God in Partnership with Us (in our Sexual Partnerships)

By Jonathan J. Foster

If God isn’t with us in our sexual orientation, God isn’t with us.

Not long ago, I talked with an acquaintance about sexual orientation and the Bible. I’d like to say it went well, but my friend had “too much respect for the Word of God” to dialogue at depth about such things. The discussion was abruptly shut down with him tapping his knuckles on the table to the rhythm of his closing argument, “This is all just common-sense.”

The implications were clear—his position was standard, logical, obvious; mine was strange, confusing, and obviously incorrect.

Well, OK, fair enough, I thought as he made a quick exit. There’s no need for me to pretend I haven’t been confused about a whole host of things, not the least of which is biblical sexuality. So, as much as I would have appreciated the opportunity to express my opinion, who knows, maybe he’s right. Maybe my views are incorrect.

But as I think about that interaction, what strikes me as being more interesting than “right or wrong” is the confidence in which he declared his sensibility to be common. Was it the obviousness of it all, the air-tight logic that gave him such peace of mind? Is this what allowed him to turn his back so quickly? Was nothing more to be added? I imagine so. I suppose he left thinking that surely even someone like me could understand that all one needs to do to remedy any problem, regardless of complexity, is to appeal to common-sense.

And yet this is precisely the problem.

For one’s particular “sense” is only “common” within the borders of one’s particular circle. And now I’m imagining all of us in our own little circles, running around, bumping into, intersecting with, being attracted and repulsed by hundreds and thousands of other circles. The point is, given the amount of movement, diversity, experience, personality, religion, geography, and tradition that exists across all our circles, who could identify those specific things we all deem to be common?

Living as he does within the rigid boundary of his circle, my friend would find it almost impossible to grapple with this question, though. And in one way, this helps me be patient. Because I can see his sincerity. He really is operating by his common-sense, though I’m left wondering if it’s less about sense and more about common.

Meanwhile, what I’m looking for, and what I think an increasing number of people are looking for around the topic of God’s view of us and our sexual orientation, is something different. Something helpful, something that opens us up rather than closes us down. Yes, what we’re looking for is some sense that is very much uncommon. And what’s uncommon is to accept God’s acceptance of us regardless of sexual orientation.

There are a variety of Western Christian narratives in need of confrontation in order to think in uncommon ways. But for the sake of time, we narrow our focus down to one foundational and misleading storyline that crops up in the very beginning: that God and creation are separate.

Contrary to common belief, a God separate from creation isn’t necessarily what the Bible teaches. Genesis 1:1 simply says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The verse doesn’t prove God came from somewhere else. It doesn’t suggest separateness. It doesn’t demonstrate a God creating out of a “nothing,” out of a substance foreign to God. What would that even mean? How would a “nothing” exist apart from God?

Even if the point of Genesis 1:1 was to prove a separate God, the very next verse muddies the waters with its richly nuanced and ancient Hebrew words like:

  • Tohu va bohu, suggesting all of reality is textured with promise and chaos, hope and despair.
  • Tehom, a deep and mythic word signifying the oceanic and fluid abyss of all things.
  • Ruach Elohim, something like the affectionate breath of a feminine deity partnering with the Tehom to invite the potential of life to spring forth.

Catherine Keller, in her extraordinary book, The Face of the Deep, translates Genesis 1:2 in the following uncommon way, “When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the Ruach Elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters. . .”

Genesis 1:2 doesn’t point to a separate God. If anything, it does the opposite, locating God right in the depth of the texture of all that is, hovering over and interacting withcreation in a loving way that calls forth new life. It is the affection of Ruach Elohim that catches our attention here. In other words, what we don’t see is masculine-power dominating and calling out all the impurities of tehom so that the conditions are right for creation. What we do see is loving femininity interwoven into theoceanic fluidity of tehom giving birth to creation itself.

Tehom isn’t an evil substance.

Tehom isn’t in need of a coercive and separate deity.

Tehom is mystery looking for a partner.

All of this could foreshadow how the Spirit hovers over and interacts with Mary to bring forth new life in the first chapter of Luke. And in Mary’s consent, “Let it be,” we could see the necessary condition of all creation, that is, that God doesn’t force himself upon anyone. It seems both Luke 1 and Genesis 1 speak to a God interested in life that emerges through consensual intimacy.

But the common Christian tradition couldn’t see this. Wouldn’t see this. Even in the presence of so much wordplay evoking intimacy, creativity, and partnership, the tradition aligned itself with an all-powerful, distant, unaffected, separate God who needed to root out contaminates before life could take place. It’s not a deity interested in entering down into the depths of all we are in loving partnership. It’s a deity standing apart from his creation and giving directives.

And now I’m imagining God as general contractor, bullhorn-speaking,

“Listen up! Land animals over here, sea animals over there!”

Finger-pointing, “Hey, no, move that up a little bit. Yes, higher, that’s right, sky up above and land down below!”

Blueprints-waving, “C’mon everybody. It’s all in the plans. No deviations. Let’s go!”

What does this have to do with sexual orientation and God’s acceptance of us? It turns out it has everything to do with it. For if the tradition can establish that the fluid abyss of Genesis 1:2 is bad, it can justify an outside God needing to “break in” and create strict binaries. Such order (of course) opposes fluidity, variables, and all things uncategorizable, including the possibility of anything outside of a heterosexual orientation. Again, all this is built upon the idea of a separate God.

But what if God was never separate?

What if the Bible supports the idea that God loved his creation as it was? What if God didn’t act like an enraged Father, breaking in, taking control, when creation didn’t follow his exact design? What if the design itself was fluid? What if he (she?) didn’t coerce himself upon his creation? What if God accepted mystery? What if God, deep within the tehomic abyss that appears to have marked the beginning of our cosmos, gave herself away, and in doing so, fell in love with creativity and diversity? Including the creativity and diversity of –

  • The physical: God with us throughout our variations of height, skin pigmentation, eye color, or hand dominance.
  • The emotional: God with us in our waves of depression or confidence, hope or pain, guilt or assurance.
  • The mental: God with us across our range and spectrum of intellect, intelligence, reasoning, and imagination.

We all generally agree that everyone is worthy of love despite physical, emotional, or mental deviations. Then again, the previous sentence doesn’t even make sense. Deviation from what? What is a “normal” physical, emotional, or mental human being? The point is, neither variance nor divergence prevents God from loving us. Randomness and fluidity appear to be woven into the fabric of everything. Still, the Spirit hovers over the fabric, even more, is infused within the fabric itself.

If evolution is true, then time, energy, love, the entropy of all things alongside the complexification of all things have partnered together to grow our beautiful world in incredibly diverse ways. For something to be different doesn’t mean it’s wrong or in need of being fixed. It simply means different. If evolution is true, there is no one right way with its corollary wrong way.

  • If God wanted black and white binaries, why all the colorful gradations?
  • If God wanted night and day, what’s up with twilight?
  • If God wanted land and water, what’s going on with the marshlands?

And if God wanted male and female, what in heaven’s name is happening when the precious baby is born with an x and y chromosome, but ovaries and not testicles—or born with unformed reproductive organs or intersexed? Or what’s happening when an otherwise normal (again, what is normal?) child grows up in an otherwise normal home and yet can recall, from earliest memories, their difference; that they had a same-sex attraction? How will Christian parents support them? How will churches support the parents? Or the children as they grow into teens and adults? Isn’t it possible these beautiful people will live their entire life working through their sexuality? By the way, how is this any different than those people who identify as heterosexual? Aren’t we all working through our sexuality?

Will Western Christianity ever see the arc of justice woven deeply within the stories of its sacred text, an arc that says something about how quick humans are to marginalize anyone appearing to be different? Consider the arc of the eunuch’s story: eunuchs are excluded by Deuteronomic standards, included in Isaiah’s vision, accepted by Jesus who is on record as saying, “some are born this way,” and then, in the early Christian story of the Ethiopian eunuch, baptized into the family!

All of us generally agree that God loves us and is with us across the spectrum of differences present within human emotions, mental abilities, and physical shapes. Why wouldn’t God be with us across a spectrum of sexual orientations?

The point of all of this writing is to remind us that He is with us. This is the good news. God loves us and what’s more, God likes us. All of us. Irrespective of who we are or where we come from. The world has yet to hear this good news. Good grief, the Christian has yet to hear it. It’s all just so uncommon. But it’s true.

We don’t have a separate-God.

We have a with-us-God.

A God who longs to be in partnership with us . . . even in our sexual partnerships.

Question: Who would you be if you were to accept God’s acceptance of you?

Jonathan J. Foster is the author of three books with unnecessarily long titles, including a number one bestseller in three Kindle categories, Questions About Sexuality that Got Me Uninvited from My Denomination. He podcasts and blogs regularly at jonathanfosteronline.com, is the lead-follower of missionchurchonline.com, curates LQVE.org with his son, and is in the Doctoral Program in Open and Relational Theology at Northwind Theological Seminary. If you can’t find him with his wife, Johnna, or hanging out with one of his three children, look in the mountains.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

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