Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Who's Afraid of God?

Enmity is a feeling of hatred or hostility towards something.  Natural man has enmity towards God.  Romans 8:7: "The carnal mind is enmity against God."  James 4:4: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?"  It is difficult to believe, but people who have not accepted Christ as their savior are actually enemies of God.  Romans 5:10: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."  Colossians 1:21: "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled..."  It is not surprising that enmity and enemy sound so much alike, as they both originate from the Latin inimicus.

The Bible also tells us that God has wrath.  This is an unpleasant notion, but the Word of God is clear on that subject.  Romans 1:18 states, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..." Jesus Himself said in Luke 12:4-5, "My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him, who after He has killed, has power to cast you into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"  These are the very words of Christ.  And if we believe the words of Jesus, and if there is a Supreme Being with wrath, we should be fearful of Him.  Yet man finds this intolerable, that there should be a Person who is greater than him, of whom he should be afraid.  How does man resolve the problem of being the enemy of a God, all-powerful and all-knowing, who is capable of great wrath?

The first way is to deny He even exists, and the atheist solves his problem right there.  You can't be an enemy of someone who does not exist, and there is no need to fear the wrath of an imaginary entity.  This, then, allows you to live in any manner you wish, without worry of any temporal or eternal consequences.  This is a group of people who are not believers in Christ or God or the Spirit, and threats from the Bible do not have any relevance for them.

The second way to deal with this is to remake Him into the image that we desire.  We claim that God exists, but that He does not have any wrath.  Many look upon the Old Testament as just that, "Old", and see a God capable of all manner of wrath and destruction, but have replaced Him with the image of a completely kind and loving Father who would never be angry with anyone.  Some have looked upon the Old Testament God as a frightful, judging Being, and He has now been superseded by His Son Jesus, the gentle Lamb of God who is all-loving. 

There are several problems with this viewpoint.  First of all, it goes against what Jesus Himself said in Luke 12,  Secondly, it ignores the full divinity of Christ, who is indeed the Lamb of God but also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelations 5:5).  When Jesus returns, He will bring judgment upon the world.  In fact, Jesus tells us in John 5:22, "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son."  Thirdly, although Jesus was meek and loving, He never condoned sin and was capable of great anger when the need arose, as in the temple with the moneychangers.  Lastly, Jesus is the Word Incarnate, and the Word itself is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), with the good news of the Gospel and the frightful news of pending judgment.

Those who deny the existence of a God with wrath or a do not believe in a wrathful God are making a serious error.  The first group is free to make up any moral system they desire, and the second is free to disobey God's moral system; both are free of any consequences.  They are inappropriately not fearful of God's wrath. We certainly see this playing out daily in our lives.  The people who would dismember a child in the womb and sell its body parts are not afraid of God.  The lawmakers who pass laws that violate God's natural order for man and wife, and the judges that approve, are not afraid of God.  The leaders of our country who pass laws for our healthcare by lying to us, bearing false witness,  are not afraid of God. 

Even on an individual level, we know people who claim to believe in God, but are sinning and unafraid of God's wrath.  We are afraid to confront them, afraid to upset them, afraid that we will not seem loving, but our fear of these things should pale in comparison to the fear of God that they do not have.  If we love them , we would speak to them of their sin so that they would avoid His judgment and wrath. 

There is a third way to resolve the problem of being an enemy of a God with wrath, and that is to be reconciled with Him.  This is done through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  Those who do will be spared His eternal wrath, and can rest peacefully in that promise.  There will still be painful things to deal with: chastening for disobedience, pruning for sanctification, and spiritual warfare, but we need not be afraid of these things or God Himself.  Our loving God sustains us through these.   

There are some Christians, who are reconciled to Him, who still carry an unhealthy fear of Him, worried that the slightest misstep will result in punishment; they often interpret any bad thing that happens to them as an expression of God's wrath.  The are inappropriately afraid of God's wrath.  The best way I know to overcome this is by repeatedly reading the Word and His promises to look after us, to care for us, and to comfort us.  If Psalm 23 tells us that because of our Lord we "will fear no evil", then how much less do we need to fear that same Lord who is perfectly good?

Those who do not believe in God have every reason to be afraid of His eternal wrath.  Those who believe in God but do not believe he is capable of wrath will stand before Him in judgment and there will not be an opportunity to offer excuses for disobedience.  Only those who in humility confess their faith in Christ Jesus as well as confess their sins have nothing to be afraid of. 

And I'm afraid that's about all I have to say on the matter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Doveryai, no Proveryai

I have just finished a tremendous biography of Charles Ponzi, of the eponymous "Ponzi Scheme."  He began his project in 1920 in Boston, promising to give people a 50% return on their investments in 45 days.  He actually had a notion of how he might do that, using the difference in values of currency in other countries and their exchange rates in postage, but soon after accepting investment monies he realized it wasn't workable, and so he paid off the early investors with money coming in from new investors.  His first investor only put in a few hundred dollars, but soon he was taking in $10,000 a week, then $100,000 a week, and then a million dollars a week.  People trusted him with their money, in some cases their life's savings, and when it all fell apart they were wiped out. 

One of my earlier articles described the difference between truth and belief, terms that are frequently misused.  In summary, a thing that is true cannot be untrue at the same time; this violates the law of non-contradiction.  A true thing must be true for all people.  A belief, however, can be correct or incorrect.  You may believe something to be true that is not, or believe something that is not true that is.  Your belief, however, does not change the fact that something is true or not. 

"Trust" is a belief.  If we trust someone or some thing, it means that we hold a belief that person or thing is true or reliable.  If I trust you, I believe you to be reliable; it does not guarantee that you are in fact reliable.  Trust is a vital and essential property for any relationship to succeed.  We have to have trust in the grocer that our food is unspoiled, trust in the pharmacist that our medicines are correct, and trust in our banker that our money will not be stolen.  The Bible has many, many verses on love, but I would submit that trust is a predicate for love's fulfillment.  It is possible to love someone that you do not trust, even love your enemies, but love in its fullest sense requires trust.

Another pair of words that are commonly misused, or at least used in only their negative sense, are prejudice and discrimination.  "Prejudice" actually means to "pre-judge", and in many cases this is also an essential practice.  In fact, it may even be life-saving.  I confess that I am prejudiced about rattlesnakes.  If I see a rattlesnake, I may pre-judge it to be highly dangerous and likely to strike me, based on what I know about rattlesnakes.  It is not feasible for me to get to know each and every rattlesnake, to determine if every single one is nasty or if some like to have their bellies rubbed.  I therefore pass judgment rather quickly, and this saves time and prevents envenomation.  To discriminate means to "divide" or "separate".  This is also a necessary part of life.  I chose to marry a human, not some other species.  I discriminated on the basis of sex, and chose to only marry a woman.  In fact, I discriminated against all other women by choosing only one, eliminating the legions of other women that I could have chosen.  Well, maybe not that many.  A few.  A couple of them.  (In fact, it was my wife that discriminated and chose me from all the other men.)

Trust and mistrust, prejudice and discrimination, are therefore essential parts of daily living.  I trust my airplane mechanic to make sure that all the parts on my 1993 plane are still in working order.  I am prejudiced against every single grizzly bear.  And I discriminate against many fruits (wishing Eve had done the same).  Prejudice and discrimination are wrong when they are done unfairly.

It is when someone violates our trust that our foundations in our relationship with that person are shaken.  We judge someone to be reliable, we trust them to do something for us, and they let us down.  Now our trust is broken, our belief in their reliability is shaken, and we must determine if this is a single event or if it requires us to define them as untrustworthy.  Do we become prejudiced against them, and assume that we must now "pre-judge" their future reliability, and do we discriminate against them, separating them from the people that we do trust?

The Bible give us some direction.  First, as Christians we are to love them.  If we have a problem with them, we are to take it to them.  If they still do not see the error of their ways, we are to take other Christians with us to discuss the matter.  If they repent, we are to forgive them.  If they reject us, we are then entitled to mark them as untrustworthy, meaning judge them as untrustworthy, and discriminate against them.  We are still obliged to love them and forgive them, but it does not mean that we do not see the truth about them. 

In the 1980's, Ronald Reagan had many negotiations with the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.  Reagan frequently appropriated and used a Russian proverb when dealing with Gorbachev, "doveryai, no proverai", meaning "trust, but verify", and it was through Reagan that this phrase actually entered modern discourse.  However, I would submit that this is a false proverb.  If you have to verify that someone is truthful or reliable, you can not really trust them. An accurate belief of trust does not require verification. 

Many of us are too trusting, and will be shaken time and again when we find our beliefs to be untrue.  Many others are incapable of trusting, and will never be able to have fulfilling relationships or even successful lives because at some level a basic level of trust is a requirement to function in society.  Only the recluse or hermit has one person that they can trust, themselves--to some extent.

There are some lessons for the Christian here that are essential if we are to deal with our fellow man.  First, we are to ardently strive in advance to determine if someone is worthy of our trust.  The Ponzi investors were looking for something that would make them rich quick, and they failed to assess the man or his methods to correctly decide if he merited their trust.   The Bible warns us in Psalms 118:8, "It is better to put trust in the Lord than confidence in men." Secondly, none of us are perfect, and others will let us down from time to time.  We must not rush to judgment, nor become incorrectly prejudiced against them, or unnecessarily discriminate against them.  We are to continue to love them and forgive them.  Yet nowhere are we to be commanded to be fools.  We must use our God-given wisdom to evaluate and discern how to proceed.  As mentioned earlier, love in its fullest sense requires trust; to love those we do not trust we must trust in God.

Thirdly, we must always strive to ensure that no one ever has any doubt to trust us, and it is sobering to ask yourself, "Have I ever done something that would cause another person not to trust me?"  Fourth, the hermit or recluse, and even ourselves, must be careful about trusting in one's self.  We learn in Proverbs 3:5 to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."  Finally, there are three persons that are perfectly and always trustworthy, the Father, Son, and Spirit.  There never needs to be any verification of their reliability.  In fact, not trusting in them will result in spending eternity with Satan, the most untrustworthy being of all.  You don't have to trust me on this, just His Word.  And I don't care how cute your pet rattlesnake is, I don't trust him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Picking and Choosing

One of life's most important duties is made in the choosing of people.  Choosing the right person for the job, our friendship, and our other associates is so crucial, yet so often it is done with less deliberation than it requires.  Sometimes, the choosing is done carelessly or even randomly.  Choosing the leaders of our country is so important that the consequences of choosing poorly can be catastrophic for our nation; we have seen in recent weeks the results of choosing Supreme Court justices who do not much believe in the Constitution.

Other than choosing to follow Christ, there is no more important choice to be made in this earthly existence than the person we marry.  A key choice to be made is where to worship, and under whose direction.  Many people, especially young people, would be much better served if they chose their friends carefully, for often times our close associates have more influence on us than we would like to admit. 

In the Bible, there are several instances where people were carefully chosen for their duties.  In Judges chapter 7, we are told of instructions God gave to Gideon as he prepared his army to attack the Midianites.  God felt that it was important to demonstrate His divine providence by having Gideon obtain victory in circumstances that would be otherwise impossible.  He did not want Gideon winning the battle with a large number of men.  In verse 2, "The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying "'My own hand has saved me.'"   First, God told Gideon to dismiss anyone who was afraid, and promptly 22,000 up and left, leaving 10,00 behind.  Then He told Gideon to send his men down by the water, and told him to separate the men by the way that they drank the water, and he retained only the 300 men that brought the water to their mouths by their hands.  And with only those 300 carefully chosen men, Gideon and his small army defeated the Midianites.

In Luke chapter 6, verse 12, we hear about Christ praying all night before a decision about choosing people:  "In those days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles."  We can see by studying our Savior how important it is to choose people carefully, and consult God when we do so.

As a physician, I can assure you that it is extremely important when you need treatment to choose your doctor carefully.  Likewise, it is critical that we choose the correct people to become doctors and train in the art and science of medicine.  There are many who resent physicians, claiming they are paid too much and have undeserved prestige.  However, the fundamental laws of economics, rewards and penalties, costs and benefits,  play a role in who becomes a physician.  When a profession becomes unattractive financially or burdened by regulation, fewer people desire to expend the costs to enter that profession.  We have seen an unbelievable decline in people who want to train in my own specialty, Cardiac Surgery, over the last few decades. 

When I applied for a residency in heart surgery, it was a highly sought after specialty, and you pretty much needed to be near the top of your class to get a training spot.  Shortly after I entered private practice, and Medicare reimbursement began to be cut drastically, we began to see a sharp fall in the people who would be willing to spend four years in college, four years in medical school, and eight years in residency to be an open heart surgeon.  In 1997, the number of applicants still exceeded the number of training positions, although the number of those positions had been reduced.  At that time, there were 176 people in America who wanted to train in the 143 slots available.  Currently, because so few people want to be a heart surgeon nowadays, the number of training slots has been reduced to 102, but only 80 people applied for those positions in 2012; only 80 people in a country of 300 million wanted to be a heart surgeon.  As the residency programs still need to fill their positions in a time of declining demand, the quality of the trainees declines.  Last year saw the highest failure rate on the Thoracic Surgery Board Examinations ever. 

Likewise, we see entire medical school classes graduating where no one wants to go into General Surgery.  It has become obvious to the residency programs that the quality of those entering such training has also diminished.  Up to one-third of doctors graduating from General Surgery training are felt to need remedial training.  When the number of people applying to train in General or Cardiac Surgery plummets, the residency directors can 't be picky about who they let in any more.

Even if you think that health care is a right and there should be a nationalized health care system providing care to Americans that they do not individually have to pay for, and that physicians should be paid much less because they are over-valued, you cannot force people at gunpoint to exchange valuable years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational debt to become doctors and not see commensurate rewards.  And this leads to a severe shortage in qualified applicants. 

I am not writing this to whine or to seek pity.  I have had a good career that is clearly over half-way over; I am trying to address the problems the patients of the future will face with their doctors.  You may feel that doctors are overpaid and over-valued by society.  But with increasing regulations, paperwork and other governmental burdens, compounded by declining reimbursements, we see that the number and quality of physicians in some specialties is falling off a cliff.   You may want to pick your doctor carefully, but you need to be aware of the "pool" of applicants from whence he came. 

Now we come to the real tectonic shift in the grounds for choosing who will be a doctor.  When I applied for medical school, only one in seven applicants was accepted, and at my particular medical school, it was one in twelve.  One of the tests we all had to take was the MCAT, Medical Colleges Admissions Test, sort of like an SAT for aspiring physicians.  Not only did we have to have decent grades, we had to score well on this test.  We were tested on the knowledge we had acquired as undergraduates that we would need to succeed in medical school and as practicing doctors.  We were tested on biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics, and biochemistry.  It was an exceedingly rigorous examination, designed to select only those with an aptitude for learning the intricacies of the human body and its diseases.   In medical school, we would later learn every muscle, tendon, nerve and bone in the body.  We would learn every single chemical reaction and hormone, and the derangements of these functions as they caused illness. 

The powers that be have now decided that a new test is needed to choose the doctors of tomorrow.  The new MCAT will test medical school applicants with questions designed to test their knowledge of "psychology, sociology, and the biological foundations of behavior."  There will be a review of "social inequality, class consciousness, racial and ethnic identity, 'institutional racism and discrimination', and 'power, privilege, and prestige'".

The MCAT's are going to qualify these people to become doctors not on their knowledge of all things medical, but by testing for their comprehension of "social inequality", "class consciousness", and so forth.  I don't know about you, but when I go to the doctor, I could not care less about their views on such matters.  I want them to have a deep and full understanding of how my illness needs to be diagnosed and treated.  I really am not interested in how much you know about "institutional racism and discrimination", I want to know how much you know about curing my thyroid problem or my cancer.  If I am seeing you as a patient and you are a surgeon, when you walk into the examining room I will wonder if you were one of the one in three who had to do remedial training before you were released to perform surgery without supervision, and who cares what your views are on "power, privilege, and prestige"?

God is sovereign over all, and yet we are allowed to make choices.  He has shown us in His Bible the importance of picking and choosing wisely.  Ironically, those who choose who will be a doctor today will likely one day in advancing age be patients who will need the utmost of skill and knowledge to diagnose and treat their illnesses, and will they then regret their choices?   Those who vote for leaders that create the unwelcome environment in which physicians practice will also be receiving care from doctors that were poorly qualified applicants who were some of the few available for positions where there was not much competition.   Unfortunately, almost all of us at one time will need healing services delivered by those chosen not for their aptitude for medicine but for their politically correct social beliefs.  As a physician and Christian, my counsel to you would to be to pray to never get sick. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


There is a very powerful old movie from 1961 that I recently watched again called, "Judgment at Nuremberg".  It requires some stamina to watch the entire film, for it is over three hours long, and its subject matter is often painful and difficult to watch.  It is about one of the trials of Nazi war criminals held after World War II in Nuremberg, Germany.  After the Allies had defeated the Axis, war crime trials were held in Germany to hold accountable the Nazis who had led their war effort and committed atrocities.  There were actually many sets of trials; the first was for the Nazi commanders, and there was another series of twelve trials for other defendants.  The most famous of those twelve trials was the Doctor's Trial, where physicians were tried for human experimentation and mass murder.  The movie dealt with another of those twelve trials, the Judges Trial.  Accused of ordering the deaths of innocent civilians and arranging for  millions to be sent to concentration camps, the Nazi judges claimed they were only following the laws as written. Those laws were primarily directed at the Jews.

Those laws crept insidiously into the German landscape, in only the span of a generation.  Many of you will remember Surviving the Suffering articles from a couple of years ago (Not Quite Human) documenting the growth in  German society of widespread anti-Semitism.  In the late 1800's, the Jewish people in Germany were granted full citizenship, but by the turn of the century, the public at large began to turn on the Jews.  There eventually was a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses.  A law was passed called, "The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service," which prevented Jews from holding any civil service jobs.  The Nuremberg Laws, named for the same city in which the trials would be held decades later, stripped the Jews of their citizenship, and Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jewish Germans.  A few years later, there was a night where there was widespread destruction of Jewish businesses, called Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), so named because of the broken glass that littered the streets.  By the end of the war, six million Jews had been sent to their deaths in the camps.

All of this occurred in Western Civilization less than a hundred years ago; there are people alive today that lived through this, and I have met them.  It is nearly impossible to believe that a country could change like that, and that there would be so much outrage directed against a particular religious group.  But public opinion changed in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, and the leaders of the nation incrementally added laws in a step-wise fashion to achieve their ends.  Aided by the judges who claimed to only doing their duty, the unimaginable occurred, and it is still within living memory of many. 

This last week saw our own Supreme Court judges create their own laws, essentially legislating while claiming not to do so.  In the case of the Affordable Care Act, they took a law that very explicitly said one thing, and declared that it did not really mean it; this was not a constitutional question, but simply a matter of interpretation.  With gay marriage, they invented a right that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution.  As the writer Kevin Williamson put it, in the first case they took a law that said one thing and said it didn't, and in the second case they took a Constitution that didn't say something and said that it did.  One of our Fathers, John Adams, described the ideal government as, "a government of laws, not men."  Sadly, our government has become the opposite, where judges that are not accountable to the electorate create and change laws, in a step-wise fashion, to suit the purposes of the government, not the people.  Who will hold these judges accountable; who judges the judges?

Our heavenly Father is the ultimate judge, and His Son Christ will render judgment when He returns.  No one, not a single person, will escape judgment.  If you are a sincere Christian, you are aware of how fallen you are, and how little you deserve entry into heaven.  It is only because of God's mercy and your faith in Christ Jesus that you will be judged righteous and allowed to live in eternity with Him.  Each of us will have to appear before Him and give account of our deeds.  All earthly judges will likewise stand in the presence of our Sovereign Lord and Master, but not to try and use tortured legal reasoning to explain why they created rulings that defied Him.  God has given us our Law very clearly, and there is not a case to be brought before Him to overrule his decrees. 

There is also precedent for judgment in the here and now, before the return of Christ.  Our country has nearly completed the process of turning its back on God and His moral instruction, just as it has turned its back on the Constitution.  The former necessarily precedes the latter.  As John Adams also stated, "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  When the people are no longer moral and religious, the Constitution becomes useless to them.  If we discard God, we may as well throw out the Constitution, and then the judges-- men-- rule, and not the law.  Society may turn against Bible-believing Christians, and we may experience ostracism and outrage as we practice our faith, and the attitudes of the country will have changed in only a few decades, in only the span of a generation.  We are already seeing the boycotting of Christian-run businesses, as public opinion changes in the first half of this century.

God has and does judge nations and people.  In Daniel, chapter 5, King Belshazaar of the Chaldeans held a feast, and while drinking wine a hand wrote on the wall of the palace these words: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.  Daniel interpreted these words for the king.  Upharsin meant that his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians.  Mene meant that the days of the kingdom had been numbered and it would be brought to an end. 

TEKEL was interpreted thus: "You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting."  America is on the scales, and God is checking the balances.  If we are found wanting, TEKEL, then it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31) and have Him pronounce MENE, MENE.  I do not know what the fourth word of the sentence would be for America; I suppose there is a remote possibility it could still be UPHARSIN, the Persians, into whose hands we could be given if they obtain nuclear devices.  Yet as we appear to live in the time of the judges, it is appropriate to look at the book of the same name, Judges 21:25, wherein it states, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  I am afraid that the sentence God will pass on America is MENE, MENE, TEKEL, YOURSELVES.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Don't You Care At All?

One of the charges occasionally leveled at Christian conservatives is that they are not compassionate.  This often wounds us as such, leading to confusion and even feelings of guilt because this is such a serious accusation.  Christians, who are supposed to be our brother's keepers, have a hard time responding to people who basically are saying that we do not care about others, and not only are we guilty of that sin, but we are also guilty of hypocrisy.  It is really two accusations in one.

The word compassion comes from the Latin "com", meaning "together", and "pati", which means "to suffer".  We are to come along side of those who suffer and do what we can to alleviate it.  For the Christian, our instructions are clear.  We are to be generous and helpful to those in need.  James 1:27 tells us to, "...visit orphans and widows in their trouble..."  In Matthew 25:35-36, Christ commends those who act out of compassion: "I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me."  And Luke 16:19-31 tells us of the story of Lazarus and the rich man, and the perils of ignoring those in need.

Christian charity blesses both the recipient and the giver.  All of us are to be dependent on God, who promises us that our basic needs will be met.  For other needs, we are to pray, and for those who are needy, God uses charity to answer those prayers and meet those needs.  The giver is submissive to God's will, and God directs and moves his heart to be obedient, and in doing so is also blessed.  Those of us who are blessed more are to in return bless others.  This is the very essence of Christian compassion.

However, I can tell you what compassion is not.  It is not socialism or communism.  If you had a neighbor in great need, perhaps due to illness, you might be led to help that person financially.  But if you received a knock on the door with some official forcing you to turn over your earnings to pay someone else's medical bills, that would be a different matter.  The forcible taking of something from one person and giving it to another is not compassionate or Biblical.  In this situation, the government becomes God, and the command of God to be generous becomes the demand of the state to fork over money, to be distributed as the government sees fit.  Rather than God directing our hearts to give to those in need, the government decides how much it will take from one, and how much and to whom it is to be given.  Neither party receives a blessing from God; one receives a legal demand and the other an entitlement.  The Accuser points a finger and says, "How can you be a Christian and not want to give this or that government benefit?"  Compassion comes from the heart, not the Treasury. 

Compassion is not erasing the law.  We do not live in a theocracy, but rather God has ordained civil government to pass laws to organize society and protect citizens.  The morality of individuals is the church's concern, and civil order is the state's.  Laws are enacted to guard the public, and the Bible enjoins us as good citizens to obey those laws unless they clearly conflict with the Word of God.  A law that is not enforced or obeyed is no law at all.  We have a large number of illegal immigrants in our country, who have not obeyed the laws of this land, and these laws are not being enforced as they should.  If there are good reasons in this country for passing immigration laws, and there are, then they are to be obeyed and enforced.  The illegal immigrant came here by choice, not obeying those laws;  to allow this to continue, or grant amnesty, invalidates those laws.  The Accuser condemns the conservative believer, "How can you Christians call yourselves compassionate and not want to help those who have come here to seek a better life?"  Compassion seeks to ease suffering, but does not enable law-breaking.

Compassion is not violating the Word of God.  God has given us His own set of laws, and where they are clear, we are not to allow misguided compassion to overturn His commandments.  God forbids the taking of innocent life, so no amount of compassion for a single mother allows us to support aborting her baby.  God forbids sexual immorality, and a gay couple is not to be "married"; compassion does not permit us to endorse such a union, even if those who desire it consider themselves to be suffering.  The Golden Rule does not permit sin.  As I mentioned in an earlier article, "do unto others as we would have them do unto us does not mean  to help others to do whatever they wish."  The Accuser contests our beliefs, saying, "How can you Christians have so little compassion that you do not allow others to live as they wish?"  Compassion understands the unhappiness of others, but does not  compromise His commands.

Our system of government is not perfect, nor is our capitalist economic system.  As Winston Churchill stated, "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."  As for economics, you must remember that all of the major religions were from outside of Western civilization (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) and all of the major economic systems came from Western civilizations (capitalism, fascism, socialism, communism).  Capitalism incorporates more Christian ideals than the other forms of economics, particularly in the concepts of individual responsibility to God and for oneself.  Is capitalism compassionate?  In sense, yes.  Of all the economic systems, capitalism provides the greatest benefit for all, the highest standard of living, the greatest freedom, and the least dependency.  The countries with the greatest differences in incomes, with great wealth and great poverty, are the socialist ones. 

Compassion not considered is devastating in its consequences.  Compassion that forces one to pay for another is theft, and this encourages further dependency.  Compassion that permits illegality invalidates the law, and this encourages further law-breaking.  Compassion that violates God's Word is itself immoral, and encourages further immorality.  Compassion is not communism.  Compassion does not condone crime.  Compassion does not compromise with sin.  Compassion is Christian caring, furthering God's kingdom with charity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Frozen Chosen

Let me be clear; I am a heart surgeon and not a theologian.  I cannot claim to be a definitive authority on complex biblical issues, but that doesn't stop me from trying to understand God's works and purposes in this world.  The intersection of medicine and Christianity can become quite complex, and many of the technologies that have developed only in the last few decades have made it difficult to apply His purposes and principles to certain situations.  For thousands and thousands of years, man has had no confusion about what the Bible has to say and what God commands.  Only in perhaps the last fifty years have we been clouded by technology.

For centuries, philosophers argued about the existence of the soul, but the Bible makes it clear that there is one given to each human that has been conceived.  In addition, for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to reside within them.  Wherein lies the soul and Spirit in the body, and when do they enter, and when do they depart?

The ancients at times believed the soul lay hidden in the heart, and sometimes even the liver was suspected of being a residence.  The Christian view is that the soul does not have its existence dependent on the corporeal body, and in fact survives when the body dies.  The soul is thought to enter the human body at conception, and depart upon death.  From a medical standpoint, we know that the soul does not reside in the arms or legs, for they can be lost.  From a cardiac surgeon's standpoint, the soul is not in the heart; I have taken the heart from a deceased person and transplanted it into another living person, but the recipient's mind and soul remained their own.  It would seem, however, that although the soul can exist apart from the body, it manifests its presence in the brain.  I believe a mind is a prerequisite for having a soul.

A dead person has neither soul nor can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  The only thing that remains is the deteriorating flesh of what was once a vital person.  The soul does not live in a woman's eggs or a man's sperm, but once life is created, enters within. Although the brain does not yet exist in reality in the embryo, with thoughts and consciousness, there is the full potential for a functioning, thinking, rational human being, and the soul awaits the blossoming of brain waves, then conscious thought, birth, and speech. 

I can think of two cases where a body is alive, but there is no functioning brain, thought, or consciousness.  The most obvious is the brain-dead patient, from whence we obtain those organs for transplantation mentioned earlier.  I have been called upon in my career to make brain death determinations.  There is often a quite detailed list of assessments that must be made.  The first is an apnea test, to see if the patient will breathe on their own, without a respirator; they usually must be disconnected for ten minutes to see if they will draw a breath.  Another is to do an EEG or electroencephalogram, to see if any brain waves are present.  There is the test for reflexes, usually the last of the signs of physical life to leave, such as stroking the corneas with a cotton swab to see if there is blinking, or even putting cold water into the ear canal to see if the eyes will twitch.  The back of the throat is stimulated, to see if there is any gagging.  If the body makes no attempt to breathe, has a flat EEG, and has no reflexes, they are declared brain dead.  They are simply a body of flesh with some functioning organs that is kept alive by machines.  Whatever made them a person is gone.  I feel fairly confident that their soul has departed and the Holy Spirit does not reside within. 

The second instance is an infant born with anencephaly.  This is a catastrophic birth defect where a child is born essentially without a major portion of their brain.  In particular, the cerebrum and the skull are absent, and this is where thinking and consciousness occur.  These unfortunate infants have a lower brain portion and spinal column, and may have some reflexes, but will die within a few hours or days without ever having a conscious thought.  Their appearance can be quite distressing, but here is an illustration that is not unduly gruesome and gives you the general idea:


It would seem to me that with no consciousness and no potential for consciousness, a soul would never be able to be manifest, and God only knows if there was one from conception until death. 

Where we run into real problems, from the anencephalic at conception to the brain-dead at death, is all the cases in between.  Does a severely mentally disabled child have a soul?  It think so.  However, I have seen someone that for all intents and purposes was brain dead, with no spontaneous breathing, no brain-waves on EEG, and all reflexes gone except the blink reflex in one eye when the cornea was stroked.  Is there still a soul in that body?  I doubt it, and indeed in that person event the blink reflex eventually disappeared.  And what about those in comas, or vegetative states, do they still have souls?  In that case, I think they still do.  And those at the other end of life with severe dementia, I certainly believe that they still have a soul residing within. 

I do not have the ability or the authority from God to make these determinations in all cases.  Life belongs to Him.  The anencephalic child will die according to His will; the mentally disabled, comatose, and demented will live and struggle according to His plans, and for His purposes.  For those who accepted Christ before their coma, dementia, or brain-death, I think they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and will receive eternal life.  For those who are born without the ability to rationally understand or accept Jesus, I believe God will have a dispensation of mercy, as it is thought by many that He does when a young normal child dies.

To make matters even more difficult, there is the question of all those embryos.  There are a lot more of them out there than you think there are.  Depending on whose statistics you believe, it is possible that there are up to three times as many embryos created that will not make it to a functional pregnancy as those that will, and of the confirmed pregnancies, fifteen to thirty per cent will have a miscarriage.  It is also felt that of all these embryos that do not make it to a live birth, sixty per cent were defective in some form, in a way that would have precluded them from drawing a breath outside the womb.  Though somehow deformed in their development, and with God's sovereign will declaring their death before life, from a Christian standpoint, each was endowed with a soul at conception.  Many also believe that God will grant mercy to these unborn children as well as the born, and entry into heaven will be allowed.  Then there are the million babies deliberately sacrificed in the womb with legalized abortion.  They have souls, and in their innocence, I believe God will spare them, too. If you think the world is full of strangers now, it is possible that heaven will be filled with three times as many people that never saw the light of day. 

In vitro fertilization is a sensitive subject, but it needs to be brought up.  In this process, eggs are harvested from the woman and combined with the man's sperm.  Several embryos are created.  Some will die in the culture dish, and of those that survive, the best-looking specimens under the microscope will be implanted, in hopes of a pregnancy.  Only thirty per cent of in vitro procedures will result in a pregnancy, so seventy per cent of the implanted embryos will die of a miscarriage.  The ones that are not implanted will be destroyed, which is essentially the same as an abortion.  My wife and I, who are childless, could not allow ourselves to participate in this process and create embryos that would be potentially destroyed.  Embryos apparently can be adopted out; they can also be stored.  This means frozen. 

We see in the news that a well known actress and her husband created a bunch of embryos (I would call them people), then froze them for later use.  They since have divorced, and are now fighting over their embryos or property (I would call them people).  These embryos, the first stage of life, who in the womb would continuously grow and develop until leaving the mother's birth canal to draw breath, learn to speak, take steps, go to school, learn and play, are now in a freezer.  And what of their souls?  I assume the souls entered into the embryos at conception, and since they are not dead, still reside there.  What does a soul do in a freezer?  Are God's purposes for the life He created fulfilled in sub-zero storage?  How arrogant of man (and woman) to do this with a life, when all life belongs to Him.

Those of us who are Calvinists believe that God choses His elect.  And we jokingly refer to those who have accepted Christ yet seem to lack fervor as the "frozen chosen".  Some of those embryos were ordained by God before the beginning of time to be born and grow to love His Son Christ and receive Him as their Savior, destined to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  They were chosen by Him as His own, and now they are frozen.  They lie in suspended animation, awaiting to be born, and just as the aborted fetus cries not to be put to death, the frozen embryo cries to be put to birth.  For this, they must be thawed, just as God needs to thaw the glacial hearts of those who put them into the icebox.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Morbid Felicity

Next weekend my wife and I will host our annual barbecue. We generally have a couple of hundred guests and provide them with hickory-smoked ribs and pulled pork, beef brisket, wings, Brunswick stew, baked beans and coleslaw.  We have been doing these events for over a decade now, and it is wonderful to see all of our friends and watch them enjoying themselves and the food.  It is an enormous feast. The food is not in keeping with the most modern of nutritional principles, but is full of red meat and calories.  I suspect many of our guests will leave at least a couple of pounds heavier than when they arrived.  As a practicing heart surgeon, I strive to keep everyone's cholesterol and sodium levels as high as possible; it's good for business.   Seriously, occasionally indulging in a meal of this sort is not a problem at all.  It becomes a problem when there is a pattern of overeating.

Obesity is a real problem in the United States.  A third of the population is overweight and another third is obese.  In case you think that I have never struggled with being overweight, I can share with you that I used to weigh forty-five pounds more when I was playing football in college.  Putting the weight on is easier than taking it off and keeping it off.  And for some poor souls, the repeated eating of too much causes them to be morbidly obese.  This used to be defined as being twice the ideal weight or a hundred pounds overweight, but now is defined based on height and weight calculations.  Feasting too much, too often, can cause real problems.

Our modern world has taken many biblical principles and inverted them, and that is why the Christian is to be in the world but not of it.  There is a central tenet regarding the nature of man that is in diametrical opposition between Christian and secular world views, and this is so crucial that it is a defining principle for Christians.  In fact, the answer to this question can tell you if a person is a Christian or not with a high degree of reliability.  That question is, "Is man born basically good or bad?"  Modern teaching and the secular world would have it that all people are born good, yet it is the corrupting influence of society that makes men do bad things.  The Christian knows that the Bible teaches that all men since Adam are born in sin, with a central sin nature.  It is only faith in Christ that can deliver us from that nature. 

The secular world would have us believe in the essential requirement of "self-esteem."  As we discussed some time ago, this means "self-estimation" and comes from the same root word as estimate, as in to appraise the value of something.  We are told that people are dysfunctional because they have low self-esteem, a low sense of self-worth, and that causes all manner of ills.  The Christian knows that the problem is sin, cured by faith in Christ, but the humanistic world tells you that the problem is low self-esteem, and the treatment is to get some more.  And one of the ways to do that is by praise. 

We love to hear words of praise.  They soothe us from the moment they caress our ears, and lead to a warmed heart and make us feel good about ourselves.  But I would tell you that we should not let the words of another determine our worth.  God would look at us and see a derelict sinner deserving damnation, but for Christians he sees the righteousness of His son Jesus Christ; our value and worth to God is what is given to us by His grace through His Son.  When a Christian hears words of praise for his deeds, he should react in two ways.  He should first be encouraged that he is doing what God would have him do, and doing it correctly.  If the Christian hears this praise repeatedly, it may be inferred that he is good at what he is doing.  Secondly, he should never take the words of man and decide that they declare him a good person, better or superior to others. Philippians 2:3 teaches, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." And Paul tells us in Romans 12:3, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."

A good person will do good things; however, you cannot infer the opposite, that someone who does good things is always a good person.  Even bad people can do good things.  And even if someone repeatedly does good things, or does things well, it does not certify their good status before God.  Only faith in Christ can do this.   This week we have seen the NFL report on their investigation of Tom Brady and his team deflating footballs for a playoff game to make them easier to grasp and catch.  You may say that Tom Brady is good at playing football, and even that he is a good quarterback.  But can you say that Tom Brady is a good person?  According to the report, he cheated, and that is stealing, taking from the opponent a fair chance at play.  And cheating usually violates a second commandment, that of bearing false witness, because cheaters will not tell the truth about what they have done. Why would a multimillionaire, full of fame and fortune, with so much worldly success, resort to cheating? 

Jesus described the problem in John 14:44, "...for they love the praise of men more than the praise of God."  We can so enjoy the praise of others that we feast upon it.  It becomes nourishment to us, and even an addiction for some.  We savor each flattering word that enters into our ears, and we strive to do anything that will yield us more of these delicious morsels.  I confess that I have been guilty of this.  And even Paul tells us that this once was a vice for him in Galatians 1:10, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?  Or am I striving to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."  The word "felicity" can mean "happiness" or "joy".  I would say that if you overindulge in food continuously  you can end up with morbid obesity, but if you continue to relish the praise of men and rely on that for your happiness or joy you are suffering from morbid felicity. 

We are born in sin, and only faith in Christ Jesus can release us from that bondage.  All the words of praise from men will not make us good, and should not lead the Christian to believe that, nor should he crave it. The only source of goodness and righteousness is God, and our "self-esteem" is irrelevant; it is only "God-esteem" that counts, and He determines our worth through His son Jesus.  If you feast on full meals over and over, you get an expanded waistline.  If you feast on the praise of men over and over, you get a swollen ego.  The first makes it hard to slip on your clothes over your hips, but the second makes it hard to put on Christ's white robe of righteousness over your big fat head.