Homosexuality: A Question of True Joy and Flourishing

I’ve always felt like it would be much easier to support same-sex relationships if they looked more like what you see in modern television shows and movies. As a kid, I loved watching Will and Grace. I remember thinking that gay men like Will and Jack were artistic, funny, and had attractive personalities. I didn’t see anything wrong with the lifestyle they were living, even though it did seem a bit strange to me.

Through my involvement with theater and debate in high school, I spoke with several people who were gay (and gay-affirming), even became good friends with a few of them. Overall I didn’t see what the problem was. My friend’s relationships seemed different than my basic intuitions, but I figured this was something I needed to get over.

Yet, there was a nagging problem I couldn’t ignore: why was the Bible so critical of homosexual behavior and relationships?

It was only much later that I realized God’s prohibitions against certain behaviors and relationships were not arbitrary, but actually rooted in his love for humanity. I didn’t realize that God’s design for human relationships is an extension of his desire to see humanity flourish.

A New Starting Point
In my opinion, this question of design and flourishing is something we often don’t think about when we discuss the big question of homosexuality. Even worse, I don’t think this is something Christians have communicated effectively.

Instead, what our friends and culture often hear from the church is a group of people who are quick to call something a sin, but who forget the reason why we want someone to repent. We often forget that the goal isn’t merely to create a greater awareness of sin, but to help someone see the joy of walking in step with God’s design for them.

By this I don’t mean we tell people who have same-sex attraction that God’s design is for them to be in a heterosexual relationship. Instead, what I mean is that God’s design for all people is to enjoy a relationship with him that isn’t so hindered by a willful pursuit of sinful behaviors.

In other words, God’s design is for all people—gay and straight—to surrender themselves to the good authority of Jesus and live according to His ways, because only he will truly satisfy our souls.

Our ultimate goal then, is not simply to make someone aware of how much they’ve sinned before God, but to help them experience the freedom that comes from trusting in Christ. The reality of sin needs to be discussed, but it is a means to a greater end, not the end itself (see Colossians 1:28; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:24–26; Titus 3:1–7).

Jesus Himself spoke most accurately about people’s sin and the righteousness of God’s judgment, but He also invited sinners to come close to Him no matter how rejected or lost they were. Jesus was the most accurate commentator on people’s sin, and yet sinners often felt welcome and comfortable around Him. Is the same thing true of us?

In light of this, I think we must look beyond the basic question of: is “X” a sin? More often than not, people living in sin know they are doing so, they just don’t care that much because thye believe their sin will result in their happiness. Repeating the obvious won’t help very much.

Instead, I think a question we must continually ask ourselves and put before others is: will our pursuit of sin deliver on it’s promise? Said differently, is it possible that God’s commands are intended to produce joy rather than remove it?  To be more specific, could it be that God’s sexual ethic is something that leads to joy and flourishing?

In other words, we must begin making the question about joy and fulfillment rather than judgment and condemnation. Not because these latter realities don’t exist, but because the former matters give us a better starting point that demonstrates both compassion for the person and the truth of what life is like outside of God’s design.

Moreover, when we lead with this sort of question, we are inviting the person to think more carefully about how self-defeating their pursuit of joy apart from God may (will) actually be. In doing so, we are inviting them to see for themselves how empty their pursuit of sin is, rather than just hearing us preach to them. In effect, we invite them to see how Jesus is the true and better joy they were meant to experience, because at His right hand “are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

The Goodness of God’s Design
Trusting in God’s design for us begins by recognizing God as the fountain of wisdom and love, submitting to Him in faith, and believing that His path will satisfy our hearts more than our own paths ever could. In other words, trusting God’s design means that we follow His heart, not our own.

As the Psalmist reminds us: “Blessed (happy, fulfilled) is the man who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (Psalm 40:4 NIV). Yet, if we choose to rebel against Him, even for things that promise instant gratification and make us feel good, the end result will be that our souls shrivel and our hearts are empty.

Indeed, “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” (Psalm 60:4 NLT). In other words, the heart that rebels against God is the heart that is empty, unsatisfied, and feels like a wasteland.

It’s interesting, yet tragic to note that this is not simply a biblical perspective on human flourishing, but is one that is increasingly  confirmed as researchers study the effects of same sex behavior and relationships. We could point for example to the 2009 study by the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH) in which they found the following:

  • Despite knowing the AIDS risk, homosexuals repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in unsafe sex practices.
  • Homosexuals represent the highest number of STD cases.
  • Many homosexual sex practices are medically dangerous, with or without protection.
  • More than one-third of homosexual men are substance abusers.
  • Forty percent of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories. Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have a mental health concern, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, depression, and anxiety.
  • Homosexual relationships are more violent than heterosexual relationships.[1]

This particular study comes from a comprehensive review of 100 years worth of literature on the subject. The sad reality is that those who act on their desires for the same sex typically suffer drastic and personally damaging consequences that rob them of joy, separate them from God, and cause their hearts to live “in a sun-scorched land.” What these specific details provide is simply confirmation of what the Bible means when it says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every same-sex relationship experiences these sort of realities—there are exceptions to every rule. But that’s just the point: the rule—or norm—for same-sex relationships is the sort of consequences reflected in the findings above.

Now, when I watch shows or movies that depict same-sex couples being happy, wholesome, and flourishing, my heart grieves for the false picture being placed in front of many who either struggle with same-sex attraction or who support the relationships of those who do.

If we truly love our gay friends and want them to flourish, we must lovingly and graciously help them see the better way of following Jesus. To be clear: this may not mean that they turn from a same-sex relationship and enter into a heterosexual relationship (although that does happen), but it does mean that when they embrace God through Jesus Christ, they will experience the one relationship designed to forever satisfy their souls more than any human relationship ever could.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:19

[1] Joseph E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, and Phillip M. Sutton, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to APA Claims on Homosexuality,” Journal of Human Sexuality 1 (2009), 87.

Some would say these side effects are really the consequences of a homophobic society in which homosexuals are rejected by their families, bullied as children, and ostracized by their community. Let me be transparent for a moment: I personally loathe the sort of behavior I’ve seen from professing Christians toward those who identify as homosexual. It’s true, homosexuals have been treated without the dignity, grace, and respect they deserve. But, there are a few things we need to point out:

First, many of the sexual practices and consequences of homosexual behavior cannot be attributed to homophobia, because these are realities that are because of sexual, not social, behavior. Secondly, the NARTH study researches concluded there is in fact no direct link between these side affects and one’s cultural upbringing: “Specific attempts to confirm this societal discrimination hypothesis have been unsuccessful… Societal bias and discrimination do not, in and of themselves contribute to the majority of increased health risks for homosexuals.”


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