In pursuit of happiness

I believe that God gave us the gift of sexuality so that we might express with our bodies the love that’s in our hearts. I just need to tell you that I experience that with my partner. —Gene Robinson, newly elected Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, on the spiritual meaning of a homosexual relationship.

The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment. —Malcolm Muggeridge, noted British journalist.

Gene Robinson was not a happy man. He was a married heterosexual with two children and a secret: He was sexually attracted to other men. The more he tried to suppress his appetites, the more miserable he felt.

Human emotions can be messy. The heart bays like a bloodhound on the scent of a raccoon, and it won’t give up until it has treed its quarry. Most of us experience sexual temptations, and at some point we may find ourselves posing dangerous questions. Don’t I deserve a little happiness? What could be the harm? Would a loving God give me this yearning if he didn’t want me to act on it?

Two paths diverged in a wood, and Gene Robinson took the road most traveled. In the name of happiness and sexual fulfillment, he divorced his wife, abandoned his children and threw himself headlong into the gay lifestyle. And since that day of “liberation”, he claims he has never been happier. To his friends, his historic election to Bishop of New Hampshire is proof of God’s blessing. Liberal Episcopalian leaders see Christ doing a new work for a modern age: He has sanctified forbidden fruit and given us a new commandment: If it feels good, do it!

When I was fifteen, the associate pastor of my church left his wife and children and found happiness in the arms of our choir director. We were ignorant country folk, unschooled in the nuances of theology, so we fired the poor man. Little did we know that he was a visionary whose understanding of Christian sexuality was ahead of his time. Today, he’d be a cult hero: He followed his heart.

Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, believes this new attitude of sexual freedom and narcissism in the church is anti-Christian. In his article “The Episcopalian Preference” (First Things, November 2003) he puts it this way:

Gone is the notion of divine judgment (save upon someone who may wish to exclude someone [from the community of faith]), gone is the notion of radical conversion, gone is the notion of a way of life that requires dying to self and rising to newness of life in conformity with God’s will. In place of the complex God revealed in Christ Jesus, a God of both judgment and mercy, a God whose law is meant to govern human life, we now have a God who is love and inclusion without remainder. The projected God of the liberal tradition is, in the end, no more than an affirmer of preferences…
Jews have always held that idolatry is the greatest of all sins. In the end, the actions of [the Episcopal church] must be traced to idolatry, to the creation of a God made in our own image.

It’s our heart that gets us into all this trouble. The catch phrases of our time are “follow your heart”, “live your dreams”, “be true to yourself” and “just do it”. The Scriptures warn that what our hearts yearn for are often anti-God. Where God says no, we like to think we know better. It is a temptation as old as Eden.

The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I know! I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. —Jeremiah 17:9-10, NLT

In this post-modern age, the pursuit of happiness almost always involves sexual permissiveness. In a recent poll, more than half of respondents believed that sexual experimentation between unmarried men and women was no big deal. Hugh Hefner is our patron saint and hedonism has become our religion. Orgasm is our goddess, and she makes some very seductive promises.

She lies. At the altar of sexual freedom we find STDs instead of joy, abortion instead of wisdom. Sexual promiscuity has given us a generation of fatherless children, the poverty and distress of single-parent homes, and a closet-full of emotional and spiritual baggage: fear of abandonment, distrust, the objectification of women, broken hearts and a sex-driven economy where women are forced to bargain with their bodies for the attentions of men.

And there is this: Having embraced sexual freedom, we have accepted the lie that homosexuality is normative, that an enlightened society should make room for homosexual marriage. Homosexuality is a tattered counterfeit for the sexual intimacy that God intended us to have, and like a flood of bad twenty dollar bills, homosexuality undermines the value of God’s design for human sexuality.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. —1 Corinthians 6:16-20, The Message (The Apostle Paul speaking)

Where, then, do we look for happiness? Sexuality is great—way better than chocolate—but it was never designed to be our goddess. When we worship at the altar of sensuality and physical experience, we lose sight of the Creator in the midst of his creation. Life makes sense only when we surrender ourselves to God: body, heart, mind and soul. Happiness comes from giving ourselves unashamedly and without reservation to God.

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. —John 15:9-13, NLT (Jesus speaking)

Jesus told a story about a young man who wanted to find himself. He took the money he was to inherit from his father and went far away. He lived large, pouring out his wealth on fast women and fine wine. It wasn’t long before the money was gone and the joy-ride was over: He was left empty, broken and full of regrets.

Chastened and at the end of his rope, he turned to the only place he had left—home. He expected a harsh lecture from his father, but what he found instead was love and forgiveness.

The story is a picture of God’s deep love and marvelous grace. If you have finished squandering your life on empty thrills and one-night-stands, God is ready to welcome you home. The cross of Jesus Christ will wash away even the most embarassing stains. Jesus Christ is the only one who can fill the emptiness.

The Sirens sing their sweet songs and hope to lure us onto the rocky coastline. Happiness comes from ignoring their empty promises and pursuing the heart of God.

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