These are two of the most anticipated words of finality ever spoken, returning breath to a room, returning life to a man. At the same time, those two words often do little to erase the pain of those who felt sure they had been wronged, had borne the brunt of another's action, had sought what seemed to be judgment and hear what feels like a two-word announcement of emptiness. For them, breath fades.
Evidence and arguments, claims and presentations, defense and prosecution end with two words, or one. One less word can mean the end of freedom, the weight of penalty, a turning of a key, either in a clanging door of physical separation or in the hearts of those whose hopes rested on hearing the two-word verdict and now begin a soulful separation. Drop the "not," and you are . . . guilty. Said and done.
I've only been a part of two trials in my life, both now years ago. In one, I was on the jury. In the other, I was the defendant. On the jury, I listened and watched as the details of a man's moment of passion was debated and claims were presented. Did he or did he not attack another man, knife in hand? For what purpose? The question for the jury was whether he had exercised justified anger and self-protection, or had sought vengeance and intended serious harm to an undeserving victim.
The view as a defendant is seriously different. You hear words designed to deny or justify the truth of the accusations made against you and your spirit lifts because you are sure everyone will understand and extend mercy. Then comes the crushing weight as the prosecution paints you as the scourge of society, leaving you desperately longing for a hole in the floor. Give me the key; I'll lock myself away. One moment I looked like a pity-worthy man who had succumbed to the siren call of sexual temptation and made a fatefully poor decision leading to a regretful conversation followed by handcuffs and dry heaves. The next moment, I resembled more the mass murderer, marching along the edges of society picking off every shred of decency left in the nation, a menacing threat to all that ever was or will be good.
Then we all left and went home, pondering mercy. As I said, years ago.
That's how it works in isolated courtrooms with controlled situations and rules and rulings. It may be chaotic at times, but clarity prevails, depending on the presence or lack of "not."
But that's not how it works out here, where we all are, making our own judgments, treating mercy like it is on the verge of extinction, forgiveness as if it is a treasured antiquity to be preserved on a high shelf somewhere, and grace as if its value depends on the tightness of its rationing. Setting aside these commodities, we place the defendants -- sinners -- in the limbo of an ever-hung jury.
Sexual sinners -- in particular those who struggle with and even act out on homosexual temptations or pornography addictions or adulterous lust -- are the centerpiece of this constant cultural contention. Repent or relent? Give-it-up or just give-in? They drive on the yellow-line down the middle of the road of life, dodging the inevitable head-on collisions. It's a constant swerve, with angry fists raised in the passing traffic: "Choose a lane!"
Good advice that.
Swerve into the left lane (not politically-speaking): While driving in this lane, you will be allowed to go as fast as you want, as far as you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want, for as long as you want. It is, of course, the "Whatever you want" lane, paved in affirmation. You may not be sure where you're headed, but no one is going to stop you, so have a nice trip and enjoy yourself. It's all good.
Swerve to the right (again, not politically-speaking): Proceed with extreme caution, observing all signs and speed limits. Keep both hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, remove all distractions and keep your license and verification handy for frequent roadside checks, because we are keeping an eye on you. For safety's sake, of course. An occasional equipment check is in order, just to make sure you are really running right.
Let's start with the brakes. Maybe it's time for a rest stop. It seems to me the more enlightened we all become about sexuality, the darker the journey becomes for the sexually-broken. And . . . in an odd twist . . . the two "sides" are becoming more similar in their defenses and prosecutions. Affirmation is becoming a dirty word, used not to affirm you, but what you do. Hence, the hung jury, composed of the muddled masses just wanting to be left alone while someone else sorts it all out, which, of course, God is doing. But does that mean God wants us to all just stay on the courses we've chosen, watching everyone careening along, some in blissful ignorance and others en route to disaster?
Of course not.
If you are a struggler, once you escape the noise of all the traffic around you, you still have the same choice. Do I act on this temptation, or do I not? Either way, why?
The value of asking for directions is diminishing, even though there's no shortage of information and definitely no shortage of misinformation. Depending on who you ask, the answers range from "you were born this way," and "you have been blessed with the gay gene," to "you're only doing this because you have been led astray and are now seeking your own way," to "God hates you."
Welcome to sexual brokenness in the age of spin.
Sorted out: You were not born this way. There is no gay gene. You probably have been led astray. We all -- sexually or not -- tend to seek our own way. And . . . heaven forbid, God does not hate you.
While everyone is busy debating, the decision is still up to you. It's time to shut out the silly and go back to the basics. And basically, no matter who is cheering from what sideline, the only voice that can lead you down the right path is still that still small one -- the voice of the One who made you, knows you, loves you, wants you, and will forever keep you if you will just take your hands off the steering wheel and ignore the roadside attractions.
Yes . . . storms will rage. Debate will ensue within and without about what you've done and who you've been and what it all means. Fingers will either curl up to say follow me . . . or point out like daggers to say get thee behind me. You will be declared as either blinded by your own overestimated self-worth or blind to all conviction. The blind will always lead the blind.
And yet . . . there you are. Human, in need of fellowship, hungry for forgiveness, in want of wisdom, hopeful for change, longing to confess, desiring to repent. Roaming from ravaging in sin to rooting among the pigs and crying to come home.
Help? Occasionally, instead of those beckoning fingers and those pointing fingers, you will find a set wrapped around yours, a hand that holds yours and hangs on. A squeeze that frees.
On the road again. But this road beckons us to righteousness. It's curbed with truth, paved with compassion, striped with understanding and laid out with infinite wisdom. It's quiet, as the voices of the ones who either want to figure you out or straighten you out fade away with the sights in the rear-view mirror. If you decide to follow God, you need not concern yourself with the flow of the traffic, and you can pretty much ditch the rear-view mirror altogether.
"I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" is an old hymn most of us heard and sang when we were young, We can still recall the tune and words of the five verses that lay out the path-markers that will help you navigate to freedom, regardless of the never-ending debates about your soul and worth and sexual sin, and whether you can ever confess enough, repent enough, or do enough to earn the forgiveness of men.
The confusion of culture in this era of spin and the hopelessness of the ever-hung jury has not changed the rules of the road: Know where you are headed. Don't get distracted. Rest in the Lord and you will make it home. Follow Jesus. No turning back.
Some will go with you.
(My book, Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do, is available on Amazon.com for only $11.86 in paperback or $7.99 in Kindle format. I hope you will order one today. Thanks!)