiding in caves who are shunned by society. They were ordinary people used greatly by God who happened to not be married.
Many in our culture want people to develop self-control. Just not in the realm of sex. Many in our culture invite us to sacrifice (don’t eat meat, reduce your carbon footprint, feed the starving….) but say we can’t abandon our sexual desires- they must be fulfilled.
As an anonymous friend wrote to a struggling Wesley Hill, “I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule.” But since we as sinners are curved inward we think we are different; that no one else feels this way, this frustration. We think we suffer alone.
“Merging two sinful hearts into one is not logical or safe.”
The idea is that celibacy is a call to suffering but marriage isn’t. Such people have not been married. There is plenty of suffering in marriage as our desires regarding sex, money, time and more clash with those of our spouse. As a Christian, I have a realistic understanding of marriage. It is intended for our happiness in holiness. The holiness has to happen, and that means that in the short run there may not been an abundance of happiness. God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness. This means marriage will be difficult at times.
“Marriage is the operation by which a woman’s vanity and a man’s egotism are extracted without anesthetic.’ Helen Rowland
Both states are full of frustration and loneliness. That loneliness can be more profound in marriage when you share a bed but seem millions of miles away. As a result we must realize that God’s call for us, whether to marriage or celibacy, is not easy but is intended for something much greater than itself. It is part of how we change.
“The dream of marriage and celibacy must die before the reality can live. If we refuse to let the dream die, we will pull away from the call to pick up our cross daily.”
In other words, as long as we cling to the romantic, fantasy version of marriage and celibacy, we will grow in our frustration and bitterness. As long we we think they are for our personal satisfaction and the meeting of all our needs, we have refused to let the dream die. We are still viewing them as a functional savior, to deliver us from our loneliness, sexual frustration, financial insecurity and everything else we erroneously think marriage or celibacy will help us experience.
Many heterosexuals have remained celibate for the kingdom. As Marva Dawn notes, is it therefore too great a thing to ask of repentant homosexuals? We often forget that the sufficiency of grace is discovered when we are weak, broken and hopeless apart from Christ.
All Christians, homosexual or heterosexual, are called to either celibacy or marriage (as the Scriptures define them, between people of the opposite sex). This means we will have to move toward a more biblical understanding of suffering and sacrifice. Some who have SSA will be led to remain celibate, others to marry.
Marriage need not necessitate the end of all SSA. Many have had good marriages while still experiencing SSA. The key is that your spouse knows about this temptation. Intimacy will be more about friendship, but many enjoy a healthy sex life and have kids. They learn to make it work, just like other couples who suffer from sexual dysfunction. Married sex is not like a porn film: there are moments are great pleasure, but also moments of great frustration.
Celibacy is more than just abstinence. It is also about service. Someone who isn’t married has greater freedom to serve. Two of those friends of ours are overseas serving Christ. One works with orphans in Panama. One lives in Europe coordinating Bible translation teams. Two other friends work for a parachurch ministry. The time they might have spent nurturing children has been spent nurturing younger Christians. We are to serve Christ in our present condition with all its opportunities and limitations.
Hubbard lays out celibacy as a life marked by mercy (God makes you full partakers of grace, equal in status), loyalty undivided, community, simplicity, and knowing the sufficiency of Christ. Churches need to talk about this more as people remain single later in life.
In terms of marriage, it is more than living with a soul mate. In a Newsweek article on marriage, it was noted “Rather than pursuing life-long monogamy, young people are seeking a soul mate, someone who offers head-over-heels fulfillment.” Don’t these young people realize this has been the goal in much of the Western world for the last few centuries. This is nothing new. What is new is the escalating rates of divorce because people realize that “head-over-heels” thing doesn’t last. Serial monogamy is really a lifetime of selfishness, disappointment and ruined lives. It takes the sanctification out of marriage because you don’t work thru anything, you just move on leaving relational wreckage in your wake.
Marriage is good because it reveals something of the nature of the Trinity. There is unity in diversity, as in the Trinity. God is one: unity. But God is 3 in person: diversity. The Godhead delights in each other, reveling in their united purposes as well as diverse roles.
Marriage also images the relationship between Christ and the church. It is marked by self-sacrifice, nurture and holiness.
Marriage is more than two people in a legal contract who have sex with one another. It is also a mysterious union that points us to even greater mysterious unions. This is why marriage shouldn’t be despised even though it is hard. Both marriage and celibacy are honorable estates. They can both be enjoyed and experienced for the glory of God. They are both under the providence of God, and not under our control.