February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment
If you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.
Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.
Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:
1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.
We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.
HOW WE ARE CREATED
“…among these are Life…”
God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.
God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.
“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.
HOW WE ARE COMMANDED TO TREAT OTHERS
Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.
As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.
The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.
“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.
“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.
“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.
The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.
I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).
So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.
In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.
This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.
• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.
And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.
Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.
HUMAN RIGHTS THAT ARE SO NOT
Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.
Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.
The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.
The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.
There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.
From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.
Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.
1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights
January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
Note that the Bible in the photo chosen for this story(1) is in a glass case. In secular academia, Scripture rarely gets opened outside of a display. Even in the church, it’s opened far too seldom.
To a culture largely suffering from Biblical illiteracy, The Des Moines Register reports that a new “bill would add ‘Bible literacy’ class to Iowa public schools”. This would be an elective course that gives “students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture,” and not a Bible study designed to preach or proselytize. Even so, the opponents are predicable, including the ACLU and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, which calls the bill “an extreme piece of legislation.”
Honestly, any Christian should be excited for the possibility that even in an academic course on the Bible and its influence on the world, truth-seeking students might just find themselves among the influenced. We can play by the rules of American Pluralism and still have confidence that God can speak through any opportunity His Word is opened.
The Lord reminded His prophet of this long ago: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10,11)
January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Rachael Denhollander: “You made all of these voices matter. You are the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”
Rachael was the first of more than 150 victims of Larry Nassar to come forward. Nassar made a career of sexually assaulting young women and girls he was paid to “treat” as the USA Gymnastics national team osteopathic physician. The full victim impact statement she made at Nassar’s sentencing Wednesday is tough to read, but it’s worth reading. But I wanted to call particular attention to the part of it included in the post, after a word about bravery.
So much of what gets labeled “brave” in our culture today isn’t so brave either because it doesn’t reflect goodness or it doesn’t reflect truth. A musician or celebrity coming out as a lesbian is called brave, but her declaration isn’t good. A politician or athlete coming out as a woman is called brave, but his declaration isn’t true. Gutsy foolishness maybe, but bravery doesn’t quite fit.
All of Nassar’s victims are brave, but what sets Rachael’s testimony apart is that not only did she describe Larry Nassar’s evil, but she explained it, then offered Nassar hope in light of it. She provided an objective basis for good and evil and her desire that Nassar come to terms with his own sin. She calls for justice to the full extent of earthly law, but she also calls Nassar to repentance and forgiveness in “the gospel of Christ. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.” Where hatred would be expected, Rachael boldly appealed to the Bible and answered with Christ’s love and forgiveness in a testimony of the gospel.
Good. True. Brave.
“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.
Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?
Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.
When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.
I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.”
Rachael closes her statement with an ernest appeal to the judge for the maximum penalty allowed because “what was done to them matters.” Indeed, they matter because both our value and God’s justice are “a straight line.”
November 22, 2017 § 1 Comment
Thankfulness is an integral part of knowing and worshiping God. That’s a perspective that Albert Mohler shared on his daily The Briefing program based on a few passages in the Bible that don’t normally get pulled out around Thanksgiving time.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:19-23)
Often this passage is an apologetic for knowledge we all have of our Creator, the existence of Whom can be inductively reasoned from observing creation. But in verse 21, those who reject God “did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.” Rejecting God logically, but maybe not intuitively, goes right along with not being thankful to Him for all He provides. A lack of thankfulness indicates idolatry. The absurdity in feeling thankful at Thanksgiving (which almost everyone does) while rejecting God as the ultimate provider is that we are crediting everything to no one.
Here is where Paul places absence of thankfulness in his 2nd letter to Timothy: “… in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Right there in verse 3, “ungrateful” is among the descriptors of the evil people we should avoid. Though not intuitively, a lack of thanksgiving goes hand-in-hand with all kinds of wickedness.
We try to impress on our son the need for a thankful heart, specifically in our prayers. Even at age 4 or 5, my wife and I were happy to hear him pray before meals and at bed time. At first I dismissed the content of his prayers as childish, because he would thank God for things like trees, grass, and “the ground we can stand on”, along with other aspects of nature. But when I think about the connection between observing God’s creation and thankfulness, I began to see my son’s simple prayers as profound. Am I that thankful for the many things I take for granted, foundational realities like “the ground we can stand on”? In teaching children, we can actually learn a lot ourselves.
With a contrite heart, David wrote in Psalm 106:
“Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider Your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of Your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet He saved them for His name’s sake…”
May we not forget God’s wondrous works and the abundance of His steadfast love, a love that drove God to offer, through Jesus Christ, forgiveness and salvation even to forgetful, rebellious, and ungrateful people. “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). And I would echo my son’s prayer: “Thank you for the ground we can stand on!”
October 28, 2017 § Leave a comment
“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened.” (Acts 9:31a)
Can you imagine that? What was that like? As an elder in a church, it’s hard for me to picture “a time of peace” in ours. There are definitely times where the problems in our church don’t seem too overwhelming, though it seems there is always some form of unrest happening.
But I became an elder during a particularly hard time for our church. I compared church leadership to a Jim Gaffigan comedy sketch I’d heard where he imagines what it must be like as President of the United States to be woken up early every single morning by an aide patting his shoulder and whispering, “Sir… Problems…”
The above passage in Acts follows a time of turmoil for Saul, and likely the church at large, as this newly converted Pharisee began stirring up trouble in Damascus and Jerusalem. Saul “preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” and “debated with the Hellenistic Jews” who then tried to kill him, so the believers he was with had to relocate him (v.s 27-30).
So maybe the “peace” the church enjoyed here was a reprieve from persecution, or maybe it was peace in the midst of persecution.
Most of the New Testament Pastoral Epistles were written to a particular church addressing a particular problem like heresy or divisions, so I don’t think the church ever enjoyed a lot of peace in the problem-free sense. In at least one of those epistles, we find an important reminder of the availability of peace not just before or after, but in the middle of trials.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)
Paul tells the church in Philippi about God’s peace that “transcends all understanding” that “will guard your hearts and your minds” from whatever threatens the joy we should have in Christ. How do we possess this sense of peace and “rejoice in the Lord always”?
- Know that “the Lord is near” (vs. 5). God’s presence kept Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego safe in King Nucchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25), and He will do the same for you. Jesus promised His disciples in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.“
- Pray (vs. 6). As an alternative to anxiety, ask God for help, remembering that worry does no good (Matt. 6:27). Also pray for others and thank God for what he’s already done in your life.
- Occupy your mind with “whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praiseworthy” (vs. 8). A heavenward focus on the good things of God is a mind and heart guarded from anxiety.
- Put into practice what you’ve learned (vs. 9). Hear, but also do (James 1:22). Evil never brings peace to the one doing it. Matthew Henry comments, “All our privileges and salvation arise in the free mercy of God; yet the enjoyment of them depends on our sincere and holy conduct.” We find peace in doing what God wants us to do.
Clearly, the peace God has for us to claim and find our faith strengthened through is not found in the spaces between life’s turmoil. Maybe God’s peace “transcends all understanding” because we tend to understand peace to be the absence of trials rather than the presence of God and God-given opportunities to grow in our trials.
October 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis demonstrates why it was needed. Yesterday, the Pope declared that “condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out. And [it] is, of itself, contrary to the Gospel, because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.”
While it is true that human life is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, it is also true, based on the Bible, that God laid the foundations of capital punishment exactly because life is sacred to Him. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This was part of a series of God’s commands to Noah and his descendants establishing the foundations of human government.
Later, Israel also applied the death penalty to sins other than murder, which nations are free to do and we are now free to debate. The big picture shows that God often showed mercy when capital punishment was due, and ultimately we all deserve death as those are the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). The Gospel is in fact based on this premise, and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romand 5:8).
It’s important to know that God’s “eye for an eye” authority has been given to government, not individuals. From Rome, we read this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For qthere is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for she is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)
The Pope didn’t expressly say that God did not institute capital punishment. But to say that it is now wrong in every case is a contradiction to God’s word, and even conflicts with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church up until yesterday. Even the latest 1997 catechism on the subject morally permitted the death penalty in “cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.”
Clearly it wasn’t God’s word that changed over the millennia, but our own. Mankind established his own authority alongside God’s revealed word, and inevitably the two will not agree. This was the root of the problem Luther saw 500 years ago and the reason he saw fit to remind the Roman Catholic authorities that by Scripture Alone (“Sola Scriptura”) we know God’s infallible and unchanging rule of faith and practice.
September 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
One of the kids from our neighborhood got married two weeks ago, and I had the privilege of officiating her wedding. Her family was in celebration mode, dancing together at the reception. The bride’s brother had double the reason to be joyful as he and his girlfriend were expecting a child any day.
Five days later, this family was together again when it came time to have the baby. But this time they were together to grieve. The baby didn’t survive the delivery, and the parents had asked me to join them at the hospital to pray for them. This afternoon I officiated this baby’s funeral. What a difference a few days can make.
This contrast brought to my mind a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, where King Solomon writes his observations about life and its ups and downs:
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. …”
There are 10 other pairs of seasons contrasted in this chapter, but those four lines stood out to me as a picture of how life goes sometimes. We often go back and forth from a time of dancing to a time of grieving, or from a time of laughter to a time of tears.
For sure, dancing together gives us strength when we have to grieve together, and laughing together helps us through the times we have to cry together. But it seems much harder to experience such extremes when they occur in such close proximity to one another, almost immediately plunging from one of life’s happiest occasions, a wedding, to the unimaginable depths of losing a child.
We can always expect seed time and harvest to be several months apart. But what do we do when the time to be born and a time to die are virtually the same moment? When we don’t have a lifetime of photos to look at and memories to share? What do we do then?
I think we should look for hope. We need something to look forward to, and something that will last.
Ecclesiastes 3 continues… “What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
In that last verse we learn that “God has planted eternity in the human heart.” It’s interesting that we often talk about “forever” as if we have some kind of experience with it, like it’s a normal part of our lives, but it isn’t. We often say “I’ll love you forever,” but no one on earth has experienced forever. While stuck at a long traffic light we might in frustration declare that it’s taking an “eternity”, yet we’ve never seen eternity. Buzz Lightyear says he’s going “to infinity and beyond,” but isn’t infinity theoretical? We can’t count to or even calculate infinity with math. We can’t really even imagine it. The best we can do is get a little closer to it.
Maybe we think and talk so much about an eternity we’ve never experienced because God “planted eternity in the human heart” to give us hope that there is more to life than this life and its misery. If we think about eternity, we can perhaps imagine ourselves in it.
Solomon wrote in chapter 7, that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” In this way, a funeral is better than a party because it’s where we contemplate eternity and how we might spend ours.
The best outcome in times like this is that thoughts about eternity give us hope. Hope that this family will see their child who died in infancy. We can take comfort in knowing this child is in heaven with His Creator. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” King David had this confidence about his own son, who had died before birth. “I will go to him,” he said. John Newton (the author of the hymn Amazing Grace) said, “I cannot grieve the death of infants. How many storms do they escape! Nor can I doubt, in my private judgment, that they are included in the election of grace.” I believe the Bible teaches that young children are included in this grace.
Where we spend our eternity depends on where we put our hope today.
The parents of this little boy, his aunts and uncles, and grandparents, all had other plans for him. Death was never part of God’s plan for us either. Death was foreign to His original creation, but mankind ushered this curse into the world through sin.
God could have left us alone in our sin, but He loved us too much in spite of it. Instead, in an act of amazing grace, God gave up His own Son who went willingly to the cross, suffering to pay for the sin that we all struggle with and see the effects of in creation. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, that we have that hope of an eternity with Him and others who rest in His loving arms.
We can’t see the full scope of God’s plan, or why God, the author of life, allows some children to leave us so soon. But we can know God’s plan of salvation, and through a relationship with Christ, look forward to a reunion with the the departed. This is the best hope we have in light of the reality of death.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 tells us that “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, this saying will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We’re told in Revelation 21 that one day God will make all things new, and the new creation will not include death. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” Hope in Christ means there will once again be a time to dance, a time that will not end.
At the very end of Ecclesiastes, 12 chapters in, Solomon ends with his conclusion about the meaning of life. He discovers that it isn’t worth living without God. All is meaningless without God at the center. Of all the projects Solomon undertook to find satisfaction, He only knew satisfaction in knowing God. And God has given us His Son, to satisfy all that’s wrong with the world.
We can’t bring stillborn sons or daughters back, but we can go to them. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Jesus was acquainted with grief, and suffered the cross on our behalf. He knows what we are going through, and He promises to go through it with us. And through faith in Jesus Christ, you can look forward to an eternity with Him.
A week ago The New York Times ran a story in the middle of Hurricane Irma and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, showing how storms can destroy just about everything except faith. Storms instead strengthen our faith. Following a group from various churches doing disaster cleanup, The Times seemed surprised that, in crisis, the church does what the church is supposed to do.
Untimely death isn’t God’s fault, but God has the power to stop it, and sometimes He doesn’t. As Ecclesiastes tells us, human beings can’t know or see the full plan of God, otherwise we would be God. But we can trust Him because we know He is good, and our faith will grow stronger in the storm. Then, instead of shaking an angry fist toward heaven, we can put our hands to work on earth, helping our neighbor through tragedy, and putting our arms around them.
My prayer for this couple who lost their baby boy, and for you if you’re in a similar situation, is that you would feel the hands and arms of family and supportive friends and neighbors, and above all the comfort of God’s strong hand of love. God’s hand is outstretched with the free gift of eternal hope found only by faith in Jesus Christ, because “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) If you know Him, you have hope—the forever kind—and assurance that the time to dance will come again.
• Related post: Grief, Joy and God