All posts by Katherine Harms

I live and cruise with my husband aboard our sailboat No Boundaries. No matter where we go, we eventually find the internet. We love our home country, the USA, and we love our friends and family all over the place.

You Cannot Trust What You Can Understand

Recently a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She told her friends she would think positive thoughts and asked them to do the same. Later, she sent an email describing the biopsy, the treatment alternatives, and the likelihood that healing would be complete and her life back to normal in two months. The email ended with these words: “I love science.”

Having traveled the road of diagnosis and treatment for cancer with more than one friend, I take the information about her prospects with a grain of salt. Having seen science do its best to apply human understanding to medical treatment for cancer and many other assorted diseases, my respect for science us undiminished, but my confidence in the ability of human intelligence to conquer all diseases is flavored with considerable caution about its boundaries.

Disease of any sort in general and cancer in particular powerfully demonstrates a good reason not to put all your faith in science. Science is always by definition a temporary state of human knowledge, truth right up to the moment a flaw in its findings is discovered. Science takes us to the limits of human understanding. If we count on human understanding, we must always be prepared to find ourselves standing on a precipice at the edge of an unbridged crevice in human understanding.

My friend may love science, but science does not love her. Science is implacably neutral toward everything and everyone. If the physician who performed her biopsy failed to obtain a good sample of the tissue, if the pathologist who read the sample missed a crucial variant in color, texture, shape or etc., if the oncologist fails to account for one or several things, known or unknown at the time, or if any of a dozen other possible events go the wrong way, science will not lovingly cover the problem anyway and make her well anyway.

Science has no commitment to my friend. She is committing everything to science, but science is not committed to her. Whether she lives or dies, to science she is the solution to an equation. Humans know only a few of the variables in the equation. Their knowledge of variables and constants alike is limited by their ability to measure. The humans insert values they can measure into the parts of the equation that they think they know, blind to an uncounted number of factors they do not know and cannot measure. Whether treatment is a success or a failure for my friend, to science, it is simply the answer produced by the values inserted into the equation. Her doctor may care, but science doesn’t.

Before my friend went for her biopsy, I visited with her. We talked briefly, and I gave her a card on which I had written, “praying for you.”  She smiled and assured me she would prefer I just think positive thoughts toward her. She is convinced that a positive attitude will fill any gaps in scientific knowledge. I know what the writer of Proverbs knew—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) We cannot trust human positive thinking any more than we can trust the limits of human understanding. We can only trust the Lord.

My friend believes in science so much that she entrusts everything to science. For her, life ends when her body ceases to function. If the solution to her equation during cancer treatment is physical death, she believes only the particles of her physical body will endure, consistent with the law of the preservation of matter and energy. She consistently has rejected the news that her Creator made her and all other human beings with an eternal dimension. She does not realize that Creator God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastical 3:11). She chooses to ignore God’s voice in her life, a voice that loves her and cares for her as no doctor or scientific discovery ever can care for her. The voice of eternity is always speaking, but she covers it up with the positive thinking bounded by her own understanding. Where will she turn if her treatment equation turns out to be a solution for the end of her time/space body?

I am praying for my friend to open her eyes and put her trust in the God whose equations always include eternity. I pray fervently fir her to learn that it is better to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” than to “lean on your own understanding.” When science’s equations solve for 0, God’s equations still solve for eternity.

Does Anyone Meet the Standard?

Be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.   Titus 3:1-2 ESV

This quotation was selected from one day’s text in a series of devotions my husband and I are reading together during Lent. Both he and I noticed that these verses and others in the third chapter of Titus remind us of the social unrest in our country these days.

In fact, the first thing I thought as I read the admonition to “avoid quarreling,” was that it is almost impossible to do so. A simple “How are you?” elicits a response that includes a reference to the latest political controversy, and very soon every conversation is either dissecting the quarrels of others or setting up a new quarrel.

In a country where universal suffrage makes every citizen a part of the government, it is natural and right that citizens should discuss what is happening in the three branches of government. However, as the apostle Paul points out in the book of Titus and elsewhere, Christians, no matter their opinion of the government, have an obligation to relate to other citizens with the respect, love, and grace they are to show to every human being. Our political opinions do not entitle Christ’s followers to become bellicose and vicious toward political opponents, even if the opponent advocates the end of religious liberty for Christians.

It is important to recognize that when Paul wrote his letters, the recipients of the letters lived in the Roman Empire. Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and many of the people who read his letters were Roman citizens as well. Nevertheless, citizen or not, Paul’s guidance for personal behavior was the same: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” It is important to remember that Roman soldiers were the appointed executioners who nailed Jesus to the cross. Roman emperors expected to be worshiped as gods. Roman government had a history of holding up a high moral standard for public view while in fact it was venal and corrupt to its core, and American citizens might say that our government is the same way.

When I read this text, I was struck by the image of our daily news and videos, still shots, and audio clips that record people speaking evil of one another, quarreling viciously, engaging in riots that destroy property, and showing no courtesy whatsoever to anyone that disagrees with them. Recordings of the public figures must be edited to remove language even today’s culture rejects. Members of Congress cannot find it in their hearts to show respect for a sitting president or a soldier’s widow. Public discourse is so ugly and venomous that few people even want to engage in it. I have had the distinctly distasteful experience of being called names and accused of a vile agenda for holding traditional views of human sexuality, marriage, freedom of speech, and religious liberty. I don’t know anyone who has escaped unscathed if he or she accepts the civic responsibility of the electorate to engage in public discussion of the ideas that shape the creation, administration, and adjudication of law.  Advocates of ideas almost routinely turn from discussion of the ideas to assault on the opposing advocates. It is very hard to remain focused on an idea when one is under personal attack.

How shall a person who actually believes and tries to live by Biblical teaching participate in the forum of ideas?

There are a few good models, but to name them has huge potential to do what happens so frequently in today’s so-called discussions. Instead of seeing the named individuals as models of well-disciplined public discourse, the individuals are flayed and labelled like zoological specimens for their stances on the political spectrum.

I will simply say that while it is hard to find someone in public life whose speech and behavior model the teachings of Paul’s writings, it is not unheard of to see samples we could use for inspiration. Perhaps, the best way to address the problem is to ask you, the reader, to tell me who you see in public life who engages in discussion of the tax code, health insurance, immigration or international trade while speaking evil of no man, avoiding quarrels, being gentle and showing courtesy to all. Please respond in the comments with the names of people you admire for their abilities to show us all the right way to engage in public discourse.

 

Define Feminism

If feminism actually is what a recent article in Slate says it is, then no woman in her right mind is a feminist. Slate just defined the feminist movement in such a way as to clearly exclude all real women.

This article utterly, but willfully, misses the point of pro-life advocacy. Slate says that “anti-abortion” advocates (who are truly advocates for life, but Slate scorns the whole idea that pregnancy is about life) want to push women around. Slate accuses pro-life advocates of wanting to make women submit to the will of pro-life advocates. Slate forgets that people who advocate for life rather than death accept that there is some higher value than self.  Some would say it is God. Some would say it is simply life. They all agree that the life of one human being does not have more value than another; hence, the mother’s convenience does not justify the murder of her inconvenient baby.  All agree that when anyone makes a moral choice on the sole basis that it suits self, that choice is morally bankrupt.

On what basis do I draw this conclision?
The closing paragraph of Slate’s article says:
“There’s one question in the Marist/Knights of Columbus poll that pulls back the veil on any dubious claims that anti-abortion activists are true feminists: “In the long run, do you believe having an abortion improves a woman’s life or in the long run do you believe abortion does more harm than good to a woman?” The only opinion that matters in this scenario is not the person taking the poll or the legislator writing some new law. It’s the woman seeking the abortion. Women’s self-determination—that’s what abortion restrictions take away. It’s also what feminism is all about.”

The term “Women’s self-determination” appropriates a term (self-determination) that is commonly used in discussions about the universal human right to choose the form of government. That kind of self-determination is subject to the vote. Everyone in the affected group gets a vote and the majority rules.

Feminism, according to Slate, believes that a woman’s right to “self-determination” means that she has the right to deny the existence of another human being, despite ample evidence to the contrary,  in order to justify the eradication of that human being, as if that human being were nothing more than a wart on her finger. For abortion advocates to say that the right to abortion exists because of a woman’s right to “self-determination” requires a prior determination: that woman must first determine that even though she is pregnant, she is not carrying a human being in her uterus. It only takes a very little common sense to refute that logical error, but if common sense seems unsatisfying to the intellect, the science that drives the existence of fertility clinics refutes it.

Any human being who commits murder must first conclude that the person who must die deserves to die. Abortion advocates go a step further and lie to themselves, so they won’t feel a thing when a baby in the uterus begins to struggle for his or her life. Abortion advocates willfully pretend that the baby in utero is an insensate clump of cells. To every advocate for abortion on demand, I cry out for the babies. They are real human beings. Each has a right to life just as you do. When somebody tries to kill them, they fight back. They feel pain. They want to live.  You can lie to yourself if you wish, but you will always know that it is a lie.

One wonders where that will for self-determination was when the woman engaged in sexual intercourse. This act is specifically designed by God to produce human beings. Its purpose is the reproduction of human beings. Knowing this fact, why is it not an act of feminism to self-determine that a woman will not engage in an act that will very likely result in the creation of a human being in her uterus? If it is her body and her choice, then why isn’t it her choice to restrain her body from sexual intercourse if she does not want to be pregnant?

If feminism is what Slate says it is, feminism is poison. A real woman treasures the unique role of being a woman, the role of nourishing and protecting unborn life, the role only women can accept. A real woman recognizes that engaging in intercourse always includes a degree of probability that she will become pregnant, and therefore, a real woman will self-determine to reject intercourse if she does not want the outcome of pregnancy. If Slate’s definition of feminism is right, then no real woman is a feminist, because real women protect life.

Is the Book of Psalms Obsolete?

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
–Psalm 51:1 ESV

David wrote about his experience with sin and his discovery of important moral truths nearly three thousand years ago. What does his writing have to do with twenty-first century human beings?

The first time I wrote a blog post questioning the use of the word “marriage” for same-sex unions, I received quite a few comments. Among them were several writers who objected strenuously to my position on that moral question. One person, unlike the other objectors, did not try to persuade me that I had misinterpreted the Bible. Instead, he protested the whole idea of using the Bible to learn the right thing to do. He said that he was smart enough to decide for himself what was right and wrong, and he did not need a Bible to tell him. I had never before encountered someone who thought he needed no external standard to guide his moral choices, and I asked him how he knew that he was doing it right. He replied, “When it makes me feel good, then I know it is right.”

If David had subscribed to that moral standard, he never would have written Psalm 51.

I have been blogging for about 10 years, and I have often blogged about the effect of sin in our lives. David wrote about that problem, too, and in Psalm 51 uses the word “sin” more than once:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
–Psalm 51:2-3

The word “sin” is not a popular word among secular thinkers, and among those who call themselves “progressives,” there are many who believe that it is immoral to call anyone a sinner. They feel so strongly about it that they even accuse parents of child abuse if the parents tell their children that they are born sinners.

If David’s worldview included rejection of the whole concept of sin, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David makes other comments that arouse scorn and pejorative labels in contemporary culture. David speaks to God and says,

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
–Psalm 51:4

Contemporary culture expresses scornful dismissals and abusive language for God that is unthinkable in polite conversation, let alone public discourse. The intellectual elite think they are being polite when they accuse Christians of serving an “imaginary friend,” and those who believe that nothing in all the universe is more intelligent or powerful than themselves utterly reject the notion of letting God push them around with a bunch rules. They believe that they are quite well able to know what is good for them, and they don’t need an imaginary friend to tell them anything.

If David had agreed with contemporary culture that no power in the universe had any right to tell him what to do, he would never have written Psalm 51.

If you closely examine contemporary cultural mantras, you know that the culture would never send you to a higher power in order to fix what is broken in your life. The culture believes that you must merely “dig deep” within yourself to find the power to do the things that make you feel good. When you do what makes you feel good, the culture says that you won’t be wallowing in self-degradation and begging to be cleansed, because, according to secular thinkers, when you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t feel bad about yourself.

Furthermore, if you do doubt yourself, you can simply take a poll and find out what everyone else thinks, and that should clear up your moral choices. According to the culture, when you are part of a consensus that something is right, whether it is abortion, homosexual behavior, or full frontal nudity, the fact that there is consensus means you are not alone. If you act consistent with the consensus, you do not need to do any research at all to know what is right. If everybody else feels good about doing it, you can do it, too, and feel good about it.

If David had believed that knowing the consensus was the same thing as knowing what was right, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David would not have fitted in with contemporary culture at all, just as confessing Christians do not fit in. Studies of the culture, conducted by Barna and Pew, reveal that the culture regards many central Christian teachings as either irrelevant, detrimental to the culture, or dangerous. The idea of sin is anathema to secular thinkers. The idea of God is anathema to all who consider evolution to be the guiding power in the universe. A man who calls himself a sinner for doing something that made him feel good looks ridiculous to secular thinkers. A man who believes he has broken his relationship with the Creator of the universe by doing something that displease the Creator is to be pitied for his lack of self-esteem. A man who believes he needs to be cleansed because he is a filthy sinner, a man who believes he needs to be born all over again with a new heart because he is out of sync with the will of God will be laughed to scorn by those who say they can plainly see that there is no God.

We can all be grateful that David was not a contemporary secular thinker, because instead of leaving us to contemplate our own sinful human nature and our multiple specific sins against God, David confessed his own experience with sin, and then he showed us how to be healed when we sin:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.          –Psalm 51:10

If you have ever been suddenly brought to attention by the recognition that you committed sin against God, sin you hid from even yourself as you did it, then you know that you cannot heal what is sick, or fix what is broken, by claiming that it made you feel good at the time. You know what David knew—you are a sinner. You have built a wall between yourself and God, a wall  made up of your own will and wishes. Furthermore, the “good” feelings that accompanied your behavior are dissolving in your shame when you realize that your barrier is full of holes, and God can see exactly who you are. Then is a good time to borrow David’s words and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The Bible is full of Jesus, from the first page to the last. The day that Jesus rose from the dead, he joined a couple of men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked together, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Christ] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). David’s Psalm 51 surely came up that day. When you read David’s words, baptism is vividly referenced in David’s statements, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2 ESV) David further wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), obviously pointing forward to the work of Christ on the cross, which Paul would describe by saying, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

The moral values of contemporary culture are not very different from the values in the cultures contemporary with David’s lifetime. In fact, contemporary values are well described as far back as Genesis, where God observed that “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). That is why the work of Jesus on the cross is relevant to every era. In every age it is always necessary to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV).

Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)