A Few Thoughts on the Election 2012

Going to bed last night, and even waking up this morning, I was struck by the variety of responses to the election results. Fear. Anger. Hopelessness. Vengeance. Sorrow. Frustration. Pride. In trying to process my own emotions and thoughts on the matter as well as put what transpired into focus, my mind turned once again to T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” The poem is somewhat vague, filled with symbolism and metaphors that don’t go entirely explained within the poem itself. It’s the fifth section that I was most drawn to. I’ve included a portion of the poem below (it’s set up as Eliot intended, so don’t blast me for how unconventional it is):

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
                                Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
                                For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Tragic, depressing stuff, but that’s where my mind goes thanks to my time teaching language arts. For whatever reason, things come into focus for me in this way. So, after dabbling in the melancholy, I decided to list, point-by-point, my thoughts on the election.

  • God is still on the throne, no matter who won last night. That is not a consolation, but it is instead a glory to wonder at as well as a blessed assurance. God’s purposes will still be accomplished regardless of man’s struggle for power. He has raised up kings and kingdoms, and He has overthrown them according to His purposes. The heart of our “king” is in His hand, and the entire universe is under His control. God is not dead, nor does He sleep. He can bring about justice, mercy, and provision for His glory no matter who is in the Oval Office or has a seat in Congress.
  • When it comes to the presidential election, we had two choices: a moderate with a questionable voting record on moral issues OR a liberal with a definite bias against moral issues. A two-party system is going to drive everyone to appear moderate during election time. People appear to have preferred the devil they knew.
  • Elections are snapshots of a society. Given the victories for those who champion immoral, anti-religious causes, the snapshots reveal that we are a sick, sick people. The ruling party at the moment supports the murder of unborn infants. Greed has infested our society to the point that the rich invest in politics to protect their wealth, and the poor and middle class vote to take from the wealthy by sheer force. Stories of racially-motivated hatred (white folks and New Black Panthers alike) and unsympathetic comments from a certain Chris Matthews regarding the political effects of Hurricane Sandy flooded the news media. We are a divided and self-destructive society, but I’m not going to dwell here. My point is all too easily made.
  • Between a quick read of Scripture and thumbing through the history books, we discover that the two points above bring us to a logical conclusion: America is at a very important crossroads. God’s purposes will always come to pass, but whole kingdoms may be removed if they don’t follow His commands. This isn’t about theocracy, folks. This is about sovereignty. America does not equal Israel, nor is there such a thing as a truly “Christian” nation. However, God does have demands for all nations. Egypt’s sins were many, so God used the plagues to chasten them. Canaanite cultures were wiped out because their sin was so wretched that God states that the land itself was ready to expel them. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome were mighty nations which were given power by God providentially, and they all had their power removed by that same Providence when their national sins were too many. They victimized the innocent, the poor, and the faithful alike. They became cruel, prideful, or hateful, so God used nature and nations to move them off the scene. So it may be with America before long. How quickly she rose to greatness, and how quickly she has fallen in power and prosperity within my own lifetime! There may be yet a national rebirth, a renewed conscience in this nation. It has happened before in many other nations, including our own. A single election does not signal our necessary downfall. If not, however, we must trust God to be faithful and good to His people even as He removes America from the world scene at some point in the (hopefully) distant future. He would not be unjust for bringing us far lower than we are at this point or for removing us as a nation entirely. He is “not a tame Lion, but He is good.” The problem is not God’s goodness, but our “badness.” The problem is that we- as a nation- might be weighed in the balance and found wanting.
  • The real issue in America is the Church, not the World. The World is merely doing what it has been doing since the Fall. It forces conformity to pride, lust, and violence. It fuels self-will and seeks to drown out Christ in a sea of brazen rebellion. Nothing has changed since mankind left the Garden. God’s people, on the other hand, have failed miserably. Some Christians are walled gardens of stinkweed and poison ivy. They are content to shut themselves off from the culture in the name of “fundamentalism.” The Salt has refused to leave the Shaker, so the Meal is either bland or rotten. Other Christians have turned Jesus into a political figure, using Him to champion various political causes that have nothing to do with Christ or the Bible. Still others are guilty of idolatry similar to the Statism of our nation as a whole. While not technically replacing God with the Government, they have nonetheless transferred God’s commands to the Church to various government assistance programs. This group has managed to foist a whole new form of legalism upon us, all the while quoting chapter and verse completely out of context. A final group of Christians see fit to just be lazy and ignorant, frankly. They choose to ignore the issues of the day, sit on their hands, and hum a cheesy worship song while posting a single verse from Psalms on Election Day, all the while congratulating themselves that they are concerned with “more important things besides ‘politics’.” Or perhaps they work themselves into a frenzy in the months heading in to the election, but they do nothing the rest of the year to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others. It’s as if they were cramming for a test in college, and the lack of effort shows. If the Church refuses to be salt and light, if we aren’t thinking right and believing right and acting right each and every day of the year, why should we expect to have any influence at all on the direction of the Nation we claim to love so much? What is a nation besides a group of people? If we care nothing for souls and bodies alike, then maybe we are just married to an ideal based on half-learned or biased history lessons.

And so here we are on November 7th, and I am going to bring this post full circle. The Shadow has fallen between idea and reality, motion and act, conception and creation, emotion and response. While we as a Church and a Nation ought to be crying out, “For Thine is the Kingdom!”, we are instead wrapped up in our party, our ideals, our issues, our emotions…..ourselves. And there’s nothing more depressing then ourselves, so instead we find ourselves crying out in our depression and hopelessness (or perhaps unsatisfactory triumph), “Life is very long!” We are wearied and discouraged by life because we are controlled by what we consume. The Shadow falls, paralyzing us, just as T.S. Eliot predicted. The soul of this Nation- and especially the Church- is struggling desperately to shake off the weight of evil and self-delusion. At one moment, she cries out “For Thine is….” but falls silent before ceding authority and kingship. The next she finds herself muttering “Life is…..” while recognizing that there is deeper meaning to be found.

Let us turn our gaze Heavenward. Let us cry out to the only One capable of helping our lips form the words: “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory forever.” America desperately needs a revival, an awakening, but this will not come through activism. It will not come through politics. It certainly will not come via the ballot box. It must come when the Church determines that it will glory in Christ and seek only to glorify Him.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Politics | 1 Comment

Jesus on Homosexuality

One of the most frequently-asked questions I got when dealing with issues of human sexuality- including homosexuality- is why I dealt so little with the New Testament. My Christian friends wondered why I barely hinted at Paul’s writings on the subject, and my liberal friends wanted to know why I failed to bring up Jesus. Today I’m going to attempt to answer for myself on both counts.

No doubt my liberal friends perceived a weakness in my logic. Why- if I am a Christian- didn’t I bring up Christ? They suppose that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, and so they believe that they have a good counter-argument. This belief is nonsense, as is the belief held by many Christians that Christianity should have very little interest in the Old Testament. Just a small rant here: but the New Testament is set very firmly in the history and theology of the Old. As I am learning, everything in the Old Testament- while powerful and pertinent in its own context- provided for everything we in the Church believe and know and hold to in the much larger context of the Gospel and God’s unfolding revelation of Himself. In short, you cannot have the Church without Israel first. You cannot have the message of Christ without the Law. “Christ the Savior is born” is of no meaning unless we better understand vicarious atonement, sin, sacrifice, and Law. Grace cannot be divorced from Truth, nor Justice from Mercy, and it is very wrong of us to ignore the larger portion of Scripture. It isn’t just about “Bible stories” in Sunday School, you know…..those narratives are only the beginning of something much, much grander.

So, on to the subject at hand. How exactly does Jesus weigh in on the issue of homosexuality? Consider the following with me for a moment:

  1. Jesus spoke in Matthew 19 of the Genesis account of creation: God created male and female as the model for marriage. That is the only paradigm that Jesus ever uses. He doesn’t even remotely leave the door open on the subject of marriage.
  2. Jesus tells us in John 5:19: “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Sondoes likewise.” How significant it is, then, that Jesus’ first miracle- His first act as an adult that reveals His true nature-  is at a wedding in Cana. Like the Father, He blesses the wedding. I understand that Jesus helped avoid a serious issue for the bride’s family in performing the miracle, but remember- that was Mary’s concern in running out of wine. Jesus never claimed the miracle occurred to avoid shame and a scandal. I also understand that the water-to-wine miracle had certain theological and Messianic implications. However, we must admit that Jesus’ choice of settings for a first miracle was not insignificant. There were other places and people that would have been just as significant.
  3. In the Matthew 19 passage, Jesus mentions three types of “eunuchs”: born eunuchs, man-made eunuchs, and eunuchs for the Kingdom. There are people who do not marry or at the very least are not fully functional with regard to biological sexuality. There are those who have been made eunuchs for political purposes (the normal sense of the word “eunuch”.) Finally, there are those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy instead of the gift of marriage. Any attempt to make one of these three categories of eunuch inclusive of homosexuals is reading something into the biblical text that simply isn’t there. At the very best case, the third type of eunuch could refer to a person who experiences same-sex attraction but chooses to give up those desires for the purpose of obeying God. This person is forgoing the sexual intimacy they desire for the sake of following Christ. This is an example of taking up the cross for the purpose of discipleship.
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands upon the commandment against adultery to include looking on someone to lust after them. Yes, I know it is dealing specifically with a man lusting after a woman, but Jesus is emphasizing the sin of lust, not the gender of the people involved. Reading through the Old Testament Law reveals that this is common practice. So “simple” lust is a sin, not just acting on that desire.
  5. It’s common sense that Points 1 and 4 above create an air-tight case against homosexuality from Jesus’ perspective. IF marriage is to include only male and female and IF lust toward someone outside of marriage is sin, THEN it is impossible for a man or woman to lust after (much less sleep with) someone of the same sex and not sin. Jesus does not have to give special mention to homosexuality because He has emphasized the boundaries for marriage and designated everything outside those boundaries as sinful. Frankly, Jesus doesn’t have to mention pedophilia or bestiality for those same reasons. There is a great wall around marriage, and there is only one door by which we may enter.
  6. My final point is, in many ways, the culmination of the discussion I’ve been having with my readers. We’ve seen the biblical evidence against homosexuality time and time again with respect to the Old Testament. We’ve even demonstrated that the commands against homosexuality have specific implications outside the Mosaic Law. It isn’t just a Jewish theocracy that needed to adhere to a moral code– it’s every person in every nation. Jesus had a few things to say about the Law, though. For starters, His first public message made it very clear that He didn’t intend to destroy it. Jesus didn’t think the Law was wrong or immoral. He is, after all, God in flesh. We call it the “Mosaic Law”- the code of Moses, but it was really God Who had spoken.

Jesus- God in flesh- was the Author and Fulfillment of the Law. Jesus accepted the burden that came with the Law, paid the penalty for atonement demanded by the Law, and offers grace, mercy, and love in many ways because of the Law. He couldn’t do any of that without a proper foundation. The Law is not the enemy of grace; it is its basis. Sin meets its Atoner, Death meets its Conqueror at the Cross only because God had explicitly revealed Death and Life, Sin and Holiness through the Law and the Old Testament narrative. So, yes, Jesus weighed in on homosexuality, but then again He weighed in on a lot of sins. He lifted up the Woman Caught in Adultery and found her free of condemnation, but He was also loving enough to tell her to stop her sin. Believers have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins…..and reading Paul’s epistles make it very obvious that “believers” can include people who have experienced- and acted upon- same-sex attraction. That’s the whole Gospel, folks- not just the parts we like to hear.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, Bible Study, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Politics | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Gender Equality: A Sword Between the Sexes

Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are like waffles; women are like spaghetti. Scientists, comedians, poets, musicians, philosophers, doctors, therapists, psychologists, and the religious have spent a lot of time and money trying to tell us what we already instinctively know: men and women are very different from one another. Before the Fall, the differences created wholeness- a blessed duality- that was mutually beneficial to both the Man and the Woman. The Fall changed all of that. As C. S. Lewis observed, “There is a sword, hidden or flaunted, between the sexes until an entire marriage reconciles them.” Of course Lewis was well aware that marriages could destabilize and produce plenty of fighting in their own right.

Lewis also emphasized an additional truth about gender relations: equality is important, but it is not the ideal. One of the most powerful concepts he argues for in his philosophical science fiction novel That Hideous Strength is that no relationship can be founded entirely on equality. There is no focus on equality in a loving, strong relationship, only a focus on pleasing and serving the spouse. The moment any couple begins focusing on their own personal rights, a fight cannot be far behind. This is true in many ways in the broader society. Now, Lewis was not a misogynist. If anything, he had a much higher view of masculinity and femininity than most folks today, but he recognized that both sexes must be seen as inherently valuable in order for relationships and society as a whole to function properly. The moment personal rights and liberties become the whole focus of any group of people, trouble is on the horizon. Lewis reminded us repeatedly: “Equality is medicine, not food.” Food is an inherently good thing; it is the stuff we need to grow and remain strong. Medicine, on the other hand, is not inherently good or necessary. The only time medicine is needful is if there is a problem. Equality, Lewis would say, is like that. The moment rights become an end in themselves, an ideal and the ultimate good, the game is all but lost.

So why do I bring this up now? I’ve discussed the marital ideal in Genesis 1-2 and the sexual distortions of adultery, polygamy, and homosexuality so far this week. I have two reasons for bringing up gender equality at this point. First of all, there are those who believe that Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices are inherently sexist, coming from a strictly patriarchal society in which women are merely property. They use this- propaganda, really, is all it is- to justify atheism, liberal values, and  a host of other silliness with this one seemingly foolproof attack. This leads me to my second point, and that is that Christians think this attack is foolproof because half of them have been led to believe the liberals and the feminists are right. They read the Old Testament (and parts of the New) and take it at face value, not realizing that there’s a host of background and context that sets up this framework. From power-hungry pastors demanding that women be doormats to stay-at-home moms who believe that their opinions don’t matter in the end because they aren’t “the head of the household”, Christians across this nation believe the lie that the biblical perspective somehow favors men. That, dear reader, is the result of bad theology and hundreds of years of warped culture. We will see that a biblical view of human sexuality yields a high value of respect and honor for members of both the sexes.

Wives after the Fall

Genesis 3:16 records God’s proclamation to the woman: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;  in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This verse has been used by some to claim that women’s desires are now subjugated to their husband’s. I believe that this translation in the ESV clarifies the situation for us: the woman’s desire will be for her husband.  She will desire him, but she will not always have him. God has just told the woman that carrying and birthing a child will now be painful, but I do not believe this clause (“your desire shall be for your husband”) is prescribing a judgment. I believe it is instead describing a new situation that has arisen because of the Fall. Rather than a perfect relationship of harmony and romance, there will be discord. Eve will desire her a good relationship with her husband, but all will not necessarily be well. There will be bumps along the way: circumstances, communication issues, and unfulfilled wants and wishes. God is warning Eve that, just as Adam will now have to work much harder to provide, Eve will have to work much harder to make her relationships work. (And, no, I’m not saying that being a stoic, distant husband and father is therefore biblical. Again, this is a description of what happens, not approval of what happens.)

Some also preach strongly in favor of the husband’s rulership because of this verse, or they reject the nuclear family because of what they see as an authoritarian perspective on marriage. I would point out that being a “lord” in this context does not have anything to do with domination or superiority. If anything, the husband is to be a servant-leader of the marriage, the first among equals. At the absolute most, the husband is designated the functional leader of the family. This would make perfect sense in the ancient world, where the family- not the individual- was the basic unit of society. Fathers/husbands assumed legal responsibility for the entire family. In Israel, for instance, the father was responsible for managing property, marriage contracts for children, and voicing his family’s interest in the broader community. However, this does not in any way demean women or remove them from the spheres of business, government, and other areas of leadership. The same is true for the home. As we will find, if the husband is to be the “lord” of his house, then his wife is to be the “lady.” Both positions are well-respected and vital to family and community life. A patriarchal society, after all, is about the governance of father over children, not the husband’s superiority to the wife. That’s what “patriarch” means.

Women in the Old Testament

Behind every great man there’s a great woman. Or, at least, that’s how the saying goes. It turns out that for the Jewish patriarchs, that is absolutely true. The role of matriarch was vital if the family was to be successful. This isn’t Assyria or Athens, folks. This is Israel- or at least its origins. Things work differently here when it comes to family operations. Other nations (such as those I just mentioned) had patriarchies that were “limiting, harsh, enslaving” (Meyers, Discovering Eve), the servant-leadership (while not by any means perfect) of the Jewish Fathers offered the Jewish Mothers unprecedented freedom, even in our day. A close reading of Scripture reveals that 21st-century America denigrates women more than a Jewish Patriarch would ever consider doing.

Chew on this for a second: if Israeli women felt so oppressed by their culture, where is any indication of a cry for freedom? People don’t change much through the ages in how they handle oppression, yet no woman ever appears to concern herself with liberation, even when she has the upper hand in society. (I’m looking at you, Deborah.) In her book Discovering Eve, Carol Meyers concludes that “there was a functional lack of hierarchy in Israelite gender relations” up until the monarchy was established. Tikva Frymer-Kensky writes in her essay titled “Gender and Its Image”: “In their strengths and weaknesses, in their goals and strategies, the women of the Bible do not differ substantially from that of men.” Though different by design, men and women in Scripture are very much equals.

So let’s look at some case studies, beginning with Sarah. While she did address her husband as “lord” (a term of polite respect, not necessarily indicating a hierarchy), consider the following observation by Janice Nunnally-Cox concerning Sarah:

“She appears to say what she wants, when she wants, and Abraham at times responds in almost meek obedience. He does not command her; she commands him, yet there seems to be an affectionate bond between them. Abraham does not abandon Sarah during her barrenness, nor does he gain other wives while she lives….The two have grown up together and grown old together, and when Sarah dies, Abraham can do nothing but weep. Sarah is a matriarch of the first order: respected by rulers and husbands alike, a spirited woman and a bold companion.”

While Sarah’s death and burial are given much attention in Genesis, the narrative of Abraham effectively ends when she is no more. It is as if to say that Abraham’s story is really Sarah’s story. Hagar- the slave girl- is of no less significance, by the way. In Genesis 16, she is called by the narrator and God Himself by name seven times. God appears for the first time in history as the “angel of the Lord” to this rejected, enslaved woman. God does not abandon her, but instead provides for her and her son. She and her son are blessed in much the same way as Sarah and Isaac are blessed, and this covenant-type promise is the only time such a promise is made exclusively to a woman in Scripture. The prophecies concerning Ishmael and his given name is a standard annunciation formula in Scripture, the first of its kind. Hagar is the only woman- no, the only person- in Scripture to give God a name: “You are El-roi,” the God Who Sees. (Genesis 16:13) While most preaching and teaching considers Hagar a throwaway character (if not a villain), God clearly does not. He sees value where few others can.

The next matriarch in line is Rebekah. She is clearly a beautiful woman, but she also displays independence and hospitality comparable to Abraham. Like Abraham, she leaves her family for a new land, and she has a servant’s heart as well. She is listed in Genesis 22:23 as the only child of Bethuel, even though she had a brother who should have been listed first in a patriarchal society. While some have claimed that arranged marriages meant that the wife-to-be, at least, had no choice, Abraham says in Genesis 24:8, “If the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine.” Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac may have been somewhat arranged, but it was her decision ultimately. She was not mere property, and her father is actually silent, deciding nothing in the narrative. Later, while experiencing labor pains, Rebekah “inquires of the Lord” just as great men in the Bible have, and she does this directly rather than through a husband or male spiritual leader. Genesis 25:24 says: “And her days were fulfilled that she should give birth”, a linguistic formula only used of Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament. If a sexist, strictly patriarchal society is all that the Bible has to offer, why do we know so much about Rebekah and virtually nothing about Isaac her husband?

The time would fail me to emphasize the strength and authority of Rachel and Leah, the resourcefulness, purity, and faith of Tamar, the boldness of the midwives in Exodus, the compassion of the Egyptian princess who rescued Moses, the wisdom of Jochebed, leadership and musical prowess of the prophetess Miriam, and quick-thinking Zipporah. A quote from Exum’s essay titled “You Shall Let Every Daughter Live” sums up Exodus quite well:

“Exodus begins with a focus on women. Their actions determine the outcome. From its highly positive portrayals of women to its testimony that the courage of women is the beginning of liberation, Exodus 1:8-2:10 presents the interpreter with powerful themes to draw on: women as defiers of oppression, women as givers of life, women as wise and resourceful in situations where a discerning mind and keen practical judgment are essential for a propitious outcome….Without Moses there would be no story, but without the initiative of these women, there would be no Moses!”

In Joshua, Rahab is the means of salvation for the spies, and she is in the great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews because of her courage. In Judges, a change occurs in the treatment of women. At the beginning, Achsah, the daughter of Caleb is married to a warrior. She reveals herself to be a resourceful woman with an eye for financial success. Later, Deborah arises as the only judge who is the perfect leader in religious, military, and judicial matters. Together with Jael, she routs Sisera and his army, yet we also find in her song that she has a beautiful heart and mind as well- she is an accomplished poet. Ruth and Esther provide materially for themselves and others and are presented as loyal and honorable, and Esther’s wisdom and boldness rescues her people from sure destruction.

Women in the Law

At this point, a skeptical reader may be saying, “Well, all good and well for the women in positions of power, but what about the common woman? There’s a lot in the Old Testament that was sexist!” And so, at first blush, it might appear. Many have characterized women in Israel as “legal nonpersons” or outside the covenant community in some way. Yet this cannot be true, because women did participate in the covenant ceremony in Deuteronomy 29:9-12 and therefore were under equal obligation to the Law. (Deuteronomy 31:12) In the Law, both genders were included when the masculine gender was in use, according to Frank Crusemann’s The Torah: Theology and Social History.

But what about the Numbers 5 passage in which a woman suspected of adultery is put through a trial by ordeal? If her husband suspects she has been unfaithful but can’t prove it, she has to drink water that will cause her to become barren if she has indeed committed adultery. Not only does trial by ordeal sound like some sort of kangaroo court scheme from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there doesn’t seem to be a similar trial for husbands. What is going on here? First of all, it needs to be said that this the water the woman drank wasn’t magical. It was just water and a few ingredients like paper scrapings and dust- things that don’t cause curses. So how did it happen that a guilty woman’s reproductive organs came flying out in the end? Simple: a miracle. That’s right- this trial by ordeal was presided over by the Almighty Himself. Think about that compared to other cultures in which a suspect woman would be tossed in a lake with some weights on her. In every other culture’s trial by ordeal, no matter what it was, it was a miracle if you survived. In Israel’s trial by ordeal, it was a miracle if you became tragically infertile. Strange as this may sound, this is part of ANE culture, and God has guaranteed that He will protect and defend the innocent. A paranoid husband had no recourse to divorce her when she drank the water and- surprise, surprise- nothing happened. Is it not gracious and just- rather than sexist- that the only people who ever had the privilege of going before a Divine Judge were woman? God protected the innocent and potentially vulnerable from an overly jealous husband or the prejudice of a mob.

We move now to the touchy, touchy issue of Leviticus 12:1-8. This passage says that the time it would take for a mother who has just given birth to be made ritually clean is twice as long for a girl as for a boy. I’ll warn you, guys, this part may make you squeamish. What about childbirth makes a woman unclean? The vaginal bleeding does, not necessarily the child being born. So, what’s the deal with girls? During and after childbirth, it is very common for newborn girls to experience vaginal bleeding. WebMD says so. Rather than require that a newborn girl tough it out for her own purification ritual, the mother vicariously takes the purification upon herself. So, let’s do the math, everyone. Twice the vaginal bleeding = twice the number of days for ritual purification. (On an unrelated note, boys are to be circumcised the 8th day, the only day their prothombin levels are above 100%, allowing them to heal faster. God knows an awful lot about the medical world, it seems.)

This last selected example may make members of both genders a little squeamish. In Deuteronomy 25:11-12, if two men are fighting and one of their wives grabs the other man by the testicles to give her husband the advantage in the fight, her hand is- according to the English translation, anyway- to be cut off. If the translation is accurate, then this is the only example in the entire Law of mandatory mutilation (as opposed to other ancient and modern Middle Eastern cultures, in which the removal of a body part is a common penalty for, say, theft). Given the fact that lex talionis (an eye for an eye) is the standard by which ancient laws were adopted, it seems just a little strange that grabbing testicles results in the removal of a hand. How are they at all the same thing? NOW I’ve got you thinking! They aren’t the same thing. Would it help to go back to the Hebrew? I think so. What if I told you that the word translated “cut” can also mean “shave”, and what if I also told you that the word for “hand” is a very generic term for a “palm of the hand”? There’s a different Hebrew word that refers to the whole hand, by the way, and it isn’t used here. In fact this word for “palm” just refers to any curved surface, such as the business end of a spoon, the cupped hand, or a woman’s pubic region. I- and far more intelligent people- would suggest that lex talionis is adhered to perfectly in this example. The man’s testicles have been touched- a public embarrassment given the fact that this is just a neighborly spat that got out of hand- so the woman is to have a just retribution visited upon her. Both parties are made to feel ashamed in this way. I realize that this is very difficult to comprehend, since we’re modern-day Americans here, but this is how ANE law works. The punishment must always fit the crime. Hand mutilations doesn’t fit the crime, but shaving the genitals does, and neither are permanently damaging….mercifully.

Summary and Practical Application

To be sure, there are examples of men who exploit and denigrate women in Scripture, but they did not do so because they were righteous. They did so because they were evil. By the end of Judges, we find that women have become nameless victims of violence rather than powerful leaders like Achsah and Deborah. This is because Israel as a culture slipped into immorality and idolatry, not because a patriarchal society is inherently demeaning to women. For instance, Samson is an example of a man who is so sexually driven that women are no longer his helper but mere traitors, harlots, and tempters. Israeli monarchs fall quickly into polygamy and other sins of immorality, meaning that women were made more vulnerable than in the patriarchy. The government, not the husband, had the rights and the power. Yet the human authors of the Bible maintained the Edenic ideal; they still wrote of the inherent value of women. Even after Israel was conquered completely by invaders, the Elephantine papyri reveal that women were able to buy and sell, inherit property, and rise from slavery to a role in the temple, becoming scribes and musicians in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Myers’ Discovering Eve reveals that the position of women in Israel did not truly degrade until Israel was under the control of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Persians completely objectified women, and the Greco-Roman culture foisted a duality onto everything– body and soul, good and evil, and male and female. Women became associated with the body and evil, while men became associated with good and soul.

Jesus and His followers worked greatly to fix what human religion, philosophy, and pride had created. Christ treated women as valuable, praising them for their hard work and their faith. He healed broken hearts and bodies, and His apostles did the same for many years after His Ascension. It remains for the Church today to  teach the world around us the equal value God has placed on men and women both, to continue the work of restoration Christ began 2000 years ago, a work that will be completed one day when He makes all things new, and the sword between sexes can be beaten into ploughshares at last.

Up Next: Returning to Eden

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Extramarital Sex as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

Well, let’s recap. So far, I’ve described the marital formula given by God in Genesis 1-2, and I’ve identified homosexuality and polygamy as distortions of God’s plan for human marriage and sex. The marital formula was a necessary foundation– a man leaves his family and cleaves unto his wife. Identifying homosexuality as a distortion is important in our culture because there is an attempt by a very vocal segment of the populace to redefine marriage and family. Identifying polygamy as a distortion is necessary because that same group would like very much to prove that there is no biblical foundation for the nuclear family. We now move on to a very obvious distortion: adultery and premarital sex. Or, perhaps it is not so obvious to some.

I believe emphasizing this distortion is important for two reasons. First of all, those external to Christianity need to realize that Judeo-Christian beliefs are consistent and not biased. It is not homosexuality alone that is wrong; it is any sex outside of biblical marriage. Secondly, it would seem that we within Christianity need to remind ourselves of the danger of falling into sin. Not a week goes by that a religious leader doesn’t make the paper because of immorality. We need to guard our hearts from lust, protect our churches and families from temptations, and walk humbly with God. It does not do us well to attack homosexuality politically and not be clean ourselves from the sins that could lead us astray.

Brief Historical Background (It’s all basically the same.)

Adultery was a capital offense is most Ancient Near Eastern cultures. The Laws of Ur-Nammu condemn a man who sleeps with another man’s wife, a wife who initiates sex with another man, or any man that sleeps with a slave girl he is not married to. The Code of Hammurabi condemns both participants in an adulterous affair, but a husband is able to request that his wife be spared. Middle Assyrian laws absolve a man who unknowingly sleeps with another man’s wife, but otherwise both are put to death. Later Assyrian laws leave the wife’s punishment up to her husband. Ancient Hittite laws permit the husband of an adulterous woman to kill his wife and her co-adulterer if he catches them in the act, however, if he does not catch them in the act, he must either absolve both or neither from guilt.

The Pentateuch, Adultery, and Premarital Sex

As far as the Genesis narrative goes, Joseph is accused by Potiphar’s wife of adultery and is jailed for it. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and loses his birthright because of it. Abraham tried to trick Pharaoh and Abimelech, king of Gerar into believing Sarah was his sister, and Isaac attempted the same deception. It’s obvious from reading each of these accounts that these pagan cultures all saw adultery as a great sin (Genesis 20:9). Strange as it may seem to us, murder is actually a lesser sin than adultery in these cultures. This is interesting, since some see the violence of the Old Testament as evidence that ancient peoples were somewhat barbaric, but they would look on our cultural with utter revulsion. These narratives also record God’s disapproval of adultery. He sends plagues on Egypt and threatens Abimelech with death. Why did God act so severely?

As I hinted at in my post on polygamy, there is a theological and a practical level to every sin. On the practical level- the earthly level- sins are offenses against those around us or against ourselves. We commit these sins due to our own fleshly desires, thoughts, wills, and wishes. On the second level- the upper, theological level- every sin flies in the face of God’s goodness, mercy, love, justice, and holiness. We worship God with our lips, perhaps, but serve another master with our thoughts and actions. “Against Thee- Thee only- have I sinned,” says David in the Psalms. Years before David’s confession, Joseph replied to Potiphar’s wife’s seductive attempts by simply saying: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

As for the Mosaic Law, the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) is very clear and absolute in its terms, but the tenth commandment prohibits even desiring another man’s wife as well. (Remember that the Ten Commandments are written in the masculine gender for linguistic reasons but are for all of Israel to follow.) Deuteronomy’s expansion on this 10th commandment is interesting in light of the temptation to desire what is not yours. In his “The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law”, Stephen Kaufman points out that the expansion on the 10th commandment in Deuteronomy 25 forbids Jews from owning unjust weights, not simply using them (that would fall under “theft” in the 10 Commandments.) The idea is that Israelites were not permitted to knowingly put themselves in a situation which would cause them to break the 10th Commandment, so incorrect weights could not even be owned or made, lest they tempt someone to steal. In Leviticus 18:20 and 20:10, Israelites and foreigners alike are forbidden to commit adultery, and- like homosexuality- extramarital sex will result in the removal of any nation that practices on a massive scale, according to these passages. Adultery and premarital sex are also abominations in the broad sense. In Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, and Deuteronomy 22, the punishment for adultery is death.

Why was adultery and premarital sex such a big deal to God? Christopher Wright addresses this question in his essay “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue.” Wright suggests that adultery goes beyond mere personal morality and extends to the social, economic, and theological stability of individuals, families, and nations. The idea here is that God takes any threat to the nuclear family seriously because a stable household was the social basis for continued worship of God. A breakdown in family relationships would result in the breakdown in national Israel’s relationship with God. This is especially true in Israel because it began as a theocracy, and the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people. As Wright observes, “Adultery strikes at the very heart of the household by shattering the sexual integrity of the marriage.” Every adulterous act in Israel was of national- not simply private- concern. In light of Wright’s observations, I would further suggest that- while the United States is not identical to or in any way linked with national Israel- the principle remains the same. Our stability, education, economics, military, government, and- yes- religious devotion is intimately associated with the family unit. If the family unit is destroyed or degraded, a nation cannot maintain its stability. In this way, I would suggest that divorce, adultery, and premarital sex are far more deadly to society than homosexuality privately practiced. Redefining marriage is a completely different issue that I will save for another day due to its implications in American law, but I believe that we should make our priority strengthening and stabilizing heterosexual marriages if we wish to see increased stability in our nation. This will only be done by a return to Judeo-Christian values and- most importantly- the power of the Gospel to transform lives and homes.

The Prophets and Poets on Adultery

The verb “na’ap” (to commit adultery) occurs 24 times in the prophets, primarily in Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Israel’s turning from the Covenant in sin and idolatry was a case of spiritual adultery, breaking the bonds of a covenant relationship. God compares Israel to Hosea’s own adulterous wife, Jeremiah records God saying, “I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and your neighings after lovers!”, and Ezekiel describes Israel to an “adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!” What is Israel’s punishment?

“I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy.They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords.” – Ezekiel 16:38, 40

Psalm 50 condemns those who “keep company with adulterers”, and Psalm 51 reveals David’s understanding of his actions as being ultimately against God. Job makes it a point to emphasize his sexual purity in chapter 31. Proverbs 6:25 warns against lusting after a woman, and it portrays the adultress in chapter 7 as impudent, pretending to be religious- she needs to earn money to pay religious vows. She uses flattery and beauty to seduce a man, who is compared to an ox being taken to a slaughterhouse.

Practical Application and Summary

The bottom line in all of this is that death is the end result of adultery in God’s eyes. Adultery and premarital sex destabilize the marital relationship, which in turn destabilize children, businesses, schools, and- in our case- churches. The nuclear family is the building block of society, and no society can stand for long if too many blocks are moved or tilted. We Christians would do well to heed the call of the 10th commandment as well as the 7th- it is not just adultery, but the lust  for a relationship that is not yours to have, that must be avoided. Jesus would remind us that it is the inner man that gives rise to the outer man, and that we are all subject to sinful passions if we are not controlled by the Spirit. No man or woman, no matter how godly they may be, can be unphased or unaffected by such powerful desires. We must beware and be accountable. We must also be wary of people who use religion as justification for sexual impropriety, as the prostitute in Proverbs 7 did.

Yet extramarital sex and lust are indeed rampant in our society. How then shall we live? For starters, even the Mosaic Law implicitly grants that we must be pitiful and compassionate. For sins such as idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:16, 13:9), premeditated murder (Deut 19:11), and malicious false witness (Deuteronomy 19:21), the Israelites are told “your eye shall not pity” or “you shall not spare them.” There was no redemption price to be paid in lieu of capital punishment, unlike many other sins. In cases of immorality, there is no prohibition against having compassion and pity. The implication is that the death penalty for immorality is not absolute, depending on circumstances. This fact is made certain in Proverbs 6:35, when we are told that a husband would not accept the ransom price from a man who had an affair with his wife. The fact that a ransom price was rejected means that such a price could be offered in the first place. There was room for mercy within the Law. After all, Hosea pardoned his wife Gomer (poor woman), and,  iIn the Gospels, Joseph determined to put Mary away privately rather than have her put on trial. David’s prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51 is perhaps most telling of all. He admits his sin against the Almighty and asks that a clean heart and a right spirit be put within him. David recognizes that only God can cleanse what has been defiled.

Believers must stand firm on the importance of purity and chastity, and they must be wary of being led astray by temptations from without and within. They must guard their hearts diligently and proactively. For those who have fallen, we must restore those who repent in a spirit of meekness. That is not a New Testament concept alone, though justification and cleansing from sin ultimately occurred in the New Testament at the Cross. No, the Law itself allows pity and compassion on the fallen, and we are better for it if we can forgive with God’s help. We can introduce the lost to the One who paid the ransom price for sin Himself, and we can demonstrate true love in our daily lives. In this, we work to fulfill both Law and Grace in our own way.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and- finally- the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. Stay tuned!

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Polygamy as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

We’ve talked already about God’s design for human sexuality, and we’ve addressed homosexuality as a distortion of that design. Now I’d like to address the issue of polygamy. Opponents of traditional marriage will often bring up the subject of polygamy in the Bible, noting that not only are there some famous biblical examples, but there are also specific laws concerning concubines within Scripture itself. The obvious purpose in bringing up these “alternative lifestyles” is to demonstrate that multiple versions of “biblical marriage” exist, leaving room to justify a variety of behaviors and weakening the case against same-sex “marriage.” So what do we do with these accusations? Is it true that God has provided for and blessed more forms of marriage than the Edenic model in Genesis 1-2?

One thing that can be said for sure is that the Edenic model is considered the norm throughout Scripture. Genesis 2 and Jesus in Matthew 19 echo the “husband and wife” formula for marriage. Scattered throughout the centuries in between are countless “one man-one woman” marriages mentioned specifically in the Pentateuch. The Mosaic Law always uses the “husband and wife” formula rather than “wives”, Solomon tells his son to “rejoice in the wife [singular]” of his youth in Proverbs 5:18 and again in Ecclesiastes 9:9, and Malachi 2:15 speaks of a man who is not faithful to the “wife of his youth.” While polygamy does occur, it is clearly outside of the biblical norm.

It is interesting to note that, while polygamy was assumed in Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and a variety of other Ancient Near-Eastern cultures, it is relatively rare in Scripture. When it does occur, modern readers of Scripture are often surprised that there is no explicit condemnation of the practice. However, the Author of Scripture clearly expresses Divine disapproval in more subtle, yet more powerful, ways within the narrative itself- even within the grammar and literary structure. We must remember that the Bible isn’t a book of moralizations or simple lessons, like a Christianized “Aesop’s Fables.” It is the revelation of God and His works to man.

Lamech, Abraham, and Jacob as polygamists

The first polygamist in Scripture is Lamech, a man who bragged to his wives that he had murdered a man, inviting God to judge him worse than Cain was judged. The narrative contains no explicit condemnation of Lamech, but he is portrayed as an evil, rebellious man in just a few verses. Lamech’s polygamy is mentioned three times in this passage, underscoring his sin and removing all possibility that God had approved of polygamy prior to the Flood. In the genealogies in Genesis 4-5, it’s also interesting to note that Lamech is the 7th descendent of Adam through Cain’s line, while Enoch- the man who walked with God- is the seventh descendent of Adam through the godly line of Seth. The parallelism between the two men is clear- there is godliness and monogamy contrasting godlessness and polygamy.

The first case of polygamy committed by a believer is, of course, Abraham. Abraham had come from a land of polytheism and polygamy (worship of multiple gods and multiplying of wives go hand-in-hand throughout history.) Believing that God would make good on His covenant promise to provide land, descendants, and blessing through a son he would have with Sarah, Abraham had journeyed to Canaan. In an infamous period of weakness, Abraham agrees with his barren wife that it would be best to impregnate a slave girl named Hagar in order to provide a son. While this practice seems strange to us, it was actually quite common for wealthy people in Abraham’s day, since that would prevent the wife from experiencing the embarrassment of allowing her husband to marry a second woman. “If the marriage proved to be infertile…the wife was able to present one of her slave girls, sometimes specially purchased, to her husband to produce children for their own marriage…The authority over the children resulting from the union belonged not to the slave girl who bore them but to the chief wife,” according to Martin J. Selman’s essay “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Humanly speaking, Hagar was viewed as Abraham’s wife, however, God did not see her in this way. Not only was she not the wife of the Covenant with Abraham, but Abraham’s relationship with her had broken the marriage paradigm set forth in Genesis 1-2. When God speaks in the narrative, Sarah is called “your wife” while Hagar is called “the slave girl of Sarah.” When Hagar ran away, it is no accident that God tells her to go back to Sarah, not Abraham. In addition to the obvious evidence, we find there is a more subtle hint that Hagar’s relationship with Abraham was not condoned by God. Ray McAllister and Andre Wenin have both pointed out the similarities between Genesis 3 and Genesis 16. Just as Eve took the forbidden fruit and gave it to her husband, Sarah took her slave girl and gave her to Abraham. As Adam “listened to the voice of” Eve, Abraham “listened to the voice of” Sarah. The similarities between the wording of the narratives are not accidental. If nothing else, the Bible underscores the strife and discord between Hagar and Sarah and between Ishmael and Isaac.

Jacob’s polygamy is a second infamous account, but it is used more often than Abraham’s polygamy because the “Children of Israel” (Jacob) are descended from all four wives/concubines. Is Jacob an example of Divine approval of marriages outside the Edenic account? Jacob clearly intended on only marrying Rachel at the beginning, but he was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob continued to work for Rachel, voluntarily agreeing to follow local customs in marrying both women. Bilhah and Ziplah are called concubines in Genesis 35:22 and wives in Genesis 37:2, they seem to have the same rights as wives, and all four women’s children are given equal standing in the family. However, the entire narrative of Jacob’s family is one filled with jealousy, revenge, strife, and lack of self-control. The children of Jacob are filled with all the same sorts of problems as their parents!

Jacob himself goes through a radical transformation, though. At one point, He encounters God Himself and begins a wrestling match with Him. At the culmination of the match- which God permitted to go on for much, much longer than it should have- God hit “the hand of Jacob’s thigh”, creating a permanent limp. Why did God do this? Stanley Gevirtz’s essay “Of Patriarchs and Puns” suggests that it was a graphic Divine rebuke of Jacob’s polygamy, because He struck Jacob in a region associated with the genitals. (“Hand of Jacob’s thigh” would be the curved region of the inner thigh– near enough to the mark without damaging all chances of further reproduction.) A clear behavioral shift occurs afterwards, suggesting Jacob (I mean Israel) got the message. Prior to this encounter, Jacob has sexual relations with all four women. After the event, however, sexual relations are mentioned exclusively with Rachel, and only Rachel gives birth to a child (35:18). While Jacob called both Rachel and Leah his wives in Genesis 30:26 and 31:50, Rachel is his singular wife by Genesis 44:27, and in the genealogy of Genesis 46, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah are referred to women who “bore to Jacob” children, but Rachel is called “Jacob’s wife Rachel.” (Genesis 46:15-25) It is clear in Scripture who the recognized wife was, and who the counterfeits were. Jacob began poorly, but ended righteously.

Wives, Concubines, and the Mosaic Law

In Exodus 21:7-11, we read the following:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, orher marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

Does this law support polygamy and concubinage, as claimed by opponents of traditional marriage? Hardly. This is one of many cases in the Old Testament of “case law.” The purpose of case law in the Ancient Near East is to determine what should happen in a given scenario. Case law does not make the scenario legitimate and legal. It only explains what should happen as a result of the given scenario. If case law in Exodus 21:7-11 legitimizes slavery, concubinage, and polygamy simply because it brings up the scenario, then Exodus 21:37 legitimizes theft by simply beginning with the words: “When someone steals an ox or a sheep…”! I would add as an aside that there are three situations in this passage, none of which deal with polygamy in actuality. If the master rejects the girl as a wife, she is to be freed by being bought back by the father. If the master’s son marries her, she is to be treated as a daughter and not a slave. If the master marries a woman other than the girl, the girl is to be assured of all basic necessities including food, clothing, and shelter. In this third scenario “another wife” has the connotation of “a different wife”, meaning this third scenario doesn’t even deal with polygamy in the first place.

Another similar situation is found in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, in which the rights of the first-born son are dealt with:

“If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.”

While some would argue that this passage assumes polygamy will occur, that interpretation is only valid if the intended meaning is that the man has two wives at the same time. That is by no means a requirement of the language or the context- even the grammar in the original Hebrew avoids requiring polygamy in this context. If, however, this case law does provide for a child of polygamy (as it’s tempting to read the Jacob narrative into the text), it is again an example of case law, not necessarily a text condoning polygamy.

Polygamy in Judges, Samuel, and the Kings

In the book of Judges, Gideon, Jair, Ibzan, and Abdon are all judges who had multiple wives. In Gideon’s case, polygamy is again paired with idolatry, as the two are frequently connected throughout history. Judges 19-21 reveals that polygamy and concubinage were not unusual by the end of Judges. However, the world of Judges is not a pleasant place. A hedonistic and decadent society, the Israel of Judges features such appalling violence as a Levite (of the priestly tribe) and his host sacrificing the Levite’s concubine to avoid homosexual rape. When the concubine is left for dead in the morning (but not necessarily actually dead yet), the Levite butchers the concubine (who had previously been unfaithful to him) and sends pieces of her body throughout Israel. When combined with the commentary in 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, Judges is a powerful condemnation of immoral sexual activities, not evidence of God’s permissiveness on the matter.

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles also tell a story of further sexual distortion. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, is a polygamist, as are Saul, David, and Solomon. Six of 20 Judean kings have more than one wife, and Ahab of the northern kingdom has multiple wives. This does not mean, however, that God is permissive, approves, or blesses polygamy at this point. Hannah and her rival “sister wife” experience great personal grief and anguish, and polygamous kings dealt with national and personal consequences. With the exception of two incidents, all instances of polygamy are portrayed as disobedience to God. I’d like to take a moment to address these two supposed exceptions to the rule.

David- in spite of polygamy- is called a man after God’s own heart in 1Samuel 13:14. In his book Polygamy in the Bible, Ronald du Preez makes a strong case against this justification of a non-traditional “biblical” marriage. Du Preez points out that David was not called a man after God’s heart while he was married at all- this event takes place while Saul is still on the throne and all the Philistines still look like Philistines underneath their clothing. (Some of you will get that later.) Du Preez further notes a pattern in David’s life: servitude, supplication, salvation, silence, and sin. As this pattern repeats over and over throughout David’s life, his many wives are only brought up while in the “sin” stage, which is also a time of turmoil and judgment in David’s life. This careful placement of references to polygamy are clearly meant to draw the reader’s attention to Divine disapproval- they are not an accident or coincidence.

Besides du Preez’s pattern, we also notice that Nathan’s parable to David after his sin with Bathsheba also expresses disapproval. However, some would have us believe that Nathan’s statements to David constitute a blessing from God on polygamy:

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” – 2Samuel 12:7-8

People who favor the Divine blessing view completely ignore God’s judgment in verse 11 of this same passage. Because of his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, God says that he will give his wives, in turn, to another. This person turns out to be Absalom, David’s own son. It is unthinkable that this act of giving meant that adultery and incest were in turn blest by God, as they are abominations in Leviticus 18:8. Absalom is clearly a villain in Scripture, a hedonistic rebel who dies tragically. God is allowing something to occur in spite of the fact that it is sin. In cases of this type of permissiveness, the language says that God does what He is technically only allowing to take place. Furthermore, if giving David the wives of Saul was meant to be a blessing of polygamy, then David, in turn, would be committing incest by sleeping with Ahinoam, the mother of his wife Michal. If this is the case, David should have been put to death for something God had blessed! Instead, saying “I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your armsspeaks of possessions, not marriage. David became the keeper of all that was Saul’s. Besides all this, Nathan’s parable hints at monogamy by pointing out that the righteous Uriah had only one “lamb” as opposed to the wealthy “shepherd-turned-thief” David. It seems quite clear that David returned to a monogamous state in 2Samuel 20:3, after God’s judgment had taken place. In this verse, David has retaken the throne from Absalom, but he puts his wives and concubines in a separate estate, providing for them and protecting them. It is stated that he does not “go in unto” them anymore. This means that David is strictly monogamous with Bathsheba, a correction of his previous mistakes.

The second supposed exception to the rule regarding polygamy comes in the form of a King named Jehoash in 2Kings and Joash in 2 Chronicles. Let’s take a look at the two relevant passages.

2Kings 12:1-3: “In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.”

2Chronicles 24:1-3: “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.”

Obviously, it is this second passage that causes those who wish to undermine traditional marriage to sit up and pay attention. Notice above that the structure is the same in each passage, even if the wording is changed. Joash begins reigning when he was 7, and he reigns for 40 years. He did right in the sight of God thanks to the guidance of the priests. In the Kings passage, Joash sinned through idolatrous polytheism, the worship of multiple gods. In the parallel reference, Jehoiada the priest gave him two wives, which we have already stated is connected with idolatry: two negative events are placed in parallel at the end of the writing concerning Joash. It should also be added that in the Hebrew, there’s a word which does not usually get translated in modern versions: the consecutive waw. This word can be translated “and” (“And Jehoiada got for him two wives….”) or it can be translated “but” or “except” (“Except Jehoiada got for him two wives…”) The use of “except” in this passage parallels perfectly the negative “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away” in the Kings passage. Idolatry and polygamy are portrayed negatively in parallel to each other, exactly as we have seen in other passages throughout Scripture. Clearly, Joash’s polygamy is not the subject of Divine blessing.

Summary and Application

So we see from this little trip through the Old Testament that God consistently forbids and disapproves of polygamy in all forms. The attempt made by some to question the concept of “biblical marriage” by introducing these false marital forms falls absolutely flat. God does not bless these lifestyles, and He clearly sees them as adulterous. We’ve also seen that there is a relationship between polytheism (worship of multiple gods) and polygamy, even if Yahweh is among the other gods in the pantheon. Today in modern-day America, lifestyles beyond the boundaries of the biblical marriage format are- at the core- the result of worshipping something or someone besides the God of the Bible. It is in casting down the spiritual high places that we can return to a truly biblical understanding of God’s plan for marriage.

However, let’s not forget that God is merciful to nations and individuals who have not chosen rightly in this area. God gave the world before the Flood 120 years during which His Spirit “strove with man.” God did indeed bless Abraham, Jacob, and David in spite of their polygamy because He is good, gracious, and loving, not because their lifestyle choices were always right. Goodness and mercy are in God Himself, not in us, as is evidenced by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. God tends to the needs of the victims of abusive relationships, just as He tended to poor Hagar, the slave. He met people where they were at in life, such as Jacob, and brought them up to places only He could take them.

This post is part of a continuing series on theology and human sexuality. I plan on writing a few more entries on the role of women in Scripture and the ideal picture of love and romance in Song of Solomon. You can read the next post on adultery by clicking this link.

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Homosexuality as a Distortion of God’s Plan for Humanity

I’ll just give you a warning: this post isn’t exactly going to be family-friendly. Oh, I’ll do my best to be as professional as possible about the whole thing, but the Bible is anything but PG-rated when it comes to the facts of life. We live in a fallen world in which all manner of immorality occurs. The Bible is frank without being vulgar, but there are some things that just aren’t pleasant to have to deal with. So…that’s my warning.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, it is very obvious that heterosexual monogamy is considered the norm. Not that homosexuality or polygamy in a variety of forms didn’t exist, but simply that these were distortions of the real thing. Let me first be very clear on something: the Bible does not castigate a person for their temptations. Jesus Himself experienced temptation by an external Tempter. No, it is not the desire to do wrong that is sin. It is meditating on, lusting after, or acting on those temptations. Whether it is nature or nurture that produces homosexual desires is- in a sense- beside the point. The existence of the temptation is not permission to sin. We would say the same thing of a man desiring a woman on a computer screen or in the next cubicle. However, we need not burden someone beyond what they can bear. God didn’t say “stop being tempted”, He reminded us through the Apostle Paul to “walk in the Spirit” so that we could avoid fulfilling the lust of the flesh. We are told to cast cares upon Him, to abide in Him, to meditate on His Word, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is not the temptation that defines us; it is our true identity- in Christ or apart from Him- that makes us who we are. The Spirit and the Word have the power to transform despite our own innate failings and weaknesses.

Historical Background

To get started, a little history is in order, because it will better help us understand the context of the Old Testament. There is no clear law concerning homosexuality outside of Israel until the 2nd millennium BC. The Assyrian Law (Mesopotamians were known for being a little on the permissive side) states that if a man is accused of being homosexual in public and the accusation cannot be proven, the slanderer must be given “50 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s service for one full month; they shall cut off his hair; moreover, he shall pay 3600 shekels of lead.” (“The Middle Assyrian Laws,” translated by Martha Roth)  The same set of Assyrian laws requires that a man who rapes another man should be turned into a eunuch. Because the rapist has robbed a man of masculinity, his masculinity would also be taken from him. Near Eastern Law is big on the concept of “lex talionis” (an eye for an eye), therefore Assyrian law shows that homosexuality was not an acceptable thing to be involved in, as the punishment was itself painful and embarrassing. This concept of lex talionis will be very important later when we talk about the treatment of women in Jewish society. Right now, the point to be made is that homosexuality has been seen as unnatural from our earliest available texts. To even accuse someone of homosexual activity was serious business.

Other Middle Assyrians laws completely forbid homosexual activity, except within the religious cults, where cross-dressing prostitutes also functioned as actors, dancers, and musicians. (This is not to say, by the way, that performing in the Arts is inherently effeminate. There are many very masculine men who have been involved in these areas in history.) These cults had male prostitutes who dressed and acted as women, however, they were not respected by the general population and were considered social pariahs, often referred to as man-women or dog-women. Male prostitutes were thought of as a parody of womanhood, being considered a man who has been turned into a woman by the goddess Ishtar. (Jensen, The Relevance of the Old Testament) Beyond the cults, penalties for homosexuality were generally only levied against those that played the role of the male in a homosexual act. This method of punishment is true of most cultures that criminalized homosexuality.

In contrast, early Egyptian myths and royals seem somewhat favorable toward homosexuality. Imagery and religious texts describe this behavior in sometimes great detail. In the 15th Century, however, attitudes changed. The now-famous Book of the Dead linked homosexuality with pedophilia, and the religious attitudes of the time caused a cultural shift away from permissiveness. According to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice, homosexuality in Egypt was completely outlawed about 300 years before Christ.

Noah and Sodom in Genesis

While there is no secular reference to homosexuality in the cultures surrounding Israel (Canaanites and other Semitic peoples), the Bible itself has something to say on this topic. The first incident that is often brought up is Ham’s viewing of a drunken Noah. I believe this to be a poor example of God’s statements toward homosexuality. We are told that Ham saw Noah naked, but we are not told that he “uncovered his father’s nakedness”- a euphemism in Scripture for sleeping with a man’s wife. We are only told that he “saw” his father’s nakedness. Furthermore, Ham’s two brothers remedied the situation by simply covering their father with their backs to him. If that is the remedy, the problem was not one of sexual activity. No, it would rather seem that Ham was extremely disrespectful toward his father, if not somewhat voyeuristic. Ham’s “seeing” in the Hebrew deals with “looking searchingly” and telling his brothers has overtones of delight. Rather than addressing the issue of homosexuality, I believe that this passage warns against making a mockery of what is private and being too interested or curious in things that are inappropriate. This is certainly a pertinent warning in the age of the Internet.

Perhaps the most well-known account of homosexuality in the Bible is the infamous incident at Sodom in which Sodom is destroyed for its evil just after Lot and most of his family escape. Some have argued that Sodom’s great sin was not homosexuality. They claim that the men of Sodom wanted to “know” the angelic visitors in the sense of hospitality. The problem is that the Hebrew word for know here is used of the case of incest between Lot and his daughters just a few paragraphs later, making hospitality completely a moot point. “Being good neighbors” simply doesn’t fit the context. James DeYoung’s book titled Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined reveals that- in context- only sexual sin can be in view here due to the literary structure of the book of Genesis. Just prior to Isaac’s birth, Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah, which are subsequently destroyed. Then, Lot’s daughters get their father drunk and essentially rape him. Following this narrative, there is the issue of Abraham claiming that Sarah is his sister which nearly gets Isaac claimed by the wrong father! In each of these three cases, sexual immorality occurs (or is in danger of occurring), divine judgment falls, and- in a sense- Abraham, his family, and his descendants are in danger. There is a literary coherence here- these three accounts are put together on purpose. It is further claimed, however, that the issue of Sodom is its attempted rape- not simply the act of homosexuality. However, to interpret the Hebrew verb (“yada”- to know) as “rape”  rather than “have sex with” forces some incredible words out of Lot’s mouth: “Don’t rape my visitors. Here are my daughters, both virgins- rape them!” It also requires every single instances of “knowing” someone in the biblical sense to possibly indicate rape. This makes absolutely no sense.

The Mosaic Law

We move now to the Mosaic Law. I will say more about the nature of the Mosaic Law within a theocracy, lex talionis, and case law later. For now suffice it to say that the punishment does fit the crime, but not in the way you might suspect. Leviticus 18:22 says: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Unlike other ANE laws, both men were found guilty and penalized. Strange as it may sound, this is virtually unheard of in the ancient world, according to Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Normally, only the male/aggressor role is penalized. For those concerned with the issue of lesbianism, remember that there is a certain egalitarianism present in the Old Testament. Men were representative in language, but “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” in practice. All 10 Commandments, for instance, are written as to a male in the original language, however, God clearly intends for both genders to obey His commandments. Additionally, Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and the Customs in Judaism make it clear that lesbianism was also banned by the Mosaic Law, according to nearly every Rabbinic interpretation.

In Leviticus 18:22, the punishment is being cut off from the people (Israel), while in Leviticus 20:13, the punishment is death. It is not an either/or scenario. They are removed from the drama of Israel’s unfolding history- a tremendous privilege- and their life is also forfeit. Homosexuality- among other sins- is an abomination. While all sexual sins in Leviticus 18 are collectively called abominations, homosexual intercourse is the only sin specifically given this distinction from the entire list. While some things are an abomination because they cause ritual impurity, other actions are called abominable in the sense that they are “utterly incompatible with the will of God and … are viewed by Him with repugnance because of its evil.” (P.J. Harland)

There are those that try to connect the type of homosexuality prohibited in the Old Testament with ritual cultic prostitution. The main evidence given for this line of thinking is the commandment forbidding homosexuality in Leviticus 18, which is preceded immediately by the commandment forbidding sacrificing children to Molech. However, the Leviticus 20 passage refers to homosexuality while also prohibiting incest and bestiality without mentioning idolatry specifically. While it is true that Leviticus is largely concerned with not being like the surrounding Canaanites, there is always a reason for not being like them. God never tells Israel to be unique just for the sake of being different.

Another charge often brought up is that these commandments are part of the Mosaic Law and are therefore not applicable today. The role of the Mosaic Law is a complex one that I won’t spend time on at this point, however, I would like to point out the punishment for homosexuality explained in Leviticus 18:26-29:

“But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either thenative or the stranger who sojourns among you  (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),  lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.  For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people.

It is worth noting that, while the commandment against homosexuality was given to the Jews, these same sexual sins brought judgment upon non-Jewish nations prior to Israel’s arrival. When it comes to sexuality, God holds us all to the same standard. Sin is sin, no matter when or where you live. There is a universal moral law, regardless of whatever else may be true of the Mosaic Law.

What about Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan?

Homosexuals will often point to two key relationships in the Old Testament as evidence of God blessing homosexual activity. Ruth and Naomi are the first target, primarily because they kiss each other and weep together, and they live together alone. However, both women were previously married to men. Ruth also expresses incredible Abraham-like faith, throwing in her lot with God’s people rather than returning to paganism, and she is loyal to her mother-in-law against all odds. Naomi plays something of a matchmaker, but she is by no means a lover to Ruth. Their relationship is clearly mother-daughter, and any attempt to see it otherwise is reading into the text something that is simply not there. Ruth is, in fact, a beautiful love story which anticipates the arrival of Boaz at the end. Ruth’s inclusion in the line of David and Christ would be impossible if the Leviticus 18 and 20 prohibitions cutting her off from the people of Israel were followed. Speculation such as this is completely unwarranted.

1Samuel 18 says that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1Samuel 19:1 tells us that Jonathan “took great delight” in David. 1Samuel 20 tells us that they swore by their love for each other, kissed each other, wept with each other, etc. When Jonathan dies, David says in 2Samuel 1:26 that Jonathan’s love was better than the love of women. So was David gay, or possibly bisexual?

In short, no. David was certainly not strictly homosexual, and neither was Jonathan, as both men had wives (several, in David’s case) and children. What about “loving David as his own soul”? Would it surprise you to learn that, in Hebrew, this is not the first time that phrase was used of two males? In Genesis 44:30, Judah tells his brother Joseph that their father Jacob’s “life is bound up in the boys’ life.” The two phrases are of different wording in English, but the Hebrew behind them is identical. David and Jonathan share a bond similar to that of Jacob and his son Benjamin. There is a father-son affection between them; Jonathan was David’s mentor and friend. (We forget that Jonathan was old enough to be David’s father, being at least 20 years older.)

What about Jonathan’s love for David? The word for love here (“ahab”) has a variety of meanings. Just a few verses after we find that David and Jonathan loved one another, we are told in 1Samuel 18:16 that all of Israel loved David– the exact same Hebrew word is used. David may have had multiple wives, but frankly, reading sexual love into this verse is quite a stretch! That Jonathan took great delight in David is not unusual, his father King Saul is said to delight in David as well in 1Samuel 18:22. The word for delight simply means to “find favor.” In context, this seems to indicate political favor or professional interest.

As for two men kissing, we need to stop reading the Bible like 21st-century Americans! Other cultures permit kissing between men without reading sexuality into the action. In our own country, men were much more physically affectionate with each other than they are today. Men kiss throughout the books of Samuel with no sexual intent: Samuel kisses David (1Samuel 10), David kisses Absalom (2Samuel 14:33), Absalom kissed the people visiting him in 2Samuel 15, David kissed his friend Barzillai (2Samuel 19:40), and Joab kissed his enemy Amasa (2Samuel 20:9). As for the exchange of clothing and deep commitment expressed in 1 Samuel 18, this passage details the sealing of a covenant between David and Jonathan.In giving David his cloak and armor, Jonathan was symbolically handing David the throne. The David and Jonathan saga is about God’s will being providentially attended to, the power of extreme selflessness, and the importance of mentorship. It has nothing to do with homosexuality, and any attempt to read homosexuality into the text is simply revisionism.

Summary and Practical Application

So what are we to make of all this? Clearly homosexuality is forbidden, lacking any positive example in the Bible. This is not a strictly religious position, as most cultures are historically in opposition to the practice. Is there any grace to be found in a seemingly-severe textual landscape? In a word- yes. It is true that the Canaanites were driven from the land in part because of homosexual activity (see Leviticus 18 and 20). However, Genesis 15:16 reveals that God did not swiftly and immediately destroy the Canaanites, but graciously gave those committing abominations 400 years of probation. In that time, they were given opportunities to learn of  God through national Israel, and many did join with God’s people before those nations were wiped out.

Sodom, too, saw grace of another sort. Abraham rescued Lot and all of the inhabitants of Sodom from a coalition of city-states that had invaded (Genesis 14) before Sodom’s destruction took place. They knew of Abraham and the God he served, and they knew, too, of Lot’s faith- though his heart quickly changed. Had Sodom held ten righteous people, God would have spared that city a second time (Genesis 18:32).

Under theocracy in Israel, and due to the presence of the Tabernacle/Temple and the indwelling Shekinah, judgment of homosexuality seems to us to be severe. Righteous justice may demand the death of the person, but that does not speak to what must be done with a person’s soul. A repentant sinner- no matter what the sin- can be saved and not lost because of God’s grace, mercy, and love. A person struggling with deep-rooted sin need not feel only God’s wrath, but also Divine grace and love. Consider Ezekiel 16:51, in which God reveals that Judah had multiplied abominations more than Sodom, including homosexuality and possibly bestiality. But what does God say in Ezekiel 18:31-32?

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?   For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

He goes on to promise blessings for His people, and promises to put His spirit within them in Ezekiel 36:27. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Christians, we must express disapproval of homosexual practice, but we must do so with an awareness of our own fallenness. We must distinguish between desires, orientation, and the actual homosexual lusts and acts. Homosexual lusts and actions are sins, but there are many, many more sins out there that we all struggle with every day. And God loves us anyway. Let us therefore love others by blending grace and righteousness until they seem to almost merge into the same thing. There are many with sexual wounds and physical illnesses because of this sin- it degrades and harms like all other sin. We should welcome them in the spirit of Truth and Love, and not blast with hate, even if our favorite chicken sandwich is on the line.

Next Post: Polygamy

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What Physics Class Taught Me

I signed up for physics class in high school not really knowing what to expect. I’d always loved science classes, and I didn’t expect this one to be any different. It was. God help me, it was. Why it didn’t occur to me that physics would be a lot of formulas and math, I will never know. What I do know is that it took every ounce of mental energy I could muster to survive that year, and survive I did. To this day, I’m convinced that God somehow changed my semester grades when my teacher wasn’t looking.

Perhaps the biggest frustration I experienced with physics class wasn’t the amount of work I had to deal with so much as the fact that I felt like very little of what I was learning really applied to real life. (Ok, I know that that is what students say about practically every class they take, but hear me out.) After all, practically every equation I learned had the wonderful little caveat “in a vacuum” somewhere in the description.  We learned about the speed of light in a vacuum, terminal velocity in a vacuum, friction in a vacuum, and so on and so forth. In other words, we learned about how things move and act if there’s no matter to influence it. So nothing work exactly the way an equation said it should because we don’t experience reality in a vacuum. (Happily, I might add, since that would pretty much eradicate life on earth.) This is a great illustration of the point of this particular post: nothing is learned or experienced in isolation.

We’ve discussed already how apologetics is a very biblical concept. Now I want us to focus on why it is so important. It is absolutely true that we are called to be salt and light to a dark and lost world- we should be evangelistic since Christ is the ultimate answer to our world’s problems. It is also absolutely true that God has called us to faith and faithfulness, so our message includes elements of morality and ethics. However, it is also true that we must be aware of the cultural backdrop against which people will hear the Gospel. The Gospel is never heard in isolation, and we must be able to answer the darkness with light. We as Christians must be willing and able to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. That imagination may take the form of the acceptance of sin, the secularist/naturalistic worldview, or belief in false religions. The response by Christians must always be the same. We must be able to give a loving answer concerning the hope that we have.

The sad reality is that Christianity has been relegated to a generic “faith” in our Western culture. It’s just another superstition, something someone believes to make themselves feel good. It’s just a crutch. The goal of apologetics is to answer that perspective. We know that Christianity is not just another generic faith. It’s not the same thing as the New Atheist’s “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” It’s the goal of apologetics to bring Christianity out of the private sphere and into the public sector.

Christians ought to be able to explain their faith in ways that make it an acceptable perspective in academics, law, and courts, regardless of the current perspective on issues such as the “separation of church and state.”  I’m not saying anyone will come to Christ simply from apologetics. I am saying that Christians who understand the tenets of our faith and can explain them reasonably will help to create a culture in which Christianity is a reasonable and acceptable thing. The “Moral Majority” has made a fool of Christianity and has lost its power. It will not be political might that rights the wrongs of society. That is the job of biblical Christian demonstrating and explaining a viable faith in a reasonable way.

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Sphere Sovereignty

Perhaps the single greatest thought I gleaned from Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project was the idea of sphere sovereignty. Sphere sovereignty is the idea that God has ordained and organized aspects of human existence, and that these aspects of existence are distinct and separate from one another. Examples of spheres include Family, the State, Church, Labor/Arts/Education, Economics/Business, and a personal relationship with God. While each sphere relates to the others in a number of ways, they are not to be organized or controlled by the other spheres.

For instance, God has ordained that marriage consist of one man and one woman, and that is all. The State may recognize marriages, and many people get married in Church by a pastor. However, the State does not have the power to extend the definition of marriage beyond the limit set by God. Similarly, the Church does not have the power to forbid to marry, nor can the Church dictate how marriages must operate, beyond what Scripture has already said. The Church has been given a set of rules concerning the roles of men and women in its function, and the Family has a particular set of rules concerning how Husbands and Wives may relate to each other. However, businesses and governments are not necessarily bound to those same rules concerning the roles of men and women.

I think the reason I like the idea of sphere sovereignty so much is that it is a balanced, rational approach to life. Not too long ago, and in some places today, Ecclesiasticism had a powerful hold over the West. The Church was able to dictate what the State should do, and it assumed the role of mediator between God and Man. This was an obvious mistake. However, since the “Enlightenment” (and I do use that word with a hint of disgust), Secularism has swept through and caused disaster after disaster. Secularists believe that Christianity (among other faiths) has no place in the public square. Church and one’s relationship with God are to be completely separate from everything. Secularism accepts and emphasizes sphere sovereignty, yet denies a relationship between spheres. Neutral secularism does not last long because faith is absolutely necessary in humans.

It is impossible to simply not believe in anything greater beyond ourselves, nor can one ever be truly independent. So the State has, in many places, become a monstrosity that has absorbed- or attempted to absorb- all the other spheres. It attempts to dictate what marriage is, what can be taught or preached about certain issues in Church, how faith may be practiced, where Christian works may be practiced, how religion in the sciences and arts are to be handled, and the list goes on and on. The State has, in many minds, taken on the role of a deity. It is a provider. It is a protector. It is what we owe allegiance to, and in return for our worship, we deserve certain things. What a pitiful thing the welfare State quickly becomes!

It is not just the State that has struggled with secularism, though. In the sphere of human labor, Christianity is rarely accepted. Be careful where you share your faith! Naturalism now grips the sciences, and the Arts are often mired in the clay of the revolting, obscene, and perverse. Families lack guidance, and even the Church struggles against anti-intellectualism, moral poverty, and decay of true worship. Among the many needs the western world has, a return to the idea of sphere sovereignty tops my list. Only then can a truly natural order be restored to a society in chaos. Families, businesses, academics, artists, individuals, and churches must return to what God has said in His Word about social order. I am not talking about theocracy here. I’m talking about conforming our ideology to reality.

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The Importance of Prejudice

Prejudice is inescapable, and moreover it is necessary. Oh, I know the word has a very negative connotation these days, and rest assured that I’m not trying to cast a positive light on discrimination or injustice. What I mean here is that there will always be- indeed must be- preconceived notions out there. In fact, the truth is that eradicating one preconceived idea (prejudice) will only result in another preconceived idea gripping a society. Once, it was the prejudice of a society that it was wrong for an unmarried woman to get pregnant. While one might point to various religions and cultures as the basis for such a belief, it could hardly be said that any one institution was responsible. Society has now moved onward to the prejudice that there is nothing wrong with an unmarried woman getting pregnant. Once again, no one institution or belief system can claim responsibility here, because the majority of people in America did not reach this conclusion after a thorough study of the issue. Most people simply assumed that because it wasn’t illegal, it wasn’t their business. Tada! Prejudice! Humans are wired for it! The prejudice some Americans held against minorities is giving way to a prejudice in favor of minorities. Prejudice is universal, so it becomes not a question of whether or not to be prejudiced, but rather which prejudices are appropriate and right.

I’m going to make an assertion that will seem a little harsh to some. I believe- very strongly- that it is absolutely cruel not to instill prejudices in young people. Young people need to be instilled with useful prejudices that will help them throughout life. It is good, right, kind, decent, and sensible to impart wisdom to the next generation. Young people need to know what is right and wrong, what is wise and unwise. They need to be taught principles (literally “first things” ….prejudices) for living life. They need to be taught how to make decisions about friends, love, jobs, colleges, budgeting, and morals. Christianity (and, in fact, most religions, since those with common sense are often the deeply religious) has been an advocate of instilling children with Truth since its very inception.

Yet we live in a world that desires to escape the conventional prejudices that made up a decent society. Yet, escaping the conventional becomes a convention in itself. New prejudices are formed, and everyone is encouraged to accept these “radical” new ideas. Of course, these ideas turn out to be neither new nor radical, but actually detrimental to society. Marriage, love, and family are constantly being redefined, to the detriment of our society. In the end, it turns out that mankind is inclined to the same tired temptations that we have been subject to for millennia. There truly is nothing new under the sun…

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Oh, For Crying Out Loud!

I got the title of this post from my favorite line from Stargate: SG-1. Jack O’neill always says it when he gets frustrated by people who waste time on stupidity, wrong-headed thinking, or inane political mumbo-jumbo. Frankly, I’ve noticed a lot of Christians that deserve a good “Oh, for crying out loud,” from the Colonel himself, followed by my second favorite line. My reason for this is that it seems like so many Christians have their heads firmly planted in the sand.

I say this because I have met so many Christians who naively think that they are not responsible for what happens in the world around them. Their attitudes and words, they think, do not influence those around them. Their choice of entertainment, they suppose, is entirely a matter of personal preference, devoid of any deeper meaning and incapable of creating unintended consequences. Whether or not they vote or are involved in government and law (one hesitates to use the word “politics”) is of little consequence. Worldview, apologetics, and philosophy have no meaning to them, and they would just as soon have everyone avoid this area of reality altogether. And, oh, the excuses they use to justify these ideas. Some of them even use Bible verses to bolster their position.

Reality check, folks: everything matters. Everything. Your words and attitudes have direct consequences for yourself and those around you. Everything you say either builds up or tears down, and the believer is called to edify. Now, I know this conversation is used to tell people to be polite. Allow me to turn the argument on its head: it is never merciful to allow error to continue unchecked. It is never loving to overlook that which is dangerous. Love cannot bear evil to go unchecked in its object. You are not being nice when you leave sin unaddressed; you are being cruel.
Now that we got that out of the way, I move on to my second frustration: Christians think that what happens in the public sphere is of none of their concern. Imagine that! Christian secularists!!! It will never end well, folks, for us to sit on our hands and wait for the end. “This world is not my home, I’m just’a passing through” was never intended to encourage us to be apathetic- or maybe just pathetic- in our convictions. After all, if songs were supposed to be the foundation of our ideology, whatever happened to “This is my Father’s World”? If we believe abortion is wrong, we must condemn it- and condemn it strongly. If we believe that a sexual union and commitment between two people of the same sex is a perversion of the sacred, then we had better being doing our dead-level best to influence our government.
No, I don’t mean that we should be cruel or unkind. We should always be loving, but, remember what I already said: to permit that which is dangerous and sinful is cruel. If you love this country, it should vex you to see what goes on in it. If you at least care about the people of the country you live in, you ought to want to help them avoid sin. Now, some of you are going to go off the deep end on me. You’re going to say: “What about verses such as Proverbs 21:1, Dan 21:1, and Romans 9:17 that tell us that God is in control of government? Shouldn’t we just let Him do His job while we work on the Great Commission or something?” Well, I have a couple of responses to that:
  1. Involvement in something other than government, law, and other aspects of the public square is not contradictory to concern for evangelism and discipleship. I would also add here that the Great Commission is not the only aspect of Christian responsibility. Otherwise, ditch you family and your job and spend the rest of your (most likely short) life winning folks and getting them into church! Oh, you’d have to revoke your citizenship, too, since that’s a part of human government.
  2. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Nehemiah, Daniel, Esther, and a host of other men and women of God were directly involved in influencing the course of their nation.
  3. God gives everyone talents and responsibilities so that they may work. Work is by default a good thing because God intended for us to work. It’s a part of His creation. God’s idea of “work” is not limited to a job, but to that which creates, repairs, maintains, and produces. In a sense, everything except for recreation is work- even voluntary involvement in government.
  4. We live in a nation that gives us direct access to our leaders. We can vote on the federal and local levels. We can call, email, and write our leaders. Just like Daniel and Esther, you and I have an audience with our leaders. They may not always do what is right, but we are responsible to do our best.
  5. We live in a capitalist society, for the most part. For this reason, your dollar is your vote for the goods that ought to be produced. When you buy a CD or movie, you tell the producers you want more of that kind of product. “What you applaud you encourage, but beware what you celebrate, ” says Ravi Zacharias. What are you telling Hollywood?
  6. Jesus didn’t limit His command for us to be salt and light to strictly evangelism, even though that is how we often portray it. No, He says that we must season the earth and light the world so that people will glorify God in Heaven. This can be done in many ways; naming the name of Christ must be done in even the highest places in the nation.

In fact, the use of the word “world” in Matthew 5 is interesting. “You are the light of the world”, Jesus says. The word “world” is from the Greek word “kosmos”. The Kosmos is defined as “constitution, order, and government”, “the human family”, “the universe and all of reality” and “world affairs”, according to my Greek lexicon. Interesting. We are supposed to be a light to law and government. How can we do so without informing those that work in such areas concerning Truth?

Which brings me to my last point. Truth matters. Either it is sacred and therefore must be protected, proclaimed, and defended, or it is unimportant and may be trampled under foot. For this reason, worldviews matter, for they are how people unintentionally interpret reality and Truth. Philosophy matters, for it is how people intentionally interpret reality and Truth. Apologetics matters, because it treats all Truth as God’s truth. There is no direction you and I can go in reality, no sphere into which we delve, in which God has not spoken. His Truth is everywhere. We can use His Truth, His world, His revelation of Himself through the cosmos to speak truth into people’s lives. If your concern is for evangelism and discipleship, you have no choice but to explore the world of philosophy, worldview, and apologetics.

Too many Christians are picking their one area, retreating into their hand-crafted shells of existence. Whether the world ends with a bang or a whimper, they are only concerned with themselves in the end. They do not want to learn. They do not want to expend energy. They’d rather go to task on only their one thing. We need people like Nehemiah in the Bible. He commanded his people to both defend and build. They took up sword and trowel to accomplish the task God had for them. We need to do the same- or get out of the way so someone else can.

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Faith of our (Founding) Fathers

As I said in my previous post, America was once a very different nation. It was a nation founded on Christianity, a fact which has been denied and covered up by historical revisionists. Here’s some quotes and statistics that have been buried by some:

  • The most popular book in colonial America (after the Bible) was The New England Primer. According to Daniel S. Burt’s The Chronology of American Literature, it sold nearly 5 million copies, an astounding accomplishment when you consider that there were roughly 4 million people living in the USA in 1776. It taught Christianity in conjunction with English and morality. Here’s some examples:

  • Harvard University began just a sixteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims, and included the following statements in its original Rules and Precepts. “Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him, Proverbs 2,3.”
  • Gouveneur Morris, the penman of the Constitution wrote: “”Religion is the only solid basis of good morals;
    therefore, education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.”
  • Benjamin Rush, the youngest signer of the Constitution wrote: “The only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government…is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.”
  • “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”- John Adams
  • “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”- George Washington, 1796
  • “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” – Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence
  • “Righteousness alone can exalt America as a nation…The great pillars of all government and social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”- Patrick Henry
  • “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”- John Adams
  • “To preserve the government we must also preserve morals. Morality rests on religion; if you destroy the foundation, the superstructure must fall. When the public mind becomes vitiated and corrupt, laws are a nullity and constitutions are waste paper.”- Daniel Webster
  • Then there’s the oath of office from the original Delaware Constitution: “I, _____ do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
  • “Whereas we all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity with peace; and whereas in our settling (by a wise providence of God) we are further dispersed upon the sea coasts and rivers than was at first intended, so that we can not according to our desire with convenience communicate in one government and jurisdiction; and whereas we live encompassed with people of several nations and strange languages which hereafter may prove injurious to us or our posterity.”- The Articles of Confederation
  • “I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”- Benjamin Franklin (He doesn’t sound to much like a deist or agnostic here, now does he?)
  • “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” -Patrick Henry
  • “The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis and the source of all genuine freedom in government….I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable, in which the principles of Christianity have not a controlling influence.”  -James Madison

Where will we wind up if we continue on our course away from God? What will happen to us if we completely destroy our foundations? I talked about Rome in the last post. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has another, more recent answer for us, and his analysis is frightening:

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

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What Does a Christian Nation Look Like?

I cheated. I recently ordered Focus on the Family‘s The Truth Project for small groups in churches and schools. It’s an exciting program, but I didn’t wait for training or go through a small group myself to watch the DVDs. I watched them. All of them. In less than twenty-four hours. Dr. Del Tackett is an amazing teacher, but, far more importantly, he accurately describes and defines faith in a God that is far more amazing. I won’t spoil the series for you, because I think that it is much more powerful in a group setting, but I will use one of the lessons as a jumping-in point for today’s posting.

Ever since President Barack Obama told the world that the United States is not a Christian nation, there’s been a lot of questioning about whether or not he was right in doing so. Perhaps it is better to first ask ourselves what it takes to be a Christian nation. Can you simply slap a label on a country and call it Christian? Can you deny it that label if you so choose? What would a truly Christian nation look like?

A Christian nation would begin with the understanding that God has set up a number of distinct realms in society that are dependent on each other. The Truth Project materials list these realms: Family, Labor, State, Community, Relationships with God, and Church. Each sphere is sovereign in nature. Families operate in a distinct way from churches, and one does not replace the other. One has the duty to create because we are made in God’s image, but work should not encroach upon or replace your relationship with God. Sovereignty, however, does not eliminate an appropriate relationship between spheres. Families ought to go to church. Going to church ought to bolster our relationship with God. A strong relationship with God should provide meaning to work. Work should support and enhance community and government. Government and community should find its principles for functionality from a proper view of Scripture. There is a distinction between Church and State, but the two cannot completely separate themselves from each other. God has ordained the State (Romans 13:1) for a number of reasons. When a nation forgets God, however, horrible things may happen.

In the absence of a belief in God, the State may come to believe that it has the authority to determine what is right and what is wrong. We’ve seen the results of such a government. According to R. J. Rummel’s work Death by Government, Stalin killed 42 million, Mao Zedong killed nearly 38 million, Adolf Hitler killed 21 million, and on and on and on it goes. The State-that-would-be-God is a terrible monstrosity. Unfortunately, there are those who have no problem with this mentality.  G. W. F. Hegel wrote:

“The Universal is to be found in the State. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is difficult to comprehend Nature, it is harder to grasp the Essence of the State. That State is the march of God through the world.”

What madness is this? The State would absorb family, labor, church, education, and community. And so it has in many Western nations.

In modern-day America, the State gets to determine what marriage is, how a parent may discipline, what should be done to the rich, how the poor must be helped, how a child should be educated, what a church may and may not do in the community, and how a community must function. From the cradle to the grave. What hideous thing mankind has created that now has us slouching toward Gomorrah! What have we done to God’s established order, this wondrous system that should have been a reflection of God’s divine attributes? Where will the West wind up if we continue in this direction? Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire portray the Roman Empire as self-destructing due to the following, among other things:

  1. A mounting love of show and luxury
  2. An obsession with sex
  3. Freakishness in the Arts
  4. An increased desire to live off the State

This path will not end any better for us than it did for Rome. It wasn’t always this way, for America at least.

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Suffer the Children

If Richard Dawkins had his way, that phrase would have a whole new meaning today. In Dawkins’ view (mentioned in The God Delusion as well as on his website, religious education is no different than acts of pedophilia. Such a belief is astounding to me. Hitchens is no different when he writes about children who have “had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory education of faith.” Seriously, guys? Christian education should be illegal? This sort of thing is absolutely outrageous to me.

It’s bad enough that Dawkins and Hitchens want to make it illegal to train a child in the Christian faith. It’s much worse that they are leaving us with only government schools, since parents apparently can’t be trusted. Perhaps they should check out the wonders of the schools in the Soviet Union sometime. They could even look at a lot of the government schools in America and realize that state-run isn’t a very good idea. Things just don’t go well. American freedom must not be allowed to erode any more than it already has, and that includes a parent’s freedom to educate their child as they see fit.

Finally, what does calling religious education “abuse” do to the subject of real abuse? It’s an insult to those who have experienced it. Broken bones, damaged psyches, sexual assaults, and battered bodies are the results of real abuse. Being raised to believe in a kind and loving God “in the nuture and admonition of the Lord” is not. Let’s not forget what the title of this post really means in context. “Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” It seems to me that being raised in a household of faith is as far removed from abuse as I could possibly imagine.

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Atheism: Light or Heat?

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve made it a point to do a lot of reading on the subject of Christianity. I’ve read many books by Christians and Atheists to get their respective points, and it has occurred to me that works from both worldviews claim to be illuminating on the subjects of eternity, purpose, reality, and human nature. Christianity affirms inherent worth, describes our purpose, and reveals the nature of reality and, ultimately, eternity.What is also abundantly clear is that Atheism denies that a vast portion of reality even exists, and instead of reason uses sarcasm, intense emotionalism, and a fervent indignation toward those who espouse any faith. Hitchens’ major complaint is that he can’t see why anyone would want to serve a deity. Dawkins thinks that Christianity is a foolish relic of a distant age. Harris belittles anyone who believes in any god. There may be some justification for some of these thoughts, but they aren’t proper justification for a worldview. Atheism promises light, but only provides heat. It has the appearance of substance, but fails to deliver.

To be certain, there are people on both sides that are passionate. Heck, I’m passionate. There are even believers who are the epitome of “zeal without knowledge”; they are the results of soapbox preaching and topical Bible studies. They roam the internet and do some stupid if not deceitful things in the name of Christ. This isn’t exactly Christian, though. Christ wanted us to be above-board in our dealings with others, and we are admonished to grow in our faith and in our love for God- heart, soul, and mind.

Atheism, on the other hand, lays no such requirements on its adherents. I was recently at an event in which Christopher Hitchens spoke. After the event, I was talking with him and he said that he needed to get to the book signing because he’s needed to “move product.” Later, I talked with him again in the book signing line (hey, if I’m going to buy the book I might as well get it signed), and he told me that even though I didn’t agree with him he didn’t care because anyone who bought his product was a friend of his. The man is obviously in it for the money. Why not, though? If this life is all there is, and you can get rich in this life by selling what you believe, go for it! Christians who are in it for the money, on the other hand, ought to be kicked out of their ministries. They are an anomaly, not representive of Christianity. They may be leaders of megachurches, but they are not leaders in Christian thought or practice. In contrast, Atheists like Hitchens are leaders in atheistic thought and practice. They are heralded as revolutionaries.

Another such revolutionary was philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault wanted to experience life free of inhibitions after the death of God. This led him to try LSD in the wilderness and experiment sexually in ways that range from normative to the grotesque. As a result he died of AIDS. “To die for the love of boys,” he once told a friend, “what could be more beautiful?” Foucault lived out the natural result of an atheistic worldview. There was passion and fervency in his life and in his works, but there was no substance. It was heat without light. Like Stephen Jay Gould and a host of other atheists, Foucault believed that there were no answers.

Finally I turn to Sam Harris, whose Letter to a Christian Nation is the incarnation of the vitriol contained within the New Atheism. He asks where God is when children are raped (page 51) and when New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (page 52). His illustrations are intended to tug at the heart’s strings, and they certainly do so. I hope to deal with the problem of pain at a later date, but for now I’d like to focus on Harris’ assertion that Atheism is nonviolent in nature. Again, I would point out that unrestrained fervency in the last 100 years has been unleashed by those who espouse atheism.

It isn’t that Christians have not had cause to respond violently. The film adaption of The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Serrano’s “artistic” rendering of a crucifix in urine, The DaVinci Code, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and almost any episode of Family Guy are all blasphemous enough to enrage most of the Christian population, but no rioting occurred. There were no deaths. No one was “roughed up” because of these blasphemies. They were decried, but there was no violent action taken or encouraged. Contrast this with what transpired after Proposition 8, the California proposition that defined marriage as occurring exclusively between a man and a woman, passed. The vast majority of homosexuals are atheistic and anti-religious, so it is not a leap to conclude that the reaction is largely the result of an atheistic worldview. Of course, I don’t have time to talk about the affects of Nietzsche’s atheistic writings on Hitler, who in turn passed them on to Mussolini and Stalin. Perhaps we should be reminded of the words of Hitler, inscribed over one of the gas ovens in Auschwitz: “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of conscience, imperious, relentless, and cruel.” Fervency? Of course. Light? Nothing worth mentioning.

Categories: atheism, Bible, Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

The End of Faith?

It’s been quite a week for American Christians. President Barack Obama has made several underhanded comments against conservative Christianity, particularly in labeling it an “ideology” in his decision to allow the unborn to be murdered in the name of scientific advancement. Trinity College also released it’s 2008 ARIS report, detailing a decline (variously labeled “slight” and “staggering” by different commentators) in the number of people who either claim Christianity at all or say that their faith makes any difference in their lives. We can argue over statistical accuracy all day, but the reality is that secularlism in America is on the rise and evangelical Christianity is on a decline. This has been true for years now. This has many thinkers in America- atheist, Christian, and otherwise- discussing what the reason for it is. I recently came across Michael Spencer’s blog and really liked what he had to say. He’s taken some flak for stating his case, but I think he is right on target. What follows is his perspective on American Evangelicalism. You can read the whole article on his site.

Here are Spencer’s primary predictions:

  1. Within ten years, the beginning of a Great Collapse will take place, resulting in only half of Evangelical Christians still attending church.
  2. Public policy (and the public that makes up the policy) will become quite anti-Christian, seeing Christianity as a roadblock to freedom.
  3. Christians will “abandon ship” and not look back.

Spencer says that this will happen for a number of reasons, some of which are listed here:

  1. Christians have come to believe in a political or moral Cause more than the Faith.
  2. Christian youth ministries have failed to instill an orthodox Christian faith in young people.
  3. Many churches are either consumer-driven or dying.
  4. Christian education isn’t nearly as educational as public education.

Spencer’s outlook isn’t hopeless, though. He believes that what remains will be a Church that returns to itsoriginal purpose and goals. I for one hope that his prediction is correct. American Christianity is soft. We’ve spoken boisterously where the Bible is silent. We’ve made politics the main thing when the Church was not meant to be a political power. We’ve entertained people instead of instructing them. We’ve promised education and provided seclusion. Frankly, in light of all of this, Spencer’s predictions aren’t really predictions at all. They’re more like a cause-and-effect analysis.

You can check out Michael Spencer’s blog here.

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You Don’t Need God to be Good…

good-atheistAh, those crazy guys known as “the New Atheists.” They’re kinder, gentler, and eager to please. They’re also quick to point out that you don’t have to be a Christian in order to be a moral person. They cry: “You see! We don’t need God anymore! We don’t need Him as Creator, we don’t need Him as judge, and we certainly don’t need Him as Savior! We don’t need God to scare us into being good!” I have no doubt that there are many moral atheists out there. Most Westerners (and the vast majority of Easterners, for that matter) are decent people. I am, however, just a bit confused on one major point.

…but you do need God for there to be such a thing as Good.

How can you say that you are a good person, a moral person even, when you don’t believe God exists? If there is no God, where are we getting our basis of “good” from? Not from society, that’s for sure. Our customs and laws always change, many national laws conflict with each other, and there are some twisted societies, such as those set up by Nazism and Communism (both Atheistic societies, by the way) whose laws are the most immoral things around. Morality doesn’t come from nature, as that whole “survival of the fittest” thing doesn’t go too well when you applied to natural or social Darwinism. Only the existence of God explains any sense of morality. We aren’t talking about high ideals here. Good must either exist apart from the actions of mankind, or it does not exist at all. Only an immutable Being is capable of producing an immutable Law.

You don’t have to take a Christian’s word for it. Nietzsche was hardly a Bible-thumper in his day. He’s famous for his “God is dead,” statement. Most Christians are still quite up in arms over that , however, they forget Nietzsche’s point in making that statement. Nietzsche saw that moral absolutes have no foundations apart from God. If society ignores (or denies) His existence, there is a massive void in its structure that must somehow be filled. It’s a problem that has never quite gone away.

The New Atheists may be right when they say they are good atheists, but they will have a hard time proving it without God.

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Merry Christ-X (Christmas)

jesus_nativityAnother year, another Battle for Christmas. I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t the way things are going to be for the rest of my life. It seems like every year there are businesses, organizations, and individuals that want to secularize the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. This is done in a number of ways.

Celebrating the Winter Solstice INSTEAD of Christmas

Sorry, folks, but I have better things to do than celebrate Sol Invictus. Replacing a celebration of the birth of Christ with a celebration honoring the sun’s position in the sky is just silly. Did the Roman holiday have something to do with our choice of days to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Probably so. However, Christians celebrate a historical, religious event on Christmas day, while pagans (and anybody else, for that matter) are celebrating a cultural (or perhaps astronomical) event. One doesn’t trump the other.

As a believer, I choose to use Christmas Day to celebrate God sending His Son to rescue humanity from Hell. As a guy who enjoys sunlight, I’m also thrilled that the days will be getting longer after winter solstice. Those two things are distinct from one another, and it’s good that they remain that way.

Replacing “Christmas” with “Holiday.”

This one is just plain rubbish. Is America a diverse nation? Absolutely, and I’m thrilled about it. Listen to me, though, folks. The whole point of diversity is- wait for it- we’re ALLOWED to be diverse. That means that- as a Christian- I can enjoy learning about the Jewish Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) and celebrating the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. I suspect that God was reason the oil burned all eight days, and I believe Jesus did celebrate Hanukkah when He walked this earth. I’m not offended by Jewish celebrations like Hanukkah and Yom Kippur, and I have yet to personally meet a Jewish person who was personally offended by Christmas and Easter.

By the same token, an African-American is free to celebrate their heritage at Kwanzaa. I think we should all be proud of our roots. I love to learn about my Scottish, German, and Native American roots. If there were a particular day to celebrate those roots, I’d probably do so. We should all enjoy our diversity by recognizing these days of celebration. Diversity shouldn’t result in banning the usage of certain terms (such as “Christmas”); it should result in the acceptance of all of these holidays for what they are.

Banning or Vandalizing Nativity Scenes

This is the most malicious and petty of all. Banning the Nativity scenes- even from government buildings- is ridiculous. Diversity should welcome inclusion in America, not result in the banning because it could be offensive. There’s nothing distasteful or crude about the Nativity. People have done much worse with their freedom of speech. Of course, there’s always the crowd that touts “separation of church and state.” I’d like to point out that our government guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from all religious symbols and affiliations. You won’t find the aforementioned phrase in our most important legal documents. Governments do not endorse Christianity wholesale when they permit Nativity scenes. They recognize the diversity of the people they govern.

Vandalism is wrong no matter what the context. However, there is something sinister in the vandalism of a Nativity scene. The Nativity was a place of peace and tranquility, free from violence. “Peace, good will toward men” was spoken by the angels at Jesus’ birth. The average Nativity scene has Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, the Magi, some animals, and an angel, and- of course- the infant Jesus. What aspect of the Nativity is so provocative that people see fit to steal and destroy? There have been reports of scenes in which the infant Jesus has had the number “666” drawn on Him and the even “stabbed” and had fake blood added to the mix. Why?

I suspect that the answer is spiritual in nature. I believe that in spite of any disbelief an individual might have, the light which God has given him cannot be snuffed out completely. There is still a knowledge of the truth that cannot be ignored. Unable to wipe Him out of existence, the mock Him in effigy. It won’t always be so, though.

Replacing “Christ” with “X”

Now, I understand that scholars began this movement way back in the 11th century after Christ as a method of being reverential to His name. There is a historical precedent set by Christians. If I believed that people were being reverent when they shortened “Christmas” with “X-mas”, I might not mind so much. I have little reason to believe that Christ is being left out for religious reasons. Given the secularist atmosphere we live in, I’d say that it’s obvious why Jesus is being left out of the equation. If you want to shorten the name of the holiday, why not take out the half that isn’t so important- the “mass.” I mean, if you pit “Christ” vs. “Mass”, I think it’s obvious which is most important.

Christians need to make sure to include Jesus in all that they do, especially when the point of a holiday is to celebrate His birth. Let’s not get wrapped up in political correctness and consumerism to the point that we can’t enjoy what this “holy day” is all about.

PS- My pastor deserves the credit for the title of his posting. He changed “X-mas” to “Christ-X” one year to prove a point. I thought it was pretty clever, but he said not everyone agreed….

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?, Part 2

pluralism1Things can no doubt get messy when a society pushes toward cultural and ethnic pluralism. Some of that messiness comes from simple differences that have no moral impact. As a nation adapts, the messy parts will be “cleaned up” as a new “norm” is agreed upon. Still more of that messiness can come when a different set of morals is introduced. A nation has to decide which morality to accept. What is illegal here may not be illegal there. This isn’t to say that cultural and ethnic pluralism shouldn’t exist at all. No, the opposite of this sort of pluralism is totalitarianism. Rampant pluralism can, however, destabilize a nation  very quickly.

The most dangerous sort of pluralism, however, is religious pluralism. It has the power to destabilize a nation at its very soul. Remember, religious pluralism asserts that:

  1. religious diversity is beneficial to a nation and must be tolerated by it
  2. no one worldview can fully explain all of reality

Now, if by “tolerance” a pluralists asks that we treat each other respectfully, then I’m all for it. If, however, the pluralist is requiring equal time for EVERY belief system, then there is a problem. The main problem with religious pluralism in general is that it denies absolute truth. Religious pluralists believe that a claim to absolute truth will spawn totalitarianism and hinder the progress of humanity. They cite Jihad and the Dark Ages as illustrations of the dangers of truth claims. The irony is that while pluralism promotes religious tolerance, it is categorically intolerant of any religion that makes a claim to absolute truth. So much for Jesus’ claim to be “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.”

How can all religions be equally valid? Each religion makes its own claims concerning what is true. Christianity leaves no room  for other religions when it tells us that we cannot find salvation in any other name but the name of Jesus Christ. You can’t get around what the Bible teaches.

So by the pluralist definition, Christianity is exclusivist and intolerant. Pluralism would have Christians “live and let live” while denying Christianity any bearing on eternal realities. I suspect that it does the same thing with the other religions of the world. There are precious few that are naturally inclusive and tolerant.

What troubles me is that we live in a world filled to the absolute brim with objective truth. Math has an objectively right answer. Scientists are either right or wrong in their hypothesis. Law requires that there be right and wrong within societies. Even in something as varied as music, there are right and wrong ways to play instruments, and there is printed music to tell the musician if he has got the right note or not. Why, then, do people assume that when it comes to morality and eternality, absolute truth must not exist? Is it not likely that God is quite capable of directing His creation through one, specific truth?

There can be no such thing as truth discovered by blending religions and faiths together into one amalgamated mess. They are all at their heart mutually exclusive. So when President-Elect Obama says that he will use people from different backgrounds at his inauguration, recognize that he is in not showing support for anyone or anything. All beliefs are right to him. All truths are valid, because there is ultimately no discernable truth in this reality. Thanks to humanism and secularism, there’s nowhere else to turn…

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

pluralismBelow you can watch President-Elect Obama defending his decision to ask Rick Warren to pray at the inauguration ceremony in January. This decision has caused quite a stir in the Gay Rights community since they assumed that Barack Obama would be relentless in his promotion of the Gay Rights agenda. Of course, there are a number of conservative Christians who feel some alarm at the selection of Rick Warren. They barely consider him to be a believer, much less someone worthy of talking to God. However, I think what everyone has left out of this whole discussion is the worldview that President-Elect Obama holds to.

The core ideas Obama holds to are that of secularism and pluralism. He makes this obvious through the company he keeps, the speeches he makes, and the laws he supports. He considers all religions to be equally right….to an extent. Ironically, while he “respects” all religions, he will rarely cite religion as the answer to any particular problem. Those who believe that Obama is a Muslim have no reason to fear (at least on grounds that he might give us over to the Muslims), for Obama considers Allah and Jehovah to be one and the same. Ironically, he also considers both of them to be obsolete. As a secularist, he has nothing to turn to but pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that a diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and religions are beneficial to and must be tolerated by the individual and the nation. In fact, pluralists would go so far as to say that no culture, ethnicity, or religion has the ability to explain all of reality.

While he seeks “equality”, he is most interested in plurality. This belief runs so deep in him that he has come to the conclusion that this is what “America is about.”  He wants to focus on what we all have in common. But is it all about diversity? I mean, are there some ideas that shouldn’t be given equal time and weight?

Now, I am in no way opposed to knowledge of different cultures, ethnicities, or religions. I am also very much for treating people respectfully no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they believe. I believe that knowledge of the world around us can be a great benefit.

However, I believe that we must be careful with the multicultural aspects of pluralism. We are Americans. When we educate our children, we must be careful that we spend the bulk of our time teaching them how we got where we are today. Greek, Roman, and British cultures are the most important cultures to Americans because they gave so much to us as a nation. I’m not saying that other cultures aren’t important. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be taught on. I’m saying that they are important for figuring out why America is the way it is. It helps chart a cultural course back thousands of years. This sort of historical education gives us roots.

Education concerning other cultures and ethnicities tell us how other nations have come into being. It introduces us to their thoughts, beliefs, etc. There are a great many useful and fascinating things on the surface of and buried beneath foreign cultures. Exposure to this sort of information gives Americans as a nation the wings necessary to soar to new heights. America was, after all, intended to be a melting pot.

If, however, we mix up our priorities- emphasize other cultures and divulge only a cursory level of information about the cultures that shaped ours- we risk shattering our national self-image and giving our descendents an identity crisis like none other. Some have argued that this has already begun to happen.

When it comes to the Law of Morality, the situation gets much worse. If two cultures or religions disagree on some point of morality, whose do you follow? Typically, “tolerance” requires that everyone accept the lower standard of morality. It doesn’t stop there, though. Once a nation has rationalized some new sin, it glories in it while ignoring the spiritual price.

More to come later….

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Change the Nature, Change the Thing

wedding ringsI need to make it clear from the start of this entry that I’m probably going to anger people on both sides of the issue of gay “marriage.” The Christians will say that I’m somehow being too soft, while the gay rights agenda will say that I’m guilty of bigotry. I should add that “gay marriage” doesn’t exist in the Christian worldview. “Gay marriage” is an oxymoron if you believe that God created Marriage (referring to its essence) to be the union of two individuals of the opposite sex. To say that I believed in gay marriage would be like saying that I believed in dry water or that our sun radiated darkness. The folks who want to argue that their rights are being taken away just don’t see what the real issue is here. Nobody’s rights are at stake. (Literally, folks. Look at the wording of the laws protecting marriage. They don’t make homosexuality a crime or remove legal rights from anybody.) I’m not going to say that there hasn’t been some hatred fueling the issues on both sides, but I refuse to say that discrimination is the primary issue of Proposition 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida.

Biblical Reasoning

I have several reasons for taking this position. I am a believer, and I readily admit that my faith in God and His Word guide my thinking in every area. The Bible asserts that marriage takes place between a man and a woman on numerous occasions. Genesis’ description of the first Parents, the Old Testament Laws, the beautiful illustrations of love in the Old Testament (Jacob and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, etc.), the blessing of Jesus on the Wedding in Cana, Paul’s teachings regarding marriage and the relationship between spouses, and the picture of Jesus and His Bride the Church spring readily to mind.

In contrast, there are NO positive examples of homosexual relationships (in spite of some assertions by liberal “theologians” and members of the homosexual community) in the Bible. There are numerous passages in Scripture that decry the act in both Testaments. The most famous of these are Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Jude 1:6-7. In Romans 1, Paul even portrays the existence of widespread homosexuality in a culture as a means of determining the overall “coldness” that culture has toward God. Of course, homosexuals themselves are not viewed as “beyond saving.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 indicates that some of the believers in Corinth formerly identified themselves as “gay.”

Anthropological Reasoning

However, my reasons for taking this position go beyond simply pointing out a few verses. If you read this blog for very long, you’ll find that “proof texting” is not my idea of a good time. God always has reasons for designating things as “sinful” and “pure.” Of course we should take Him at His Word, but further study can be helpful. The issue of gay marriage is, at its heart, not a legal one. It is sad that we must define reality in legal documents, but that is the world in which we live.

The reality is that the institution of marriage transcends the laws of any society. It has existed as long as humans have been around. The institution of marriage is not the creation of any particular law or society. Like Beauty and Morality, it simply exists at the bidding of the Creator.

It also turns out that marriage isn’t just an awesome idea. It is the most practical method for propagating a stable society. Monogamous, heterosexual relationships create a bond that ensures a basic cooperation between the sexes. This is something that cannot be overlooked or brushed aside. Attraction, emotional attachment, and willful commitment ensure that a couple will continue to exist as a stable building block for society.

Both sexes working in unison not only provide a fulfilling relationship for each other, but also provide cooperation between the sexes in general. This level of commitment and intimacy is not experienced in social, work, governmental, or corporate interactions. In short, without committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriages (the only kind), society would lose all of the building blocks that help it to remain stable. Homosexual unions can never provide this level of interaction between the sexes. There is no substitute for the family!

Developmental Reasoning

Marriage provides an ideal situation for the birth and rearing of children. Recent studies have shown that it is imperative for both a mother AND a father to be present in the home. To remove either from the equation destabilizes the familial “building block.” I barely need to mention the necessity of a woman in the home to nurture children. Massive volumes of books and articles published recently describe the role of the father in the development of boys in particular. Boys are naturally more interactive and therefore need a father to model and teach them masculine traits. No mother (or set of mothers) can perform these tasks, no matter how “loving” she is. Girls need the love of a father to feel accepted. Again, numerous studies show that promiscuity among teenage girls is often linked to either a real or perceived lack of love from a father. Only in the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage can this sort of child rearing take place.


“Love” (loosely defined) is not enough to constitute a marriage. It is not enough to make two people of the same sex worthy of being “parents.” This issue has nothing to do with rights or willing partners. (By the way, just consider for a moment where that line of thinking might get us. I won’t speculate here, but the possibilities are as dark as they are endless.) Marriage is a transcendent institution designed by God that can only be realized in committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It was designed by a brilliant Creator to provide fulfillment in individuals and couples, to ensure a proper environment for the birth and rearing of children, and to propagate stable cultures.

Categories: Philosophical Christianity, Politics | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Change the Nature, Change the Thing

wedding ringsI need to make it clear from the start of this entry that I’m probably going to anger people on both sides of the issue of gay “marriage.” The Christians will say that I’m somehow being too soft, while the gay rights agenda will say that I’m guilty of bigotry. I should add that “gay marriage” doesn’t exist in the Christian worldview. “Gay marriage” is an oxymoron if you believe that God created Marriage (referring to its essence) to be the union of two individuals of the opposite sex. To say that I believed in gay marriage would be like saying that I believed in dry water or that our sun radiated darkness. The folks who want to argue that their rights are being taken away just don’t see what the real issue is here. Nobody’s rights are at stake. (Literally, folks. Look at the wording of the laws protecting marriage. They don’t make homosexuality a crime or remove legal rights from anybody.) I’m not going to say that there hasn’t been some hatred fueling the issues on both sides, but I refuse to say that discrimination is the primary issue of Proposition 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida.

Biblical Reasoning

I have several reasons for taking this position. I am a believer, and I readily admit that my faith in God and His Word guide my thinking in every area. The Bible asserts that marriage takes place between a man and a woman on numerous occasions. Genesis’ description of the first Parents, the Old Testament Laws, the beautiful illustrations of love in the Old Testament (Jacob and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, etc.), the blessing of Jesus on the Wedding in Cana, Paul’s teachings regarding marriage and the relationship between spouses, and the picture of Jesus and His Bride the Church spring readily to mind.

In contrast, there are NO positive examples of homosexual relationships (in spite of some assertions by liberal “theologians” and members of the homosexual community) in the Bible. There are numerous passages in Scripture that decry the act in both Testaments. The most famous of these are Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Jude 1:6-7. In Romans 1, Paul even portrays the existence of widespread homosexuality in a culture as a means of determining the overall “coldness” that culture has toward God. Of course, homosexuals themselves are not viewed as “beyond saving.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 indicates that some of the believers in Corinth formerly identified themselves as “gay.”

Anthropological Reasoning

However, my reasons for taking this position go beyond simply pointing out a few verses. If you read this blog for very long, you’ll find that “proof texting” is not my idea of a good time. God always has reasons for designating things as “sinful” and “pure.” Of course we should take Him at His Word, but further study can be helpful. The issue of gay marriage is, at its heart, not a legal one. It is sad that we must define reality in legal documents, but that is the world in which we live.

The reality is that the institution of marriage transcends the laws of any society. It has existed as long as humans have been around. The institution of marriage is not the creation of any particular law or society. Like Beauty and Morality, it simply exists at the bidding of the Creator.

It also turns out that marriage isn’t just an awesome idea. It is the most practical method for propagating a stable society. Monogamous, heterosexual relationships create a bond that ensures a basic cooperation between the sexes. This is something that cannot be overlooked or brushed aside. Attraction, emotional attachment, and willful commitment ensure that a couple will continue to exist as a stable building block for society.

Both sexes working in unison not only provide a fulfilling relationship for each other, but also provide cooperation between the sexes in general. This level of commitment and intimacy is not experienced in social, work, governmental, or corporate interactions. In short, without committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriages (the only kind), society would lose all of the building blocks that help it to remain stable. Homosexual unions can never provide this level of interaction between the sexes. There is no substitute for the family!

Developmental Reasoning

Marriage provides an ideal situation for the birth and rearing of children. Recent studies have shown that it is imperative for both a mother AND a father to be present in the home. To remove either from the equation destabilizes the familial “building block.” I barely need to mention the necessity of a woman in the home to nurture children. Massive volumes of books and articles published recently describe the role of the father in the development of boys in particular. Boys are naturally more interactive and therefore need a father to model and teach them masculine traits. No mother (or set of mothers) can perform these tasks, no matter how “loving” she is. Girls need the love of a father to feel accepted. Again, numerous studies show that promiscuity among teenage girls is often linked to either a real or perceived lack of love from a father. Only in the context of a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage can this sort of child rearing take place.


“Love” (loosely defined) is not enough to constitute a marriage. It is not enough to make two people of the same sex worthy of being “parents.” This issue has nothing to do with rights or willing partners. (By the way, just consider for a moment where that line of thinking might get us. I won’t speculate here, but the possibilities are as dark as they are endless.) Marriage is a transcendent institution designed by God that can only be realized in committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It was designed by a brilliant Creator to provide fulfillment in individuals and couples, to ensure a proper environment for the birth and rearing of children, and to propagate stable cultures.

Categories: Contemporary Issues, Philosophical Christianity, Politics | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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