“God sends homosexuals to hell.” This is an explosive statement; a loaded gun [1]. To make both guns and statements safer to handle, we have to unload them. Unloading a gun is simple: we take out the bullets. Unloading a statement is more difficult: its ammunition is an idea, encased in words and propelled by assumptions.

As for this particular statement (“God sends homosexuals to Hell”), it is loaded with one assumption and one half-truth, and it is poorly aimed. The assumption is that homosexuality is a sin, an act of rebellion against God. The half-truth is that God sends people to Hell. Finally, the statement is aimed at a scapegoat – people who are homosexual – and this gives other targets a fatal false security. We’ll examine these three aspects one by one.

I. An assumption
The grand assumption beneath the statement is “Homosexuality is a sin.” The reasoning runs like this: “Homosexuality is a sin; people who sin go to Hell; therefore people guilty of homosexuality go to Hell.” Some people reject this, saying that it refers solely to homosexual rape or pederasty, not to consensual homosexual intercourse [2]. This is false: the Greek word arsenokoitēs can mean pederasty but it doesn’t mean only that, nor does it have to. The precise nuance of a word depends on its context, so the context should help us discover what, specifically, arsenokoitēs refers to [3]. There are only two passages in the New Testament that use the word arsenokoitēs, and nothing in them indicates that it prohibits rape or pederasty but permits consensual homosexuality.

The issue is further clarified in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where we find this assertion:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. [4]

It is difficult to show that homosexuality in these verses means rape and paedophilia but not consensual sex. Verse 27 says “with other men”, not “with boys”. To turn from heterosexual to homosexual (as these verses say people did) does not imply that one turns also from adults to children, or from consent-only sex to rape. However, it is obvious that if same-gender sex between consenting adults is forbidden, then so are the other acts, because they are reprehensible no matter what our sexual orientation is.

It may also be argued that homosexuality isn’t a sin because it’s a desire or inclination that people are born with. This is specious: our desires seem natural to us, but that doesn’t mean they are good for us. We may be greedy or lazy or self-centred or sarcastic without even realising: we act naturally, but these responses are wrong nonetheless. Whoa, you might say, these examples are about how we relate to people; that depends on our character or personality, which are both independent of sexual desire. So (you continue) a person might be homosexual or heterosexual, irrespective of their personality.

Not quite. Our desire for relationship is innate, but how we relate to others is almost entirely learned, foundationally from how we have seen our family relating to one another. Similarly, the existence of our sexual desire is innate, but it is arguable that its focus (who we desire) is at least partly learned. Having said this, it matters less whether homosexual desire is innate or learned or both: what matters more is what God says about it. As we have seen, the Bible is clear about homosexuality: it is wrong.

IIa. A half truth
The second type of ammunition is the half-truth that “God sends people to Hell”. The true part is that Hell is a punishment from God. If we go to Hell, it is because we have rejected God’s word, and usurped His authority: we have claimed His right to say what is good and bad. But if this act of lèse-majesté [5] is not bad enough, we are guilty of something worse. Romans 5:6-8 says:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In the person of Jesus, God died to save people who hated Him! If, after all this, we deny God His right to rule, we are guilty of the most abominable disrespect and ingratitude. After God has sacrificed Himself in our stead, can we doubt that deserve Hell if we continue our rebellion? His judgement is nothing if not just: it is His proclamation that we deserve our separation from Him. In the person of Jesus, God will judge us and deliver us to our final destination.

That is one part of the truth; here is the other. Hell is a destination we choose for ourselves. God knows and wants what is best for us; He doesn’t want us to reject Him.

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! [6]

For he [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. [7]

God wants us to love Him. However, love is given; it cannot be earned and it cannot be coerced; even God cannot make people love Him. He pursues us, offering us the life that Adam and Eve forfeited. But if we continue to turn away from Him, He will eventually acquiesce: Very well, O Man, your will be done. Chapter one of Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks of God allowing our rebellion to run its course.

Furthermore, since they [people who rebel against God] did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. [8]

One person, when asked if God would punish people who took part in the Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras, replied that God’s punishment was to allow them to take part in the Mardi Gras. One part of the result of rebelling against God is that He allows us to rebel. He will not usually stop us from doing something bad but will almost invariably just convict us, pricking our conscience [9]. This is because our submission to God must be freely given: it is our response of gratitude and trust to what He has done for us in Christ. God will not force us to do anything. If we continue to insist on having out own way, He will eventually withdraw from us and allow us to go our own way until we achieve our desire to live in a God-free zone. That is the essence of Hell [10].

We don’t go to Hell because our bad acts outweigh our good ones; because we’ve committed any of the “big” sins, or because we’re homosexual. If we go to Hell, it is because we reject God’s right to be our God; to let Him say what is good and bad, right and wrong. If we understand the Gospel – that God became human, and died to save us, we who deserve Hell – it is irrational to continue our rebellion. So why would we? The reason is our nature.

IIb. The other half of the truth
Many people, even some Christians, think that we are born good or at least morally neutral. But in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul wrote:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. [11]

“… dead in … transgressions and sins”; “by nature objects of wrath”. Does this describe inherent goodness or moral neutrality? This is the nature we inherit from our parents: Adam and Eve rejected God and were cut off from Him; as like reproduces like, all their offspring are born in the same state – dead to God.

… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. [12]

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. [13]

What does it mean to be dead to God? It doesn’t mean we don’t believe in God, nor that we don’t try to please Him: that is what most religions are about. When we’re dead to God, we are unable to respond to Him as we should. Our problem isn’t merely that we don’t respond to God properly; our problem is that we cannot. This is how we are born, and if we insist that God let us do whatever we want (as long as we don’t hurt anyone), this is how we stay.

Because we are dead to God, we can’t even begin to meet God’s standard for entrance into heaven. Jesus said this standard was perfection. ‘Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ [14] Whatever form our rebellious nature takes, we are all rebels because we are all born dead to God [15]. So like every other sin, homosexuality is a result of our separation from God, rather than a cause of it. (And might God consider inciting hatred against anyone, including people who are homosexual, to be evil?)

Think of this death-and-sin situation like an illness. When we are sick, we have symptoms: a blocked nose, abdominal pain, headaches, tiredness, and so on. We get rid of the symptoms by curing the illness, the source of the problem. The foundational illness of humanity is that we’re dead to God: we don’t respond to Him in trust and dependence. Our symptoms are the bad things we do: our sins. The difference between most illnesses and being dead to God is that for the latter, symptoms are different for each of us; nevertheless, they all point to the one disease. The essence of our illness, as we saw before, is deciding for ourselves what is good and evil. So we might be tight-fisted, arrogant, callous, ungrateful, proud, disobedient, or we might be kind, generous, gentle, respectful, patient, and courteous.

That last sentence wasn’t an oversight. The essence of sin is … what? Deciding for ourselves what is good and evil. If we give to charity not because God says but because we decide that giving is good, we are guilty: we have chosen to dethrone God in our lives. This is the core of sin, the disease we all have.

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away… [16]

Of course it’s better to help people than hurt them, and God wants us to help people, but the central issue here is not what we do – it is why we do it. Do we do good to other people because we think it’s good, or because God says it is good? The effect is the same (other people are helped) but the cause is what matters to God. If we do good – give to charity, be kind and so on – because we decide it is good, we are sinning; rebelling against God. We do what God prescribes and don’t do what God proscribes because God says it, no matter what we like or would prefer to be true. This is what it means to have faith in God; to believe that He knows best – and act on it – even if we don’t like it.

We must all choose who rules our lives: God or ourselves. God wants us to love Him as He love us, so He does not force us to submit to Him. God is love, and love gives and receives; it does not give and take. So what happens when God says something we don’t like? What happens if we’re heterosexual but unfaithful to our partner, or homosexual but monogamous and faithful? I personally think it would be better to be the second – people benefit from seeing the results of a stable relationship – but God says that unfaithfulness and homosexuality are both bad, even though we are also straight or faithful.

III. A false target.
This means that homosexuality is one sin among many others. If we are all dead to God, and we sin because we are dead to God, and all sins are worthy of condemnation, why do people single out homosexuality for a beating? Maybe it’s because we all sin in some way almost all the time. (See the list in the previous paragraph.) To make our sins easier to overlook, to bolster our self-righteousness, we seek out a scapegoat: a sin that we don’t commit; one that’s more egregious. Sins like greed and pride and envy are humdrum compared to sexual sins. Our sexuality is a powerful part of our nature: it can be a source of intense pleasure or grief, and it involves other people in a more obvious and intimate way than other sins do [17].

We rationalise our comparison between the sins in our own life and homosexuality (or murder, paedophilia, or any other “big” sin) like this: Okay, we tell ourselves, some of the things we do aren’t nice, but evil? Sinful? No! If they were, that means we’re evil; we’re sinners. But everyone does this sort of thing: it’s normal. And if we are like this, it’s how God made us. Sure we’re not perfect, but at least we’re not gay (or, at least we haven’t killed/ raped/ molested anyone)! [18]

This is how we might try to justify ourselves: and we sin in doing so! Nonetheless, the Bible does condemn homosexuality, just as it condemns every sin, no matter how big or small it seems to us. If people guilty of homosexuality will go to Hell, any person who is guilty of any sin will be there with them. And none of us is without guilt of some kind. James wrote:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. [19]

If we condemn people for homosexuality, remember to also condemn members of the human race who do anything, nice or nasty, because they have decided to, irrespective of what God’s has said about it.

This is how God sees us, apart from the things we do:

dead to God => our will = evil
God’s will

alive to God => God’s will = good
our will [20]

This isn’t to say that if we’re dead to God we can’t do anything good, if good means helping others or being morally upright. But if we’re dead to God, even our best efforts aren’t good enough to get us to Heaven.

IV. The conclusion.
What have we seen so far? The Bible does assert that homosexuality is a sin. The Bible also asserts that all people sin: we sin because we are dead to God. Homosexuality has been seen as a worse sin than others, partly because sexuality is a strong part of human nature, and how we deal with our sexuality can have a powerful effect on other people as well as on us. We might also use homosexuality to blinker us to the everyday, mundane sins that we all commit, so we can feel better about ourselves. This self-righteousness is natural for all people, but it’s still wrong; it is born from our pride. Wherever homosexuality stands in your list of sins, pride should be on the highest pedestal. If there is any one sin that will keep us on the road to Hell, it is pride.

Pride is deadly because it fuels a belief that, more than any other, is natural to us. This belief is that we can be good enough to meet God’s standards. Pride is the target of this parable of Jesus:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ [21]

What is your first response to this parable? A prayer: “God, thank you that I’m not like that Pharisee”?! Physically, humans are 70% water. Morally, we are 100% pride. Pride is the chief symptom that marks our unresponsiveness to God: it is the antithesis of humility. Pride says: “I know what’s right; I say what’s right; it’s my choice!” Humility says: “I could be wrong, but God is always right. It’s His way, not mine.”

The proud person won’t admit that they’re wrong and God is right. If I had to choose between being homosexual and humble or straight and proud, I would rather the first. Being humble, we can admit that we are dead to God and need His mercy. And this is the only way we can be brought to life. God rescues those who take Him at His word – no matter who we are or what we have done.

[1] Although explosive statements aren’t necessarily loaded, because they aren’t always wrong.
[2] This is taken from the New Testament, which was (almost entirely) written in Greek.
[3] Every word has a semantic range that comprises all the meanings that the word can have. The meanings can differ, depending on the way the word is used in its literary, historical, and cultural contexts. The word “cat”, for example, can have almost a dozen meanings.
[4] Romans 1:25-27
[5] lèse-majesté: treason against the Crown; an attack on authority.
[6] Ezekiel 18:32
[7] 2 Peter 3:9
[8] Romans 1:25-32
[9] Possibly it is partly because ‘the burned hand teaches best’.
[10] People may disagree about exactly what Hell is: a place, state or condition. Any way, it is not good.
[11] Ephesians 2:1-3
[12] Romans 5:6-19
[13] Psalm 51:5
[14] Matthew 5:48. Even if we began life good or morally neutral, if we failed to love God with all we have and all we are, all of the time, even if only once, we would be counted guilty.
[15] It isn’t the purview of this essay to talk about why Christians sin.
[16] Romans 3:10-11
[17] Heterosexual lust or adultery is downplayed compared to homosexuality, probably because it’s common to almost all people.
[18] This was what Adam did in the Garden: he blamed everyone else for his sin.
[19] James 2:10-11
[20] Even if God brings us to life, we will still struggle with our old, dead, nature. This is why Christians still sin: our old and new natures constantly battle each other.
[21] Luke 18:9-14

C. Brown. “arsën”. NIDNTT.
W. Günther, C. Brown. “gameö”. NIDNTT.
H. Reisser. “porneuö”. NIDNTT.
NIDNTT = New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2007.