Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: June, 2014


Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden

    This past Tuesday U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a group of people assembled at the Vice Presidential Mansion that gay rights “are the civil rights issue of our day.” He said that protecting LGBT citizens from persecution is a core duty of a civilized country, and added, “I don’t care what your culture is. Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice”

    In his customary state of mental confusion Mr. Biden appears to be confounding “civil rights” with universal “human rights.” They are not, however, the same thing. Civil rights are defined by a particular society. They are the rights you enjoy by virtue of being the citizen of a given county. But as such they are culturally conditioned. Mr. Biden, on the other hand, seems to be reaching beyond that to something broader – something that transcends local culture; in short, a universal human right.

    But what are these human rights, and where do they come from? The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” What makes these rights “unalienable” (i.e., that cannot be taken away from you) is that they derive from a Power higher than any human authority. Thus no human government can deprive you of them. As Martin Luther King put it, “every man has rights that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state, they are God-given” (Where Do We Go from Here, p. 84). Thus no human government can deprive you of them.

    But on this ground it is virtually impossible to rationalize a homosexual relationship. If it is true that there is a moral order to the universe, and that everything exists by design, then the clear implication is that everything has a specific purpose and function. And in the cosmic scheme of things the obvious primary purpose of sex is heterosexual procreation. To that end it is only natural for a man and a woman to form an emotional bond with each other and have children together. The proper and fitting thing for them to do, therefore, is to commit themselves to each other in the bond of matrimony, start a family and raise their biological children together. Any sexual activity outside of this bond should be strictly prohibited. Seen in this light homosexuality is something profoundly dysfunctional, a perversion of something that was intended for an entirely different purpose.

    It goes without saying that the modern secularist will have none of this. They openly scoff at the “Divine Command” theory of morality, and try instead to argue that we came into existence through a blind, purposeless, natural process. Hence we simply exist, with no particular definition or purpose at all. “Morality,” then, is seen as something entirely man-made: it is the common set of rules that we choose collectively to abide by as a society.

    But on this basis it is virtually impossible to support the idea of any kind of universal human rights. All of our rights are culturally conditioned. There is no higher law by which to judge an entire society. The law is whatever the local authorities say it is. In Saudi Arabia women do not have the right to drive an automobile. Period. End of story. Mr. Biden might fuss and fume, pound his fist and stomp his foot, and shout from the rooftops that “I don’t care what your culture is.” But on a purely secular basis human culture is all there is. He has no grounds on which to say that things should be any different from what they actually are.

    As one modern ethicist, Alasdair MacIntyre, put it, “there are no such [universal, human] rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns.” He went on to say that “In the United Nations declaration on human rights of 1949 what has since become the normal UN practice of not giving good reasons for any assertions whatsoever is followed with great rigor” (After Virtue, 3rd. Ed., p. 69). According to him “universal rights” simply do not exist. They are, as he puts it, “fictions” (p. 70).

    Thus either way one chooses to look at it, there is no such human right as a right to practice sodomy. Either homosexuality is terribly out of sync with God’s creative purposes, or there are simply no such universal human rights at all.

    What it comes down to is this: our rights are either God-given or else they are man-made. And if they are man-made they are malleable, relative, and can be taken away. If there is such a thing as a universal human right, it is universal precisely because it derives from our Creator. Human rights are a part of the moral law that binds all of humanity together. That moral law includes both rights and responsibilities, and that includes the duty to behave responsibly in all of our family relationships. It is a principle that God has ordained for the well-being of human society, and we ignore it at our own risk. Mr. Biden would do well to take note and heed.


Atheists often tell us that atheism is nothing more than a simple disbelief in God. According to them it is not a worldview, a philosophy of life, or a system of morality. It is a simple statement about the existence or non-existence of God, and has no implications for anything else.

    Strictly speaking the statement is quite true, sometimes exasperatingly so as we try to get atheists to think through the implications of their radical stance. We cannot help, at times, but suspect that their denial of any broader implications is an artful dodge. If the universe was not created by an intelligent Supreme Being, then how did it get here and what is it like? The existence or non-existence of God must have some implications for the rest of reality, and a simple denial of God’s existence, without an accompanying explanation, leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

    But what, then, are the implications of God’s existence? What difference does it make in our day-to-day lives?

    We saw a particularly vivid example recently in the controversy surrounding the faulty ignition switch installed on several models of General Motors small cars. The switch would turn from the “run” to the “accessory” position at the slightest touch, causing the engine to stall with a loss of power to the steering and brake systems. What is worse, the airbag system was wired into the “run” circuit, so that when the engine stalled the airbag would not deploy. Several people were killed as a result of having lost control of their vehicles.

    What is especially astonishing is that General Motors knew about the problem right from the very beginning. The prototype car stalled on the test track at the factory when the driver’s knee hit the key fob. The engineers, one would have thought, would have noted the problem and made a point to fix it. And yet the engineer with responsibility for the switch, Mr. Ray DeGiorgio, signed off on it. GM chose to treat the problem as a “nuisance,” and at one point dealers were advised to tell their customers not to put too many keys on the key chain.

    The safety issue aside, one wonders how General Motors expected to sell cars that were, by their own admission, “nuisances.” In the highly competitive small car market, where GM is up against the likes of the Toyota Corolla, the Honda Civic, and the Nissan Sentra, who would want to buy a Chevy Cobalt that might stall in the middle of a busy highway? What could Mr. DiGiorgio and his fellow engineers and managers at GM possibly have been thinking?

    All of which brings us back to our original question, what practical difference does the existence of God make? It should have made a huge difference, in point of fact. In a way, GM’s folly is all too typical. Most of us go through life pursuing our own individual interests, and employees are naturally focused on how they can succeed on the job. Success is measured in terms of favorable performance reviews, bonuses, pay raises, and promotions. In order to achieve that kind of success, we must impress the supervisor above us. But an employee in a large company rarely looks at the bigger picture – about how to make the company as a whole succeed. And in a typical large manufacturing operation the customers are invisible – the assembly line worker never sees them. Thus in the employee’s mind the company’s business plan is only a secondary consideration at best. He simply goes about his job attaching part A to assembly B without giving any thought to the larger business objective. And that is probably the way most of us approach life in general. To get ahead we go along, and the broader considerations are things about which we rarely think.

    The genuine Christian, however, has a radically different approach to life. The new birth has brought him into contact with a higher reality. He has experience “the life of God in the soul of man,” as one old writer put it, and he now sees life in a whole new context. He is conscious of the fact that God is the ultimate reality, that everything in life has a purpose and meaning, and that our goal in life is “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus in our thinking we start with God Himself. How did He intend human society to function and operate? This question touches on every aspect of human behavior and relationships.

    This, in turn, leads us to consider every institution within human society – the church, the state, the business community, and academia. And within the business community each individual company has its role to play, the contribution it makes to the general economy. Thus each company has its own business plan, a long-term strategy for turning a profit and achieving success. Each department within that company, in turn, has an assigned task and function, and each individual employee has his own particular job to do. All of it should contribute to the success of the whole.

Thus, while most people, in their thinking, start at the bottom, with themselves, and work up, the Christian starts at the top, with God, and works his way down. This gives the work he does meaning and purpose, and gives him an incentive to pursue excellence in every endeavor.

In other words, General Motors should have been trying to make a profit by making quality cars that fulfill a human need for safe, reliable and cost effective transportation. And Mr. DiGiorgio’s job should have been to design an ignition switch that is at least as good as all the switches that are already on millions of other vehicles. Not one of the cars with the faulty switch should ever have made it to a dealer’s showroom.

    In the business world, as in all of life, God expects us to respect the rights and wellbeing of others. A profit is legitimate only if the product or service meets a genuine human need. Thus, in order to succeed individually we must advance the common good. We build prosperity collectively, as a society.

    All of which appears to have been lost on Mr. DiGiorgio and his colleagues at General Motors. I am very far from thinking that one must believe in God in order to be an effective automotive engineer. I have long favored Japanese brand vehicles (I currently own a Suburu and a Nissan), and it is doubtful that most Japanese engineers are devout Christians. Presumably competition in a free market economy will provide the incentive to make a quality product. General Motors has apparently grown too old or too large to respond to market forces, and probably needs to go the way of all scrap metal. But belief in God should make a real difference. It provides a higher motive, a nobler ideal. The managers and engineers at General Motors should not have needed to have been prodded along by Congressional committees and lawsuits to do the right thing. Their duty should have been perfectly clear. And if they had thought about God they would have seen it.



Edward Hicks, "The Peaceable Kingdom"

Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom

As we saw in our last blog post, although this present age is filled with injustice and oppression, justice will finally prevail. God will have the last word. But how will that happen? As we noted, the answer to that question occupies a great part of the prophecies of the Bible.

    For the prophets of ancient Israel the problem of divine justice was acute. Israel, alone among the peoples of the ancient Near East, understood that there was only one true God, and they further understood that they were God’s chosen people. Yet Israel was not always faithful to its God, and often fell prey to the seductions of the paganism of the surrounding nations. In response God would send them into exile, taken captive by nations more powerful than themselves.

    This chain of calamities could not help but raise disturbing questions in the minds of believers in the one true God. Does this not represent a colossal failure on God’s part? Is this not the triumph of paganism over the worship of the one true God? What about all the promises that God had made to Israel’s forebears, to bless them forever? Was it all a sad delusion?

    The answer is no. Right at the very beginning Israel had been told that if they did not obey the commandments of the Lord that a variety of curses would befall them, including foreign exile (Dt. 28:15-68). But God also promised that when they were in exile they would remember what God had told them, and would turn back to Him. The “. . . Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Dt. 31:3; NKJV). But this would involve more than just a return to the promised land. It would entail a spiritual renewal as well. “And the Lord your God will circumcise you heart and the heart of your descendents, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (v. 6; cf. 4:23-31).

    Sadly, Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets lived to see the first part of this prophecy play out in their own time. It fell to them to deliver the message of Israel’s impending demise. And yet, in the midst of all the doom and gloom, there was a message of hope as well. Isaiah, for instance, foresaw a time when Israel’s fortunes would be reversed. Instead of Israel being carried off to captivity in foreign lands, the nations of the earth would be flocking to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.

        “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days

         That the mountain of the Lord’s house

         Shall be established on the top of the mountains,

         And shall be exalted above the hills;

         And all nations shall flow to it.” (Isa. 2:2).

The passage goes on to describe how God

        ” . . . shall judge between the nations,

         And rebuke many people;

         And they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

         And their spears into pruning hooks;

         Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

         Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (v. 4)

    At the center of the future utopia is the person of the Messiah. He will be a king in the line of David, and will be the perfect ruler.

        “For unto us a Child is born,

         Unto us a Son is given;

         And the government will be upon His shoulder.

         And His name will be called

         Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

         Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

         Of the increase of His government and peace

         There will be no end,

         Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,

         To order it and establish it with judgment and justice

         From that time forward, even forever.

         The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6,7).

The Child, of course, was the Babe in Bethlehem, and Jesus is the Messiah. (“Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah” – the “anointed One.”) He is the One who will reign over the earth in peace and righteousness.


To see the way the world is today one would think that Christianity has become irrelevant. Basic moral norms, once taken for granted, are now openly flouted. The courts have virtually said that separation of church and state means separation of morality from public life. Church attendance is dwindling, and large numbers of young people, raised in conservative, Evangelical homes, are turning away from the faith, leaving behind increasingly gray-haired congregations. Does this mean that Christianity is finished?

    It may seem so, but we must never lose sight of certain basic facts. First of all, God still exists – eternal, immutable, and omnipotent. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, He will still be upon the throne and we are still accountable to Him. Our lives are in His hands.

    Moreover the basic principles of morality never change. Right and wrong are what God says they are, and His will is not variable – it is not subject to Supreme Court decisions, acts of Congress, or Hollywood fads. It is God with whom we have to do, not the changing tides of public opinion.

    What, then, do we make of the situation in the world today? The answer is that it is ultimately all a part of God’s plan, and history is moving towards its final conclusion. We are told in Scripture that “in the last days perilous times will come” (II Tim. 3:1; NKJV), but that Christ will return and establish a reign of universal peace and righteousness. This is, in fact, a central theme of the Bible.

    There has always existed in in human society a moral contradiction or tension. On the one hand the world was created by a single omnipotent Deity. One would expect, then, that His creation would conform to His will. Yet when we look at what actually goes on in the world we see something quite different. The world is full of crime and violence, war and poverty. And if we are honest with ourselves we will admit that the problem lies right within our own hearts. On the one hand we have a conscience which tells us right from wrong. We see injustice and oppression, and we are rightly angered. And yet we ourselves do what we detest in others, driven by some inexorable urge. We are slaves to self-interest, even when it tramples on the right. We have met the enemy, and he is us. There is no question that there is evil in the world; the question is, will there ever be justice?

    Three thousand years ago the ancient psalmist reflected on the paradox of human behavior and said:

        “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;

         My steps had nearly slipped.

         For I was envious of the boastful,

         When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

                        (Ps. 73:2,3)

He goes on to describe how apparently well-off the wicked often are, enjoying the comforts and pleasures of this life. Is this not proof positive that crime pays, and that nice guys finish last? What is the benefit of doing right?

        “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,

         And washed my hands in innocence” (v. 3).

    The answer to this perplexing dilemma escaped the psalmist until he put life in its eternal perspective.

        “When I thought how to understand this,

         It was too painful for me –

         Until I went into the sanctuary of God;

         Then I understood their end.” (vv. 16,17)

What he then realized is that the prosperity of the wicked is only temporary – their final ruin is eternal..

        “Surely You set them in slippery places,

         You cast them down to destruction.

         Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!

         They are utterly consumed with terrors.” (vv. 18,19)

God is just, and His justice will prevail. How that plays out in history is a major theme of biblical prophecy. The end, as we shall see, will be dramatic. It is a sober reminder to us all.