Posts tagged ‘Law’

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

You Don’t Want To Be Number One

"Moses with the Tablets of the Law" by Rembrandt, 1659 Credit: Wikipedia

“Moses with the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt, 1659
Credit: Wikipedia

Idolatry is rampant in our society.  And this is no surprise.  After all, people have loved to worship, serve, and trust in gods of their own making for millennia now.  From money to sex to power to education to an obsession with whatever rights we think we’re supposed to have, we have no shortage of gods on hand and in our hearts.  And idolatry begins when we are young.

I remember a chapel service I conducted for a childcare center at the church I used to serve.  I was talking to the kids about the First Commandment, which I paraphrased like this:  “God is number one.”  It was with this paraphrase that I heard a little two year old voice pipe up from the back of the room:  “No!” the voice protested, “I’m number one!”  I was taken aback.  So I tried to clarify:  “You are special and important,” I said, “But God is number one.  He’s number one over everything.”  The voice, however, wasn’t buying it.  “No!  I’m number one!” it fired back.

By the end of my chapel message, it was almost comical.  Whenever I said, “God is number one,” this little voice would respond, “No!  I’m number one!”  It seems the idolatrous desire to take God’s place is ingrained in us from the earliest of years.

Martin Luther comments on the First Commandment:

Now this is the work of the First Commandment, which enjoins, “Thou shalt have no other gods.” This means, “Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in Me alone and in no one else.”[1]

I love how Luther describes the spirit of the First Commandment not in terms of obedience, but in terms of faith.  In the First Commandment, Luther explains, God invites us to trust in Him rather than in the idols we make for ourselves.  Why?  Because the idols we make for ourselves take from us, hurt us, and condemn us. The true God, however, gives to us, blesses us, and saves us.  Idols pain us.  The true God comforts us.

The pain of idolatry becomes especially acute when the idols we make for ourselves happen to be ourselves.  When we are our own gods, we are inevitably left disparaging and hating ourselves, for we fail ourselves and find that we are not the kinds of gods we need ourselves to be.

The First Commandment, then, is not just a dictate, but a promise – a promise that we do not have to worry about running everything as number one gods.  The real God already has that number one spot – and all the responsibility and peril that comes with it – covered.  So don’t just obey the First Commandment, have faith in the One who issues it.  For it is only by faith that this commandment is kept.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 44, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 30.

October 14, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Pondering Christ’s Passion

It is a traditional devotional practice during the season of Lent for Christians to take some time to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.  As we are in the midst of this special season, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some selections from Martin Luther’s Meditation on Christ’s Passion from 1519.  This meditation was one of Luther’s favorites.  At one point he called it his “very best book.”  Indeed, it is a brilliant reflection as Luther focuses with laser like clarity on Christ’s sacrifice.

As you read these words, I would encourage you to notice the way in which Luther draws a sharp distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  God’s Law is expressed in a way that is harsh and inescapable.  Luther’s expression and condemnation of our sinfulness might sound shocking, but it is certainly Scriptural.  But Luther does not leave us in despair.  With the heart of a pastor, he points us to the sacrifice of Christ and gloriously sets forth for us how it is all-sufficient for our sin.

And so I invite you to ponder now on Christ’s holy Passion.  May this reflection be a blessing to you.

They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus he says in Isaiah 53:8, “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.

You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2:36–37, St. Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, “You crucified him.” Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, “O dear brethren, what shall we do now?” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc.

We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion.

After man has thus become aware of his sin and is terrified in his heart, he must watch that sin does not remain in his conscience, for this would lead to sheer despair. Just as our knowledge of sin flowed from Christ and was acknowledged by us, so we must pour this sin back on him and free our conscience of it. Therefore beware, lest you do as those perverse people who torture their hearts with their sins and strive to do the impossible, namely, get rid of their sins by running from one good work or penance to another, or by working their way out of this by means of indulgences. Unfortunately such false confidence in penance and pilgrimages is widespread.

You cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53:6, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You must stake everything on these and similar verses. The more your conscience torments you, the more tenaciously must you cling to them. If you do not do that, but presume to still your conscience with your contrition and penance, you will never obtain peace of mind, but will have to despair in the end. If we allow sin to remain in our conscience and try to deal with it there, or if we look at sin in our heart, it will be much too strong for us and will live on forever. But if we behold it resting on Christ and see it overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this, even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection. Now you see no wounds, no pain in him, and no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul declares that “Christ died for our sin and rose for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That is to say, in his suffering Christ makes our sin known and thus destroys it, but through his resurrection he justifies us and delivers us from all sin, if we believe this.

Luther’s Works: American Edition, Volume 42, pages 8-12

March 11, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


Follow Zach

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

Join 2,132 other followers


%d bloggers like this: