If you think the world has turned upside down, Chris Skates agrees with you.
If you think the world has turned upside down, Chris Skates agrees with you.
As promised, this post will address the question: In the parable of the wheat and the tares, why is anyone who is not a Christian depicted as evil?
The equivalence between atheism and evil does not exist in the world of relative morality. In the world of relative morality, it would be unthinkable to equate secularism with evil. People who espouse relative morality think that everybody is good sometimes, and nobody should be called evil. Secularism and atheism are automatically equivalent to evil only in the world of absolute morality.
Relative morality operates on the basis of the situation which presents itself. Good is defined in personal terms. Evil is the opposite of good, in personal terms. Every situation is different, and good versus evil is redefined for every conflict. Each individual has the power and the right to define morality for himself in each situation.
The rule of self-defense is a good example of a setting where almost everyone agrees that the target of attempted murder has the right to murder his attacker in an attempt to prevent his own murder. The honor our culture gives to people like policemen and soldiers is due to our cultural sense that anyone who risks death himself or even commits murder himself in order to save the lives of others is on the right side of the conflict. In situations like these, almost everyone believes in relative morality.
Absolute morality, the morality revealed by God through the Bible, says that in every situation, you can distinguish between good and evil by comparing the antagonists with God. God is the measure of what is good. Jesus even said, “There is only One who is good.” By that comparison, every human being is evil. This is the reason every person needs Christ, and whoever receives Christ is made righteous by his righteousness. This truth means that when God sorts out good and evil at the end of time, he will see Christians as good, not because they have done more good deeds than atheists, but rather, because they are covered by the righteousness of Christ. Christians look like good rather than evil, because when God looks at a Christian he sees Christ.
Christ acted on absolute morality when he died on the cross. According to the relative morality of the rule of self-defense, Christ had the right, and even the obligation, to defend himself. By that standard, since Jesus the Christ had the both the right and the power to destroy all his enemies, he should have wiped them out. By the standard of relative morality and the rule of self-defense, it was immoral for Christ to “wimp out” and just die.
Likewise, by the standard of relative morality, if Jesus wanted to defend the world from Satan, it was his obligation to stand in the gap and prevent Satan from hurting anyone. Jesus the Christ, God in the flesh, should have stood his ground against Satan and all his minions, using his God-power to fry them to a crisp and save the world. By the standard of relative morality, Jesus failed, because he did not put a stop to Satan’s ability to lead people to evil deeds.
By the standard of relative morality, Christ should be flying around the world yet today, slashing and burning the encampments of Boko Haram who bomb churches and murder Christians in Nigeria. Christ should still be striking down venal politicians to prevent the arrest and torture of Christians who worship in unregistered churches in countries like Kazakhstan. According to the standard of relative morality, if an activist claims that every Christian ought to be imprisoned or executed for interfering with that activist’s favorite behavior, Christ ought to use his holy and righteous power to remove the activist from the picture permanently. Relative morality says that personal threat modifies the rule that life is sacred, and every individual may choose to interpret the threat according to personal considerations. The absolute morality with regard to life is to do no murder. Christ submitted to death in accordance with that absolute morality.
Absolute morality sets the standard for good by measuring against God himself. God alone is good. By the standard of absolute morality, secularism is evil, because it is ungodly. Hinduism is evil, because it is separated from God. Islam is evil, because it rejects Christ. The behavior of secularists and Hindus and Muslims can be, may be and often is very “good” by the standard of relative morality. They may or may not wreak murder and mayhem. That is not the point. The teaching of absolute morality is that there is no comparison between anything human beings do and the deeds of God. Human beings cannot work their way up the ladder of goodness and be like God. Everything that is not God is evil.
Secularists worship human beings, Hinduism worships many gods, and Islam worships a perverted copy of God himself. One is not more evil or less evil than the others. To call them all evil is simply to recognize that they are not worshiping God. They have all made gods for themselves, which is to say that whether or not they say they have gods, they ultimately worship only self. The very fact that they claim to be able to make their own rules and find their own gods means that they have turned against the only God. By that definition they constitute evil in the world. This is the standard by which God sentenced Adam and Eve to exile from the Garden. They had demonstrated that they preferred self-gratification to a relationship with him. They chose evil over good, and the evidence was their willingness to listen to Satan rather than God and then try to hide.
What are Christians to do about evil in the world? Christians are called to eschew the evil, the mindset that is its own god, yet above that call is the call to love all the people anyway, just like Jesus. Christians are called to be like Christ, to live by the same standard that governed Christ’s behavior. Christians are called to share Christ and the blessing of his mysterious behavior with all people. That is because the mystery of the wheat and the tares is really not about the victory at the end. The mystery and miracle of the wheat and the tares is that tares may become wheat. While the tares and the wheat grow side by side, the wheat can share truth with the tares and the tares may be miraculously transformed into wheat.
Where do you see evidence of people choosing relative morality over the absolute truth of God and his love? What do you do about it? Are you engaged in Christ’s work of transforming tares into wheat?
Contemporary culture is confusing. A lot of words suffer from almost daily redefinition. This post will look at the word morality, as it is shaped in the context of secular, atheist, and Christian thinking.
A secular thinker by definition does not believe in God. The very idea of spirituality is alien to secular thinking, which asserts that only the world of time and space, the world science can weigh and measure, exists. To a secular thinker material existence is the only reality, and death is like the snuffing of a lamp. The end.
Some people equate the word atheist with the word secularist because of the secular rejection of spirituality. To do so, however, is to attempt to express the whole meaning of secularism with the single aspect of the rejection of the idea of God. While the secular thinker does reject God, that rejection is only a single element of a great spectrum of principles by which the secularist lives. An atheist may simply feel inoculated against the infection of belief in God the way a person might feel safe entering the home of a mumps patient if he had been vaccinated against that disease. It is possible for someone to be an atheist without feeling the need to root out religion from the culture. It is not possible to be a secularist and feel the same way.
Secular disbelief in God translates directly into an assertive, increasingly aggressive attitude that belief in God is a threat to humanity. Without a belief in God, the secular thinker turns to the highest form of life for all the things people expect from God. The term highest is expressed in traits of intelligence and creativity, for example. Tool-making. Language. Perception of time. Speculative thinking. Charitable instincts. Christians readily observe that none of these traits address the concepts of guilt, sin, or morality, and they rightly observe that when secularists do speak of morality they are thinking in an entirely different frame of reference than Christians using the same term.
Christians believe that morality is grounded in the revelation of God and his personal attributes, a universal and absolute standard.
Secularists believe that morality is grounded in the evolving self-knowledge of human beings and their attributes, a diverse and mutable standard.
These two concepts could hardly be more different. These two standards cannot conceivably be reconciled to one another. It is not necessary that the relationship between people who hold these vastly different worldviews devolve into complete lack of respect, but increasingly, interaction between Christians and secularists is antagonistic and destructive.
Because each party sees that when the other party has the dominant influence, life becomes difficult. In a representative republic, the people who have the numbers, the votes, on their side have the power. They write the laws. They shape public policy. They decide who and what is taxed. They teach the children.
Some Christians and some secularists try to operate as if compromise between the two viewpoints is possible. Agreements that give each “side” something to hold on to can be crafted. They can be “agreed to” by majority vote. However, they never satisfy either “side” and they never finish the work each “side” believes must be done. Outside the agreement stand proponents for each “side” who will never be satisfied with partial success.
Why is the world this way? Why can the good never fully defeat the evil in this world? Why is it that no matter how many peace treaties are signed by no matter how many people of good will, there is no peace? Stomp out war in one place, and it breaks out somewhere else. Why?
Jesus explained how this works in his parable of the Wheat and the Tares. In this parable, despite the farmer’s great care in sowing good seed, he is ambushed by the devious work of his enemy who sows weeds in the field while the farmer sleeps. The farmer does not detect the presence of the bad seeds until they have sprouted alongside the growing wheat. Rather than lose the good crop altogether, the farmer defers destruction of the weeds till harvest time. Jesus said that this state of affairs exists in the world of time and space with good and evil growing side by side till the end of time. The moral of the story is, God wins. The lesson of the story is that good and evil, Christians and secularists, will always co-exist till the end of time.
Someone will take undoubtedly take umbrage at the implied equivalence between secularism and evil. Someone will say that he knows really good people who do not believe in God. Anybody can see that there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who do good in the world. There is an explanation of this apparent harsh judgment on atheists, but it is beyond the scope of this post. An upcoming post will answer the question: Why is anyone who is not a Christian depicted as evil in the parable of the wheat and the tares?
When Barack Obama first spoke publicly about same-sex marriage, he was equivocal. His views were still “evolving” he told us. Then later, after he had tested the waters and determined what cultural trends were developing, he spoke in support of it. He behaved consistent with the growing influence of a belief that all moral standards are relative and that human beings evolve morally as well as biologically.
This idea is most fully developed in secular philosophy. (There are secularists, there are humanists, and there are free thinkers who advocate substantially the same views. I try to refer to them consistently as secularists, because that term seems the most appropriate word for their core ideas.) Secularists deplore the idea that anyone would impose their morality on other people. They teach not only that each generation must find its own way, but further that each person must find their own way. In a recent conversation with a secularist, I asked how he knew that he had found the “right” answer to a moral problem, and his response was that the “right” answer would be whatever made him happy.
One of the huge areas of difference between Christians and secular thinkers is the way we set our standards for behavior. Secular thinkers determine their values relative to a setting, and their values are always subject to evolve with changes in time and setting. Christians determine their values by studying God’s revelation in the written Bible. As a consequence of the very different approach to determining the values, it is commonly agreed that secular values are relative and Christian values are absolute. Christians do not believe that values evolve or that they should be different depending on the situation. Christians also believe that the Creator has written his most important values in the hearts of all men, even men who reject his very existence.
Recently the Florida legislature was treated to an exposition of the way secular thinkers apply a relative value to human life. Alisa LaPolt Snow, a lobbyist for Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates testified before the legislature in opposition to text in a bill proposed to regulate abortions in Florida. Ms. Snow objected, on behalf of Planned Parenthood, to two clauses in the bill which she called “surrender” and “transport.” Having not seen the actual text of the bill, I must rely on the comments in the video clip I saw, but I recommend you view the clip for yourself and draw your own conclusions. The comments led me to conclude that the ‘surrender’ clause required the woman who had sought an abortion to relinquish control of a baby born alive in the process of attempting an abortion. Likewise, the ‘transport’ clause appeared to require that a baby born alive be transported immediately to a hospital for life-sustaining care.
Ms. Snow stuttered a bit in her attempts not to use the words ‘baby’ and ‘mother’ when she was asked why she objected to a requirement that a doctor provide advanced life support to a baby born alive during an attempted abortion. She almost said ‘mother’ on one occasion and quickly switched to the word ‘patient.’ During this exchange with one of the legislators, the legislator asked if the baby were not, in fact, the ‘patient’ at this point. Ms. Snow was repetitive and persistent in her claim that the person who had requested the abortion was the patient, and that the patient and the healthcare provider should make the decision about the disposition of the baby.
This discussion is enlightening:
“So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Rep. Jim Boyd. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”
“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” said Planned Parenthood lobbyist Snow.
People who believe that the gift of life is given by God do not see this situation in the same way as Ms. Snow. Christians look in the Bible for guidance on issues of faith and life, and everywhere in the Bible they see respect for life. The Ten Commandments include a law protecting life, and throughout the Old Testament there is a consistent teaching of respect for human life. The New Testament, the record of the New Covenant in Jesus’ own blood, is even more consistent in its regard for life. In fact, eternal life is considered to be the greatest gift God gives to people. If life is something a doctor and a reluctantly pregnant woman can decide to end because it is inconvenient, then life isn’t worth much.
A search for the word “abortion” in a concordance or in the Bible will produce no results. In such a case, some Christians jump to the conclusion that if the word is not mentioned, then the Bible has nothing to say on that subject. This is a mistake easily made by both secular thinkers and biblical literalists. Both groups miss the whole purpose of the Bible. The miracle of the Bible is that even though each text was inspired and written down within a social, political and historical context, the message God gave was timeless. The texts themselves span thousands of years, and the last text written for inclusion in the Bible was written nearly two thousand years ago. Yet the Bible is not limited only to issues of the eras in which its texts were produced. In every case the purpose of the text transcends its historical setting. Likewise, terminology has changed over the time, but biblical principles have not changed. A careful study of the Bible will show that the God revealed in the texts is completely consistent and his teachings are consistent over a body of text produced across thousands of years. People sometimes stumble over issues that are, in fact, limited to a time/space setting that no longer exists, but always, the deep principles transcend any era or individual.
So it is with the issue of “abortion” which is actually an issue about the value God sets on human life.
The secular view of abortion starts with the assumption that from conception until birth, the entity contained within a woman’s uterus is not human. Some people in comment threads on the internet even question that this entity is alive! Obviously it is living or it would not grow. However, the secular way of thinking views this entity as an impersonal bundle of cells. Secular thinkers will use the term “fetus” for that entity, but they are unlikely to use the term “baby” unless the mother voluntarily permits the birth and accepts the baby. Then it can be a baby. In this whole process, the secular view avoids giving any value to life itself – the driving force of living things. Secular thinking treats a human being as an object whose transformations along the path from conception to birth are valued no more than a geometric theorem. The entity within the womb is something not quite human.
It cannot be a baby, of course, as long as it is subject to “a woman’s right to choose.” If a woman has a right to choose, then it could be a lump of cells, it could be “products of conception,” it could be a fetus or a blob, but it cannot be a sweet pink baby with bright eyes and a rosebud mouth, with silken skin, with tiny eyelashes and fingernails and ten chubby little toes. Whatever it is that lies upon a cold table after a botched attempt at late-term abortion, the secular thinker cannot call it a baby. The secular thinker must refuse to permit abortion to consist of a mother’s decision to kill her own baby.
This was Ms. Snow’s dilemma as she testified before the Florida legislature. She paused and stuttered and choked a bit before mumbling that she didn’t have the information they wanted. She claimed that she really did not know if Planned Parenthood had a policy for the disposition of the product of a failed abortion.
One might almost believe that she never asked and nobody in Planned Parenthood ever answered the question the legislators kept asking – except for the fact that Ms. Snow testified that Planned Parenthood objected to the wording around ‘surrender’ and ‘transport. She insisted that the decision about the disposition of the product of a failed abortion was in the hands of the ‘patient’ and the ‘healthcare provider.’ All this careful choice of words and obvious hesitation to acknowledge the real question betrays a lot of previous conversations about the way to avoid speaking the truth: that Planned Parenthood is absolutely committed to the death of every aborted baby, even if the baby is born alive.
One legislator did make the point that a newborn baby struggling to live was obviously the ‘patient’ in this situation, which leads any thinking individual to ask how that ‘patient’ could more clearly speak his desire to live. One might also ask if it is actually appropriate to say that the other party to the decision has been involved in providing ‘healthcare.’ How can it possibly be healthcare if the intended outcome is somebody’s death?
This is the sort of thing that happens when values are relative. In this case, Ms. Snow is testifying that the value of the baby’s life is relative to the desires and convenience of the mother and the doctor. In fact, Ms. Snow studiously avoided calling the woman from whom this baby had been ‘precipitated’ (the term used to describe the process of evicting the baby from the uterus) the ‘mother’ of the ‘baby.’ In order to preserve legal distance from the human beings involved, Ms. Snow was compelled to contort the language. It seemed quite obvious that she felt incapable of making her heartless demands if she actually recognized that she was suggesting that a physician, who had sworn an oath to “first do no harm,” could really participate in the necessary actions to kill a baby whose mother rejected him or her. Relative morals clearly require human beings to avoid recognizing the humanity of any party to a moral decision.
Secular thinkers reject what they call the tyranny of absolutism. Yet, the Bible teaches Christians that there are absolutes. Life is one of them. The Bible does not cover up human behavior that shows no respect for God’s gift of life; you will find plenty of evidence in the Bible that Ms. Snow’s callous attitude toward human life is not a new development in history. Rather the Bible shows that God himself values human beings immensely. Christ came to earth and died, because God loves and values people. They are his ultimate creation. Human beings contain in themselves God’s own creative image, and they are the only beings completely free to choose between right and wrong. They are his beloved creation, and God grieves every bad choice they make. He was willing to sacrifice his own Son for them, because he values human beings with his absolute love.
God’s commands, revealed in the Bible, tell us a lot about him. His command to refrain from murder is a clear evidence of the value he places on human life. He did not say, “Don’t murder any human being, except the unborn.” He said, “No murder.” Period. No qualification. No conditions. When humans, in the course of assuring public safety and international security, must murder others, that behavior comes with a terrible cost. Men who have shot other men in the course of police work or military battle are nevertheless changed by the experience. Something breaks in a person who has taken another person’s life, by accident or design. Life is precious. God doesn’t want us to squander that gift. Those who must kill a person in the cause of justice or military action are not permitted by God to move past that event as if it were trivial.
Life is better when people try to live by God’s absolutes. Notice the word “try.” None of us can really live up to that standard, but our lives are richer when we hold to that standard and keep working at it. Our lives are richer when we give every newborn baby a chance to live, the best possible chance we can provide. When we show respect and value for God’s gift of life to a newborn baby, it becomes easier to show respect and value for an aged man dying in a nursing home. We will give honor to the life of that man until God himself takes that man home to be with him. When we show respect for God’s gift of life, it will be easier to decide what to do when an unexpected pregnancy enters our lives. When we show respect for God’s gift of life, it won’t be so hard to decide how to treat our aged parents or our sick children. Life has a value all by itself. Life is a good thing, all by itself. God’s absolute is “no murder,” or to put it another way, “life always.”
God himself puts it in the human heart to respect human life. Every human is born knowing that murder is wrong. God writes his complete aversion to murder on the heart of every human being at the moment of creation. Cain knew it was wrong; why else did he lure Abel away from their parents? Primitive tribes in South America know it is wrong; every primitive tribe has created complex cultural mantras and practices to prevent murder and surround even just or military murder with social protections, guides and penalties. Ms. Snow knows that murder is wrong, but as long as she can sustain her semantic cover-up of the reality of murder in the course of abortions, she can sustain her sense of self-respect. Every primitive tribesman and every twenty-first century lobbyist has God’s values written on his (or her) heart at the time of creation, and every one of them knows that murder is wrong.
Ms. Snow knows it, too. She can’t say it, however. She is captive to her work as a lobbyist. She pays her bills and buys her fine clothes and jewelry with money earned by saying, in essence, that black is white. Christians who are praying for the Florida legislature to do the right thing in their law governing abortions must also pray for Ms. Snow. Why? Because Christ loves Ms. Snow and Christ died for Ms. Snow. Christians must pray that she will be filled with God’s goodness and blessing, and to be given clear vision of the precious value of God’s gift of life to newborn babies. They must pray the same for the Florida legislature. And while they are at it, let them pray for all the mothers for whom unplanned and unintended pregnancy seems like a burden they cannot bear.
Abortions are not simply the knee-jerk reaction of people who have never given any thought to the logical outcome of sexual activity. They are the blasé reaction of people who consider that adults have a right to the joy of sex without any obligation to care for the life it creates if they didn’t want that life. In their minds, the baby in the mother’s womb is like an ingrown toenail or a splinter in the finger; that baby is an unwanted alien object inside a woman’s body. When Christians pray that abortions will end and babies will be treasured, they must pray that generations of adults will have a change of heart about sex and about babies, and they must pray that forthcoming generations of children will learn the power, the beauty, and the responsibility of sex.
Ms. Snow’s convoluted arguments about who should decide what to do with an unwanted baby who somehow gets born alive despite everyone’s best efforts to kill it only make sense if you believe that it really isn’t anybody’s fault that this baby appeared. It is a completely unintended and unwanted complication to somebody’s life. Two adults wanted the love and the fun of sex, and then along came this bunch of cells that would be a baby if it got born, and then it does. What to do?
Ms. Snow is trying to tell us that everything is relative. Relative to the two people who had so much fun at sex some considerable time ago, this baby is an unwanted and unneeded complication. Ms. Snow is trying to say that the baby’s life only has value to the mother now, and if the mother considers it trash, then trash it is. Christians must pray that people who think like this will meet Christ face to face and discover that life is a treasure, that sex is not a toy for self-indulgence, and that a baby is not a problem but a gift. Christians could pray all day every day about only this problem and do a great deal of good for the world, because when Christians pray such prayers, they enter into God’s redemptive work for humankind. We can do all the political activism we want. We can sign petitions and write letters and vote for senators and representatives, but when all is said and done, Christians must pray. We must trust that God cares enough about humankind to save these babies, because God cared enough about humankind to send Christ to die for all of us. Pray.