Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sexuality and "Is" vs. "Ought"

Leviticus 18:3 (NKJV)
3 According to the doings [the sexual practices] of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.

One of the key distinctions that philosphers make in the realm of ethics is between “is” and “ought.” Merely because something “is” the case does not mean that it “ought” to be the case. ‘Is” is merely descriptive not prescriptive; it describes the way things are but not necessarily the way things ought to be.

In recent debates over the matter of sexuality there has been a decided failure to maintain this basic distinction – a distinction which is eminently biblical. We see it reflected in our text today – the Egyptians and Canaanites behaved in certain ways sexually; had sociologists written about their society, they would have described the practices of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, ritual prostitution, etc. All these things were the case. But simply because they were the case doesn’t mean that those practices were right or proper, that they ought to have been. Scripture declares on nearly every page that that which we observe about us in the history of humanity is not necessarily that which ought to be. Jealousy, immorality, theft, murder, covetousness, pride, deceit, self-righteousness, slander – all these things are the case but ought not to be the case – for God created us to be different.

So notice how the argumentation goes – homosexuals find individuals of the same gender attractive; many testify that they experienced this attraction unwillingly, it was simply there. Notice that thus far we’re dealing with what is the case, with description. But suddenly the ground shifts and the homosexual advocate begins to defend something quite different – he begins to reason from is to ought, from description to prescription. Because homosexual attraction is the case, therefore we ought to consider it acceptable behavior.

But this is folly. We do not determine what ought to be the case from what is the case. For example, we take it as a given in Western culture that cannibalism is perverse and unnatural. Thanks to generations of biblical wisdom and common grace, we find the smell of burning human flesh repulsive. What may come as a surprise, however, is that in cannibalistic cultures the shape of the brain changes over time so that the smell of human flesh is actually perceived as pleasant. That which is naturally repulsive comes to be perceived as pleasant. Do we conclude from this that cannibalism is morally acceptable? Absolutely not! Their cultural perversion distorts their very physicality.

The sobering reality of our corruption is this: just as we can become accustomed to the roaring of a train outside our window if we’ve lived beside it long enough, so we can become accustomed to perverse behavior and our sensory faculties can adjust to make such behavior seem acceptable.

So how can we escape? Only by the grace of God and the Word of God. God must give us a new longing to understand what ought to be, a desire to study His Word so that we can learn what ought to be, and then the willingness to change what is so that it conforms to what ought to be. And praise God that by His grace our God-given repulsion to that which is unnatural can return.

So what of us? What of you? What things are the case in your life that you have merely come to accept as normal – not because they ought to be the case, but merely because they are the case? Are there outbursts of anger and wrath? Undercurrents of bitterness and resentment? Displays of disrespect or disobedience? Beware becoming alienated from that which ought to be the case by the ever-presence of what is the case.

Reminded of the depth of our sinfulness and the way we excuse what we do wrong, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.