A friend called me recently very upset. He recounted how he was texting with an old friend in a different state, and she asked him if he had a significant other yet. When he replied no, her next text read, “I know you’re gay. I accept you and just want you to be happy.”
He knew she was trying to be affirming, but he didn’t feel affirmed. “Josh,” he said, “I wanted to write her back and say, ‘As far as what I am, I am a Christian and I am a man, and that is more than sufficient to describe me, thank you.”
Why did her words upset him so much? Was it insecurity? Fear of exposure? Internalized homophobia? I know this man well, and I believe he was upset because he was in the midst of an attempted coup.
From the beginning, humanity has sought to define itself. The serpent wanted this for us and Adam and Eve led the way when they listened to the serpent and sought to become something more than they were by eating the fruit God commanded them not to eat.
To be clear, it wasn’t their desire for a significant identity that was the problem, it was that they sought for it, as St. Maximus the Confessor described it, “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.”
I think one subtle expression of this search for identity today is expressed in how we’ve come to talk about gender and sexual orientation. We add letter after letter and gender after gender to bring definition to who we are.
This isn’t all bad, to be sure. We want to be understood. We want a place that fits. We want to be free. We want to be seen. We want to love and to be loved. All these are good longings. All these are longings God has placed within us. This is important for the church to remember, especially on behalf of those who have been marginalized.
The longings are not the problem. The problem comes as we try to satisfy our longing for true identity “without God, before God, [or discordant] with God.” As we do this, we engage in a form of rebellion against our condition as creatures and not Creator, as those given an identity and not forming our own.
When we know the character and kindness of our Creator, this is very good news. He is a good and generous King who, in fact, shares Himself with us even to the degree that our identity bears His incredible likeness.
Jesus steps into the path of our searching self-definitions and speaks His goodness over us. He gives us a new name (Isaiah 62:2, John 1:42, Rev. 2:17), and when our rebellion led to trying to usurp His reign, mocking His identity as we did, He took our rebellion to death with Himself and gave us a new identity (John 1:12, 2 Cor. 5:17, Col. 3:1-3, 1 Peter 2:9, 1 John 3:2).
My friend who called me has tasted of the good identity God has given him, and he’s tasted what it is to be seen by others as that man.
So even while he’s experienced same-sex attractions for several decades, when his old friend called him by another identity, it felt like words from the ancient foe still bent on coup. My friend was unsettled, shaken, and so he reached out for help and for prayer. It’s difficult to thwart a coup on your own.
As we prayed, God faithfully affirmed my friend’s good and noble identity as a man and a man of God at that. In Jesus’ name, this brother took shelter in the true King and His Word over his life. He chose to entrust Himself once again to the identity given him by God.
Question: What helps you draw your identity from Christ, even in the midst of your feelings, attractions, and experiences?