Sunday, February 22, 2009

They Talked a Ton of Law... but no Gospel

I just finished listening to the round table on contraception over at Issues, etc.

First let me say that I whole-heartedly agree with the guests when it comes to matters of normal healthy relationships. In those cases where healthy children are a reasonable assumption, contraception is sin.

But that is where I part company with many Lutherans. I think it is because my wife and I fall into that category of poorly named “hard cases”. I am not interested in making this post a pity party about my situation, but I say this so that people understand that I am not speaking academically about this topic as so many people do. This is a very personal issue with me and I find the Monday morning quarterbacking to be very offensive.

I submit that suggesting that a grieving and hurting couple abstain from sex for the rest of their lives is the height of cruelty and a total misuse of Law and Gospel. While unrepentant sinners who are using contraception and family planning for selfish needs deserve the full weight of the law, the crushed souls who have watched their children die do not need to be lectured on ethics. They need the Gospel… something that was sorely lacking in this program, but also in almost every single public discussion on this topic.

Placing the horribly legalistic message aside for a moment, it amazes me that people who hold the Augsburg Confession's Article XIII in such high esteem would force celibacy on people who have not been given that gift. We Lutherans confess that marriage was instituted by God as a help against sin. Let me ask you, does driving a wedge between the intimacy of husband and wife through this time of great trial prevent or encourage sin? Does pushing husband and wife away from each other in a time of great suffering preserve God's expressed intent for marriage or pervert it?

Speaking from personal experience, it is a fair assessment to say that celibacy is not something to which I am suited. If it was a natural state for me, I would not have gotten married in the first place. To attempt to pretend that I possess strength of character that I do not would be unwise as it would open the floodgates to all matter of temptations and sin. The very thing that these pontificators are trying to prevent is sin and they encourage it by their suggested course of action. Even if I were capable of such a feat of the law, what about my wife? Once this problem was discovered... what, I am supposed to just distance myself from her according to the flesh? What does that say to her? How do you think she deals with that? Is that love or moralism?

Here we see the prudish sophistry of my opponents. They say that there are two elements to sex in marriage: procreation and pleasure. They argue that the two should not be separated. They call contraception sin because it removes procreation to preserve pleasure. All of this they assemble, not from the direct teaching of Scripture or personal experience, but from historic teaching and their own Aristotelian notions. They take the sin-curbing gift of marriage and throw it out the window in those cases where the flesh doesn’t work right. Where is the clear teaching from the Bible on what to do regarding hard cases? There is none. It is silent. We should be also.

To say that there are only two elements to sex is foolish and overly simplistic. So we have procreation: a material concern. We also have pleasure: a material concern. Well what about spiritual concerns? What about things like intimacy? Is that not a portion of sex as well? Is that not a far greater portion than mere pleasure? That never makes it into the debate.

And I would point out that many of these well-meaning people are advocating a course of action that they do not undertake. These celibacy-peddlers are themselves married with many children. In fact, it is a safe bet that the very day that they tell your wife to put on a chastity belt for the rest of her natural life, they go home to their normal family, play with their children, and go to bed with their wives.

They are placing burdens on people’s backs that they have not dared to move with a single finger. It is my wish that people undertake great care in these matters when talking about such “hard cases” in the public arena. This is not a matter that is well suited for blanket statements and careless words. You are telling depressed, hurting people that they are sinners and that engaging in their most intimate relationship for comfort and solace against temptation is now evil in the sight of God. At what point did you offer them hope? To often, when this topic comes up, you offer them none. Shame on you.

I suggest that all individuals who are not personally involved directly with a chronic “hard case” or are unwilling to set the example for their teaching by being celibate in their own marriages should refrain from rendering such generic advice in the public square. This is not some fascinating debate topic that can be taken so lightly. It is a life issue that is as complex as it is agonizingly painful.

So let me present to these "hard cases" what others were too busy debating to say:

Dear Christian, God loves you.

Christ is the great physician and He is abudant in His blessing and healing. Your broken state exists because of sin. It was sin that came into a good creation and caused it to be cursed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. You groan and suffer as all creation suffers, but this temporary world will be made new. Christ's death and resurrection has broken the stranglehold of death, brokeness, and sin. It is in this time that we must struggle and wait for the restoration that is soon to come. For those who are Christ's own, a new and perfected body awaits that is free of frailty, death, and disease. In heaven, these sorrows will no longer exist.

Also, Holy Scripture shows us that Christ is a lover and defender of little children. We commend all of those that we have lost and those that have been damaged by sin through severe illness and deformity to His merciful, limitless love. Dear Christian, God is not angry with you. He loves you as His dear child. His wrath has been spared from you because of Christ.

Reach out to your pastor for individual guidence on this matter and gather support from your fellow Christians. If you are bearing the cross of one of these "hard cases", do not listen to generic advice from the internet. You already know more about this subject than they do by virtue of your terrible burden. This issue is not a matter of dogmatic pronouncement. It falls well within the category of direct pastoral care. If you take that route, you will find the comfort that you need. You are not going through a trial that is uncommon to man. There are many who suffer as you do. Seek them out and gather strength in this time of difficulty.

Above all else: Christ calls you to Himself and says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. God bless you.


Thursday's Child said...

I'm glad someone else had a problem with that program as well. I don't fit into the category of "hard cases" but I find that incredibly offensive and cruel to those who are.

Mike Baker said...

We are not alone. The general consensus of the feedback that I have been getting regarding that particular episode is right in line with our opinion.

This was not up to the usual high standards of Issues, etc. I am a huge fan of the show and I signed the recent petition... but a spade is still a spade.

Elephantschild said...

There's good reason I skipped listening to that show. I had a feeling what direction it might head, and I think maybe I was right.

I addressed some of these same issues in a post and especially in the comments on my own blog not too long ago.

It's reassuring to see that I'm not the only one out there saying, "HEY! Wait just a minute!" on this issue.

(Catching up on your blog after a long time away...)

Elephantschild said...

A bit more: I do wish all Christians who spoke about conception issues made a distinction bwtn *kinds* of family planning. Some kill, some do not. But I never hear that discussion. All I hear is a very legalistic-sounding NONE! EVER! FOR ANY REASON!

Even the Roman Catholics don't sound as harsh as some Lutherans do on these issues - and I've taken the RC natural family planning classes!