A friend of mine recently shared a photo of Archbishop Desmund Tutu on Facebook. The photo was accompanied by a quote that read
I can’t, for the life of me, imagine that God would say ‘I will punish you because you are black, you should have been white; I will punish you because you are a woman, you should have been a man; I punish you because you are homosexual you ought to have been heterosexual.’ I can’t, for the life of me, believe that that is how God see things.
There are several interesting things about this quote that one could comment on. The most obvious is that there is nothing especially noteworthy about the quote from an Anglican perspective as the Anglican Communion has never said there was anything sinful about same sex attraction. Like being black or white, male or female, it is morally a non issue. The moral question is always about what one does, and not about what one is. A quick read of Lambeth 1.1o will confirm this for anyone interested.
What I find fascinating about the quote is the appeal to one’s personal imagination in discerning God’s will. This is really quite frightening. People imagine all kinds of things about God. As a pastor I am always saddened when someone cannot receive forgiveness because they cannot believe, cannot imagine, that God could forgive them. They believe their sin is so great that God cannot forgive it and so they cannot accept forgiveness and the freedom and healing that comes with it. The opposite problem also is quite common. How many people justify things by saying it “feels right” so it must be OK with God. How many pastors have spoken with parishioners who tell them that they are confident that God approves of their leaving their spouses for a new relationship? They mistake their feelings of dissatisfaction for God’s judgment upon the relationship. I was once berated by a lay leader during a Cursillo weekend for my poor theology. She assured me that the all Christians could judge what was right by the way it resonated in their hearts. If someone felt it was right then it was right. I told this leader in reply that I could not, as my heart was not always pure and sometimes resonated with things that were not holy. I am a broken human being becoming sanctified. I’m not there yet. As long as our understanding of God is dependent upon our imagination we will be driven by the feelings and desires that fuel our imagination. We will be held captive by our sins and remain deluded by our desires. When our understanding of God becomes limited to what we imagine our image of God inevitably becomes a reflection of our opinions and desires.
As God would have it we are not left to the imaginings of our hearts. We are not sheep without a shepherd. This is the whole point of Revelation. God revealed Himself to us that we might know God and grow in the knowledge and love of God. God is revealed in many ways, but principally through the person of Jesus Christ as he is know to us in Scripture. As the old hymn goes “Jesus loves me this I know cause the Bible tells me so”. Its a simple truth. Christians are people of the book, not left to the imaginings of our hearts.
We can learn a bit about God through nature. I have stood atop mountains and experienced awe over the amazing creation that God made. What we can learn about God from creation is amazing and very limited. If we want to know what God wills we must pick up a Bible and read. The Anglican reply to the question “How can we know God’s will?” is “Scripture, Reason, and Tradition”. Scripture is the foundation, to which we apply our best intelligence to fearlessly penetrate the fullest meaning of Scripture (this is what Reason means). Tradition refers to the teaching of the church throughout time, and especially the early church. Other churches have different answers. Some churches place the entire weight upon their reading of scripture. Some place greater weight upon the traditional teaching of the church. No church has ever turned to the imaginations as the source of theology and survived very long at all.