Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's it all about, Alfie?

I remember once sitting with a fellow who was an agnostic but wanted to know the Gospel. So I gladly shared it with him as carefully and clearly as I could. "We're all sinners, guilty of Cosmic Treason against God, and we all deserve eternal punishment. But Christ died on our behalf so we could be saved from that punishment. If you put your faith in Him for that salvation, you can live with Him for eternity." Something like that. "Well," he said, "I'm working on it." Working on it? What does that mean?

In a recently overheard conversation, I listened in as two self-professed Christians discussed an older gentleman and his girlfriend. They were living together, you see, without the benefit of marriage, and she felt guilty about it. "So she told me," one of the two conversants said, "that she felt bad because they were living in sin." "Living in sin?" the other said. "Don't they know that's for young people to keep them from sleeping around?"

Despite the Billy Graham's and his lesser compatriots like me of this world, it is abundantly clear that we are just not getting it. I say "we" because it appears that nearly as many Christians as non-Christians don't seem to understand. What's it all about? What is Christianity? How is it any different than any other religion? How, for instance, does one "work on" placing their faith in Christ? And why are there "rules"? The absolutely most common perspective in and out of Christendom is that Christianity is here simply to make bad people into good people. Morality. You know, that sort of thing. That is what my friendly neighborhood agnostic was working on. That was the point of God's commands against sex outside of marriage. Clearly, that's what it's all about. And that is so far off base!

It's really about the Cross and the subsequent Resurrection. Have you ever wondered why the Resurrection at all? I mean, that's a sticking point with a lot of people, right? (I can name at least one actual pastor in good standing with his denomination who doesn't believe the Resurrection ever happened.) Well, the whole sequence that played out at the end of Jesus's life was to solve a singular problem, aptly summed up in Paul's Epistle to the Church at Ephesus: "You were dead in your trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1). You might think it's more complicated than that, but there it is. Dead in your sins.

Christ came, then, to die for your sins. God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). And that is truly Good News. On the Cross He sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free. But notice, if you will, that the problem is only partly solved at this point. "You were dead in your trespasses and sins." So the "trespasses and sins" part is taken care of at the Cross, but not the "dead" part. Paul says that the Resurrection is the basis upon which we can anticipate our own resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-22). On the Cross He defeated sin, but at the Resurrection He defeated death itself. "We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). Christ on the Cross conquered sin and in His Resurrection conquered our problem with death.

What's it all about? It's not about making bad people into good people. It's not about rules and regulations. Oh, those are the natural outcome, the obvious by-product, the certain result. Seeking to please the One who accomplishes the defeat of sin and death on my behalf is only natural. But that's the by-product, not the aim. The aim is what we celebrate today: Making dead people live. Therein lies the Gospel. That's our Good News. Anything less is just another religion.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Rational Conclusion

Look, it has been "Holy Week", the week that the Church has recognized for a long time as the final week of Christ's life while on this earth. Why have I had so much stuff on abortion this week? Well, primarily because of the book I've been reading on the subject and the thoughts it has brought up. But also because Easter includes the concept of New Life, and America as a whole is so opposed to life in general that I thought I'd sprinkle this week with life. I anticipate that this will be the last in the series. I make no guarantees.

My typical Saturday fare is not as serious as the rest of the week. This is serious, but it is on the fringe of serious. It is the logical and unavoidable conclusion of the pro-choice position, even if only a very few hold to it.

Last year two Australian academics published a piece in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled, "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" Drs. Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva made the case that, given that a baby and a fetus are of little difference, why shouldn't mothers be allowed to kill their babies? Of course, it didn't go over well, as we would all hope, but it was there just the same. They used the term "after-birth abortion" because it was a matter of choice of the mother and, thus, not infanticide and it wasn't done for the baby and, thus, not euthanasia.

The argument was simple. If there are circumstances that justify terminating the life of a human being in the womb such as a threat to the life or well-being of a mother, why would that justification end at birth?
Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.
How do they come to this? Well, it's all based on standard pro-abortion logic. 1) Placing moral significance based on fetal development is arbitrary. That's the approach of the pro-life crowd and they reject it. 2) Prior to personhood, human life has no moral claim. (That's the argument of Roe v. Wade.) 3) The burden on the woman outweighs the value of the child. Indeed, the value of life depends on choice. Thus, there remains the possibility that reasons that would allow for abortion prior to birth would still exist after birth and the mother and her family should have the right to decide after birth to terminate the life of the baby if the burden on the woman (or family) is too great. They conclude:
If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.
The argument is a problem for pro-abortion folks. They argue that something profound changes at some point in the life of the developing baby that is expressed at birth. What it is they can't quite say. You'd think that such a profound change would be able to be identified, measured, verified, and so on. But it's not. They hold that something magical happens as a fetus passes through a birth canal, but what it is they can't really say. Still, they are so opposed to this (clearly logical) line of reasoning that Giubilini and Minerva have been receiving death threats for the article. I'd say the ball is in their court, though. If the primary concern is the choice of the mother and the welfare of the mother and they hold that the earliest stages of human life do not deserve protection, on what basis do they draw the line and why? Ironically, if they agreed with Giubilini and Minerva they'd be sitting pretty with consistency if nothing else, but everyone knows that a baby deserves to live. So why do they draw their arbitrary line where they do and consider it reasonable?

The pro-abortionist says that they want abortions to be legal. Most demand that they be on demand (that is, up until birth). But, they say, they want them to be "rare". "Safe, legal, and rare," that's the mantra. Currently the United States alone kills 1.3 million babies a year in the womb. That's about 1500 every hour or 25 every minute. I don't know about you, but 25 babies murdered every minute of every day of every year isn't "rare". Nor can it be considered in favor of life by any stretch of the imagination. And here's the kicker. The largest economical interest in the abortion industry is Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was started by Margaret Sanger, an activist known for her fights for women's rights and eugenics. So isn't it ironic that Margaret Sanger wrote,
I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.1

To each group we explained simply what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way — no matter how early it was performed it was taking life ...2
Isn't it odd that even Sanger knew what they can't figure out today. Legal? Sure, they've made it that way. Safe? Not at all. (Ask the infant killed.) Rare? Not by the most generous standards.

(Side observation: Why "rare"? If killing a fetus is not murder and pre-born babies have no moral standing and the whole issue is for the good of women's choice, women's health, and women's equality, why "rare"? Why are there nearly zero abortion advocates who classify themselves as "pro-abortion" if abortion kills nothing significant and elevates women? If it is so good, why make it "rare"?)

All arguments for abortion lead logically and inexorably to infanticide and beyond. ("Slippery slope!" you may protest. It's not a slippery slope if it's already a fact. The Netherlands currently allows after-birth abortion.) The question is yours to answer. It's not small. It's not complicated. And it's not harmless. Don't let the emotional twists or women's rights/women's health issues fool you. It is science, not religion, that tells us that every abortion stops a beating heart.
1 Woman and the New Race, Margaret Sanger, 1920.

2 Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, Margaret Sanger, 1938.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Fetus and the Butterfly

One article I read on the right to choose over against the right to life argued that the silly pro-life position that a fetus is a human being is nonsense. He assured the readers that arguing that a fetus is a human being is like arguing that a caterpillar is a butterfly. Clearly ridiculous. Indeed, you will find this very argument all over the place. You may have seen it yourself.

If you aren't careful, you'd see the logic of the argument. Obviously a caterpillar is not a butterfly, so they may have something there. If you're not careful. Because the argument is a mess if you're paying attention. Here, let's play this game that we like to play with kids.

A hand is to a glove as a head is to ...? Well, there are a variety of right answers, I suppose, but the easiest and most obvious would be a hat. A hand fits into a glove -- a glove is worn by a hand -- as a head fits into a hat -- a hat is worn on the head. Easy logic. Kind of fun, actually. And that's where the argument of this pro-abortion author breaks down.

A caterpillar is to a butterfly as a fetus is to ... what? What he essentially argued was that a caterpillar is to a butterfly what a fetus is to a human being. But that's not a correct correlation. Here, let's try it in reverse and see if you can play the game and find the answer.

A fetus is to a human being as a caterpillar is to ...?

If you stuck "butterfly" in there, you missed it. So let me give you a true comparison and see if you can pick it up from there. A caterpillar is to a butterfly as a fetus is to an adult. That is true. A caterpillar is a phase of life of a particular type of creature. A fetus is a phase of life of a particular type of creature. A butterfly is a later phase of that same first creature and the adult is a later phase of the second creature. The correlation works. The argument doesn't. Why? Because no one is arguing that a fetus is an adult. The argument is that a fetus is a human being. So now can you give a better comparison to the test question?

Well, let's see if I can help. A caterpillar is the larval form of members of the order Lepidoptera. The Lepidoptera have four basic forms, ending with butterfly. Thus, if you wanted to correctly play the game, you would say, "A fetus is to a human being as a caterpillar is to the Lepidoptera." And that is accurate. Of course, it destroys the argument of the pro-abortionist, but that can't be helped, can it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Syllogism

Are you familiar with syllogisms? These are the logical constructions used for reasoning. The most common syllogism idea is the argument that if A is true, then B is true as well. A is true. Therefore, B is true. Here's the most common example you'll see:

Premise 1: All men are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates was a man.
Conclusion: Socrates was mortal.

It is a logical process the result of which is not either true or false, but valid or invalid. That is, if it follows the rules of logic it is valid. Further, if the premises are true, then the argument is true because the logic is valid.

Here, let's try another. This is the basic, straightforward, rational argument of the pro-life crowd:

Premise 1: It is wrong to kill a human being without sufficient moral justification.
Premise 2: Human life begins at fertilization.
Conclusion: Killing an embryo or later is wrong.

If you examine the syllogism, you'll find that the argument is valid. The premises are properly constructed. The conclusion correctly follows the premises. This is a valid argument.

What, then, is wrong with the argument? How is it not true? Well, you'll have to demonstrate that the premises are faulty. Unfortunately, in that regard, Premise 2 is undeniable. No one in their right mind can deny that the human being begins as an embryo. Science is irrefutable here. The first stage of human life exists at the end of fertilization. From that point on human life is simply going through the various stages of human life without a clear demarcation of when one stage ends and another begins.

In order, then, to dismantle this argument, you're going to have to dismantle the first premise. It is not wrong to kill human beings. No, that's not good. Killing human beings for the well being of a mother is sufficient moral justification. Oh, but that would include infanticide, so that won't work. Oh, I know! A fetus is not a human being! But actually demonstrating in any substantive, measurable, or rationally supportable way the difference between a human being in the fetus stage as opposed to a human being in, say, an infant stage or even a teenage stage is impossible. There are differences, but differences that would classify one as "human" and the other as "not human" are not there.

The syllogism is valid. There are no logical fallacies in the structure. The premises are universally true. Thus, the conclusion is not only valid, but true. So why is it that the pro-life argument is considered irrelevant, emotional, religious, or a flight of fancy while the pro-abortion side is rational? Well, you can decide the answer to that one yourself.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Certain Cases

Among the pro-life crowd there are some gradations. That's why Rand Paul is in trouble. It is, indeed, a very rare pro-lifer who would stand on "Never ever abort ever". There are, for most, exceptions. We all know the standard exceptions available. Pick one or more from the following list: rape, incest, threat to the health or life of the mother. Pro-lifers might agree to one, two, or more of those. "But we're pro-life," we will assure you.

The argument for the last one, the threat to the life of the mother, can potentially be made from a pro-life perspective. If the mother's life (not health, but life) is threatened, it can be argued that killing the threat to that life is self-defense, justifiable homicide, something like that. That is, if life is threatened, pro-life can consistently seek to protect that life. We're all pretty much agreed that a woman who shoots her would-be assassin is not a murderer. In the same way, killing a baby who would kill the mother might be a consistent pro-life position.

Now, if you're going with the health of the mother, you're no longer going to be able to stand solidly on the pro-life side. First, "health" is a nebulous concept. Physical health? Mental health? Emotional health? How about educational health? "If I have that baby, I won't be able to complete my education." And what constitutes a "threat"? A woman who feels like it is? And how does a health threat (as opposed to a threat to life) constitute pro-life? You might have to return your pro-life card if you're going to stand there.

The other two, rape and incest, don't fare any better. Indeed, do you know where they came from? The early cases of exceptions in cases of rape or incest were introduced by pro-abortion advocates prior to the Roe v. Wade ruling. It was their aim to undermine the "human being in the womb" position. And, in all honesty, a lot of pro-life folk have bought it.

It is an effective strategy. It is a no-win question. The pro-abortion side will hypothesize, "So, would you allow abortion in the case of a girl who was raped?" The pro-lifer would give an ardent, "No." "How heartless!!!" And it really sounds like it. "Oh, wait," the pro-lifer, recognizing how that sounds, will say, "let me answer again. Yes!" "Oh, I see," the pro-abortionist counters, "so it is a baby in the womb if it is consensual sex, but not if it is not consensual?" And the pro-lifer loses again.

Some pro-lifers, seeking to avoid this no-win, have opted for the, "You don't kill the victim of a crime to protect another victim." Yes, true, but it still sounds so ... heartless. "So, you would force your 15-year-old daughter to bear that rapist's child and raise it? And you call yourself compassionate?" Yes, it is necessary to couch these arguments in emotional terms because rape is a bad thing. No one disagrees. Bad. And, of course, the questions are always asked in odd forms like that. Because one easy response would be, "No! I'd have her bear the baby and then she could give it up for adoption." But that's still not satisfactory.

We need to be careful. If we are pro-life, we are in favor of human life. That means the life that might cause physical hardships (without death) and the life that might have resulted from rape or incest all need to be protected. But we need to be careful in that position that we don't come across as heartless. Rape, incest, and threats to health are all very bad things. We need to demonstrate compassion in those things. We just don't want to perpetuate the hardships by killing someone. That just doesn't make sense. And if you're one of those "pro-life" folk who favors killing babies in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother's health (not life), you may need to rethink your position, because it cannot be classified as pro-life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Values Clarification

Back in the 1970's, a new concept hit the air: "values clarification". The idea was that we need to figure out exactly what is and isn't valuable. An example was the famous "Lifeboat" scenario played out for school kids. They were told that a ship sank and a lifeboat could only hold so many people, but there were three more than that. Given information about the available people in the boat, they were asked to figure out who would live and who would ... not. It was an exercise in determining the value of human life. A failed exercise.

From a moral perspective, there is (nearly) a universal belief that human beings are intrinsically valuable. They have innate rights. They deserve legal protection. The value of human life is not in question. Enter "values clarification" and we are asked to determine degrees of value for human life. So while just about everyone agrees that humans are valuable, not everyone agrees on how valuable.

This, in fact, is the center of the abortion question. No sane, informed person can deny that human life begins at conception. It is simply the first of many stages of human life. An embryo is just as human as a sexagenarian (someone in their 60's) (not me). Either we agree on that or some are perfectly happy defying all modern science, evidence, facts, biology, medicine, you name it. But, that's where the agreement ends. You see, the pro-abortion side will argue that some human life is not as valuable as other human life. So let's play some "values clarification" to see if we can figure out where and how.

Pro-Life (PL): We value all forms of human life.

Pro-Abortion (PA): We value all forms of human life.

PL: Um, no, you don't. Not the life of the unborn.

PA: Oh, well, no, not those. But ... those aren't human.

PL: Well, scientifically they are. So what is not human?

PA: Ah, yes, you see, prior to birth they are not fully developed.

PL: So, "fully developed" defines "human life" versus "potential" or "not meaningful" life.

PA: Yes!

PL: So the baby born, say, without arms or legs or with underdeveloped lungs is perfectly suited for execution as not as valuable?

PA: Oh, no! That's not it. No, it's viability!

PL: Could you define that, please? I mean, it isn't just the ability to survive outside of the womb because a newborn cannot survive outside the womb without care. And the number, thanks to modern science, keeps changing. It was once around 30 weeks and is now all the way back to 21 weeks. Would you then prevent the abortion of a human being over the age of 21 weeks of gestation?

PA: Well, no, not really. No, let's consider the real issues. Human life is a function of the brain. It requires sentience.

PL: Hmm, okay. So when science indicates that a fetus has measurable brain waves as early as 6 weeks (with the given limitations of modern instruments) and the ability to detect external stimulation at 7 weeks, and actually dream at 17 weeks, you would see all those as reasons to deny killing a human being after, say, 6 weeks, right?

PA: Oh, don't be silly. Those brain waves are not fully developed brain waves.

PL: Okay, so at what point are brain waves classified as fully developed?

PA: Well, it's largely determined through self-consciousness, the ability to self-direct, the ability to interact with one's environment.

PL: Okay, I'm still not getting it. Science tells us that a fetus is self-conscious, capable of recognizing its mother's voice in the womb, capable of responding to stimulation in the womb. I mean, have you seen the picture of the fetus that grabbed the hand of the doctor? During surgery? That is self-directed interaction with one's environment.

PA: Well, perhaps, but it's not really consciousness.

PL: So, given that consciousness is the criteria, is it your position that terminating the life of a coma patient or a person in a vegetative state or an unconscious drug user would be fine since they fail to meet your criterion of consciousness?

PA: No, of course not! Why are you being so obtuse??!!

PL: I'm just trying to figure out what line you're drawing that classifies one human being as valuable and another as not.

PA: Look, this isn't hard. It's about fetal development. Until they have the proper functioning parts and the proper functioning brain and the proper functioning organs, they just aren't ... quite ... human.

PL: I see. So my wife no longer has her gall bladder and my friend no longer has his appendix and my cousin had her leg amputated because of cancer. Missing standard human parts makes them less valuable, right?

PA: Oh, you religious zealots, you'll never see the truth. You're just evaluating it from your right wing position while we're using science and reason.

PL: Yes! Science and reason. So ... when do you start using them?

I'm sorry, folks. I think we're at another failed "values clarification" exercise.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fun Fact

Here's a fun fact for the day. You've heard, I'm sure, of the Hippocratic Oath. It is, in some form or another, pretty standard for all physicians (with the exception of Nazi doctors during World War II -- no joke). Well, as it turns out, this universal oath for all physicians includes this line:
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
Interesting, isn't it? Before Christianity (Hippocrates lived in the late 5th century BC) they believed that abortion was evil and ought not to be practiced. We've come a long way, baby.

The Fourteenth Amendment

Most of you likely know about the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. That is the Equal Protection amendment that insures that all Americans receive equal protection under the law. What you may not know is where it came from.

This amendment was passed in 1868 as a response to the Dred Scott ruling. Do you know that one? Dred Scott was a black slave who was owned by an army surgeon. As such, he traveled to places like Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin, places where slavery was outlawed. So when the surgeon died, Scott sued for his freedom. The state courts shot him down, but he took it to the Supreme Court. The court, after much disagreement, ruled that blacks were not people nor citizens and, as such, had no standing before the court. Blacks were property and giving Scott his freedom would be unlawfully depriving someone of their property.

The Fourteenth Amendment, then, was passed in direct response to the Dred Scott ruling. To be a member of the United States, regardless of race, was to be protected by the laws of the United States.

So now we have a new use for this amendment. The crowd intent on redefining marriage into oblivion are using the "Equal Protection" concept to argue that they have the same rights that everyone else does ... even though no one is arguing to the contrary. Still, it is on the basis of this amendment that many argue for the oxymoronic "gay marriage" concept.

So isn't it so very odd that the Fourteenth Amendment, aimed at striking down a brutally cruel ruling that a human being was not a human being, is also used to rule that a human being is not a human being? How? Roe v. Wade was argued under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment as well. Women should have equal protection. They should be allowed to choose whether or not to have babies. And how does the amendment not protect the unborn? Because they're not persons. "Person" is nebulously defined as something to do with the ever-changing concept of "viability" and the location -- "outside the womb" -- and the desirability. (A wanted baby in the womb is a baby; an unwanted baby is a fetus. You can kill a fetus; killing a baby is murder.)

The final irony is that almost everyone arguing for the Fourteenth Amendment to assure that marriage must change in order to be equitable are also arguing that the protection of children does not extend to children in the womb. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Talk about a collision of ideas. Talk about a depraved mind.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Secret of Contentment

You don't have to work really hard to find out that "studies say" that women who work are happier than women who don't. Women with careers are happier than those without. Women who are significant outside the home are happier than homemakers. There you go. Science proves it (via the ever-present "survey"). What more do you need?

Here's the problem. While I have no doubt that the surveys are accurate, I would suggest that they are meaningless. You see, asking women if they're happier with a job than without or with a career than without does not answer the real question. Is contentment found there?

Here's the deal. We humans, male or female, will find ourselves content when we believe that we have what we think we should have. Look, this isn't rocket science. When we have a desire fulfilled, we are satisfied. Isn't that the definition of "satisfied"? What we expected has happened. We are, then, content, satisfied, happy.

The question, then, is not if women who work are happier than women who don't. The question is what do women expect? If women expect to stay at home, make a home for a family, raise the next generation, and so on and understand that to be a valuable and high calling, then they will be just as happy as the woman who expects to work and has a job. Satisfaction is a function of fulfilled desires, not the presence of a job.

But this isn't really about working women. It's about expectations. What is it that makes women unhappy who are not working? They've been told that real fulfillment occurs in a career. No career, no contentment. It's a lie. Carry that idea to all sorts of failing functions in our world. We are told to "find a job you love". Who said that finding a job you love is the best thing? How about "learn to love the job you have" instead? Why would that be bad? But we're told to find the job we love, and if I don't love the job I have, I will be dissatisfied. Or how about marriage? Marriage is forever, love is all there is, and if he/she doesn't meet my needs/expectations, end it. Why? Who told you that? What makes you think it's best? Well, it doesn't matter. If those are your expectations, plan on getting divorced because the warm feelings of love come and go and everyone fails to meet your needs or expectations at some point or another. On the other hand, change your expectations and true contentment can occur in any marriage.

It really works in just about any application. Paul said, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Phil 4:11). Adjusting expectations eliminates the problems of circumstances. Paul's secret for satisfaction was not better circumstances, but "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). It was an adjusted focus on Christ. He told Timothy "But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (1 Tim 6:6-8). In this approach, the expectation is godliness, not stuff. "If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content." The author of Hebrews urges us to be content with what we have (Heb 13:5) rather than looking for something else. And what do we have? That verse is the promise that Christ will never, never leave us or forsake us.

Are you dissatisfied? Is your job not bringing contentment? Does your spouse not satisfy? Are you looking for something else, something more? I would suggest that the eternal, unbroken presence of Christ Himself ought to satisfy, and if He doesn't, nothing smaller will. Change your expectations. Because circumstances are transient and will not satisfy. Not a better job. Not a better spouse. Nothing can satisfy like Christ can.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Post-Modern Humpty Dumpty

In Lewis Carroll's story, Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty was explaining to Alice how it was better to get un-birthday presents than birthday presents. You'd have 364 days in a year to get un-birthday presents and only one to get birthday presents. "There's glory for you!" he finished.
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't — 'til I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."
For instance, Humpty Dumpty later describes "impenetrability" to Alice.
"I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."

"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone
Welcome to post-modernism. Word definitions are nebulous. A wide or common definition is not reasonable. Words only mean what the speaker/writer intends them to mean and it would be wrong to suggest anything else. Of course, the ironic part is that Lewis Carroll's stories of Alice in Wonderland and Alice in Through the Looking Glass were dreams, intended to be nonsense. Because, as everyone knows, it is nonsense to suggest that a word means "just what I choose it to mean". Well, everyone except those who make a practice of it today with words like "marriage", "tolerance", "poor", "rich", "judgmental", "compromise", "fair", and so on.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Follow Your Heart

My wife was watching some PBS show featuring the Canadian group, The Tenors. They sang their heartwarming and wise song, "Lead with Your Heart", where they urged
If you lead, lead with your heart,
It’s the one thing you can trust.
Senator Portman found out that his son was gay. Now, the good senator had always stood for traditional marriage. But now, well, he wasn't sure. So he asked Dick Cheney's advice. As the wise Dick Cheney advised the troubled Senator Portman, "Follow your heart."

So, curious as I am, I asked, "What does that mean?" Clearly you have more than one possible method to decide matters. You can "follow your heart" or ... what? Well, the next obvious alternative is your mind. With the exception of making decisions with dice or darts -- randomly -- I can't actually think of anything else that doesn't fall in one of those two categories. You either lead with your heart or you lead with your mind.

Now, of course, neither of these two options is referring to a mere body part. It's not like one is saying, "Use that pump in your chest" and the other is "Use the gray matter between your ears." Not at all. One is saying, "Go with your gut." No, see? Still a body part. It's "Go with how you feel." That's the idea. Or you can think it through. Of course, as everyone knows, that's a lesser method, because the truly good, truly noble, truly self-fulfilling way is ... the heart.

That, of course, as illustrated by The Tenors and Cheney, is the most reliable, most revered, most honored approach today. Sure, sure, people can use their minds. Fine. But ... well, boring. And likely not fulfilling. No, the heart. That's what moves you. That's what compels you. Cold logic, straightforward facts, pragmatism, these things are fine, but they don't really get you anywhere.

The Bible, of course, disagrees. The Bible warns instead that the heart is so desperately evil and deceitful that we don't even realize it (Jer 17:9). The Natural Heart is stone. The remedy, in fact, isn't a softening or extra work of some sort, but a radical transplant.

"Oh," I hear you say, "so you're recommending 'Follow your head'?" Well, no, not quite. The Bible warns that "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God" (1 Cor 1:21). Sin, as it turns out, rots the brain (Rom 1:18-28). The remedy for that, according to Scripture, is a renewed mind (Rom 12:2). That's a process in itself.

So, what am I saying? I'm suggesting a change of heart that is executed by a transplant by God and a renewal of the mind that is brought about by repeated washings with the Word. I'm recommending a constant distrust of choosing a course based on how you feel about it because, as so aptly illustrated in the Cheney/Portman story, it's not likely to be a good choice. Better to use your mind and allow God to supply you the heart you need.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pro-life v. Anti-life

As any pro-lifer knows, those who demand that women have the right to abortions don't like to refer to us as "pro-life". I mean, who isn't, right? No, they like to refer to us as "anti-choice" which is both a lie and a logical fallacy or, in their "kinder" times, "anti-abortion" which also isn't true. I rarely, however, see anyone refer to their view as "anti-life". It happens, I think, but I've never seen or heard it. The Urban Dictionary defines the term as "An ignorant word made up by religious extremeists (sic) to degrade pro-choice people." And the Wictionary says it's a derogatory term for "pro-choice". Still, I've never heard it used. Instead, pro-lifers dance around "pro-choice" or "pro-abortion" trying to figure out which is most appropriate. You know. There are hardcore "pro-abortionists" that are eager for women to have all sorts of abortions as a matter of self-empowerment and there are those who aren't even comfortable with abortions at all but want to make sure there is a choice. But none of them would be "anti-life".

I'm beginning to wonder.

I'm not trying to be derogatory, ignorant, or a religious extremist. I'm not trying to degrade pro-choice. I'm simply examining their arguments and trying to see where it leads. And the more I follow down that path, the closer it gets to "anti-life". Here, check me out and see if I'm too far off.

The pro-life view says that science (without religious input) proves that life begins at conception. From the end of fertilization, this entity is a human being with its own DNA, gender, eye color, fingerprints, genetic tendencies, intrinsic intelligence, and on and on. These are derived partly from the mother but not entirely and partly from the father but not entirely. This being, from the moment of conception, according to science, is a one-of-a-kind human being, the first phase of all the phases of human life. Now, natural law and common sense (again without religious input) argues that humans have value. I mean, we refer to "human rights", right? Not "born-people rights" or "the rights of the after-birth", but human rights. And we are certain that humans have the right to life and that a civilized society needs to protect the weakest humans of that society. Thus, "pro-life".

The pro-choice view says that science proves that life begins at conception, but not personhood. That being in the womb is not a full human being by some nebulous, untestable standard. It is, in some sense, sub-human. There is no way that anyone in this camp can explain at what point this not-quite-human being becomes human, endowed with personhood and all the rights thereto. But it's not inside the womb. And sometimes that non-person status can extend to just outside the womb. But not in the womb. Forget your science. Forget your logic. Forget your pictures and evidence. We are declaring that whatever it is it is not human. Not yet. We're not sure what it is or when it changes, but it's not yet.

The terrifying thing is that this is exactly the position that the pro-slavery movement took on black people. They were sub-human and did not deserve the status of human and the protections that humans receive. It is exactly the position that Nazi Germany took with the Jews. They were not human, but some sub-species and could be destroyed at will. There is no difference between the pro-choice concept of the definition of a pre-born baby and the pro-slavery definition of a black person or a Nazi definition of a Jew.

So, given that religion is not allowed any say here and that science is irrelevant on this (because science irrefutably disagrees with their position), where do we stand? We stand at a position where government determines what a "person" is. Those who are not defined as "persons" have no reasonable expectation of protection of life. So what prevents the government from declaring that those under the age of 18 are not persons? You know, the early stages of human life. Or that the homeless are not persons? Or the infirmed? You know, not "meaningful life". Or the elderly? The final stages of human life. Or the illegal alien? (How many Americans already think of illegal aliens as not quite human?) Since "human being" is irrelevant to the discussion, what would prevent government from solving a lot of problems simply by removing the rights of certain humans who can be judicially declared sub-human? From the position of the "pro-choice" view, I can see nothing that would prevent this approach. And at that point, it looks a lot like "anti-life".

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unclear on the Concept

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told a Senate committee that the right value for the minimum wage to be set at today is $22/hour. According to the wise senator, based on productivity in 1960 compared to today, that would be the fair thing. Why? She asked Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of minimum wage, "So my question is, Mr. Dube, with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn't go to the worker." You see, any or at least most increases ought to go to the worker. They shouldn't go to the owner, the corporation, the shareholders, or even to the cost of doing business. They ought to go to the worker! That's only right! Dube, of course, knew better. If wages had kept pace with the the top 1%, the minimum wage would actually be closer to $33/hour. That would be much more fair. Because there shouldn't be a "top 1%".

Now, of course, to be perfectly fair, neither Dr. Dube nor Senator Warren were making the case that either $22 or $33 should be the minimum hourly wage. They were both pointing out that it would be more fair. But they're just setting their sights on more like $10/hour. Because that's more reasonable.

So, why should we raise the minimum wage? Well, 73% of Americans support it. And it would give low-wage workers more money to spend. It would keep more teens in school. It would decrease "income inequality", because that's bad. And, of real importance, making minimum wage contributes to obesity. Why? Well, it's cheaper to buy a cheaper fast food meal than more expensive healthy food. But, of course, that could be solved simply by putting "tariffs" or something on fast food, right? So, I don't know about that one.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 59% of American workers are paid hourly. Of those, 4.3 million were at or below federal minimum wages. So 6% of hourly workers (or about 3% of the total number of workers) are at or below minimum wage. About half of all of these minimum wagers are under age 25. Minimum wage earners are made up of about 7% of women hourly workers and 5% of men. Surprisingly there isn't much variation in race or ethnicity. Most are never-married people, part timers, and possess a high school education or less.

Given these statistics, it does seem less likely that a minimum wage increase would have a large impact on the economy. If there were more than 4.3 million, it certainly would. But with that few, it's not likely. On the other hand, the stories we're being fed aren't quite lining up with reality. "You know," they assure us, "a husband and wife earning minimum wage couldn't support a family today." Well, maybe. Maybe not. But the likelihood of such a couple, based on the raw numbers, the ages of most minimum wagers, and the fact that most are "never-married people", is very low.

But the one factor that people don't seem to take into account is the entire concept of economics. I mean, look, why $22 or $33/hour? Why not just make it a blanket $100/hour ... for everyone. You know, minimum. I mean, I don't know about you, but I'd love to make $100/hour. I'd have a lot more to spend. I bet a large number of Americans would love it. At least 60% (you know, all those hourly workers), right? And I could buy healthier food, right? (Wait, I'm salaried. Would that carry over to salaried people? Hmmph! It had better!) So why not?!

Well, here's how economics works. A company says, "I have this much money. I want to invest that money in order to make more money. So, if I put that money toward Bill and Ted, they will produce more than this much money, which I wouldn't have produced if I didn't hire Bill and Ted. So I'm giving them a job to make me more money." That's how it works. Businesses aren't charities put in place to support workers. They're put in place to make money. If it costs more to hire than it would make, it is not economical to hire more. So raise everyone's income to a $100/hour minimum and we'll have more to spend ... except I would no longer be able to pay the lawn guy or the pool guy, because I can't afford $100/hour for them to do my work. And I'd have to find cheaper places to shop because those prices would be going up to cover the cost of workers. Bob, the local hamburger joint owner, would find that he really wouldn't need all those teenage workers at that price and could likely make do with a few less. You see, those low-end workers might be producing $10/hour worth of profit, but certainly not $100. So it would make no economic sense to keep them.

That's how it works in economics. Hiring Bill and Ted for $7.25/hour might give the owner $10/hour in productivity. He's making $2.75/hour on Bill and Ted being employed. Good for the owner. Good for Bill and Ted. Push that minimum wage to $10/hour and now the owner is not making $2.75/hour on them. Now it makes no economic sense to employ them. See? And that's the basics. Without the ripple effect.

So who gets hurt if the minimum wage increases? Unfortunately, it's not the 1%-ers. It's the low enders. The closer to the bottom you are, the more it will hurt you. Some would lose their jobs. Some would lose their businesses. Some would have to cut back their living expenses to continue to afford the higher prices. I'm pretty sure there would be a serious morale problem (at best) when all those "slightly higher than minimum wage" earners with more experience and education suddenly got swallowed back into the "minimum wage" crowd. And those hated rich folk would just keep going.

Economics isn't a matter of legislation or even morality. It's economics. Despite the current government view that "we can just print more money!!", it just doesn't work that way. Economics is about a limited set of resources, and mandating how that is divided without balancing it from where it's taken is just going to unbalance it. Passing laws doesn't make it work any different. Legislating $10/hour rather than $7.25/hour doesn't make Bill and Ted worth $10/hour. That's just being unclear on the concept.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reaping Tares

Christians -- you know, those who try to follow the Bible, imitate Christ, submit to God's instructions, that sort of thing -- are often accused of being "judgmental". We are told that we are to "judge not" because everyone knows (except Christians, apparently) that this is Jesus's final word on the subject. (I mean, whatever you do, do not keep reading Matthew 7 after verse 1 because Jesus goes on to explain how to judge rightly, which kind of throws a wrench in the whole "judge not" theme.) So we are told that "only God can judge" and we are to leave ourselves out of it.

There is, of course, the problem that any lover of Scripture will encounter with this approach. It violates so many other Scriptures. I mean, we have the whole "judge not" thing, but Jesus goes on to say "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:15-16). It's very hard to hang onto a "judge not" theme and read Matthew 23 where Jesus gives the Pharisees a horrendous series of "woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites" statements which doesn't exactly fall in the "judge not" feel of things. And then there's the whole "moneychangers in the temple" episode which really is hard to slide into that "judge not" mantra. And those are just a few examples.

In Matthew 13, Jesus gives the parable of the kingdom of heaven being like a man whose field is seeded with tares by his enemy (Matt 13:24-30). We get the idea. Wheat and weeds look a lot alike. However, weeds kill wheat or, at best, damage it, so what's a body to do? (Get it? "Body", as in "the Body of Christ". Oh, never mind. If I have to explain it ...) In the parable, the servants ask the master, "Do you want us to go and gather them?" (Matt 13:28). The master tells them that doing so could damage the wheat, so leave that to the harvesters at the end. When Jesus explains this parable to His disciples (Matt 13:37-43), He explains that the enemy is the devil and the harvesters are angels and when they come they weed out the weeds "and throw them into the fiery furnace" (Matt 13:42). So in this parable, the servants (us) of the Master (Jesus) are not supposed to pull the weeds (false believers) from the field (the Church). Well, there you go! "Judge not", right?

But lay that up against Jesus's own words just a few chapters later. There He speaks of the "sinning brother" (Matt 18:15-17). This guy sins and you confront him. He doesn't repent so you take witnesses and confront him. He doesn't repent so you take it to the church and confront him. If he doesn't repent, Jesus says, "Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:17). Unclear on that? Well, Paul says, "I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler -- not even to eat with such a one" (1 Cor 5:11). He ends with "Purge the evil person from among you" (1 Cor 5:13). Now, wait! Didn't Jesus say not to "pull the weeds"? Didn't He say to leave that to the angels on Judgment Day? So what's with this "Purge the evil" thing? That is, Jesus said "Judge not" and then told how to judge rightly. He said "Leave the weeds for the angels" and then instructed us to get rid of them. How does this work?

There are two basic approaches here you could take. One is the currently popular view. "The Bible is a good book, but, let's face it, it's flawed. Thanks for pointing out another one." Okay, good. Now we don't have to work at understanding Christ (the author of Christianity). Pick whichever you prefer -- "Judge not" or "purge the evil" ... or neither -- and move along. Or you could assume that we have a reliable God who could oversee a reliable Scripture and maintain the integrity of that Scripture through time ... and then have to figure out how to correlate these two (rather than ignore one or the other).

Assuming the Bible is actually God's Word, how would we correlate these two ideas? Well, it would be necessary to keep the ideas straight. The parable of the tares includes angels at the "close of the age" (Matt 13:39). This is the Final Judgment. The result to these tares is not simply being removed from the "field", but to, in biblical terms, "perish". It is Judgment in the final and complete way. End of story. No other chances. Sorry. You chose, you bear your own choice. The other concept, however, is different. That one is aimed at making people uncomfortable enough to repent. In the 1 Corinthians 5 event, for instance, Paul delivered the man to Satan "for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:5). That is not eternal damnation. It is quite the opposite. Thus, the object of the reaping of the tares is final punishment and the object of purging the evil is to urge repentance to avoid final punishment. Two different concepts.

I don't have a problem with this correlation. Makes sense to me. It would suggest that the earlier Christians who burned heretics and the like were actually violating Jesus's "tares mandate". But, since I don't have a problem thinking that genuine Christians before me (around me, since me, including me) could make mistakes, that's not a big problem. If someone was suggesting to me that we should burn heretics again, I'd likely point directly to the "tares mandate" as a good reason not to. On the other hand, the current preference for leaving sinners alone is an equal violation of the "purge the evil mandate". I'd vote against leaving them alone, as well. Thus, there is a sense of "Judge not" when it comes to ultimate judgment and a sense of "Judge not" when it comes to judging others without judging myself (Matt 7:2-5). and terminating the lives of heretics would be a bad option. On the other hand it is necessary, biblical, and Christian to purge the evil from among us. We just do that without killing anyone for the purpose of urging repentance. A different animal altogether.

Monday, March 18, 2013

All in a Word

I know. A broken record. "Stan, seriously, do you need to keep visiting this topic?" Yes, yes I do. The topic, of course, is the definition of words. "Come on! English is a living language. It's bound to evolve!" Fine. But is it bound to evolve out of all meaningful usage? "I mean, what's the big deal? What really is at stake here?" Oh, likely more than you know. Here's an example. In the Roe v Wade case, the line of reasoning went something like this:
Supreme Court: "What is the States compelling interest1 in this case? Is it the protection of the woman or the protection of the fetus?"

Pro-Abortion Lawyer: "Only the mother."

State Lawyer: "Both."

Supreme Court: "Why both?"

State Lawyer: "Because medical science assures us that the unborn is a human being at the end of fertilization. Thus, both the mother and the unborn baby are human and compel the State to protect them."

Pro-Abortion Lawyer: "We disagree that the unwanted child2 is a human being."

Supreme Court: "Well, at what point does that entity stop being a non-human and start being a human?"

Pro-Abortion Lawyer: "At birth."

State Lawyer: "What's the difference 30 minutes before birth and 30 minutes after birth that defines the baby as human or not human? We contend that there is no difference."

Supreme Court: "If the fetus is a person, then the 14th Amendment would end this question, wouldn't it?"

Both Lawyers: "Yes."

Supreme Court: "So who determines if it is a person?"

Pro-Abortion Lawyer: "The mother3."

State Lawyer: "Science, medicine, logic, the fact that it's a human being, moral demands, and, ultimately, the legislature."

Supreme Court: "No, we do. Not a person. Next!"
That's right. The entire Roe v Wade decision hinged on the definition of "person". Now, the dictionary says that a "person" is a human being, an individual. The unborn baby is a human being, an individual. But not a person. Legally, "person" is defined as an unspecified individual. The unborn baby is an unspecified individual. But not a person. Science, medicine, biology, morality, philosophy, law, and logic all demand that a human being, by definition, is a "person". But the courts have decided otherwise, and killing babies prior to birth is legal, while "person" gets to be defined by the mother. "I want it; it's a person", or "I don't want it; it's not a person."

The ramifications are obvious. In the 1800's, black people were legally defined as non-persons -- sub-human. No legal rights. Property. In the same period, native Americans were defined as non-persons -- sub-human. No legal rights. As late as the 20th century, women were defined as non-persons. They went from no legal rights and the status of property to limited legal rights before they ever arrived at today's status. In Nazi Germany, Jews were classified as sub-human. No rights. Killing them wasn't acceptable; it was preferred. And so it goes. If "person" is so nebulous as that, then what's to stop the courts and the culture from redefining anyone as "non-person"? Are the elderly next? How about Christians? How about you?

You see, definitions (or the lack thereof) are important.
1 "Compelling interest" is vital to law. If the State has no interest sufficient to compel it to make a rule about something, it's supposed to stay out of it. (Side question: If "compelling interest" is the standard, what "compelling interest" does the State have in marriage if it is redefined to eliminate (by including other than) the core family -- husband, wife, child?)

2 Seriously, "unwanted child" was the term used by the pro-abortion side in pamphlets distributed to encourage the repeal of abortion laws.

3 Sarah Weddington was the pro-abortion side lawyer (and they liked the term "pro-abortion" back then), and she actually argued that the woman gets to decide if a fetus is a person or not.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Keeping it Straight

I've been reading a book by Roger Resler titled Compelling Interest with the subtitle, The Real Story Behind Roe v. Wade. Interesting book. But it's ... frustrating to read. Resler lays out in detail the mistakes made by the lawyers defending the Texas abortion law in question in Roe v. Wade and the mindset of the pro-abortion crowd that is twisted up in both anti-faith and necessary-faith views. They specifically targeted religious beliefs (even though the starting point of the pro-life view is life, not religion) yet demand that we succumb to some nebulous, untestable, untenable concept of "personhood" that, well, you'll just have to take on faith. The frustrating part is how far they've gotten on this shoddy argument, how deeply it is ingrained in our culture, and how hard it is to get anywhere with reasonable, rational discussion on the subject.

Now, today is Sunday, so I'm not writing to debate or complain. I'm writing on Sunday, as is my habit, to bring attention to God. So I thought about Psalm 115.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. Why should the nations say, "Where, now, is their God?" But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psa 115:1-3).
The two things, then, that I need most to keep in mind, both to remind me of our wonderful Father and to give me that peace that passes understanding in trying times. First is our number one problem. We seek our own glory. We worship the creature rather than the Creator. And I need to be reminded ... often ... that it is God's glory that we seek and God's good Name that we uphold. Good is only that which is done by God and for God, and the good we need to seek is the good that brings Him (not us) glory. Nothing else -- not appreciation or favor or comfort or power or acclamation or anything else -- matters.

Second, while the world around us really likes to taunt us with "Where is your god now?", it just doesn't matter. "Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." Whatever He pleases. I suppose I can leave that up to Him, can't I? And that's good to know, too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Baby Girl

Kate Middleton is pregnant. But you knew that, I'm sure. Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without something new about Kate in the news. The Duchess of Cambridge is going to have a baby, they tell me. Last week the news was all atwitter when she let it possibly slip that she was having a girl. Perhaps.

I have to say that I'm not getting any of this at all. Consider some of the fundamental beliefs currently in vogue. First, Kate is not carrying a baby. She is carrying a fetus. Whatever is currently there is not a baby or anyone with any moral sense would know that any woman who terminated the life of that baby would be a monster. And we know that's not the case, so, whatever it is, it is not a baby. Second, we're all becoming convinced that gender is a matter of perception. Girls are no different than boys. And even if they are, you are whatever gender you feel like you are. They call it "gender identity". Indeed, while in the past there used to be a simple thing -- male and female -- times have changed. It used to be that a doctor could flip the little newborn over and say, "Oh, it's a _____!" and accurately declare the sex of the child. Today, of course, we know better. There is male and female, but we don't stop there. It is possible to be male and believe you're female, or female and believe you're male. You can be male or female biologically and believe you are either both or neither. It's all good. You are what you think you are, DNA, chromosomes, and physiology aside.

So, back to Kate and the girl. Kate doesn't have a baby. She has a fetus. And despite advances in medical science, Kate cannot know what gender the fetus, when it is born, will end up believing it is. So, tell me again, what's all this talk about Kate having a baby and thinking she's having a girl? Or are we operating on mixed standards ... again?

Friday, March 15, 2013


If you argue that we need to follow Scripture in our daily living, you will likely get a label. If you argue that certain popular sins are indeed sins, you will likely get a label. If you call people to holiness and godliness and push against cultural definitions of just what that does and doesn't mean, you will likely get a label. It is not a pleasant label. No one who gets it is pleased. "Oh, my, really?! How nice of you to say so!" No, it is universally understood as a bad thing. Speak up long enough about what the Bible calls "sin" and you are bound to be termed "pharisaical". In case you aren't clear, that is not a compliment. It means that you are legalistic, hypocritical, self-righteous ... really bad things. The way you earn that epithet is by pointing to Scripture that says "Your pet sin is sin" or claiming "The Bible is clear on this point" or "I urge repentance for transgressions against God's Word." Very bad. And I'd like to question that.

What do we know about the Pharisees? Well, historically the Pharisees were a sect that started up somewhere between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew right after the Maccabean Revolt. They believed that the Bible (the Old Testament for them) was true and authoritative. Their name meant "separatist" because they believed that true believers needed to be separate from sin and impurity. While the culture of their day was absorbing more and more of the world around them, the Pharisees called for purity. So they set about making the very first "life application Bible". They pointed out how "Scripture says this which means that we should do this." Eventually their applications of Scripture became religious law itself and they became political leaders as well as religious leaders. While the Pharisees had a diversity of beliefs in the details, they did share some common positions. One, interestingly enough, was that they differed with the Sadducees on the issue of free will. The Sadducees argued for Libertarian Free Will and the Pharisees believed that humans had the freedom to choose but God knew all choices. (In that view, while humans did indeed choose and were, therefore, culpable for their choices, all choices were "predestined" if only by the fact that God already knew what they would be.)

Biblically, we know other things about the Pharisees. We know that they were righteous. Yes, righteous. Jesus told His disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:20). You know He wasn't saying something like "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of Hitler ...", so it can only be inferred that Jesus was saying, "See them? Do you see now righteous they are? You see how hard that is? Well, you're going to have to exceed that!" We know, for instance, that they were avid pray-ers and meticulous tithers (Matt 23:23). They fasted and gave to the poor. And they searched the Scriptures (John 5:39). Not merely scanned it. They weren't nearly as bad as so many of us who barely have time for God's Word. They searched the Scriptures. Even in Christ's assault on them in Matthew 23, He had high praise for them. They preached. They did good deeds. They were revered as rabbis. They made long prayers and were missionaries. Did you know that? They would "travel across the sea and land to make one convert" (Matt 23:15). Some of us won't cross the street to speak to someone about Christ. They tithed carefully, cleaned "the outside of the cup", worked at appearing righteous, and revered the prophets.

By now I hope I've managed to shake up your understanding of "pharisaical". You see, the Pharisees had a lot to commend them. Jesus had a lot of good things to say about them. Even history offers a lot of positives about them. To suggest that someone was "pharisaical" in Jesus's day would have been high praise.

What was wrong with the Pharisees, then? Jesus reserved His harshest words for them. He commended them in a lot of ways, but pointed out their hypocrisy. "You say one thing but do another." They preached (good), but did not practice (Matt 23:3). They required others to do things they wouldn't do (Matt 23:4). They loved honor over God (Matt 23:5-12). They used righteousness as a pretense for self-serving (Matt 23:13-14). Hypocrites. That was the problem.

So, when someone tells me I'm "pharisaical", what should I conclude? Maybe I'll be generous. "Oh, really? How kind! I don't know that I really think of myself as someone whose righteousness exceeds most, but I do appreciate the kind thought." Or, "Oh, my, you shouldn't say so! Sure, I'm diligent about searching the Scriptures, but shouldn't we all?" Maybe, "Yes, I do believe that Scripture is applicable to today and, no, I don't believe we should assimilate our society's sin rather than remain pure. Thanks for noticing." Maybe I'll be careful. "You know, I do not want to be a hypocrite that requires of others what I'm not willing to do for God. Could you point out exactly what it is I'm doing like that?" "I really hope that I'm not the self-righteous type. I know that the only righteousness I have comes from God. It would be beneficial to me if you could point out how I'm being self-righteous rather than pointing to Him." But it is my suspicion that when people call me "pharisaical", they are not accusing me of being godly or of being hypocritical. It is my suspicion that they don't like me pointing to Scripture and calling it the genuine "Word of God", urging repentance, and calling on me and you and everyone else to live by it. And that, dear readers, is not actually "pharisaical".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Object!

Preface: I've written this intentionally in a lighthearted way. I mean it largely as fun. It contains serious thoughts and all, but I'm not looking for an argument, a fight, or even a disagreement. Or even a conversation. I'm just asking people to think and I'm trying to do it in a fun way. If you are disturbed by this or riled by this or outraged by this, please feel free not to read it. None of those are intended here.

A belief system in Christianity that is currently in vogue (believe it or not) is "Calvinism". Yes, that's right. The counter-Calvinist (whatever contrary label you wish to apply) view has reigned supreme for quite some time and now this old/new view is rising. Time Magazine, the bastion of Reformed Theology (not) had a piece a few years back about "The New Calvinism" listed among the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now". Why? Why the rise in this belief system? Well, it's primarily because it makes sense. I mean, despite the term "Calvinism" applied to it, the justification comes from Scripture. Even its detractors admit that it's a well-thought-out view, rational, even complete (even if they say it's wrong). So it seems to be working today.

Of course, any belief system will have its detractors and this is no exception. Just as there is no shortage of poor representatives and false followers, there is no shortage of objectors. Please pick up a Complaints Form at your local "non-Calvinist" church or website and check off your favorite challenge to Calvinism. One of the top-of-the-list, absolutely-most-common, popular objections to the "Doctrines of Grace", "Reformed theology", "Calvinism", or whatever other term you might wish to apply is the objection of "free will". Consider.

The Bible (not Luther, Calvin, Augustine, or whomever) teaches that Natural Man is "dead in sin", "inclined only to evil", "blinded by the god of this world", "not able to understand the things of God", "hostile to God" ... oh, you've seen this kind of stuff before. (Let me know if you need the biblical references.) So those of whatever-you're-going-to-call-this-view (henceforth known as "WYGTCTV" for short) believe that, well, that's the way it is. Sinful Man without divine intervention will not choose God. To do so would violate his/her nature. It's not that the ability is absent; it's that the will is lacking. It's not that he/she cannot choose to fly because he/she lacks the wings. It's that his/her nature prevents it. The will won't. This belief is listed in the flower guide (TULIP) as "Total Depravity", an unfortunate shortcut term for the fact that humans are sinful at their core (something that every genuine Christian who has examined Scripture at all agrees on). It leads naturally to God choosing whom to save based not on Man's ability to choose God, but on God's choice ("Unconditional Election"). Which leads naturally to God (the Trinity, actually) carrying out the necessary procedure to save those whom God chose ("Limited Atonement"). Which leads naturally to the question of how God would bring about the salvation of a person who fits the description above -- apart from their own inability to favor God with their choice ("Irresistible Grace"). And, of course, given that all of this is the work of God, the natural conclusion is that God's work can't fail ("Perseverance of the Saints"). Shorthand. Please don't pick the TULIPs, because they are a very poor representation of the real ideas.

So with that construction, you can see that human beings have no Free Will, right? And there is no possible way you can read Scripture and conclude that human beings have no Free Will. How many times are we commanded to choose? How can we be commanded to choose if we have no choice? And, besides, doesn't logic dictate that we have Free Will? I mean, if we do not have Free Will, we cannot be held liable for that which we do not choose. So both Scripture and logic compel us to conclude that those doggone WYGTCTVists aren't merely wrong, they're anti-Scripture, anti-reason, and just plain annoying to boot! Burn the heretic! Burn the heretic! No, wait, that's not quite right. But you get the idea.

So what would someone like me, someone who is unfortunately classified as a WYGTCTVist, say to this very clear and coherent objection? Well, I cannot answer for someone like me; I can only answer for me. And my answer would be "Amen!" I do not believe that human beings lack free will. I believe that human beings absolutely have the capacity to make choices. I believe that humans inherently possess the ability to make personal choices without external coercion and not simply as determined by physical or divine forces.

There. That should clear everything up, right? I know that there are some of those dreaded WYGTCTVists that actually deny any existence of anything deemed "free will" with or without my dreaded capital lettering. I think they're wrong. I know there are hyper-Calvinists (because they really don't fall in the WYGTCTVist category) who discard anything resembling the ability to choose in human beings. Hard determinism, it's called. No choice whatsoever. And for those of you opposed to WYGTCTV based on that view, I'm with you. Cannot support it. Right out the window with it. Not possible biblically or logically.

Of course, you'll also see that it doesn't help at all, does it? Because I do believe that humans in their natural condition are "dead in sin", "inclined only to evil", "blinded by the god of this world", "not able to understand the things of God", "hostile to God", and so on. I do believe that "There is none righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Anyone need the reference for that?) So without even arguing for or against "Free Will" (or "free will"), I have to ask in what sense those who object to WYGTCTVism agree with Scripture on these points? I'm not asking you to agree with me ... or Luther or Calvin or Augustine or John Piper or R.C. Sproul or John MacArthur or ... you get the idea. I'm asking how you who disagree align your view with that Scripture. Me? I believe Man has free will (lowercase) and I agree with those passages. I'm asking you to correlate (if only in your own mind) your Free Will view with the very clear passages that put limitations on Man's ability to make this right choice. And you will also need to figure out how "I chose God on my own" doesn't put your salvation outside of unmerited favor (grace). Your move.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lessons from Jonah - Four

As I said when I started this story, most everyone knows the story of Jonah and the Whale1. Even unbelievers have heard that one. Indeed, that whole "fish" thing is what really throws people off, believers and unbelievers alike. It gets in the way. It is a distraction at best and a point of contention at worst. Why? Well, because it's not normal. It's miraculous. I mean, even if it is actually true (as I would contend) that Jonah really was swallowed by some sea creature and spit up on the land three days later, it would be a one-of-a-kind event (you know, like the death and resurrection of Christ, an event that Jonah's experience illustrated). And that's a distraction. At best.

Why? Well, we here in the 21st century with our modern Arbitrator of Truth, Science, may its name be blessed forever, can't actually support such a position. While Science itself argues for one-of-a-kind events (like the Big Bang), it quickly shoots down the biblical miracle as unsupportable. And we're in trouble, either from unbelievers or even from believers influenced by ... the lie.

I would argue the opposite, however. I would argue that what Science denies as miraculous is simply part of a continuum of God's hand. I would argue that the mundane is the miraculous2. And I'll illustrate that from the story of Jonah.

We know that when the story begins, God knew the outcome already. He knew that Jonah would run. So, at the very beginning of the story we have God speaking to Jonah (a supernatural event on its own) when God knew that Jonah would run. When he did run as expected, "the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea" (Jonah 1:4). This was not an accidental event, a coincidence. It was a supernatural event. As the sailors panicked and threw lots, the lot fell on the one man whose fault the storm was, a supernatural event. Against their preferences, the sailors threw him overboard. Now, that might seem like a normal event, but Jonah understood otherwise. In his prayer of repentance he told God, "You cast me into the deep" (Jonah 2:3) -- a supernatural event. When Jonah hit the water, the storm stopped (Jonah 1:15). Now, in nature, storms don't stop. They abate. Another supernatural event. And as the ship sailed on and Jonah tread water, God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17). As we've already determined, that, too, was not a natural occurrence.

I haven't gotten to Jonah's repentance in the belly of the fish (because that in itself is miraculous, both in the repentance and in his continued survival), his deliverance to dry land (Jonah 2:10), his proclamation of repentance in the sinful city of Ninevah that produced instantaneous repentance there (Jonah 3:3-5), or Jonah's "worm" that God sent (Jonah 4:7). The point is that, while so many balk at the whale part of the story, the entire book of Jonah is a list of miracles, traced directly to the hand of God. And we object to ... the fish.

It is, I suppose, an illustration of our basic problem. We think that the jobs we have and the families we're in and the places we live and the freedoms we enjoy are our doing. We think that every breath we take and every beat of our hearts are automatic functions apart from God. We think we live and breathe and have our being all on our own. And that whole whale thing? Yeah, that's problematic. We have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). In other words, when we balk at the fish, we illustrate that we are fallen beings in rebellion to our God. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom 11:36). "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). And "all" is not a few things.
1 I should point out that sometimes much is made that "it wasn't a whale". Really, don't bother going there. You know that Jonah wasn't thinking, "Now, let's see, what exactly was it that ate me? It was a sea creature, to be sure, but was it a mammal? No, it wasn't that, so don't use the word for 'whale' here. Use the word for 'fish' so they don't get confused and think that God miraculously had a whale swallow me rather than a fish. I mean, a whale swallowing someone would just be ridiculous, right? No, we need to keep the taxonomy correct." Really, folks, "whale" or "fish" just doesn't matter. Not the point. "Sea creature" is all that's important.

2 Somebody may wish to point out that biblical "miracles" were specific, designed by God as signs of the reality of His messengers. All well and good. I'm using the term "miraculous" here just in the sense of something that is not a naturally occurring event, but clearly the hand of God.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lessons from Jonah - Three

This third entry is more a bit of conjecture. Don't take it as any more than that. But I thought it was interesting conjecture.

Look at the account of Jonah preaching in Ninevah.
Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them (Jonah 3:4-5).
Doesn't that seem odd? I mean, it appears that Jonah spent a day preaching and Ninevah instantly repented. How instantly? Jonah didn't make it through the city. It was a three-day walk and he only made one-third of it (Jonah 3:3-4). As instantaneous as it comes. No discussion. No questioning. No delay. "Oh, forty days? Not good! We repent!" Done!

The speed of the event caused conjecture among Jewish rabbis. Why so fast? Their conclusion? They believed that the news of the events prior -- Jonah running from God, being swallowed by a fish, being vomited onto the land, and then coming to call for repentance -- reached Ninevah prior to Jonah's arrival. In the story of Israel's travels in the desert after Egypt, there are constant accounts of their reputation preceding them and causing people to either fear them or fight them (or both). The suggestion here, then, would be that the news traveled to Ninevah that this bizarre prophet was coming and, oh, by the way, he had been swallowed by a fish and coughed up on the land. Best listen to him.

Now, as I say, it's conjecture. The text doesn't say it. Neither am I. But I like it. I like it a lot. First, the text doesn't say otherwise, so I'm not contradicting Scripture if I like that notion. Second, it is a handy explanation. But one thing I like about it is ... it's so "God". I mean, isn't that just the kind of thing God does? He uses our failures and traumas and stupidity to forward His efforts. He saved Israel by having Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery. Not the first plan I would have come up with. He demonstrated Abraham's faith by ordering him to kill his son. Not an idea that would have occurred to me. God chose Peter as a disciple. I mean, God, seriously, Peter? This is the guy who would promise to die with you in the evening and deny he ever knew you in the morning. Peter? It's just what God does. Choose failures not to merely overcome them, but to use them.

In this scenario, then, God looked at the events, recognized that the prophet He was going to charge with the task would bolt on Him, prepared a fish for an unusual feast (Doesn't that suggest that God prepared this fish well in advance of Jonah's sin with Jonah's sin in mind?), and decided to proceed with this loser of a prophet because it would accomplish exactly His plan.

I see this same process in Election. God didn't choose Jonah because of the good that Jonah would do ... because he wouldn't. He would run. God didn't choose Jonah because he was a great prophet because he wasn't. He was obstinate in taking instruction, in failure, and in success. God didn't choose Jonah because of what Jonah would become because we don't see Jonah becoming anything. God chose Jonah in order that God's purposes might stand. And even so with Election.

Again, it's conjecture. I don't know if that's why Ninevah repented as quickly as it did. But I do know that God works that way. He uses failures, not as a catch up, a workaround, something to overcome and then fix, but as failures He can make use of. Failures like me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lessons from Jonah - Two

Okay, so we have a prophet of God who decides to run. Bad option, right? Not a good thing.

Have you ever done that? Oh, of course not the whole "sail to Tarshish but get eaten by a fish on the way" thing. I mean where you don't do what you know God wants you to do. Ever done that? One thing we all know about that: bad choice. God wants something from us, and we stand in His way. Not a safe place to be. And the guilt is incredible. God could have accomplished something, but I refused. Really, really not good.

Fortunately for us, we don't have such a poor God. He's actually pretty smart. He's actually ... oh, what's the word ... Sovereign. So look at the outcome of Jonah's hard fought efforts to avoid God's plan for his life.

The first people we come across who are interacting with Jonah in the book of Jonah is the folk on the boat. Jonah crawls into a bunk for a nice nap, and they're in fear of drowning in a storm. They're calling on everyone on board to pray to whatever god they might have. And then they find this sleeper. "Seriously, Jonah, sleeping? Pray, man, pray!" Of course, that was precisely what Jonah could not do because he was, after all, on the lam from the God he would need to pray to. But there was no help. In mounting terror, they opted to throw lots to see who the gods were mad at and, oddly enough, it fell to Jonah. "Okay, what did you do?" He told them. "Ummm, okay, (stupid), so what do we do to keep from dying?" "Throw me overboard." Isn't that strange? He didn't say, "I'll jump overboard and you'll be alright." No, he wouldn't budge. They had to do it. And he played it right because if you read the account they weren't too keen on doing that. But things got worse, so over he went.

And the Scripture says "they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging" (Jonah 1:15). Sounds like an instantaneous change. Kind of like the New Testament account when Jesus said, "Peace! Be still!" And it was.

Most interesting, though, is the outcome. "Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows" (Jonah 1:16). That's right. If these were New Testament men, they became Christians. These people converted because Jonah sinned.

Indeed, when you think about it, there are two types of people in the book of Jonah. There is Jonah, of course, the reluctant prophet, and there is everyone else ... who all repent. The sailors turn to God. Ninevah turns to God. People coming to Jehovah who would never have otherwise. Massive revival. All due to a prophet who didn't want to do what God wanted.

Do you ever wonder if you're standing in God's way? Do you ever think "If only I was more compliant, God would get more done"? Trust me. God can use anything. A donkey. A reluctant, recalcitrant prophet. Even you. No, really. Even me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Looking at Fear in all the Wrong Places

The Bible is a book full of "fear". Okay, let me explain that before you misunderstand. The Bible is full of the use of the word, "fear". What is interesting, however, is the number of times that the word "not" is associated with "fear". "Fear not, Abram," God told him in a vision, "I am your shield; your reward shall be very great" (Gen 15:1). And so it goes. Over and over and over. Israel was to "fear not" the Egyptians. Israel was to "fear not" their enemies. The shepherds were to "fear not" the announcing angels. We are to "fear not" because we are more valuable than sparrows. John was to "fear not" the Alpha and Omega. Over and over and over.

It's interesting, too, because, for the most part, these are things that should be feared. For instance, Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body" (Luke 12:4). Now, wait a minute. Those who kill the body are scary! Joseph was told "Do not fear to take mary as your wife" (Matt 1:20). Yeah, well, uh, she's pregnant ... and it's not mine! That is something to fear. And Peter says something to wives that is totally ludicrous: "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening" (1 Peter 3:6). Oh, come on, now, Peter! You just said there are things that are frightening. And then you say they shouldn't fear that. We're not talking about things that aren't scary; we're talking about really frightening things. It's not like a kid who is afraid of the monster under the bed. "Don't worry; there's no monster." No, we're talking about genuinely frightening things. Think Israel and Egypt, Israel's enemies, the king of Babylon, or "those who kill the body". Really scary things. In Revelation 2, John writes, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer" (Rev 2:10). That is, "Yes, you are about to suffer this, but don't fear it." Yes, this is gonna hurt, but don't let it scare you. Very real fearful things.

The reason that we are so often told to "fear not" is not that the things we fear are imaginary. It is that the things we fear are under the control of our God. Repeatedly God told Israel, "Do not fear, for I am your God." It is really quite amazing how many times He told them that in one form or another. Yes, those people are scary! Yes, those events are coming! Yes, these things will even be painful! But do not fear, because ultimately it is God who is in control and you really have no reason to fear these things. Fear not, then, because of God. He is over all that happens. You can trust Him.

So we look at imaginary or very real fearful things and get afraid. We fear persecution and loss. We fear sickness and pain. We fear trouble. We fear discomfort. And, you know what? It's all real and it's all likely. So God tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you."

Consider, then, what the Bible says on the other side. What fear should we have? You see, the Bible tells us to "fear not" a lot, but not always. What should we fear? "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). Oh, it goes on.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov 1:7).

The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate (Prov 8:13).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov 9:10).

The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short (Prov 10:27).

In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge (Prov 14:26).

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death (Prov 14:27).

Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it (Prov 15:16).

The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor (Prov 15:33).

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil (Prov 16:6).

The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm (Prov 19:23).
The fear of the Lord is biblically mandatory. It is the beginning of knowledge. It is the means by which we turn from evil. It leads to life. And, as it turns out, it alleviates all those other fears.

Now, some will try to tell you that this "fear of the Lord" is "reverential awe" and not actual fear. I need to point out that, while it certainly does include "reverential awe", if that's all you think it is, you're mistaken. It doesn't fit, for instance, in that Matthew 10 verse. "Do not hold those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul in reverential awe. Rather hold Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell in reverential awe." No, not making any sense. The fear of the Lord is genuine and even reasonable fear. It turns us from evil. It prevents pride and arrogance. It turns us from the snares of death. It is a wise thing.

We tend to look in all the wrong places for things to fear. We consider worldly concerns fearful and feel warmly toward God. The Bible, on the other hand, commands the reverse. Because of who God is, we don't need to really fear all those very real worldly problems, but we had certainly better fear God. Conveniently, that fear has all sorts of beneficial results. We should work at fearing God, not our surroundings. That's a good fear.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Man Trick

Have you heard of this? It's called the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge. I read about it here from a woman who tried it. You see, she was evangelizing her unbelieving husband for 25 years. Nagged him to improve. Turned up the sermon CDs. Left tracts on the coffee table. Complained about him to him and to her church groups (okay, it was "prayer requests" to the church groups). The result? A miserable marriage and an unsaved husband. Then someone recommended she try this 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge.

While many in the church would agree with her approach and encourage her to continue, the Bible, you see, doesn't recommend this approach. Instead, here's what the Bible recommends:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external -- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear -- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:1-4).
What an interesting approach! Instead of hounding and nagging, pushing and shoving, complaining and backstabbing, it would appear that God recommends "respectful and pure conduct". Instead of dressing to impress, it looks like the adornment ought to be "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit." Huh. Who would have thought?

As it turns out, of course, it would appear that the Designer knew what He was talking about. Wives, for a large part, haven't figured out this little fact about men. What husbands want above all else is respect (Eph 5:33). Wives, for the most part, want love (see that same reference). A savvy wife, then, who wants to have a successful relationship with her husband, would do well to ... well ... do what God says. Respectful conduct. Gentle and quiet spirit. Respect. (Wives, added hint. What you may think of as "respect" and what he may think of as "respect" may not be the same thing.)

Look, humans are sinful. Given. There is no promise from God that "Wives, if you do these things your life will be glorious and your husbands will be all you want them to be." Indeed, husbands, while the bumper sticker may assure you, "Treat her like a thoroughbred and she won't be a nag", it simply isn't a divine guarantee. But here's what I can guarantee ... to both. Doing what God wants in the way God wants us to do it will absolutely result in the best possible outcome. So who is it that would get in the way of a wife who wants a happy marriage using God's instructions? I don't suppose it would be God. Your guess?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Lessons from Jonah - One

It's an odd thing. When I was growing up we all knew the story of Jonah and the Fish. (Yeah, that's right. We were told at the outset that "this was no whale". Fish.) We knew it. We saw the connection of "in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights" and Jesus in the grave for that time. Yeah, yeah, okay. Fun story and all. But did it really mean anything? I mean, did you get anything out of it?

It is, after all, a bit of a strange story, even without the whole fish-swallowing-a-man component. First you have a prophet who figures the best course of action when God spoke was ... "Run!!!" Why? Then you have this guy who travels to a foreign city and calls on them to repent ... and they do! Why? And finally you have a wonderfully successful prophet -- I mean, the people he warned to repent did -- who is mad at God for it. Why?? Very, very strange.

Recently, however, I've been getting some interesting things out of Jonah and I thought I'd take a few days to share some with you. Maybe you might see something interesting there, too.

Okay, so if you don't know the story, go read it. It's a short book. Not difficult. I'll wait ...

The first question that came to my mind the first time I heard this story (the first question I can recall) was "Why?" Why did Jonah, a prophet, run? What made him think that was a good idea? Or, from the other perspective, what made him think choosing a course different from God's clear instructions was better than following them? Well, I suspect you'll find the answer ... in the cross reference.

We only have one other reference to Jonah (besides those New Testament references). In 2 Kings we find that Jonah was a prophet in Israel (northern kingdom ... bad, bad kings) during Jereboam II's reign. There we learn that Jonah was an accurate prophet (very important for the job of prophet). Back then Jereboam II "restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher" (2 Kings 14:25). So, Jonah said their land would be restored and it was! Well, that's good, right? You'd think so, except for two factors. First, it was Jereboam, who "did evil in the sight of the LORD" (2 Kings 14:24). Oh, that's not so good. And the other factor was that, while God did right by Israel, there was no hint of repentance. So, here we have God's prophet declaring good things, good things that actually occurred, but obtaining as an outcome a restored kingdom credited to a bad king and no repentance.

So God comes knocking again. "Jonah, I have another job for you. Go to Ninevah and tell them to repent." Oh, yeah, that will work. His own people didn't repent even though he promised good things from God. Now God wants him to go to Ninevah, one of the most wicked, most vicious cities in the Assyrian empire, and tell them bad things? When put in those terms, I can see why Jonah might have run.

Then jump to the end of the story. As it turns out, Ninevah actually does repent. But instead of being happy about it, Jonah goes and pouts. Why? I'd suggest the same precursor. His own people didn't repent. Now there is repentance on the part of the heathen Ninevah. As it turns out, while Ninevah was slated by God to be destroyed immediately for their sin, historically they ended up lasting another century and a half. What was Jonah's problem? The same one we see in ourselves too often. "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Why did Israel get restoration without repentance? Why did Ninevah get repentance at all? That's not fair!

May I suggest that in your dealings with God you do not go there? We humans have a horrible sense of fair when it comes to God and His dealings. It didn't work for Jonah. It won't work for you. A valuable lesson from the guy who got eaten by a fish.