Almost everyone has heard the pious Christian phrase derived from the great Saint Augustine: “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”. I think there is much to be said for this statement, but there is no doubt that it does not pack the punch that it used to: some of those Christians hope to help with such a phrase simply roll their eyes or sneer when they hear it.
Well, I want to suggest that its meaning goes far deeper than many Christians often think it does. Please let me explain exactly what I mean.
First of all, it is important to clear up some misconceptions about Jesus’ love for those He calls “the lost” in general. There is no doubt that as one reads the Gospels, one is taken with how Jesus seems drawn to the underprivileged, the weak, the poor, the excluded, the marginalized, those “no one speaks for”…. and those whose lives are in disarray, messed up, confused… And yet, citing Jesus’ words “judge not lest you be judged” persons today wildly misunderstand what He means. More sophisticated liberal theologians seem to have a bit stronger argument: pointing out that Jesus’ eating with sinners was not just like having a meal in a restaurant, but was a serious act of fellowship, indicating solidarity – and this is why He got in so much trouble with the religious leaders.
The difference, of course, is that when Jesus ate with these sinners, they were well aware that he did not approve of their wrongful behavior, and in fact had called them to repent over it. Context here is important: the Pharisees, as the pillars of society, were not hated by the people, but generally respected. People wanted to be accepted and acknowledged by them, and for those who were “too far gone”, they were left out in the cold and had little hope of catching any sort of gentleness or affection from the “non-70×7” Pharisees. It is not that Jesus comes in and fights against persons that most saw as oppressors, but that He is even more desirable than they were.
From a more worldly perspective, we can even say that He, operating deftly according to both truth and love, “out-alpha-males” the Pharisees – and, from a more spiritual perspective, this not in spite of but because of His utter humility and simplicity.
With that out to the way, we can attempt to get much deeper. It is good and right that we would at times reflect on Jesus’ attention for the marginalized, and in my life, this has, in part, meant trying to better understand what many persons in homosexual or transgendered lifestyles have gone through.
I have heard Jonathan Rauch talk in some detail about how difficult it was for him growing up as a young man with homosexual inclinations – and the “happy ending” of his marriage to his partner. I must admit that his story, which you can hear him talk about here, affected me powerfully. Further, the other day, someone indirectly made me aware of the “trans activist” Janet Mock – formerly identified as male – and her (“preferred pronoun”) new autobiography: Reinventing Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
To be blunt: very powerful stories these folks tell. One is immediately drawn into their lives, and empathy is certainly aroused by the narratives they unfold – and I myself feel some real affection for each of them (here I should say I think their stories are best heard by Christians mature in their own faith*). Again, both Rauch and Mock are highly compelling in their words. At the very least, one is hard pressed to deny that it is a good thing that they are as honest as they are about the things and feelings that they have experienced in their lives.
But. Yes, the dreaded “but”.
But I can’t go where they go. Certainly, as a Christian, I feel tethered to a higher story, and one that – I can’t but conclude – has something to say regarding stories such as these.
In sum, these stories must be connected to the stories of every other human being, and if I believe that there is nothing further to add to Rauch’s account, I can no longer insist that it is always a tragedy for a child to be without a father or a mother. And, as a father of five, I most definitely believe that to be the case: we all come from a man and a woman, and why would we ever think that it is right to celebrate unions that say, in effect, that either fatherhood or motherhood do not matter? (if you don’t think that is intuitive or obvious at all, please note this more empirically-based approach).
No. Some forms of “discrimination” (think of that word in its broader sense) are good.
Further, if I believe that there is nothing to add to Mock’s account, I cannot but affirm that it is always a tragedy – not an intentionally evil act of course – when some naïve parent, doctor, or midwife, cries out in excitement: “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!”. Not necessarily true, Janet Mock says. Ultimately, we should assume that what scientists refer to as “phenotype” and “genotype” are not to be used to help define us in any sense at all. In effect, being joyful that one has birthed not just a child, but a boy or a girl, ends up being an act of violence against persons like herself.**
Kind of like the original sin. The original sin of those who are cis, as Mock, along with the transgendered community, prefers to call non-trans persons.
So what would I add here, on the basis of the Scriptures themselves? I would say this: Christians believe that all men and women are, by nature, both victims and victimizers. And we sin and we are sinned against. Here, to explain the problems and puzzles of the world which so vex all of us, we look back to the story of our first parents, when they listened to the serpent, sinning against God and throwing the whole of God’s good creation into chaos with their evil act. They realized they were naked, fled from God, and passed on their disease to their offspring. The world was different.
That is true for all of us. Even those who have been rescued from sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection still have this infection of sin raging in their bodies and souls. Though believers can now really fight against it in faith, we still must face the fact that our sin kills and will kill us – even Christians must physically die, as this is inevitably tied up with what the Scriptures call the “wages of sin”.
I have a friend by the name of Scott Dehn who was born with the condition of cerebral palsy. Though a highly intelligent and gifted man, he has to bear this cross which affects him negatively in so many ways. This man is also a fine Christian theologian, and he proposes that his physical body is a sign to all of us of the brokenness of humanity caused by the deeper spiritual disease of original sin (read more from Scott here). While we are all affected by this, some of us are more susceptible – perhaps even by our original nature alone – to certain temptations than others. And some of us, it appears, bear in our bodies in more extraordinary ways (and even feelings) the brokenness that is caused by sin. The terrible effects of sin simply manifest themselves in different ways in each one of us – resulting in certain dispositions (or predispositions), disorderedness, and disabilities (physical and mental).
So we love the sinner (which is all of us) but hate not only the actual sins but the horrible effects of original sin, mourning with those who mourn the brokenness of the world (see here for a vivid reminder of Romans 8:22-23).
At this point, I have some practical thoughts to go along with all of this – along with what I hope you will find to be some strong words of hope.
I remember hearing a father say to his son: “I love all of you – but I have to admit my feelings for your brother are stronger”. Why, according to him, was this the case? Because of all of his offspring, he felt that his son’s brother needed his love even more.
Now, I should not be misunderstood as saying that what we believe does not matter – because we are all God’s offspring (see Acts 17). This would be to do violence to what the Scriptures say. Even if God’s love for a particular child were stronger, and not just different, that does not necessarily mean that child is in a “state of grace” or will be in heaven. We can certainly reject the love of a God we imagine to be otherwise – to in effect, tell the real God that we do not think that we need his “forgiveness” for this or that thing He would categorize “sin”.
And that, of course, is the greatest tragedy of them all – on top of the tragedy of Adam and Eve’s sin.
Christians believe that all human beings – without exception – are meant to be ultimately found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. They are made to be in union with Him, to be one of the many that is called the church, or the Bride of Christ. These are the ones who do not look for their worth and identity in themselves – the men and women they make themselves to be – but rather find it in Him.
They are sinners who commit real sins – but when they become aware of their transgressions, they are to know they have a Savior who not only forgives them 70 x 7, but continues to tell them, amidst all of their failures and evils, that they really do – perhaps against all appearances – have life abundantly with Him.
And an important thing to add: this world is not all there is. It is passing away, and groaning as in the pains of childbirth to be made completely new. Those who struggle with the brokenness of the world – and especially their own brokenness – can know with certainty that our best life is not now – but is yet to come.
Abundantly so – when we see Him face to face, and know Him as even now we are fully known – and loved.
P.S. – And starting today, I am beginning to “Tweet” my posts. As of now, I do not plan on doing much else on Twitter other than following a few people and sending those who follow me to the articles I write. If you would like to start following me, you can do so by going here.
*This article from Joe Dallas about “the Transsexual Dilemma”, is a good item for Christians to be familiar with. This kind of non-theological approach is also a good one to be familiar with. And this powerful personal account as well.
**In other words, you are not recognizing any sort of reality, but are assigning a “social construct” to the child. Mock writes:
“….People assume that I was in the closet because I didn’t disclose that I was assigned male at birth
What people are really asking is “Why didn’t you correct people when the perceived you as a real woman?” Frankly, I’m not responsible for other people’s perceptions and what they consider real or fake. We must abolish the entitlement that deludes us into believing that we have the right to make assumptions about people’s identities and project those assumptions onto their genders and bodies.” (p. 257, bold mine)
Earlier in the book, Mock tells us an experience she had of a potential romantic interest rejecting her upon discovering her past, and I find the last part of her response to be puzzling:
“I can’t believe this,” he said, not so much to me but himself. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Because you’d look at me the way you’re looking at me now, like some creature from a faraway land, void of human feeling”, I wanted to say. I could hear his disgust in his tone, see it in his expression. I was no longer an attractive woman he was eager to see again; he perceived me as something artificial. To Adrian, I was this inauthentic woman trying to deceive him, possibly with the intention to get him into bed. In our patriarchal culture that values masculinity over femininity, my disclosure shook Adrian, challenging his heteronormative and cis-normative ideals.” (p. 160, bold mine)
Mock speaks of rejections like this being connected with valuing masculinity over femininity at least a couple other times in the book, and each time I read this, I was a bit dumbfounded. I don’t really understand what Mock means here – as a man I simply get disturbed and queasy when I think about having sex with men (I often get the impression that, for Mock, anyone who might want to know, for example, about the gender a person was assigned at birth – regardless of why they might be asking – does so from a “space of entitlement”), and since I think the bodies we are originally given matter (see the discussion in I Cor. 15, for example), I can’t think of her as a anything but a man (even though I try to show respect for Mock by saying “her”), regardless of what she feels of even looks like. I disagree when she says “It’s not OK to say that I was born a man”.
In any case, I would love to have a meal with Mrs. Mock or Mr. Rauch. I do want to rejoice in their humanity – to “see them”. As I know my Lord does.