By the time David finished speaking with Saul, Jonathan had become as fond of David as if his life depended on him; he loved him as he loved himself. And Jonathan entered into a bond with David, because he loved him as himself.
- 1 Samuel 18:1-3
Many times when God gives us crosses to bear, we bear them as though we are cursed; we may even curse God for sending them, as I did.
Even the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) confirm, “Cursed is he that hangs upon a tree.”
We can tend to get so wrapped up in our own suffering that we sometimes fail to see that our crosses, although at times, extremely painful and burdensome to carry can also be our greatest blessings.
Dealing with homosexuality is no different. Before I was able to understand my feelings and desires and why I was having them, I felt so confused. I didn’t know who I was or understand what kinds of needs were driving these feelings. I hated those desires, I hated myself for having them and I was angry at God for afflicting me with them.
Once I began my healing process and got out of sinful thoughts and actions, the desire for genital acts with men gradually diminished. Most times, the only thing left was a still strong desire for affection, tenderness and intimacy.
At first, I thought that these desires for closeness and intimacy with men were part of the “gay” package and something to be rid of. However, once I understood my needs and desires for what they actually were, I grew to see that they were far from a curse, and rather a blessing.
Something must be made very clear at this point. The Catholic Church, in all of her official teaching condemns only same-sex genital acts, and lustful, sinful behaviors which may lead up to that. She has never condemned emotional intimacy, tenderness, chaste “brotherly” physical affection between two men so long as these expressions do not lead to sinful thoughts or behaviors. Thus, there is no condemnation of friendship, even strong, loving friendships between two men.
To make things worse, in the United States and some other countries, our culture does not permit as socially acceptable, strong, affectionate male friendships. They are automatically seen as “gay”. This is not the case in other cultures throughout the world.
Even the Holy Bible records the friendships between some men as being very intense and close. The Bible puts forth David and Jonathan as an example of a strong friendship between two men. The Biblical account of their friendship can be found in chapters 18-20 of the First Book of Samuel with the death of Jonathan and David’s reaction recorded in the first chapter of 2 Samuel (1, 3-4).
Consider the following account of David and Jonathan’s first meeting. Now Jonathan was the crown prince and son of King Saul, the first king of the united twelve tribes of Israel. Anointed by the great prophet Samuel, and selected for the position by the Almighty Himself, Saul, nonetheless grew drunk on his own power and fell into sin on numerous occasions until finally, God had had enough and told Samuel to appoint a new king in Saul’s stead. The Lord chose a young, rugged, handsome and bold shepherd named David, of the house of Jesse of Bethlehem, whom the Lord calls “a man after my own heart.”
David also eventually falls into sin too, but unlike Saul, always repents and humbles himself before God. Knowing David’s ultimate love for Him, God cuts off the lineage of the House of Saul and bestows it on that of David. Saul is told that his descendants will never follow him in ascending Israel’s throne and this makes him bitter towards God’s newly anointed.
When David also proves himself to be a cunning and brave warrior, even exceeding Saul’s military prowess, Saul becomes enraged and begins to hunt David down in order to kill him.
There is one problem, though. Jonathan, Saul’s son, strikes up an intense and loyal friendship with David as is here related:
Jonathan divested himself of the mantle he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his military dress, and his sword, his bow and his belt…David rose from beside the mound and prostrated himself on the ground three times before Jonathan in homage. They kissed each other and wept aloud together.
Whoa! Hey men, are you cringing yet? Read on…
At length Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, in keeping with what we two have sworn by the name of the LORD: 'The LORD shall be between you and me, and between your posterity and mine forever (20:41-42).
Here’s the clincher.
This is what David says after Jonathan is tragically killed (2 Samuel 1:26):
O Jonathan, in your death I am stricken, I am desolate for you, Jonathan, my brother. Very dear to me you were, your love to me more wonderful than the love of a woman. [emphasis mine]
More than the love of a woman? Seriously?
After passages like these, it is easy to see how many in the gay rights movement, try to use passages like these to support their argument that the Bible blesses and encourages homosexuality.
Really though, this is far from the case, but in our oversexualized society, it’s an easy mistake to make.
Read the passages more closely.
these passages lies the true model of masculine friendship.
First, we really need to establish what a truly “manly” friendship is and what it is not.
The first thing we see is that Jonathan loves David “as he loved himself.” He literally stakes his life on his love for David.
He knows that his own father is out to kill David.
He knows that David is God’s newly-anointed and will eventually replace Saul as king.
He also knows that because of this he will never be king and neither will his children.
Yet, he professes his love for David and aids him in escaping that wrath of King Saul. It is quite possible that Jonathan put himself into danger by coming this close to David, considering the depth of Saul’s blazing and irrational anger.
David, for his part, reciprocates this love by bowing down before him three times. So, here’s the future king bowing down to the crown prince of the current rival king. David also takes a risk in entrusting himself to the son of his enemy. What if Jonathan were to deliver him into Saul’s hands? Could he really be trusted? Nonetheless, trust him David does and at least partially through Jonathan’s patronage and with his help, he eventually escapes Saul’s wrath.
So both David and Jonathan place the needs of the other above his own needs. This is true love. This is the love that two brothers who battle together share and this is the love by which as the Scripture notes, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).
This is also the key to understanding David’s agony over the death of Jonathan and when he says that Jonathan’s love was “more wonderful” than the love of women.
Rightfully, most modern readers are uncomfortable with that statement and if taken in isolation, it would appear to support the idea that David and Jonathan were gay lovers.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
All the ancient writers were well aware of Biblical proscriptions against sex between men. They certainly never would have written down such an embarrassing detail about their beloved king which could be so widely interpreted (and misinterpreted) unless they had a different understanding of what was meant by the episode.
So, what is the correct understanding of this passage and if these two were not gay lovers, what could David’s disturbing declaration mean? The answer is actually very simple. Recall that a man’s true mission is to serve. To serve means to give of one’s self, even to the point of giving one’s own life, as Christ did. The problem is that men cannot give what they do not have.
Wives, children, families and careers take from men. It’s not wrong; it’s just what happens. It's designed to be that way. It is the way of a man’s salvation. The woman’s role is to receive the man, both physically and emotionally. He must give himself in order for her to receive. But, how can he give from his own cup if his own cup is empty? This is where godly male friendships come into play.
Only a man can give another man what he needs to serve.
Only a man knows what another man truly needs simply because he is a man.
A woman, no matter how sympathetic, grace-filled or holy, cannot know what it is like to be a man.
True friendship and Christian brotherhood between men is exactly what Jonathan and David had. They demonstrated true vulnerability towards each other and shared their hopes dreams and fears and when they had emptied themselves out before each other and stood before each other spiritually naked and weak. It is what happens next that the essence of masculine love is shown. They don’t use this weakness of the other to manipulate or control. Instead they defend and build each other up afterwards.
They love each other the way only men, as true brothers can.
They make a masculine gift of self to the other through the heart and will.
I admit that when I read this account it does bear a lot of similarities to a committed same-sex relationship. It should. Neither Jesus Christ, the Bible nor the Church ever rejected two men truly loving each other.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus Christ Himself loved his Apostles. John rested his head on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper and considering that the Semitic dining custom was to lie down while eating, we can be assured that John’s whole body was very close to that of Jesus.
What awesome intimacy! This is good stuff!
This is what men are supposed to do. But, they are supposed to do it in the way that God intended. Genital acts are just not a part of that and never will be.
A man cannot be with another man sexually because his body is just not made for the other man. It just doesn’t work. Again it is the man’s job to give, it is the woman’s job to receive. This is even shown in the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Jesus is the man in the relationship and the Church is the woman.
He is the bridegroom; she is the bride. This is also why the Apostolic Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) cannot ordain women to the priesthood.
A priest stands as alter Christus, “another Christ”. He has the uniquely masculine job of giving life to his parish, a job only a man can fill. The woman’s role in the Church is something far different.
What would happen if the Church were “he”?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
It would not be a relationship that produced life.
Man sharpens another man as iron sharpens iron. How does that happen? It happens when the rough edges of one break off the rough edges of another. It is a side-by-side relationship and through it, both blades become sharper.
That is not the relationship between Christ and His Church. In that relationship, He gives and the Church receives. She in turn gives back to him the fruits of the relationship, usually in the form of children, in this case, spiritual children. If two men try to “give” to each other then there is no one to receive.
How can the relationship bear fruit?
It can’t any more than a symbolically male Church could bear fruit with Christ.
The real key to understanding this passage is appears as the title of this chapter; he loved him as he loved his own self. Does that sound familiar to you? If you are a Catholic or other Christian, it should. These are the words of Jesus Christ Himself!
Did He not explicitly command that we love one another as we love our selves?
Did he not say that upon this and its corollary command to love God above all else rests the entire Law and the Prophets?
WOW! Here it is! The true Gospel proclaimed by the Almighty Son of David, practiced a millennium before Him by David himself. This is the very love that Jesus wants all of us to have for each other! This is the Gospel!
True male friendship is not according to the proclamation of Gospel, it is part of the Gospel. We are called to love each other wholly. How do we do that?
Look at David and Jonathan. They found that other trusted man before whom they could bear all and each knew that the other would protect and defend him.
How does this play out in modern life?
I would imagine that many men have not found this kind of friendship mainly because they are afraid to go there and also because honestly, as the saying goes, a good man is hard to find. We can’t just go around revealing ourselves to just anyone. Not everyone is worthy of our trust.
One of the benefits of my struggle is that I have found not just one but several Jonathans.
Owen is one of my closest friends. We have known each other for many years, through our ups and downs and everything in between. We have many similarities in our lives and how we see the world. We met in 1997 at the same prayer group where I met Josh. Over the years our friendship developed based on our common love for Jesus Christ and His Church.
I have been vulnerable with Owen like I have not been with any other man. Over time as our brotherhood grew stronger, we gradually shared all the depths of our hearts, even the dark parts. I think we know and love each other to the deepest way that any two men could, just like Jonathan and David.
We have shared things with each other that only our wives know.
We have shared our sufferings, trials, joys and dreams.
We have held each other and wept in each other’s arms when the pain of our own lives seemed insurmountable and our crosses too great to bear alone.
We have shared our relationship with God and prayed each other through the discernment of marriage, jobs and vocations. In short, we’ve seen it all in each other and have still been there to defend and build each other up.
We love each other as the God-given brothers we never had.
Unlike me, Owen does not struggle with same-sex attraction, which was great for me. Nearly all of the men in my life with whom I have a deep intimacy do not share my same struggle. This is good on a variety of levels, the most important of which is that I don’t have to worry about falling into temptation.
Additionally, finding men who are different from me yet can love me still helps me to know that despite my rather circuitous sexual journey, I really am OK.
I really am a man made after God’s own image.
I am man enough.
It is in precisely these relationships with people like Owen, Josh, Al, Isaac and all the brothers in my life that I have learned my own true masculine strength.
One of these strengths is my capacity to even sustain these kinds of relationships at all.
Quite frankly, most guys I see just aren’t secure enough in their own identities to even pursue this. Some may not know they need it and still others probably don’t need it. However, the one thing that all of my closest friends tell me in one form or another is that they have no other friends like me. They tell me how much they enjoy the intimacy of our relationship and how they just cannot talk to other men with the depth that they talk to me.
This was summed up best in an email I received one day from a missionary friend named Miriam. She is a remarkable and faith-filled woman who feels called to serve Muslims in Middle-Eastern countries. Indeed, I know that Lord has worked powerfully through her.
One day she emailed that she was starting a group to minister to Muslim men with same-sex attractions in the country where she was residing. She noted that these men have very few resources because this sort of thing is just not talked about in Islamic culture. I felt called to share my struggles with her via email and to let her know that I’d be willing to serve a as a resource for her if she should ever need me. Here is what she wrote back to me:
One thing I have learned about the men I know that have struggled through SSA...they are incredible! The love they have for their wives, the encouragement they give them, and the gift of friendship they give to others is fantastic! I think you become more sensitive to people's needs as a whole and are incredibly special.
This email really ministered to my heart because it summarized the discoveries I have made about myself over the years. My struggle really is the path of my holiness, not only mine but those around me.
I used to run from my cross and hide from the shame of it.
It was something I wished would just go away. I mean, I just wanted to be normal like other guys.
But the truth is that the servant is truly no greater than the Master.
He joyfully accepted His Cross. There was a time when I thought I could never accept it.
Yet, now with this incredible band of brothers around me, I can truly say and mean, “Thank you, Lord for this great gift.”
I will often say to the men I love, “You make me the man I am.”
And it is true, but I also know that the reverse is also true. By the sheer grace of God, the power of Jesus Christ, and the gifts he has given me to share, somehow…I know I make them the men they are, too.
“We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”