Posts tagged ‘Judgment’

Justice Anthony Kennedy Will Retire

Anthony Kennedy

In what was one of the biggest stories of this past week, after 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last Wednesday, effective July 31.  Justice Kennedy’s tenure as a Supreme Court justice was fraught with anticipation and tension when various landmark cases were being decided, with many referring to Kennedy as the court’s “swing vote.”  He voted with the more conservative branch of the court on issues such as gun control and campaign financing while siding with the more progressive branch on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death penalty.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement has set off a flurry of political activity, with conservatives delighted that President Trump appears poised to deliver another proponent of originalist jurisprudence to the nation’s highest court while those on the liberal flank of the political divide worry about what such a justice could mean not only for the current progressive agenda, but for some of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the past half-century.

The fiery debate that is unfolding is a timely reminder for Christians that good judgment really does matter.  Over the past few decades, it has become fashionable to decry nearly any sort of judgment as self-righteous judgmentalism, and to respond to those who call for keen legal, moral, ethical, or theological discernment with a cry for tolerance and relativism – living and letting others live.  This is why an artist like Chris Brown can sing a song like “Don’t Judge Me,” where he asks his girlfriend to forgive his indiscretions.  This is why Justice Kennedy himself could write, in a 1992 majority opinion on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in support of abortion:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

This is a judgment that refuses to make a judgment on something as basic and fundamental as what constitutes life.  In this way, it is relativistic in the extreme.  Of course, by not making a judgment on what constitutes life, Justice Kennedy makes a de facto judgment:  either there is no human life in the womb, or there is no human life in the womb worth protecting.  Either one is a judgment that carries with it massive life-and-death implications.

A moment like Justice Kennedy’s retirement reveals that an unmoored relativism and an absolutist tolerance ultimately cannot stand.  Society needs and wants good judgment.  After all, judgment, both legal and personal, decides how money is spent, how people are treated, what relationships are desirable and permissible, and, as Planned Parenthood v. Casey demonstrates, even which lives endure.  The Supreme Court is called upon to render judgments on disputed issues according to the U.S. Constitution.  As Christians, we are called, first and foremost, to judge our own lives according to the law of the Lord and then, second, to lovingly and compassionately call others to appreciate the beauty, the value, and the wisdom of this divine law.

Our society is in desperate need of good judgment.  Sadly, we live in a time rife with poor judgment where standards, especially in the realm of politics, shift for the sake of expediency and, as the fight over a new nominee for the Supreme Court will surely reveal, power.  But, as Jesus warns, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  We will not be able to elide consistent standards of judgment forever in order to suit our own fleeting fancies.  Our standards and principles may slide and glide around today’s political ice rink, but God’s standards will outlast our shifts and will, ultimately, judge our shifts.  Perhaps we would do well to consider His standards when making our judgments.

July 2, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Character and Civics

White_House_DC

Credit: Wikipedia

The economy is booming.  There is hearty hope for a diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and North Korea.  Pressure is mounting on Iran to come clean about its nuclear ambitions.  And the President of the United States is embroiled in a controversy over whether or not campaign finance laws were violated when his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, $130,000 during the closing days of the 2016 election to, ostensibly, keep her quiet about an affair she now claims to have had with Mr. Trump in 2006.

If the accusations against President Trump are true, this episode is morally disquieting – and not just because campaign finance laws were potentially broken.  Not only that, the responses to this episode are themselves morally disquieting.  Many who are opposed to the president see this episode as a convenient way to defeat a political enemy.  The moral turpitude of what has allegedly happened is merely a pretext for a political power grab.  Others, who are aligned with the president, are quick to cast the allegations against him as nothing more than a witch hunt.  Even if they suspect the charges might be true, they calculate that sexual immorality is a small – and, I would add, historical – price to pay for the power of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Whatever your political proclivities, these accusations present Christians with much to ponder.  On the one hand, it is important for us to remember that character still matters in our leaders.  All the way back in the sixteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli famously argued that political leaders do not need actual virtue.  They simply need to project the appearance of virtue:

It’s seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, human, honest, and religious.[1]

This is nonsense.  Appearing to be virtuous while not actually being virtuous is, plainly and simply, hypocrisy – a sin that Jesus fiercely and consistently condemns.  Hypocrisy in virtue is not only immoral; it also is dangerous.  If a person cannot lead himself by cultivating in himself basic virtues, he will struggle to lead others as well as he could.  Self-leadership is a necessary prerequisite for other-leadership.

This is certainly not to say that our leaders need to be perfect – no leader is, has been, or ever will be.  But it is certainly preferable that our leaders be self-aware.  Self-awareness cultivates both humility and curiosity – humility over how one has fallen short and curiosity about how one can grow in competence and character.

At the same time it is necessary to encourage character in our leaders, it is also important demand character in ourselves.  A critical part of personal character development, according to Jesus, is to carefully consider our own shortcomings before we address the iniquity of others.  Jesus explains it like this:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5)

Notice that Jesus does not prohibit holding others accountable for their specks of sin, but He first wants us to hold ourselves accountable for our own planks of peccancy.  Understanding and addressing our own struggles with sin gives us both wisdom and empathy to help others in their tussles with transgression.

Over the years, as I have watched the dialogue that unfolds during scandals involving the character of our public officials, I have come to suspect that at least a segment of our population doesn’t care too much about helping the people involved.  Instead, it only cares about maximizing the power it has.  Depending on one’s political preferences, maintaining or overturning the power of this or that politician becomes the driving and deciding factor in how some people respond to any given moral crisis.  When this happens, we’re not really defending our politicians, even if we like them, or honoring them, as the Bible instructs.  We’re simply using them.  And that’s a character crisis in us that, though it may not make the headlines, should certainly serve as food for thought in our hearts.

______________________________

[1] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Tim Parks, trans. (New York:  Penguin Books, 2009).

May 7, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sharia Law and Biblical Grace

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  This is the apostle Paul’s sobering summary of the human condition.  And he’s right.  Not only is there is not a person alive who lives up to God’s standards of righteousness, there is also not a person alive who lives up to the standards of righteousness he sets for himself, as any person who has ever attempted – and failed at – a New Year’s resolution can tell you.  Sin is universal.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, two Christians were publicly whipped, according to the dictates of Sharia law, “for playing a game at a children’s entertainment complex in a way authorities say amounted to gambling.”  Aceh’s population is 98 percent Muslim, and people can face floggings for acts including “drinking alcohol, adultery, gay sex, gambling or having romantic relationships before marriage.”  Indeed, the province’s courts are imposing hundreds of whippings a year for acts like these.  Last January, a Christian was sentenced to 36 lashes for selling alcohol.

I do not believe that drinking or selling alcohol, in and of itself, is sinful, though I do believe that drunkenness is.  Likewise, I don’t believe that a good-natured raffle for a few laughs is inherently wicked, though I am also well aware and wary of the dangerous greed that gambling can stoke and how the gambling industry, especially in the form of state lotteries, cynically preys on the economically disadvantaged.  I do believe in a traditional sexual ethic. So, I would say, as do the courts in Aceh, that any sexual activity outside of the confines of marriage strays from what is appropriate.  In short, though I would qualify certain things, I find myself in broad agreement with Aceh’s moral concerns.  But I also find myself fundamentally at odds with Aceh’s response to these concerns.

The radicalized form of Islamic law that Aceh’s theocratically-minded courts seem to be bent on propagating addresses sin through judgment.  Each sin, in these courts’ minds, deserves a flogging.  Christianity, however, addresses sin in a whole different way.  Christianity acknowledges the reality and ubiquity of human sinfulness – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – but addresses such sinfulness not with judgment, but by grace: “All are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

In John 8, Jesus is famously confronted by some religious leaders who bring to Him a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery.  In a breathtaking display of theocratic virtue signaling, they crow: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say” (John 8:5)? In their recounting of Mosaic law, the religious leaders conveniently overlook the fact that it was both the adulteress and the adulterer who were to be punished by death, as, in this case, they bring to Jesus only the adulteress. They also needlessly restrict the method of execution to that of stoning, even though Moses makes no such specification.  Nevertheless, they are broadly correct that adultery was, according to Mosaic law, punishable by death.  Jesus, however, instead of debating the finer points of where the adulterer is and what method of execution should be used, simply responds:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:7, 9-11)

Here, Jesus brilliantly puts His finger on the problem with responding to sin with judgment instead of with grace.  If one responds to sin with only judgment, there will finally be no one left to mete out any judgment, because no one is without sin.  Everyone will have been stoned.  Only grace can address sin in a way that leaves anyone standing.

Christianity certainly understands and accepts the role governing authorities play to discourage wickedness by means of penalties.  But Christianity also knows that people need more than a penalty in the face of sin.  They need a Savior who does not condemn them, but forgives them.  And this is what a theocracy like Aceh’s, which plays the roles of both political and religious authorities, cannot provide.

Interestingly, the Bible does accept lashings as appropriate remuneration for sin.  But the lashes do not fall on us. They fall on God’s Son:

He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

The courts of Aceh, it turns out, are lashing out far too late for it to do any good.  The lashing that was really needed already happened 2,000 years ago.

It’s time to put the whips down.

March 5, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

They Need Someone To Tell Them – How About You?

This past weekend, we finished our series at Concordia titled “Heaven.”  For the final Sunday of this series, Pastor Tucker and I answered some of the most common questions people have about heaven, hell, and eternity.  One of the questions I tackled was, “What about people who have never heard about Jesus?  What happens to them?”  This question is not a new one.  Indeed, questions about how God can consign certain people in certain circumstances to hell or judge them in His wrath are as old as Scripture itself.  Already in Paul’s day, people were asking, “Why does God still blame us” (Romans 9:19)?  Some people cannot fathom a God who will call to account every sin in every situation.  Surely there are instances, these people clamor, where God will just let sin slide.  Surely God will not blame us for our sins – at least not all of them.

As I explained this past Sunday, the truth of God’s judgment is this:  God will hold someone accountable for every sin in every situation – either you or Jesus.  Those are the only two options.  There are no others.  Thus, one cannot be saved apart from Jesus even if one has never heard of Jesus.  For apart from Christ, you will be held accountable for your own sin in hell.

This being said, we also learn that God does not want to hold us accountable for our own sin in hell.  He does not want us to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  This is why the task of evangelism is of inestimable importance.  For it is through people preaching the Word to other people that God normally reaches out with His love in Christ.  As the apostle Paul says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them” (Romans 10:13-14)?  People need someone to tell them about Jesus so they have the opportunity to believe in Jesus!  This is where you come in.

The other day, I stumbled across an article by the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, titled, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians.”[1]  The last of the seven comments jumped off my computer screen at me:  “I really would like to visit a church, but I’m not particularly comfortable going by myself. What is weird is that I am 32-years old, and I’ve never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life.”  Here is a comment from a person who wants to learn more about Jesus – who wants to hear from His Word.  All he needs is an invitation to a place where that Word is preached…maybe your invitation.

Thom Rainer concludes:

Non-Christians want to interact with Christians…It’s time to stop believing the lies we have been told.  Jesus said it clearly: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke10:2).

Satan is the author of excuses.  There is no reason to wait to reach those who don’t know Jesus Christ.  We must go now.  The harvest is waiting.  And the Lord of the harvest has prepared the way.

I couldn’t agree more.


[1] Thom Rainer, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians,” www.thomrainer.com (9.15.2012).

October 8, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,047 other followers


%d bloggers like this: