Saturday, June 30, 2012

Oh, Which Judge To Choose?

By Dan

I was sitting with a handful of co-workers one day listening to one of them go on about people judging her.  She eventually got to the part where she claimed that God would be her judge and it was not other people's job to judge her. So I chimed in.

"I don't know," I interjected. "I think I'd rather be judged by my fellow sinful human beings than a Holy and Righteous God". She gave no response. The others nodded their heads in agreement, but as if the thought had never before occurred to them, but yet, it made sense.

This attitude of  "God will be my judge" -- as if God will judge differently than those mean, self-righteous people do -- seems fairly prevalent in my experience. When I hear people say this I'm usually reminded of Jesus telling us: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt 10:28). Or, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10, Prv 9:10). Or yet again: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Prv 1:7).

I am personally inclined to think that much of what is deemed "judgment" in our day is actually instruction; as in "it is a sin to live with your boy friend", and the like --instruction. But the real problem with this dangerous attitude is the view of God that it reveals. This god is a created god, nothing more than a figment of the imagination created in the image of mom who can always be counted on to take the side of her little angel no matter what the charge. This is the doting mother god, the new feminine god, the god that is more interested in self-esteem and "your best life now" than salvation, sanctification and Biblical doctrine.

What a contrast to the God of the Bible, the One who says, "This is the judgment: that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (Jn 3:19).

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Point Well Missed

I've been arguing for literally years that "marriage" has a definition and that the drive to make it "same-sex marriage" is a drive to change the definition of marriage itself. You would have thought, after all this time, that I would have made that clear. From the things I read elsewhere, however, it would appear that I have failed to get my point across.

The question of "marriage" is not a question of word definitions. It is not a question that can be answered by altering the dictionary or evolving the English language. These alterations and evolutions are a symptom of the question but are not the question at hand. Here is the question at hand. Will "marriage" be allowed to continue?

"Oh," you say, "that's clear enough and obviously that is precisely our aim." Nope, again, it is a point well missed.

I'm not talking about your word, "marriage". I'm talking about a concept, an idea, in fact, an institution. The word in question is simply the symbol currently in use that denotes the concept, the reality. I am not arguing, then, in favor of "marriage". I am not interested in keeping the definition of "marriage" pure. I really don't care if you call it "marriage" or "brak" (Croatian) or "huwelijk" (Dutch) or "matrimonio" (Spanish). The word is not my concern. The word is only important as a viable means by which I can indicate the concept in a meaningful way to others. The word is a symbol for a reality, and that reality is my concern.

As such, I have been concerned about this for a lot longer than the current lot of homosexuals have. This isn't a new concern. It isn't an "anti-gay" concern. It isn't a "homophobic" concern. It is a concern for a concept which has been under attack for a long time -- most of my life at least.

If you understand me to be arguing for the definition of a term, you misunderstand. I'm not blaming you. I've used that kind of language too many times. To be fair (to me), I've used that language because the California Supreme Court used that language. They recognized the "longstanding, traditional definition of marriage". I was simply trying to work off of that common structure. Unfortunately, using that structure ("definition of marriage") has likely confused the issue as much as made it clear where I stand.

So let me be clear where I stand. There is a concept. I believe it is a God-given concept. I can find it in my Bible. Beyond my Bible, I can find it in history and I can find it in all cultures that I can find. This concept is a lifelong commitment of a male and a female who are united as a family for the purpose of propogation, companionship, and cooperation. This concept has had a variety of accoutrements and trappings, peripheral practices and traditions, but it has always had this same underlying base. This base has been the core construct of all societies. It was the basis for subsequent generations. It was protected by society as a group. It has always been there.

This basic concept is the concept I wish to defend, the core value I wish to keep. It is not the same concept that could include anything resembling whatever "gay marriage" would entail. It doesn't share common core values, common aims, or common definition. This concept (whatever you choose to call it) is, by nature, turned outward rather than inward. It is not the indulgence of personal desires and whims, but an intentional sacrifice of said whims for a greater purpose (which, by the way, results in far greater rewards). It tames wild men, secures women, provides a unified structure for both to work as a team, and forms the structures necessary for the best possible outcome for offspring.

You want "marriage"? That really isn't the issue. I don't much care about "marriage equity". What I care about is that this institution, this tradition, this commitment, this covenant, this concept that we have known as "marriage" (and which is barely recognizable today as such) be safeguarded and defended and nurtured and continued. The current course of our society is to dismantle this core concept. I don't believe the human race can survive that course. We will certainly not be better off for it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Legal Cognitive Dissonance

You know what cognitive dissonance is, right? It is the mental discomfort you experience when you hold as true two (or more) conflicting views. Here's a simple example. "It's wrong to steal ... but it's okay for me to take office supplies from work." Huh? That sort of thing.

Here's a really clear example. H.R. 1997 is called "Laci and Conner's Law" after Laci and Conner Peterson who were murdered by Scott Peterson. Laci was Scott's wife, and Conner was their unborn child. This law states, "If [a] person ... intentionally kills or attempts to kill [an] unborn child, that person shall ... be punished ... for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being." The law is "The Protection of Unborn Children" act and defines the "unborn" as human. The law goes on to state, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the prosecution ... of any person for conduct relating to an abortion ..." Thus, while the unborn are indeed human children and killing them is murder, it is not murder if it is abortion. Cognitive dissonance.

Recently New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on all sugary drinks over 16 ounces in New York City. This is in keeping with other bans such as outlawing transfats in restaurants. While corporations that sell such products are, of course, upset about it, the New York City board of Health is in strong support of such a ban. Now, Mayor Bloomberg's position is unequivocally pro-choice on the issue of abortion. So Mayor Bloomberg et.al. are of the very clear view that it is a fundamental right to choose to murder your baby, but not your right to choose what to eat. Cognitive dissonance.

The problem with cognitive dissonance, of course, is that too many people are so used to suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and ungodliness that they no longer experience the dissonance of holding two patently opposing viewpoints.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Losing Sight of the Goal

Perhaps you've heard about the kerfuffle around John Piper recently. Minnesota has a marriage amendment coming up on the ballot. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis read, "Key Minnesota pastors opt out of marriage fight". Piper responded in his blog with "What the Star-Tribune Got Right -- And Wrong". Stand To Reason, a Christian apologetics organization, stood up for Piper while many and loud voices took him to task, sometimes angrily. Few appear to care that Piper was in the middle of a preaching series on holding marriage in honor and preached a sermon just this month on "Thinking Biblically about So-Called Same-Sex Marriage". There is no doubt, you see, about what Piper believes on the subject. But he isn't telling his congregation to vote on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment that will allow the voters to define marriage as it has always been defined -- the union of a man and a woman. No, Piper isn't telling them how to vote ... but he is certainly telling them what is true.

My first response to the Piper story was disagreement with Piper. Not take a stand? What's up with that??! The more I read about Piper's position, however, the better I understood. But what really straightened me out was neither the Star Tribune nor Piper's own response, but a commentary on the question from another blogger. This blogger was upset about Piper's stand. While Piper held that his job was to preach the truth of the Word, this blogger argued, "If Piper really opposed gay marriage, then he would support the marriage amendment, and he would persuade people in his state – not just his choir and congregation – using arguments and evidence that people in his state find convincing." His position is that if we genuinely care about this subject, we need "to care about what non-Christians find convincing." And that's when I realized the position this blogger and so many others were taking.

I am not, here, arguing the merits of Piper's position or even the blogger's position. I am not even here arguing about the underlying topic -- whether or not marriage ought to be defined in the legal system or whether or not it should be reworked to include "gay marriage". I'm talking here about the bottom line idea, the position that so many detractors are holding. Here it is. Christians, if they are to engage the world, need to engage the world in the world's way. That's the position. And that's a mistake.

There are multiple forms of this notion here. The (repeated) suggestion here is that we can only save marriage if we vote properly. The (repeated) suggestion is that other Christians in other countries (Canada and Denmark came up repeatedly) failed to vote properly and marriage fell. The idea is that we are the bottom-line defense of all things moral and must push it through in legislation because our salvation (not eternal, of course, but temporal) is found in politics and reason. That's the whole basis here. God is not going to defend His own concept of marriage. We have to. God is not going to intervene in the stream of human events. We have to. And, in fact, a major concern of all Christians must be the retaining of a "moral society" by political and legislative means . We need to make bad people into good people by force of law. That will make our world a better world. And that's not true.

Christians are required to be engaged in the Gospel. We are so commanded. We are required to be praying and specifically for governments. We are so commanded. Christians are to be representatives of Christ in our world. We are so commanded. And Christians ought to be engaged in their societies to include voting and such when we are so allowed. But we must never become deists, believing that we are the ones responsible to maintain a godly world and we are the ones capable of providing the necessary arguments to change hearts or even minds. We must never assume that, in the final analysis, God has taken a "hands-off" approach and left it up to us. This view is our doom. If left to ourselves as Christians we will fail at that which God calls us to do. No, we work "because it is God who is at work in you" and we live a "Christ in you" existence and we serve as a form of worship, but God works all things after the counsel of His will and when we get that turned around, we replace God with our arguments, politics, and legislation. It's called "idolatry". It is a failed strategy. Changed hearts, not better laws, make changed lives. Renewed minds, not proper argumentation on the level of sinful humans, make transformed lives. And a moral society by means of law only makes a more comfortable-but-damned people. Yes, moral laws are good, but that is not our focus, nor is God wringing His hands, relying on us to get it done. We must not lose sight of that.

Postscript:
For anyone interested in Piper's view, here is his response to the Star Tribune article and this counterpoint ran in the Star Tribune. And, as a side note of interest, when the first piece ran, people complained that the pastor wasn't taking a stand and when the second piece ran, people complained that the pastor was taking a stand. In keeping with "Losing sight of the goal", another goal that is not ours is acceptance.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down the portion of SB 1070 that allowed for the arrest of illegal immigrants on the basis of probable cause. Sure, this will effectively disable your ability to enforce illegal immigration laws, but let us just say, from the bottom of our hearts, we don't care.

The President has responded by stripping your police departments trained by the federal government of their right to enforce federal immigration laws. We know. We don't care.

Yes, we know that you are losing people to the illegal immigration problem and other related crimes. We know that your Border Patrol lost a man to guns supplied by the U.S. Government. We know that people are being killed, kidnapped, trafficked, imprisoned and enslaved as part of your border problem. We know. We don't care.

Yes, indeed, it is odd that your governor was complaining endlessly about the failure of the federal government to police your border until she was given the position of Director of Homeland Security at which point she told you all to shut up. You see? We know. We just don't care.

The President has assured you that enforcing federal immigration laws is not the right approach. The right approach, he says, is immigration reform. Of course, thus far his "reform" is to legalize those under the age of 30 who came into the country before they were 16. Not really reform. Certainly not long term. And, no, he hasn't suggested anything else to help out. It should be clear why, of course. It's because he just doesn't care.

I mean, seriously, Arizona, this shouldn't be a surprise to you. The White House sued you guys, for pity sake. The Justice Department is investigating and threatening those who do the enforcement. ICE will refuse to respond to Arizona calls. They've rescinded your right to arrest illegal immigrants. Surely this shouldn't be a surprise. We just don't care.

Sure, sure, you keep pinning that adjective, "illegal", in front of the term "immigrants" and you are interested in stopping all illegal immigration, but we are going to go ahead and label you as racist, anti-immigration, and just plain mean. No, it's not true. Yes, we know. No, we just don't care.

Please, please, don't take any of this personally. We will still want to use the power you generate, still want to buy the products that appear to be unique to you, and certainly still want to visit your tourist areas. And although we're making it abundantly clear that we just don't care about the crime and other problems caused by your substantial illegal immigration problem, please be sure to continue to do things that bring us pleasure and income because that's what fellow Americans do for fellow Americans. And whatever you do, do not attempt to respond in kind. "So, if it's not right for us to enforce federal immigration law, how about enforcing other federal laws? You're going to handle all that, right? You'll be the one to respond to bank robberies and kidnappings. Don't call us; they'll call you. Right?" No, no, don't do that. Because, after all, we just don't care.

Sincerely and with all the love we can muster,

Your Federal Government and the illegal immigrants that support them

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marriage -- A Retrospect

Ah, marriage! What a divine institution! No, really, a divine institution. God made it up. So, how far are we today from what God ordained at the outset? You see, if "the creation was subjected to futility" (Rom 8:20), it would stand to reason that entropy would be present in all things, including marriage. I would like to suggest that we -- you and I and most of those around us -- have succumbed to a view of marriage that God never intended.

Where are we today? Well, marriage is primarily about "love". I put that in quotes because our concept of love is another victim of entropy. That claim doesn't take a lot of work to demonstrate. Just read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and see how close we are today with our concept of "love". So love has declined from that grand biblical version to today's selfish version where "I love you" means "I love what you can give me" in many cases and almost never "I can provide for you". We're vaguely aware that "love" is more about "What can I do for you to give you the very best?", but more concerned about that warm feeling or, more importantly, that intense ardor. What we feel defines love best. Having moved, then, to "what I feel" as the primary definition of "marriage", we end up a long way from what God intended.

Genesis 1 and 2 give us God's version of marriage. You know this stuff. You know, "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Matt 19:5). Oh, wait, that's Jesus's words. No, I meant to reference Eph 5:31. No, no! That's Paul. Well, apparently the New Testament maintains that the Old Testament version (Gen 2:24) is still in effect. What do we have, then? Well, "man" and "wife". "Leave" and "cleave". "The two shall become one flesh" -- union.

But we have more. God gives His reasoning in this union. "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). God made woman as a "helper fit for him". The word, in fact, is "counterpart", "the other side", the "mate". You see, God designed marriage as a mating of two counterparts -- male and female. This is necessary because of the two purposes God designed: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion ..." (Gen 1:28). The mutual purpose, then, is reproduction and dominion, accomplished by a companionship of two mated counterparts.

How far are we from that today? We hear "love" and think of it selfishly (a contradiction in terms). We seek self-satisfaction when God called on us to reproduce. Indeed, suggesting today that married couples ought to (have a moral obligation to) reproduce -- bear offspring, and raise them in the wisdom and admonition of the Lord -- is viewed by many Christians as offensive today. No, no, marriage even among Christians is about self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Sex is a big part of marriage to us, but not in the way God intended. We seek eroticism and God intended union. We hear "love" and understand it to mean "lust". C.S. Lewis spoke of the kid in the slums who refuses to go on a holiday at the beach because he can't imagine anything better than sitting in the gutter playing with the mud. We are satisfied with so little when God intended so much.

God had such grandiose plans for you and your marriage. Paul calls it a profound mystery (Eph 5:32). There is a mystical, spiritual union that occurs coupled to the physical union. There is the joy of teaming up with your counterpart and working together toward God's goals and God's glory. And we settle for a good roll in the hay and a warm feeling inside. Oh, come away with me! Come to the grand version that is marriage, the wonderful union of man and woman in self-sacrifice that fulfills and admitted shortcomings that produce greater capabilities! Become the grand picture of Christ and His Bride, a union that reproduces itself! Marriage is so much bigger than our culture, in its quest for "marriage equity" is willing to offer. Don't settle. Get the best!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why Sovereignty?

I've spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks on the topic of God's Sovereignty. I've tried to show how far it goes (as in absolute Sovereignty). The question might be asked, however, why I've spent so much time on it. (In truth, I could spend a lot more. The Bible has.)

The subject is not only biblical; it is near and dear to my heart. You see, as Paul notes, we live in a world subjected to futility. The natural condition of Man is sinfulness. Even science tells us we live in a world of decay. And we don't need either the Bible or science to demonstrate it. Deaths in the family, cancer, the miscarriage of a much desired baby, wayward youth, cheating spouses, crime, poverty, war, oh, it goes on and on. It's a difficult world and a difficult life.

Or ... not. If, indeed, God has surrendered some of His Sovereignty to Man's Free Will, then it is a difficult existence with very little hope. If, worse, God has taken a more "hands off" approach as some suggest and "the laws of nature" are in play, it only means less hope. God Himself would be fumbling about trying to figure out how to deal with the aftermath of that earthquake and this hurricane and those senseless killings and that horrible rape and ... really, nearly hopeless.

God's Absolute Sovereignty, then, is of key importance to me. I believe it because the Bible is full of God's Sovereign hand in every aspect of life from nature to humans, but I also believe it because, once apprehended, it turns out I need it. In this particular aspect of God's character I find the light in the darkness, the hope in the decay, the answer to the problems. Beyond that, even, what was horrible becomes God's plan and, while some may still be very painful, none of it is meaningless, poorly timed, or out of control.

Jesus Himself asked, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?" (Luke 18:8). The suggestion in the very question implies the answer, "No!" Of course, Christ is talking about the Son coming to avenge the elect (Luke 18:7), so He knows as well the answer to the problem is the Sovereignty of God and His keeping of His elect. It is in this intentionality of God for His glory and our good that we can find rest and hope. We know that He causes all things to work together for good. We can rejoice in trials because He is working out perfection in us. We can find comfort in suffering because He is blessing us. The Sovereignty of God is the answer to all the most difficult questions of human suffering. And in this I rejoice.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Train Up a Child

I was behind her in line at the checkout stand. Her little 2 or 3-year-old sat in the cart seat holding a toy truck easily as big as he was. As the customer in front of her finished up their transaction, she told her little angel, "It's time to put the toy down. Mommy doesn't have the money to pay for it." He looked her in the eye and, without blinking, said, "No!" "Now, look," Mommy reasoned, "I only let you hold it so you wouldn't cry. I can't afford it. You have to give it up." He didn't succumb to her superb reasoning. "No!" "If you don't put that down I won't buy you an ice cream!" "No!" "I told you I'd take you horseback riding after this. If you don't put that down you won't get to go horseback riding!" "No!" Reason, carrot, stick, nothing was working. As she finished paying for everything, including the toy truck, I heard her say, "Okay, now, let's go get an ice cream and then we can go horseback riding."

What did he learn? First, mom is meaningless. Her primary function is to give him what he wants. Second, when she reasons, she lies. Refer to Lesson One. Third, I rule. Everyone else is secondary. In fact, it's likely that they all fall in the category of Lesson One. Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old ...

A good friend works at a large chain convenience store. He told me that they report loss from theft at an average of $6,000 per week. He said that the job was making him jaded. "I would estimate," he told me, "that half of the people that come into my store on my shift are there to steal." He had story after story. The guy who walked in and left with a handful of goods that wasn't disturbed by any employees because he wore a visible sidearm. The mother who, with child in cart, filled up said cart with Christmas decorations and proceeded to walk out. "But the worst," he told me, "was the 8-year-old." An 8-year-old? "Yes. One of my cashiers told me, 'I think that family is stealing.' I followed them around. The mother and the father were both pocketing stuff. And then I saw their little girl picking up candy and socks and things 8-year-olds don't care about, doing her part for the family 'shopping trip'."

How does that work? How will they differentiate between "It's okay to steal from them" (whoever "them" is) "but it's not okay to steal from us"? How will they explain the difference between "stealing stuff" and, say, stealing life from someone? At what point will they cease to be her primary influence and someone else ... say, the police and the justice system ... take over? Train up a child in the way she should go and when she is old ...

These are true events. They are not, unfortunately, rare cases. And while our world wonders about how to deal with thieves on Wall Street or bullying in the schools or government corruption or the decline of the economy on an international level, I wonder about why anyone would wonder about it when we're training up our children to do all those things and so much more. What parents condone in moderation children indulge in excess. And we are indeed training up our children in some way or another. So what exactly are we aiming at? The way they should go or whatever way they want?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Capitalism And Christianity - Part Two

By Dan

What does Christianity have to do with capitalism? The system of capitalism finds its relationship with the Church in that it stems from a shared core principle concerning man's condition. Capitalism is based on the premise that Man is not basically good but quite the opposite. The so-called father of capitalism, Adam Smith, illustrates this in his treatise The Wealth Of Nations:
A puppy fawns upon its dam, and a spaniel endeavours by a thousand attractions to engage the attention of its master who is at dinner, when it wants to be fed by him. Man sometimes uses the same arts with his brethren, and when he has no other means of engaging them to act according to his inclinations, endeavours by every servile and fawning attention to obtain their good will. He has not time, however, to do this upon every occasion. In civilised society he stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons. ... [M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages".
By adopting Smith’s prescription, the founding fathers aligned our economic system with reality through the assumption that man would be much more productive, innovative and industrious if doing so would be beneficial to himself. Thus was born what would become one of the freest and wealthiest societies ever enjoyed by Man.

The ideas that formed American capitalism however were not instituted in a vacuum, but in the bosom of a predominately Christian culture. In such a culture in which the individual held himself eternally liable before a Holy and Righteous God, he was more inclined to exercise self-governance and restraint according to an objective standard. These standards then guided his decisions, not only as they pertained to his own life and his interaction with resources, but also as they pertained to every sphere of his influence, including the selection of his leaders. This predominate mindset of the populace, which was subjugated to a higher order, made for fertile soil for capitalism's seed to be planted and flourish. However, as it turns out, equal opportunity and economic freedom naturally produce unequal ends. In a a society with a sense of moral bearings this is generally attributed to providence and so does not present a problem, but it is not suffered well in a society that is not only disparaging of honor, but that also is burdened by a perverse sense of entitlement, envy and covetousness ... and which has no suspicion of those seeking power through promises of a Utopian society.

Central to the health of capitalism is the Church's teaching on the truths regarding man's sinful condition. Never mind, for the moment, that this teaching is key to understanding the Gospel, and as such, key to the health of the Church and its Kingdom mandate, for I am attempting here to answer an economic question. The fact remains that the modern Western "Church" has become either unable or loath to make man’s depravity a focal part of her doctrine. This transformation of focus in central doctrines taught by the Church has had a destructive effect on capitalism for a couple of reasons.

First, capitalism is dependent on fidelity. As I pointed out earlier, capitalism produces a few fabulously-well-to-do individuals. But just as important is that it also produces comfortable masses with relatively modest excesses in resources. Fidelity allows for the masses to pool their resources to create an almost unfathomable concentration of wealth.  This wealth then plays an important role in the economy. For one, it doesn't lie dormant, hidden in post holes and mattresses, but rather it becomes productive through investment. Also, its productivity produces a return which not only fuels the economy but also helps to sustain people when they become too old to work. These principles can be seen in current 401-k retirement plans, though this principle was in place long before tax deferment laws were enacted.

It is these massive concentrations of wealth that has been responsible for many advancements through research that would have otherwise been unachievable due to insurmountable expenses. Such advancements include the development of drugs and medical procedures, the willing slave of affordable energy and advances in technologies, to name a few. But the same wealth also awakens the greed and envy resident in the heart of man. If there is no objective truth by which to judge all things, then we are left with a syllogism that looks kind of like this:
1. Men are good
2. I am man.
3. What I do is good.
With this view man can rationalize the greed in his own heart while, incidentally, retaining his right to judge greed in others. The system breaks down as the wealthy are judged as greedy simply because they were successful at accomplishing what those who judge them could not. In addition to this the wealthy begin to judge each other also. You have millionaire politicians judging millionaire businessmen, and millionaire businessmen judging millionaire politicians. In addition, you have millionaire Hollywood stars, who seem to somehow be above judgment, judging them all. All of this judgmentalism revolving around the greed of others while justifying the greed in one's own heart is not confronted from within with any sense of providence, honor, or a accurate understanding of the true condition of the heart of man; not to mention a sound understanding of the economic system in which it is all taking place.

In such a fidelity-starved environment the idea of pooling one's wealth becomes a fool's errand as increasing numbers feel justified in their own actions. Contracts are broken, loans are forsaken, capital is siphoned off by currency printing, onerous regulations, corruption, ponzi schemes, fraud, theft, bribes and so on. Worse, many who justify their own participation in these destructive actions have their own meager resources invested in the system their actions are playing a part to destroy. This is like a snake biting off its own tail for spite. Those with modest means will eventually have no option but to withdraw them, convert them to an historically stable currency such as scarce metals, then remove them from the economy by burying them, so to speak. This is one reason a rise in the price of gold can be a negative indicator of the health of an economy. As resources are withdrawn there is a corresponding reduction in new resources which results in a domino effect toward a reduced standard of living for the masses.

Second, capitalism is dependent on a productive society. Since man's banishment from Eden he has worked tirelessly to reenter. One way man goes about this is to make his way in life off the sweat of his neighbor's brow. The capitalistic system is a system that is dependent on the pooled resources gained by the sweat of one's own brow. The necessary relationship between work and provision has been thwarted in the past by the outright enslavement of man by his fellow man. Contrary to popular belief, this act hasn't ended, the methods have changed. Now rather than enslaving a few men and making an ugly spectacle, masses are partially enslaved for the benefit of a few through what has become euphemistically known as wealth redistribution.

Liberty and it's cousin capitalism are not hardy social or economic systems. They can exist only in environments in which the ideas on which they stand tenaciously cling to objective reality. Once man's true condition is rejected by the society at large, it no longer accepts reality but rather an alternate reality based more on how man thinks things ought to be than how they actually are. This then releases man to embrace the folly that some men can be trusted to siphon wealth from others and redistribute it more fairly, and all will be just fine with the idea as Utopia looms on the horizon. Suppressed and maligned become the healthy suspicions that once met those who promised such a Utopian society.1, 2, 3 Instead schemes are invented that are designed to exchange votes and campaign donations for largess. We saw a battle along these lines recently in Wisconsin as out of control state liabilities consisting of promised largess to government union members threatened the state’s fiscal health. However, as larger numbers of people become unproductive by living off the confiscated wealth of their neighbors, ever more amounts of siphoned resources are required. These resources are then withdrawn from productivity to non-productivity. This is like the snake eating the tail that it bit off assuming it will provide nourishment. It is counter to capitalism, it is counter to a Biblical view of the world, and in a more sane society it would be counter to common sense.

So, in conclusion, what has the Church to do with capitalism? In a word: “nothing”. In summing up the answer however we would do well to rearrange the question and ask, rather, "What has capitalism to do with the Church?” And like every other question that man asks along these lines, the answer is "everything". Many who worship at the altar of capitalism have not asked this question and their beloved system is crumbling as a result ... and they provide a thousand reasons why ... and it continues to crumble. Ditto for family, marriages, joy, happiness, and every other thing that man endeavors to do without God in his few short hours in this life.

 ________


1 In Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville had this to say in the 1830's concerning concerning America's constitution:
The Constitution of the United States is like those exquisite productions of human industry which ensure wealth and renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in any other hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of Mexico at the present time, The Mexicans were desirous of establishing a federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-American, as their model, and copied it with considerable accuracy! But although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they were unable to create or to introduce the spirit and the sense which give it life. They were involved in ceaseless embarrassments between the mechanism of their double government; the sovereignty of the States and that of the Union perpetually exceeded their respective privileges, and entered into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the victim of anarchy and the slave of military despotism. (page 189)
2John Adams: "Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken, and so solemnly repeated on that venerable ground, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government."

3F. A Hayek in "The Road To Serfdom" (written during WWII) had an interesting comment in the introduction of his book on page 57 (in my copy) that I think applies here as well:
... [H]istory never quite repeats itself, and just because no development is inevitable, we can in measure learn from the past to avoid repetition of the same process. One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. 'And accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see. The following pages are the product of an experience as near as possible to twice living though the same period... While this is an experience one is not likely to gain in one country, it may in certain circumstances be acquired by living in turn for long periods in different countries. ...Thus, by moving from one country to another, one may sometimes twice watch similar phases of intellectual development. The senses have then become peculiarly acute. When one hears for a second time opinions expressed or measures advocated which one has first met twenty or twenty-five years ago they assume a new meaning as symptoms of a definite trend. It is necessary now to state the unpalatable truth that it is Germany whose fate we are in some danger of repeating... It is not to the Germany of Hitler; the Germany of the present war, that England and the United states bear yet any resemblance, But students of the currents of ideas can hardly fail to see that there is more than a superficial similarity between the trend of thought in Germany during and after the last war and the present current of ideas in the democracies.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Capitalism And Christianity - Part One

By Dan

What does Christianity have to do with capitalism? The short answer is, "not much, really; at least not directly". You see, economics is, simply put, the allocation of scarce material resources. The Christian would do well to remember that Christianity not only thrives today in all sorts of harsh economic systems, but it has done so all through the changing systems throughout history. In fact, the argument could be made that it has thrived more hardily in oppressive systems, especially if we accept the fact that the church, in its purest form, is interested much more in men's eternal destinies than in any carnal-minded concepts such as the fair distributions of material resources.

The Christian therefore must beware of those who fix their eyes on worldly "material" as, not only  their source of joy and purpose but also a suitable solution for all that ails society. The very idea of the economic system of communism was born out of just such a perspective. The father of communism, Karl Marx, rejected God and became an atheist.  Then he set out to make things “fair” for those whom he saw as the down trodden masses.  But he could only see them in a strictly material sense.  Man's attempts to bring about the Utopian system he envisioned succeeded in bathing the 20th century in blood. Yet Utopia never arrived; only deeper levels of hell and fear for those under its oppressive fist ... oh, and lots of disparity in wealth distribution too.  In fact, history, as well as Jesus, tells us that wealth disparity is part and parcel to Man's existence. Man's attempts to "fix" that problem only end up changing who gets more than "their fair share".

From the Christian perspective -- that is, from the perspective that takes into account eternity -- it is the hopelessness during this life that causes the Church to thrive. In the free market system, you see, no matter what the material circumstances of one's birth, there is hope of improving those circumstances. This hope, which focuses primarily on material gains in this life, can present strong competition for our interests and affections and so be a formidable distraction from a future eternal hope after death. The irony should not be missed that the system dreamed up by Karl Marx, who proclaimed that religion was the opiate of the masses, caused those who discovered Jesus in the midst of his hell to thrive, albeit not materially.

Affluent free-market systems on the other hand provide a soft bed for the believer -- so soft, in fact, that there is no consequence for being a believer. Compromise becomes normal as worldly wealth finds itself in competition with our life in Christ. Our beliefs begin to die the death of a thousand compromises as our thinking increasingly conforms to this world. In the process we become increasingly less distinguishable from the world until one day we wake to find that our “Christian” bedfellows are not Christians at all but are wolves dressed in sheep’s’ clothing who have co-opted the Christian banner for anti-Christ causes based on social justice, which is just another way of saying "material justice".

Worse yet, affluence begins to inculcate the "religion" of Christianity with a confusion between material wealth and the abundant life in Christ. When terms like "thrive" are used in reference to the life in Christ lived out by those in poor oppressive systems, it doesn't make any sense to the affluent hearer because of this confusion. It is not mere coincidence then that the very term "abundant life" in John chapter 10 is found in the context of pointing out the existence of hireling shepherds -- shepherds who are there for the material outcome they gain and not for the eternal good of the sheep.

Keep these things in mind as we further examine, "capitalism and Christianity."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Inconceivable

The movie, Princess Bride, is just one of those guilty pleasures I have. You know the kind. You're not proud of it, but, well, you like it. It's not something magnificent or grand, but, well, you just like it. That movie is one of those things. There are so many "classic" lines (I'm using the term loosely) from that movie. There is the spot where Miracle Max tells them "He's only mostly dead." There is the clergyman expounding on the importance of "twue wove". There is the repeated Inigo Montoya line, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Vizzinni is the brains behind the kidnapping of the princess. As they proceed with their plan, things keep happening to which Vizzinni keeps saying, "Inconceivable!" After the fourth or fifth time, Montoya has a great line: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I like that line.

On the news the other day a local woman was taken into custody because, for the third time, she was accused of abusing a large number of cats. On the first occasion they took away over a 70 of them. The second time there were over 100 of them, including some in the freezer which she admitted to using in a stew. The living ones had to all be put to sleep due to their condition. This time it was 64 cats. They were sick, malnourished, lame, poorly kept, dying. And she went to jail. In an interview with a news outlet she gave her side of the story. "I wasn't abusing them; I just love my cats." The cab driver that picked her up twice a week for years agreed. She just loved her cats. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Me? I can only hope and pray that no one ever loves me so much that they starve me, refuse to care for my injuries, and eventually stick me in a stew. You see, to me, that's not "love".

Indeed, this seems to be a common problem. The abused spouse who assures her friends and the doctors who are treating her for her injuries, "He loves me; he just loses his temper sometimes." Or perhaps you've heard of the Stockholm Syndrome where hostages bond with their captors. Strange concepts of "love". "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

And if love was the only concept that was in trouble, it would be bad enough. But words are symbols of realities and when those words come to represent unrealities, they become problematic. When "love" can mean "torture and abuse", so far from what it really means, then the warm and friendly phrase, "I love you", can become worse than meaningless. It can become threatening. And love is not the only concept at risk here. There is "marriage", as anyone who has read my stuff knows is a prime issue for me. There is "sex". That might seem plain and simple. How can it go wrong? Well, it has. Our concepts there are so far from the original intentions that we might not even recognize them if we saw them. And speaking of sex, how many words in our vocabulary have been subjugated to some subversive new rude, crude, sexual content? It hardly seems like you can say a single sentence without someone catching some sexually deviant undertones in it. The other day I overheard a guy in a tire store. A woman came in and asked to get the tires rotated on her car. After she left I heard him say to his associate, "I'd like to rotate her tires." What does that even mean? Not sure, but we get the implications.

Our society has been playing fast and loose with the English language for a long time. In some ways, it almost defines the English language. (A little play on words there.) Add to that the complexity of the language as it is. As a silly example, a "hit" might mean someone got killed, the play was great, the bat collided with the ball in a satisfactory manner, or he sunk my battleship. Now add in evolutionary effects on the language and innuendo from stolen words and it just gets really, really difficult to communicate. Love? Marriage? Gay? Christian? "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Sometimes I'm quite sure it doesn't.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Little Leaven

I've been in First Corinthians and recently read the 5th chapter. What a chapter! You know the one. "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife!" (1 Cor 5:1). Stunning immorality. And Paul gives a stunning response to it.
... I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:3-5).
Wow! Delivered to Satan! There is only one other reference in Scripture to such a thing. That's pretty big.

Paul goes on in that chapter to talk about not associating with sexually immoral people (1 Cor 5:9-13). He is talking, he says, not about unbelievers, but self-identified believers. They are the ones with whom we are not to associate if they are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, revilers, drunkards, or swindlers (1 Cor 5:11). Paul tells them "not to even eat with such a one". Tough stuff.

There are a few things of note here. The first is the language there in verse 3. "I have already pronounced judgment." Whoa, Paul! Can you do that? I mean, didn't Jesus say, "Judge not"? Well, apparently he can. Indeed, apparently he's asking us to do the same ... repeatedly. "Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" (1 Cor 5:12). So, whatever Jesus was warning against in Matthew 7, Paul is not doing here, nor would we be doing it if we did what he said to do. This judging is right and necessary.

Second, consider the point. Why is this important? Paul doesn't leave us to guess. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (1 Cor 5:6). This is the "center" of the text, the connecting line between the guy handed over to Satan and the so-called brother who you need to avoid. The reason is that ignoring this kind of sin in your midst will cause damage to you all. According to this text, "grace" is not a good thing when "grace" means "We are not going to confront those who are sinning". It is dangerous for the sinner. It is dangerous for the Church. It is important to deal with sin in the Body and to do it swiftly and decisively. If you can, obtaining repentance, of course, is the best thing. If not, excommunication is essential. Paul is not vague here. If we do not "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Cor 5:13), there will be trouble.

Third, what's the point? What outcome do we hope for? I mean, sure, we do this to protect the Body, but what else is in view here? What about the evil person who has been purged? Well, we can see a hint here (and even clearer elsewhere) that the intent, after preserving the Body, is "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:5). The reason for this harsh judgment, then, is two-fold. First, the Body needs protection from the "leaven". Second, the individual sinner needs to be saved. These are the two goals of this kind of confrontation and action.

It leaves me with a question, of course. Why is this so rare today? You know, I was excommunicated once. The pastor whose church met in my house came to me and told me that Mrs. So-and-so didn't feel like I loved her because I didn't hug her enough. If I didn't repent and hug her more, I'd have to go. I didn't repent. I had to go. On the other hand, I've known church after church, large and small, who are fully aware of genuine sexual immorality and the like in their midst but do nothing about it. What's wrong with this picture? Why do churches today tolerate immorality in their midst? Do they think Paul was kidding? Are they fooled into thinking that they're immune from the whole "leaven the lump" problem? Or is it that they don't care enough about the repentance and restoration of their own people? In fact, do we individuals care enough about others in the Body to address these issues with them? Or are we content to embrace the leaven, have a nice meal, and avoid the conflict that just might save them? I don't really know the answer, but it seems to me that there's a problem here that needs to be addressed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Paul on Apologetics

For those unclear, Apologetics is essentially the rational defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek behind 1 Peter 3:15 which says we are to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." That word, "defense", is pros apologia and the apologia is the root of our word, "apology". And I favor (it should be obvious) being ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within me. That's good. But I'm wondering about today's Apologetics.

There is value in giving Christians reasons to believe. That is, having believed because God has opened our hearts, it can be helpful -- fortifying -- to be given reasons, arguments, evidence, points of fact that build up that faith and help hold it strong. But today's Apologetics seems largely to be aimed at the non-Christian, and much of what is being said out there suggests that if we don't have a strong (and often extra-biblical) argument for Christianity, we won't be able to reach people. I find myself wondering what Paul would think of that.

First we know that Paul holds that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). Apparently faith is not premised on good arguments, but the Word. But Paul has a lot to say about the wisdom of the world in this context. He assures us that "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). Hmmm, not wisdom, but folly. He actually revels in the fact that "not many of you were wise according to worldly standards" (1 Cor 1:26), but, instead, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:27). I don't know. It doesn't sound a lot like Paul is encouraging using the wisdom of our surroundings to convince unbelievers.

Paul gets more pointed in the next chapter of 1 Corinthians. "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power," Paul tells the Corinthians, "that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor 2:4-5). Instead, "we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit" (1 Cor 2:13). Indeed, "we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2:7). Now, in truth, that kind of thing is anathema in the arena in which Apologetics is used as a witnessing tool. Suggesting "secret wisdom" is not going to gain you points in a logical debate. But that's Paul's claim. And he tells why. First, "These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit" (1 Co 2:10). It takes the Spirit to reveal the truth of the Gospel. And that would be fine, except for the second problem: "Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). It doesn't really sound at all like Paul believes that we can produce sufficient reasoning skills to argue people into the kingdom of God. It sounds, instead, as if Paul is saying that Natural Man cannot receive the truths of God. That requires a fundamental change, and that fundamental change ("the mind of Christ" -- 1 Cor 2:16) is not brought about by clever arguments or coherent reasoning.

One last thought from Paul on this:
For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile" (1 Cor 3:19-20).
Say what you want, but I don't think Paul placed a premium on the world's extrabiblical reasoning to accomplish God's work. In fact, it doesn't look like God does, either.

Now, I know that God uses all sorts of means to accomplish His ends. I know that in some cases God has used cogent arguments to prick the hearts of individuals to open their eyes to the truth. I am not saying that we should abandon reason and jettison a rational defense of the faith. But it would seem from Scripture that receiving the truth about Christ, about salvation, about those things that make up the Gospel and Christianity is a matter of the Word from our end and the Spirit from God's end. We are not overcoming faulty thinking. We have to overcome the dead spirit of Natural Man. A clean argument won't do that. God appears to want prayer and the Word from us for that. We ought to give God what He wants.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Not Forgotten

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted. But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me." (Isa 49:13-14).
If we are honest we all go through times of depression and despair. We're always told "Sing for joy" and assured that God is on our side, that He's looking out for us, that everything will be okay. Well, everything is not okay sometimes. Sometimes they're tough. A loved one is sick or dying. We lose our jobs like everyone else. We may be struck with illness or pain that the doctor's can't solve. We can certainly suffer injustice. Sometimes we don't see a reason for singing for joy or comfort in the promise that the Lord will have compassion ... because it doesn't feel like it right now.

I suppose God knew that about us, because He has a reply to Zion from which we can benefit:
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands" (Isa 49:15-16).
Like always, God's people (like us) can forget God's compassion, can feel forsaken and forgotten by God. There is no doubt that we feel that way at times. And we may have good reasons, too. But God offers this assurance. In human terms, a mother cannot likely forget her child. More sure than a mother's love, however, God cannot forget you. "Behold," He says, "I have engraved you on the palms of My hands."

You know, that's better than a sticky note on the refrigerator or even a Sharpee on the back of your hand. All of that can be missed. But we whom God loves are engraved on Him -- right there on the palm of His hand. We cannot be forgotten. So when we feel forsaken and forgotten, remember. You are part of God's cheat notes, that which He refuses to forsake or forget. He will comfort His people and He will have compassion on His afflicted. No doubt. We might forget, but He won't. And that's good news.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

While We're on the Subject

I seem, in reviewing the labels for my blog, to have a lot of entries on "same-sex marriage" and "homosexuality". It appears that there is a recurring theme here. And I wouldn't deny it. The subject is the current "battleground", so to speak, so I've been standing there. One of the recurring responses in that recurring theme is, well, love. "What's wrong with two people loving each other?" "Why shouldn't two people who love each other be allowed to marry?" That sort of thing. And I've tried to deal with the basic problem of using the term "marry" in that sentence if the "two people" in question are of the same gender. But this recurring theme of "love" has suddenly caused me to ask a question of my own.

Here's the deal. Marriage has always meant the union of a man and a woman and up until extremely recently included the concepts of procreation, child-rearing, that sort of thing. Now, going with the question of love, I have to wonder about love. Is "love" the same as "lust"? I think we would all agree that they are not the same. You can love lots of people (and even things in our vernacular) without sexual desire, and it's good. Okay? We're in agreement thus far? Now the next question. Is "lust" equivalent to sexual intimacy? I would hope that the answer would be the same -- no! So if my sexual desires are neither "love" nor "sexual intimacy", where does that leave us? (Remember the original objections.)

A married Mormon blogger last week "came out" as a self-identified "homosexual". Yes, married. Yes, Mormon. And, oh, by the way, no intention of changing either. You see, this guy understands that "lust" is not the same as sexual intimacy. And love is not the same as lust. Therefore, this guy, with whatever faults and errors you wish to point out, still gets some fundamental truths correct. Love doesn't require lust, sexual intimacy doesn't require lust, and it is possible to be obedient to God's commands. So this guy admits same-sex desires which he has decided to set aside in favor of ... get this ... love and sexual intimacy with his wife.

I ask, then, those who argue that love is good and two people who love each other ought to be allowed to marry, what sex has to do with it? No, not sex, "sexual desire". What does lust have to do with it? Can a man with sexual desires for men love a woman? Isn't that answer obvious? And since sexual intimacy is not determined by my sexual desires, but by intimacy, why can't a person who experiences homosexual desires marry someone of the opposite gender, experience sexual intimacy, and live a happy life? Or is it true, in the end, that the only way we can live a happy life is to indulge our personal urges? If that is true, we've become a pitiful people, and questions about homosexuals or "marriage" are only the light that shines on the gangreneous rot in our society. If true happiness resides in indulging our own basest desires, there are a lot bigger questions we'll need to face than just the concept of marriage. And it won't be pretty ... for anyone.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Does God Do Bad Things?

If we are to conclude from Scripture that God is absolutely Sovereign, then we have to wonder about the bad things that happen. Based on the classic problem of evil, we are coming to a conclusion that seems to go against the argument. God is not unable or unwilling to prevent evil. Evil is His will. Wait! Does God do bad things?

There are two main concerns in this discussion. First, we need to agree that we will abide by whatever the Bible tells us on the topic. We must not allow ourselves to define God and His activities by our preferences, but by His own words. Second, we will need to understand the definition of "bad things". If by "bad things" we mean "evil" -- immoral behavior -- then we we will agree that God doesn't sin or coerce others to sin. We will (also based on the first premise) agree that "God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one (James 1:13). James assures us that sin is the product of our own desires (James 1:14). Let's be sure to keep that clear as we examine this question. So if by "bad things" we mean "Does God do or make other people do evil?", we will begin with a clear "No!" If by "bad things" we mean the unpleasant, the painful, things that we don't like or don't appreciate, then we'll have to see where Scripture lies with that.

What, then, do we know? Well, first, we know that God Himself says, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:7). That's right. While we're busy defending God from these accusations that God allows "evil", God is telling us "I cause calamity" (translated "evil" in the King James). Apparently we're defending God in a place He doesn't want or need defense.

We know quite clearly from Scripture that suffering is God's will. Paul delights to tell the Philippians, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29). Get that? It's a gift, a blessing, a grant from God to suffer for Christ's sake. Peter agrees. "Let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19). People, even God's people, suffer according to God's will.

But what about moral evil? We are agreeing that God doesn't actually, directly cause it. Is it His will? Well, we know from the account of Joseph that the brothers caused his being sold into slavery for evil purposes, but God intended it for good (Gen 50:20). That can only mean that God intended the moral evil the brothers did to be used for God's good purposes. God intended the evil. Not caused. And we know that God predetermined that Judas Iscariot would betray Christ, even while holding him responsible for that sin (Luke 22:22). And we know that God predestined Herod and Pontius Pilate to crucify the Son of God (Acts 4:27-28). So it appears to be unavoidable that God wills evil and uses it for His good purposes.

But how close does He get to moral evil? He doesn't coerce it. Moral evil is the result of human (or demonic) desire. We're clear on that. But does God influence it? Apparently He does. We read repeatedly in the book of Exodus that "the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh" (Exo 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8) and confirms it in Romans 9:17-18. We know that Sihon, the king of Heshbon, refused to allow Moses and the Israelites through his land because "the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate" (Deu 2:30). Apparently God works within people and they choose to sin. And we certainly know that "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem" (Judges 9:23), an evil spirit to Saul (1 Sam 16:14), and that a lying spirit from God was put in the mouths of the false prophets of Ahab (1 Kings 22:23)*.

Does God cause moral evil? He doesn't tempt. Nor does He make anyone do evil. But it cannot be said that He doesn't will it, and it is apparent in multiple examples from Scripture that He influences it. And He claims for Himself that He causes unpleasant events to occur in our lives. And He does so for our benefit.

Now, take some time with this. This is certainly not what you're likely to hear from the pulpit or understand from the common conversation among believers. But I'm not asking you to believe me because I say it, the pastors say it, or it feels right. I'm asking you to conclude what you will because the Scriptures say it. By all means, look for yourself. But be sure to allow God's Word to shape your understanding and reality rather than letting your understanding and perception of reality to shape God and His Word.

________
* This story from 1 Kings 22 is very interesting. One thing that occurred to me while reading through it is that, even though God sent a lying spirit to the mouths of the prophets, it was their choice to act on it. Indeed, Jehoshaphat (the godly king of Judah) asked Ahab to inquire of the Lord regarding going to war. Four hundred prophets were trotted out and assured them, "Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king." Jehoshaphat did not respond, "Well, that's good enough for me." He knew something was wrong. "Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?" Apparently the "lying spirit" from God was not believable to those willing to listen. These prophets didn't lie because they had a lying spirit from God. They lied because they wanted to.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fatal Sovereignty

Now, I've argued from Scripture for the Sovereignty of God as an absolute, not a limited sovereignty. I've shown biblical reasons why we ought to believe that God is Sovereign over nature, over human events, over everything. I've offered passages that demonstrate that God intervenes in human free will. The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, as explained in Scripture, means that there is not one maverick molecule (to borrow a phrase from R.C. Sproul) that is outside of God's control and command.

The logical conclusion at this point is the concept known as fatalism. If God is in charge of anything, what difference do I make? What difference do my choices make? What difference does anything make? God will do what God will do. Why bother me about any of this? Fatalism.

Paul faced the same question:
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom 9:19-21).
Paul had compiled the basic argument that God is in charge (Sovereign) and He chooses whom He will save and whom He will not. This response is the standard, expected one. And, admittedly, Paul's answer doesn't serve to clear things up. What do we learn? Well, Paul will not go back on his position. God, in Paul's analogy, is the Potter who gets to do whatever He wants with whatever He makes. Indeed, in Paul's analogy, the Potter makes "out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use." So Paul didn't back down. God does choose what will happen and to whom. He is Sovereign. We have no room to argue with God.

I'm not going to offer a better explanation than Paul did, but I do hope to shed a little light, a line of reasoning to help see how things work. I've already indicated that God is Sovereign in the absolute. The Bible indicates that nothing exists without God's constant work. In Acts 17:24-31, Paul told the Athenians that God made everything including Man, that He "determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place", and that "In him we live and move and have our being." Not much room for anything else there. God is absolutely Sovereign. Even evil requires His permission to occur and God uses it for His purposes. I also explained that two other necessary biblical positions must be kept in suspension here, not rejected. First, humans do have wills. We make choices for which we are held responsible. While holding in one hand the certainty that God is absolutely Sovereign, we must also hold in the other hand the equal certainty that we have free will and God holds us responsible for what we choose. The second consideration is that God does not create evil. Evil is something apart from God. When I say He "uses it for His purposes", we must not conclude He creates it. Keep all that in your mind as you consider the question, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" We must affirm all of these while we answer the question of fatalism.

Given, then, that God is indeed Sovereign but Man has free will (not Free Will), how do we avoid concluding, "It doesn't matter what we do?" How do we avoid being absolved from guilt if God is Sovereign? Well, first, it is clear from all the examples I've seen and listed that, while God works in people to harden or soften hearts, to blind or allow hearts to see, to disincline or incline hearts, God never coerces people to choose something in particular. God does not force the will. He works in the heart. Thus, every action of human beings is "free will" because we actually choose. Our choices are not coerced. As such, God still finds fault because we still made the choices we make out of our own free will and are, therefore, culpable for them.

Consider, then, the alternative. If it is true that God is Sovereign and we still make choices, doesn't it stand to reason that God will use our choices for His purposes? Take, for instance, the choice of prayer. Prayer is our way of saying, "I trust you, God." We pray because we believe that God is Sovereign, that He can do something about those things that concern us. And Scripture indicates that God answers prayer, that God uses our prayers as a means to accomplish the things that He intends to accomplish. Thus, in prayer our free will works as a vehicle for God to do what God will do and we get to participate. And, of course, the Bible is full of examples of people who 1) trusted God and 2) acted, not with fatalism, but with purpose and prudence. A telling example would be in Nehemiah. Those working on rebuilding the walls learned that they were in danger of attack. So we read, "We prayed to our God and set a guard" (Neh 4:9). Was setting a guard a lack of faith? No, it was reasonable and wise. In Proverbs we read, "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD" (Prov 21:31). Fatalism would say, "If the victory belongs to the Lord, why make horses ready?" But in God's Sovereignty both are true. The battle belongs to the Lord and we are to take wise action to accomplish what God wants. Gideon did it by eliminating troops and then fighting with 300 men against a vast army (Judg 7). Jehoshaphat did it when he took his army up on the hill to watch God do the fighting (2 Chron 20). Jonathan did it when he and his armor bearer decided to take on an entire Philistine garrison on their own (1 Sam 14). (Seriously, that is an awesome story.) And while we are told "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord" (Prov 21:1), we are also commanded to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2). Over and over and over again God's people both acknowledged God's absolute Sovereignty and their responsibility to act.

If God is indeed as Sovereign as Scripture says He is and we indeed still have free will, then it stands to reason that we will be held responsible for our choices even though God is Sovereign and it is natural to assume that we need to choose to do what God tells us to choose to do not because He is Sovereign, but because that's how God works. Can I offer to you the mechanism by which God controls all things? No. Can I explain how it is that free will can coexist with absolute Sovereignty? Not likely to your satisfaction. But keeping both of these in mind, it becomes clear that fatalism is not the proper response to Sovereignty. God does still find fault. Conversely, we do still have the opportunity to participate with God in His work by doing what He commands and instructs. Sovereignty and fatalism do not necessarily need to coexist. Not biblically.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Another Polygamy View

Apparently I'm not the only one that does not actually believe that the Bible condones polygamy (let alone endorse or encourage).

Analyzing a Logical Fallacy

You're familiar with the slippery slope argument, right? Here's how it goes. "If you let A happen, B will surely follow." It is typically referred to as a logical fallacy because, well, B might not happen. But in reality, it is only a logical fallacy if B does not happen. That is, if B actually does follow A, the argument was not faulty.

So then we read this article from The Australian about how polyamorists are trying to get in on the "gay marriage" bandwagon and get their own "marriage equity". The headline reads, "Same-sex marriage campaigners distance themselves from polyamorists' demands". "Gay marriage" advocates, you see, do not favor the marriage of multiple people, just their own marriage. But the opening paragraph of the story was really what stung the most.
The main lobby group promoting gay marriage yesterday distanced itself from polyamorists demanding to be included in the proposed reforms, saying marriage involving more than two people would undermine a traditional institution.
"Undermine a traditional institution"??? But ... isn't that the goal? Isn't that a given when the aim is to remove the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage and replace it with something other than "man and woman"? How is it different? And on what basis does "the main lobby group promoting gay marriage" argue against "marriage involving more than two people" if their basic argument is "marriage equity"? Oh, don't say it! "A traditional institution"??!!

How odd, then, to see those who would undermine the traditional institution of marriage opposing others who would seek "marriage equity" by being concerned about the traditional institution of marriage. The irony is really thick here.

The slippery slope argument is not a fallacy if it actually happens. It is actually happening.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hidden Warning

So, I'm reading through Paul's Epistle to "all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints" (Rom 1:7) and, of course, loving every minute of it. Good stuff. Fantastic stuff. Doctrine and concepts not found -- at least not as clearly -- elsewhere. I really enjoy Romans. But, to be honest, chapter 16 is pretty much a bust. Oh, not complaining, mind you, but it is almost entirely "N/A" -- not applicable. It's personal stuff, commendations and greetings for fellow believers, thanks for others, that sort of thing. I mean, how many of you remember that Epaenetus was the very first convert in Asia? (And, frankly, what does that mean? After all Israel is in Asia. Wouldn't the disciples be "the very first converts in Asia"?) Okay, fine, whatever, but not particularly applicable. There are no commands to follow and not a lot in the realm of doctrine to pick out. That is ... if you're not careful. Because if you're not careful, you will miss this. Stuck in amongst "Greet one another with a holy kiss" and subsequent grace and greetings for all, Paul inserts this tidbit:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16:17-20).
Wow! Paul, what are you saying here? I mean, it's certainly not conducive to a friendly dialog with those who disagree, is it? It's not "humble" by any means. Are you sure about this?

Look at what it holds for a moment. Paul, first, places some high priority on "the doctrine that you have been taught". This is the same concept as the common concept of "orthodox Christianity" -- the historical, constant teachings of the Church. Paul here doesn't say, "Avoid thinking that you're right and they're wrong" or "Agree to disagree" or "Whatever you do, don't get arrogant thinking that 'the doctrine that you have been taught' is right and they're wrong." No such thing. He warns about those who "cause divisions and create obstacles" contrary to those things. Whatever you conclude with this, it is quite clear that 1) there really is value in "the doctrine that you have been taught" and 2) there really is something to be said for vigilance against those who would try to alter or block it.

Now, Paul doesn't necessarily say, "Do battle with them." No, he says, "Avoid them." Not the same thing. Why "avoid them"? Well, these persons, despite appearances, "do not serve our Lord Christ". They may appear to, trying to correct your thinking or stop you from "going down the wrong path". "Yes, yes, you've always been taught throughout all Church history that we are saved by grace apart from works, but that's just not right and it should be obvious." "Sure, Christianity has always been opposed to premarital sex, but that's no reason to assume that they were right. It has been a longstanding misunderstanding." "Well, sure, the Church has always maintained that women were not to be in authority over men in church leadership, but that was because of [and they'll insert a variety of reasons here], and no longer the case today." "Well, of course Christendom has always maintained that homosexual behavior was sin and marriage was the union of a man and a woman, but Christendom has also maintained other errors at various times and places, so there's no reason to think we haven't figured out what they never could on this topic."

Why do we avoid this? "Such persons do not serve our Lord Christ." If not serving Christ, what are they serving? According to Paul, they serve "their own appetites". And with a minimal amount of examination you can easily see that the arguments produced against "the doctrine that you have been taught" are almost entirely constructed first on "their own appetites". It's something they desire -- power, sex, money, personal choice -- and, therefore, something to attack.

Paul includes a specific warning here. The first reason to avoid them is that they don't serve Christ, but their own appetites. The second reason to avoid them is "by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." How very true! "You don't want to stand in God's way on this, do you?" "We're just seeking to be loving and accepting of all people." "Come on, we need to be seeker-sensitive, and your holding to those biblical doctrines turn off those outside the Church." "Surely it's obvious that the tide of public opinion is against your view and soon you'll be left behind." "We just want marriage equity. Surely you're in favor of fairness."

Paul, then, is warning his readers. Don't be naive. Don't be deceived. Avoid these people who don't serve Christ, but their own appetites. You can know who they are because they teach that which is opposed to orthdox Christianity, the longstanding concepts that Christians, led by the Holy Spirit throughout the history of Christendom, have always held. Cling to that unity, and avoid those others.

I guess perhaps I have some reevaluation to do. Are there people I need to be avoiding? I certainly know people who fall in this category of causing division and creating obstacles, of denying historical orthodoxy, of serving their appetites rather than Christ, of trying to deceive with smooth talk and flattery. Do we engage them or avoid them? I wonder how much of this is the question in Proverbs. Do we "answer not a fool according to his folly" (Prov 26:4) or do we "answer a fool according to his folly" (Prov 26:5)? This will take some thinking and praying.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Examining Sovereignty and Free Will

No Christian can possibly claim that God does not intervene in the affairs of men. That is, we all know that God "has His hand" in stuff. We're all fairly comfortable, for instance, with the idea that God can directly affect inanimate objects, things without their own wills.

Here, let's try an example for illustration. You have an important job interview. You get ready and bound on out to your car to go to the interview and there you find that you have a flat tire. You miss the interview and don't get the job. It would be irrational for you to blame the tire. Tires do not go flat because they choose to. They are not responsible for their choices. They don't make choices. So a level-headed Christian might say, "Well, see? God must not have wanted me to have that job because He prevented me from going to that interview." All well and good.

But consider the other perspective. You have that same interview and you get out to your car and you find that you have a flat tire. Then you discover that the reason you have a flat tire is that someone slashed it. Okay, now we've moved from inanimate objects to human free will. This is the question of the day. We're pretty comfortable with the idea that God would intervene in cases of things that have no free will. The question, though, is does God intervene in human free will? Or is it "Human Free Will", an inviolable concept in which God will not intrude? He intrudes in things without free will. Will He do so in humans who have a will?

Consider, first, the proposition at hand. God is Sovereign. However, God will not intervene in matters of Human Free Will. Therefore, God is not Sovereign in matters of Human Free Will. If this is the truth, then there is one area of life in which God is not Sovereign, and if that is true, it cannot be said that He is Sovereign ... or that He can be trusted where Human Free Will is involved.

But that's just logic. What about Scripture? Remember, we want to examine the question from the explicit rather than the implicit. If the Bible states that x is true but can imply that x is not true, we will choose to conclude that x is true and our conclusions from the implication are faulty. So what does the Bible explicitly say on the subject? Does God intervene in matters of human free will?

Start, first, with the clear statement from Proverbs. "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov 21:1). Consider that for a moment. I mean, it's quite clear, but it is also quite far-reaching. The question we are asking is the extent of God's Sovereignty. So Solomon addresses the highest human sovereign, the king. In Solomon's day, the king was the absolute sovereign of his realm. Solomon, then, is saying that the heart of the highest human sovereign is in God's hand to do with as He pleases. Or, to put it another way, Solomon (the current sovereign of Israel) was writing to his readers "My heart -- your sovereign -- is in God's hand." Arguing, then, from the greater to the lesser, it cannot be imagined that any heart is not in the hand of the Lord.

Scripture bears this out repeatedly. In Genesis 50, Joseph indicates that God intended the sin of Joseph's brothers (meaning that the sin of Joseph's brothers was part of God's intention) for good (Gen 50:20). Genesis 20:1-8 tells the story of when Abraham was frightened of losing his wife (the one God promised would bear his offspring), so he lied about her. Abimelech took her as his own, but God prevented him from sinning (Gen 20:6). In Exodus 3, God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh to set His people free. In those instructions, God tells Moses that the people will be leaving with plunder from Egypt (Exo 3:22). In Exodus 12 it happens as God said it would, and it tells why. "The LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians" (Exo 12:36). In the opening words of the book of Ezra we read that "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia -- in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah -- the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom ...", a proclamation that sent the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the city. Who? "The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus." And who chose to go back to Jerusalem? "Everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5). In Acts 16 we read of Lydia, the seller of purple, when she came to Christ. Luke says, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14).

There can be no doubt, taking Scripture in its explicit statements, that God does indeed intervene in human free will to accomplish what He plans to accomplish. There can be no doubt. To argue against it is to argue against the explicit teaching of Scripture. Now, let me be clear on two other key points. First, Scripture is equally clear that we make choices for which we are either blamed or rewarded. That is, human free will does exist to the extent that we have the ability to make choices for which we are held responsible. To deny that would be an equal denial of clear Scripture. And one other absolutely clear point is that God is not the cause of evil. That argument will try to be floated when the claim is made that God intervenes in human free will. It's not true.

These may be difficult concepts. They are indeed mysteries. But mysteries are not impossibilities. We are required to hold in one hand the absolute Sovereignty of God and in the other hand the existence of Man's free will while recognizing that sin is not God's doing. It's a difficult balancing act, but not contradictory and not impossible. Denying any component of that three-sided structure will put you in opposition of Scripture on one hand and in bad standing in other parts of life on the other. If we deny God's Sovereignty by asserting Human Free Will, God is no longer Sovereign. If we deny human free will in favor of God's Sovereignty, then Man is no longer culpable. And in no case can we make God the cause of evil. No, I'm not offering a clean explanation. I'm just asking you to maintain biblical equilibrium, because the easiest thing to do is to step off on the wrong side of this question, and that's a dangerous and painful place to be.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Divine Commentary

We are used to instant news and commentary. An event occurs and we get the basic facts likely followed by talking heads with deep insights who tell us what it all means.

There is an interesting thing going on in some of the passages of the New Testament where the authors are telling the events of the day. We are getting a commentary along with the basic facts. This commentary, however, is not from some mere talking heads. This commentary is by divine inspiration, quite a bit better than some opinion. Consider some examples:
Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled ... (Matt 1:22).

... that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled ... (Matt 2:15).

Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled ... (Matt 2:17).

... that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled ... (Matt 2:23).
Kind of an obvious theme, isn't it? But consider, for a moment, what we have without these. A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock. A family flees to Egypt to hide from an angry tyrant. Said tyrant kills all male children under the age of two years old. The family returns to live in Nazareth. While it is certainly a series of stories, it is not an apparent history of the hand of God. We know it is the history of the hand of God thanks to Matthew's ongoing commentary. What we have, then, in the Gospels and, indeed, throughout biblical history, is a running account of God's will being fulfilled. It was fulfilled when the promised Isaac was born to Sarah and it was fulfilled when Israel went into slavery in Egypt. It was fulfilled when Joseph was sold into slavery and it was fulfilled when he came out of prison to save Egypt and his own people. It was fulfilled when Israel took the Promised Land and it was fulfilled when they were all carted off into captivity. It was fulfilled when Christ was born of a virgin and when He was put to death for our sin. The Bible itself recognizes all that occurs in its own pages as the will of God amidst the free choices of the people involved. When Sihon, king of the Amorites, refused to let Israel pass through his land (Num 21), it was God's will (Deut 2:30). When Daniel got special permission not to defile himself with the food offered to idols, it was God's will (Dan 1:9). When Christ was put to death by Herod and Pilate and the Jews, it was God's will (Acts 4:27-28). Over and over and over again.

We, of course, don't get that option today. We don't get a divine commentary on our current events. Take, for instance, some of the huge headlines over the past hundred years or so:
"Japan Wars on U.S. and Britain; Makes Sudden Attack On Hawaii; Heavy Fighting At Sea Reported" - New York Times, Dec 8, 1941.

"1500 Dead in Hawaii; Congress Votes War" - New York World-Telegram, Dec 8, 1941.

"America Under Attack" - CNN, Sep 11, 2001.

"Day of Terror" - MSNBC, Sep 11, 2001.

"Catastrophic; Storm Surge Swamps 9th Ward, St. Bernard; Lakeview Levee Breach Threatens to Inundate City" - The Times-Picayune, Aug 25, 2005.

"Death, Destruction; Scores killed as Katrina pounds states along Gulf Coast" - Aug 30, 2005.
"Yes, yes, that biblical stuff gets God's commentary, so that's all well and good, but what about us? What about these things (and so much more)?" Good question. May I suggest, however, that we do indeed have a divine commentary?
[God] works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
And that's just a smattering, the briefest of divine commentary on the events I listed. It's also God's commentary on the events in your life. Did you lose a job? God works all things after the counsel of His will. Did you get a job? We know that God causes all things to work together for good. Is a loved one sick? God works all things after the counsel of His will. Are you in some trouble? God works all things after the counsel of His will.

Well, as it turns out, we do have some divine commentary on our past and current events. We can have a sense of what God is doing, even if we can't fill in all the connections or all the details. What we can be sure of is this:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).
As long as I can keep that in mind, everything should be okay, regardless of how it looks. I guess the trick, then, will be to convince myself of the truth before the painful parts occur so that I will have that trained response built in when I need it. Something to work on.