It was a warm Sydney afternoon and I sat at the coffee shop near my office. Two flat whites and a sweet bikkie (or cookie/biscuit for the rest of the world), the light sound of traffic, the soft padding of the many dogs and their walkers filled the space. The young person sitting opposite me under the giant sun umbrellas had been sharing about his experience of his sexuality, being attracted to the same sex. This is a space that I have the privilege to enter, a delicate space, a holy space.
‘I feel frustrated because I know that living for Jesus means life and joy, but sometimes the reality of a faithful life is unfulfilling and not having things that I really want, like children, or a partner. I really want to be faithful, but it feels so costly. Am I really a follower of Jesus?’
A bird chirped as it landed on the fence; a motorcyclist revved past; a strong latte was brought out in a take-away cup. And the world? It seemingly moves on for some, while for others they feel stuck. Stuck between the promise of life and joy and the experience of dissatisfaction and grief. Stuck in living out in the tension of what Christians call ‘the already and the not yet’.
‘Already and not yet’
‘The already and the not yet’ is used to describe the experience of the believer between Jesus’ ascension and his final return, a time where the kingdom of God is at the one-and-the-same time both present in our midst and yet still in our future. We live in the tension where we are
- already given the blessings of the kingdom (John 10:10);
- and yet awaiting, in groaning and eager expectation, the full experience of these blessings (Romans 8:23).
Followers of Jesus are both already made holy in Jesus and needing to pursue and grow in holiness; both new creations in Jesus (Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17), reconciled to God (Romans 5:11) and still fighting our fleshly natures with God’s help. Life is a tension to be held! For a Christian who experiences attraction to the same sex, particularly in our current hyper-sexualised culture, this tension may be felt with greater intensity.
Life is a tension to be held!
I am hopeless at walking, not because I have terrible foot-eye coordination, but because I get distracted by clouds, trees, birds and doggies. My friends could already be half a block away, and I’m helping a pug with their much-needed belly rub. I need my friends because without them I’d never get to my destination (on time). But sometimes, they need me (I hope), because without me, they wouldn’t see the littler things.
Holding the tension in our life is similar. Sometimes we can be so focussed on the promise of ‘Jesus is enough! You’re not giving up anything! Jesus is bigger and better and more wonderful than everything in this world!’ that we forget for some people the ache of being single, childless, lonely, and without biological kin is an immensely sharp pain. ‘Jesus is enough’ only applies a half-truth of the ‘already-not yet’ kingdom.
Other times, we can be stopped by everything on the road, every crack, every stumble. ‘You’ve got to keep carrying that cross and enduring this life-long suffering.’ The result can be that we miss the forest for the trees. We forget to acknowledge the blessings in our lives right now. We may not acknowledge the God-given gifts before us: the friends who sacrifice their time, the family who welcome us in, the Christmases that are quiet but warm, and the card in the post-box. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ applies a half-truth of the ‘already-not yet’ kingdom.
When we live in half-truths of unbiblical kingdoms, we live incomplete lives.
‘Keep calm and carry on’ applies a half-truth of the ‘already-not yet’ kingdom.
For believers who experience attraction to the same sex who have been half-taught, half-encouraged, and half-discipled to follow Jesus, living with this tension might appear foreign. Without models walking alongside, when combined with the loneliness of the closet, ‘living out our salvation’ appears impossible (Philippians 2:12).
But friends, we are not alone; however weak we may feel or however tiny a sliver of faith we may have, in our impossible exists the God of the impossible, one ‘who works in you both in resolve and in action for God’s good purpose’ (Philippians 2:12, author’s translation).
The bird on the fence fluttered away. I got distracted by an overly amicable spoodle who demanded belly rubs. The flat whites had drunk themselves dry. The person opposite me picked up his glass of water because he felt vulnerable after sharing his frustrations.
‘I know I should be satisfied in Jesus. I am really glad I’m saved, and I really want to be faithful, but I don’t feel fulfilled, or at ease, or joyful. I feel stuck.’
‘What will it look like to be unstuck?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know.’
‘We might think that not knowing, voicing our doubts and trying to believe is a sign of not following Jesus. But maybe, those are the very ways we follow Jesus. Maybe not knowing whether or not hopes will be fulfilled in this life is the very reality of every Christian’s experience. Maybe voicing our doubts to Jesus is what it means to bring everything to God in prayer and to cast all our anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7). And maybe trying to believe when there are so many reasons not to, is, in fact, the very act of faith.’
In the next article, Sam will explore the experience of fear and trembling in the unknownness of the already and not yet and the ways in which Christians who experience attraction to the same sex can hold onto the joy of realised promises and promises yet to be fulfilled.