Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Morality / Ethics

THE HEART PROBLEM

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Man Reading the Bible

 

 

The Tenth Commandment reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21; NKJV).  The  notorious scoffer, the late Christopher Hitchens, thought that this was absolutely ridiculous: “. . .it demands the impossible  . . . One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much” (god is not Great, p. 100).  He tried to argue that this was “proof” that “religion is man-made” (p. 99).  Hitchens then went on to suggest that covetousness was the basis for American capitalism, and on that point he may well been correct.

On the other hand, according to the distinguished Jewish biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto, this particular commandment is part of what makes the Ten Commandments so revolutionary.  “It is a fundamental duty of man not only to refrain from committing adultery with his neighbor’s wife and from stealing what belongs to his fellow, but also not to yearn for another person’s wife or property.  This very desire is a grave sin against the principles of the Divine declaration’ (Exodus, p. 240).  This is part of what set the religion of the Israelites apart from all the rest of the ancient world.

Cassuto is right.  The Ten Commandments meant to be more than just a summary of a civil law code.  Rather, they underscore man’s moral obligation to his Creator.  They are a statement of those universal moral principles that are binding on all human beings regardless of place, time or culture.  And the Tenth Commandment in particular points to our hearts, the deepest part of our inmost being, and looks at the motives behind our actions.

God is love, and He wants us to love Him with all of our heart and soul and might, and each other as ourselves.  The only true religion is heart religion, and God is not impressed with hypocrisy.  “. . .these people draw near with their mouths / And honor Me with their lips, / But have removed their hearts far from Me, / And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (Isa. 29:13).  God can read our hearts and knows our true desires.  Thus to do good outwardly but devise evil inwardly hardly counts as righteousness.  Our true self, our inward self, is evil.

If we desire to do evil, it is the desire itself that is evil.  And therein lies the whole problem.  Our hearts are filled with pride, greed, envy and lust.  When we are crossed we become angry and seek revenge.

“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,

To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

They have all turned aside,

They have altogether become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.”        (Ps. 14:2,3; 53:2,3).

But Mr. Hitchens protests.  “It demands the impossible!”  And, in a sense, he is right.  God is perfectly holy and just.  We are sinners by nature.  In actual practice it is impossible for us to meet the Creator’s standards of righteousness.

But Mr. Hitchens, we are afraid, has missed the whole point of morality.  Right and wrong are ultimately determined by God’s own standards of justice and humanity, but by our depraved appetites. The fact that we routinely fall short of God’s Law does not reflect negatively on the Law, but on us.  The question is not, why does God command what is right, but rather, why do we do what is wrong?

But does this mean, then, that there is no hope?  That we are in the impossible position of being judged by a law that standards of which we cannot meet?  Fortunately there is more to the picture than that.  For it is precisely this point that the gospel comes into the picture.

The apostle Paul tells us that the ultimate purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ.  The purpose of the Law is to show us how utterly sinful we are, and how incapable we are of justifying ourselves before a holy God.  “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19,20).  “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).  The “tutor” (Gk., paidagogos) was typically a slave who escorted young boys to and from school.  The law serves the same purpose – it leads us to Christ by showing us our sin and our need for salvation.  We can then find salvation in Christ.

What we need as human beings are two things: the forgiveness of our sins and a new heart.  Only Christ can give these to us.  We must come to Him in repentance and faith, and receive Him as our Savior.  Only then will we have the relationship with God that we were meant to have.

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BE CAREFUL LITTLE TONGUE

4.2.7

Jacues-Louis David: Death of Marat

The Ninth Commandment reads “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20; NKJV).  The primary reference, of course, is to the crime of perjury, in which a witness in a court trial lies under oath, potentially resulting in the false conviction of an innocent defendant, and thereby undermining the integrity of the whole criminal justice system.  But as we read through the Bible it becomes apparent that the Ninth Commandment covers much more than that.  What we say or speak in general has an impact on the lives of others, and therefore comes under the purview of God’s moral law.

“ . . .the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (Jas. 3:5).  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, / And those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).  With the tongue we can deceive and mislead, insult and offend, provoke someone to anger or destroy someone’s reputation.  The tongue can ruin a marriage.  “It is better to dwell in the corner of a housetop, / Than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Prov. 25:24).

Even saying something that may be factually true can sometimes create problems.  “He who a transgression seeks love, / But he who repeats a matter separates friends” (Prov. 17:9).

The apostle Paul elaborates further on the use of the tongue in his letter to the Ephesians.  Here he tells us to “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth . . .” (Eph. 4:29).  He also says that “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting” should “not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Eph. 5:3,4).

But, on may ask, what is so bad about telling an off-color joke or using a curse word?  Whom are we really hurting?  The answer Paul gives is interesting.  First of all, what we are supposed to be saying is “what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (4:29), and “giving thanks” (5:4).  In other words, we are supposed to be using our tongues for positive, constructive purposes.

But there is more to it than that.  The real issue is what lies underneath.  What comes out of the mouth reflects what is in the heart, and that is where the real problem lies.  And so Paul makes a point of saying, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” (4:31,32).  The reason we engage in trash talk is because of our underlying attitude: we are arrogant, self-centered and even downright hostile towards others; when we should be kind, understanding, and sympathetic.  If we care about others we will be careful about what comes out of our mouths.

But a cynic might ask, why should I care about others?  And again Paul gives us the answer.  “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (5:1,2).  First of all, consider what God himself is like.  He is love itself, and is completely devoid of the carnal passions that often rule our hearts.  He cares about us, and therefore He wants us to care about each other.  Secondly, consider what Christ has done for us.  He “has loved us and given Himself for us” (5:2).  He made the supreme sacrifice on our behalf; how can we begrudge Him a little consideration for others?  And, we are told, Christ’s sacrifice was especially pleasing to God the Father: it was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Or, to put it negatively, when we engage in trash talk because our hearts are filled with anger and hostility, we ‘grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (4:30).  If we are born-again Christians we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  That means He sees everything we see and hears everything we hear.  And He knows what is inside our hearts.  And if what He sees is ugly and disgusting, it is revolting to Him and He is grieved that a child of God could contemplate such things.  We will never experience the love, joy and peace of the Christian life as long as we continue in such a state.  Therefore it behooves us to make sure that our hearts are right with God, and that will be reflected in what comes out of our mouths.

Our conversation ought to be a delight for others to listen to.  It should encourage, inspire, uplift and edify.  It should contain nothing tawdry, vulgar or inane.  If you wouldn’t say it in the presence of Christ Himself you should not say it at all!

THE CHURCH AND THE LGBT ISSUE

DSCN1087

Historic Methodist Church Bldg., Mentz, NY

 

Last week the United Methodist Church voted to uphold the church’s traditional ban on same-sex marriages and LGBT ordinations.  The denomination is said to be deeply divided over the issue, and many of its more liberal members are likely to leave over it.  “I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence,” tweeted one liberal pastor, while a conservative delegate from Liberia in Africa said “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan – it is the biblical plan.”

The delegate from Liberia is correct – the “Traditional Plan,” (the resolution upholding the bans on same sex marriage and LGBT ordination) is in fact, the biblical plan.  The Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior.  The problem, we fear, is that the mainline Protestant denominations have long since abandoned the authority of Scripture, and in the process have lost sight of the biblical concepts of sin and redemption.  Yes, God did so love the world.  But that does not mean that He simply accepts us as we are, sin and all.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; NKJV).  God’s plan and purpose is not to accept us in our sin, but to save us from our sin.  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9-11).

But what exactly is it that makes homosexuality sinful?  It should be noted that homosexuality is, in fact, a moral and not a biological issue.  Unlike race, which is purely physical and biological, a person’s sexual activity is a matter of behavior and choice.  While we may feel a strong physical urge in one direction or another, as thinking, rational human beings we can discern between right and wrong and make morally responsible choices.  This is why our sexual behavior falls under the purview of the 7th Commandment: “Thou shalt con commit adultery.”  We may feel an urge or a desire, but whether or not we act on it is a decision we consciously make.  Thus homosexual activity becomes a matter of morality and ethics.

Human sexuality is something that was created by God, and it has a specific, God-ordained purpose.  The primary purpose of sex is heterosexual reproduction, and the primary purpose of marriage is to create a stable home environment in which to raise children.  Anything other than a permanent heterosexual relationship within the bond of marriage, or complete celibacy, is a deviation from the norm and is therefore consistently condemned in Scripture.  This includes fornication (sex before marriage), adultery, pornography, prostitution, and divorce, as well as the grosser forms of sexual activity.

The Bible portrays homosexuality as a sign of advanced decadence.  In Rom. 1:18-32 the apostle Paul traces the course of social disintegration.  Significantly homosexuality is said to be a consequence of religious apostasy, and it represents a judicial act on God’s part: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness . . .” (v. 24).  “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions . . .” (v. 26).  It is also significant that homosexuality is described as an expression of extreme lust.  It is marked by “the lusts of their hearts” (v. 24) and “vile passions,” and male homosexuals are said to “burn in their lust for one another” (v. 27).  It is a picture of men enslaved to their uncontrolled lusts – hardly a noble and uplifting scene.

The transgender issue raises other questions.  Can a person change his gender?  Can he be “gender non-conforming”?  Gender is something that is biological – it is written into our chromosomes, and ultimately determined by God himself.  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27).  How, then, did we get the idea that we can change our gender?  Is it not because of an underlying philosophical assumption that we exist as autonomous beings, not accountable to any Creator?  But what if God actually does exist?  Are we not then engaged in a colossal act of self-delusion?  The plain fact of the matter is that human society functions on a male – female dynamic, and indeed has to in order to survive.  If we try to deny the existence of gender roles, and try to deny our own biological gender, all we have done is to create dysfunctional relationships with our fellow human beings.  And if we try to raise our children in a gender non-conforming way, we have probably made it difficult for them to achieve happy, well-adjusted lives as adults.  How will they ever make marriage work, and raise children of their own?  Where is the compassion in that?

The United Methodist Church is likely to split over the issue.  But what the liberals need to understand is that we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being, and that everything in the created world has a divinely ordained purpose.  The human race, on the other hand, is in a state of sin and rebellion against God, and has twisted and perverted the things that God had originally created for a good and noble purpose.  Human sexual love is one of the things that God has created, but we have perverted it to serve our own selfish lusts.  And the end result is pain and misery for all – wrecked relationships and children growing up in unstable, poverty-stricken single-parent households.  In the end no one wins in a climate of sexual license.

What the liberal, mainstream denominations have done, in effect, is to ignore what God has revealed in Scripture and invented their own standards of morality.  What usually happens in actual practice is that they end up conforming to standards of the surrounding culture which is increasingly secular (i.e., implicitly atheistic) and licentious.  The end result is to lose anything like a distinctively Christian testimony to the world.

The just and humane thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, is to uphold the institution of marriage as God originally intended it to be – a permanent, binding and loving relationship between one man and one woman.  We hope and pray, for the sake of American society as a whole, that the United Methodist Church will return to biblical standards of morality and once again preach the Christian gospel once so forcibly proclaimed by John and Charles Wesley.

CHRIST OR THE WORLD

4.2.7

Raphael: St. George and the Dragon

Review:

Culturally Relevant: Connection or Compromise

Dennis Bliss

Christian Faith Publishing

174 pp., pb.

 

Dennis Bliss is a longtime Christian musician and counsellor who has spent a lifetime observing the Christian scene, and his recently published book Culturally Relevant, expresses the deep concern he has over the direction that many churches have taken.  It is a call to reexamine the depth of our commitment to Christ, and to rededicate ourselves to His kingdom and glory.  It is a much needed book at the present hour.

Denny begins (and he happens to be a personal friend of mine, so I will call him “Denny”) by asking what it means to be “culturally relevant.”  The church, of course, exists in a surrounding culture, and ideally seeks to win the people of that culture to Christ.  But to do so it must connect with them somehow.  But how?  What does it mean to adapt to a local culture?  Is it simply a matter of speaking the same language so that they can understand what we are saying?  Or does it mean changing the message so that we are telling them what they want to hear?  Or, even worse, is it conforming to their standards of behavior so that they will accept us?

Denny argues a strong case that in seeking to win the lost we must never compromise our moral or ethical standards.  People will not be won to Christ if they cannot see any difference between the church and what they already have in the world.  In the end the strategy of compromise is self-defeating.

Denny then goes on to discuss a wide variety of issues confronting the church today: love and marriage, child discipline, evolution, abortion, divorce, adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, feminism, the use of alcohol, and dress.  Many of his observations are borne of his many long years of experience as a Christian counsellor.  He then goes on to address certain issues that affect the church as a whole – evangelism, Bible translations and church music.  On the subject of Bible translations he expresses the confusion and dismay that many feel when, confronted by the bewildering array versions on the market today, and not having access to the underlying Hebrew and Greek, are not in a position to tell which versions are more accurate.  On the subject of church music we will have more to say in a subsequent blog post.

On most of these issues Denny takes a conservative stand: he is opposed to alcohol consumption in any amount, as well as tattoos.  He is in favor of spanking children, and believes that men should wear suites to church.  He prefers the old King James Version of the Bible.  (He does make a concession to modernity by using the New King James Version in his book.)

Occasionally Denny gets caught in an apparent contradiction.  On one hand he condemns denominationalism and suggests that it arose through human pride.  But then he wants churches to separate themselves from doctrinal error and take an uncompromising stance on what they believe to be the truth.  But is that not how the different denominations came into existence in the first place, and continue to this day?   One could only wonder what Denny would have told Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 after they could not reach an agreement on the nature of the Lord’s Table.  Which one was being proud and stubborn, and which one should refuse to compromise?

Denny argues a very strong case throughout for non-conformity to the world, and argues that obedience to Christ must always be our top priority in life.  He makes the helpful observation that this does not mean that the Bible spells out in detail exactly how we are to act in every situation.  What is needed, he points out, is spiritual discernment, and toward the very end of his book he lays out his “Twelve Step Program” – twelve basic principles or tests that we can use to determine if a given course of action is in line with God’s will.

At first glance Denny’s book may come across as the work of a cranky old man throwing a hissy fit.  And yet his book comes out at a critical time in history.  Up until now American Christians have had the luxury of living in a country where the freedom of religion was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  It was respectable to be a Christian.

And yet the times began to change.  The surrounding culture became increasingly secular and materialistic, and the bulk of the population lost its interest in church.  At first church leaders thought that they could entertain people back into church.  The church became consumer oriented, but in the end fought a losing battle with TV, sports and shopping to get peoples’ attention.

But now the surrounding culture is not just indifferent to Christianity; it is becoming increasingly hostile towards it.  Anyone who dares to take a stand for traditional Judeo-Christian morality is liable to be called “sexist” and “homophobic.”  Thus we are rapidly moving toward a time when modern Christians will have to learn anew what was perfectly obvious to believers in the First Century: that if anyone wishes to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV).

CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE – II

 

 

4.2.7

So far we have considered the role of the husband in a Christian marriage.  But what about the wife?  What is her responsibility?

Here we are told that the wives are to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 2:21: NKJV).  The text goes on to elaborate: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church. . .   Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (vv. 23,24).

This is an extremely difficult concept for many women to swallow, especially American women.  We are used to thinking in terms of freedom and equality; and we want to read the values of American democracy back into the Bible.  And submitting to someone else’s authority just runs counter to human nature. Why would anyone want to do that?  And so marriage should be a “50/50” proposition, we say, and the wife should not be required to do anything that she does not want to do.

But how many of us, husbands or wives, are willing to be subject to Christ?  As Christians we are all members of His church, and He is supposed to be our Head.  If we are living for ourselves, if we are going through life simply pleasing ourselves, we are not submitting to Christ.  And if we have not turned our lives over to Christ as our Lord and Master, are we really Chirstians?

As for the wife, then, her duty is to submit to her husband.  The passage ends by saying that she is to “respect” her husband.  The Greek word that is used here is actually another form of the same word for “fear” that was used in verse 21.  (The old KJV translated it “reverence.”)  The wife is to take her husband’s authority seriously and always respect it.

In a healthy marriage a husband and wife should be able to talk freely with each other about everything.  A wife is her husband’s most intimate companion and confidant.  A good husband will want to know what his wife thinks about things.  Whenever possible they should try to reach a consensus.  The very fact that the wife thinks differently from her husband and has a different perspective helps make that final decision a better one.  But after they have discussed a matter and no agreement was reached, it is the husband’s decision to make.  If they are still arguing and bickering after that the wife is just plain not submitting to her husband.  The ensuing acrimony will poison the relationship.

But at this point someone will protest: “What Paul is describing is an ideal situation.  But we do not live in an ideal world.  We have to deal with reality as it is.”  God knows all that, but He still expects us to obey Him.  The key is found in verse 22: wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.”  Your husband is not a perfect human being, and there will undoubtedly be times when you will not feel like obeying him.  But do it anyway for the Lord’s sake.  Do it because Christ wants you to.  This is a situation in which we need to learn to “trust and obey.”  We must make it our aim to do what Christ wants us to do, and trust in Him to take care of us and meet our needs.  To do anything else is to surrender to evil.

Our Creator know what He was doing when He ordained the institution of marriage.  He created an arrangement designed to meet the deepest physical and emotional needs of both a man and a woman.  When both the husband and the wife agree to submit to God’s plan for marriage, it can be a supremely satisfying relationship.  If fulfills a romantic ideal and can be one of the greatest joys we experience here on earth.  But when we are determined to do it our own way, the result can be devastating.  Domestic strife, emotional estrangement, and eventually divorce are commonly the result.

The reason we are often such poor husbands and wives is because we are such poor Christians.  If we were to have Christ work through us, if the fruit of the Spirit were more fully manifested in our lives, there would be a lot less acrimony in our homes.  Romantic love depends on a good relationship, and a good relationship depends on Christian character.  In marriage, as in every other area of life, the lesson is unmistakable: God’s way is always best!  “Let Him have His way with thee!” (Cyrus S. Nusbaum).

 

CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE – I

4.2.7

Anthony van Dyck Family Portrait

 

The great tragedy of our time is that many people do not know what a good marriage is – they have never seen one.  Their parents’ marriages may have ended in divorce, and their own relationships may be far from satisfactory.

In this context it is important to emphasize several things.  First of all, the world was created by God, and when He created it He intended it to function a certain way.  God’s norms are the standard.

Secondly, the world as we see it is fallen and corrupt.  It does not function the way God intended.

What all of this means is that when we come to a subject like marriage we must go by Scripture, not experience.  The question is, what does God want?  If we want our marriages to work the way they were supposed to work, we have to do it God’s way.  That is only way we can expect to find happiness and fulfillment, and any other way is bound to lead to disappointment and sorrow.

There are several passages of Scripture that describe what a Christian marriage is supposed to look like, but we will focus on just one, Ephesians 5:22-33.  The apostle Paul is giving practical exhortations to believers, and in these verses he deals specifically with husbands and wives, urging them to live with each other in a Christ-like manner.

The key to understanding how a godly marriage would work is actually found immediately preceding – verse 21: “. . . submitting to one another in the fear of God” (NKJV).  This is addressed to believers in general, and what is required in all of our relationships with each other is that we “submit to one another.”  We are not to be stubborn, selfish and self-willed, but are to subordinate our individual needs and desires to those of others.  That is the Christian way.  There is not place in the church for rugged individualists.

The passage makes it clear that husbands and wives do have different roles in marriage, and to explain how these different roles work Paul compares marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church.  He also uses an interesting analogy: Christ (and the husband) is the head; the church (and the wife) is the body.  The head gives direction to the body, but has an integral connection to it.  The head tells the body what to do, but cannot function without the body and is very much affected by what happens to the body.  Therefore the head cares very much for the welfare of the body.

The husband, then, is to love his wife – not merely tolerate her, not merely coexist with her, but actively care for her.  The word “love” (agapate) here does not necessarily that he likes everything about her.  Rather, it is a self-sacrificing love that puts her welfare ahead of his own. Moreover, in enjoining this duty Paul sets the highest possible standard: the husband is to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church” (v. 25). It is the love that Christ showed us when He gave His very life for us, even though we were sinners.

But exactly how does Christ love the church?  First of all, He is attendant to the church’s needs – He is preeminently concerned with her welfare.  These needs include both the church’s true needs as well as her felt ones.

First of all, Christ aims for the church’s genuine well-being: “. . . that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it with the washing of water in the word, that He might present the church to Himself glorious, not having stain or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without blemish . . .” (vv. 26,27).  The words “present the church to himself” suggest the idea of a wedding, with the bride looking resplendent in her beautiful gown as she marches down the aisle to her waiting groom.  Will there ever be a day when she will look more beautiful than she does on this day?  But there is an element of Cinderella here as well.  Christ found his bride in rags; now she is “glorious, not having stain or wrinkle or any such thing” (v. 27).  In order to get to this point He had to “wash her with water in the word.”  This may be an oblique reference to conversion and its attendant ordinance of baptism.  Before conversion the elect were hardly fit to be called the bride of Christ.  But now look at the church!  But it must never be forgotten that it is Christ who makes the church what she is.

But he husband will also pay attention to the wife’s felt needs as well.  Paul reminds the husband that he and his wife are “one flesh.”  Therefore he ought to have the same care and concern for his wife that he has for himself: He will feed and warm her (v. 29).  Is she hungry?  He will provide her with food.  Is she cold?  He will warm her.

But more importantly, Christ showed His love for the church by sacrificing Himself for it.  The text says that He “gave Himself for it” (v. 25).   The word “gave” (paredoken) literally means “to hand or give over, to deliver up,” often to be arrested.  In this context the reference is obviously to Christ’s arrest and crucifixion.  And if Jesus was willing t make the supreme sacrifice for the church –to lay down His very life for her, should not a husband be willing to do the same thing for his wife?

Loving your wife, however, does not mean fulfilling all of her demands.  When Christ gave Himself for the church He had a specific end in mind: “. . .that He might sanctify and cleanse her . . . that she should be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26,27).  Christ (and the husband) is looking out for the bride’s total well-being, not just her desires and wishes.  In some cases the husband, using his own judgment, may actually have to contravene his wife’s wishes, but he should do so with her true well-being in mind.

A husband, then, must devote himself to his wife’s well-being.  She is not his chattel slave to do with her as he pleases.  He is the head of the home.  But that means that he is responsible for the well-being of everyone in the home, and must make wise decisions accordingly.  On occasion he may have to sacrifice his own personal well-being for the sake of hers.  And he should do this because he genuinely cares for her, “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

 

THE END OF LIFE

637px-rembrandt_-_the_anatomy_lesson_of_dr_nicolaes_tulp

Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Death is an existential question that calls out for an answer.  Why do people have to die?  To an atheist the question is pointless – everything in nature dies; that is just the way things are.  But there is something inside of us, an ingrained part of our humanity, that will not settle for an answer like that.  To have known and loved someone, to have seen that person as a living, breathing person, full of life and energy, and now to see that person as a lifeless corpse, is to feel a profound sense of loss.  And if we live in a universe that was created by an intelligent Supreme Being, then the philosophical question inevitably arises, why death?  Death would seem to run against God’s creative purposes.

The biblical answer is that death is a judicial punishment for man’s rebellion against God.  “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned . . .” (Rom. 5:12; NKJV).  And so, “For dust you are, / And to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).

But the Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not murder,” and this raises some serious questions about the medical care of dying patients.  What specifically concerns those of us who are not medical professionals is giving informed consent to various treatment options.  People are often asked to prepare living wills or advance medical directives that give instructions on how they would like to be treated if they are incapacitated.  Among the issues frequently addressed in these documents are resuscitation, feeding tubes, IVs, mechanical ventilation, and antibiotics.  Most of us dread even being in a situation where such measures are possibilities, and our natural inclination is to not want any of it.

But we must always ask the question, what would God want?  We are morally responsible creatures, and are ultimately accountable to Him.  What, then, is the moral thing to do?

The Sixth Commandment forbids the taking of innocent human life.  That means that there should be no action our part to shorten someone’s life or to hasten death.  On the other hand it does not mean that we should artificially prolong the process of dying.  Ultimately it is God who determines the time of our death.  “You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (Ps. 104:29; cf. Job 34:10-15).  Or, as the apostle Paul put it, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.  Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8; cf., II Cor. 5:9,10).

On that basis I think that we would have to say that it is wrong to remove a feeding tube from a patient while he is still alive.  Every living person needs both food and water to sustain life, and they must be delivered to the body by some external means, whether baby bottle, knife and fork, or feeding tube.  To deprive a person of food and water is to starve him to death – the immediate cause of death is humanly induced starvation.  That, then, would constitute an impermissible taking of human life.

But what sort of medical treatment should be given to persons who are terminally ill?  Obviously a disease that is treatable should be treated.  But there are two opposite tendencies that should be avoided: the tendency to prolong life as long as possible and the tendency to shorten the process of dying.

The first tendency is to resort to heroic but futile attempts to prolong life because the patient is simply unwilling to accept the fact that he is dying.  Death is a terrifying thing, and the natural tendency is to resist it as long as we possibly can.  But if the patient has been diagnosed with stage four cancer (cancer that has spread to other organs) the value of radiation therapy and chemotherapy is questionable.  The therapy is expensive, destroys good cells as well as bad, and in the end is futile.  There comes a time when we must accept our mortality.  When your time has come your time has come.

On the other hand there is a natural desire in some cases to want to hasten death.  When a patient is stricken with a painful and debilitating disease, it is only natural to want to end the suffering.  It is also tempting to argue that a person’s “quality of life” is so poor that there is no point in keeping him alive.  But the Sixth Commandment still applies – we are not permitted to take human life.  We were created in the image of God, and there is something sacred about human life.  Obviously every effort should be made to ease pain and suffering, but any idea of “mercy killing” should be avoided.

This is not to day that end of life decisions are always easy.  There is a wide variety of possible circumstances, and it is impossible to anticipate exactly how one’s life will end.  Thus great care should be exercised in filling out living wills and advanced medical directives.  When they are good health many people will say that they would not want the use of artificial means to prolong life, but they often change their minds when faced with the actual prospect of death.

Much depends on the overall condition of the patient.  If a patient is terminally ill, or is elderly and in failing health, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and mechanical respiration may not make much sense.  On the other hand, for a younger person who is the victim of an accident or heart attack, aggressive intervention may save his life and spare his loved ones the grief of a loss.  For a person with a long-term disability measures to enhance functionality may be appropriate, even if the disease itself is incurable.  And for a person who is at the end of life, palliative measures are appropriate even if they have the effect of minimally shortening life.  If death is immanent it is best to accept the fact and make the patient as comfortable as possible.

But above all else, let us make sure that we are spiritually prepared for death.  We must all face death sooner or later; we must all reckon with eternity.  We all have an appointment to meet our Maker.  Let us settle our accounts with God now before it is too late, so that we can face the hour of death with calm equanimity.

There is something about the awful finality of death that is truly terrifying.  It is for good reason that the Bible calls it “the king of terrors” (Job. 18:14).  But for the Christian it is nothing to fear – death is but the gateway to paradise.  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

“When I tread the verge of Jordan,

Bid my anxious fears subside;

Death of death, and hell’s Destruction,

Land me safe on Canaan’s side . . .”

William Williams

 

 

JUST WAR? – II

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In our last blog post we concluded that it is possible for a Christian to serve in a civil government, and that there is such a thing as a just war.  But does this mean that the military in doing whatever it pleases to achieve an objective?  It is justified in engaging in wanton slaughter?

Not at all!  For the basic moral principle of the sanctity of human life still applies.  It is never permissible to take human life unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent even worse consequences.  What, then, are the criteria of a just war?

First of all, a war must have a just cause.  We are not at liberty to attack another country merely for the sake of territorial expansion or commercial advantage.  There must be some immanent threat to our territory, to the lives and property of our citizens; or conceivably, in some cases, gross human rights violations may warrant an invasion from another country; but this should only be done under the sanction of international law.  Moreover, the good to be achieved through the war must outweigh the inevitable loss of life and property.  Fighting a war with a vague or unachievable objective, or a doubtful outcome, amounts to an immoral waste of human life.

Once a war has begun there are important things to keep in mind as well.  All efforts should be made to avoid the unnecessary loss of civilian life.  Killing, abusing or neglecting prisoners of war is a war crime.  The use of force must be proportionate to the military objective.  This makes the use of weapons of mass destruction highly problematical.

It must be conceded that there are grave practical difficulties with the just war theory.  Many wars are the result of a failure of diplomacy, and could have been avoided through a little more flexibility on the part of the different sides.  Governments are not always transparent in their foreign relations, and the real causes for going to war are often shrouded in secrecy.  Once started, a war quickly degenerates into a struggle for survival, and the longer it drags on, the more brutal and barbaric it usually becomes.  And subordinates are rarely in positions to question the orders of their superior officers.  All of these factors combine to make it extremely difficult for a military serviceman who is a Christian to make an intelligent judgment about the justification for a war or the tactics employed.

The 19th Century American Presbyterian theologian A.A. Hodge made this telling observation about war:  “War is an incalculable evil, because of the lives it destroys, the misery it occasions, and the moral degradation it infallible works on all sides – upon the vanquished and the victor, the party originally in the right and the part in the wrong.  In every war one party is at least must be in the wrong, involved in the tremendous guilt of unjustifiable war, and in the vast majority of cases both parties are in the wrong.  No plea of honour, glory or aggrandizement, policy or profit, can excuse, much less justify war; nothing short of necessity to the end of the preservation of national existence” (The Confession of Faith, p. 296 – Hodge wrote these lines in 1869, only four years after the end of the American Civil War).

Even in our own day we have witnessed the phenomenon of returning war veterans suffering “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” in which in some cases they experience guilt or remorse over things they saw or were forced to do during combat operations.  The biblical explanation for this is that God has given us consciences; the returning vets “show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness . . .” (Rom. 2:15; NKJV).

The separation of church and state ought never to mean the separation of secular government from morality.  And perhaps no weightier moral question will face a civil government than the decision of whether or not to go to war.  On this question the church dare not remain silent.  It has a solemn obligation before Almighty God to act as a prophetic voice, faithfully proclaiming “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) to a world filled with hatred and violence.  To fail to do so is to be unfaithful to God and to do a great disservice to humanity.

THE DISASTER OF ROE V. WADE

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Today makes the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.  It was a decision that profoundly changed America, that changed the values that guide us as a nation.  It short, it was nothing less than a cultural revolution.  In moral terms it was probably the most catastrophic decision since at least the Dred Scott decision of 1857 in which the Court held that African-Americans could not be citizens and had not rights which white men were bound to respect.

Roe v. Wade had far reaching social and cultural consequences.  The argument for legalized abortion is usually based on the idea of a “woman’s right to choose.”  Abortion, it is argued, involves a woman’s control over her own body, and that it should be a private decision between her and her physician.  But what about the fetus itself?  Is that just a part of the woman’s body, like her tonsils or her appendix?  Simple high school biology would tell us otherwise.  The reason abortion had been made illegal from conception was the realization that the fertilized egg has its own genetic makeup quite distinct from the mother’s.  The embryo undergoes a continuous process of development, and as it does so it acquires its own heartbeat and the ability to move on its own.  It is a distinct, living, human being.  How, then, can we justify taking its life?   Abortion amounts to infanticide in utero.

But this, in turn, raises a deeper moral question.  What makes killing wrong in the first place?  The Sixth Commandment reads, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13, Dt. 5:17; NKJV), and the Judeo-Christian tradition has always held that human life is sacred.  Human beings are created in the image of God, and thus killing a human being is not the same as killing a deer or a bear.  Roe v. Wade represents a decisive break with Judeo-Christian morality.

But what then?  What makes anything right or wrong?  Feminists argue that a woman has a constitutional right to have an abortion.  But does she really?  Where in the U.S. Constitution does it say anything at all about abortion?  The Court tried to argue that it was implied in a generalized right to privacy which, in turn, was supposedly implied in several other provisions of the Constitution.  But this was quite a stretch.  The tendency in modern times has been for the Court to treat the Constitution as a “living document” to be construed in different ways as the needs of society change.  But the problem with this approach is that it amounts to judicial tyranny – the Supreme Court can create law at will.  But the Constitution represents a social contract among the people – “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union . . . ,” and only the people have the right to change it.  It is not for the Supreme Court to read into the document what it will.

But suppose that the Constitution actually did stipulate a right to have an abortion (as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently suggested New State should put in its Constitution).  Would that make it right?  The U.S. Constitution, as it was originally written, tacitly recognized the existence of slavery, and stipulated that runaway slaves had to be returned to their masters.  But did that make it right?  What about the Nazi Holocaust, which was also official government policy?

What the Feminist argument amounts to is a denial of the existence of any higher, universal moral law.  It assumes that moral norms are man-made, and that we are not accountable to any Supreme Being.  But human societies have repeatedly shown themselves to all kinds of cruelty and injustice.  Does might really make right?

What we have today in America is a culture that is increasingly secular and amoral.  We think of ourselves as autonomous individuals acting in our own self-interest, without any respect to any higher moral principles.  This, in turn, has led to an increasingly lawless society.  Life is a matter of what we can get away with.

This lack of universal ideals has also led to identity politics.  Instead of seeing ourselves as sharing a common humanity, and as united as members of a single country, committed to the ideals of “liberty and justice for all,” we see ourselves instead as part of this or that oppressed minority group, engaged in a perpetual struggle against some other group or groups.  It was only a matter of time when white, working class people would begin to see themselves as an oppressed group; hence we have the ruse of white nationalism and Donald Trump.

But democracy cannot long endure under such circumstances.  Politicians need to be able to find common ground and reach a compromise, which is increasingly difficult when society is deeply divided over core values.  And people need an incentive to obey the law voluntarily – they need to be motivated by a higher moral law – that one needs to obey the law even when the police are not looking.  When that is lacking, when people are guided solely by individual self-interest, only a dictator can maintain order in society.

America is a very different country today than it was 46 years ago.  Roe v. Wade was a decisive break with cultural traditions held by Western Civilization for thousands of years.  It remains to be seen what the future will hold.

 

THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE

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The Sixth Commandment reads “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13; Dt. 5:17; NKJV).  Most of us would recoil at the thought of murdering a fellow human being.  It is one the moral principle that is universally accepted.  Yet all too often, when it comes to issues like war, abortion and euthanasia, we find ourselves trying to rationalize the taking of human life.  Perhaps the commandment deserves closer examination.

One might begin by asking why it is wrong to take human life but not animal life.  To answer that question we must go back in time to the aftermath of the Great Flood.  After the flood waters receded God gave Noah and his family permission to eat animals as well as plant life, but He added this caveat: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4).  God then went on to state: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man” (v. 5).   And then He adds this explanation: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, / By man his blood shall be shed; / For in the image of God / He made man” (v. 6).

The passage is significant, for it establishes the sanctity of human life, and yet at the same time it gives a warrant for capital punishment.  The two, in fact, go hand in hand.  It is all based on the principle of retributive justice.  “. . . then you shall give life for the life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth . . .” (Ex. 21:23,24).  It is the gravity of the offense that warrants the severity of the punishment.

What makes human life precious, then, is the image of God in man.  In certain ways human beings bear a resemblance to God himself.  We have the capacity to think and reason, and to communicate verbally.  More importantly, we have the capacity of moral discernment and the ability to enter into a relationship with God.  All of these characteristics set up apart from animal life below.  Murder, then, is sacrilege.  It is an assault on the special dignity that we have derived from God himself.

And thus we have the sanctity of human life enshrined in the Ten Commandments.  The word there translated “murder” (“You shall not murder”) is the Hebrew word “ratzach,” which is a relatively rare word, and can refer to manslaughter as well as murder.  It is never applied to God, but refers specifically to the taking of human life by a private individual.  It does not preclude capital punishment or just war, as both are sanctioned by Scripture.

It is important to emphasize that in the eyes of God the real sin is the attitude of our hearts.  This is why Jesus could say, “Bit I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:22 – “Raca” is thought to be an Aramaic word meaning “empty headed one”).  When Jesus said this He was not really adding anything new to what was already stated in the Old Testament.  What the Old Testament Law required, in fact, was this: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:17,18).

God is love (I John 4:8,16), and what He requires of us is that we love each other.  Anger and hatred are the exact opposite of how we are supposed to think and behave.  They are the very epitome of what is wrong with the fallen human psyche and the essence of our rebellion against our Creator.  It is a moral catastrophe.  Do we need to look any further for evidence of our guilt before God?