Saturday, May 18, 2013


I will be out of the country for the next two weeks, but look forward to seeing you back here then.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Not My Fault

For those of you old enough to remember Mel Brook's movie Young Frankenstein, there is a scene where Igor goes to fetch a brain for Dr. Frankenstein to place in the man he is creating.  Igor is given strict instructions to bring back a specific brain, but drops the container on the laboratory floor, shattering it.  He then selects a container with a brain that says, "Do Not Use This Brain! Abnormal."

Of course, the abnormal brain is implanted and the Frankenstein creature is deranged from the moment he wakes up.  When Igor is later questioned about which brain he brought back from the laboratory, he says, "Abby someone." Dr. Frankenstein asks, "Abby someone.  Abby who?"  And Igor replies, "Abby...normal."

One of the debates that has raged for centuries is what leads to certain behaviors.  Many of you are familiar with the "nature versus nurture" arguments.  On the one hand, some claim that people are born with genetic predispositions to act in a particular way.  We could refine this description further to look at not only the actual genes that might be responsible for a person's character or behavior, but also the environment in the womb.  For instance, in the case of Down's Syndrome the mental deficiency is related to an extra chromosome 21, but in other cases, there may be malnutrition or oxygen deprivation in the womb leading to brain damage. 

However, some behavior is related to the environment in which one is raised.  It is understood that children raised in a home with violent behavior or sexual abuse are more likely to engage in such behaviors themselves once grown.  There have been decades of studies looking at social factors and the role of society in promoting antisocial behavior.  A prime culprit is assumed to be poverty, and one of the justifications given for the government to solve the poverty problem is that it will correct all manner of social ills as well.

There are many behaviors that are proclaimed to be the result of genes.  Two that immediately come to mind are alcoholism and homosexuality.  As one of my two undergraduate degrees was in psychology, we studied criminal behavior and its supposed genetic origins.  There was a great deal of effort to study people with an extra "Y" chromosome, the so-called "47,XYY Syndrome."  Men with this genetic type are usually taller than others, often have severe acne, and learning disorders.  When I was in college, it was also thought that these men were much more prone to criminal behavior, with the extra "Y" male chromosome making them "supermales" with increased aggression and hostility.  This relationship seems far from certain today.

So, is behavior related to genes, the environment in the womb, the home in which one is raised, or from parents or peers?

An article recently published looked at the results of research using PET scans of normal people and killers.  Here is an example of a normal person's brain PET scan:


 This can be compared to that of a murderer's brain PET scan:
 You can see a dramatic difference.  In fact, there was a convicted murderer who was spared the death penalty because the jury was shown these scans and felt like the killer was not fully responsible for his acts because of his abnormal brain. 
So, when someone engages in a behavior, what is their own personal responsibility for this?  According to either the nature or nurture view, it is not their fault.  It is either the fault of the traits with which they were born, or the fault of the environment in which they were raised.  Both arguments are advanced by groups that seek to absolve those individuals of responsibility.  If you can absolve individuals of the responsibility for their behavior, you can then remove stigma associated with the behavior, any consequences for that behavior, and if the behavior cannot be tolerated (as in the case of crime) you can insist on marshaling societal resources (taxpayers' dollars) to correct the societal ills.  Being gay is a normal inherited variant, being an alcoholic or drug addict is an inherited illness that must be treated, and being a violent criminal is either a social problem requiring correction or an inherited brain abnormality over which the criminal has no control. 
I could be wrong on this, but after a careful review of the Bible I am unable to find where sin is not coupled with responsibility.  The Commandments and the penalties laid out in the Old Testament don't have qualifying clauses.  Murderers were not to be set free because they had abnormal brain PET scans or abusive parents.  Thieves were not forgiven their theft because they were born poor.  We encounter many instances in the New Testament where Jesus shows compassion on sinners, offers forgiveness of sins, and in the case of the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery, told her, "go and sin no more" (John 8:11).  He didn't say, "It's not your fault." 
We read last week of the release of the three women from a decade of captivity and abuse in Cleveland.  Details will emerge in the ensuing weeks about their trials and torments, and I am sure that the graphic descriptions of their bondage will sicken us.  The kidnapper claims to have been abused as a child and sexually abused by a relative as well.  In fact, he places the blame on his kidnapped victims: "They are here against their will because they made a mistake of getting in a car with a total stranger."
The Word of God gives him no excuse, no extenuating circumstances, no way to explain his behavior. Regardless of what genes he carries, what his PET scan shows, the environment in his mother's womb, the upbringing he had as child, or the societal circumstances that surrounded him, he is responsible for what he did.  God's definition of sin does not allow for either the nature or nurture excuse.  When we stand before Him, we will not be able to plead either of these arguments.  God does not want our excuses, He wants our repentance.  For He who knew you in the womb also knows your genes, and you do not need to remind him of your childhood or your parents.
We might as well blame Adam and Eve for bringing sin into the world, for if it were not for them everything would still be perfect and there would be no sin.  Few of us had perfect childhoods or perfect parents, and almost all of us, myself included, have "Abby...normal brains".  God does not expect us to be sinless, but He does expect us to claim responsibility for our sin.  He does not forgive us of our sin because of our excuses, but because of the work His Son did on the cross.  To deny our responsibility for our sin, to blame our nature or our nurture, is to deny true repentance.  Making an excuse to God is trying to tell Him something you don't think He already knows.  How many things about you do you think He doesn't know already? 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Calling All Christians

The process of becoming a Christian has been one of the most debated topics in the Christian faith since the earliest days of the church.  The various schools of Augustinianism, Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Calvinism all have had their strong proponents over the centuries.  There are many good books on these topics and I will not go into them here. However, I want to briefly discuss the notion of being called to be a Christian.

There are at least thirty definitions of the word call.  We use the word to describe a phone call, a football play call, a demand to repay a loan, or a visit such as a business call.  As a physician, I am frequently "on-call," meaning I am responsible for taking phone calls for patient care, and may even be "called" in to see them. 

In theology, we use the term call to describe the means by which God reaches the unbeliever to draw him to become a Christian.  There are usually two ways in which this is delineated, the general, or external call, and the effectual, or internal call. The general call is that message of the Gospel and the Word of God to all men.  This is a call that can be resisted and frequently is.  As Jesus said in Matthew 22:14, "For many are called, but few are chosen."

There are many reasons that man resists the general call.  "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh." (Romans 8:5), and "...the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7).  Paul tells us in I Corinthians 2:14 that, "...the natural man does not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."  As Christians, we are to participate in the spread of the Gospel, the general call, realizing that many will hear and many will reject.  "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

The effectual call is the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul of a person that leads them to believe and to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior.  This comes from within, God moving to give the unsaved new birth and fellowship with Him through His Son.  Sadly, this does not happen with all who hear the general call; only through the grace of God do some receive the effectual call and become Christians.

So far we have looked at the word call as a noun.  What happens when we use it as a verb?

We are not to be ashamed to be Christians.  Paul wasn't.  In Romans 1:16 he said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," and in 2 Timothy 1:8 we hear, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord."  We are not to deny Christ and our faith.  As Christ Himself said, "Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).  Just as we should not be ashamed to be Christians, we should not be ashamed to call ourselves Christians.

Conversely, we should not boast about ourselves as Christians.  As Paul says in Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  If you recognize yourself as a sinner, saved by the grace of God, you realize that it is only the work of Christ on the cross that allows you to one day enter Heaven.

It behooves us to remember that our actions and lives as Christians are visible to those who are not yet children of God.  If we boast of being Christians, yet live so that unbelievers see us behaving in ways that contradict the commandments of our Lord, then we have shown them that we are no better in behavior than the unconverted.  (Obviously I myself have never had this problem.)  It is as if we are putting forth our own "call-blocking", a way of contradicting the general call.  We preach that if only they will accept the Gospel, their lives will be changed to become Christ-like, and then demonstrate the opposite. 

The non-Christians are looking at those of us who are Christians, and weighing what they see against the general call of God for them to be saved.  God, through the Holy Spirit, will use an effectual call to change some of their hearts and incline their souls to Him and faith in His Son.  God, all-powerful, can do this despite what our un-Godly example can do to incline them otherwise.  We must pray that when we do fall into sin, as Christians do from time to time, that we will not be seen in a way that gives the unbeliever just one more reason to reject the general call. The saddest thing to be said of a Christian is that,"he calls himself a Christian."