With Arms Quivering

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart interacts with a 2010 article by natural law theorist Jean Porter. At issue was the question of whether or not natural law provides a basis for rejecting same-sex relationships or marriages. Porter thinks not, and Peter finds her reasoning compelling as far as the natural law limitation goes but concludes that this is why we need Scripture.

Here is Peters conclusion. Other natural law theorists, of course, think otherwise. But Porters reasoning is pretty compelling, and leaves me wondering whether we can say certain sexual acts are contrary to nature without having some insight that comes from outside nature. Say, from revelation.

Now there is no problem acknowledging that nature does not tell us everything, and that there are certain truths that cannot be obtained from nature that are taught in Scripture. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Second Coming, or the need to baptize in the triune name.

But there are still difficulties. Arent there always? We really need to pursue this issue out to the end of the road, because a lot rides on it.

We ought not conclude anything about the clarity of the lesson from the obtuseness of the students. If Scripture tells us plainly that nature teaches us all about the sovereignty and majesty of God, and Scripture also teaches us that man in his perverse and sinful ways refuses to acknowledge that this is what in fact nature is saying about God, one of the fundamental things we learn about book of nature from the book of Scripture is that sinful men have a vested interest in refusing to read it rightly. In short, given Scripture, we ought not to trust men when it comes to what nature does or does not tell us.

When you say that our behavior is unnatural, we do not find your arguments compelling.

When you say that our behavior is unnatural, we do not find your arguments compelling.

Scripture tells us that nature is a book, and Scripture also tells us that men are culpably ignorant in their refusal to read it rightly.

And this brings us to the next issue. When Scripture tells us that something is contrary to nature, as it does with regard to the homosexual lusts described in Romans 1, we are being told much more than that the behavior is morally wrong. We are being told that we already knew something about this subject before Scripture taught it to us.

“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26–27).

If Scripture tells us that woman-to-woman sexual behavior is against nature, and that man-to-man sex is the same, and that this perverted turning toward a member of the same sex is simultaneously an abandonment of the natural use of a member of the opposite sex, and that those who give way to this kind of lust are given up to vile and unseemly affections, paying the price for that unnatural bent in themselves, we are being given a lot of information here. We are being told in Scripture what these actions are like in themselves, what they were like before the book of Romans was written.

The first biblical reference to homosexual sin is in Genesis 19, when the men of Sodom attempted to rape the angels. This is about 2,000 years into human history. Leviticus, about 600 years after that, gives us the first explicit law prohibiting the practice. Now when the Lord went down to Sodom to discover if it was as bad as it sounded like it might be, what standard were the inhabitants of Sodom violating? Bad by what standard? When God judged them with fire from the sky, what standard was He vindicating? The Sodomites had no Romans, no Leviticus, and so on. But they did have judgment (Jude 7). They had the vengeance of eternal fire, and because God does not erupt for no reason, when that judgment fell, it fell on them because they had sinned against knowledge. They knew that what they were doing was wrong, but they suppressed that knowledge in unrighteousness.

Imagine the first person to be drawn to homosexual activity. Was it then an abandonment of the natural use of the opposite sex? Did people who lived this way (before Abraham) receive in themselves the due penalty of their error? The answer is plainly yes. The book of Romans is describing something that was going on in the world of pagan civilization already.

Or suppose a tribe out in the sticks has not yet received any revelation whatever, and yet homosexual behavior is not unknown among them. When members of that tribe appear before God to answer for the deeds they have done (say, head-hunting, lying, theft, and sodomy) will they have an excuse when it comes to the sodomy? Does the absence of revelation mean that they are not without excuse on that point?

So then, we dont know everything through nature. We dont know the plan of salvation through nature. But we do know the need for salvation through nature. That knowledge is unsettling, and so we stuff it. We dont like it, and so we hold it under the surface of our id, trying to drown it down there, and our arms are quivering. We like to pretend we do not know . . . but we actually do know.

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34 thoughts on “With Arms Quivering

  1. I think its important to note that the sin of Sodom was not (per Scripture Ez. 16:49) sodomy, but pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

  2. I like your reasoning here. It seems well based on scripture. My question is this if I am having a conversation with someone about why homosexuality is wrong, can I simply say well, we both know its wrong, dont we, and just leave it at that?

  3. @Sam you need to keep reading and not stop at verse 49.

    Ezekiel 16:50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.

    what do you think that abomination is?

  4. @David R

    If we stick to Scripture, there is no statement of what the sin of Sodom was other than the statement in Ezekiel that Im aware of.

    If youre willing to look to Josephus as a reasonable source, he gives this:

    About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their
    riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and
    impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the
    advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and
    abused themselves with Sodomitical practices.

    All those are abominations.

    Its clear elsewhere in Scripture (Judges 19-20) that raping guests is a crime worthy of wiping out a city.

  5. Sam Jude 7 actually explains their sins in terms of going after strange flesh, not to mention that the narrative of Genesis itself clearly defines this as among their gross immorality (to again draw a phrase from Jude). So, in fact, scriptue DOES define their sins in other places than Ezekial, and does so plainly in terms of their sexual immorality, and that sexual immorality is plainly explained to be Homosexual in nature. This was not their ONLY sin, but Biblically it is explicitly stated to be a severe sin and sufficient reason for their destuction with eternal fire

  6. Who gets to decide what Natural Law teaches? Obviously the pedophile would find no prohibition of his proclivities in his view of Natural Law. Hitler and his folk certainly found their view of Natural Law giving them the imperative to kill Jews. Absent a Higher Power telling Mankind what constitutes right and wrong, every man will insist upon doing that which is right in his own eyes. Judges 17:6

    As for sodomy not referring to well sodomy; intelligent people dont fall for that one, only homosexuals do.

  7. Sam Steinmann wrote:

    If you’re willing to look to Josephus as a reasonable source, he gives this:

    About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their
    riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and
    impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the
    advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and
    abused themselves with Sodomitical practices.

    Note carefully how Josephuss account compares with the development described by Romans 1:20-27.

    Homosexual sin is not the initial stage of cultural rebellion. It doesnt arrive fully formed like that. Its the end-stage symptom, after having been given over in earlier stages. How does the rebellion begin? It begins with knowing God, but refusing to honor Him or give thanks as a culture. In affluence, we grow proud, thinking we are self-sufficient and insightful. Professing to be wise, we become fools. We begin to forget God and push Him to the periphery. Then we begin to worship the creature rather than the Creator. The next stage is that God gives us over to depravity and degrading passions. Darkness closes in around us. We become envious and callous. Finally, at the end, we arrive where Sodom arrived, at open sexual perversion. All that remains is for Gods righteous judgment to fall on us. This is a progression that begins with basic ingratitude and pride.

    We need to understand the cultural embrace of homosexual perversion (and other such perversions like abortion) much more in terms of symptom than as root cause. We might even describe the cultural embrace of homosexual perversion itself as a form of judgment (giving over to lusts and darkness). So when Sam reminds us of Ezek 16:49, that:

    Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

    we should understand that Scripture is here describing the root and origins of Sodoms actual problem. (Homosexual perversion was one branch but not the root.) We should immediately remember the progression of Romans chapter 1.

    We should also consider what stage we are in regarding our current national culture. Have we once known God as a people, and become thankless toward Him? Have we worshipped the creature rather than the Creator? Have we become affluent and proud? Have we professed to be wise? Have we become envious and callous toward neighbor and stranger? Have we reached a full-blown stage of cultural embrace of homosexuality as a final symptom just before Gods judgment falls? Do these similarities concern us?

  8. @katecho wrote:

    We should also consider what stage we are in regarding our current national culture. Have we once known God as a people, and become thankless toward Him? Have we worshipped the creature rather than the Creator? Have we become affluent and proud? Have we professed to be wise? Have we become envious and callous toward neighbor and stranger? Have we reached a full-blown stage of cultural embrace of homosexuality as a final symptom just before God’s judgment falls? Do these similarities concern us?

    I boldfaced the we and italicized the us

    I, in my heart, determined years ago that I do want no part of we as I am not one of them.

    Us, which I take to mean the Body of Christ, then heck yea.

    Back to Sodom, did the angels tell Lot to stay there? or did they ask Lot to leave?

    Leave, of course. I think God is calling us out, right now, here, in the USA.

    I also believe, that we is over/hosed/kaput/finite/done while us will have fun.

    Grace and Peace.

    t

  9. Melody, the Higher Power has instituted BOTH Biblical and natural law, as Calvin himself clearly believed:

    “It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of the natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men.” Institutes IV.XX.15

    Calvin Beisner: “Even Luther and Calvin, despite their Reformation commitment to sola scriptura, drew heavily on natural law tradition. . . according to Christian thought. . . the two standards of justice—Biblical law and natural law—are really one, though Biblical law is more clearly revealed.”
    Prosperity and Poverty, pp. 45-46

    It is important to defend the validity of natural law, as Douglas has done very ably.

    I can’t resist one more profound quote:

    Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted:

    “When the first principles of civil society are violated, and the rights of a whole people are invaded, the common forms of municipal law are not to be regarded. Men may then betake themselves to the law of nature; and, if they but conform their actions, to that standard, all cavils against them, betray either ignorance or dishonesty. There are some events in society, to which human laws cannot extend; but when applied to them lose all their force and efficacy. In short, when human laws contradict or discountenance the means, which are necessary to preserve the essential rights of any society, they defeat the proper end of all laws, and so become null and void.”

  10. Luke says: This was not their ONLY sin, but Biblically it is explicitly stated to be a severe sin and sufficient reason for their “destuction with eternal fire”

    And there you have it. God hates fags. I saw a queer walking down the street and asked what would Jesus do?

    So I doused him with kerosene and tossed a lit match on him.

    Can I get an Amen?

    /s

  11. Lets reflect upon the entirety of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, though.

    Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob of rapists (I assume without their consent). Later, he gets drunk and impregnates both of them.

    Now, Ive had a few drinks in my youth, but I cant recall getting drunk enough to where Id knock up my own offspring. Yet, the Bible insists that Lot was a righteous man.

    The moral of this story? To me, its that women have no dominion over their own bodies and that a little wine is a sufficient excuse to using them for sexual pleasure, even if its your own daughters.

    How you get a blanket condemnation of homosexuality is beyond me.

  12. James,

    You are missing the essential part of the story.

    Yes, there is a place where the fire is not quenched, but saying that Jesus would toss the lit match is incorrect.

    A Thrice Holy God is high and lifted up, way above our comprehension. The affront against Him by His creatures rebelling against Him and questioning His judgment is a violation that requires justice at a level beyond our same comprehension. We either believe it, or not.

    What Jesus did was to completely satisfy the required justice. It pleased the Father to crush the Son so as to be both just and the justifier.

    What Jesus says to any sinner, homosexual or otherwise is: come, let us reason together. Even though your sin is as red as scarlet, I will make it as white as snow. Believe in the One Whom God has sent, repent and confess your sin to God, and obtain the mercy that is overflowing. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, so go and sin no more.

    Those who refuse Gods mercy, will receive Gods justice.

  13. I find arguments against homosexuality based on nature to be a little frustrating. Not only do many people naturally feel sexual attraction to their own sex, but homosexual behaviors are frequently observed in other animals sans human intervention. I think its absolutely certain that Scripture condemns the act, but I think saying that nature proves this requires a lot of hand waving.

  14. But waving hands helps us locate stuff when were blind to what nature in fact reveals.

    The question is how we can recover our sight as to what nature flashes in big neon lights.

  15. Its funny, or maybe tragic, how breezily we say that nature reveals no redemption.

    Really? and we know this because how??

    But havent you ever seen a snake eat dust?

  16. Sam – Jude 7 actually explains their sins in terms of “going after strange flesh,” not to mention that the narrative of Genesis itself clearly defines this as among their “gross immorality” (to again draw a phrase from Jude). So, in fact, scriptue DOES define their sins in other places than Ezekial, and does so plainly in terms of their sexual immorality, and that sexual immorality is plainly explained to be Homosexual in nature. This was not their ONLY sin, but Biblically it is explicitly stated to be a severe sin and sufficient reason for their “destuction with eternal fire”

    But male humans are not strange flesh.

    Ive seen several theologians state that this would have to refer to the Sodomites going after angels, which are a different flesh, not men, which are the same flesh as themselves.

    Anyone have a rebuttal to that argument? I certainly do not dispute that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible, most relevantly in several passages by Paul. But I dont think the Sodom story is the best place to go with that. The sins of Sodom, as have been pointed out, seem to be desire to rape Lots guests, pride, and lack of concern for the needy, not any kind of allowance for homosexual relationship in itself. Of course, the story of Sodom is much more appealing culturally than simple commands that also condemn so many more things, so it has been far easier for culture to attach to.

  17. James Bradshaw wrote:

    Now, I’ve had a few drinks in my youth, but I can’t recall getting drunk enough to where I’d knock up my own offspring. Yet, the Bible insists that Lot was a “righteous” man.

    The moral of this story? To me, it’s that women have no dominion over their own bodies and that a little wine is a sufficient excuse to using them for sexual pleasure, even if it’s your own daughters.

    James is so full of his own vinegar that he probably isnt even aware that he has the story completely backwards. Lot didnt abuse his daughters for his own pleasure, rather it was Lots daughters who plotted to abuse him, and got him drunk so that they could bear children by him when he was passed out.

    If Bradshaw wants to be taken seriously as a self-appointed critic of our faith, he needs to invest a moment or two of his time becoming familiar with what we actually believe. As it is now, hes simply wasting his time with strawmen. One doesnt have to be a psychologist to see that James is dragging around a lot of bitterness. It may even be the result of having been truly wronged by some Christian in the past, but this jaded laziness is not the solution. There is no rest in that. James may not want to confront the original root of his bitterness, but his strawmen will never give him relief.

  18. Nick E wrote:

    Not only do many people “naturally” feel sexual attraction to their own sex, but homosexual behaviors are frequently observed in other animals sans human intervention. I think it’s absolutely certain that Scripture condemns the act, but I think saying that “nature” proves this requires a lot of hand waving.

    Proves may be too strong a word, but we need to be careful to distinguish appeals to Natural Law/Revelation from appeals to Naturalism. Naturalism would say that nature is all there is, and that nature is an accident without intent or purpose, therefore anything that ever happened or happens in nature is natural, by definition.

    One of the problems with naturalism is that it precludes the possibility of recognizing the abnormal or the diseased or the disordered. Everything is normal and natural if it simply is. If we find a chicken born with no legs, or five legs, its natural. If we find animals eating their own offspring, or mounting each other homosexually, then its natural. If someone feels sexually attracted to children or to animals, then the naturalist can only observe that it happened in nature, and is therefore natural. There is no prescription for, or against, anything. At best, all the naturalist can do is say that one sort of behavior is more or less frequent than another. No value can be placed on any behavior.

    Appeals to natural revelation, on the other hand, would begin with a recognition of intent and purpose through observing what exists. For example, we can recognize that a heart is for pumping blood, teeth are for chewing, and the lens of an eye is for focusing light. These organs testify of organization, and of specific purposes and provisions for the body. Natural revelation speaks of order and aesthetic beauty and creativity and provision. This also allows us to recognize deformity and disease and impaired function. With these observations, we can easily recognize the fruitful purpose of reproductive organs. Its not hand-waving to notice their function. Its rather obvious. Homosexual behavior is like trying to use an eye for hearing. Just because someone may give it a try, in nature, doesnt mean it is naturally intended for that use, or that it will fruitfully bear offspring. The experiment will remain barren and fruitless. It will remain contrary to the testimony of nature.

  19. Jonathan wrote:

    But I don’t think the Sodom story is the best place to go with that. The sins of Sodom, as have been pointed out, seem to be desire to rape Lot’s guests, pride, and lack of concern for the needy, not any kind of allowance for homosexual relationship in itself. Of course, the story of Sodom is much more appealing culturally than simple commands that also condemn so many more things, so it has been far easier for culture to attach to.

    Im not sure why Jonathan wants to mask or downplay the obvious homosexuality of Sodom. Its the best place to go to see how God ultimately deals with that end-stage rebellion. However, I already granted in an earlier comment on this thread that homosexual perversion isnt how Sodom got started on their way to destruction. I agree with Jonathan that they got started down their path with much more mundane sins, like ingratitude, and failure to honor the Creator, pride, inhospitality, callousness, so that their foolish heart was darkened, and they were given over. The perverse lust of homosexuality came later, but it obviously arrived. The Sodomites didnt want to rape the angels because they thought they were females. They even continued their attempted assault after they were struck blind. Ponder that for a moment.

    Scripture is free to describe the original roots of Sodoms descent, or to describe the final rotten fruits at the end-stage. Romans 1 connects all the dots for us, so that we see how one leads to the other when there is no repentance, and when God gives a people over to their lusts. Culturally, it ends up with an open embrace of the homosexual perversion. Sadly, we have arrived at this same point in our own culture. How many righteous will God find in our city?

    On the subject of cultural acceptance of homosexuality, the account of Sodom is exactly what we need to hear.

  20. Im going to skip the full exegesis for the sake of holding interest but when you let Scripture inform Scripture with Romans 1 and Ezekiel 16, you find that theres a root, a stalk and a final fruit fruit that actually and symbolically is completely contrary to Gods created Order.

    The root of all sin is exchanging the truth of God for a lie (per Genesis 3). In Sodom, this happened and it led to all that is listed in Ezekiel 16. Then, after this conception and growth into maturity, it led to the fully ripened fruit of rampant homosexuality. Reject one jot and when all is done, the culture is completely opposite of the Creators intent.

    The lesson of Sodom is NOT that there were multiple sins, some greater than others, some primary, some worthy of generating the word sodomy the English language.

    The lesson is that exchanging Gods truth for a lie leads you first into palatable sin cycles like greed (which were just ending in this country) and finally into abominable actions you never imagined youd commit (where were just now in this country).

  21. Katecho:

    There are some things that do have a natural function though, but it seems to be an evil one, like some of the appendages various animals have for killing and ripping each other apart. They do help the first animal thrive and survive though.

    The answer to that though is whether you really want to put human reproductive organs on that same (evil) level.

    I think Oliver ODonovan said somewhere in his book on Resurrection and Moral Order that you really have to know the telos of the entire cosmos to decide a lot of these issues.

  22. ketecho,

    Your summary of what us Catholics would call the natural law is quite good:

    Appeals to natural revelation, on the other hand, would begin with a recognition of intent and purpose through observing what exists.

    For those interested, my go to guy on this subject is the always smart and interesting philosophy professor Ed Feser. Here he deals with many of the common objections one finds to using natural law arguments:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/10/whose-nature-which-law.html

    Here is his conclusion:

    So, for the natural law theorist, certain things are “natural” for us in the sense of tending to fulfill those ends the realization of which constitutes our flourishing as the kinds of thing we are. But perhaps it is also natural for us in a different sense, the sense of being a weakness to which we are prone given the limitations of our nature for us to want to deny that we are subject to natural law. To that extent at least we are all natural lawyers, but of a rather sleazy kind seeking, not justice, but to find any way we can to get ourselves off the hook.

  23. This: seeking, not justice, but to find any way we can to get ourselves off the hook.

    Hence the continual attempt to soften, downplay or even deny the perversion that is the end game as katecho describes. It is all of one, a feeble fist raised and shaking in the face of God.

  24. In short, given Scripture, we ought not to trust men when it comes to what nature does or does not tell us.

    If this is true then it cuts both ways. We ought not to trust men not We ought not to trust men who dont agree with us.

  25. Not quite Matt.

    If God did not exist, of course, you would be correct.

    You are overlooking a fundamental realitythe indwelling of the christian by the Holy Spirit. The one who transforms our minds and our natures.

    As we grow in Christ we discern our own divided selves as we grow and we learn to not even trust our flesh as we learn to trust God.

    In that way of thinking, when God really transforms your perception, you argument sounds like a sophist trying to earn a quick coin.

    In my reading of Scripture (new testament) most of the discourse is from believer to other believers. There is the shared reality of Gods presence in their lives and the dialogue supports that shared experience.

    In one sense, you are correct. It is not rational to many because the axioms are not apparent to them. To those who have been transformed by God (and are continuing to be transformed) the axioms are very real.

    cheers.

    t

  26. It would be interesting to get DWs view of Prof. Fesers explanation of natural law (as linked by Fake Herzog). I visit Fessers blog regularly, too, Herzog, even if it does make my brain ache!