The Ideal and the Real (LGBT 8)

Whenever the Bible speaks about divorce, the ideal and the real both come into play. Jesus states the ideal when He says that “in the beginning it was not so.” But when the real happens, when divorces occur, regulations are given that protect weaker parties in a destructive situation. So Jesus is very strict in interpreting the ideal, but very compassionate in dealing with the real. In John 8:1-11, a women is caught in the act of adultery. The ideal would seem to call for harsh condemnation and punishment. Instead Jesus tells the woman, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.” Jesus states the ideal in the most straightforward way (Matthew 19), but when confronted with the real, he is most gracious, compassionate, and surprisingly lenient. The same is true of Moses. He states the ideal in Genesis 2:24. Man and women are joined together, not to be separated. But in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 he states the real. Since divorces happen, here’s how to minimize the damage. We find the same pattern in Paul. In 1 Corinthians Paul six times states the ideal, then introduces the real with “but if.” In some cases celibacy is the ideal (Matt 19:11-12), even in marriage (1 Cor 7:1), but because of immorality (7:2) Paul encourages married sexuality. The ideal is for the unmarried to remain so (7:8), but in the real world marriage is generally to be preferred. The ideal for marriage is lifelong (7:10), but if someone leaves a marriage, there is a new ideal (7:11). Paul states the ideal as an absolute, but offers a backup plan for dealing with the real.

For Seventh-day Adventists it is interesting that you will find the same pattern in Ellen White. She is very strict and uncompromising when stating the ideal (for example, no divorce, marry someone close to you in age). But when faced with real situations, she was very accommodating and even lenient. In one case, church members were dealing with a situation in which a couple divorced and each married someone else in the church. The church leaders were demanding that the new couples divorce so the original pair could get back together again. When Ellen White was consulted about this situation she said, “Leave them alone, they have suffered enough.” Since Ellen White strongly advised that people marry close to their own age, some were stunned when she allowed her 41-year-old son to marry a 22-year-old girl. When confronted about the situation she retorted, “Best decision Willie ever made.” Individuals recognized as particularly close to God, therefore, consistently exhibited this pattern: state the ideal without compromise, but face the real with compassion and grace. The ideal is what the church teaches and what it should teach. But the real requires much understanding and compassion.

It seems to me that this pattern is relevant to the challenges people face when it comes to LGBTIQ, both those experiencing themselves as “different” and those dealing with them. LGBTIQ conditions are among the many ways in which the creation ideal is not worked out in this life. They are part of the real. While the church must always uphold the ideal, it must also deal with the real. And in the real world there is great need for understanding, compassion and grace, and not just for LGBT people. We have all failed to live out the ideal, so we are all in need of understanding, compassion and grace. The church must be to others what every member of the church needs as well.

5 thoughts on “The Ideal and the Real (LGBT 8)

  1. Ed Dickerson

    “God is practical. God recognizes that in a sinful world, sometimes we must choose the best available option among a group of less-than-ideal alternatives. Unable to achieve the ideal, we must settle for improvement, for better.

    An example of God’s practicality is the Bill of Divorcement. God instructed Moses that if a man divorced his wife, he must give her a Bill of Divorcement. But wait, doesn’t Scripture say “God hates divorce”? Yes, He does. But there are things He hates even more— like forcing an honest woman to choose between prostitution and starvation. As Jesus later made clear, one man plus one woman equals one flesh was always God’s plan.

    But sin had marred that plan so badly that even Jesus’ disciples, on hearing that divorce was forbidden except for adultery, said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19: 10). If the disciples, who had walked with the Son of God daily, who had the entire Old Testament to read, could not make the mental and psychological leap, then the Israelites in Moses’ day had no chance. They had spent centuries in slavery, surrounded by Egyptian gods and ideas, and they did not have the written word. God realized they could not go from throwing women’s belongings out of their tents, divorcing them at a whim, to lifelong monogamy in a single giant step. So He commanded the Bill of Divorcement, providing the woman with proof of the cause for the separation. If she had not been unfaithful, she might then be eligible for remarriage. It was far from ideal, but it was a practical improvement for women. It was better.

    Dickerson, Ed . For Such a Time (p. 26). PPPA. Kindle Edition. “

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I love that book. I am planning to pick it up again soon. Wish I could see you again, but circumstances have not made it a good option lately. Let’s plan to talk on the phone, maybe Thanksgiving time. It would be good to catch up.

  2. Dave Laughton

    Just wondering if you were aware of ‘the rest of the story’… the woman Willie married had her eyes on another young man in the office who never gave her any notice…many years later they met again at camp meeting inCalifornia….at that time he mentioned that he was sweet on her years ago in Australia but was too shy to talk to her!…the two of them were later married….she also said when she asked EGW what to do re: her sons proposal sister White said …yes, yes, yes! (Story was in the review years ago)


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