Someone finally pointed the finger of sin at me.

It came from a casual friend from my old church, who had recently caught wind of Tino's and my engagement. He emailed his grave disapproval for our choice to marry and offered an earnest appeal for me to come to my senses. In a subsequent exchange, he accused me of "sin creep" (my term, not his) by likening my faith to a frog in a pot of heating water. I have been changing my theology by degree, he asserted, so gradually that I can't see how I am warping my faith to serve my own desires and not God's. Whew.

This isn't a post about how I responded or all of my sassy retorts (there were many; none were sent). It isn't even about trying to change someone's mind. Rather, it got me thinking about how I can remain a Christian who is open to God's correction while still standing confident in the beliefs I've developed about God and the nature of His love.

I'm someone who wants to be endlessly correctable by God. It's how we change. It's how we grow. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and social activist, once wrote, "If the you of five years ago doesn't consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually." I see truth in that claim. If our fists grasp too tightly to what we think we know about the Bible and the nature of God, our hands will be too full to hold any revelations God may have for us.

For me, God speaks revelatory truth most often through other people, rather than through prayer or Bible study. Consequently, I've tried to cultivate an ear that is open to receiving the words others have for me, even when my natural response is to disregard them. I don't believe everything someone offers me, but I try to make space in my heart to listen to people without dismissing them.

IF OUR FISTS GRASP TOO TIGHTLY TO WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW ABOUT THE BIBLE AND THE NATURE OF GOD, OUR HANDS WILL BE TOO FULL TO HOLD ANY REVELATIONS GOD MAY HAVE FOR US.

So what do I do when a friend calls me a sinner? Do I have a responsibility to listen? Could it be God speaking truth to me through someone else? How do I navigate these questions now, rather than after I'm married, when the stakes are so much higher? The answer, I think, lies in discerning both the message and the messenger.

The problem with my casual friend as messenger is that we don't have any real relationship. He admitted as much. He's a sweet guy and a true lover of Jesus, but we were never close enough to speak meaningfully into each other's lives. He hasn't gotten to know Tino, and has never spent time with us to see the fruit borne of our relationship. So, when he wrote me with his scripture-spattered disapproval, my heart had little generosity to listen. I didn't trust what he had to say, and I was suspicious that his motives were less out of genuine love for me, and more out of a sense of duty to convey truth as he understands it. In short, the messenger was wrong.

I've heard similar reservations about my relationship with Tino from much closer friends, and my heart has been far more attuned to their concerns. The difference is that I trusted their words as being spoken with love and a desire to understand, and not with the hubris of righteousness. These friends loved me first, and only then offered their concerns. The lesson for all of us is this: Your authority to speak into someone's life is directly proportional to your investment in the relationship.

What about the message itself? The thing is, I've wrestled with the issue of homosexuality for 20 years now—through agonizing therapy, amazing books, thoughtful discussion, Bible study and prayer. I doubt the friend who wrote me has been so diligent about this issue. So when he asserted my wrongness with so much confidence, it felt to me like an insolent kindergartener criticizing a Ph.D's solution to a calculus problem. The message he was delivering to me is one I'm all too well acquainted with. I've been ruminating on this problem for years, whereas he just opened up to the answers in a book and pointed to them. But the Bible isn't an answer key. 

Remaining open to God's correction does not mean revisiting a difficult decision every time someone raises questions about it. I've worked through this long and complex problem many times now, and I'm satisfied with the answers God has given me. Trying to solve it over and over again is not only futile but destructive. As my wedding approaches, I'm beginning to understand how crucial it is for me to solidify my opinions on the nature of homosexuality once and for all. It won't serve our marriage if, year after year, I continue to question its spiritual validity. 

Some decisions we face in life are like facing a rope bridge across a chasm. You can argue for days with someone about whether it is structurally sound, but at some point you have to choose whether or not you're going to cross it. And if you do, once you're on that bridge, it doesn't serve you to turn around to the person standing on solid ground and argue whether the bridge will hold. You've made your choice. You're on that journey. And your focus should not be on whether the bridge will hold, but on your faith in God to see you safely across.

 

David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland. Follow us on Twitter: @daveandtino

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