Over at First Things, Peter Leithart interacts with a 2010 article by natural law theorist Jean Porter. At issue was the question of whether or not natural law provides a basis for rejecting same-sex relationships or marriages. Porter thinks not, and Peter finds her reasoning compelling — as far as the natural law limitation goes — but concludes that this is why we need Scripture.
Here is Peter’s conclusion. “Other natural law theorists, of course, think otherwise. But Porter’s reasoning is pretty compelling, and leaves me wondering whether we can say certain sexual acts are ‘contrary to nature’ without having some insight that comes from outside nature. Say, from revelation.”
Now there is no problem acknowledging that nature does not tell us everything, and that there are certain truths that cannot be obtained from nature that are taught in Scripture. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Second Coming, or the need to baptize in the triune name.
But there are still difficulties. Aren’t there always? We really need to pursue this issue out to the end of the road, because a lot rides on it.
We ought not conclude anything about the clarity of the lesson from the obtuseness of the students. If Scripture tells us plainly that nature teaches us all about the sovereignty and majesty of God, and Scripture also teaches us that man in his perverse and sinful ways refuses to acknowledge that this is what in fact nature is saying about God, one of the fundamental things we learn about book of nature from the book of Scripture is that sinful men have a vested interest in refusing to read it rightly. In short, given Scripture, we ought not to trust men when it comes to what nature does or does not tell us.
Scripture tells us that nature is a book, and Scripture also tells us that men are culpably ignorant in their refusal to read it rightly.
And this brings us to the next issue. When Scripture tells us that something is contrary to nature, as it does with regard to the homosexual lusts described in Romans 1, we are being told much more than that the behavior is morally wrong. We are being told that we already knew something about this subject before Scripture taught it to us.
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26–27).
If Scripture tells us that woman-to-woman sexual behavior is “against nature,” and that man-to-man sex is the same, and that this perverted turning toward a member of the same sex is simultaneously an abandonment of the “natural use” of a member of the opposite sex, and that those who give way to this kind of lust are given up to vile and unseemly affections, paying the price for that unnatural bent “in themselves,” we are being given a lot of information here. We are being told in Scripture what these actions are like in themselves, what they were like before the book of Romans was written.
The first biblical reference to homosexual sin is in Genesis 19, when the men of Sodom attempted to rape the angels. This is about 2,000 years into human history. Leviticus, about 600 years after that, gives us the first explicit law prohibiting the practice. Now when the Lord went down to Sodom to discover if it was as bad as it sounded like it might be, what standard were the inhabitants of Sodom violating? Bad by what standard? When God judged them with fire from the sky, what standard was He vindicating? The Sodomites had no Romans, no Leviticus, and so on. But they did have judgment (Jude 7). They had the vengeance of eternal fire, and because God does not erupt for no reason, when that judgment fell, it fell on them because they had sinned against knowledge. They knew that what they were doing was wrong, but they suppressed that knowledge in unrighteousness.
Imagine the first person to be drawn to homosexual activity. Was it then an abandonment of the natural use of the opposite sex? Did people who lived this way (before Abraham) receive in themselves the due penalty of their error? The answer is plainly yes. The book of Romans is describing something that was going on in the world of pagan civilization already.
Or suppose a tribe out in the sticks has not yet received any revelation whatever, and yet homosexual behavior is not unknown among them. When members of that tribe appear before God to answer for the deeds they have done (say, head-hunting, lying, theft, and sodomy) will they have an excuse when it comes to the sodomy? Does the absence of revelation mean that they are not without excuse on that point?
So then, we don’t know everything through nature. We don’t know the plan of salvation through nature. But we do know the need for salvation through nature. That knowledge is unsettling, and so we stuff it. We don’t like it, and so we hold it under the surface of our id, trying to drown it down there, and our arms are quivering. We like to pretend we do not know . . . but we actually do know.