Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Morality / Ethics



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 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?



Anthony van Dyck: Family Portrait


The Fifth Commandment reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; NKJV).  So seriously was this commandment taken that the death penalty was attached to it.  “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastised him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the rulers of his city . . .” (Dt. 21:18/,19).  The parents would then make a declaration that their son was incorrigible.  “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear” (v. 21).

This commandment touches on the root of all man’s difficulties: the rebellious attitude we display to persons in authority.  It began with our rebellion against God himself, and that same spirit of rebelliousness aims at every form of human authority as well, and thereby threatens to undermine the whole structure of civilized society.

While the immediate reference is to the parent / child relationship, by implication it extends to other human relationships as well.  The apostle Peter could write, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake . . .” (I Peter. 2:13).  This includes servants being submissive to their masters (vv. 18-20) and wives submitting to their husbands (3:1-6).  This does not mean, however, that persons in positions of authority are free to abuse their subordinates at will.  Husbands, for instance, are told to dwell with their wives “with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered” (3:7).

The fact of the matter is that society cannot function without authority structures.  We need rulers and managers to plan and organize, guide and direct.  Otherwise unproductive chaos would be the result.  But the basic moral principle holds throughout: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).  That means that those who are in subordinate positions must cooperate with those in authority to the full extent of their ability, so that the leaders can accomplish their tasks with a minimum of interference.  But by the same token those in authority are responsible for the wellbeing of those under them.  They are fellow human beings, of equal moral worth in the sight of God.  To mistreat or abuse them is unconscionable.

Much of this, of course, is just plain commonsense.  But what is significant about the biblical view is that it puts a divine sanction on our duty to respect authority.  It is a human authority; but it is also much more than that – it is also divine authority as well.

All of this is a little hard for Americans to grasp.  We are used to a political ideology that says that governments “derive their just powers from the Consent of the Governed.”  But according to the Bible we are to obey the government “for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:5).

This might strike a believer as somewhat odd.  We do not often think of the government as a particularly godly entity.  Governments are formed by men, often with little or no regard for God or morality.  Moreover a civil government operates on the basis of coercion, and in that sense does not reflect the Christian principle of “turning the other cheek.”  The whole political process can be a tawdry affair.  Yet Paul could call the civil magistrate “God’s minister to you for good” (Rom. 13:4).  He makes the observation that “there is not authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (v. 1).  The word translated “appointed”  could also be rendered “ordered” or “directed.”  The idea is that God in His sovereignty ultimately controls all that happens here on earth.  Hence Paul could say that “there is no authority except from God.”  The implication, then, is that “whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment upon themselves” (v. 2), and thus we “must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake” (v. 5).

Significantly Paul said all of this when the pagan Roman government was in power. In fact the emperor at the time was none other than Nero, although this was before the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64 and the persecution of the Christians which followed it.  Nero himself was known for being personally profligate throughout his reign.  Such was the kind of person Paul calls “God’s minister to you for good.”

Thus government derives its moral authority from God, not the people.  We are to be subject to it because God wants us to – it is part of our duty toward Him.  This does not mean, however, that the government is free to do anything it pleases.  While the authority of the state has been established by God, it is limited by Him as well.  God is the final Judge, and He is a God of justice.  He has promised to punish injustice and oppression.  No government has the power to command anything that directly contradicts God’s will.

Moreover there is a danger to the government itself when it tries to detach itself from God and morality.  If fails to gain the respect of its citizens, if it can command obedience only at the point of a sword, it will either become tyrannical or be swept away in revolution.  In a functioning democracy people obey the government voluntarily – and they do that only t the extent that they believe that it is their moral obligation to do so.  Let us ever remain “one nation under God.



Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners


The Fourth Commandment reads, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8; NKJV).  Interestingly this is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not repeated in the New Testament, which raises the question, is it really a part of the moral law?  Are Gentiles required to keep the Sabbath?

To answer that question we must examine the purpose and nature of the institution.  The Ten Commandments are given in two different places in the Old Testament, and in each place a different reason for it is given.  The first place is the one just cited, Exodus 20:8-11.  There the reason given is that God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh (cf. Gen. 2:1-3).   Thus the Sabbath is presented as a kind of “creation ordinance” – something that is built into the very nature of things, and intended for all mankind.  It was designed to meet a universal human need.

But then when Moses repeats the Ten Commandments in Deut. 5:12-15 he gives a different reason for the observance of the Sabbath.  He reminds the Israelites that they had been slaves in Egypt, subject to harsh exploitation.  The Exodus was a deliverance from misery and oppression, and the achievement of a long sought rest.  Therefore the Israelites were under a special obligation to observe a weekly day of rest.  Furthermore, it was called “a sign between Me [i.e., God] and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:13).  In other words, the Sabbath was a sign or token of the special covenant relationship that God had with Israel.  Gentiles are not included in this covenant.

At one point Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  In other words, the primary intention was to serve a humanitarian purpose, not to be an unbearable burden.  The idea is to give both man and beast a needed periodic rest.  “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (Ex. 23:12).

Christian believers are not under the covenant that God made with Israel, but we are still human beings and have the same basic human needs as all the rest of mankind.  Thus the basic underlying principle remains valid: we need regular, periodic rest from our secular pursuits and labor that we might be physically and spiritually refreshed.

The Sabbath is, in fact, a part of the larger theme in Scripture condemning labor exploitation.  In Deuteronomy 24:14,15 we read “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy.  Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you.”  And the same theme carries over into the New Testament as well.  “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries are coming upon you! . . . Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas. 5:1-6).

As our modern society become more secularized, and imagines itself as having thrown off the shackles of religion, the business community becomes more ruthless and rapacious.  We got rid of our “blue laws” that forbade most businesses to operate on Sundays.  Now most businesses want to operate seven days a week, twelve hours a day or more.  Most business owners seem to think that the only thing that matters in life is making money, and they want to do it “24-7.”  Workers are paid less than a living wage and are required to be available for work any day of the week, including weekends and evenings.  This obviously makes it difficult for them to meet family obligations and religious commitments.   But that does not matter to investors – money is the main thing.

The great prophet of modern laissez-faire capitalism, Adam Smith, tried to argue that in pursuing one’s own self-interest a capitalist is advancing the interests of society at large.  “. . .he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention” (Wealth of Nations, IV.II).  Unfortunately it does not always work out that way in real life.  Too often we have sacrificed our souls and the common good on the altar of material gain.

We need regular, periodic physical and mental rest.  But more than that, we need regular time off to put life in its proper perspective.  What is life all about?  What are we trying to accomplish here on earth?  Why do we work in the first place?  In the long run employees are more reliable, trustworthy, highly motivated and productive if the spend time each week in a place of worship contemplating the larger issues of life.

But most of all we need to spend a certain amount of time thinking about God.  As finite human creatures we are all ultimately dependent upon Him, “for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Dt. 8:18).  Therefore we ought to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  We need to keep our priorities in life straight.

Thus when a company requires its employees to be available for work any day of the week, any time of the day, it shows a complete disregard for the personal well-being.  And regardless of what Adam Smith says, the essence of morality is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that means practicing the Golden Rule.  If you would not want to work those kinds of hours for that kind of pay, then you should not make your employees do it either.

When we insist on a seven day business week we are ultimately destroying ourselves – we are weakening the social and moral fabric of the nation.  If we neglect church where will our children develop the moral sense to know that it is wrong to lie, cheat and steal?   And how can the business community thrive and prosper in a dishonest society?  Ultimately we ignore God’s will to our own detriment.




The Third Commandment (“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. . .” – Ex. 20:7: NKJV) prohibits the use of God’s name for any vain or worthless purpose.  This would include, of course, outright perjury, but also much more than that.  It would also include the use of God’s name in incantations, sorcery, divination, as well as common everyday oaths and curses.

One might ask, what is so terrible about swearing?  Isn’t it only a manner of speaking?  To answer that question we must first consider the importance of God’s name and what is involved in using it for any purpose.

In the Bible names have much more significance than they do for us today.  Today, when we name a newborn infant, we are likely to pick a name for any one of a reasons – it was grandfather’s name, or the name of a favorite aunt, or it just sounds cute.  For us a name is simply an identifier, nothing else.  But in the Bible a name was much more than that.  It was the representation of the person himself – his honor and reputation, and sometimes even revealed something about himself, something the way a nickname does today.  To abuse someone’s name was to insult the person himself.

What all of this means is that the name of God ought always to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.  God is the Supreme Being, the Maker of heaven and earth, the source of all our blessings, yes, even of life itself.  He is wise and good and gracious.  If anyone is worthy of our honor and respect, it is He.  Thus if we use His name for a light, frivolous or trivial purpose, we are showing Him disrespect.  And if we use His name for an outright falsehood, as in a case of perjury, we make Him a party to our crime.  It is no wonder, then, that He says, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (same verse as above).

Our duty toward God, then, involves much more than simply not committing perjury.  Rather, we ought to advance His glory through our worshp.

“Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

Give to the Lord glory and strength.

Give to the Lord the glory due His name;

Bring an offering, and come before Him.

Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!”

I Chron. 16:28,29 (cf. Ps. 29:1,2)

When we gather together on a Sunday morning we should have a sense of entering into the very presence of the Almighty Himself, and our conscious aim should be to praise and glorify Him.  And whoever is leading the worship has a responsibility to ensure that that is indeed what is happening.

Prayer plays an important role in bringing glory to God’s name.  When we invoke His name in prayer we show that we are trusting God to help us with our difficulties.  And then when He answers the prayer it becomes evident that the deliverance came from Him.

“Moses and Aaron were among His priests,

And Samuel was among those who called upon His name;

They called upon the Lord, and He answered them.”

Psalm 99:6

When God answers prayer it becomes evident to all that He is the God of mercy, grace and power.

The fact of the matter is that God has a vested interest in the people who are called by His name.  Whatever they do, and whatever happens to them, reflects on Him.  When they suffer it makes Him look like an apparent failure, and when they prosper it speaks well of His providential care.  “He restores my soul; / He leads me in the paths of righteousness / For His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).  On the other hand when Israel sinned and God had them sent into exile where they were abused by their foreign captors, the pagans naturally assumed that God was unable to save His people.  “’Those who rule over them / Make them wail,’ says the Lord, ‘And My name is blasphemed continually every day’” (Isa. 52:5b; cf. Ezek. 36:20; Rom. 2:24).

Likewise our personal behavior reflects on God’s reputation.  Servants are urged to obey their masters “so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed” (I Tim. 6:1); and young women are admonished to be good wives and mothers, “that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Tit. 2:9).  When we call ourselves Christians and then fail to act like Christians, we bring reproach on the gospel.

And, of course, honoring God’s name means keeping the vows and promises we make in His name.  When we take an oath or make a vow in the name of God, we are asking Him to bear witness to the truth of what we are saying.  But if what we are saying is false, or if we fail to keep the promise we made, then we are making Him a party to our lie and inviting His judgment to fall upon us.  “when you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you . . .” (Dt. 23:21-23).  A righteous man keeps his vows even when it hurts him to do so.  He “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:4b).  A Christian, in fact, should have such a reputation for honesty that he should not need to swear at all to confirm his declarations and statements (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12).

Too often, in the daily affairs of life, we are apt to forget about God.  We figure that He can take care of Himself and we will worry about ourselves.  Yet we exist for His glory and what we do in life affects His honor and reputation.  How differently would we behave if we thought about Him and our purpose in life here!



Simone de Beauvoir



The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir

H.M. Parshley, trans.

Vintage Books, 1974

814 pp., pb.


The American publisher of The Second Sex calls it “the classic manifesto of the liberated woman,” and so it is.  Simone de Beauvoir was a longtime close associate of Jean-Paul Sartre, and as such was close to the center of the French Existentialist movement.  And yet in some ways she came to have an influence far greater and more lasting than of Sartre or Camus.  It is because her book really was destined to be “the classic manifesto” of the Feminist Movement, and as such it has had a profound effect on Western culture and society.

The book is quite lengthy (814 pages) and devotes a great deal of space to describing in detail the condition of womanhood from birth through childhood, marriage and motherhood.  It is a dreary picture of subservience and drudgery, of women not being able to reach their full potential as human beings due to the male domination of society.  Throughout it all she insists that there are no purely natural differences between the genders.  The apparent differences in behavior that we see in day to day life are the result of social pressure and conditioning.  It is human society, civilization, that has put women in this position, and if we could change society to permit the full development of women’s potential, women could compete with men on an equal basis.

De Beauvoir sees the problem, naturally, through the lens of Existentialist philosophy.  Throughout her discussion she sees herself as an autonomous being who seeks to be an active “subject” who “transcends” her natural circumstances to shape her own destiny, rather than a passive “object” who is trapped in the “immanence” of her environment.  The goal of life, then, is not “happiness,” which can be achieved by being a loyal and devoted family member, but liberty, in which you are free to pursue you own dreams and ambitions.

Throughout her book de Beauvoir emphasizes the role of environment as opposed to heredity in shaping the human personality; but she is opposed to any form of naturalistic determinism.  She scarcely mentions the role of hormones in influencing the way a woman thinks and acts.  “. . .it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural, and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilization . . . Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relations to the world are modified through the actions of others than herself” (p. 806).  She concludes, then, that “woman is the victim of no mysterious fatality; the peculiarities that identify her as specifically a woman get their importance from the significance placed upon them.  They can be surmounted, in the future, when they are regarded in new perspectives” (p. 809).  Hence the impulse to write her book.

So according to de Beauvoir, what would an ideal society look like? She points to what the Soviet Revolution originally promised: women would be trained and educated exactly the same as men, and would work for the same wages.  “Erotic liberty was to be recognized by custom.”  A woman would be obligated to support herself financially, and “marriage was to be based on a free agreement that the spouses could break at will; maternity was to be voluntary, which meant that contraception and abortion would be authorized . . .,” and the state “assume charge of the children” (pp. 805-806).  In her discussion about abortion she goes into great detail about problem pregnancies, but scarcely mentions the moral problem involved in taking a human life.

De Beauvoir in particular paints a dreary picture of traditional marriage.  “Marriage is obscene in principle in so far as it transforms into rights and duties those mutual relations which should be founded on a spontaneous urge . . .” (p. 496).

The underlying worldview in all of this, of course, is an Existentialist one.  There is no God.  There are no divine, eternal essences that define reality.  We exist as autonomous beings and are free to choose our own individual destinies.

But what if God actually does exist?  What if we really are created beings designed to fulfill a divinely ordained purpose?  That would mean that the only way society as a whole can function properly, and the only way that we can find individual fulfillment and happiness, is by conforming to the will of the Creator.  In that case neither man nor woman is free just to “be himself,” to pursue his own selfish desires and pleasures.  Rather we are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, quoting Dt. 6:5; NKJV), and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 39, quoting Lev. 19:18.  And love, in turn, requires that “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).  Love, the genuine kind of love that God requires, does not act in a selfish or lustful manner, but looks out for the wellbeing of others.   It honors commitments.  It is a self-sacrificing love, a love that imitates Christ.  It is not just that wives are to be subservient to their husbands; both husbands and wives are to be subservient to God.

In a sense, what de Beauvoir is advocating is the very essence of mankind’s rebellion against God.  She could not have stated it in starker terms.  But in the end we must all face divine judgment.



Recently the nation has been shocked by a wave of violence leading up to the election.  One person mailed pipe bombs to a number of prominent of Democrats, and another barged into a synagogue on a Sabbath morning and began shooting at the congregation, killing eleven.  Both of the men appear to have motivated by hate, and the question arose as to the role that President Trump’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric and the social media may have played in the incidents.

In all fairness to Mr. Trump it must be pointed out that part of the blame for the overheated political climate goes to the left.  For some time those on the liberal, progressive left have chosen to see themselves as a loose assortment of oppressed minority groups and have accused their imagined oppressors of being “racist,” “sexist,” and “homophobic.”  It is identity politics, an “us against them” mentality, and it was only a matter of time before white, working class Americans would see themselves as a besieged people group and respond with a kind of white nationalism.

But none of this bodes well for democracy.  In a democratic society there has to be a free and open discussion of the issues, and the ability to reach a compromise.  Name calling and violence eat away at the fabric of democracy by intimidating people and keeping them from making their own decisions.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . .”  But does that mean that people have a right to say whatever they want?  The plain fact of the matter is that we can hurt others in more ways than one by the things we say about them and to them.

The Ninth Commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20; NKJV).  The immediate reference, of course, involves what happens in a judicial proceeding.   A person has been accused of a crime.  Witnesses are called forth to testify, and the fate of the accused hangs on the testimony of the witnesses.  In order for justice to be served it is vitally important for the witnesses to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Anything less could result in the defendant being punished for a crime he did not commit.

But as we look through the Bible as a whole it becomes apparent that there is a broader moral principle as well.  The fact of the matter is that what we say has an effect on other people – for either good or evil.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Prov. 18:21).  Gossip, for example, separates friends (Prov. 16:27,28) and causes strife.  “Where there is no wood the fire goes out; / And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Prov. 26:20).   Juicy gossip distorts facts, destroys reputations and inflames passions.  Likewise someone who simply likes to argue causes strife.  “As charcoal is to burning coals, and word to fire, / So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (v. 21).  In a word, “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor . . .” (Prov. 11:9).

On the other hand the things we say can have a positive effect on others as well.  “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, / Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).  “A man has joy by the words of this mouth, / And a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23).  But to say the right thing it behooves us to listen first to get the facts straight.  “He who answers a matter before he hears it, / It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  And when responding to someone who is visibly angry it is helpful to remember that “A soft answer turns away wrath, / But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

None of this means, however, that we should never say anything negative to others.  In its own way flattery can be just as harmful as slander: “A man who flatters his neighbor / Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov. 29:5).  And if someone is genuinely guilty of wrongdoing, even for his own sake it needs to be addressed.

“Open rebuke is better

Than love carefully concealed.

Faithful are the words of a friend,

But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

(Prov. 27:5,6)

Likewise the New Testament tells us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it might impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29), and that “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting” should “be named among you,” “but rather giving of thinks” (Eph. 5:3,4).

It is obvious, then, that words have consequences, and it is for this reason that God is concerned with what we say.  “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, / But those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Prov. 12:22).  And Jesus warned His hearers, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36,37).

In short,

“’These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate,’

Says the Lord.”

(Zech. 8:16,17)

As Americans our freedom of speech is guaranteed by our Constitution.  But we must never forget that as human beings we are ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and we do not possess the moral right to say whatever we please, whether it be true or false or damages other people’s reputations.  Politicians may rant and rave, giving distorted views of the facts and use inflammatory rhetoric; and this, in turn, creates a charged atmosphere in which some deranged people may resort to actual violence.  But in the end we will all answer to our Creator for what we have said and done.  May God have mercy on us all.




Ancient Israel, almost alone among the peoples among the peoples of the ancient world, held to the belief that there is only one God, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Most of the surrounding nations were polytheistic and idolaters.  They worshipped a variety of anthropomorphic deities.  How, then, did Israel come to be so different?

The answer recorded in Scripture is that God chose to reveal Himself to Israel, especially through the prophet Moses.  And the introduction to that revelation came in the form of the Ten Commandments given at Mt. Sinai.  And the first two of those Commandments stated in bold terms the basic premises of monotheistic religion.

The First Commandment states simply that “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; NKJV).  Unlike the surrounding pagan nations Israel was to worship only one God.  Moreover they were told, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (vv. 4,5c).  The implication here is that there is only one true God, and that He cannot be compared with any earthly thing.  He alone is the Creator.  Thus to represent Him in the form of a heavenly body or an earthly being would do a grave injustice to what God really is, and is positively insulting and offensive to Him.

But then God gives a reason for all of this.  “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God . . .” (v. 5).  What this points to is that God is not just an abstract philosophical principle to be contemplated intellectually.  Rather, He is a conscious, intelligent, personal Being who created us for His own purposes; and thus He wants us to know Him on a personal level.  If then we worship some other god, who is no god at all, we are being unfaithful to the true and living God to whom we owe our very existence.

And this, in turn, introduces a moral principle.  For God goes on to say that He is “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (v. 5).  Here idolatry is viewed as an “iniquity” or crime, and is punishable as such.  In other words, we are responsible for our actions and will be held accountable accordingly.  To “visit the iniquity” means essentially to punish the crime.  And God does this “on the children of the third and fourth generations.”  Sad to say, descendants often suffer the consequences of their ancestors’ bad decisions.  And the reason for this stern judgment is that, at the bottom of it, the reason that people worship other gods than the one true God (or worship no god at all) is because they “hate” Him (v. 5).  People do not want God in their lives.

But, on the other hand, God is “showing mercy [or, “lovingkindness,” NASV] to thousands, to those who love Me . . .” (v. 6).  God is by nature loving and compassionate, and He desires to have a relationship with us.

But then this points to the nature of morality itself.  What ultimately makes an action morally right or wrong?  Philosophers have wrestled with the question for literally thousands of years, but the answer that the Bible gives is that it is a matter of keeping God’s commandments (v. 6).  This is sometimes dismissed as “the divine command theory.”  And yet if God is our Creator, the sovereign Lord of the universe, and in the end our Judge, He is the One who determines right and wrong.  We are obligated to obey Him.

This, then, is the essence of monotheism.  It is a worldview distinct from all pagan and secular systems of thought, and it has far-reaching implications for us as human beings.  If it is true that we were created by a personal, rational Supreme Being we owe Him our love and obedience.  And in the end no other system of thought offers an adequate explanation of reality.



Dietrich Bonhoeffer



Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Eric Metaxas

Thomas Nelson, 2010

542 pp., pb.


In this age of secularization the Christian is increasingly faced with the question of how to relate to the state, especially when the state espouses values that run counter to Christian moral standards.  The problem is not new, and was confronted in the last century by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian who was put to death in a Nazi concentration camp near the end of World War II.

The story is told for us, in considerable detail, by Eric Metaxas in his New York Times Bestseller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  It is the story of a man who was both talented and devout and who was led to confront directly the evil of Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer came from a very cultured and aristocratic family.  His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a prominent psychiatrist.  His mother was the granddaughter of an earlier prominent theologian, Karl August von Hase.  The immediate family, however, was not particularly religious.  For some unknown reason, however, young Dietrich decided to study theology.  He studied at Berlin under Adolf von Harnack, the renowned liberal theologian, earning a doctorate in 1927 at the age of only 21.  He did local church work and gave university lectures, and from 1930 to 1931 did some post-graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Even though Bonhoeffer came from a liberal theological background, the theologian whose writings influenced him the most was Karl Barth, the famous Swiss proponent of Neo-Orthodoxy, which stressed that God can only be known through revelation.  Bonhoeffer also became involved with the ecumenical movement.  But at some point along the way he discovered prayer and the Bible, and that deepened his faith in God and his commitment to serving Him.  Was this a conversion in the evangelical sense of the word?  Metaxas is not sure, but Bonhoeffer was definitely a changed man.

Shortly afterwards, however, things began to change in Germany as well.  Hitler came to power in 1933 and sought to remake Germany along Nazi lines.  This involved, among other things, changing the Lutheran state church, and the Nazis began promoting “German Christianity,” a version of Christianity reshaped along the lines of Aryan racial identity.  Bonhoeffer, along with others, realized that this was unacceptable, and during the 1930’s he and others organized the “Confessing Church” which would be true to its Christian heritage.  In 1934 it issued the “Barmen Declaration” urging the churches to remain faithful to their doctrinal standards.  It was during this period that Bonhoeffer wrote his famous book The Cost of Discipleship.

But things took a turn for the worse at the outbreak of World War II in 1939.  The racism of the Nazis manifested itself in outright genocide, with the German military slaughtering innocent civilians in Poland and elsewhere.  Bonhoeffer’s well-connected friends and relatives became convinced that for the good of Germany and the world at large it was necessary to remove Hitler from power.  A conspiracy was formed.

Bonhoeffer, however, was at risk of being drafted into the army.  His friends managed to arrange to have him come to the U.S. to teach at Union Seminary.  But no sooner did he arrive than he began to have doubts about the wisdom of the plan.  In a state of emotional turmoil he became convinced that he belonged back in Germany where the struggle was.  He returned to his home country after only one month in the U.S.

But what would he do in Germany?   His sister-in-law urged him to join the conspiracy.  “’You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done,’ she said, ‘but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it’” (p. 359).  A turning point came when France fell to the German armies in June, 1940.  Up until then the hope had been that Hitler would overreach and thereby destroy himself.  But with the unexpected victory in France Hitler was more popular in Germany than ever.  It was at about this time that Bonhoeffer made his decision.  He joined the resistance.

Bonhoeffer’s friends arranged to get him a position in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence.  His brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, was already on the staff of the head of the Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris.  At one point Canaris had asked Dohynanyi to compile a file of Nazi atrocities that could be used to convince others to join the conspiracy.  The file became known as the “Chronicle of Shame.”  By joining the Abwehr himself Bonhoeffer could evade the Gestapo and avoid military service.

But it also involved a certain amount of dissimulation on Bonhoeffer’s part.  Outwardly he would appear to be working for the German government when in reality he was actually working against it.  This, of course, raised a disturbing ethical question.  Bonhoeffer was saying, in effect, that the end justifies the means.

The Gestapo, however, eventually caught up with him, and in April, 1943 he was arrested and taken to jail.  Bonhoeffer’s influential family connections helped ease his discomfort in prison, and he was able to smuggle out letters to his friends, some of which were later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.

However on July 20, 1944 there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler.  Anyone remotely connected to the conspiracy was rounded up and many were executed.  Dohnanyi was one of those arrested, and the Chronicle of Shame was discovered by the authorities.  Bonhoeffer was moved to a prison run directly by the Gestapo and eventually taken to various concentration camps.  He was finally hanged on April 9, 1945, only two weeks before that camp was liberated by the Allies.

There has been some confusion of Bonhoeffer’s theology in its later stages.  His Letters and Papers from Prison reveal and much more complex and conflicted figure, the radical theologian who seemingly embraced modern secularism, the advocate of “Religionless Christianity,” the inspiration for the “God is Dead” movement.  Metaxas feels that while Bonhoeffer was very much concerned with how Christianity relates to an increasingly secularized world, what he wrote in his letters was “simply an extension of his previous theology, which was dedicately Bible centered and Christ centered” (p. 467)  He also says that Bonhoeffer “might be the most misunderstood theologian that ever lived” (p. 365).

One thing that is certain is that Bonhoeffer’s theology did undertake a change of direction while he was in prison.  In some of his letters written from prison Bonhoeffer described the growing secularization of the Western world.  The church had responded to this trend by conceding the advances of modern science, but clung to the idea that God was still the answer to the ultimate questions of life.  But by the mid-Twentieth Century it had become evident that most Germans had grown quite comfortable without religion at all.  The world, in Bonhoeffer’s words, had “come of age.”  What should the church do now?

Bonhoeffer’s answer is not at all clear, partially because he was executed before he had the opportunity to put down his ideas in book form.  He does criticize the church for seeking conversions by making men feel guilty.  He says that the church should rather share the problems of ordinary human life, “not dominating, but helping and serving” (Letters, Macmillan, 1967, p. 204), and should teach positive human values by example.  In some ways his suggestions sound like what we know today as the Social Gospel and Incarnational theology.

What is especially disconcerting about Bonhoeffer is his apparent embrace of secularism.  He claimed that “we must live as men who manage our lives without [God]” (Ibid., p. 188).  He criticizes Christians who use God as a kind of “deus ex machina,” the Person to whom we go when we are in trouble.  He claims that “the Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help” (p. 188).  The church must become “this worldly.”  Dropping religious pretense it must reinterpret biblical concepts and revise the church’s creeds, apologetics and ministry.

There are serious problems with Bonhoeffer’s analysis.  First of all, God is not the weak and helpless figure Bonhoeffer portrays Him to be.  God is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who rules over all things through His providence.  Biblical piety requires us to put our trust in God for our daily needs.  Indeed, that is the very essence of prayer.  Without it religion simply does not exist.

Secondly, embracing secularism is simply not an option for the Christian.  It is expected that the world will reject Christ.  The Christian, however, is not supposed to conform to the world.  He has been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and is expected to live accordingly.  The world does not set the church’s agenda; Christ does.  Bonhoeffer should have recognized the world’s rejection of Christ for what it is: rebellion against God.

Bonhoeffer’s problem can probably be traced back to the weakness of the liberal apologetic.  By accepting the conclusions of modern science and abandoning the authority of Scripture, German Protestantism had placed itself in a position in which it could not state with certainty what was actual truth.  The result was that Bonhoeffer found himself drifting with the general culture; he could not simply go back to Scripture and say “Thus saith the Lord.”  He had no answer to the world’s presuppositions.  It was only a matter of time before he adopted the world’s conclusion: religion is irrelevant.

What it all comes down to is the authority of Scripture.  Is the Bible what it claims to be, the inspired Word of God, true and accurate in all that it affirms?  Or is it just a collection of ancient myths and legends, the product of a society with an outdated worldview?  If the former, then Scripture is our standard: we must heed and obey it.  If the latter, then we are adrift in a vast sea of human opinion.

Bonhoeffer’s Letters raise some intriguing questions about his spiritual and emotional state.  If two different images of Bonhoeffer have come down to us, it may be because he himself was not exactly sure of who he was.  While in prison he wrote a revealing piece of verse entitled “Who Am I?”  In it he tells of how impressed others were of him, but then he asks,

“Am I really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself,

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage . . .”

He then goes on to say,

“Who am I?  This or the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?”

(Letters, p. 188-189)

In his essay “After Ten Years,” also written while he was in prison, he makes this revealing comment: “We have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open . . . What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.  Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”  (Ibid., p. 17).

Bonhoeffer, as we have noted, came from a comfortable upper middle class family.  The picture that we glean from his letters of Bonhoeffer himself is that of a charming and cultured individual – well-educated, able to appreciate music, literature and art.  He was likeable, warmhearted and sincere in his beliefs.  He was also the product of a state church.  To be a good German was to be a good Lutheran.  Bonhoeffer was, in a sense, fulfilling a predetermined role as a member of his nation and class.

This created a dilemma, however.  Was he a Christian because he was a German, or was he a Christian because of a personal relationship with Christ?  And if for the former reason, was he really any different from those who did not go to church at all?  The inner conflict may account for the ambiguity of his theology.

Bonhoeffer’s predicament, in a way, illustrates the problem facing believers in many Western countries today.  These countries have a Christian heritage.  Christianity was honored and respected; and it was easy, under such circumstances, to think of “God and country.”  The professing Christian could expect to live a nice, safe, comfortable middle class life.  But as these countries become increasingly secularized the surrounding culture becomes increasingly hostile to genuine Christianity.  More and more we are faced with the stark reality of God or country.

America today is not Germany in the 1930’s, of course; and it is impossible to say what challenges lie ahead.  But like Bonhoeffer we too may have to learn what is the true cost of discipleship, to learn what Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV).





12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Jordan B. Peterson

Random House

Random House Canada, 2018

409 pp., h.c.


Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is being hailed in some quarters as an influential conservative thinker who is values-centered and an advocate for freedom of thought and speech.  He is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto.  In his best-selling book 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos, he lays out some basic principles on how to achieve happiness and fulfillment in life.  In so doing he often calls us back the traditional cultural values of Western Civilization.

In the book Dr. Peterson challenges many of the assumptions of the contemporary intellectual world.  He argues that in order for society to function there has to be a shared cultural system and a hierarchy of values.  Our values, in turn, are often rooted in religious tradition.  But to avoid the dilemma of slavish adherence to the group on the one hand, and outright nihilism on the other, it is necessary for the individual to take responsibility for his own actions.  “We must each accept as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.  We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disorder and break down and recreate what is old and outdated.  It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world” (p. xxxiii).

What follows are the “12 rules for life” that he proposes.  Much of it is good, common-sense advice such as “Make friends with people who want the best for you” (Rule 3), “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them” (Rule 5), and “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)” (Rule 7).

Much of what Peterson has to say is based on common sense and everyday experience.  For him much of it simply means coming to terms with reality.  This would include, among other things, gender roles, which are rooted in psychological differences between the sexes.  He argues that to some degree, at least, these gender differences are desirable.  “It is to women’s clear advantage that men do not happily put up with dependency among themselves . . . a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child” (pp. 329-330).  “Men have to toughen up.  Men demand it, and women want it . . .” (p. 331).

While Peterson comes across as an outspoken defender of traditional Western culture, his approach, however, is not really Christian.  He accepts the idea that human beings are the products of evolution.  He also accepts modern critical theories about the Bible, and says at one point that “The Bible has been thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which itself is a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time” (p. 104).

This, in turn, raises a serious question about the nature of morality itself.  While Peterson has a great deal to say about human experience, he has practically nothing to say about God himself.  The result is a more or less relativistic view of morality.  “You can use your own standard of judgment.  You can rely on yourself for guidance.  You don’t have to adhere to some external, arbitrary code of behaviour . . .” (p. 158); although he then adds parenthetically, “although you should not overlook the guidelines of your culture.  Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own.  The wisdom of the past was hard-earned, and your dead ancestors may have something useful to tell you.”

Peterson will sometimes quote Scripture to support his conclusions, but he will often twist the meaning of the text to fit his own humanistic philosophy.  A good example is his handling of the Sermon on the Mount.  Under Rule 4 he has been discussing the importance of setting realistic goals for oneself.  He states that the proper aim of mankind is to “concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is in front of you . . .” (pp. 109-110).  He then quotes Matthew 6:19-34 and then concludes by saying, “You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do.  You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely” (p. 110).  But it was hardly Jesus’ intention to have people “concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present.”  Rather, what He told His listeners was, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .” (Matt. 6:19), and He went on to say “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . .” (v. 25).  And whereas Peterson wants to let the individual decide for himself what is in his own best interests, Jesus says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .” (v. 33).  God is the kind and He is the One who decides what righteousness is.

In short, for Peterson morality is all about achieving happiness and success in this life.  What is missing is any sense of accountability to God as Creator and Lord.  In that sense Peterson is typical of the great philosophers of the past.  He tries to probe the meaning of existence, but he tries to do it without reference to God.

For the Christian therein lies the whole problem with human civilization.  As human beings we can see the advantages of sharing a settled existence together.  We create governments, we pass laws, and we build infrastructure.  But we do it all out of a sense of self-interest.  What is missing is any due regard for God or for the well-being of our fellow humans.  No sooner do we create the government and laws (ostensibly to promote justice), than we look for ways to circumvent the system we just created.  Our sense of right and wrong is little more than what we can get away with.  Peterson is seeking to revive the cultural values of Western civilization, but he comes short of what our Creator expects from us in the way of moral and ethical behavior.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . because, although they know God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools . . .” (Rom. 1:18,21,22; NKJV).

Our values must be grounded in reality.  But the ultimate reality is God himself, our Creator and Lord; and in the end we will all have to stand before Him and give an account.  It is God, then, who determines what is right and what is wrong, and our lives must conform to His will.  Only then will we find the peace and happiness we all long to enjoy.