Enslaved by God?

by Robert Jacobs

“Well, I guess God has a gun to my head,” the man exasperatedly said to his wife. “Either I do what He tells me, or He will throw me in hell; He has made me His slave.”

Years ago, I spoke the above words to my wife after confessing my homosexual infidelity to her. They reflect a common misconception that I find among those who struggle with same-sex attraction, a misconception that I believe to be demonic in origin.

In Genesis 3 we are offered a glimpse into the mind of Satan, our deceptive adversary. After Eve tells the serpent that God has forbidden them to eat of “the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden,” the serpent tells her that the reason God has made such a prohibition is because God “knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like [Him]” (Genesis 3:3,5). Through his crafty response, the serpent calls the very nature of God into question. Rather than being a wholly good and loving creator, the serpent’s narrative casts God as a selfish deity who is holding out on his creation for any number of insidious reasons.

This doubt about God’s motives has plagued humanity from that fateful day. Are we some kind of cosmic joke to him? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure from telling us that we cannot do things we long to do? The Jacobean play The Duchess of Malfi puts it this way: “We are merely the stars’ tennis-balls, struck and banded / Which way please them” (Act 5, Scene 4).

This very doubt fueled the above response to my wife. I reasoned that I must be some kind of perverse joke to God. I felt attracted to men, yet He clearly states in His word that such relationships were sinful. In my mind, I never even had any choice to not follow Him. Yes, I could have left my wife and gone into the Gay lifestyle, but if I renounced Christ and chose to run hard after my sin I ran the risk of hell. And such a choice was, to me, a non-choice. He had forced my hand. He had effectively taken away my freedom. He had made me a slave. And I would be obliged to, in the words of John Milton’s demons in Paradise Lost, “celebrate His throne with…forced hallelujahs.” (Book II).

The reality, though, is that I had bought into the lie of the serpent. God does not impose rules on us because He enjoys seeing us struggle or wants to curtail our freedom for some kind of perverse enjoyment. Quite the opposite. God places boundaries in our life precisely so we can safely enjoy that which is good.

Think of it this way. Let’s imagine that you volunteered to care for a 12-month old child from your church. Knowing that your home is not even close to baby-proofed, you decide to borrow a play pin fence from the church. You set up the boundaries and place all kinds of good toys for the baby within those boundaries. When the baby comes, you place her/ him within the play pin, allowing her/ him to enjoy all of the good gifts that you have prepared. Now, did you curtail the freedom of that baby? In some ways, yes. The baby was limited by the fence. However, because of the boundaries, the baby had the freedom to safely enjoy all the good gifts that you placed into the play area.

While I run the risk of being a bit reductive, I think this is very similar to the way that God works. In Psalm 23, David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). The rod and staff mentioned here are tools of correction used by the Sheppard to keep the sheep on the safest path, providing a kind of boundary for them. The sheep, in return, find the rod and staff to be a comfort, for they know that they need to stay on the safe and right path while traveling through “the valley of the shadow of death.” God uses this image of the Shepard and the sheep over and over to explain his relationship to his children. He does not want to harm us; rather, wants us to be safe to enjoy all of the good things he has created for us.

Yet some would say that God has still made us into a kind of slave. Either we choose Him or we go to hell. While the question of if we are “forced” into obedience is one for another time, I will say that slavery, in its purest sense, is absolutely the wrong metaphor for our relationship with God.[1] In the institution of slavery, the purpose of the rules governing the slave and the labor exerted by said slave is to fulfill some need of the master. God, however, has no needs. Rather than slaves, we are treated as children. The boundaries given to children do not benefit the parent but instead benefit the child. Throughout scripture, God is shown to be concerned with our good, which ultimately glorifies Him. God does not make us slaves. Instead, he has made us sons and daughters.

Who do you think God is? Is he some sadistic immortal sitting up in heaven, laughing at you as you are forced to follow His rules despite your feelings? Or is he a God who cares for you, showing his love for you through His boundaries? Do you see yourself as a slave or do you see yourself as a son, a co-heir with Jesus (Romans 8:17)? Answering these questions were absolutely vital for me as I began to truly deal with my sexual sin. My prayer is that you would see God as he truly is rather than as Satan wants you to see Him.

[1] Although Paul uses the metaphor of slavery to describe abandoning everything to serve Christ, he never intends for us to attribute the coercive aspects of the institution of slavery to God.