Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Tolerance Will No Longer Be Tolerated

          “With the country moving toward inclusion, the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have instead sent a message to young people that only some of them are valued…They’ve chosen to teach division and intolerance.”  Such was the response by the president of the Human Rights Campaign (described as the largest U.S. gay rights group) to a recent decision by a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) review board to maintain its existing membership policies, as reported by the Associated Press.  After reading the article I am left with feelings of dismay and wonderment; and with a lingering question: In contemporary society in the United States of America is this what passes for rational thought and legitimate argumentation?  Based on the frequency of such statements it would seem the answer to that question is “yes." In my opinion, the reason for such disconnected thinking is systemic yet explainable if one considers the foundational principles undergirding contemporary viewpoints on fairness, tolerance and the like as expressed in the AP article.  Indeed such reasons are worth taking time to consider.

The first foundational principle emerges with the following: “With the country moving toward inclusion…”  Notice please the question begging, as the dissenter assumes the good to be defined by the direction the country moves and then proceeds to use that assumption as proof that those who move differently are wrong.  Obviously this is nothing more than foisting an arbitrary ethic on American culture and demanding its acceptance.  Surely what is good and right and true must come from outside culture, from outside the individual in a culture, lest morality become transient and ultimately meaningless for all members in a society.

Secondly, the assertion is made that the BSA “has sent a message to young people that only some of them are valued.”  This is nothing more than a bald and baseless assertion.  Once again, it is assumed in this statement that valuing young people is equivalent to celebrating any lifestyle any individual youth or group of youths might choose to adopt.  However, it is obvious all ideals are not equally true and legitimate.  Values are not so capricious as to be defined by some select group in society.  They also must transcend culture.

Like much of the reasoning permeating American culture today, the president of the Human Rights Campaign is doing nothing more than foisting, conditioning and presenting question begging and self-stultifying arguments.  His view that everyone must accept his groups definitions of values, fairness, inclusion and tolerance (which are based on the current whims of a segment of contemporary American culture) or be derided into submission seems somewhat less than tolerant of others viewpoints.  Apparently the position that a young person can be valued for their personhood while declining to celebrate their lifestyle is tolerance that will not be tolerated.

This nation was not founded on such arbitrary and vapid principles.  Our Declaration of Independence begins and ends with transcendent, objective, self-evident truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  American society was established on the principle that each member is created by a divine Sovereign Creator that He endows with unalienable rights by members who once pledged themselves to the sacred.  This Creator then is the definer and arbiter of the right and the good, and He says: “at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be untied to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6, NIV) and “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, NIV).  Futile thinking and foolish hearts permeate the society who neither glorify nor give thanks to the Creator who has created them in His image.

In my opinion, the only hope for mankind, the only way back to reasonableness of thinking undergirded by foundation of the Truth, is Christ Jesus.  “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31b-32)  With this firm foundation, ideas of tolerance, fairness and equality can be carefully considered against the backdrop of a transcendent absolute moral law that does not ebb and flow with the cultural current, for the betterment of society.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Clearing Away The Brush

          As follow-up to the last post I thought I would continue on the topic of abortion and politics.         
          I remember fondly the times of my youth when my father, sister, brother and I would trek into the woods to spend a Saturday morning gathering wood to replenish our fuel source for upcoming winters.  My job was much the same each year: wait for my father to complete trimming with the chainsaw and then proceed to clear away the brush.  Although our focus was to be on the main trunk of the tree, we could not see how to attack the problem until the brush was removed.  Cutting, splitting, loading, hauling and stacking efforts could not proceed until the impediment was cleared away.  I was reminded of this process recently as scrutiny of comments made by a national politician regarding abortion in cases of rape has intensified.  Were the politicians’ comments just misunderstood or misconstrued because of a verbal misstep or were they completely disgusting and inappropriate?  Should the candidate resign because of the insensitivity of his words and for the good of the party or continue in the race?  Are there, or are there not, natural processes in women’s bodies that react differently in the reproductive process in cases of extreme trauma?  Have the presidential incumbent and challenger correctly handled responses to the comments made and successfully distanced themselves from the political fallout?  In my opinion, these questions and many others surrounding the issue are, at best, secondary.  Similar to the Saturday mornings of my youth, the rightful focus of attention with the issue at hand – abortion - is being obstructed.  The brush needs to be cleared away.

            In every case of abortion something is being killed.  The central question when abortion is discussed is: What is being killed?  If what is being killed is a tumor or parasite, then by all means terminate with impunity regardless of the situation.  If what is being killed is a human being, however, much more thought needs to be given.  Even in the most horrible and unthinkable atrocities of violation, like rape and incest, do the acts and manifestations of the violator substantiate killing another innocent, albeit unborn, human being?  After all, we do not sentence the violator to a penalty of death for committing the crime.  One could argue that a child born from such a horrible circumstance would be a constant reminder of the traumatic event, but again would the horribleness of the event warrant the killing of an innocent human being?  Moreover since the only differences between a child in the womb and a 2-year old is size, location, environment and level of development, would we consider killing a 2-year old that was a constant reminder of a past traumatic event?  What is at issue is the value of human life.

            In the United States of America our very Declaration of Independence makes clear the position of the nation:   We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Because all men are created and endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to life and liberty then the Creator, the One responsible for the imputation of the unalienable right, establishes the inception of life.  “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27 HCSB).  In short, because we are created as image-bearers, human life is valuable, precious, sacred and must be preserved to the greatest extent possible.

            Answering issues of tragedy, suffering and loss are incomparably weighty and deserve a response beyond the 40-character-or-less variety.  “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6 HCSB).  If the brush is cleared and we can view unobstructed Christ and the Cross, then we will see the light of the truth and be able to give meaningful answers for such weighty matters in human experience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Question for the Candidates

           This year the citizens of the United States will cast their ballots for the office of President.  As I sit and write in this election year the prospective candidates of the challenging party have been through their first primary vote and have gone through a number of debates.  Following the final choice of contender and running mate, another series of debates and advertisements of both challenger and incumbent will take place en route to the November elections.  Amid all the advertisements and debates, I would contend that the single most important question to be asked of every candidate is never directly raised.

            Is human life sacred?  I have noticed that this question is never directly asked.  Perhaps that is because the answer is seen to be rhetorical: yes.  Which candidate if faced with the question would stumble around with a diatribe of double-talk or an outright response in the negative?  We testify to the truth of a positive response with our very behavior.  Do we not celebrate a stranger charging into a burning building to drag out another that is incapable of escape?  Do we not honor one who sacrifices her own life for that of another?  Does not our own Declaration of Independence clearly state the inalienable right of life to every individual?

            All other topics in a debate depend on the answer to this question.  Economic issues concern goods and services exchanged between people.  Domestic and foreign policy issues concern the interaction between citizens of the same, or of different nations, respectively.  Any issue relative to governance involves people.  If human life is trivial then the issues concerning how people treat or interact with each other must also be trivial.  If human life is sacred, then in issues of governance the primary concern ought to be that the sacredness of every human life is preserved.

            I stated previously that the question is never asked directly, and that is because it is routinely asked indirectly; something like, “Would you say your position on abortion is pro-choice or pro-life, and why?”  Responses vary based on the stated platform of each candidate.  I contend that those holding the pro-choice position, as it is most commonly held, does not hold all human life to be sacred.  This is because the choice being made is to kill a unique unborn human.  From conception a unique human life is growing in the mother’s womb; not a mass of benign cells akin to a tumor, not a parasite like a tapeworm, but a unique human life.  Other than size, location, environment and level of development that unique unborn human life is no different than a four-year old toddler, and we do not determine rights of life based on such differences.  To be six feet four inches tall does not make one more deserving of life than another only five feet four inches tall.  Similarly, we do not designate one to be less deserving to live because they take up residence East of the Mississippi River, or because they are underwater.  We cannot choose to kill an eight year old because they have not developed enough to drive an automobile.  If we cannot choose to kill a four year old toddler for these reasons then we cannot kill a unique unborn human for those reasons either.  One might ask about cases of extreme violation like rape or incest.  As horrible and vile as those acts are, the violators themselves are not killed for the crime nor would we advocate killing a four-year old toddler because they are reminders of a horrible violation once endured.  Only in cases of tubal pregnancies would termination be warranted as in that case if the dreadful act of killing one human life is not carried out two human lives will be lost.  If all human life is sacred then we must fight to preserve all human life possible.

            An acute observer will note that the reasons presented above not to kill an unborn human life do not provide a reason why life is sacred.  Why does our Declaration of Independence state in the clearest of written word that all human life is sacred?  If we are here as a result of some combination of undirected natural causes, random chance, evolution by natural selection, genetic drift and the like then human life is remarkable and highly improbable but not sacred.  No, our Declaration makes clear that all human life is sacred because we are created and are endowed by our Creator with those inalienable rights.  The Christian worldview is the only one that could provide for such a statement and in Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  All human life is sacred because all human life is created by the God of the Bible in His image and we all at least act as if it were true.
            January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision giving legal rights for the killing of unique human lives and this is an election year.  In my opinion, we should think soberly of the question of the sacredness of human life and put each candidate under great scrutiny as all other issues of governance hinge on the answer to that question.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Welcome Back

Wow, it's been over two months since I last posted.  It really is unbelievable how time flies.  Much has happened since last I wrote.  I'll take the one of first importance and then follow up with some others in the coming days.  My wife and I were blessed once again with a beautiful baby girl, born on Memorial Day one week ago today.  As has been the case with our four other children, the process of that precious life coming into the world is a miracle that is indescribable.  Mother and child are both well, and the whole process has been another opportunity to witness God's faithfulness and goodness.

That brings me to a small point that has been on my mind for the last several months and has recurred as a theme in my devotions and meditation on the Word, namely God's Sovereignty.  Everything associated in and around the birth of our fifth child (and really all five, truth be told) has been extraordinarily good.  We praise the Lord for that, and for answering our prayers for a healthy baby and delivery.  But there are many births that do not end out so well.  Many babies and mothers die in childbirth.  Many babies are born with disease or complications.  A worker at the plant at which I am in leadership has a granchild that was born prematurely and with complications and has never been home from the hospital.  Many times the parents of that child have gone to the hospital wondering if that day will be the day they have to say goodbye to their child.  Those parents are believers as well, and no doubt prayed for a healthy pregnancy and birth for both child and mother.  So the hard question for the believer is, if we pray for things to go well and they don't what do we think of God?

If feelings are supreme, which they seem to be these days, then we might be tempted to say that our circumstance was out of God's control, or He didn't hear our prayers, or we did something bad and are being punished for it, or that He is not loving and kind but cruel curses some and blesses others.  We can deal with things several different ways and there isn't time right now as I have a two-year old on my lap trying to help me type.  But, suffice it to say that either God is Sovereign (in control of all things) or He is not (not in control of all things).  I am fully aware of the problems the view that God knows of and is in control of all things, but the alternatives are simply unthinkable.  Moreover, the only Biblically sound foundation in reasoning is that God is in complete control and orders all things.  So, God knows about and is in control of both situations I described - mine where everything has gone swimmingly, and in the case of the grandchild of my employee where things have been difficult.  I'll open it up to comments from there as there are a host of Scripture references that hopefully will come out, but i'll leave it with a nugget to roll over in your mind.  How does God operate?  Do we even know such things?  In turns out we do, God does all things in accordance with His own good pleasure and for His ultimate glorification.  The further question is how do we react when God, acting in accordance with His own good pleasure and for His ultimate glorification, and in control of all things determines an outcome for our lives that we don't think is best for us in our limited knowledge?

I know, i've just gotten back on the blog and I throw such a weighty challenge at you right off the bat.  Well, such is my thought life these days.  The answer to this issue brings much to bear on many other areas of life and the faith.  It is important that we not neglect or purposefully avoid such difficult topics, but seek God's Truth on the matter and wrestle with it as the process will surely be a blessing in itself.  I look forward to the discussion that will follow.

It's good to be back.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Godliness with Contentment

In keeping with the expositional nature of our weekly sermon format, we are quite predictably in chapter 6 of 1 Timothy verses 6-8.  Although a powerful message from beginning to end, most of my thinking before, during and after the sermon centered around the single sentence of verse 6 - "But godliness with contentment is great gain."

The starting point of course is that the Bible is Truth - beginning to end the same, same Holy Spirit inspiring, equally efficacious.  Therefore we need look no further than the text itself to derive great benefit.  We are told quite simply that great gain is available - it can be had.  How?  By way of godliness with contentment.  Godliness has been Paul's theme throughout 1 Timothy and some of the ways to train to that end have been discussed in previous posts and are equally plain.  We have here that godliness with (or alongside, or joined together with, or acting simultaneously with) contentment.

Godliness has been defined as: "A right attitude and response toward the true Creator God."
Contement has been defined as: "Satisfaction with what we have and with what we don't have."

So, we train to be godly and learn to be content - that is to say we train to have a right attitude and response toward the true Creator God and learn to be satisfied with what we have and with what we don't have - and that is great gain.  Easy to understand and end of story, right.  Well, yes and no.  That is definately enough to be of great benefit.  At the very least we can strive toward godliness and in being content.  But no in that we can see deeper the same Truth without contradicting or losing the plainness of it.

As believers (well, reformed believers at least) we are substance dualists, which are two big words that mean we subsist in two forms - soul and body, spiritual and physical, eternal and temporal.  Some additional thought into those two forms will have us agreeing with C.S. Lewis that we are a soul and we have a body.  That is to say it would be a mistake for us to misunderstand our nature and believe ourselves to be finite fleshly human beings that happen to have a soul.  If that were the case, then we might be dissuaded by fine-sounding arguments relative to abortion (infanticide) and when the physical life actually begins as if that is the real point of concern for disciples of Christ.  From Genesis 1 we know that God created man in His image, that He breathed life into man and that man has an eternal destination.  We would only entertain notions of life beginning with the physical if we were to neglect or forget that transcendent Truth about mankind.  But I digress, as many more misunderstandings besides infanticide stem from the same misunderstanding.  The point here is that as created beings created in the image of our Creator and existing forever, we are a soul and we have our temporary fleshly form for a while.

So what does that have to do with godliness and contentment?  Well, if we are a soul and have a body, then our focus will be on the eternal, the spritual, the soulish nature first and foremost.  Aren't we told over and over in Scripture that this is the case?  In Romans 12:1-2 alone that our minds need to be renewed to know God's will and that our bodies should be offered as living sacrifices as spiritual acts of worship.  Our manish nature must legitimately be addressed (if we don't eat and drink we will surely die a physical death) but must be made subservient to the soulish nature.  We "beat or bodies" and "deny ourselves" such that we live with focus upon, and pursue with delight that which edifies our soulishness, even if it be to the detriment of our manishness (many times intentionally so).

I have been making a case in the positive for this deeper understanding of the same Truth, so let me present a completed negative formulation, then end with the positive formulation to which end we are to strive:

To be discontent with our temporal circumstances is to prioritize our manishness and suppress our soulishness; to prioritize the temporal over and above the eternal; to choose as more important the physical instead of the spiritual; to misunderstand our very nature and to travel down the wide, well traveled path away from Truth and Life and is to lose much.

To pursue godliness with a desire that God be glorified in all things and with a desire that we be transformed into the likeness of Christ, while resting on the knowledge that God is Sovereign and the promises that the One True God has made toward working all things out for our good (whether immediately evident to us or not) according to His will (which may or may not align with our prayers and petitions) and providing for all our needs, and therefore being satisfied with whatever material things that may be credited to our earthly account whether great or small and seeing those material things as blessings given to us to manage well and to bless others in abundance is to rightly understand our nature and to walk the narrow Way, in Truth and Life and is to gain much.