book report: Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill (2010)
This book convicts me of my sin. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill, a celibate homosexual Christian, showed me how to discuss the issue with compassion unlike any way that I have ever done.
In my scientific mind, I want to deal with cold, hard data. But this is not a discussion over data but a discussion with people, my friends, my co-workers, my brothers and sisters. Hill does not ignore the data, but he speaks to the heart from his heart. His struggle in coming to terms with his homosexuality started in his childhood as someone raised in a fundamental church, which he kept secret until he started to open up at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian college in Illinois. He has read broadly while coming to a resolution regarding his attractions in the context of his faith. He has read the theological reflections from Catholics and the Orthodox as well as the Protestants, both from the United States, Boston, as well as Britain. He also introduced me to poets, like Gerard Manley Hopkins from the 1800's, and W. H. Auden of the 1900's, and reminded me of those in our recent times, like Henri Nouwen, in who Hill finds courage in their struggle to renounce their homosexuality in a faithful pursuit of Jesus. But I've only read Hill, and his description of the depths of his orientation, and the intense despair it brings him broke my hard heart. It is not that I have not felt compassion for my gay friends until reading this book, but after reading it, I consider my former compassion an inadequate joke. For this I need to repent, and I need to thank Hill for softening my heart.
The book is short, but full of meat. Much meat comes from the greats he references, but plenty more comes from the voices and quotes of his friends and pastors and fellow strugglers. One friend told him, "Ignoring is not the path to redeeming," (p.34) which encouraged him to continue risking "coming out" to fellow believers he trusted. He learns from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart." p. 50 But the most theologically profound quote for me is from an unnamed friend's email to Hill regarding the supremacy of marital love.
The ancients did not contend this (consider Plato's Symposium). And neither does the Bible. The Old Testament suggests that there is love between men greater than that found in mariage (2 Samuel 1:26). But so does the New Testament. According to Jesus, there is no greater love than the sacrificial love of one friend for another (John 15:13). Is it not peculiar that in writing the greatest discourse on love found in the New Testament, Paul chooses to put it, not with his discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 (here love is not even mentioned), but in the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 13! And even when agape love is discussed in the marital context of Ephesians 5, it is sacrificial love that is the model for marital love - not the other way around. Marriage is a venue for expressing love, which in its purest form exists, first and foremost, outside of it. The greatest joys and experiences God has for us are not found in marriage, for it they were, surely God would not do away with marriage in heaven. But since he has already told us he is doing away with it, we, too, can realize that the greatest things God has to give us are not to be found in marriage at all. pp. 112-113What a bold claim, but one I can make no argument with, even though I have a fantastic marriage. Finally, I love his quote in the endnotes of Miroslav Volf.
To illustrate the relationship between being a good creature and being a sinner, Reformation theologians used the analogy of water and ink. Water is the good creation, ink is sin with a few drops of ink. All the water in the glass is tainted, but it's still mostly water, not ink. Analogously, all our good deeds are marred by sin, but they are still mostly good deeds, not crimes masquerading as merits.Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, 2005, p. 98.
Hill comes to the conclusion that God's grace is scandalous. God keeps forgiving because our stain does not take away His image in us. Hill's presentation of God's grace is so libertine, that it makes me uncomfortable, which tells me he got it right, because even Paul had to defend himself against the charge of antinomianism.
In the introduction, Hill expresses his hope that "this book may encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ." p. 17 My hope is that straight Christians like me will read this short book to understand the complexity of the gay person's orientation and respond to that gay person, even more so a fellow believer, with deep compassion rather than judgment. Please read this book. Zondervan gave it to me for free as a review copy, and I'm very grateful.