show me, I’m on my knees,
even though my soul bleeds,
I still believe,
Feel like Job ain’t got a thing on me,
won’t You tell me please —
why God why God why God why God why?
The above are lyrics I wrote to a song which as of yet no band I have been in has ever performed; lots of the hard rock bands I have sung for have not been too keen on me writing songs about God. One band I was in once were horrified to see me use the word “God” in a song. And another did not like my suggested name for the band, “Love Kills Hate”, because it sounded, “too Christian.” They didn’t want people to think we were “gay”. Eventually it came down to a choice — my faith or the band. I didn’t miss those guys very much. I had to live in a closet around them. They were definitely homophobic/biphobic, though not of the “Religious Right” variety. They were a gentle reminder that it is not just fundamentalist or conservative evangelicals who engage in LGBT bashing. Had I told them of my bisexuality I would have been out of the band instantly. Of course, if I told them I was in love with a bisexual woman who had a girlfriend she was intimate with, THAT would have been okay with them, but had I told them I was involved with another guy? Suddenly my bisexuality would be a source of fear for them. They would have understood my polyfidelity just fine so long as I was involved with two women and not a woman and a man. They did appreciate my open mindedness about sexuality; but a couple of them were totally turned off to the idea that I embraced sexuality as God’s Gift, and especially that I identified with being “Christian.” But those are other stories, perhaps for another time. For now I want to talk about the topic — suffering.
This is not an easy one for me, as I believe God never causes or creates suffering yet seeks to save us from it when we bring it upon ourselves.
I had a good friend in this band who was a self-proclaimed agnostic/atheist. He had a real issue with God, so much he decided to stop believing in God. And he kept on asking me the question of, “Why does God allow so much suffering if God is so Loving?” To which I could only reply as I have always believed: Our suffering never has been, and in my opinion and faith never will be, the work of God. When we endure suffering in our lives, it is quite often because we have let go of our trust in God, or just because it happens in this life, sometimes there is no answer to that question, “Why?”, only an opportunity to put our faith in God and look to all of the little blessings we have in everyday life for solace. But if we become caught up in the Spirit, even those times when we suffer can be filled with hope and encouragement.
I believe that that is why Jesus taught it is so absolutely vital that we have a personal and intimate relationship and trust in God, for He knew that the world which God created for us could sometimes be a place filled with trials and tribulations. But I think that God did not place us here to suffer it out alone. God sent Christ, as well as a host of angels disguised as human beings, to show us how to survive these difficult times — through faith, hope, and love.
Some people use the parable of Job or other Biblical parables to illustrate all of the various ways that different people of faith see suffering. Some see it as a “punishment” or “God’s Wrath.” Some see it as a “temptation from the devil” or a “test from God.” (Though I have as much of a difficult time seeing God as allowing Job to suffer trials from the Devil as part of some “wager” as I do with a God that would burn us in hell for not believing a certain doctrine. It must have been a way for the writer of the Book of Job to put some sort of Divine “Purpose” to suffering.) Personally, and this should come as no great surprise to anyone who has read other things I have written, I do not see suffering as any of these. I see it as a fact of life that we are faced with simply by our human frailty, our innocence as children of the Divine in a world that comes with a few basic instructions to try and avoid suffering, illustrated most eloquently in the teachings of Christ. Treat others as we would like to be treated; don’t judge others; the Kingdom of Heaven is within and limitless; love God more than anything.
To say that suffering is a punishment for sin to me is the same as believing in a God that will send us off to suffer in eternal hell for not believing or for believing and practicing certain things. While I do not believe that God directly punishes anyone for their careless or deliberately cruel actions towards another, I do believe that there are natural spiritual Laws that God set into action when the Universe was created, and Jesus to me spelled it out best: “What you sow, you will also reap.” That to me means, if we violate the Golden Rule, that of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, then we put ourselves at risk of the spiritual Law of Cause and Effect coming back to us, and when all we sow is hate, negativity, or evil then that is what our lives become — which to me would be a living hell.
To cite an example from my own life: there was a time many many years ago when I was a “self-proclaimed atheist.” I really did not believe that there was no God, I just wanted to deny that I believed in God, in an effort that I might be able to make God go away. (I sort of did the same thing for many years in regards to my bisexuality and my own identity.) Anyway, without going into the sordid details, I had begun to run with a group of younger kids who were professional thieves. I had always seen them have a lot of money, and when I finally found out how they asked me to join them on a “job.” Hesitantly, very nervously, I agreed. Now you must remember that at that time in my life I was falsely thinking that there was no God, so that meant that there were no rules. Still my heart felt sickened by the thought of doing something that might hurt another human being, but I rationalized that by saying, “Hey, I have had things taken from me. I can’t have what I want so why should anyone else?” It sort of worked, mentally, but never in my heart. At that point and time in my life, I was blinded by alcohol, and depression and also the repression of my own identity, so I did end up doing something I never thought I would do and something I never ever wanted to do. I did not receive any money, nor did they receive very much but we did receive a lot of problems because of what we did, and caused problems for a lot of innocent people.
I knew I had done something that was a major, even though I don’t focus on this word very much, sin. Maybe I didn’t call it that at the time, but it sure didn’t feel good to have done such a thing. A few months later, after severing the ties with these criminals, I was doing pretty well. After all, I had not been caught and to my knowledge, neither had they at that time. I had moved to another city, where I had just landed a job making more money than I ever had. Keep in mind that I had just forgotten about what happened, and although I had felt sorry, I had never asked God for forgiveness, and had never made any attempt to atone. The very first night when I came home from my job, two men with a gun greeted me as I walked to my front door. It’s a bit scary to see a loaded gun in your face and hearing two gang members say, “Go ahead and call for help, call the cops. We’ll shoot you right in front of them. We don’t care if we go to jail or not. Now give us everything you got.”
I spent most of that night certain that I was going to die. I was horrified but believe it or not, I still did not pray, because I was trying not to believe in God, and this also made me think that if there was a God, I would just be mad at Him. (Back then the image “God” conjured to me was a big angry “Him” who hated people like me anyway.) So these guys took about $5,000.00 worth of my personal property as one held the gun to my head in my living room. And I will never ever forget what one of them said to me before they left and spared my life:
“This is happening to you because of some bad you did somewhere. Just justice getting worked out.”
Now, I don’t think that those men were angels or devils or working for God but I to this day believe that that was the Law of sowing and reaping Jesus taught of in action. Let me give you another example, this time in someone else’s life:
I had just moved to California from the Midwest and was trying out for several hard rock bands. My voice was rusty. I had horrible bouts of stage fright, and my performance was less than promising at that time. But I had a dream, a dream of being a good singer in a band that I loved singing for, and I really had faith in what I was doing. I was taking vocal and performance lessons, but I had just begun to really develop my voice. I was offered a chance to sing for a friend’s band. At the audition, there was a drummer who criticized my performance. He was a great musician. He had the image, the talent, and unfortunately, a tremendous ego to match. He particularly seemed to enjoy discouraging those who were not as talented as he. When the rehearsal was over, he came up to me, and without my asking, he said, “Look, my advice to you? You just don’t have `it’ to make it in the music world. Do yourself a huge favor, cut your hair, get a real job, and give it up before you make a fool out of yourself, because you are never going to be successful with this.”
Even though I was so angry I could have screamed, I resisted anger and calmly smiled and said to him, “You know, thank you for your opinion. But that is all that it is, your opinion. And I disagree with you. I will succeed. You are not my judge and jury.” He laughed at me, but I simply let it go and pursued my music with a passion, occasionally putting up with his derision and disbelief.
Six years later, the hard rock band I was a part of at that time was playing a nearly sold-out show for a crowd of over five hundred people. Thanks to God, (even though by the time of that particular occasion I can say I believed in God’s Love, I had not really found my specific spiritual path or direction yet) I had almost totally overcome my stage fright (I would totally overcome the remainder of it later when I began soloing in church!) and my voice was better than I had ever thought it could be. During the part of the concert when I was introduced as the lead singer, I heard a voice in the crowd cheer above the others. As I left the stage that night, I turned to see the same drummer from years and years before. He looked totally different. He had given up his music career and cut his hair, and was living the type of life he had told me I should live way back when. He shook my hand and said, “I can’t believe it, you really did do it.” Did I gloat? Absolutely not. I felt bad that he was not up there with me. But it appeared that he had spent so much of his time belittling others in his heyday that he had let his own career slide. Yet do I feel that this was God’s “punishment” to him, for being arrogant? No. I don’t think God wanted him to not succeed. He just chose to focus his energies on being critical of others, rather than strengthening his own career. I prayed that someday he would have his dreams fulfilled. God to me seeks to comfort us when we have had bad times, and to save us from the consequences of our own acting in fear, not say, “I told you so” when we “miss the mark.”
But when we sow love is when I have seen the greatest harvest reaped, whether it is something we expect to happen or not and especially when we sow love during times when we are feeling persecuted or experiencing hardship. I discovered the entire community of bisexual friends and polyfidelitous friends I have and the support network that saved me from the loneliness I was feeling through an article I “happened” to see while doing hours of non-profit volunteer work for gay and bisexual men and women with HIV/AIDS. After a year of learning to use the church computer to put together the Sunday bulletin, spending hours and hours of my own time in a labor of love for God and my church every Saturday night, I realized that I had learned all the major software programs and design skills necessary to get the best job I have ever had. And I have often found hope and encouragement from others in some way, whenever I have been doing something nice for others. I never did all these things to gain these gifts, I did them all out of love for others, expecting nothing in return, for God has already given me so many blessings that my cup is overflowing. I just wanted to pass that love on to others who needed it. Thankfully, I have more stories of love being sown and reaped than negativity.
Though I do not think for a moment that God is the author of the experiences that cause us pain, I think that God is fully aware of these experiences being a part of our lives and seems to draw closer to us as we find ourselves in the midst of them. I cannot believe as some may in a God who uses suffering as a means to draw us closer. No, I think God is the Loving Spirit that reaches into the deepest sorrow, hurt and pain that we have ever found ourselves in to remind us time and again that even when it seems as if the entire world is against us, we are never, ever alone. We have a Friend in the Highest Place of Love that will redeem us and grant us an eternal unconditional Love and sense of Peace and Oneness that no one, nothing, and no experience that causes us pain can or will ever take away from us.
Some of us who are Christians believe that we show our deepest reverence for God through sacrifice and suffering, citing the life of Jesus, who devoted His entire time on this Earth to His ministry and suffering for it, as an example. But in my heart, He did not do this to set an example by His suffering, but rather to set an example by His Love, God’s Love for all of us, embodied in the human form of Christ. In other words, I believe that Jesus died the way He did, that we might know the Most Excellent Way of Love, and how to apply the beautiful Truth Jesus taught that we might experience the life and Love God gave us more abundantly. And even as Jesus died in agony on the cross, I think that His heart was so full of Love and God that He felt no physical pain, only the sorrow that those who executed Him could not see through the scales that they had allowed religious Laws to cover their hearts with, the sorrow that they had obscured the real God of Love out of their own fear. He suffered in the name of Love for all of us, loving those who were causing Him pain as He did. I don’t know about others but sometimes that can be the most difficult thing in the world for us to do though not impossible.
I do not think Jesus was a sacrifice to a Father angry with human sins but rather God in the flesh Who loved us all so much that He chose to suffer to get us the message of how to Love One Another, know God’s Unconditional Love for each and every one of us, no matter how diverse and different, and fully experience the joy that comes by letting God’s Love flow through us, vessels for that Love, to each other. Maybe sometimes there is no answer to the “Why?” for things like Jesus suffering in order that we might know God, and Love fully, and we just have to be grateful for the Love God has shown, to which I say, “Why not?”
I have, as I am sure most everyone who is LGBT has, been targeted by those who disagree with who and what I am as a “cause” of suffering. I have also been attacked by conservative Christians and others as being the author of my own suffering just by being myself. How many times have we heard those who oppose LGBT rights say that “AIDS is a punishment, and those who suffer from AIDS, HIV, or other sexually transmitted diseases are doing so because God disapproves of their sexuality?” Or, how many times have we heard those who would like to attempt to change our God-given gift of sexuality to what they have deemed as God’s Will for us by saying, “LGBT people suffer, so that is why we want to “rescue” them from suffering through reparative therapy and changing them?” Or, how many times have we heard, “You are suffering in your personal life because God is ‘trying to tell you something’ about your homosexual/bisexual lifestyle?” And last but not least, there is the suffering that many of us who are not “out” have had to endure silently — the “fag” jokes at work, the disapproval of LGBT rights by other Christians who we love very much but who allow their prejudices to interfere with their unconditional acceptance of us, and, for a lot of bisexuals, the rejection we face because we are different and not accepted very freely in the heterosexual or gay and lesbian communities.
People who are not familiar with bisexuals, or bisexuality, are often quick to make snap judgments about us: “Oh, those bisexuals, they’ve got the best of both worlds.” Well, for some of us, yes. But sometimes we can get the worst, too. We are often misunderstood by both those who are heterosexual and those who are homosexual. We do have our share of difficult times. We are at times seen as a threat to both heterosexuality and homosexuality, at others merely “confused” or “in the closet”, and at others, just plain crazy. As for myself, an openly bisexual man who is happiest when in committed and loving, yet open, relationships with both a female and a male partner, and who also loves God more than anything and is not afraid to be “out” about that to others, either, I can say that I have suffered plenty just for being honest about who I am. But the inner peace I feel at having finally accepted myself as God created me and living the truth of who I am with honesty, integrity, and love and respect for all others to the best of my ability, is worth any amount of suffering I have to endure at the prejudice and misunderstanding of others.
A lot of people cannot understand why I choose to be “out” as a bisexual. A lot of people have said, “You could just pass for heterosexual and don’t tell others you have a relationship with a man as well as a woman? What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” Maybe their not knowing won’t hurt them, but it hurts thousands of others all the time — those who are closeted. The bisexual men I know who assume the role of total heterosexuality and yet behind their wifes’ backs, go out and have anonymous sexual encounters with other men are often the first ones to criticize the fact that anyone I am in a relationship with know that I am bisexual from the very beginning, and feel the need to honestly and ethically love both a woman and a man. They simply see it as one of several choices, as they are pressured by the homophobic voices in the heterosexual world to “stop that queering around” and by the biphobic voices in the gay and lesbian community to “stop hiding behind heterosexual privilege and come out as gay.” They are pressured by some groups to pick one gender and be totally monogamous and by others to be rampantly promiscuous not even considering that there are a million different ways in between that might work for everyone involved. God has a different plan for all of us, and I am grateful for having kept and open heart and mind as God got me through all the suffering to a place where I am deeply at peace with myself and my sexuality.
I can confidently say that, no matter how much ridicule I must endure, no matter how much hate or prejudice I face from either side, I live my truth with as much love and respect for others as I possibly can at all times. It has taken tremendous courage and faith for me to “come out” here on Whosoever, as a polyfidelitous bisexual with very liberal and to some, radical beliefs, and I understand that not everyone is going to agree with my thoughts and beliefs and ideas, nor is everyone supposed to — God made us all so differently. Why do I tell of my beliefs, and why am I so open about everything, both here and among others in the Christian and the secular worlds, even when it has led to suffering and verbal attack?
Because I know that reading about other people who love God and also are bisexual on this magazine has brought me hope. Because I know there are others seeking that same hope. Because I remember how loved it made me feel when I knew I was not the only bisexual who felt the way I did, and that if I entered into all of my relationships with honesty, integrity, and fidelity, no matter that it is two instead of one I am faithful to, God will bless those relationships just as God blesses those relationships between man and woman, man and man, and woman and woman. Because I want others who are suffering because they are afraid that their sexuality or sexual orientation is “unnatural” that no consensual loving act of any kind is unnatural. Because I want other LGBT people of all kinds to know that God wants to embrace them, not change or rebuke them. Because I want them to know that God wants them to rejoice, not suffer, because of who and what they are and were created to be. And because this is one of the few places I have gone where I felt comfortable fully expressing my faith and beliefs without fear of judgment. Call it a haven I go to when I have been suffering that is a reminder of the Living Water of the Holy Spirit, working through the Love of other LGBT Christians, there to comfort each other during the difficult times. I think that all of us who have suffered because of others who are frightened that God will punish us just for being LGBT should pray for those who have persecuted us, for it is they who are suffering, by believing in a God of fear, instead of one of Love.
Not “if”, but “when.” Powerful words for those of us who may be enduring suffering right now. When someday the church will eliminate the final prejudice, that based on sexual orientation/sexuality. When HIV/AIDS is cured with an injection, or a pill, and ceases to exist. When no sexual act shared with love and respect between consenting adults is seen as “sodomy” or “unnatural,” but just wonderful examples of God’s Creativity in giving us ways to make our partners/spouses happy. When same sex marriages are given equal credence as heterosexual marriages. When diversity is embraced and celebrated instead of merely tolerated. For me, and my bisexual brothers and sisters, when bisexuality is seen as an equally valid sexual orientation, those of us who are monogamous and those of us who choose to be committed to a person of both genders honestly can do so without fear of persecution. And for everyone, when everyone finally sees that God wants our Love and not our fear in return for all we have been blessed with, and the Spirit of Christ brings us all together as one.
The concept of talking a bit about suffering is not an easy one for me, as I know in my heart and soul that God never causes or creates suffering, God only seeks to save us from it when we bring it upon ourselves. God wants us to be happy, and has given us, through Christ and through His suffering, death, and Resurrection as the Holy Spirit within all of us open to that Love, as well as through all the joys and wonders of this often tribulation-filled life and the gift of Love for one another, all of the keys we need to reach that happiness. I’m sure that some of us who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are all too familiar with suffering, and it may seem that the less said about it, the better. But I am grateful for having had this opportunity to share with all of you, from experience, that in the times when life does present us with difficult or trying times, it is often then that we find ourselves coming through them with a deeper sense of God’s Love than we ever had beforehand. And if we find ourselves becoming a little weak in our faith during times of suffering, let us not forget that all of us have had times when we felt forsaken, only to find it was merely that old devil, fear, trying to do the impossible and create the illusion that we are separate from God. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that God will bring us through and make all things better than they were beforehand, and telling ourselves, that it is not a question of “If” God Will, but “When.” And when we remain totally focused on God and Love and all the blessings God has brought us in the past, When comes before we know it.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.