Archive for September, 2013

When Marriage Isn’t What You Expect

Marriage 1From the pages of the New York Times comes this startling statistic:

A half-century ago, only 2.8 percent of Americans older than 50 were divorced. By 2000, 11.8 percent were. In 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 15.4 percent were divorced and another 2.1 percent were separated. Some 13.5 percent were widowed.[1]

It turns out that for the first time in American history, more people over 50 are divorced than widowed.  Sam Roberts, the deliverer of this sobering statistic, puts the situation curtly:  “So much for ‘till death do us part.’”

Unsurprisingly, the reasons more and more couples are divorcing after they pass into their golden years are manifold and varied, but Stephanie Coontz’s analysis in this article of one of the reasons for the increasing divorce rate is especially insightful:

It’s still true that in general the longer you are married, the lower your chance of divorce, but it’s sure no guarantee anymore … Staying together until death do us part is a bigger challenge than it used to be because we expect so much more of marriage than we did in the past, and we have so many more options when a marriage doesn’t live up to those expectations.

Coontz’s analysis is sadly brilliant because it not only identifies a reason for marital breakdown – that people’s expectations from marriage are not being met – it also offers insight into what many believe about marital makeup.  People increasingly view marriage as a commodity to be consumed rather than a commitment to be kept.  This is why if the commodity of marriage does not live up to whatever arbitrary standards a particular spouse sets for the relationship, that spouse is willing to search elsewhere for a commodity that better meets their expectations.

Certainly there are – and should be – expectations for marriage.  The Bible itself lays out certain expectations, including faithfulness (cf. Matthew 19:4-9) and gentleness (cf. Colossians 3:19).  But a crassly consumer oriented view of marriage rooted in arbitrarily prescribed criteria is destined for failure.  One person cannot meet the wants – or, for that matter, even the needs – of another person all the time.  It is for these times, when disappointment with your spouse sets in, that commitment is needed.  It is for these times that God’s wisdom on marriage is necessary:  “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  Marriage means holding fast to your spouse in spite of disappointments, frustrations, and hurts along the way.  This is what makes a marriage work.  This is what makes a marriage last.

Your spouse will not always meet all your wants and needs.  But your spouse can be devoted to you in love – even when you’re not all that fulfilling to be around.  And you can be devoted to your spouse in love – even when they’re not all that fulfilling to be around.  And such devotion can, in and of itself, be fulfilling.

[1] Sam Roberts, “Divorce After 50 Grows More Common,” New York Times (9.20.2013).

September 30, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Syria’s Setting the Stage for…the End of the World?

Credit: The New York Times

Credit: The New York Times

I had to chuckle.  While I was doing research for this blog, an email hit my inbox with an ominous subject line:  “History’s final chapter will be written in Jerusalem.”  It was a promotion for the latest Christian apocalyptic thriller, matrixing today’s headlines with cherry picked Scripture verses which come together to portend disaster.  This email was especially funny to me because I was researching precisely these kinds of doomsday declarations for this post.

These days, of course, doomsday’s ground zero is Syria.  And for those who have a penchant for taking ancient prophecies and sensationalizing them in light of current crises, Isaiah 17:1 has taken center stage:  “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.”  Joel Rosenberg, author of a new book, Damascus Countdown, is leading the charge of Syrian doom and gloom, writing on his blog,  “No, we don’t know that these prophecies will come to pass soon, or even in our lifetime. But yes, it is possible that Isaiah 17 … could come to pass in our lifetime.”[1]  Predictably, news outlets are picking up on his new take on this old passage.  Everyone from the Huffington Post to USA Today to Fox News to Mother Jones to The Blaze has run stories on Isaiah’s prophecy and its relationship to the current Syrian imbroglio.

For the record, let me say that I highly doubt the prophecy of Isaiah 17 will come to pass in our lifetimes.  How can I say this?  Because it already has come to pass…over 2,700 years ago.  Isaiah originally proffered this prophecy during the Syro-Ephraimite alliance of 735-732 BC.  This is why the fates of the Syrians and Ephraimites are linked in verse 3: “The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus.”  Ephraim – that is, northern Israel – made a treaty with Syria in a last ditch effort to defend herself against an immanent attack from Assyria, one of the most menacing superpowers of the eighth century BC.  This is why we read in Isaiah 7:2:  “Syria is in league with Ephraim.”  The alliance did not work.  In 732 BC, the Assyrians, led by Shalmaneser, sacked the Syrians, destroying the alliance between Ephraim and Syria.  Ten years later, the Assyrians came for Ephraim, and northern Israel was no more.  Yet, even after this devastating defeat, God made a promise that His people would endure:  “Some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs” (Isaiah 17:6).  Isaiah uses an agricultural metaphor to describe how God’s people, though defeated by the Assyrians, will never be destroyed.  There will always be a remnant faithful to Him.

To turn this ancient prophecy, fulfilled some twenty-seven centuries ago, into a modern day harbinger of hopelessness is to do violence to it.  Indeed, I am frustrated that many journalists reporting on this story and the debate between those who think this prophecy has already been fulfilled and those who think it is yet to be fulfilled are casting this debate as one between theologians who look at this text literalistically and others who do not.  Take, for instance, this line from Time magazine:  “Nearly all Biblical scholars … argue that such a literalist interpretation of the text is highly problematic.”[2]  The debate over this text is not between those who read this text in a literalistic manner as a prophecy of things to come and those who read it as already being fulfilled in ancient times.  Being “literal” or “non-literal” has nothing to do with this debate.  Rather, this is a debate over how to handle this biblical text responsibly, carefully looking at its context and seeking to understand this text in the manner Isaiah himself would have understood it.  Thus, a responsible reading of this text would note that this oracle against Syria is just one of a series of oracles against places like Philistia, Moab, and Cush, all of which no longer exist.  In context, then, it is clear that Isaiah is speaking not of modern day Syrian warfare, but of an attack against the Syria of his day along with attacks against other nations of his day, leading to their demise.

Ultimately, what is happening in Syria is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, but not of the one in Isaiah 17.  Instead, words from Jesus come to mind:  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matthew 24:6).  Jesus tells us there will be war.  And not just war, but wars.  The current conflict in Syria is just one such example.  Jesus also tells us that these wars do not mean the end of the world has arrived.  Conflicts are indicative that the end is indeed coming, but they are not determinative that the end has come.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus reminds us that we should not be alarmed at these troubled times.  Indeed, instead of fear, we should feel compassion toward those whose lives have been turned upside down by this terrible conflict.  The fear mongering that passes for theology in many best selling books is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ admonishment to be not afraid.  After all, what do we have to fear?  Jesus has the end of the world – and everything leading up to it – taken care of.

We can trust in Him.

[1] Joel C. Rosenberg, “Pastors: here are 24 pages of study notes on Isaiah 17, Jeremiah 49 & the future of Damascus. Please feel free to share with others,” (9.11.2013).

[2] Elizabeth Dias, “Some Evangelicals See Biblical Prophecy In Syrian Crises,” Time (8.29.2013).

September 23, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Value of Patience



I am not a patient person.  I wish I was, but I’m not sure I really have the patience to learn patience.

The other day I had to go to the DMV to get a registration sticker for my truck.  I had renewed my registration online some two months earlier, but my registration sticker never came.  When I called inquiring about my vehicle registration, they informed me that the sticker must have gotten lost in the mail and that it was my responsibility to drive to a DMV office and purchase a replacement sticker.

So that’s what I did.

When I arrived, I found two lines.  One line took care of vehicle registration renewals and the other line took care of everything else.  I was hoping I could wait in the registration renewal line, but because I was not renewing my registration and instead getting a replacement sticker, I had to wait in the other line.  Did I mention that the other line was longer and moving much slower?

After over an hour waiting in line, I finally got my sticker.  It took less than a minute.  Needless to say, I walked out with less than a smile on my face.

I am not a patient person.  God, however, is patient.  The Bible regularly celebrates God’s patience:  “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8).  Rather than getting upset easily and quickly, God’s patient love prevails.

For all of God’s patience, it is important to note that even His patience does not last forever.  When Israel rebels against God for centuries in wickedness, God warns:  “You have rejected me … You keep on backsliding.  So I will reach out and destroy you; I am tired of holding back” (Jeremiah 15:6).  God will only tolerate unrepentant sin for so long.  Such sin will eventually lead to divine judgment.  Thus, although we are called to trust God’s patience, we should not try God’s patience.

I got frustrated because I had to wait an hour to get my vehicle registration sticker at the DMV.  God has been waiting thousands of years so more and more people might repent and trust in Him.  And if God is can wait that long for us, maybe I can wait a little longer for others.

September 16, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Endurance of Ethics

Judge G. Todd Baugh Credit:

Judge G. Todd Baugh

I’m not quite sure if she really believes what she wrote, or if she is just trying to make a name for herself.

When a Montana high school teacher was found guilty of raping one of his 14-year-old students who, two years later, committed suicide, the judge in the case shocked the victim’s family and all those following the trial when he handed down a sentence of a paltry thirty days in prison.  The outrage was quick and hot.  “I don’t believe in justice anymore,” the victim’s mother said in a statement. “She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.”  A protest organizer against the judge’s verdict noted, “Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children … not enabling rapists by placing blame on victims.”[1]  It seemed the public disdain for what had transpired – both in the relationship between the teacher and his student and in the sentence that was passed down – was universal.

Except that it wasn’t.

Leave it to Betsy Karasik of the Washington Post to outline – and incite outrage with – an alternative view:

As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold’s sentence – he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 – I find myself troubled for the opposite reason. I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized … There is a vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students, ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior. Painting all of these behaviors with the same brush sends a damaging message to students and sets the stage for hypocrisy and distortion of the truth.[2]

As I noted at the beginning of this post, I’m not quite sure if Karasik really believes what she wrote, or if she is just trying to make a name for herself.  If it’s the latter, she has certainly succeeded.  Her words have caused a big stir, as a perusal of the Washington Post’s comments section will readily reveal.  Words like “disgusting,” “sick,” and “ridiculous” pepper the comments section of her article.

So why all the outrage over a woman who argues for the legality of teacher-student sexual relations?  The answer is traditional ethics.  And, more specifically, traditional sexual ethics.  In a culture that sanctions all sorts of sexual shenanigans, our ethical compass on statutory rape stands strong.  And this is good – not only for the victims of these crimes, but for society at large.  Though I do not always agree with the way in which some express outrage at immorality, it is nevertheless important to note how our society’s occasional bursts of ethical outrage indicate that, despite our culture’s best attempts at relativizing and minimizing all sorts of ethical standards, traditional ethical standards just won’t die.  They are here to stay.

The nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously sought to replace traditional ethical standards with one ethical standard – that of power.  “What is good?” Nietzsche asked, “All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.  What is bad?  All that is born of weakness.  What is happiness?  The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”[3]  For Nietzsche, traditional notions of good and evil, right and wrong, needed to be discarded in favor of whatever gained a person the most power.  This is why Nietzsche so vehemently railed against Christianity.  He regarded Christianity as the font and foundation of a fundamentally broken ethic that favored servility over supremacy.  Nietzsche wrote of Christianity:

I regard Christianity as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed – as the greatest and most impious lie: I can discern the last sprouts and branches of its ideal beneath every form of disguise, I decline to enter into any compromise or false position in reference to it – I urge people to declare open war with it.[4]

According to Nietzsche, Christianity’s ethics had to be destroyed so an ethic of power might prevail.  But here’s the funny thing about Nietzsche’s quest to destroy Christian ethics:  in his quest to destroy Christian ethics, he appeals to a Christian ethic – that of truthfulness.  He calls Christianity a “fatal and seductive lie.”  Using Nietzsche’s own ethical standard, I am compelled to ask, “So what?  If this fatal and seductive lie has led to the ascendency of Christian power, and power is the ultimate good, what’s the problem?”

Yes, traditional ethics – even in a Nietzschean nihilist worldview – stubbornly rear their heads.  Yes, traditional ethics – even in our sexually saturated civilization – continue to inform our moral outrages.  Traditional ethics just won’t die.

But why won’t they die, despite our most valiant efforts to vanquish them?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because traditional ethics are true.  And maybe, just maybe, truth has a pull on the human heart that can be clouded by lies of relativism and nihilism, but never eclipsed.  And for that, I thank God.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

[1] Christine Mai-Duc, “Judge in rape case criticized for light sentence, remarks about victim,” Los Angeles Times (8.28.2013).

[2] Betsy Karasik, “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students,” Washington Post (8.30.2013).

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, H.L. Mencken, trans. (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1920), 42-43.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will To Power, 2 vols., Anthony M. Ludovici, trans. ( Publishing, 2010), 82.

September 9, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weary from Work

It’s that time of year again.  You know, the time of year when school begins, extracurricular activities increase, social events get scheduled, and work projects pile up.  This time of year is difficult and wearisome for many – from parents right down to their kids.  When the calendar fills up, it can be easy to throw your hands up in resignation.  How does one navigate the wiles of overwhelming obligations?

It must be understood that becoming weary from a sometimes heavy workload is simply part of living in a sinful, fallen, broken world.  This is why, after the first man Adam eats of the fruit of the tree of which God has warned, “You shall not eat” (cf. Genesis 2:16-17), God says to Adam:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:17-19)

When sin enters the world, Adam’s work gets hard.  He must earn his wages by the sweat of his brown and be nicked and pricked by thorns and thistles.  And he cannot escape this.  He must simply deal with this.

So where, then, is the hope for those weary from work?  The hope is in Jesus.  There’s a reason Jesus contrasts His work with our work in the world by saying:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus says this because He knows whereas the brokenness of this world’s work can drain us, the glory of His work can fill us.  Jesus’ work on our behalf on the cross and our labor under His name for the sake of His Kingdom can bring contentment and joy like no other work can.

Finally, we can take comfort in the promise that the wearisome work of this world will not go on forever.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of a time when “instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow” (Isaiah 55:13).  Rather than the thorns and thistles of Genesis 3, Isaiah reminds us that in eternity we will enjoy lush pines and myrtles.  In other words, the pain of this world’s work will be wiped away in favor of work that bring joy, peace, and fulfillment.  Work lasts forever.  Wearying work, however, does not.

So if you feel overwrought by your work right now, take heart that you will one day feel overjoyed by serving God in glory.

September 2, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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