Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: August, 2016

AMERICA’S PROBLEM IS SPIRITUAL – I

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Paul at Athens

          Currently there is a great deal of hand-wringing going on over the thoroughly unpalatable choices the two major parties have given us this election cycle.  The Democrats, of course, have done what everyone expected them to do – nominate a more or less secular liberal.  What is shocking is what the Republicans have done – nominated someone who is not particularly conservative, has no prior government experience, and whose personal moral life is far from exemplary.  Nevertheless, the argument is being made in some quarters that Christians have a moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump because Hillary Clinton must be kept out of the White House at all costs.

But Hillary Clinton is not the problem.  Both she and Trump are symptoms of a much deeper problem, the spiritual and moral decay of American society.  In a democracy politicians merely reflect public opinion.  The real question is, what has brought public opinion to the point at which both major parties have nominated candidates who have serious ethical problems?

The problem starts with secularism.  In Romans chapter 1 the apostle Paul gives us a vivid picture of a morally decadent society.  And, as he makes it clear, the process of decline begins with secularism.  Paul says that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God . . .” (v. 21; NKJV).  Paul is undoubtedly describing Graeco-Roman society as he saw it in his day.  It was pagan and polytheistic.  But how can it be said that “they knew God”?

The answer is that the knowledge of the existence of God is available to every human being.  “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (v. 20); or, as we might better translate it, “From the creation of the world . . . are perceived in the things that are made, being understood . . .”  Proof for the existence of God is literally as plain as the nose on one’s face – look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself one basic question: why is your face symmetrical?    The order and structure of nature could not have happened by accident, through a blind, impersonal, purposeless natural process, and the Darwinists would have us to suppose.  There has to be an intelligent Supreme Being behind it all.

Why, then, are there so many people who deny it?  Why were there so many polytheists in Paul’s day?  So many secularists and even atheists today?  Paul says they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).  They “became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21).  They do this “in unrighteousness” – there is something in the human personality that does not want to acknowledge God or act righteously.  And so a process of rationalization sets in – we construct whole philosophical systems to explain away the truth.  And probably in modern life the turning point came with the publication of The Origen of Species in 1859, an attempt to explain nature apart from God.  This has become the foundation of modern secularism.  And the basic premise of secular education is that we can understand reality apart from God.  We can study creation and completely ignore the Creator.

The result?  “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (v. 24).  Perhaps no more terrifying words are found in Scripture: “God gave them up . . .”  God has abandoned us to our vices.  We are living in gross spiritual darkness.  The word “uncleanness” is commonly used in the New Testament to refer to sexual immorality.  It is perhaps no accident that that the Supreme Court’s decision on prayer and Bible reading in the public schools was followed by “the Sexual Revolution.”  We have separated sex from love and as a result find ourselves unable to sustain stable relationships with the opposite sex.  We now have a whole generation of young people who do not know what a stable home life is, and they are paying a terrible toll personally and emotionally.

And why has this come upon us?  Because they “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  Amen” (v. 25).  In other words, there is an element of willful rebellion in all of this.  Why do we concoct patently false explanations of reality?  Because we don’t want to acknowledge God.  When confronted with the evidence for the existence of God, we deny it.  And thus secular society lies under the judgment of God.

Thus our root problem is a spiritual one.  What we are witnessing today is the result of decades of secularism and materialism.  Public morality has eroded and our family structure has collapsed.  Democrats have been morally lost for several generations now What is shocking about the present state of affairs is that now the Republicans are prepared to join them.

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WHY CHARACTER MATTERS

 

donald-trump-hillary-clinton

In this current election cycle we are confronted with an unpalatable menu of two presidential candidates, both of which have serious character flaws.  Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump are noted for being particularly honest.  In addition Mr. Trump has a reputation for being a ruthless, cutthroat businessman and a twice divorced adulterer.  In his campaign so far he has repeatedly made wild, unsubstantiated claims against some of his opponents and openly ridiculed others.  When called to account he has refused to back down or apologize.  Never in American history have we seen such a spectacle at such a high level.

Nevertheless the argument is being made in some Christian circles that a Christian must vote for Trump in order to keep Clinton out of the White House.  To vote for a third party candidate, or to stay at home, the argument goes, amounts to a vote for Hillary.  But this amounts to saying that we must vote for a rogue in order to keep a scoundrel from getting elected.  In either case we wind up with a bad president.  It is a bit like asking the voters to choose between the hangman’s noose and the firing squad.  We are dead either way.

But does character really matter in a presidential candidate?  Mr. Trump may not be a Christian, it is argued, but neither are most politicians.  And the policies advocated by the Democrats (abortion, homosexuality) are abominable.  So why not vote for “the lesser of the two evils”?

The fact of the matter is that character is important – it determines how a person will perform once in office.  A government position is a public trust, and as such it requires trustworthiness on the part of the person who holds it.  Someone who is corrupt, dishonest or unwise will routinely make bad decisions, or decisions that run counter to the public interest; and that, in turn, has an adverse effect on us all.  One does not make a thief the president of the bank.

The Book of Proverbs in the Bible has a great deal to say, in fact, about government and human relations.  Most of it was written by King Solomon, the ancient king of Israel who was renowned for his wisdom.  He certainly had much occasion to reflect on the principles of good government.

We much begin by asking, what is the purpose of government in the first place?  Why have a government at all?  The obvious answer is to protect the lives and property of its citizens from foreign invasion and domestic violence.  In order to do the latter the government must enact laws, apprehend criminals, try them in court and punish the guilty.  The ultimate goal is to establish justice.  “A king who sits on the throne of judgment / Scatters all evil with his eyes” (Prov. 20:8; NKJV – cf. Prov. 17:15; 24:24, 25; 25:2).

How well a government discharges its responsibility has an effect on everyone under its jurisdiction.  “The king establishes the land by justice, / But he who receives bribes overthrows it” (Prov. 29:4).  And this, in turn, requires good character on the part of those who exercise power.  “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; / But when a wicked man rules, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2).  “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, / For a throne is established by righteousness” (Prov. 16:12).  If the civil magistrate is to administer justice effectively, he must not be a criminal himself.

So what, then, are the specific qualities of character required in a civil magistrate?  First and foremost is honesty.  The Solomon describes a dishonest person this way:

“A worthless person, a wicked man,

Walks with a perverse mouth;

He winks with his eyes,

He shuffles his feet,

He points with his fingers’

Perversity is in his heart,

He devises evil continually . . .”

(Prov. 6:12-14a)

He doesn’t say what he means; he disguises his real intentions, and his intentions are invariably bad – that is why he takes great pains to disguise them.  And what does he accomplish by doing this?  “He sows discord” (v. 14b).  People who have been cheated are rarely happy about it.  Most will desire revenge of some sort.

Dishonesty, however, eventually results in failure.  “Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; / Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy” (v. 15).  The pretense cannot be maintained forever.  Eventually the liar is found out and the scheme collapses.  “What a perilous web we weave / When first we practice to deceive,” as the old saying goes.  It is no wonder then, that “Excellent speech is not becoming to a fool, / Much less lying lips to a prince” (Prov. 17:7).

Beyond the question of basic honesty one can also look at a candidate’s basic temperament.  If he is proud and boastful, “wise in his own eyes” – “There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 26:12).  “Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).  Does he speak before thinking?  “Do you see a man hasty in his words? / There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 29:20).  “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, / But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Prov. 15:28).  Does he slander others with false accusations?  It causes needless divisions and conflicts.  “A perverse man sows strife, / And a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Prov. 16:28).  How does he respond to criticism?  “Do not say ‘I will do to him just as he has done to me; / I will render to the man according to his work’” (Prov. 24:29).

Mr. Trump, in fact, fits the biblical definition of a “scoffer”: “A proud and haughty man – ‘Scoffer’ is his name; / He acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24).  He is incorrigible (Prov. 9:7,8), and as a result knowledge eludes him (Prov. 14:6).  “Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; / Yes, strife and reproach will cease” (Prov. 22:10).

In a democracy the people are supposed to be sovereign: the ultimate authority to make decisions rests with them.  Government officials are supposed to be public servants, serving the people.  The President of the United States arguably occupies the most powerful and important position   He is commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military.  He controls the nation’s nuclear arsenal, state secrets, and treasury.  He has sworn to uphold the Constitution.  The people, the voters who put him into power, are counting on him to perform the duties of his office in good faith and in the public’s best interests.  But if he / she is a liar and a crook, if his word cannot be taken at face value, the people’s trust has been betrayed and the president becomes a lawless tyrant.  Grasping and corrupt politicians are the undoing of a republic.

In this election neither majority candidate is fit for high office.  The evangelical community cannot afford to be identified with either one of them.  “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues’” (Rev. 18:4).

MORALITY AND THE LAW

 

Is America a “Christian nation”?  Most Democrats today would probably say “no,” or at least claim that America was founded as a strictly secular state.  As evidence they would point to the lack of mention of God in the U.S. Constitution.

Interestingly, however, no less a Democrat than President Barack Obama observed that “our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo- Christian tradition” (The Audacity of Hope, p. 218).  He noted that “Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., — indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – not only were motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue their causes” (Ibid.).

Interestingly, however, when we look at the debates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 it becomes apparent that there was a variety of opinion among the Founding Fathers on the matter.  By far the greatest moral question facing the Constitutional Convention and the early Republic was slavery.  The slave trade was still very much alive in 1787 and slavery was an entrenched institution in some states, particularly South Carolina and Georgia.  The question arose at the Convention as to what to do about the importation of slaves.  Luther Martin of Maryland suggested either taxing it, in order to discourage it, or prohibiting it altogether.  He noted that “it was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution” (Madison’s Notes, Aug. 21, 1787).  To which John Rutledge of South Carolina replied, “Religion & humanity had nothing to do with this question.  Interest alone is the governing principle with nations.”  Several delegates, including both Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, wanted to leave the question alone.  But interestingly George Mason of Virginia, spoke out strongly against slavery, declaring that slaves “bring the judgment of heaven on a country.  As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this.  By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities” (Aug. 22).

So who was right?  Rutledge or Mason?  Slavery remained as an American institution, and seventy years later the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, tried to settle the matter once and for all.  Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the majority, asserted that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order . . . so far inferior, that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.”  The problem, however, is that in God’s sight there is no essential difference between a black person and a white person: they are both human beings created in His image.  And while every human society must have its political and economic structures in order to function, no human being should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.   That applies to black slaves; that applies to unborn children.

And, just as George Mason had predicted, “providence punishes national sins by national calamities.”  On April 12, 1861 Confederate artillery opened fire on Ft. Sumter, and the Civil War had begun.  By the time it was over 620,000 soldiers on both sides were dead and the South lay in ruins.

Every civilized human society has had to struggle with the question of justice.  Does might make right?  To the victor goes the spoils?  Or is there some universal standard of morality that governs all actions of human beings?

The question is by no means new; it faced the citizens of ancient Athens.  In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias there is a fascinating account of a philosophical debate in which Socrates, one of the participants, challenges the conventional attitudes of the day regarding education and politics.  Is it all ultimately based on self-interest?  Or should we all be pursuing a higher aim in life?

Socrates argued for the latter, but was never able satisfactorily to answer the question, where, ultimately, does this standard of justice and morality come from?  He had a sense that a human being if more than just a human body, that there has to be a principle of justice that ought to govern human actions, and even that there has to be an afterlife and a final judgment.  But he could not find a deeper explanation for this other than man’s pursuit of happiness.

The fact of the matter is that as human beings we have the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and we cannot avoid the moral implications of the choices we make in life.  Was it wrong to drop an atomic bomb on a Japanese city?  Is it wrong to take the life of an unborn child?  How do we know?

None of us wants to live in a lawless society; nor do we wish to live under a human tyranny.  The Christian answer is that we were created by God in His image and are accountable to Him for the way we live our lives.  Morality originates with God Himself.  The safest protection for our liberties is to acknowledge them as having come from God: we “are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. . .”