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. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Going to the Store with Einstein

"Annus Mirabilis" is a Latin phrase meaning "extraordinary year" (or "year of miracles"), and although it has been applied to many different years, one of the most significant was 1905.  It was in that year that Albert Einstein published not one, but four ground-breaking papers, on the special theory of relativity, the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and mass-energy equivalence.  The last of these four yielded his famous equation, e = mc2, but it is the first of these that I would like to explore.

In the special theory of relativity, Einstein took a good, long, hard look at existing physics and found it wanting.  Physics up until that time had been dominated by the theories of Sir Isaac Newton. He turned the world of existing Newtonian physics upside down by making a surprising assumption.  All of the things that we think are constant in this material world, things such as size and shape, mass and time, are not truly constant depending on when and how the measuring is done.  The only thing that is constant is the speed of light.  This leads to some rather amazing conclusions.  For instance, as you accelerate an object, it actually shortens in length and gains mass.  For speeds such as we see usually see here on earth, this is imperceptible.  At speeds approaching that of the speed of light, the effects are profound; it is like dividing by zero.  An object at the speed of light would actually be infinite in mass and infinitely shortened.  And this explains why according to the theory of relativity, nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light. The closest we can come is when scientists use particle accelerators, and by moving particles near the speed of light, these changes can begin to be detected. 

The word "relativity" was meant to describe events as they were "relative" to an observer.  If a person was in a spaceship accelerated to near the speed of light, they would not notice these effects.  It is the observer who measures the increase in mass and the shortening of length.  And time undergoes changes as well, when measured by an outside observer.  For the person in such a space ship, they would experience the normal passage of time, and the outside observer would experience their usual passage of time, but these would actually be quite different.  Time would run much slower in the ship, the so-called "time-dilation" effect, and a journey that would seem only a few years in the ship travelling to and from Earth near the speed of light would last hundreds of years for the observer here on Earth.  Each would objectively measure the same event with different results.

People have used the word "relatively" to describe things a little differently than "relativity", and when applied to other matters "relatively" describes a subjective sense. It has been jokingly said that the duration of time is "relative" to which side of the bathroom door you are standing on.  Clearly some things seem to be over in an instant, and others drag on endlessly, but our clocks are not running faster or slower because of some phenomenon of "relativity", and it is only how we perceive the passage of that time in those circumstances.

When your loved one tells you that they are going to the store for fifteen minutes to pick up some milk, do you grieve?  Or if you came home and unexpectedly found a note from your spouse that they had run to the hardware store for a short time, would you be devastated?  I would expect not, for you know that they would return in such a brief time that their momentary absence would not make you feel deprived in the least.  It would hardly be noticed.

As a heart surgeon and physician, I occasionally must deal with the death of a patient, someone's parent or spouse.  I am of the age that occasionally friends and acquaintances pass away, and I have also lost loved ones.  I know the heart-wrenching grief and sense of loss that comes with this, and would never try and console someone by minimizing what they are experiencing or sugar-coating it.  But for the Christian, there is some hope in understanding the nature of God's time.

The saved Christian will spend eternity in heaven with God and other Christians.  Just as travelling at the speed of light causes changes that are like dividing by zero and infinite, God's eternity is like dividing time not by days or weeks or months or years, but like dividing by zero. Eternity is infinite time.  You may miss your loved one dearly , and depending on the time of loss, may miss them for years or decades.  But you will be reunited with them in heaven, and their absence will seem so very, very brief.  If you recall the final verse of "Amazing Grace":
                        When we've been there ten thousand years
                                Bright shining as the sun
                        We've no less days, to sing His praise
                                than when we'd first begun.

After you have been reunited with your loved one in heaven for the first ten thousand years, the twenty years you were apart on Earth will seem like only a moment, that they had only gone for a quick trip around the corner to the store.  And after the next ten thousand, and the next, it will seem even shorter still.  The passage of those years of loss on earth will eventually seem like a split-second.  We can look to our future in heaven with the truest of joy, for eternity with those who have meant so much to us. 

Newton was right and Einstein was wrong. "Amazing Grace" was written by John Newton, and in this case I think that this Newton, not Isaac, described God's time.  Einstein was an agnostic, and although he did not deny the possibility of God, he did not believe in a personal God at all.  I am curious how he first came to embrace the concepts of relativity, but there is some deeper underlying truth to his assumptions.  All of the things that the world thinks are constant, mass and size and time, are really not constant at all.  They will all fade away when Christ returns.  It truly is only light that is constant, the Light of the Glory of God, which will shine forever. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

God's Mistake

Christians understand in principle that Jesus Christ died for their sins.  We read our Bible and watch Christian movies, and are saddened to see someone brutalized and murdered who did not deserve it.  But there are many things that make His death seem as merely a historical event, an action taken by God, and not something of personal import. There are several reasons that is so.

Christ's crucifixion occurred over two thousand years ago.  It occurred long before we were born, and certainly we were not there to witness it or even have anything to do with His trial and execution.  Most people alive today cannot even relate to World War II, occurring only seventy years ago.  Although Christ's atonement was the most significant occurrence in the history of all mankind, it is difficult to relate personally to any event that happened so long ago. 

Secondly, although His death was ordained by a sovereign God, so are all historical events.  This can seem like simply another page in history, a matter of fact, no different than the building of the Pyramids of Giza or the burning of Rome.  It was part of God's plan all along and decreed by His will.

Lastly, in the Bible itself His upcoming execution is often described in general and impersonal terms.  In Matthew 16:21 we read, "...Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised the third day."  That sounds rather clinical, doesn't it?

Jesus is a little more descriptive in Matthew 20:18, although He refers to Himself in the third person, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify.  And the third day He will rise again."

Jesus rarely uses the word "I" in verses alluding to His death; He usually refers to Himself as the "Son of Man" when referring to His crucifixion.  Even when He tells us why He is going to do this, as He states in Matthew 20:28, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."  He becomes a little more personal when He states that "I am going away" in John 8:21 and in 14:3 "I a go to prepare a place for you."  The one place where he does use the word "I" in direct reference to His upcoming death is in John 10:15 "...I lay down My life for the sheep."

So, all in all, Christ's death can seem like an ancient historical event, a done deal long before we were born, something that we had no role or part in.  It was part of God's plan for our salvation, and for Calvinists God has sorted that out before the beginning of time, eons ago.  Christ made some largely general proclamations about what was going to happen and what He was going to do, but we weren't there to hear them. It was all over thousands of years ago.

If you truly embrace the Gospel and all that message contains, you are aware of your sinful nature.  You know of the sins you committed before your salvation and the ones since, the big ones and the little ones.  I myself sit upon a veritable mountain of accumulated sin.  Now suppose that Jesus Christ were sitting beside you.  Here is a man who did not sin, who lived a life of generosity, compassion and healing.  Perhaps you have come to realize that not only is this God's son, but God Himself, who created the universe and everything within it.  Yet He is also a man, fully human, your friend and brother, and He looks at you squarely and says, "I am going to die for you."

Your first reaction would be to be startled.  His statement would not make any sense.  "Excuse me, what did you say?"

"I am going to die for you."

"You can't be serious.  Why would you do that?"

"You  have sinned, and will continue to sin while you live.  You cannot enter My Father's heaven because of your sin; He cannot allow sin into heaven.  I will go and die for you, and My Father will accept My death as payment for your sin."

Now that is personal.  This perfect, sinless man, who has never wronged anyone, been untruthful, lusted, coveted, or robbed in any way, is going to die a horrible death.  For you.  Is it any wonder that Peter, in Matthew 16:22 tried to rebuke Jesus, saying "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"  Would you also try and rebuke Jesus?  Would you try and discourage Him from doing this for you? 

After Jesus was scourged, beaten and flayed, as you watched Him bleeding and battered carry His cross outside of Jerusalem to Calvary, on His way to be affixed to that cross with nails through His flesh, would you cry to Him, "Stop! This is wrong!  Don't die for me! You didn't sin, I did!"  You know that you were commanded to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, yet have failed to do so.  The bloody man struggling up the hill did, yet God will take His life, not yours.  Would you offer up an anguished prayer to God the Father, "Don't do this to Him!  I am the one who coveted and lusted and lied and did not honor You!  God, you are making a mistake!"

I think it helps us to understand what God gave us and what Christ did for us when we can somehow, some way erase the two thousand years between then and now.  Yes, it was an historical fact, decreed by God, but it was very personal and you do have a role in it.  Because you, a sinner, born in sin, filled with sin, and living in sin, will get to live forever with God in heaven.  You will not deserve this, nor have earned or merited it.  God will take in trade the death of Christ for your mountain of sin. God never makes mistakes, and certainly not with salvation.  I confess a doubt, however.  Some question God's goodness because of suffering in this world (a topic for another day).  I question God's wisdom at letting me into heaven. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Christ the Baker?

Believe it or not, I think there is real hazard in approaching problems with the question, "What would Jesus do?"  The safest way to use a biblical approach is to use the Bible, and a more correct question would be, "What did Jesus say?"   We are indeed left with the vast teachings of Jesus, and He pretty much covered all of the Ten Commandments as well as other aspects of the Law.  To try and use "What would Jesus do?" outside of what He said requires us to use subjective human imagination and speculation.  When people do this, all manner of doctrinal error may result, as they say, "Well, I believe that Jesus would do this or that."  "Image" and "imagine" come from the same Latin root (imago), and it is a very human tendency, a failure of fallen man, to try and remake God in our image, to imagine that He would think the way that we do. 

There were some matters that Jesus did not address specifically, and for those we have both the Old and New Testament instructions from God to lead us in our decision-making.  Unless Christ directly changed a practice, such as Jewish dietary law, then the Old Testament principles still stand.  What also changed with the New Covenant is that we no longer live in a theocracy, and the power to make and enforce laws, with the power of the sword, is granted to civil government, and civil authority is ordained by God.  We are to live our lives by biblical principles, yet obey the civil authorities unless to do so would violate God's commands. 

We are now seeing a huge divergence, a widening gap, between what our Holy God instructs us and what our lawmakers legislate.  And the majority of people in this country will now no longer turn to the Bible to decide which is correct.  Their opinions are shaped and formed not by Scripture, but by what the general public wants-- popular opinion, and this is a derivative not of objective moral law handed down by God but assembled from a morally relativistic framework.  Forget God, the Bible, and the Constitution, it is Judges 21:25 all over again, "...everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  The Supreme Court issues Roe versus Wade, and regardless of what the Bible teaches, that becomes the law of the land and legitimizes abortion in the minds of those who believe that it is government that decides and grants rights, not God.

We have recently seen conflict between those who are in states that legally allow for gay marriage and those who are Christian who do not wish to participate in a ceremony that they believe is a sinful union.  Laws have been passed to provide religious freedom in some instances, but in other cases there are bakers who have been disciplined for not making wedding cakes for gay weddings, photographers in trouble for not providing wedding photography for these ceremonies, and caterers who have been attacked for not participating in such events.  The Christian, who follows the Golden Rule, does not wish to discriminate unfairly, but neither can he accommodate sin.  What would Jesus do?  Let's look at what Jesus said.

First, Jesus did not retreat from calling out sexual sin of any kind, and He did not condone it.  In John 4, He meets the woman at the well and explains that He knows of her adulterous relationship.  Later, in John 8, when the adulterous woman is presented to Him, He turns the angry mob away, yet does not condone her adultery.  He instructs her, ".. and from now on sin no more."

Secondly, Jesus did not disagree with His Father's pronouncement of judgment on sexual immorality.  In Matthew 10:15, referring to towns that would reject the Apostles, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city."  Likewise, He did not express disapproval in Luke 17:29 when He refers to the fire and brimstone that "destroyed them all."

Thirdly, Jesus was emphatically clear on what marriage means to God in Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, "And He answered and said to them, 'Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, "'For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" There can be no doubt about what Jesus said here and His full agreement with his Father on what constitutes marriage.

Finally, Jesus held us to a higher standard, not a lower one, than the Old Testament teachings on sexual immorality.  Matthew 5:28: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  To lust for anyone, outside of a God-defined marriage, is sexual sin.  Any other arguments about what someone thinks Jesus would do or what God desires for marriage are invalid.  Even if such an argument comes from a pastor, minister, bishop, or priest. 

How would Jesus deal with gays?  Remembering that homosexuality was an offense punishable by death (just as adultery was) openly gay people would have been unheard of, and that would likely explain the lack of biblical accounts of such an interaction. We know that Jesus mixed with a wide variety of sinners, even dining with them (Matthew 9:10 and Mark 2:13.)   I believe He would associate with them, teach them, preach to them, and heal them.  But would Jesus bake them a wedding cake?

Jesus was not a baker.  But there was a time in His life when He did provide ordinary services to others.  In Mark 6:3, He is identified as a carpenter: "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?" So what would happen, what would Jesus say, what would Jesus do, if He was approached and asked to make a gay couple a wedding chest?  At the risk of ignoring my own admonition, using my own subjective human imagination and speculation, here is what I think would happen.   

Jesus would not hesitate to identify sexual sin.  He would not repudiate His Father's works in dealing with it.  He would stay true to God's definition of marriage.  He would hold people to the higher standards He set. He would not turn the gay couple away; we do not see Christ shunning those who sought Him out, even those in spiritual error.  I believe  He would very plainly and simply state, "I will make for you a chest, but it will not be a wedding chest.  For what you have is not a wedding."
Christ lived a sinless life, and was would never participate in or approve of an activity opposed by His Father, or contrary to His own teachings.  He would not attend a gay ceremony, cater it, or change their water into wine.  This would be a line He would not cross.  Although Jesus declared Himself a servant (Mark 10:45), He would not allow His service in any way to run contrary to the clear Word of God.

As Christians in these morally straining times, we must hold fast to the Bible as our source of real and objective truth.  We should strive to serve others within the bounds of God's Word, and Christ was the Word Incarnate.  A group of people declares, "All we want is to be treated equally."  We must treat all people as made in the image of God, but we cannot treat all behavior equally.  We are not to treat people badly or unfairly, regardless of who they are, but standing on biblical truth is not bad or unfair.  The Golden Rule does not in any way permit sin; do unto others as we would have them do unto us does not mean  to help others to do whatever they wish. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Morality By the Numbers

A fellow named Phil Robertson, from the popular cable television show Duck Dynasty, made some comments about homosexuality based on his religious beliefs, and an uproar has ensued.   The television network, Arts and Entertainment, suspended him from the program.  A lot of people on opposite sides of this issue have reacted strongly.  In the midst of all this furor, it behooves the thinking Christian to know where the real problem lies.

First of all, this is not a free speech issue in any sense.  The First Amendment guarantees that congress will make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  That certainly did not occur in this case, and no law prevented Mr. Robertson from speaking his mind.  He does not face any legal repercussions from doing so.  However, assuming the contractual language is correct, the A&E network is within its rights to stop doing business with him if they so desire.  Believe it or not, your employer can fire you in most cases if you speak out in ways they do not like.  Your freedom to speak is guaranteed, but not your job security.  Your boss can fire you if you publicly endorse the KKK platform or teachings of the Nazi party.

And in this great land of ours, with its free markets, we can refuse to buy products at any time we wish, for whatever reason.  A boycott is not in any way illegal.  You could boycott A&E for allowing Mr. Robertson to make his statements or you could boycott them for suspending him. 

What we are seeing here is morality by math.  A&E knows that the Duck Dynasty program is a huge money-maker with a wide audience.  But they also know that speaking out against homosexuality is going to offend a larger number of viewers.  So they calculate which is going to do more harm, supporting or suspending, and act accordingly.  I have found the Cracker Barrel weather vane more like a windmill.  Here is a company that had employment policies in the 1990's that dismissed employees that did not display "normal heterosexual values"; they actively opposed gays and their lifestyle. In this latest brouhaha, they did the math, reversed course, and decided that they would offend paying customers by continuing to carry merchandise with Mr. Robertson's image.  So they decided to discontinue those products, hoping to keep their customers as well as burnish their image as tolerant.  They were the first corporation after A&E to take such an action.  However, when toting up the numbers they discovered that their math added up the wrong way, and after their clientele bombarded them with messages supporting Mr. Robertson they reinstated those image-bearing products.  It seems that few things are as effective at determining the correct moral stance as money.

GLAAD, which used to stand for "Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation", but now just stands for "GLAAD", decided that its Biblical expertise and interpretation of the Scriptures enabled it to make the following declaration: "Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe." And: "By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value."

To look at that first statement, a Christian must ask one question: "Is homosexuality a sin?"  It is a simple yes or no question.  And the Bible is not silent on that issue.  In both Old and New Testaments, God tells us generally and specifically that the answer is yes.  I could list numerous passages wherein the Bible specifically addresses homosexuality.  However, if you decided to discard those, there is the issue of sexual immorality in general.  Looking at the Westminster Catechism, we learn in questions 137-9 that the Seventh Commandment, which forbids adultery, also forbids "fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts."  The Heidelberg Catechism similarly tells us in questions 108-9, "That all unchastity is cursed by God... he forbids all unchaste acts."  In general, if I need to know what God's opinion is on a topic, and what true Christians believe, I would look to the Scriptures before a GLAAD press release.

As far as the second statement, it is important to understand what is meant by discrimination.  In one sense of the word, it means simply to recognize and understand the difference between one thing and another.  As Christians, we are in all cases to discriminate between good and bad, between things that are sin and not sin, between the things of God and the things of this world. We cannot look to popular culture or even our laws to do this.  Although murder and theft are illegal, adultery and dishonoring our parents is not; indeed, our government, its system of transfers, and political electability is now largely based on encouraging one group of people to covet another.  The Christian uses his Bible, not popular opinion or statutes, to aid him in discriminating between right and wrong.

In the other sense of the word, discriminate means to take unfavorable action against those with whom we do not favor.  The Christian is enjoined not to do so.  James tells us in 2:1-13, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit in here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"  Phil Robertson did not discriminate against anyone by treating them unfavorably; he was discriminated against.  All he did was speak the truth from the Bible as he knew it. 

As Christians, we are not to treat poorly those who hold beliefs differently than our own.  However, we are not to passively let the world and popular culture dictate what we believe, either.  That same world and culture will oppose us vigorously.  The Word of God is no longer popular currency among those whose morality is not shaped by it but who seek to shape it in a form that suits them; rather, the currency that shapes their morality is often of the green paper kind.  We are never right to deny what the Word of God instructs us, and we are never wrong to proclaim it. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Serpents of Today

I grew up in a medium size town in North Carolina called Wilson, with a population of around thirty thousand back in the early 1960's.  My family and I went to church there, and there were the usual church activities for children available for us, such as Cub Scouts and youth choir. Outside of church, there were the sporting leagues for football and baseball, sponsored by the city recreation center.  All-in-all, as children we were around adults much of the time from Scout leaders to choir directors to coaches to Sunday School teachers and so on. 

Looking back, we uniformly respected our elder adults, and this was certainly a part of the culture at the time.  We respected their knowledge, experience, and appreciated their concern for our well-being and development. One thing in particular is noteworthy, as I recall growing up in this environment.  We never had any reason to doubt that these grown-ups were ever less than completely honest.  As children, we experienced the fibs and falsehoods of other children, but I cannot remember an adult telling me a lie.  (The only exceptions were Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.)

As I grew older and went to college, my experience was similar, with professors and coaches being honest people.  Then came medical school and residency for my career, which was another twelve years.  Those years were spent basically living in the hospital, with not much exposure to the real world of buying houses and cars and dealing with businesses.  And in those years you pretty much believed another's word; deception was not part of the culture in those institutions, either.  In many ways we were sheltered from the harshness of everyday reality. 

It really wasn't until I got out into the real world, in my thirties, that I found out that people will lie to you.  At first, it was dealing with an unscrupulous homebuilder here or car dealer there, but it was quite surprising given my previous experience.  I later worked along side people who had little integrity, and it was always a sad thing to discover.  I have often wondered why these things seemed to appear in my later life, and I guess things like this were always going on around me as a young man, but I simply didn't see them.  Lying wasn't just invented yesterday-- the serpent started in Genesis chapter three.

As Christians, we try to be humble, and Paul advises us in Philippians 2:3, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."  We try to esteem others as better, and this often leads us to be very trusting and giving others the benefit of the doubt.  In fact, I wrote earlier on this in an article, "Doubting the Benefit."  The problem arises when those others in fact are dishonest, because nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to be gullible. 

As children, we are taught to respect our government and its leaders, and that same Bible does command us to pray for them.  I Timothy 2 tells us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority..."  This is easy to do when our leaders are trustworthy men of integrity.  But God, who appoints all authorities (Romans 13:1) sometimes sees fit to appoint leaders who are dishonest and lack integrity.  His sovereign will, for reasons that are not clear to us, decrees that we who are Christians will at times live in a country governed by those who would lie to us. 

Our current president is not the first in his office to be dishonest, but a precedent of dishonesty by others does not offer one an excuse for his own behavior.  The sheer magnitude of deceit we have seen in the last few years from this administration, and its supporters in congress,  far exceeds anything I have seen in my fifty-plus years.  I may not be an expert on foreign policy or national defense or agricultural affairs, but I am an expert on our health care system and I believe I have probably delivered more health care than any of the individuals who have devised the newest attempt at government run health care delivery.  And the things that were promised to the American people by this administration were false and known to be false.  I have been asked on several occasions to speak to different groups on health care economics over the last several years, and all of the problems we are now seeing with the Affordable Care Act were known and the consequences foreseen since it was enacted.  The promises that people would be able to keep their insurance, keep their doctor, and that it would all cost them less have always been untrue. The only people who are shocked by what is going on now are the people who believed the lies. 

There are several lessons here for the Christian.  The first is to realize that people really will be dishonest with you in order to advance their own agenda.  God knew that just as sin entered the world through the first lie told by the serpent that lies would be a part of human existence ever since.  The second lesson is that God despises lying.  Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us that God hates a lying tongue.  Leviticus 19:11 commands us not to lie to one another.  And make no mistake about it, making false promises is lying.  Some have said, "Well, all politicians do it.  It is just a political lie."  That is absurd.  It is a lie no matter how many others may do it, and a "political" lie can be just as damaging and harmful as any other.  It teaches us that our government and leaders are not to be trusted, and damages the integrity of these institutions.

Why do people believe lies in the first place?  For one thing, it is easy to swallow a lie if it is telling you something you want to hear.  Eve thought it would be wonderful to be as knowledgeable as God.  And many people who wanted to see our health care system changed wanted to believe that this new program would do what they said it would do.  Secondly, believing a lie is often the easy thing to do, the lazy thing.  When presented with a proposition, it takes actual work to go out and research whether or not the facts are true and the arguments are supported.  It is easier to just say, "Well, that sounds good to me."  The fact of the matter is that not only are people who tell lies not supposed to do that, the people on the receiving end have a responsibility to educate themselves and study what is being proposed before deciding to accept it.  The Bereans in Acts 17 were commended because they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."  Christ Himself warned his disciples to not be gullible, to be "wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16).  So a third lesson is that we are not to take these things at face value, we are to study them, that we may not be easily deceived.

Asclepius was the Greek god associated with healing.  He had a symbol called the "Rod of Asclepius", which had a rod surrounded by a single serpent:


This symbol has long been associated with the healing arts and medicine.  Unfortunately, because people did not study the origins of this symbol, another symbol became accepted into medicine instead, called the "Caduceus":


This symbol is that of the Greek god Hermes, and it associated with "commerce, eloquence, trickery, and negotiation" (Wikipedia).  It is definitely not the symbol of medicine.  Hermes was the patron of thieves and liars. It was a lack of study and diligence that led to the mistaken use of the caduceus to represent many medical institutions. 

The final lesson is that we are to recognize the dishonest for what they are.  When one successfully lies, he is emboldened to continue in this practice.  It becomes easier each time.  Such a person will continue as long as they are able.  We can do what we can to expose their falsehoods, but it is up to God to deal with them, their sin, and lack of repentance.  Psalms 102:6 states, " He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence."  A person with a pattern of dishonesty is not to be trusted and is to be avoided.  As I was a child and young adult, these warnings would have seemed so unnecessary; as an older and wiser adult, I am saddened that they are.  Just as the serpent deceived with the first lie, the twin serpents of dishonesty and false promises are entwined today around the caduceus of government run healthcare.