Everyone likes to see an evil person get the punishment everyone believes he deserves. When John Wayne Gacy was executed in 1994, few tears were shed on his behalf, and many comments mourned the fact that Continue reading Nobody Wants to Repent
In a recent article in the Guardian, Ijeoma Oluo wrote on behalf of her fellow atheists that, “our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original. Perhaps this is not religion, but human nature.” Later in the article, she referred to the “atrocities we commit as human beings,” and pointed out that atheists and people of faith are alike in the need to “free ourselves from the racist, sexist, classist, homophobic tendencies of society.”
Ms. Oluo has discovered sinful human nature. It is the most fundamental truth about human beings. She looks around, examines the behavior and attitudes of atheists, people not corrupted by believing that some god actually exists and cares about them, and she observes, “Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia.” Her conclusion that belief in a god (theism) necessarily produces hateful, venomous rhetoric may be questionable, but there is no question that human beings, both theists and atheists, are born with sinful human nature.
The word sin is anathema in contemporary cultural conversations, or in any other context, for that matter. There is widespread cultural scorn for the Christian teaching that everyone is a sinner. Film critics love a film that makes fun of Christian abhorrence of sin. Hardened atheists tell stories of how the hypocrisy of church members drove them out of the church their parents forced them to attend as children Social workers accuse parents of child abuse for telling their children that they are born sinful. Yet Ijeoma Oluo has discovered the fact that being an atheist does not keep that person from a congenital propensity for greed, selfishness and hatred.
Ms. Oluo is fully convinced that her discovery is a truth hidden from others. Whenever we human beings discover truth, it feels so good and seems so unlike the world around us that we are sure we have found something others have missed. I applaud her intellectual honesty, but Ms. Oluo needs to recognize that this truth about human beings has been known for thousands of years. Jeremiah, who lived about 2500 years ago, said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
Atheists often reject the Bible as a source of truth, because they reject the whole notion of any spirit realm. Some atheists do recognize biblical truth in an abstract way and set the Bible on a level equal with the Tao Te Ching or a Hindu Veda. Perhaps Ijeoma Oluo could accept Jeremiah’s statement as truth if she could see it presented in parallel with her own observation. Yet Ms. Oluo still needs to see this truth in the revelation of God’s whole truth. Unfortunately, the isolated observation that human beings are inherently evil could drive anyone, including Ms. Oluo, to utter despair. If everyone is bad and nobody is good, where do we find any hope for the human race?
Christians answer that concern by first accepting the truth about human beings and then pointing to the answer: the risen Christ. The truth about humans is well documented in an ancient letter to Roman Christians written by the apostle Paul. He said, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Fortunately, Paul’s statement does not really end that way, mired in the fall. It continues seamless to the solution–“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Christians know the solution; people are sinful, and they need to be redeemed. Paul wrote the coherent explanation, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
Ijeoma Oluo believes that human beings need to do something to fix the broken elements of human nature that result in evil behavior. In her view, if people start thinking more about themselves, they can evolve into better human beings by willful choice, and she suggests some choices for people—things like service to others and kindness to all. While Ms. Oluo recognizes the universality of sinful human nature, she does not recognize the futility of any attempt to improve on human beings by an act of will. That particular fallacy was revealed as an utter failure during the same era in which the apostle Paul lived. In fact, the apostle Paul subscribed to that theory himself before he became a Christian. He writes about his own experience at length in the book of Romans, saying,
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin [or sinful human nature] that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? –Romans 7:16-24
Paul could see the good things he ought to do, and he could want to do the good things he ought to do, but he was fundamentally incapable of doing every one of those things every time he needed to do it.
The hypothesis that human beings can improve themselves by simply practicing good moral behavior was the entire underlying thesis of Pharisaism. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism in the first century AD, and they believed that a person could become perfect if he could obey a set of more than 600 individual laws. The fact that Pharisees took their laws from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures does not invalidate a comparison between Pharisaism and Ijeoma Oluo’s suggestion. God himself was actually no more real to them than he is to Ijeoma Oluo, and Jesus pointed out that fact more than once. One day during a teaching moment on the subject of prayer, Jesus compared the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-13)
Jesus praised the tax collector, because the tax collector prayed to God, but Jesus said that God would not even hear the Pharisee’s prayer, because he was praying to himself. Read the Pharisee’s prayer closely, and you will see that he believes he is perfect. He believes he has done every possible good deed, and he believes that he never does anything bad. He is not praying to God; he is telling God that he does not need God. The Pharisee may not have chosen the good deeds Ms. Oluo proposes, but the Pharisee and Ms. Oluo both believe that human beings can perfect themselves.
The whole Bible is evidence that human beings cannot perfect themselves. They are born with sinful human nature, just as Ijeoma Oluo says, but the message of the Bible is that no human being can perfect himself and overcome sinful human nature by simply deciding to do so. Every human who tries it will quickly discover that it is impossible. Promise yourself that, like the Pharisee, you will fast twice a week, and then see how quickly your mind excuses a bite of someone else’s donut—just one bite!
Ijeoma Oluo is a brilliant writer, much to be admired for her skill. She is a deep thinker, willing to face hard truth. Ms. Oluo is admirable in every way, and God loves her very much. He is pleased that she uses his gift of intelligence with such power. There is just one thing she needs to do. Ijeoma Oluo needs to do the same thing Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do: she needs to stop being her own God. Ms. Oluo needs to understand that Jesus Christ died precisely because of her sinful human nature, and she needs to accept his forgiveness. She must recognize that the power that raised Christ from the dead is powerful enough to save her from the evil that is sinful human nature. Then she will discover exactly what she is looking for—the redemption of human beings.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the winter of 2016.
When was the last time you heard anyone use the word chastened? This word is obviously related to chaste, which is a most unpopular word in today’s daily vocabulary. If you take the time to research all the related words, you will learn some interesting facts. The word chaste means “pure, virtuous,” and most particularly, “never taking part in immoral sexual intercourse.” Thus a young girl, a virgin, would be chaste if she had never engaged in sexual intercourse, while a married woman would be chaste if she only engaged in sexual intercourse with her husband. When that word was in common use, it had a meaning, and the meaning was based on teachings that some sexual behavior was good and some was not.
It is the factors of self-discipline and purity that lead to the related word chastened which opened this conversation. Someone needs to be chastened if that person is unable to discipline self and protect personal purity without assistance. To chasten a person is to apply the pressure, verbally or physically, that will restrain the individual from doing something wrong. When someone does something terribly wrong, or does a wrong thing over and over, it might be appropriate to castigate that person, which is severe scolding or harsh criticism. When someone is castigated his feelings might be hurt, but no physical pain is inflicted. However, if someone is chastised, there might well be a spanking, whipping, lashing or beating involved, and the process is likely repeated often. Verbal chastisement is a little less severe in the heat index for punishments than castigation, but the word chastise is not actually limited to verbal punishment. The use of these words, and their commonly understood meanings grew out of the existence of a cultural acceptance of some standards for behavior that is good and behavior that is evil. At the base, there was broad general agreement that sex outside marriage, lies, murder and theft were all morally wrong.
In every form of the word, there is an element that attempts to restrain bad behavior, and it is that element that shaped the word castrate, a procedure designed to restrain, or actually to prevent, a wayward male from fathering children. This extreme procedure was intended to protect women from behavior that the whole culture of the day believed to be morally unacceptable. Some deeds were good and some were evil.
All these words derive from a single root, castus, meaning “pure,” and some combine with the verb agere meaning “to do.” All these words are about a communal moral concept of purity and the disciplinary words and actions required to sustain the purity or punish the loss of it. Purity and discipline are not popular topics in cultural conversations. In fact, many voices in the culture reprimand parents and churches who express moral standards for children and teens. Those voices declare that it is unreasonable and unfair to expect children and teens to have moral standards, and it is unacceptable for children to be punished when they do wrong.
When biblical teaching is thrown into the mix, the frenzy heightens. The Bible is denigrated, along with everyone who believes it is truth. This is the secular answer to the problem of sin. Secular articles of faith deny that there is such a thing as sin, and because sin does not exist, then children and teens have no obligation to frowzy parents who still live in the Stone Age and chastise children who breach the moral standards of that bygone era. Secular thinkers are busily working toward an era in which the secular state will have ultimate authority over children. Parents will be held back, prevented from teaching and enforcing teachings from the “wrong side of history.”
What becomes of a culture that has no moral standards? When the Supreme Court issued the decision popularly known as Obergfell, the moral standards for sexual behavior were undercut so severely that no further decisions will be required in order to legitimize sodomy, incest, pedophilia or bestiality. In that mix, polygamy pales to insignificance by comparison. As long as the standard is that nobody should feel lonely or hurt, and that any sexual union which ameliorates the loneliness is and ought to be legally recognized as a marriage, what can possibly be considered to be immoral?. In fact, since Obergfell is based on no moral standard whatsoever, murder, theft, vandalism, embezzlement, and business fraud should all be legitimized as well. No standard can be shown to apply when the standard interferes with people and hurts their feelings.
When was the last time you felt chastened? When was the last time you chastened a child or a student. If you can remember that moment, hang on to it. There might never be another one.
There is a lot of pressure in the public forum now for Christians to stop saying that homosexuality is a sin. The word sin apparently has a lot of power in the public eye. Two things about that fact are interesting to contemplate. On the one hand, for something to be a sin, there must be a god against whom one would sin, and fewer and fewer people acknowledge any such entity. On the other hand, since both the idea of a god and the idea of sin are alleged to be myths, why should anyone care what believers of myths say? In other words, if Christians are just a bunch of ignorant myth-believers, who cares if they say that their god teaches that homosexuality is a sin?
The answer is that God has written in the hearts of humans a message of his love and care for them, and he calls them all to relationship with him. When they arrogantly defy his love and reject his authority in their lives, they nonetheless must deal with that message. They are offended every time someone says, “but that’s a sin,” not because they accept the judgment, but rather, because they cannot really escape knowing that the external words mesh with God’s internal message that will not go away night or day. God never stops being the creator and the savior of every human being, and nobody can escape that still, small voice, the voice that is the silence inside a shell of a person who has given everything to Satan. Why do people become addicted to drugs and sex and thievery and vile speech and all the other obsessions that possess people? They succumb to the obsessions, because they believe that something somewhere somehow will finally drown out God’s message: “I love you. Come home.”
Secular thinkers would have us believe that unborn babies are not human and that they can be treated like trash, because they do not want to acknowledge that even in the womb, God is saying to the babies, “I love you. Come home.” They rip a baby out of the womb and dismember it the way a pack of hyenas might share in feasting on a gazelle, and they do not want to think that there is any consequence to the death of that tiny human being. They must believe that if they do it often enough they will stop hearing God call to them, “I love you. Come home.”
Yesterday I wrote about the fact that lust and homosexuality are equally sinful, and some readers may have felt I was being terribly judgmental. Please recognize that I have no authority or right to judge anyone. I am a sinner, too. I deal with sin every day. I suffer temptation, and I succumb to sinful desires or to sinful attitudes or to sinful obsessions just as anyone else does. Every day. When I identify lust and homosexuality as sin, I am using my head to read the Bible and opening my heart to listen to God’s guidance to help me understand the words. I am not the judge. God is. What the culture wants is for God to evolve along with human beings. The culture wants God to get on the right side of history and stop being so hateful about sin. Why do they act this way? They may say that they are mad at me for trying to be judge and jury by calling homosexuality a sin, but they are really trying to drown out God’s message inside each of them, “I love you. Come home.”
That is the real message of the Bible. When God points out our sins and shines his light on them so we cannot fail to see them, it is not for our destruction. God does not tell us about the punishment for sin in order to crush us. He does it in yet another attempt to help us stop covering our ears when he calls out, “I love you. Come home.”
Ancient Israel was no different from twenty-first century USA. The people liked sex in a thousand different forms. They did not like God’s expectation that they would enjoy sex in faithful marriages of one man and one woman as he had ordained at creation. They liked to have fun with sex and to experiment and to find out what they liked and then do it night and day with whomever. They were just like the LGBTQ advocates today, scorning all of God’s rules and hating God for presuming to make rules. They behaved with such promiscuity that God grieved deeply.
In the book of Isaiah it is recorded that God mourned what Israel had become, and he must just as surely mourn what the USA has become. He gave Isaiah a message to be written down for ancient Israel, and then by the power of the Holy Spirit, he preserved that message for thousands of years in order that it would be ready for the USA in this age. He said, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name” (Isaiah 65:1 ESV). God called sin sin in the days of ancient Israel, and he still calls a sin a sin today. He doesn’t do it to harm us; he does it to help us. When we recognize that we are sinners, then we can begin to recognize how much we need him.
In plain language that everyone can see in black and white, God wrote this ancient message that is the same message he writes upon every human being at the moment of conception, a message that every human hears, like it or not, “I love you. Come home.”
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge.
- Who needs refuge? Do you need refuge? What problems, troubles, worries and fears drive you to seek refuge?
In verses leading up to this one, the psalmist said,
As for the deeds of men—by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
- What is the psalmist claiming about the way he lives his life? What is he avoiding? What does he seek to do?
I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
- Where does the psalmist get his guidance to know what is right and good?
- Congress is currently considering passage of the Equality Act. If it passes, the consequence will be that no business may refuse to participate in a gay wedding due to religious conviction that the business owner must not participate in sin. Furthermore, this act includes a clause that forbids the business owner to appeal to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act for protection against the accusation of illegal discrimination. Does this act make you feel afraid? Where will you seek refuge if it becomes law?