A question often asked here at Harvest USA is a common one. “Why do people—even Christians—go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question. For Christians who believe the Word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically grounded. Let me give you six possible reasons to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry.
It’s just too painful
Pain is a major motivator for all of us. We seek to avoid pain, and if we are in pain, we seek to get out of it. Even if the pain we are experiencing is something we need to go through in order to reach a better place, the experience of the pain itself can move us to go back to our original state.
Whenever we cultivate sinful behavior or thought patterns, there is always a “death” that goes along with putting off and abandoning that behavior or thought pattern. A void opens up in the place of the person you need to leave or the addictive habit you need to stop. What once filled your heart, even though it was ungodly to do so, leaves a pain-filled emptiness inside. However, this is an important part of the healing process! It must happen! Repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry;” it involves a change of mind and heart and necessitates a different action—turning around and going in the other direction.
There is pain involved in denying ourselves what we wish for in the depths of our heart. It’s true of the drug addict coming clean, of the single person saying “no” to continuing a sexual relationship outside of marriage, and of the gay person struggling with same-sex attraction or behavior. Sometimes it just hurts to see that you can’t go back to an old place that was so familiar, so second nature.
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “How could someone hunger for this or her old life when he or she has the presence and promises of God?”
It happens. Why? Because it is our nature! The Bible talks about how the Israelites were led out of captivity in such a powerful way by the miraculous power and presence of God. Yet, when hard times came, they hungered for their past bondage, believing that what they had was better than what God was giving to them (see Exodus 14:1-12). It’s in all of our natures!
Some people who begin a journey out of homosexuality know they must cut off associations, friendships, and those with whom they have been sexually involved. That’s a kind of “death,” albeit a death that will lead to life. Sometimes people who begin such a journey don’t want to endure the pain any longer when they encounter it, and they despair of Christ ever giving them a feeling of peace and enjoyment that characterized their old lives. So, they go back.
Moreover, when we see the muck and mire of our own hearts, people may attempt to avoid this pain at all costs. Most people wrongly think that their first need is to be pain-free. We know biblically, however, that our first, greatest, and ongoing need is to be forgiven. Only when we see our hearts as they really are do we begin to grasp our deep need of Christ. Yet, so often, we will go to any lengths to avoid seeing the true condition of our hearts.
I call this the “Tupperware Syndrome.” Sometimes I’ll go to the refrigerator, hungry for a snack. Because my wife is a Tuppeware adherent, I must discover through extensive investigation what leftover lurks beneath the lids of all those containers. Occasionally, I’ll lift the lid and, before I even see what’s inside, I can smell it: the odor of something that’s been in the refrigerator way too long. It’s gone bad. What’s my reaction? I press down the lid and slide it back in the fridge. I’m going to let someone else deal with it. Well, that is often the first response when we see the ugliness of what is in our heart.
Even when we begin to follow Jesus earnestly, we must deal with the scars on our hearts—the scars caused by our own actions and the actions of others against us. The truth is that Jesus changes us through a process of growth, but the pain of our past and the ramifications of our sinful choices and behaviors may remain. Although God gives us a new future, he doesn’t rewrite our past. The past may leave a dark blot and an open wound in our hearts.
Into that pain, the struggler must believe that God really does give us a new beginning, a clean record from our past sins, and a new way to interpret life, heal from our wounds, and live in a way that brings glory to God. Pain is not an enemy in this new journey; it is what opens us up to who we are and who God is, so that we might see a new path forward.