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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Skipped a Groove

How does this happen?

I am only going to refer to this person as an example, not to discuss anything of him in particular. Meet Texe Marrs. According to the bio on his website:
Texe Marrs was assistant professor of aerospace studies, teaching American Defense Policy, strategic weapons systems, and related subjects at the University of Texas at Austin from 1977 to 1982. He has also taught international affairs, political science, and psychology for two other universities. A graduate Summa Cum Laude from Park College, Kansas City, Missouri, he earned his Master’s degree at North Carolina State University.

As a career USAF officer (now retired), he commanded communications-electronics and engineering units. He holds a number of military decorations, including the Vietnam Service Medal, and served in Germany, Italy, and throughout Asia.
Impressive, isn't it? I mean, this guy sounds bright, thinking, intelligent. His website sounds good, too, with the title "The Power of Prophecy". He's educated and a Christian. Then you visit his website, and you're in for a shock.

This guy is a conspiracy nut to the nth degree. There are articles linked there explaining how President Bush is a closet gay and how the U.S. military planned the planned the Beit Hanoun Massacre. There is an ad for Texe's latest book explaining how President Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Washington, Colin Powell, Doris Day, and many others are all part of the Illuminati, a secret organization that practices witchcraft to take over the world. In amongst offerings of Bibles (King James Only, of course) and Foxe's Book of Martyrs are other things like Gail Riplinger's New Age Bible Versions (a seriously flawed attack on all Bibles not KJV), a 60-minute tape on "how the Bush team has transformed the White House into a brothel", a video about how Jews and Christians have formed an "unholy alliance", and a DVD about how governments "create and perpetrate terror incidents." (I quote here: "The Madrid train bombings, the London subway explosion, 9/11, even Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Maine and the Lusitania, were all staged events.") This guy is a loon.

So my question is, how does this happen? How does a seemingly intelligent, educated person end up on the fringe of sanity chasing demons in the dark and seeing conspiracies around every corner? How does one get so hateful while claiming to be so Christian? I'm not asking about Texe Marrs. I'm asking about all the "Texe Marrs" of the world. There are people in pulpits and ministries with lunacy on their minds. There are educated folk who are quite sure that every mad conspiracy you've heard whispered is indeed fact. No amount of logic can sway these folks. No amount of evidence will deter them. No amount of Scripture will change their course. They're sure -- against all evidence and reason. What gets people to this point? What went wrong?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Peter's "Likewise"

Back in February I stepped onto Dangerous Ground by discussing what the Bible says about wives submitting to husbands. In the comments that followed, Julianne said:
You know as I am studying this today, I realize that 1 Peter 3:7 also says "Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives" so that is referring back to the last passage, so if that is referring to a woman submitting and winning her husband without a word, then the husband is supposed to do the same thing if we apply the same rules of interpretation?
I answered at the time (and the line went dead, so to speak), but I was just reading 1 Peter again and I think I actually came across an answer to Julianne.

In 1 Peter 2:18, Peter lays down a principle. "Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." This principle is the discussion of the rest of the chapter. Peter draws a parallel not merely between servants and masters but between all Christians and the authorities in their lives, and it isn't merely about servants, but about how our example is the suffering of Christ. When we read this verse and Peter's explanation that follows, it should be noted that Peter has added an element that Paul didn't have. Paul told slaves to respect their masters, but Peter tells them to respect bad masters. This concept -- doing what is right in the face of evil people -- is the parallel Peter draws. Peter says, "If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a good thing in the sight of God" (1 Peter 2:20). That's the thought process. And he uses Jesus as our prime example.

So when he gets to wives in chapter 3, the point is not "submit". Of course they are to submit. But when Peter says "likewise" (1 Peter 3:1), he isn't talking about "submit". He is talking about doing good and suffering for it. Why do I conclude this? I say this because of what he says in the first verse: "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." The point is not "submit". The point is "Do what's right even if the one to whom you're doing it isn't right."

So when Peter gets to husbands, he says "likewise" again. He isn't saying, "Husbands submit to their wives." He doesn't even make a hint of it. Instead, the "likewise" is the same thing as before. Husbands, you are required to live with your wives in an understanding way. You are to honor them and treat them like fine china. You are to treat them as fellow heirs, not property or inferior beings. And, husbands ... it doesn't matter if they deserve it. "What if my wife is a shrew?!!" It doesn't matter. "What if she's mean and hateful and cruel?" It doesn't matter. "What if she doesn't appreciate me, doesn't respect me, doesn't submit to me?" It doesn't matter. You are to do what's right even if the one to whom you are doing it isn't right.

Peter's point is that we each have our own obligations given to us by God. What is right for us to do is not dependent on how people respond to it or whether they are worthy of it. What is right for us to do is right regardless of the other people involved. We are to submit to the authority over us regardless of how right they are (1 Peter 2:13-15). Slaves are to submit to masters regardless of how nice they are (1 Peter 2:18). Wives are to submit to husbands, even if they're bad husbands, and husbands are to treat their wives right even if they're bad wives. The point is "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17). That's the point.

(On a completely unrelated note, I want to wish my son, Brad, a happy birthday. He's 27 today.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

I Get It

I get it now. I didn't before, but I do now. The term was (and, mostly, still is) "global warming". I didn't get it. How could they blame something called "global warming" for both heat waves and cold spells? How could something called "global warming" be responsible for both the warmest January on record and the coldest January in more than 30 years? That was irrational. So they've renamed it "global climate change". Now we have a ball game.

So I've done my research and am climbing on the "global climate change" bandwagon. I think the evidence is irrefutable. According to records kept in my area since the 1800's, there have been indications of a climate change. It appears that every year, around May, the climate here begins to change to something quite warm. By mid July it can be above 110°F. However, as the year progresses, these temperatures begin to fall off. By December the high temperatures are barely over 70°F. As further proof of this phenomenon, I have been able to determine that this same sort of fluctuation in temperature appears to occur over a 12-month period throughout the northern hemisphere. See? "Global climate change". It's real. You can't deny it.

What is causing this? Well, clearly it is America. How do I know? Because this particular effect that has been documented to be 180° out of phase in the southern hemisphere. Quite clearly the effect has originated in the U.S., then radiated to the rest of the northern hemisphere and been inverted by passing the Equator. Deny it if you wish, but I think it's pretty hard to get around the facts.

Now, we need to be fair. I don't think it's entirely accurate to say that the fault lies with "the U.S.", as if everyone in this country is to blame. No, indeed! The primary problem is greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are produced by major factories and large SUVs. Who owns the vast majority of these? Obviously it's the rich to middle class white males. So the blame for this documented global climate change lies squarely in the laps of American white males.

Now that we've figured all that out, I'm pretty sure the solution is obvious and easily accomplished. We simply need to start executing American white males. You may think that this is a bit extreme, but think about it. Global climate change is to blame for a lot of horrible things. It is the cause of every major climatic event for the last hundred years. It caused the earthquakes that destroyed San Francisco in 1906 and Anchorage in 1964. It caused serious damage, loss of life, and injury in Oakland in 1989. New Orleans has never recovered from Hurricane Katrina, obviously caused by global climate change. How many people died in the tsunami of of December 2004? Droughts, floods, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, cold weather, heat waves ... how many people have died over the last 100 years because of weather? And worse! It is a well-documented phenomenon that when the temperature goes up, so does crime. Clearly, global climate change is responsible for crime. How many people have died or suffered serious injury from crime? When you add up the cost of crime and the cost of weather simply in terms of human life, it is a staggering number. Has anyone asked how warm it was on September 11? Well, they will, because it's clearly the reason. So I ask you ... is it unreasonable to make those responsible pay for their evil?

I suspect that as soon as we eliminate American whites (and likely their less culpable but equally suspect European counterparts), life will get better. Women will be treated better. Children will be happier. The climate of the Earth will stabilize. You (Since I'm an American white male, I don't include myself in the joys of the aftermath) will enjoy an unprecedented peace. Of course, unemployment will be rampant (because those evil white company owners hire a lot of people) and civilization as you know it will collapse (because it is the evil white Industrial Age that is the problem), but it will indeed be peaceful. At least, they say it's very peaceful in the grave.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obvious Truth

One would think that the truth is obvious. Unfortunately, it's not always the case. Indeed, sometimes what we might think is obviously true is not true at all.

We've all seen them, the ads for various products that kill germs. You can kill germs on people, on kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and even in the air. That's good, right? One would think so, because, hey, it's advertised everywhere. But there is reason to think that this isn't so. I remember reading about a study where two groups of kids were observed for years. One group lived in pristine, basically sterile environments, and the other group lived in filth. It turned out, it seems, that the group of kids in the dirt ended up healthier than the other group. It turned out that the group in the less sterile conditions encountered the plethora of germs out there and their bodies figured out how to fight them. The other group didn't have that advantage, so they were sickly. It gets worse. Today, doctors are concerned about what they have deemed "super bugs", bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. How is that? Well, you've seen the ads. "Kills 99% of bacteria." There are millions of bacteria out there. So what about that not-so-small number that aren't killed? They're immune. And they breed offspring who are immune. So you've just eliminated 99%of their competition, and the result is a whole new generation of bacteria immune to the antibacterials you are using.

One wonders, at this point, if it is true, then. Is it a good thing to kill bacteria? Should we really be using all those antibacterials? What seemed quite obvious turns out to be quite questionable.

Everyone knows that it's better not to suffer than to suffer. Bad things happening to people is a bad thing, not a good thing. It is best to avoid pain at all costs. No one should suffer. Suffering is bad. We all know it. It's quite obvious. Or ... is it? Well, if the Bible is true, then we're going to need to rethink this point as well.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Odd ... that doesn't sound very much like "avoid suffering at all cost" or "all suffering is bad". Instead, it sounds like "suffering is necessary and provides an invaluable service to the Christian." But, then, maybe James was a loon.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).
Perhaps we'd better slow down and look at that one more closely.

Peter here is talking about our grand inheritance "imperishable and undefiled", "reserved in heaven" (v 4). He goes on to say that we are "protected by the power of God" (v 5). How much better can it get? So, of course he says, "In this you greatly rejoice" (v 6). But, wait! Then he says "even though now for a little while ... you have been distressed by various trials" (v 6). Please note. It is a given. Christians under the protection of God will experience trials. Please note also: I left out a key phrase. "If necessary." Some may focus on the "if". I want you to look at the "necessary". According to Peter it is necessary to suffer trials. The result is "proof of your faith" which results in "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v 7).

Indeed, Peter really hit this topic of suffering repeatedly. He seemed to think it was a given:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation (1 Peter 4:12-13).

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:19-21).

If you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:14-17).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:8-10).
In the first one he says we are to "rejoice with exultation". In the third one he promises that the suffering is "for a little while" and that, in the end, "the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you." These are good things.

Look a moment longer at the second one. It says, "It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will ..." Peter isn't being vague. It is sometimes God's will that we suffer. (He says the same thing in 1 Peter 4:19.)

And examine the third one. The topic is "suffering unjustly" ... suffering when we shouldn't have to suffer. Peter says this "finds favor" with God. That's good. But more importantly, look at what Peter says about it: "You have been called for this purpose." Read that again slowly, because it is an absolutely explicit statement. Christians are called for the purpose of suffering unjustly.

The Bible establishes several things regarding suffering. First, it is unpleasant. No one should try to say, "Suffering is fun! Enjoy!" But, second, suffering is beneficial. Indeed, third, suffering is by God's design, part of God's necessary plan to mold us and shape us and, in the end, bless us. Now, if that doesn't put a crimp in the "obvious truth" that suffering is something bad that should be avoided at all costs, I don't know what will.

Sometimes we see things that appear to be obviously true ... and they're not. Be careful. Don't take these things for granted. Examine, test, review. The truth, when we find it, will set us free, and sometimes it isn't the most obvious.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The True Iraq II

I complained earlier that we weren't getting the true story from Iraq. Now I get this email from a friend who, by the way, spent a year there. It appears I'm right; we're not getting the true story.
Did you know that 47 countries have reestablished their embassies in Iraq?

Did you know that the Iraqi government currently employs 1.2 million Iraqi people?

Did you know that 3100 schools have been renovated, 364 schools are under rehabilitation, 263 new schools are now under construction and 38 new schools have been completed in Iraq?

Did you know that Iraq's higher educational structure consists of 20 Universities, 46 Institutes or colleges and 4 research centers, all currently operating?

Did you know that 25 Iraq students departed for the United State s in January 2005 for the re-established Fulbright program?

Did you know that the Iraqi Navy is operational? They have 5 - 100-foot patrol craft, 34 smaller vessels and a naval infantry regiment.

Did you know that Iraq's Air Force consists of three operational squadrons, which includes 9 reconnaissance and 3 US C-130 transport aircraft (under Iraqi operational control) which operate day and night, and will soon add 16 UH-1 helicopters and 4 Bell Jet Rangers?

Did you know that Iraq has a counter-terrorist unit and a Commando Battalion?

Did you know that the Iraqi Police Service has over 55,000 fully trained and equipped police officers?

Did you know that there are 5 Police Academies in Iraq that produce over 3500 new officers each 8 weeks?

Did you know there are more than 1100 building projects going on in Iraq? They include 364 schools, 67 public clinics, 15 hospitals, 83 railroad stations, 22 oil facilities, 93 water facilities and 69 electrical facilities.

Did you know that 96% of Iraqi children under the age of 5 have received the first 2 series of polio vaccinations?

Did you know that 4.3 million Iraqi children were enrolled in primary school by mid October?

Did you know that there are 1,192,000 cell phone subscribers in Iraq and phone use has gone up 158%?

Did you know that Iraq has an independent media that consists of 75 radio stations, 180 newspapers and 10 television stations?

Did you know that the Baghdad Stock Exchange opened in June of 2004?

Did you know that 2 candidates in the Iraqi presidential election had a televised debate recently?


Instead of reflecting our love for our country, we get photos of flag burning incidents at Abu Ghraib and people throwing snowballs at the presidential motorcades. Tragically, the lack of accentuating the positive in Iraq serves two purposes: It is intended to undermine the world's perception of the United States thus minimizing consequent support, and it is intended to discourage American citizens.

---- Above facts are verifiable on the Department of Defense web site:
For more on this "other side" of what's going on in Iraq, here's a piece from National Review entitled Reviewing the Situation. There's more out there than purely bad news.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Vacation Warning

Just letting my vast numbers of readers (there must be, oh, at least three of you out there) that I begin vacation tomorrow for three weeks. Don't be surprised if my posting isn't as regular as it has been for the last 9 months. I'll try ... but you know how vacations are.

House Church

According to studies I've seen and reports I've read, the "house church" phenomenon is growing. More and more people are starting to meet in homes rather than the traditional "church". You know the one ... that edifice on the corner with the nice sign and the parking lot? They're everywhere, with traditional names like "First Baptist Church" or creative names like "Church of Light and Life". They're connected, like the Episcopalians or the Presbyterians, or they're independent like the "Bible Church". And some are kind of connected without being fully connected, like Calvary Chapels across the country.

Pro: Smaller groups tend to breed greater accountability. People get to know each other. It's impossible to slip into and out of someone's house unnoticed, as opposed to the more popular church settings where it is not only possible but, to some, preferred. House churches are more personal.

Con: The smaller group tends to minimize the roles in the group. That is, how many teachers, evangelists, apostles, servants, etc. are there for one house church? While it is likely that you wouldn't be unnoticed, it is also likely that you might be unused, and exercising spiritual gifts is an important part of being in the Body of Christ.

Pro: House churches are immune to the vagaries of the politics of the larger organization. What I mean is that when the PCUSA decides to allow women to be pastors or the Episcopal Church USA decides that the Bible doesn't recognize homosexual behavior as sin, it has no effect on the house church. Being completely independent, the house church can retain sola scriptura, using the Bible alone as its source document for faith and living rather than being subject to the changes that often affect church polity.

Con: House churches are immune to the inputs of the catholic Church. By "catholic" I mean "the Church Universal". House churches answer to no one, so they don't have any accountability. When doctrine deviates from Scripture, it is most often in the smallest groups ... such as house churches. The Body of Christ is to be interconnected so as to be unified in doctrine, and that is lost in a house church.

Pro: House churches include everyone. In larger churches, children are carted off to children's church and teens are taken to their youth group and adults to their groups. In house churches, the family stays together. There is a unifying effect. The family that prays (and worships) together stays together.

Con: House churches include everyone. That means that the youth have no particular interaction. That means that if Mrs. Jones's baby is cranky this morning, everyone in the room will experience it. That means that there is no "youth pastor", no "youth group", no children's Sunday School. There is no "substance abuse" group, no "bike riders group", no "seniors group". The house church shares everything ... including the homogenization of all people in it.

Pro: House churches are ubiquitous. They're everywhere and anywhere. They're ideal for evangelism when the traditional church puts people off. They might be in your neighborhood or at the local Starbucks. They might be in a home or in someone's office. They might be on Sunday or on a more convenient evening during the week.

Con: With the more "relaxed" atmosphere of the house church comes a more "relaxed" atmosphere toward church in general. There is a general sense of antagonism toward the "structured church". There is often a sense of superiority, as if the house church is the best way to go, and anyone meeting in a traditional church is just inferior. Because humans are human, the house church tends to lend itself to a superiority complex just because it's different from the traditional church.

Pro: House churches, being more focused because of their size and family approach, can push deeper. They can develop more spiritual depth in the individuals that attend because the individuals are known. In larger churches, the teaching is often kept more superficial -- "milk" -- because the audience is too broad and too much of an unknown entity.

Con: House churches have no real structure. There is no real "government". That means there is no actual "elders" and "deacons" -- listed biblically as plural entities for every church. These "elders" and "deacons" have specific biblical roles in the biblical Church model, including teaching, retaining doctrinal purity, and service. These are not small issues. The "depth" gained by the house church environment is also threatened by its lack of biblical organization.

I'm going to stop here. I hope you are getting the idea. There are a lot of positives in the House Church movement. There are good things. Someone might think that, by listing the "cons" as I have, I'm against the house church concept. Not at all. That would be to ignore all the "pros". My point is that there are negatives or potential negatives associated with the positives or potential positives of the house church. Anyone intending to start or be involved or who is already involved in one of these needs to be aware of the pitfalls. Don't be lulled into thinking that the house church is the answer to all the problems. It isn't. Nor should the traditionalist churches be lulled into thinking that they have it all right. They don't. (I would suggest that when the persecution of Christianity arrives in America -- and it is coming -- it is the house church that will provide the "fellowship of the saints".) We should all be aware of the pros and cons, including ones I haven't listed. And we should all celebrate the communion of the saints in whatever form it takes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Safer Ground

Having thoroughly offended most of the women who might read this blog, I thought perhaps I would spend a little time on safer ground. The topic of marriage is important to me ... primarily because it's important to God. The various roles in marriage are important to me ... primarily for the same reason. The requirements of wives is often a subject of much discussion, I suppose because it's so ... politically incorrect. It runs counter to our society's norms today (one of the reasons I think it's so right). I think I did a satisfactory job on it. Clearly, however, one of the big problems ... is husbands. The "safer ground", perhaps, is in talking to husbands about what is required of them.

Husbands have no light role. We've managed to pick one out, but it's the wrong one. We're the ones that get to sit around the house, watch TV, and do as little as possible while our wives wait on us. We do the "manly" things like fix stuff while our wives do the other menial stuff (like everything that is required to make a house run). That's such a popular view, at least among men. It isn't the view in Scripture. And Scripture, being the Word of God, seriously outweighs "popular".

Women complain that Scripture is too tough on them. They question the "submit" requirements and really balk at the "keep silent" comments. I'm not arguing their merits here. My point is that men have it far worse. Take, for instance, the thought process of Eph. 5:22-6:9. Women are told one thing: submit to their husbands. Men, on the other hand, get the lion's share of responsibilities. They are to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church". This carries several implications, but it doesn't stop here. People often view men as responsible for making the money and women as responsible for the home and children, but God holds fathers responsible for their children. And it doesn't stop there. It is males in view when Paul tells masters how to act toward their slaves. Yes, it is a difficult burden laid on women to submit to their husbands, but it is a far lighter burden than that laid on men. God holds men responsible for most everything that occurs in their world.

It has ever been thus. Eve was the one that ate the fruit, but Adam bore the responsibility. Sarah was the one that encouraged her husband to sleep with her maid, but Abraham bore the responsibility. Moses's wife had to save his life because his sons weren't circumcised and God was going to kill him for it (Exo. 4:24-26). And on and on. It is part of the God-given structure in life. The Father is head of the Son, and the Son is head of the husband, and the husband is head of the wife (1 Cor. 11:3). Now, we can play around with the concept of "headship". Everyone assumes that "head" refers to "chief", "master", "the one in charge" ... until it comes to the question of submission. But the word means just that. It is used to refer to the physical head, but also the topmost part. It is that which is between God and the rest of the body. Without it there is no life. It is irrefutably used often in Scripture in figurative reference to the chief, the king, the one in authority. It is also the first one that God goes to when He is displeased with what is occurring under it. It is the one that bears authority, yes, but also responsibility.

Husbands have a great deal of responsibility. And, let's face it, men, we're often guilty of shirking it. Look at some of the things we are responsible for. We are responsible for raising the kids. That doesn't mean we have to be the ones doing it day and night, but we are indeed the ones responsible for it. We are the ones that must provide for our families. Again, that doesn't necessarily mean that we are the ones actually doing it (I'm thinking of a wife that wrote that her husband was disabled and she was the primary bread-winner), but we are responsible for it. Here's a tough one, guys. According to Paul, our wives are supposed to ask us their questions on spiritual matters. Are you prepared for it? Are you prepared to disciple her and teach her? It's your responsibility. Oh, here's one ... are you ready for this? "Live with your wives in an understanding way" (1 Peter 3:7). Guys are forever bemoaning the fact that women are beyond our comprehension. Husbands ... it is your responsibility to understand your wife. Peter also tells us to treat her with honor. That's much easier to comprehend than "in an understanding way". It is your responsibility!

Husbands, examine yourself. Don't examine your wives. Don't look around at other husbands. Examine yourself. You have a huge responsibility. You are the one that God expects to manage yourselves, your homes, your income, your family, your wife, their spiritual well-being, and on and on. You are to treat her with honor and live with her in an understanding way. The only way that husbands who are intent on carrying out their God-given responsibilities can come across as overbearing, selfish, self-absorbed creatures is if they're doing it wrong. It is not possible to properly and successfully discharge those responsibilities in an overbearing, selfish, self-absorbed way. Examine yourselves, husbands. I would recommend you start with that big one ... "Live with your wives in an understanding way." How are you doing with that one? Then work from there to "honor" and you'll have a start. I'll go to work on my end. How about you?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Love Your Enemies

In his piece entitled "love your enemies", Andrew Osenga struggles over the concept of a "just war" and what he tends to think of as the Christian mandate for pacifism. At one point he makes these comments, the basic essence of his objection:
The only real way to end a war, that I can see, is by ending the fight. For good. And that only happens one way. Not by victory, but by forgiveness. We will kill each other until someone chooses forgiveness over revenge, even over justice.

Especially as a Christian, one who believes that God chose to forgive me over exacting justice, how can I not apply that in war? Weren’t we commanded to love our enemies? I don’t see any grey areas there, as much as I feel I’m supposed to. I just don’t. Not only do I think forgiveness is the wisest thing to do, I feel like it’s the right thing to do.
I don't think a Christian who is in his right mind would disagree that forgiveness is the right thing to do. No one can deny that the founder of Christianity commanded that we love our enemies. But is it, then, the required conclusion that we should, therefore, take no action toward justice?

This would be an interesting system, to be sure. There would be no laws ... or, at least, no law enforcement. The only real law would be "forgive". It didn't matter what anyone else did; the only legal recourse would be "forgive". Rape, murder, theft, child molesting, it wouldn't really matter because the only allowable response would be forgiveness.

"Wait!" you say. "This is a Christian command. It isn't applicable to non-Christians." Okay, good, let's go with that. It leaves us with the question of whether or not there is the possibility of a "just war" ... for non-Christians. Maybe it's wrong for Christians to be in the military fighting in Iraq, but it wouldn't have anything to say about non-Christians. And, of course, it would still leave us in an awkward position. While the rest of the world around us would have a legal system, laws, police enforcement, jails, etc., we would be unable to use any of them. They would have some legal protections, but for all the rape, murder, theft, child molesting, or taking of our legal rights under the Constitution, we would need to remain silent and forgive. Is this really the mandate of Scripture on believers?

There are some problems with the kind of thinking that Andrew espouses. I've noted some. First, it doesn't make sense. Beyond reason, though, it isn't applicable to everyone. Even if we assume that we are mandated to turn the other cheek to death, we cannot make the same demand of all citizens because they don't recognize Christ as their Commander. His instructions are non-binding. This problem is extended by the "False Analogy" fallacy. Andrew has drawn an analogy between his belief about what he should do to what a nation should do. The problem is ... a nation is not a Christian, or even a person. The analogy doesn't work. A government does not operate as a person. It doesn't have the same rights nor the same responsibilities. It cannot be "saved" or "damned". Nations and their governments are temporal. They don't operate in the same sphere as individuals. And this isn't mere conjecture. It is a God-given fact. Paul writes that God has established governments and authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). We are told, for instance, "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord", yet Paul tells us that government is "an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:4). So while Andrew complains about "vengeance" in war, it appears that this is a God-given governmental task. So the "love your enemy" and "forgive" commands to individuals is not extended to governments, and the argument breaks down.

There is another important error in the particular line of thinking that Andrew was suggesting. The suggestion is that "love your enemies" precludes the possibility that one would, say, smite your enemy. The suggestion is that "forgive" means "no consequences". The suggestion is that "thou shalt not kill" is a blanket statement for all time for all circumstances. It is always a sin to kill under any circumstances. These are all popular ideas ... but they're wrong. Love does not preclude inflicting pain. Forgive does not require no consequences. And "thou shalt not kill" cannot be a blanket sin without making God a sinner. These are important distinctions. It is possible to love a murderer and execute him. It is possible to forgive a child molester and send him to jail. And there are times when killing is not sin.

The suggestion that war is evil sounds very right ... because it generally is true. The plea to love your enemy and forgive those who trespass against you are certainly biblical. But we need to be careful where we take them. They cannot be applied to those who don't recognize their authority. And governments are not people ... by God's design. And "love" and "forgive" doesn't necessarily mean "no consequences". We start out on the right foot, but these missteps could get us into dangerous places.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The End/Beginning

I kind of wanted Jonathan to put "The End" or something on his last part of the story he posted ... you know, just so everyone would know that it was the last one. But then I thought, "He did! He ended with 'It is finished'."

Then I thought, "But ... 'It is finished' isn't the end, is it?" Has anyone ever thought about how grand a beginning "It is finished" was?

Four Hearts, One Song - 4

The road had been a long one for Micah; glad he was to put it behind him. At this spot, he would lay down the weight that he had carried for so long. It was nothing more than a hill, but for him, it was the succor he had desired for what seemed an eternity. He thankfully fell to his knees, relishing the cool earth that yielded to him, coddling and caressing his aching muscles. The peace of this moment surpassed his expectations. With a groan, he let the beam of the cross slide from his shoulders.

The thud of the wood hitting the ground lightened his body and awakened his mind. He remembered now where he was and what he was doing. The malicious accusers behind him would not let him forget that. They hurled their insults and their anger at him as poisoned darts, their hateful faces contorting into grotesque shapes that would barely seem human to an observer. But to him, these were the faces that they always had, whether they were mocking him viciously or pleasantly greeting him like an old friend. This was how men were really. When the façade of charity and human kindness was taken away, the true face appeared and it was loathe to behold.

In some part of his heart, he had secretly feared this day’s coming. It must have been the condemned criminal in him. He could not deny that part of him, and it was ugly and cowardly. The other part of him, however, had longed to be caught, longed to be free from fear, longed to feel the harsh embrace of the cross. He stretched the length of his body along the beam, laying each arm out as far as he could. When the day had begun, the pain had been nearly unbearable. Still he could feel the bite of the lash across his back and the taste of sweat on the knuckles of the Roman guards was on his mouth.

He had always taken some amount of pride in knowing that he was a little different than the rest of the vagabonds he associated with. They were cruel and cold, thinking that the world owed them something for their suffering and it was their right to take by force what had been denied them by fate. He had never deluded himself with such idiotic notions. He did what his nature dictated because he was too weak to deny it. That was all. The truth of this had been with him since he was a boy. Pilfering from neighbors as a child, selling away someone else’s sheep for pocket change when he was a shepherd, it had all been so easy, so common. The descent to decay is often a pleasant trip. He might have changed the road he had begun to walk down had he ever bothered to look at his surrounding, but he never did. Save for that one night.

The terror of that night is what stuck with him the most. Naturally, he had feared the appearance of the angels as some sort of supernatural executors of the divine judgment of God for his wrongs. His three friends had nearly dragged him to the barn the angels indicated. Even then, he could have changed the momentum of his life, but the fear of reprisal drove away such hope. The compassionate eyes of that woman cradling her child had laid him bare, open to the attacks of the world. She saw everything that was in him, and he saw the fear that in her. But he was beyond redemption.

The convict’s wrists throbbed with pain and the familiar feel of warm blood trickled down his arms. He was hanging upright now, though he had not noticed the nails being driven into his wrists. The whole crowd stood before him now as a jury -- the verdict condemnation. The dejected criminal would make no plea for penance or forgiveness, knowing that he was well beyond hope of either. The pain started to push to the surface again, stifling him with aching spasms. He tried to concentrate on the world around him to block out the torture inside. He picked out several jeering voices, “What now Jesus? Hail the King of the Jews!” The name spoken startled him so badly that he lurched forward, straining his arms against the nails uselessly. It couldn’t be.

He realized now that two more men were being crucified alongside him. One man he recognized, an associate of his whose name escaped him. He was a murderer. The other was set slightly in front of him, giving him a view only of the back of the cross. The taunts of the crowd lessened over time, but the impact of their words accomplished more than they could have realized. The criminal gaped and gargled, laboring to see a face that was impossible to see. For the last few years, he had heard rumors of the prophet Jesus, and they had always reminded him of that night in the barn. But he could not fathom the idea of this man Jesus hanging on a cross alongside convicts.

Eventually, the other man joined in the flurry of insults raining down on Jesus, “Come on, Son of God! If you are so powerful, why not bring yourself down from there? Take me with you while you’re at it, I’m sure it would be no problem for you.” The first criminal began to feel his blood boil. The impertinence of such crudeness towards a holy man infuriated him. This was at least a decent man. This was a good teacher. This was a prophet. This -- the words of Mary returned to him out of the tender blue sky, “This is Jesus, he is the Savior of the world.”

In a voice that was not his own, then enraged convict denounced his jocular companion, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? We are judged justly, for we receive the due reward for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.” The jester was thunderstruck a moment, then began to howl maniacally with laughter. It was unimportant. Turning from the lunatic, the man tilted his head and faced the back of the man in front of him. With stinging tears in his eyes, he spoke again, this time with a timidity and trembling that had hitherto never appeared in his voice, “Lord ... remember me when you come into heaven.”

It was a cry from his heart, a desperate plea hoping beyond reason, and despaired of as soon as spoken. There was no redemption for demons like him. There was only the licking, consuming fire of Hell. He hung his head, realizing now the pit of agony that awaited him. Suddenly, he was not eager to die. There would be no freedom in death, only the just and merciless payment for his deeds. He trembled. A rasping sound responded to his dejected heart from the direction of Jesus. The sound of it was as though from beyond the grave. He had never before heard anything so laden with torment. The frightful sound twisted and grew, formulating into shapes and colors before the convict’s eyes, each apparition more disquieting than the last. The shapes danced around him, coalescing into one horrifying form, the sound reaching a crescendo of abjection in sorrow that bore the accumulation of the whole of mankind’s suffering. The voice of Jesus pierced through all these ghastly phantasms, chasing them furiously away into the ether of the sky, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Jesus said no more. No more needed to be said. The impossible gift had been given. Would he truly be able to receive it? Forgiveness? Salvation? They had always been more fanciful dreams to him. Now he could taste them and touch them, and he reveled in it. His eyes were blinded by his tears, but still he seemed to be able to see beyond his normal scope of vision. The face of Jesus loomed up before him, torn and battered ... and utterly flawless. The crowd was still there for the most part, but the hideous masks were gone and he finally saw what people truly looked like. And then he spotted someone, or to be more precise, three someones he had never anticipated seeing again. It was his friends that had dragged him that night to the barn and had each shared in that glimpse of truth to lost souls. They switched between gazing at Jesus and the convict. When their eyes met, an understanding was exchanged. After more than thirty years, they had all ultimately come to the same conclusion. Jesus, Savior of the world.

The voice of Jesus boomed in the stillness of his heart, “It is finished!” Ah yes, Micah, the redeemed convict, closed his eyes to the stupor invading his body. A smile crossed his blood-soaked face, so it is.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Four Hearts, One Song - 3

It was a solemn day. Many of the townspeople had gathered together and were already walking down the main thoroughfare of the city of Nain. Demas had taken a little too much time to get ready and was no doubt late for the processional. Much was on his mind. Pain was everywhere in life, unavoidable and oft unbearable; but it was generally death that would send Demas into these fits of consternation. This most recent death weighed heavily on him. Nineteen years old, Demas brooded. Too young to die. It had only been a couple of years since the child’s father had died as well. With the both of them gone, the widow and now bereaved mother was alone, itself almost a death sentence in this society.

Demas finished getting dressed, putting on his sandals last before heading to the door. Leaning both hands on the door, he bowed his head until his forehead gently touched the wood. He sighed deeply. He sighed the sigh of a man in turmoil. He sighed the sigh of a man who was not suffering, but acutely felt the suffering around him. The heaviness of the pain almost brought him to his knees. Was there no healing in this land? Was there no way to relieve the pain that crippled it or the sorrow that incapacitated it? This poor widow had known nothing but worry for years now with the death of her husband followed by the drawn out sickness of her son. Today she had to bury one more body, one more lifetime of memories. Would she only find reprieve when others gathered to lay her body to rest? It was a morbid thought, but those were the only kind of thoughts Demas had been left with over the years.

Unlike the majority of people, Demas was not naïve enough to shut his eyes to what was going on around him. Every face he encountered bore both the cuts and the scars of haggard living. Bandages covered wounds, but this was not healing. A bandage can only staunch the wound; it cannot erase the indelible mark it leaves behind. No one can take that away, no matter how much he might pray for it otherwise.

Thinking of his own cuts and scars finally did bring Demas to his knees. The savage beatings. The constant rejections. The failures. These were the sum of more than forty years of life. Demas loved the stars, but he hated the sun and moon. The sun would wake him in the morning, shining cheerfully and pleasantly recounting to him the sorrows that sleep had wiped away for a few hours. The moon would keep him up at night, its doleful face reminding him of the drooping, encumbered faces of men. The stars were his only friends, millions of little dots that are so small and so huge at the same time. They spanned the width of the sky while only occupying a fraction of his view. So much like life, they were. When he could look up and only see the stars, Demas felt like someone finally understood him, and he could sleep peacefully while the stars promised to bear the burdens of mankind for the night.

A solitary tear rolled off his cheek. Composing himself, Demas rose to his feet, straightened his clothes, and walked outside. He had only to walk for a few minutes before he caught up with the funeral procession. He reached them as they were nearing the last turn before the city gates. Silence ruled the day but for a few stifled sniffles and an occasional sob. The creak of the wheels of the cart bearing the coffin made the most distracting noise. The widow stood close to the cart, one hand laying languidly on the coffin, the other being cradled by a friend. Before long, however, a new noise beyond the wheels presented itself to the mourners. A quiet muffle came from near the city gate, gradually growing in tempo and volume the closer they got. Upon turning the corner, all were surprised to see an even larger crowd walking their way.

The crowd was loud and unruly, augmented by the constrained procession, but as with the case of the funeral, the mob seemed to revolve around a single point. People were pushing and yelling, desperately attempting to reach a man walking in the center of the mass. They would touch any part of him or his clothing and then back away. The crowd continued to obliviously follow the man forward. He appeared to be the only one as yet to notice the procession heading their way. Fearful of the meaning of such a rabble, the mourners clustered together, bodies touching to bear a semblance of power. When the groups were too close to miss each other, the noisy mass took notice of the solemn occasion in front of them. They slowed down to a crawl, their yelps and cries dying down into whispers and nudges.

Though the crowd had stopped, the man at the center of their group continued onward, purposefully directing his steps towards the widow and the cart. Both crowds had now come to a complete stop, the mourning facing the jubilant, the death shroud before the festival. One of those with the man whispered hoarsely, “Jesus! What are you doing?” The name pierced Demas’ mind like a dart, allowing the light of memories to flood in unabated. The cackling of the intruding crowd and the creaking of the cart had ceased; only the scraping tread of the prophet’s sandals could be heard. He came to a stop next to the cart within a couple of feet of the widow. Glancing first at the coffin, Jesus slowly approached the mother of the deceased. Their eyes met. Jesus’ eyes were brimming with tears, his brow knit together in a look of powerful compassion. The two of them shared an understanding.

The widow broke the look as a fresh burst of tears fought their way to the surface. Sobs and moans escaped her throat, tumbling over each other in confusion and pain. The sound of it wrenched the hearts of all present, perhaps Jesus most of all. Reaching up with his right hand extended towards the widow, he implored in a ragged, broken voice, “Do not weep.” With a few more sniffles, she did master her tears, gazing expectantly at the face of the prophet for she knew not what.

Keeping his hand raised, Jesus laid his left on the side of the open coffin. Both groups surged forward, the newcomers expectant, the mourners defensive. The sorrow-filled voice was now gone as he commanded with authority, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” A tide of frustration rushed through the people at these words. Mutters of anger were turned to shouts of shock when the upper torso of the young man emerged from the coffin. The once dead child rubbed his eyes and gaped at the crowd as they gaped at him.

Jesus took the man by the shoulder and reintroduced him to the world of the living. Fear and awe dominated the scene. Murmurs of praise and terror spread throughout the city like fire. Only Demas remained silent. When the child had uttered his first phrase from beyond the grave, Demas had once again fallen on his knees, badly shaken. It was not fear that brought him down, but the most complete joy that he had ever felt. He had only to look at the faces of the mother and son to know ... to know that there was hope. One suffering, one sorrow had been removed. It was a small consolation for all the pain in the world, but the fact remained that it been taken away. Healing had occurred, not only of the child, but of Demas. For the first time, he searched for the memories that had haunted him all his life and they were lost.

Demas, tears still blurring his eyes, returned to his feet and peered back at the cart where the dead had already departed. The prophet was still there and Demas realized that he was not the only one that was silent. They exchanged looks and Demas felt for a moment that he could see the reflection of his inner sorrows reflected in the depths of those healing eyes. Yet they no longer troubled him; the eyes overcame the pain. Those eyes would always overcome the pain from now on.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Four Hearts, One Song - 2

The sun never did seem to have any sense. It was like a cosmic joke arranged between the heavens and earth. Whenever some sunlight is necessary, a cloud meanders in the way. Right now, a cloud would be a welcome intrusion, but none was to be seen. The throng gathered under the delighted sun, prisoners to its terrible sense of humor. They had been there for hours and now the pleasure of the eye in the sky melted away into displeasure at their continued presence, making one last bid to chase them to shelter before it settled behind the hills for its nightly rest. Still no one rose to leave. This was not the kind of place to casually walk away from. After all, they were at the feet of the teacher, the prophet.

More incredible than the disdain of the sun was the stamina of Jesus. Addressing a crowd of thousands required a commanding voice to be sure, but to sustain that voice for a length of time was a daunting task. Jesus had been at it for more than four hours already. Signs of tiring began to show as the day drew to an end, but he would not be hindered.

Epaphros had never seen such a supreme eloquence, noble compassion, or enlightened wisdom. For years, desperate for something more than his mediocre profession and disappointing personal life, Epaphros had journeyed from city to city to better himself. He would attach himself to the wise men and the teachers, leeching away any knowledge he could get his hands on. From the moment he woke until the moment he slept, he devoted his life to one goal: to become better. To become stronger. To become wiser. To become pious. To be a better man. But what did that really mean? For all his dedication, each day he awoke to the same face, the same weaknesses, the same man. In the end, the failures overcame the flame for growth. Apathy swept away all desires that previously inflamed him to succeed. The light of life had all but faded from him until a name casually mentioned had rekindled his ambition. It was the name of Jesus. A name that he and three others had held in their hearts for thirty years.

Forsaking all other duties, Epaphros followed every story and rumor until he had been led to this place. In his heart, he had been hoping for a private meeting with Jesus, but the large assembly before him removed any such poetic illusions from his mind. And yet, he was not in the least disappointed. He was enthralled, entranced by every word that proceeded from the mouth of the prophet. He taught his listeners what they needed to be blessed and to avoid woe.

“Can the blind lead the blind?” Jesus asked. “Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” That’s it, Epaphros reveled, so simply stated, but perfectly true. For all his searching and trying, a man cannot grow or better himself if he is following a blind teacher. Blindness begets blindness. But if the right teaching is followed, one can be whole. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good.” If the heart can be disciplined…no, if the heart desires good, good will be found. Even still, doubt nagged Epaphros.

Here was truth before him, yet it still felt unattainable. It seemed as though a titanic wall impeded him from crossing over. How can such a teaching be found or truly followed?

Jesus paused, changing to another story. He told of to men building houses. One built his house on the rock and it was firm. If a man put his faith in a solid foundation, then every stone laid thereafter would be strong. This was the key, the firm foundation! If he could build upon solid ground, then growth was inevitable and inexhaustible. If he built on sand, then the whole structure would collapse. “And great was its fall,” Jesus declaimed. And the wall between Epaphros and the truth tumbled with a groan.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Four Hearts, One Song - 1

The rumors hadn’t meant anything to him. Gossip seemed to be the only thing people could agree on and consequently was worth nothing. Just smoke and dust. Nothing substantial to grab on to. Nothing that he really needed. Men who drew this kind of attention from the masses came along every once in awhile, stirring up the rabble and satiating the thirst of the rumormongers. Some of them had been men of some merit to be sure, but were not quite so. Regardless they were fools and charlatans all of them. There did seem to be something different about this one. Rather than just the excited peddlers of new, eyewitnesses related their tales of the new prophet with an uncharacteristic sense of reverence and genuine awe. People that spread the word about the prophet were not excited about telling something, but telling of an exciting new something.

Still he would have disdained this growing exuberance if it had not been for the name. “Eli, you must come with us,” one of his friends had begged, “This man is simply amazing. The things he does seem impossible, yet he does them. You must see him yourself. This Jesus is a true prophet ... ”

The eager young man prattled on, but Eli was transfixed. That name awoke in him something that he had not felt for a very long time. In a moment, he was whisked away from his home and felt the prickle of hay and dust on his knee as he knelt in a tiny barn before a woman and her child. Eli’s friend tugged at his shoulder and Eli found himself being easily dragged along, a man who had for years never gone where he did not decide himself to go.

Eli followed the tugging arm on his shoulder, where he was going he did not know, nor care, He was a man on the verge of remembering something vitally important, a feeling, and would not be roused by anything else. Before long, he and his guide reached the local synagogue, the surprisingly crowded synagogue. The crowd was so great that many of the more timid were forced to stand outside. Led by the vice grip of his friend, Eli waded through the knot of people and pushed as far forward as he could. Following the gaze of the onlookers, Eli’s eyes fell on the prophet Jesus standing amidst the crowd in the middle of an impassioned speech. He was simply clad, without extravagant colors or jewelry, and his motions matched his attire, simple and understated. It was his voice that made its impression on everyone gathered. The sound of his voice did not seem to be an outside force, but an emanating vibration that generated within the listener, rising and spreading from the center of the body all the way to the fingertips and beyond. Even if the words could not be understood, its impact was undeniably felt. Eli stood mesmerized, unable to comprehend the words. He saw the man, Jesus, wielding the whole of the synagogue like a sword, thrusting it deep into the hearts of everyone present. For a moment, Eli could picture the whole world in the prophet’s hands, molding and shaping it how he saw fit or, if it would not be molded, breaking it over his knee into a thousand fragments. Perhaps this man really can change something, Eli hoped.

In the forefront of the crowd, a man knelt on the ground before Jesus. A middle-aged man of meager means, he was known to many of those assembled including Eli. Jacob was his name. Eli only paid attention to him because Jacob was in the middle of doing something he had never seen him do. He was kneeling with his head bowed and his hands clasped in front of him as if in fervent prayer. He was showing his hand! Gnarled and mangled, Jacob’s right hand drew almost as much attention as Jesus did. It had been crushed beyond recognition years before and Jacob was always careful to keep it stowed away from view. If he lifted his hands to praise, he lifted only his left. If he greeted someone, it was with an awkward wave. If there was anything that he would need to carry with two hands, he would instead drag it behind him with his one good hand. Yet, here he was displaying his sorrow before this whole congregation. Tears trickled from his closed eyelids and his lips repeated a single mantra, “Please Jesus…Please Jesus…Please Jesus.”

Eli began to scan the crowd to see if they were equally awestruck by Jacob’s display. His eyes finally came to rest on the only other set of people that were speaking in the entirety of the building. The Pharisees occupied one of the corners, holding their heads close together in quiet conference. Occasionally one of their number would look up, first at Jesus and then at Jacob, before returning his head to the circle. If Eli did not feel such an abiding loathing for these men, he would have laughed at their comical appearance, a bunch of gaudily-dressed fools having a private meeting in the middle of a multitude. No one disgusted Eli more than these religious elite. For all their religious holiness and righteousness, the only thing that was truly valuable to them was stagnation. Every “good deed” or “holy act” was merely an excuse to maintain their arrogant equilibrium, their status quo. They would merrily burn an innocent man at the stake to keep their sacred law.

With this thought, it occurred to Eli what their impromptu meeting was about. They wanted to see if Jesus would heal Jacob. Healing on the Sabbath would be a clear violation of their interpretation of the Law. Jesus could not dare to heal the man or he would be deemed a heretic and a pagan. Eli inwardly cringed, Nothing will ever change. No one can do anything about that. With a terrible ache in his chest, Eli turned again to listen to Jesus. But he was not speaking. He was casting his melancholy eyes across the crowd. All thought that he was done speaking. When his eyes fell on the contingent of Pharisees, a cloud passed over his brow. Turning to Jacob, he spoke soothingly but loudly enough to be heard by all, “Rise to your feet.” Jacob instantly obeyed. Facing the crowd and allowing his eyes to fix on the Pharisees, he raised both hands and thundered, “I will ask you one thing.” Even the Pharisees stopped whispering, thinking that Jesus was addressing them. Everyone in the crowd waited eagerly for his question, anticipating something momentous. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil, to save life, or to destroy?” Everyone in the place blanched at once. What a question was that? Jesus patiently waited, passing his blazing eyes across the room, pausing at every person who would meet his gaze before moving on. The roving eyes meet Eli’s. Any hint of an answer to the question posed vanished tranquilly from his mind and he once again felt himself being transported through time. He was back on his knees in the barn before that woman and child. And there it was, those eyes of the prophet’s matched perfectly with the eyes of that woman.

Eli dimly heard Jesus’ voice again, “Stretch out your hand.” Both he and Jacob did as commanded. With outstretched hands, Eli implored, “Is this the Christ?” The woman looked at him sorrowfully.

Eli stirred from his vision at the cry of Jacob. The cripple was gazing dumbfounded at his good hand. Then he lifted up his other hand…his left hand. Everyone understood at the same moment. He had two good hands! An instantaneous murmur rippled through the crowd. The Pharisees turned back into their circle only this time in angry whispers and pointed gestures. But it didn’t matter. Eli had finally found what he had always searched for. Not only had Jesus changed the life of Jacob, but he challenged the law. Things could change after all. It would be like his previous vision; Jesus would either shape the world or snap it to pieces. Either way, there would be change. Eli smiled a satisfied smile before looking at Jesus again.

The prophet still remained in the same place and he was staring placidly at Eli. Those eyes one again reminded him of the mother in the barn, but this time he remembered something she had said, something that had meant a lot time him at the time. “Not only will he change the world,” she had said, “but he will change lives and show people what it means to change.”

So that was it, Eli realized. He’s not here to change governments or law. He’s here to change us, individually, and to show us that we can change. We may be hopelessly lost, but with the true guide, we can find our way into a new world. The tears came to him as they had so many long years ago in a little barn. Jesus nodded with a compassionate and comprehending smile and walked away.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Four Hearts, One Song - Introduction

To the reader: This begins a five-part fictional series. Stay tuned ...

Rain had been falling for some time, even though the now cloudless sky and humid night air gave no sign of it. The heady smell of water-soaked hay gave proof to the ever-shifting temperament of the skies. Standing at the entrance to the barn, a man stared out into the heavens as if searching for a sign. It really was the smells that made this little barn alive. The damp hay was equally matched by the random aromas given off by the sweating animals as they shifted uneasily about the cramped space. A couple of cows nestled close together in one corner, a few timid sheep in another, and a solitary donkey walked amidst them all. The man contemplated these smells and these surroundings in silent thought as he maintained his position at the door. Certainly a strange place for a child to be born, he mused. But it was much more than that. He glanced back over his shoulder, surveying the whole interior without seeming to take in anything. His roving eye fell on one area near the center of the barn. He had heaped together a pile of hay over which a couple of blankets had been carefully placed. Lying on the makeshift bed was his wife.

The starlight lit up the area where she reclined, bathing her face in a soft, pure glow. Her face was flushed, tendrils of brown hair sticking to her forehead. Slow, ragged breaths caused her face to crease as though straining against some unseen burden. But for all the signs of weariness in her face, her eyes spoke much differently. They had the look of peace and hope that only one kind of person can ever truly appreciate. She gazed lovingly at the tiny bundle caught against her chest, her newborn babe.

“Joseph, how long will you stand at the door? Won’t you come and hold our baby?” Her voice was filled at once with the charity of love and the pride of motherhood.

Joseph left his place at the door and came to stand beside Mary. She held the little bundle up as it squirmed slightly and feebly. Nestling the baby in the crook of one arm, the father caressed the baby’s head, smoothing the tangles of hair into some kind of order. Mary smiled wanly and spoke again, this time more softly as if to herself, “It is just wonderful, Joseph. Everything is happening just as the angels told us. It was too hard to understand, but now that we have our baby, things are starting to make more sense.”

The mention of angels brought Joseph back from his silent reveries. Imprinted fixedly on his mind was the dream he had of the angel so long ago. Every word spoken weighed on his mind and heart like an everlasting chain fastened around his very soul. The angel had given him words of hope and despair. Yes, he inwardly sighed, everything is happening as was said. This child has a destiny far greater than we can ever know. Lord, please give me strength to raise your child. The streak of distress that passed his face did not go unnoticed by Mary. She knew his struggle and his sadness and, though she didn’t always condone it, she empathized with it. This was not his child….but it was hers.

Both of them were interrupted from their private thoughts by a scuffling of feet outside the door. Returning the baby gingerly to the welcoming arms of his mother, Joseph turned to face whoever had come to invade this haven of peace. The rugged, tear-streaked face of a young man peeked around the corner of the door. Joseph met the gaze of the intruder placidly, arms folded across his burly chest. The man’s eyes mirrored his soul; a soul tormented by fear and wonder. Joseph had never seen eyes like his. But after a moment, he was confronted by three more sets of eyes bearing the same mark. All four men were about the same age and similarly dressed, each as timid as a lamb, standing in the doorway with mouths gaping and eyes glistening. They were shepherds by their garb.

After some time of this silent face-off, the oldest looking of them found his tongue, stammering out in a half-yelp, half-groan, “We ... We ... We were told that this is, uh, is, uh, the place. We had ... we had to come.” He paused as though this explained everything and there was nothing more to say. However when Joseph did not respond, he continued, “Well, the angels ... you see ... the angels….how frightening they were ... beautiful. It was them. They ... they, ummm ... told us to come. We came to find him.” All four pairs of eyes left Joseph and roved the room freely, settling naturally at the mother and son in the middle of the room.

The speaker unconsciously stepped forward, the others leaning in close against his back. The first fell down with a clump to one knee and beseeched the mother, “Is this ... is this the Christ?”

These four men held such hope and fear that at first she found herself too abashed to speak. Her child was only just born and already these young men came seeking to rob her of her joy. She was infuriated. The color rushed to her cheeks at this abhorrent thought and she nearly sent them away in fury. But a still, small voice interrupted her rage, This is your child, but not only yours. From this day forth, you must share him with the rest of the world. This is your burden to bear. Rejoice in your burden, though heavy it may be; it is for the salvation of the world. The words of contempt she had prepared for the men caught in her throat at these thoughts. Closing her eyes against the terrible truth behind them, she sought inner peace. When she opened her eyes again, the thieves of her happiness were gone, replaced by the image of four lost and suffering souls in search of answers.

They appeared emaciated and old, mere skeletons deprived of life and purpose. They were horrid, but not in a way that to inspire revulsion but instead pity. Their parched lips longed for the quenching drink of hope to slake their inner thirst. Their hollow eyes pleaded to see just one glimpse of something truly beautiful, truly free of the deforming plague and crippling corruption that seized everything else in the world. Their ears despaired of hearing those few precious words, “There is Life!”

The vision shifted and now she saw them for who they really were. The only one who had spoken still knelt before her and all his life spanned before Mary’s eyes as the deep sea. He was not much older than the rest, but he was one who had lived life beyond his years; someone who had suffered through the utter monotony of sequential pain and disappointment that leads up to the one, inexorable fact: Nothing ever changes. This was his truth; he had never know anything else in his whole life.

Just behind him stood his brother, both hands tightly clenching the right shoulder of his elder sibling. Unlike his brother, this young man was filled with the fire and hope of youth. No height was unattainable, no obstacle insurmountable. He would search every hill and dale for a chance to better himself so that he could rise above his lot in life and declare, “I am of worth!” The calluses of toil had not yet hardened his hands and the rocky paths of destitution had not yet tamed his fiery spirit. Every new idea held a wealth of opportunity. The world was a thing to be conquered, and conquer it he fully intended to do.

The third youth was nothing more than a child, twelve years at the most. Yet those twelve years spoke volumes. He was a handsome child, complete with youth’s charming softness and maturity’s strength and character. One might even say he looked flawless, if not for the ugly purple bruise along his right cheek that marred his otherwise enchanting features. Of the four, his eyes glowed the most with hope. They were eyes that seemed to be seeing hope for the first time, making it even more appealing for its freshness and promise. Here was someone that desperately needed to believe that something better was on the horizon.

Unlike the others, the last of the shepherd was not so easily interpreted by Mary’s vision. There was a mystery that hid everything from sight. Whether it was darkness, fear, or confusion, she could not tell. Of the four, this one seemed to be the one with the most fear and his whole body trembled with it. He did not appear to be willfully here, more than half of his body was still outside the door as if preparing to bolt for freedom. Mary feared this man. Yet her inner eye finally awoke when she beheld his eyes. They were luminous and liquid, two hollow pools of light staring back out of a corner of a forgotten soul. All else spoke of shame, torment, and fear except for those two little pinpricks, gasping, wallowing, surging forward to some unbidden and uncertain freedom from the manacles of fate.

And Mary wept. Hot, flooding tears poured down her cheeks in a torrent of irrepressible emotion, alarming herself as much as it did the men. Even Joseph was frightened now. No, this child was not only hers. There would be times that he would need his mother, but she needed him more, and these men needed him with a blinding desperation. Mary closed her eyes against the vision before her, the life behind her, and the future in front of her. The road ahead would be fraught with difficulty and the ominous possibilities loomed up above her with disconcerting clarity. Now was the time to begin walking down that path with her burden in tow. With an effort, she subdued her tears and with a shudder, she realized it would not be the last time she would have to do that. She clutched the baby a little tighter, deriving her strength from his tiny, frail body. Her eyes opened and she spoke, “Welcome. This is Jesus.”

... to be continued.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Let's Talk about Faith

The Reformation is known for its "five solas": sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura, and soli Deo gloria. They represented the Reformers notion of the five distinctives between what they were teaching and what the Roman Catholic Church taught. Today, they have returned to a largely misunderstood position.

One of them, sola fide, has fallen into particular disfavor. The Roman Catholic Church argued that faith and good works renders one just before God. The Reformers argued that justification -- being declared right before God -- is accomplished by faith apart from good works. Note, at the outset, one of the single most common points of confusion. Sola fide does not argue that "faith alone" is all there is. That would be nonsense. The "faith alone" is a reference to "faith apart from works", not faith apart from grace or Christ. The separation of faith is not from all other things, but from works. The Reformers as well as those of the Reformed faith obviously hold to the necessity of grace and the absolute necessity of Christ in salvation. Arguing otherwise is a strawman argument.

Having cleared up the easiest misconception, let's look again at "faith alone". Martin Luther called this "the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls." And it is a biblical concept:
2 If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:2-5).

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:8-9).

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Gal. 2:16).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
I put that last one last so it would be freshest in your mind. Note the intent: "So that no one may boast." That's important.

So it would appear that it's a done deal. Obviously we are saved "by faith apart from works". Indeed, our definition of grace has deviated from the Greek word because of Scripture. The Greek word, charis, means simply "favor", but we have come to define it as "unmerited favor" because of this concept of "faith apart from works" and verses like Rom. 11:6 that say, "If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Christianity draws a distinction between salvation earned and salvation applied. It is one of the distinguishing differences between Christianity and every other religion. Everyone else knows that you have to be good to go to heaven. It doesn't matter if you're Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu; you have to be good to go to heaven. Christianity, on the other hand, says, "Going to heaven is not a function of being good; it is a function of faith in Christ. (That faith and all of salvation is a matter of the grace of God ... linking the three together -- sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus.)

So why would there be such division among non-Catholics about this sola fide prescription for salvation? Well, first, I suspect it's a product of exactly the fact that everyone knows you have to be good to go to heaven. This "something for nothing" concept of "saved by faith apart from works" just doesn't sit right. Beyond that, there is the constant argument that is it not "apart from any work at all". "You have to believe. You have to repent. You have to be baptized. There are works involved." And, of course, there is the "top of the line" argument: Scripture says otherwise.
14What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:14, 21-24).
Really, I'm not sure how much more we need to look at. "A man is justified by works and not by faith alone." That's absolutely clear.

Well, it's not, as it turns out. If it is absolutely clear, it stands in stark opposition to all the other passages listed above, and we have a genuine contradiction. So is it possible to read these Scriptures without contradicting each other? I think so. Let's give it a whirl.

First, remember the intent of Eph. 2:8-9: "So that no one may boast." Now, there are some that would argue that since some of the passages above refer to "works of the Law", the references to "faith apart from works" are only references to "faith apart from works of the Law", not all works. However, if that is the case, then works of any type would be cause to boast, and the intent of Ephesians 2 would be lost. "No," they argue, "The works required for salvation don't merit anything and, as such, don't give room for boasting." Well, perhaps in someone's mind that's true, but I can't imagine it. Think of that glorious time in heaven. We're all standing around praising God. You're standing with a couple of angels. "Hey, look," they say, "We really loved that 'grace of God' thing. It was marvelous to watch. But we weren't actually there, so we didn't quite understand something, and you can explain it to us. When you were saved, a couple of people from the local church came to your door and gave you the Gospel. You received it with thanksgiving and were saved. Then they went next door and the guy there didn't and wasn't. What was the difference? Why did you receive it and he didn't?" You work out the answer. If it is anything except "faith apart from works of any type", I can't find a satisfactory answer that doesn't paint me in a better light than my neighbor. "I had the faith." "I was spiritually wiser." "I did what was required and he didn't." It doesn't work.

So, how can we re-read James or re-read all the other passages to make them align? I think the passage to look at again is the James passage. Our problem is that often we lump words together. "Saved", to us, often means "saved from the wrath of God", but it doesn't always mean that in the Bible. In 1 Tim. 2:15 it says, "She will be saved through childbearing ..." suggesting either that women must have children to be saved from the wrath of God, or that there is more than one meaning of "saved". The same is true for "justified". In Luke 7:35, Jesus says, "Wisdom is justified by all her children." Now, normally "justified" means "declared right in the eyes of God", but clearly in this case it means simply "declared right". Wisdom is shown to be right by the results of wisdom (her children). So is it possible that James is speaking of some different sense of "justification" than our normal "Christianese"? I think, if you examine it, he is clearly speaking of something else. In the James 2 passage, he speaks of two types of faith: Dead faith and live faith (implied). Dead faith is faith that has no results (works). Therefore, live faith -- faith that saves -- is faith that produces works. In the James 2:21-24 part, he references the same example of Abraham that Paul uses in Rom. 4:2-5 when he demonstrates justification apart from works. The difference is the time frame. Paul references Gen. 15:6 while James references Gen. 22. In other words, Paul says that Abraham was justified at the point of faith (Gen. 15:6), while the justification of which James speaks occurs at the end of Abraham's life. In fact, if you read James, you find that he explains what was "justified": "the Scripture was fulfilled." In James's use of the term "justified", he is referring to the other sense of the word, the simpler sense. Abraham was declared right by the work of faith that he performed. That doesn't mean that he was declared right before God at that point; he was demonstrated to already be right. To put it in the terms that Jesus used it, "Abraham's faith was justified by her children." He was shown to have right standing with God when he acted on the faith that, long ago, linked him to God's declaration that he was now righteous.

It looks as if James 2 does not actually support the notion that sola fide is a lie. It is a different use of the term "justified". If this is the case, we have managed to eliminate a paradox -- an apparent contradiction -- and allowed Scripture to align with Scripture without modifying anything at all. In this aspect we allow Christianity to retain its distinctive: salvation apart from works. In this approach we allow Scripture to remain God's Word rather than contradictory passages written by men. In this way we retain sola fide, the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

That's Not Fair!

We hear it all the time. The kids say it when they don't get their way. People offer this protest when they believe they've been discriminated against (or at least when they think they can use that line to get what they want). Here in Arizona, university students who are not in this country legally are shouting it because Arizonans voted that illegal aliens should not get resident tuition rates. It's not fair that we are controlling our borders and it's not fair that some people make so much more money than other people. It's not fair to all the people that would benefit that Christians are opposed to embryonic stem cell research. It's not fair that other people get to do what we can't. It is extremely common for this phrase to be aimed at God. Whenever we think we've gotten a raw deal, "It's not fair!"

What we mean by that may vary slightly. Sometimes we mean "just", referring to something as "not fair" as "unjust". Other times -- more often, I suspect -- we mean "equitable". These two are not the same thing. To be "fair" is often thought of as "impartial" or "unbiased". But, as my dear mother taught me, "Whoever told you life was fair?"

R.C. Sproul tells the story of a college class he taught. At the outset of the freshmen course, he explained that papers would be due on October 1st, November 1st, and December 1st. Late entries would be an automatic "F". Well, on October 1st, 90% of the students handed in their papers. A few showed up sheepishly. When asked for their papers, they had reasons why they weren't done. "We're adjusting to college life." "There was just so much work we had to do." "Please give us until next week to finish." And the good professor acquiesced. "But, be sure to be on time for next month's paper," he warned. November 1st came around, and 80% of the students handed in their papers. The others were tentative. "We're so sorry, Dr. Sproul. We had so much homework for all our classes, we just couldn't get this one done. We'll do better next time. Please show mercy." And the good professor acquiesced. "But, be sure to be on time for next month's paper," he warned. The response was an almost spontaneous song. "We love you, Dr. Sproul; we love you so ..." December 1st came to pass, and maybe 75% of the class showed up with papers in hand. The rest sauntered in. Dr. Sproul started taking roll. "Johnson, where's your paper?" "Ah, don't worry about it, prof, I'll get it to you in a week or so." "Johnson, weren't you late in October and September?" "Yeah, but I'll get it done." "Johnson -- 'F'." The professor moved on. "Smith, where's your paper?" Smith wasn't quite as cocky. "I'm almost done with it." "Smith -- 'F'." And as he ticked on down the list of no-papers, the outrage rose. Instead of songs of praise, they erupted with the standby: "That's not fair!" So he asked them, "Johnson, you were late in October and September, weren't you?" "Yes." "You want fair?" "Yes." "Okay, then you have an 'F' for September and October. Who else wants fair?"

We are arrogant folks by nature. He died "before his time." Life didn't give her "a fair shake." People have the right to health care and long life and better living. "You deserve a break today." It is built into our nature -- our sin nature. God, we believe, is obligated to treat all humans the same way. He is not allowed to have any bias or inequity. He cannot love one over another. He cannot give to one over another. He cannot take from one rather than another.

Over against this faulty perspective is Scripture. "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?" (Rom. 9:20-21). We don't recognize that we are universally an affront to His character, a stench in His nostrils, worthy of eternal damnation. If we were really aware of our true condition and just deserts, we would never cry to God, "That's not fair!" Instead, it would be a chorus of "Have mercy on me!"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just War Theory

There is a theory known as "Just War Theory" that outlines the requirements that must be met for a war to be considered just. Of course, the basic points are always in question (because all moral values are always in question), but these are the generally accepted principles:

1. The war must have a cause that is just.

2. It must be a last resort. All other avenues of correcting the problem must have been exhausted.

3. The one prosecuting the war must have the proper authority to do so.

4. The evil caused by the war must be less than the evil that is removed by it.

5. There must be a reasonable probability of success.

Assuming that this theory is correct (It has been accepted as valid since the Middle Ages.), the question becomes, "Do the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fall in the 'Just War' category?"

All five principles are in question, of course, more so in Iraq than in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it was clear that the perpetrator of the attack of Sep. 11 was in the country, protected by the government there. (That would constitute "just cause".) The negotiations to surrender him failed and the country remained defiant. (That would constitute "last resort".) Since we were the attacked and they were the attackers, it seemed that we should have the authority to respond with military force. (That would constitute "proper authority".) It appears that the removing of the Taliban and replacing it with a duly elected government with a minimum of collateral damage would satisfy the fourth principle. From all appearances, that war has been a success. Despite all of what appears to be the case, however, some still argue that our attack of Afghanistan was not just, and that we didn't have the proper authority to do it. You can decide. It seems to me of little debate whether the war with Afghanistan meets these criteria.

The war with Iraq isn't as clear. The President launched a preemptive strike, always a question with "just cause". The U.N. has argued all along that negotiations were ongoing and that they hadn't exhausted all other possibilities. The apparent lack of weapons of mass destruction (I say "apparent" because it is not strictly true that no such weapons were found despite the repeated claim of the media that this is the case.) and the international nature of the venture (That is, was America herself threatened?) would suggest that we didn't have the proper authority to go there. There seems to be no end to the bickering over whether we caused more evil than we stopped. And, truth be told, no one, to this day, has any clue if there is a reasonable probability for success. It seems that all five points are in question.

There aren't too many voices currently addressing the possibility that this might have been a Just War. I'd like to offer a few ideas on it just for your consideration. Maybe, just maybe, there is reason to think otherwise about this war in Iraq. Let's set aside emotion for a few minutes (none of us like the fact that Americans are dying over there) and try to see if there isn't the possibility that this is a just war.

Is there just cause? In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S., as part of a coalition, stepped in and forced Hussein to withdraw. Part of the agreement in the subsequent ceasefire was that Iraq would disarm and open up to inspections. For more than a decade Iraq fought against that to which they had agreed. They repeatedly blocked inspectors. They repeatedly ejected them from the country. The U.N. tried everything. They tried sanctions, negotiations, threats, all to no avail. Instead, Hussein continued to claim he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and would use them as he saw fit. In 1998, President Clinton stated that Iraq's efforts to dominate the Middle East was a threat to America's allies and vital interests. John McCain considered Saddam Hussein "a clear and present danger to the United States of America." Senator Lieberman was quoted as saying, "Every day Saddam remains in power is a day of danger for the Iraqi people, for Iraq's neighbors, for the American people, and for the world." This wasn't a "neo-con" perspective or some "hawk" viewpoint. It was the common perspective of the government of the United States. After 9/11, it was shared by nearly all in the government. Even those who are currently raising their voices loudest to bring home the troops were shouting with equal volume the dangers of leaving Saddam in power. Was it a just cause? From all that we knew at the time that we started the attack, it would seem to be that we were acting out of self-defense and the defense of our allies. That is just cause, even if the information is faulty.

What led to this attack? The war against Iraq was preceded by more than a decade of conflict with Iraq. We tried sanctions, threats, negotiations. We tried various avenues including the U.N., other nations, and direct discussions. We simply required that Iraq abide by the agreements they made when they surrendered in the Desert Storm conflict. They refused repeatedly. And beyond merely refusing, Saddam shook his fist at us and threatened to use his weapons of mass destruction. Finally, when radical anti-Americans carried out an attack on Americans in New York City and Washington D.C., the government and people of Iraq cheered. They may not have had direct ties to the attack, but they certainly supported it and offered safe haven to those who would attack us. It could be argued that this war was a last resort.

Did President Bush have the authority to go to war with Iraq? That question might be a little more tricky. It is difficult to draw a direct line of threat from Iraq to America. And a preemptive strike will always raise a haze to the question. Ultimately we don't really know the danger Iraq may have posed to us. However, the perception at the time was that Saddam posed "a clear and present danger to the United States of America." John Kerry said, "It would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that, left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge, or stumble into a future, more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world." Indeed, this is the consensus at the time:
"[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." -- Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and others Oct. 9, 1998.

"There is no doubt that . Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies." -- Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and others, Dec, 5, 2001.

"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force — if necessary — to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security." -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002.

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons." -- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002.

The perspective was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the will to harm America. If that was the case, then it would seem that it was within the legal and moral rights of the government of the country to act to defend its people. Arguments can be made that the information was faulty. People can point out that the intelligence has since proven to be false. That's a different issue. The questions of "just cause" and "proper authority" can only be based on what they believed at the time. That the information was faulty can only be factored in if it is argued that it was knowingly faulty, and that has not been the case. It is reasonable to argue that the U.S. government (not merely President Bush) believed that there was an imminent threat from Iraq and to act to defend against that threat is acting on proper authority.

The last two will likely be subjects of debate for a long time to come. How much evil did the war cause? How much did it end? Would Iraq and the world be better off today if Hussein was still in power? That's the real question here. And is there a reasonable probability of success? That is the other real question here. Now, to be fair, one should ask if they had a reasonable probability of success when they started rather than if there continues to be a reasonable probability of success. Was there good rationale for the government to believe they could succeed in 1) removing the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein and 2) putting a democratic government in place in Iraq? In hindsight one has to wonder, but how many voices were there prior to the war that warned that it wasn't reasonable? I don't know the answer to that. I do think that it is possible to argue that they believed that the damage they caused would be less than the damage they corrected, and that there was a reasonable probability of success. If that is the case then this could be classified as a "just war".

It's not a "done deal". Depending on your preconceptions, prejudices, and a priori conditions (and don't fool yourself ... everyone has them), the argument will continue. I don't anticipate that I've solved the problem and provided proof to everyone's satisfaction. That wasn't my goal. Perhaps ... just maybe ... someone reading this might say, "Well, I suppose it could be argued that this was a just war." Perhaps. And a different perspective than the screaming anti-war of the airwaves isn't necessarily a bad thing. (For more on this possibility, read Robert George on the question.)