Sometimes being a dad is really hard. It’s rewarding, but tough. It’s tough because you realize early on that real love means you sometimes have to do things that you know won’t seem loving to your kids at the time. But, of course, if kids were able to define what fatherly love looks like then I suppose there’d be no groundings, no spankings, and no lectures; just ice cream, cake and sodas, and affirming nods and pats on the back. Fortunately, kids don’t get to define ‘love,’ and so we dads (and moms) get to try our best not to raise malnourished, bratty, self-centered human beings.
Of course, what’s true with children in this case is true with all of us. We don’t get to define ‘love.’ God, who is love (1 John 4:1), has both shown us and told us what love looks like. What’s more, God has shown us and told us what is true. This means that that if we are to genuinely love one another, we have measure ourselves by his standards of love and truth.
When we allow any tradition or feeling or experience to trump the truth of God’s Word, we will most often begin to bend and twist our conception of ‘love’ to fit those things until we find that the ‘love’ we show to others lies in direct contradiction to the Bible’s teaching.
I came across a glaring example of this sort of thing in an article I read this week by Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. In it he describes how he changed his position on gay marriage after learning that his son is gay:
At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.
I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.
Portman says that his opposition to gay marriage was rooted in his “faith tradition.” However, learning of his son’s sexual orientation caused him to “consider the issue from another perspective,” namely, that of a father. If by “faith tradition” we assume that he means the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, then it becomes clear that Senator Portman has elevated his experience (having a gay son) and his personal desires above the Bible.
That is in fact what has happened, but the picture is clouded by Portman’s insistence that his decision “come down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” In other words, having redefined ‘love’ in a way that precludes the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, he is now using this definition of ‘love’ to interpret the Bible so that he can claim the support of the Scriptures.
There are two glaring problems with Portman’s interpretation of Scripture, however. First, the Bible does not teach that we are all children of God. We are all created in the image of God, but we only become his children by adoption into his family. That only happens through faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that God has, “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4). Only those who have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation can claim to be God’s children. John writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). The notion that all human beings are God’s children comes not from Scripture, but from good old theological liberalism.
But that’s not the biggest problem for Portman’s interpretation of the Bible. The bigger problem is his outright rejection of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality in the name of love. If God is love, and God condemns certain behaviors as sinful, then his assessment of those behaviors is a loving assessment. We cannot force God, or his Word, to fit into our mold, whether derived from our experiences, our feelings, or our traditions. All those things must be shaped and molded to fit with the Scriptures.
No truly good and loving father would affirm his child’s desire for cake and soda by putting him or her on an all-sugar diet. If your child were strangely drawn to venomous serpents, you wouldn’t affirm her desire in the name of love. You would tell her of the danger and plead with her to stay away from them. The Bible calls this “speaking the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15).
Regardless of your political affiliation, or your feelings about the legal status of ‘gay marriage,’ do not make the mistake of setting Scripture beneath your own experiences and feelings. You do not love others when you affirm them in their sin. And you do not love God when you subject his Word to your own judgment.