Late that summer before we began our senior years of high school, I asked B if she wanted to have sex for real. “I think you already know the answer to that,” she said. Actually, I didn’t. That’s why I asked. But I took her evasion for a negative answer. When I asked C to the first football game of the season, I imagine that B felt rejected for her refusal. But I had been biding my time all summer, waiting for the seniors who buzzed around C to leave for college. I didn’t have the connection with B, that sense of loyalty and commitment, I had experienced with A.
A week or so after that football game C and I had sex for real for the first time, for both of us. Everything began to change for me. I didn’t think so concretely at the time, but if someone had tried to communicate the fruit of the Spirit to me then, I would have argued that sex with C was my source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and, after I failed to inaugurate my water brothers scheme, faithfulness and self-control. I had my parents’ example.
They could barely tolerate one another. I might have suspected, since I existed, that sex lacked the staying power I thought, and hoped for, at the time. I reasoned instead that my parents didn’t do it right, and suspected that their religion inhibited and prohibited them from doing it right. Now, I believe that the forbidden fruit was a forbidden fruit, that Adam enjoyed a blessed wedding night and a wonderful afterglow that first Sabbath with his beautiful naked wife (Proverbs 5:18, 19 NET).
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your young wife –a loving doe, a graceful deer; may her breasts satisfy you at all times, may you be captivated by her love always.
But at seventeen it was all too easy to assume that forbidden fruit was a religious euphemism for sex. I didn’t recognize that new-found faithfulness and self-control as something alien to me, as something quite contrary to my own will in fact. I assumed that I had changed my mind. It was My love for C, after all, that filled me with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, even faithfulness and self-control. Isn’t that what we mean and expect of someone who loves us? He/She is filled with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and even self-control (as it pertains to another) in our presence? And aches for the want of these things in our absence?
It wasn’t long before C and I discovered a mutual attraction for spanking and whipping (though I had more affinity for dominant-submissive role-play than she did). It became a routine part of our foreplay. Yes, I was spanked as a child. No, she was not. But I’m not interested in psychological explanations. What interests me is the wrath of God…revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.
Clearly, I did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but [I] became futile in [my] thoughts and [my] senseless [heart was] darkened. Although [I] claimed to be wise, [I] became [a fool] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings…
I didn’t know that Jesus was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. I didn’t know that Jesus was fully God. I had wondered about John’s mysterious Word, thrilled to the sound of the words that sang its praises, but hadn’t connected that Word with Jesus.
Jesus was the Son of God, less than God by definition, I thought. I believed in Jesus as a child but later (about twelve or thirteen) I put childish things away and prayed to God the Father, the true God, instead. Jesus was the bait; God the Father was the switch. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, sounded wonderful in the sales pitch. When I learned that faith wasn’t enough, that I had to live as a child of God, the deal changed dramatically: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. And Jesus being found in fashion as a man, was the image of the good son: he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. But at the critical moment when Jesus was most obedient to God the Father’s will, God the Father abandoned Him because, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity… Or, as another story goes, rather than abandoning Jesus on the cross God the Father hurled even more secret punishments at Him, because his death alone was not sufficient to atone for sins.
I feel bad about the previous paragraph, and can’t continue without correcting it. Though the Scriptures are true, my tone was all off. The surprise when Jesus appeared on earth as a man born of a virgin was not that Yahweh had a Son, but that He had a Father: Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” For this is the way God [the Father] loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He gave Him in the garden of Eden, and in the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai, and at Bethlehem and on Golgotha. No one [not Adam, not Eve, not Moses] has ever seen God [the Father]. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God [the Father] known.
When Philip said to Jesus, Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content, Jesus said: Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. To imagine secret punishments (and one must imagine them since they are not revealed in Scripture) which God the Father hurled at Jesus on the cross, is to misunderstand his salvation (Colossians 1:13-20 NET):
He [God the Father] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. For God [the Father] was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
The reason Jesus’ death on a cross makes any peace or atonement is that God the Father is pleased to accept it as such. Human attempts to rationalize his salvation are rationalizations by definition. And in context Habakkuk had whined that Yahweh/Son/Jesus was too longsuffering (Habakkuk 1:13 NET):
You are too just to tolerate evil; you are unable to condone wrongdoing. So why do you put up with such treacherous people? Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are?
The point here is that He was putting up with such treacherous people. It is not particularly prudent then to turn it around and use poetic language—Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity—to make a rule forbidding God the Father from drawing near to, or compelling Him to turn away from, God the Son at the moment He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God, when Scripture states otherwise (Psalm 22:21b-24 NET):
You have answered me! I will declare your name to my countrymen! In the middle of the assembly I will praise you! You loyal followers of the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! All you descendants of Israel, stand in awe of him! For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed; he did not ignore him; when he cried out to him, he responded.
This is the very Psalm Jesus quoted from the cross, when he cried out in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22 is a heartrendingly accurate prophecy of the death of Yahweh the Son of God from his own point of view. Whether one believes that it was a psalm of David or not, it was clearly part of the Scripture translated into Greek in the Septuagint a couple of centuries before Jesus died in Jerusalem. It is fitting that He, who lived by every word that comes from the mouth of God, died with that word in his heart and mind as well.
But even years later after I returned to faith, I strove with every Zen particle of my being to let patience have her perfect work, that [I] may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. When I read my sister’s annotated Shakespeare and realized for the first time that, “Wherefore art thou Romeo,” means, “why is your name Montague,” I got my first Bible translated in my own tongue. I was shocked to learn that wanting nothing meant lacking in nothing (James 1:4 NASB):
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The King James translation had made sense to me. Nothing angered my father more than my wanting something from him. I assumed that God the Father was the same. Wanting nothing was difficult but possible to achieve, I thought. But lacking in nothing? How could I achieve that through some form of meditation or patience or endurance? It was crazy stuff.
I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I didn’t believe it at first. I thought it was some evil introduced into a modern translation. So I checked the Bible, you know, the King James version: I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee:
In my mind to carry out fierce anger was the essence of God the Father, the Lord Jehovah. How could He turn it around and blame it on man? How did He dare try to distinguish God, the Holy One among you, from man with a statement like, I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again? It was nuts.
So, I was guilty. I had a man-made image of God in my mind, one much more like a man—my father—than like God revealed in Scripture. And I endeavored to worship that image, even after I prayed, if You are there I want to know You. Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. I have connected this to, Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body” – but the immoral person sins against his own body. So, I have considered unfaithfulness to a spouse to be the impurity to which God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to dishonor their bodies among themselves.
In an absolute sense taking up with C may have been a matter of infidelity to B or A, but in dynamic terms I was returning to a belief in faithfulness to one woman. Now, I credit that to the Holy Spirit trying mightily to get through to me. At the time I thought it was my doing. After C and before my first wife (or, second, depending on your willingness to receive the law) there were other women, not enough to brag about, just enough to be ashamed of. Two of those women were married. The first was separated from her husband. The second was living with her husband, but I was beyond caring. If this was God’s wrath revealed from heaven I can easily attest to its justice, for I recall it as a time of profound loneliness, a loneliness I have not experienced since though I have mostly been alone (without a wife).
I’ll pick this up again in the next essay.