Killing Racism: When Self-Preservation Meets Self-Sacrifice

Charlottesville Violence

Credit:  Getty Images

When James Alex Fields killed one person and injured nineteen others by purposely plowing his Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protesters at an event called “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, which itself was protesting a decision by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, racial animosity once again bubbled to the top of our national headlines and discussion.

President Trump, in the least controversial of his three statements on this tragedy, declared:

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

As Christians, we can agree that “racism is evil.”  But it is evil not just because, as the president noted, it is an affront to the dignity that is inherently ours by virtue of the fact that we are created by Almighty God; it is evil also because it is fundamentally antithetical to the Christian gospel.   One of the hallmarks of the gospel of Christ is its power to reconcile us not only to God in spite of our sin, but with each other in spite of our differences.  The apostle Paul explains:

Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles…were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household. (Ephesians 2:11-14, 19)

Paul here identifies two groups of people – Jews and Gentiles – and says that, in Christ, the things that once separated them have now been destroyed.  The faith they share trumps any racial and cultural differences they might have.

This theme of different groups being brought together in Christ is not unique to Paul.  This is the centerpiece of the day of Pentecost where “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11) all hear the gospel declared to them in their own languages.  This is also the centerpiece of eternity itself, as people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) come together in worship of the Lamb of God.  It turns out that it is awfully hard to have a Christian view of and hope for heaven while espousing racism, for, in eternity, all people of all races will be glorified as precious and redeemed in God’s sight.  Heaven has no room for racial divisions.

With all this being said, we must now ask ourselves:  how do we fight the racism that continues to plague our society?  Perhaps the best way to fight it is to strike at its root.  And although there is no singular root, I agree with Ben Shapiro when he argues that identity politics is one of the primary causes of many of our modern-day manifestations of racism.  Although identity politics is classically associated with the political left, Shapiro notes that groups like “Unite the Right” engage in “a reactionary, racist, identity-politics…dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate victims of the social-justice class and therefore must regain political power through race-group solidarity.”  In other words, it is the drive for self-preservation that fuels much of the racism we see today.

In order to confront our modern-day manifestations of racism, we must take our tendency toward self-preservation and exchange it for something else – something better – like the beauty of self-sacrifice.  Thankfully, the call to self-sacrifice is one that Christianity is perfectly poised to make, for we follow a Savior who sacrificed Himself for our salvation and who reminds His disciples that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it” (Mark 8:35).  Jesus calls us to lives of self-sacrifice.

What does self-sacrifice look like practically?  The Declaration of Independence famously claims that “all men are created equal.”  But in order to truly adopt this claim as our own, we must clarify what is meant by “all men.”  In many people’s experience, “all men” includes two groups: “us men,” meaning those who are like us and share our background and beliefs, and “those men,” meaning those are unlike us and conflict with our background and beliefs.  Human nature tends to prioritize “us men” over “those men.”  In other words, even if we believe, in principle, that “all men are created equal,” we tend to concern ourselves with those who are like us – “us men” – before we stop to consider the needs of those who are unlike us – “those men.”  Christianity calls us to flip this order and first consider “those men” before we attend to the concerns of “us men.”  The apostle Paul makes this point when he writes, “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  This, it should be noted, is precisely how Christ lived.  For Him, every man belonged to the category of “those men,” for He alone stood as the God-man.  No one was like Him.  And yet, rather than preserving Himself, He sacrificed Himself for us.  Christ is the very essence of self-sacrifice.

Last week, I came across an article written several years ago by Bradley Birzer, a professor of history who holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies at Hillsdale College.  In his article, Professor Birzer tells the story of a priest named Maximilian Kolbe.  The story is so poignant and compelling that it is worth quoting at length:

St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Roman Catholic priest, had been taken prisoner by the Nazis, as had been vast number of his fellow men, Poles, Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans. The Nazis seemed to avoid discrimination when it came to state sanctioned murder.

On the last day of July 1941, a prisoner had attempted to escape the terror camp. As punishment, the commandant called out ten random names – the names of those to be executed in retribution for the one man trying to escape. One of the names called had belonged (or, rather, had been forced upon) a husband and father. As the man pleaded his case, Father Kolbe came forward and offered his life for the one pleading. The commandant, probably rather shocked, agreed, and Kolbe, with nine others, stripped naked, entered the three-foot high concrete bunker. Deprived of food, water, light, and toilets, the men survived – unbelievably – for two weeks. Madness and cannibalism never overcame them, as the Nazis had hoped. Instead, through Kolbe’s witness as priest and preacher and as an incarnate soul made in the image of Christ, grace pervaded the room. When the commandant had the room searched two weeks later, only to find the men and Father Kolbe alive, he furiously ordered them all to be injected with carbolic acid.

The man who removed Kolbe’s body offered a wondrous testimony under oath. Kolbe, he said, had been in a state of definite ecstasy, his eyes focused on something far beyond the bunker, his arm outstretched, ready to accept the death of the chemicals to be injected in him.

Father Kolbe lived a life of self-sacrifice, even when a life of self-sacrifice meant offering himself unto death.  As he awaited his fate, he preached the gospel, which burnished in his bunker-mates love for each other instead of competition against each other over the meager resources of the Nazis’ concentration camp.  And because of Father Kolbe’s willingness to sacrifice himself, Poles, Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans were able to stand together.

Do you want to confront racism?  Just live like that.  It is difficult to be racist when you put others before yourself, because instead of being suspicious of others, you learn to love others.  And love and racism simply cannot coexist.  In fact, love, when it is embodied in self-sacrifice, not only confronts racism, it kills it.  And it’s much better to kill an evil like racism than to kill a person like in Charlottesville.

August 21, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Kim Jong Un, Power, Politics, and Christ

north-korea-military-parade

Credit: Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Last week, when The Washington Post reported that North Korea had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit inside the long-range missiles it has been so publicly and ostentatiously testing, the world snapped to attention.  The U.N. Security Council had already voted unanimously the previous weekend to impose new economic sanctions on Pyongyang in response of North Korea’s launch of two intercontinental missiles.  National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that continued provocation from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is “intolerable, from the president’s perspective” and warned that the president is leaving “all options…and that includes the military option” on the table.  President Trump himself declared that any further threats from the Kim regime would be met with “fire and fury.”  Kim Jong Un responded to the president’s warning by threatening an attack against the U.S. territory of Guam.  Tensions have crested dangerously.

As the world grapples with a dangerous and potentially deadly conflict, how do we, as Christians, process this battle of words between the United States and North Korea that could quickly degenerate into a battle of bombs?  Here are a few thoughts.

Pray for a peaceful solution.

Jim Geraghty of National Review outlined three ways the U.S. can potentially respond to North Korea’s latest threats:

A) Learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can strike the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles; B) a conventional war sooner to eliminate the threat, that will involve massive casualties on the Korean peninsula and possibly elsewhere; or C) a nuclear exchange with North Korea sometime in the future.

While U.S. officials weigh what Geraghty admittedly calls “three bad options,” Christians should be praying for an option beyond these options:  peace.   I have never been ashamed or afraid to pray what appear to be quixotic prayers.  When someone is terminally ill, I still pray for healing – along with praying for comfort if an earthly healing doesn’t come.  If a marriage seems inexorably headed toward divorce, I still pray for reconciliation – along with praying for each person’s best possible future if reconciliation does not come.  In the case of this latest conflict between the United States and North Korea, I have no problem praying that God would bring peace – that weapons would be laid down and that threats would turn into productive talks – along with praying that our national leaders would be able to respond with other-worldly wisdom to Kim Jong Un if he continues in his menacing ways.

If God can bring peace between Himself and us through His Son, Jesus Christ, peace between nations cannot be dismissed as unrealistic or impossible.  With God, even the impossible can be possible.  So, let us pray for peace.

Don’t let the scope of the threat fool you.

Part of what makes this threat appear so ominous is its scope.  The very word “nuclear” brings to mind visions of mushroom clouds, radiation fallout, and mass casualties.  But the scope of destruction does not have be extensive to be egregious in God’s sight.  Every murder that is committed, every lone wolf terrorist attack that is carried out, and every life that is lost angers God, for all of these things pervert the goodness of God’s creation by destroying the lives of God’s creatures.  The destruction of life offends God deeply, even when it does not make headlines in the form of a nuclear missile.  God is not just concerned with international crises.  He is concerned with every single life – including yours.

Remember, Christ has triumphed over every rogue authority.

One of the fascinating features of North Korean culture is how it has deified the Kim regime.  A North Korean defector, Yeonmi Park, admitted in a 2014 interview that she believed Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was a god who could read her thoughts.  Of course, such deification of earthly leaders is nothing new.  The first century Roman emperors fashioned a whole cultus around themselves.  In Jesus’ day, Tiberius Caesar had coins minted with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of divine Augustus,” with the obverse side declaring Tiberius to be “the high priest.”[1]  The early Christians rejected such deification of political leaders because they knew that Caesar was not Lord.  Christ was.  This is why the apostle Paul can write that Christ has disarmed the powers and authorities [and has] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).  There is only one God – and He is not in North Korea, the White House, or any other human seat of power.  He is enthroned “in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).  Christ is the authority over every earthly authority.

Caution is certainly needed as we head into an uncertain future with North Korea.  Fear, however, is not.  Kim Jong Un may have nuclear weapons, but we have the sword of the Spirit.  And the Spirit’s sword will continue to wield its power long after human weapons have been beaten into plowshares.  For that, we can be thankful.  And because of that, we can be hopeful.

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[1] See Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 325.

August 14, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Herod, John the Baptist, and Sharing Our Faith

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St. John the Baptist before Herod, by Mattia Pretti (1665)

In Mark 6, we are treated to a fascinating flashback.  The chapter opens with Jesus teaching and then quickly turns to Him sending out His twelve disciples to preach, drive out demons, and anoint the sick.  The chapter then shifts again, this time to a ruler named Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas was one of the sons of Herod the Great, the ruler who tried to kill Jesus when He was just a toddler because he considered the lad a threat to his throne.  Herod Antipas, however, was not so hostile toward Jesus as he was curious about Him, especially when he heard a rumor that Jesus was “John the Baptist…raised from the dead” (Mark 6:14).  Cue Mark’s flashback.

In his flashback, Mark recounts how John the Baptist died.  It turns out that Herod Antipas had thrown John in prison because he had preached against Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law, Herodias.  But it was not just Herod who was upset with John.  It was also his new wife, Herodias.  In fact, Mark says that she “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him” (Mark 6:19).  And one day, she saw her opportunity.  When Herod was throwing a party, Herodias’s daughter came and danced for Herod and his inebriated guests.  Herod was so pleased by her performance that he offered this girl anything she wanted, including up to half his kingdom.  Prompted by her mother, the girl asked Herod for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Interestingly enough, Herod, instead of being delighted that he would finally be able to get rid of this man who had preached against his marriage, was devastated.  Mark 6:26 explains that “the king was greatly distressed.”  The Greek word used for “distressed” is perilupos, a word that Jesus Himself uses the night before He goes to the cross when He says to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34).  The Greek word used for “sorrow” is again perilupos.  Clearly, Herod was deeply grieved, even to the point of death, by this girl’s request.  But why?

As it turns out, Herod had what might be called a “love-hate relationship” with John.  Mark describes their relationship like this: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20).  The same man who threw John in prison also protected him, because he knew there was something different about him.  He knew he had a righteousness and holiness that went beyond anything he had ever encountered before.  Moreover, he liked to listen to John, even though he had a hard time understanding what he was talking about and, obviously, did not always heed what he said.  Herod, even as he was offended by John, was also attracted to John.

Herod’s relationship with John can serve as a model for what the world’s relationship with us, as Christians, can look like.  When people watch you, do they see a righteousness and a holiness beyond anything they have ever encountered before because, instead of your righteousness and holiness being merely meritocratic, it is Christocentric?  And when you speak about your faith to others, even if they are puzzled by what you have to say, do you leave them wanting to hear more?

Just as Herodias hated John, there will be some who hate us simply because we are Christians.  But there will also be others who are intrigued by us.  May we never forget to engage these people, model Christ for these people, and speak the gospel to these people.  For what they are puzzled by today may just be the very thing they believe in tomorrow.

August 7, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Human Smuggling Comes to San Antonio

San Antonio Walmart Smuggling

Credit: CNN

I first heard about the tractor trailer packed with people in a Wal-Mart parking lot on my city’s south side when a friend sent me a link to a news story as I was preparing for worship a week ago.  As the story unfolded over this past week, the details that have emerged have been grisly.  Up to 200 illegal immigrants may have been crammed into the back of the truck without food, water, or refrigeration as temperatures in south Texas topped 100 degrees.  Ten people died.  Thirty others had to be hospitalized.  Some suffered serious brain damage.  The driver of the truck, James Bradley, told investigators he did not know there were immigrants inside the back of the truck he was driving.  The evidence, however, points to a conclusion that he did.  He has been charged with knowingly transporting illegal immigrants.

Human smuggling is a crime.  What has happened here breaks immigration law and ought to be – and, in fact, is being – treated as a crime. But, of course, there is more to this story than just the legal concerns it raises, for what has happened here is also a terrible assault on human dignity.  People are not commodities to be smuggled, bought, or sold, even if they can be enticed by promises of a better life.  Indeed, one of the people in the back of the truck to San Antonio was from Aguascalientes and paid $5,500 to escape Mexico.  He was willing to pay a steep fee for a long shot at a new life.  And those who transported him were all too willing to take as much money as they could from him, while at the same time recklessly endangering his life.

In the New Testament, Paul writes a letter to a slaveholder named Philemon whose slave, Onesimus, had run away to find asylum with the apostle.  Paul pleads with Philemon to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”  Paul then adds, “He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, but as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 16).  Paul, by how he assumes Philemon regards Onesimus, seeks to persuade Philemon that Onesimus is not a commodity to be recouped, but a human created by God to be loved and respected.

Philosophically, the Declaration of Independence echoes this view that human beings are to be treated with dignity when its drafters write that “all men are created equal,” and, as a necessary entailment of this, are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  The framers of the Declaration insist that no person can be commoditized and stripped of their dignity because every person is created by God and is therefore worthy of respect.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska notes that, although this claim about human dignity is popularly enshrined in an American document, this is a value that should be embraced across humanity.  Senator Sasse explains:

The American idea is that God gives us rights … I think that the distinction we do well to clarify is that the American founding is a truth claim of all 7 billion people on the earth. We believe everyone is created with dignity.

In a tractor trailer that traveled to a Wal-Mart parking lot on the south side of San Antonio, this value was disregarded.  And for that, there must be an accounting.  Human life is just too precious to demand anything less.

July 31, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

When Not Practicing What You Preach About Sex Is a Good Thing

Holding Hands

It’s no secret that we live in a sexually infatuated society.  In an article for The Federalist, Shane Morris cites research showing that 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 during 2009 included references to sex.  What’s more, in another study, researchers found that from the 1960s to the 2000s, songs with sexual subject matter sung by male artists went from 7 percent in the decade known for its “make love, not war” attitude to a whopping 40 percent in the 2000s.   In another compelling factoid, Morris mentions that out of Billboard’s top 50 love songs of all time, only six are from the year 2000 or later.  Why?  Because artists just don’t sing about love like they used to.  Instead, they boast about sex.

And yet…

For all our boasting about sex, it turns out that actual sexual intimacy between real human beings is down.  In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that “American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s” due primarily to “an increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner.”  Even those who are married reported “a decline in sexual frequency among those partners.”  Interestingly enough, these same researchers found that, out of all the recent generations, it was the generation born in the 1930s that enjoyed intimacy most often.

As Christians, we know that part of our culture’s quandary over what we say and what we actually do about sex comes because sex has become largely decoupled from its biblical context – that of marriage.  Our culture’s vaulted sexual revolution has not led to more or better sex.  It’s just led to the enshrinement of sex as an idol.  And anything that is idolized inevitably becomes counted on for too much, which, in turn, makes it deliver less than it could if it was kept in its proper place in the first place.  Thus, it is no surprise that our near-worship of sex has not led to an increase in sex.

There are some hopeful signs that we, as a society, know, even if only intuitively, that we have taken a wrong turn when it comes to sex.  In a post for National Review, Max Bloom notes that for all of the avant-garde attitudes Millennials might have about sex, in their actual intimate lives, they are trending toward the traditional:

Millennials are more than twice as likely to have had no sexual partners in their early 20s than those born in the 1960s. In general, Millennials have about as many sexual partners as Baby Boomers and considerably less than Generation X-ers – those born in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

It turns out that, when it comes to sexual partners and practices, what is old is new again.  There is still plenty of room for monogamy and abstinence.  Bloom notes that Millennials are trending traditional in other ways, too: “They are less likely to drink, smoke marijuana, or use cocaine than previous generations.”  But for all their traditional habits, one non-traditional trend continues:  Millennials continue to increasingly drift from traditional religious practices such as worship and prayer.

So, what does all this tell us?  First, it tells us that even as our culture drifts from any understanding of or appreciation for Christian orthodoxy, natural law, à la Romans 2:14-15, seems to still hold some sway over our concrete propriety.  Second, our trending sexual traditionalism also tells us that our God really does have, even for a society that can be as misguided as ours can be, what the Calvinists call “common grace.”  Regardless of whether or not our culture believes in traditional sexual mores, the very fact that so many of us live by a more traditional code of ethics that protects us from the pain, fear, and heartbreak that sexual egalitarianism inevitably brings is a testament to God’s broad, gracious protection of society.  To those who have walked down the road of sexual anarchy and have had their hearts and bodies broken in the process, Christians must be prepared to offer love, understanding, guidance, and grace.

Hopefully, the materializing rupture between what we as a culture believe and what we as a culture do when it comes to sex will lead us to try to reconcile our curious pockets of orthopraxy with a much-needed orthodoxy.  Our culture will be better for it.  And who knows?  We might just be able to stop boasting about sex in songs because we’ll actually be enjoying more love in life.

July 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Saving Marriage from the Heartbreak Hotel

Wedding Chapel

Credit: Viator.com

It seems as though declining marriage rates are not just changing our society sociologically, but are stressing the wedding capital of the world, Las Vegas, economically.  In an article for Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek explains how:

Roland August has officiated at thousands of weddings in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed capital of “I do.”

But these days August – who often presides dressed as Elvis Presley – has a rare vantage point from which to observe the nation’s long shift toward “I don’t.” …

The wedding chapels where August works have seen business dwindle, he said, and Vegas is pushing to reverse the decline in an industry that generates as much as $3 billion in economic activity annually. In 2015 the surrounding county introduced a $14 surcharge on marriage licenses to pay for marketing, and local business leaders helped start a Wedding Chamber of Commerce last year.

A drop in weddings, it seems, amounts to a drop in revenue for a city that is known as being flush with cash.  Of course, this is all part of a broader nationwide trend.  The Pew Research Center reports that, whereas 72% of adults 18 years of age or older were married in 1960, now, only 50% are.  But, if the graph published by Bloomberg is any indication, the nationwide decline in marriage has hit Nevada especially hard.

Marriage Decline

In one way, none of this is particularly surprising.  For all the fun and levity, which are not bad things in and of themselves, that I’m sure Mr. August brings to the weddings he performs, vows taken without things like spiritual guidance from a pastor or other religious mentor, serious prior consideration of all the things marriage entails, a commitment to make marriage alone the sacred space for sex, and, often, even a baseline of sobriety do little more than to cheapen and make a mockery out of the whole institution.  And when something becomes cheap, it inevitably becomes expendable.  After all, if Britney Spears can drunkenly marry her childhood friend in Las Vegas and then have their marriage annulled 55 hours later, one has to wonder:  why bother with marriage in the first place?

They key to reversing the decline in marriage and the denigration of marriage is not to try to repristinate the marriage-saturated days of 1960, hoping that, somehow, marriage rates will soar again if we just yell enough at the cultural forces that have damaged the institution.  No, the key to a deeper appreciation of and desire for marriage is to consider what marriage is really meant to reflect.  So here are three things that we can say, as Christians, marriage reflects.

Marriage reflects community in Christ.

One of the great mysteries of Christian teaching is that of the Trinity – that God is one, yet, at the same time, He is also three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, God is in community, in some sense, with Himself.  For centuries, professional theologians and Sunday School teachers alike have tried to explain this mystery in a way that is comprehensible.  My Sunday School teacher, for instance, mused that the Trinity is like an apple.  There is the peel, the flesh, and the core.  These are three parts, and yet they are all part of one apple.  The problem with this illustration, however, is that God is indivisible.  He cannot be divided like an apple.  He is not made up of three parts, but actually is three persons.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with its own object lesson to help us understand the Trinity.  What is this object lesson?  Marriage.  When marriage is given by God, He explains that it is meant to be when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  In marriage, there are two persons, and yet they are one flesh, even as in God, there are three persons, yet He is one God.  Moreover, throughout this life, a husband and wife ought to be indivisible, as is God.  This is why Jesus says divorce is so damaging – not only because it hurts the people involved, but because it tarnishes the very reflection of God!  Thus, community in marriage, even if it is broken by sin, is meant to reflect the perfect community of the Trinity.

Marriage reflects the sacrifice of Christ.

As anyone who has been married for any amount of time will tell you, marriage requires sacrifice.  It requires laying down your own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another.  The apostle Paul eloquently explains the sacrificial nature of marriage when he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul notes that the sacrifice a husband makes for his wife ought to reflect the sacrifice that Christ made for His church, even if that sacrifice includes laying down his very life, as it did for Christ.  Thus, at the same time marriage gives a community that reflects the Trinity, it also eats away at our proclivity toward selfishness.  Marriage is fundamentally centered not on yourself, but on your spouse, even as God is fundamentally centered on us and on our salvation.

Marriage reflects eternity with Christ.

The best marriage is not the one you celebrate once a year on your anniversary.  The best marriage is the one that is still to come:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:1, 6-7)

When the apostle John gets a window into eternity, he sees that every wedding on earth between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to reflect a perfect wedding in heaven between Christ and His people.  Marriage in this age, then, however wonderful it can be, is not an end in and of itself.  It is a sign pointing to something even greater.  This is why Jesus, when He is questioned by the religious leaders about marriage in eternity, says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Marriage between people till death do them part is meant to point to perfect communion with God where death no longer reigns.  Marriage, then, at the same time it fills a longing, should also create a longing.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that not even your spouse can meet.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that only Christ can fill in His wedding feast.

This is what marriage is meant to reflect.  It cannot be reduced, then, to a Vegas jag, or, for that matter, a well-planned out and exorbitantly expensive ceremony and reception.  These things are not necessarily bad on their own terms, but if they become the things of marriage, they reduce marriage to something that is entertaining, cheap, and contrived.  But marriage cannot stand if it is this.  Marriage must stand as a gift from God that gives you community, costs you your very self, and points you to the One who gave Himself for you so that, on the Last Day, He can walk you down His eternal aisle.

No neon or Elvis costumes needed.

July 17, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Charlie Gard and the Tenacity of Hope

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.49.30 PM

Credit:  Independent

There is a hardly a more compelling example of the ravages of disease warring against the hope for life than that of Charlie Gard.  Charlie is almost a year old now, born last August in the U.K.  Shortly after his birth, it was discovered that he had a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which affects vital internal organs such as, as in Charlie’s case, the kidneys and brain.  At present, Charlie is being kept alive by a ventilator, but the hospital at which Charlie is staying asked a judge back in March to rule that life support should be discontinued, which the judge ruled in support of in April.  Charlie’s parents appealed the ruling, but did not get it overturned.  Both President Trump and Pope Francis have signaled their support for Charlie, with the pope even offering Charlie a spot at the Vatican pediatric hospital for continuing treatment.  Charlie’s parents have asked to have their son transferred to the U.S. for an experimental treatment, which has had some limited success, but the U.K. hospital has refused to do so, citing legal hurdles.

The issues in this dispute are legion.  Should a judge have the ability to trump parents’ wishes with regard to their own child, provided that the parents are seeking the genuine welfare and, in this case, the continued life, of their son?  Are Charlie’s parents seeking the correct course of action, considering their son is not able to live, at least at this point, apart from extraordinary and continuous medical intervention?  And what are the hopes for some sort of improvement or change in Charlie’s condition if he is moved elsewhere to receive treatment?

It is the last of these questions that is most captivating to me because it is the question that sits in the background of the first two questions.  The U.K. believes there is no real hope for Charlie’s recovery.  Charlie’s parents believe there is enough hope for, at minimum, some sort of improvement that they want to continue his life support and investigate an experimental treatment.  This battle royal, then, boils down to hope.

Over the course of my ministry, I have known more than one person who was terminally ill and, when presented with an option for an experimental treatment, declined and instead chose to go into hospice because they did not see any real hope for healing, even with the treatment.  This does not mean, however, that these people did not have any hope.  Their hope was simply located in a different place – not in a treatment, but in a Lord who can call even the dead to life.  Whether it is a temporary stay on death by means of a medical treatment, or an eternal resurrection on the Last Day by means of a trumpet call and a returning Christ, hope for life, it seems, will not be squelched.

Theologically, the irrepressibility of hope for life makes sense because, in the beginning, death was not part of God’s plan.  Contrary to Yoda, death is not a natural part of life – and we know it, even if only intuitively.  Death, Scripture says, is an enemy to be defeated.  And though Charlie’s parents cannot conquer death like Christ, they do seem voraciously intent on confronting death through the very best that medicine has to offer their son.

It does unsettle me that a judge would arrogate to himself the prerogative of telling two parents whether or not their son can receive a potentially life-saving treatment.  I will confess that, according to the information at hand, the hospital is probably correct in its estimation of Charlie’s recovery prospects.  But hope has a funny way of looking beyond the information at hand to divine intervention.  And that is a hope that is worth holding on to.  Indeed, as Christians, we know that is the hope Jesus died to give and rose to secure.  I hope the hospital and the British legal system can respect that hope.

July 10, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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