It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy. -George H. Lorimer, editor (1868-1937)
The idea of God’s omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn’t hell the opposite of God’s presence, or the absence of God? This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places, or that God acts differently in different places in his creation. Sometimes God is present to punish. A terrifying passage in Amos vividly portrays this presence of God in judgment:
Not one of them shall flee away;
not one of them shall escape.
Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them;
though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search them out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity before their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 175.
“Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents in the Muslim world? To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution. Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with ‘Christian’ America?”
(NOTE: For anyone concerned by the direction Western Civilization is headed, Romans 13 can seem like an impossible passage. How do we balance, for instance, the commandment to honor marriage in a society that seems to think it can redefine marriage? How do we protect human life inside the womb in a society that thinks in can redefine personhood? Indeed, Christians throughout millennia have wrestled with exactly how to balance obedience to Romans 13 with obedience to God’s commands. For example, if we take Romans 13 as literally as possible, then the priests who saluted Hitler were doing the right thing. Do we actually believe that?
As the moral fabric of our society continues to deteriorate, how are we to balance the tension between being subject to the governing authorities with honoring God with our lives? Josh and I have discussed this topic off and on for a few years now and I feel like he has articulated a very helpful understanding of what it actually means to steward our American citizenship. While our identity is in no way based upon where we live, we have been granted certain freedoms and their inherent responsibilities. We have a duty to use our freedoms to love our neighbor and honor our Maker (Gal. 5:1). On this 4th of July, I hope Josh’s perspective–with which I agree wholeheartedly–will challenge you to rethink what it means to be a Christian in America. Take some time to think consider it, wrestle with it, and let us know what you think! – daniel)
I’m an American. For years I’ve watched our country go in a direction contrary to wisdom, righteousness, and the standards I see in Scripture. With that in mind, I’ve struggled greatly with the lessons inherent in Romans 13, which teaches that we must subject ourselves to the governing authorities and leaves no room for rebellion. The chapter doesn’t give us leeway to “obey until this point” or “submit until X line is crossed.” So how does that work for me, as an American?
For the moment, I’m not concerned with what Romans 13 looks like for the rest of the world, or what it looked like for Americans as far back as the Revolutionary War (which, by nature, was a rebellion). I’m not even primarily concerned with what this looked like for the Romans to whom Paul was writing – although this has some bearing on the issue at hand, the first application of these principles (Romans under Nero) is less of a concern to me than the present application of these principles (Josh under the current American government). These are all valid concerns, discussions, and Bible studies; however, they’re beyond the scope of what I’m going to be discussing today.
First off, it’s essential to review the Scripture at hand:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” – Romans 13:1-7
Application of this passage requires a basic understanding of the government system under which you live: if you live in an empire (as did the first readers of this passage), that would be defined as a “rule by an emperor” and he would be your ultimate earthly authority. If you lived under a monarchy, defined as “rule by a king,” then he would be your ultimate earthly authority. In the same way those under a democracy (rule by the people), an oligarchy (rule by a ruling class), or a theocracy (rule by God or a god) would have different authority figures. This is essential because you would be disobedient to Romans 13 if you tried to obey an emperor if you lived under a monarchy, or if you appealed to public opinion when you lived under a theocracy.
The government system in the United States is a constitutional republic, defined as a “rule by law.” Wait a second, that doesn’t make sense – don’t all nations have laws? Yes, all nations have “rule of law” but only a republic is “rule by law.” What’s the difference? In the same way that the definitions of the other types of governments identified the highest authority (e.g., emperor, king) a republic identifies the highest authority: in this case, the Constitution of the United States. How do we know this is true and it isn’t some ruling body or person? Check out the oaths of office below:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely,without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”
Each of these officials, representing the highest positions of the three branches of the federal government, pledge allegiance and subordination to the Constitution. The men and women who inhabit these offices are merely representatives for the Constitution; they bear no legitimate power or authority outside of those confines.
But what happens if Congress passes a law, or the President issues an executive order, or even if the Supreme Court makes a ruling contrary to what the Constitution says? By definition, that law, order, or ruling would be unconstitutional and unenforceable. But when would it be unenforceable? If Congress passes a law that you think is unconstitutional, are you required to obey it until it is struck down by the Supreme Court or rescinded by Congress? For guidance on this, let us turn to the Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Section 177:
“The general misconception is that any statute passed by legislators bearing the appearance of law constitutes the law of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statue, to be valid, must be in agreement. It is impossible for both the Constitution and a law violating it to be valid; one must prevail. This is succinctly stated as follows: The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. An unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statute not been enacted.”
“Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principals follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power or authority on anyone, affords no protection, and justifies no acts performed under it…. A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing valid law. Indeed, insofar as a statute runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, it is superseded thereby. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.” (emphasis mine)
Per Romans 13, we are absolutely required to be faithful and obedient to the supreme earthly authority governing the land in which we live (as long as that doesn’t require us to compromise our faith). The supreme authority in the United States is the Constitution; all public officials are required to swear that they will uphold it. Per the summary above, no unconstitutional law is ever required to be obeyed, since it is unconstitutional and illegal (read: null and void) from the first moment it was passed and not when it was first declared unconstitutional by a court.
The question then becomes how we can accomplish this. The first step is education: we have to know what the Constitution says and how it is applied in our lives. If we are ignorant of the text of the Constitution and its application we are as unfaithful citizens as we would be unfaithful Christians if we ignored the text of the Bible and its application in our lives; since Romans 13 requires us to be good earthly citizens, being poor earthly citizens means we’re being poor Christians as well. The second step is inspection: we must constantly compare the laws imposed upon us with the ideals of the Constitution; if/when we find inconsistency we are then obligated to participate in the third step: disobedience to those laws which aren’t laws at all. This is, by far, the most difficult step for the average Christian to take. We want to believe that our government has our best interests in mind, that anything they do will be within the boundaries of the authority they are given. Sadly, such is often not the case.
Let us examine the difference between the right to command and the power to command. If a gang of thugs bursts into your home in the middle of the night and overpowers you, beats your children, and rapes your wife and daughters, there’s no doubt that, in that moment, they have power over you. They do not, however, have the right to command power over you. If you were to sit idly by and allow them to have their way with your family, such would be completely contrary to the spirit of Romans 13. You should actively resist them, to the death.
Per Ephesians 5:22-24, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church; the wife is required to submit to the husband. That, however, doesn’t mean any wife is required to submit to any husband; just because I’m a husband doesn’t give me the right to go around and command wives who have husbands with less upper body strength than me (although I may have power over their husbands, I do not have the right to command that power).
Hopefully through these extreme examples the difference between someone who has power to command and someone who has the right to command is evident.
We must be educated. We must apply what we know. And when those who have physical power over us command us to do something contrary to the Constitution, per Romans 13 we have no choice but to disobey that illegal edict; per our allegiance to Christ we are required to resist anyone and any order that would attempt to usurp authority from that which we are required to obey – the Constitution.
Joshua S. Burnett
“Virescit Vulnere Virtus”
Let’s be honest, deep down inside many of us just want to adopt a policy of ‘tolerance’ towards gay marriage. At times, it seems as though we’re the bad guys who are just hatefully standing in the way of true love. Who are we to deny love, right? Can’t we just give a little pass on this whole gay-marriage thing? I mean, if Hollywood-that great beacon of marital bliss and fidelity-says it’s okay, can’t we just agree with those wise celebrities? Sarcasm aside, I’ve been struggling with this issue a lot lately and have many friends who share the same struggles, too. It seems as though I’ve witnessed two primary reactions.
- Resignation: No one likes to be the ‘bad guy’ and our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to anyone who disagrees with their beliefs. For example, a website called Upworthy has a propaganda video and the title is If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable Then You Make Me Uncomfortable. The point is that anyone who disagrees with the point of view of the video is just plain wrong and awkward and needs to get with the times. I truly think the ultimate force that causes people to ‘give in’ is good old fashioned peer pressure. Even as I write this now, I’m cringing at the comments I might receive from open-minded people who will spew hatred at me for my beliefs. Subscribing to a traditional, biblical view of marriage is becoming more and more passe. Which brings me to the second reaction many of us have.
- Anger: Others seem to become more defensive every time they discuss this issue. This is where I struggle on this issue. I don’t feel as though my rights are being respected or my point of view is being heard or even being accurately represented. Instead, I feel like I’m being bullied or pressured and I want to fight back. Why should I abandon my beliefs about marriage ? My beliefs span millenia and serve as the foundation upon which our civilization is built, your beliefs are about 5 minutes old and will obviously lead to polygamy, polyamory, and people marrying goats, pillows, pets, and even cartoon characters. Of course, a defensive posture will surely never win anyone over but only serve to deepen the divide over this issue. Surely there must be a better way…
Down in the weeds of this highly emotional issue, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s truly at stake. What if gay marriage isn’t a matter of equality but a matter of eternity?
To those who will disagree with me, before you start with, “well that’s what you believe but that isn’t what I believe and you shouldn’t force your beliefs on others,” let’s get one thing straight: neither of us believes we are wrong. No one holds beliefs that they think are false; that would be absurd. Everyone who supports legalizing gay marriage believes that they are right for doing so. But that’s what you believe and you shouldn’t force your beliefs on me. (See how easy it is to turn the tables?) Now, before you say, “well that doesn’t mean that other people shouldn’t have the legal option to marry, just because you disagree with them” let’s get another thing straight: if you’re free to believe gay marriage should be legalized, them I’m free to believe that it should not. That’s the name of the game when it comes to diversity and tolerance; you have to accept that not everyone will agree with you, otherwise you are neither diverse nor tolerant.
Now to Christians, I say again, what if gay marriage isn’t a matter of equality but a matter of eternity? Our opposition to ‘gay marriage’ must be rooted in love for homosexuals. For far too long, society–and especially the Church–has ostracized homosexuality as though it is an especially horrible sin. This has been wrong and the sudden surge of acceptance of homosexual people has been a good thing. Some of us seem surprised to find out that *gasp* homosexuals are people, too! They are just as deserving of acceptance, friendship, and love as any heterosexual. However, this does not mean we should also accept homosexual behavior. I hope you see the distinction I’m drawing here: there is a difference between homosexual temptation and homosexual behavior; there is a difference between a person and their actions.
Now, regarding eternity… If there is a God, and if we will all one day face judgement, and if He has clearly defined any behavior as offensive to His character–be it lust, greed, pride, whatever–the most loving thing we can possibly do is warn anyone and everyone to repent and turn to God. That includes homosexuals, heterosexuals, democrats, republicans, blacks, whites, rich, poor, blue-collar, white-collar, men, and women. The most hateful thing we can possibly do is, in the name of open-minded tolerance, assure someone that their sinful behavior is acceptable. It is not, and to encourage any form of sinful behavior puts their blood on our hands. Rather than responding with resignation or anger, we need to respond with compassion and wisdom. We must compassionately pray for, talk to, and interact with anyone who struggles with any sin out of a desire to see them reconciled to their Creator.
One last thought to anyone who still disagrees with me: if I claim to be a Christian, and I claim that any behavior results in eternal damnation and separation from God, then what kind of Christian would I be if I did not oppose that behavior? If I believe that lust destroys marriages, perverts healthy relationships and dehumanizes us all, what kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t warn someone to stop looking at porn? If I believe that greed causes people to sell their souls in exchange for riches, what kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t encourage someone to start being generous. If I believe that resentment poisons the heart and prevents people from seeing God’s grace, what kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t encourage people to forgive? If I believe that homosexual activity is as sinful as heterosexual activity outside of marriage, what kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t urge homosexuals and heterosexuals to pursue purity in God’s eyes? What if I don’t view this as a matter of equality, but a matter of eternity?
It’s a boy.
In our depravity, if God came down to us we’d hide from him, run from him, deny him, and even kill him, and that’s precisely what we did.
“Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart’. The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speak of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17), and the like. It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ Jesus the Lord’ (Col. 2:6). But it also makes clear that Christ dwells among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven. Furthermore, there are no examples in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart. In many cases, this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone…
“…The gospel is seen more as what God is doing in me now, rather than what God did for me then. The focus is on Jesus living his life in and through me now, rather than the past historic event of Jesus of Nazareth living his life for me and dying for me. When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble. The New Testament calls on the repenting sinner to believe in Christ, to trust him for salvation. To ask Jesus into one’s heart is simply not a New Testament way of speaking. It is superfluous to call on Christ to dwell in us, for to be a believer is to have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. In the same way, it is not the New Testament perspective that we should call on Christ to give us the gift of new birth.”
Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 176-177.
“Competitive ambition and the accompanying disciplines that bring about its achievement can be pursued, and more often that not are pursued, without conscience, without love, without compassion, without humility, without generosity, without righteousness, without holiness. Which is to say, quite apart from maturity. Immature entertainment celebrities routinely walk out on their families. Immature scholars and scientists who collect Nobel Prizes make do with estranged and godless lives. Immature star athletes regularly embarrass their coaches and fans by infantile and adolescent, sometimes criminal, behavior.
These are the men and women who set the standards for a life fueled by ambition, getting to the top, making a name for themselves, beating out the competition. These are the men and women who provide the images and examples for North Americans of what it means to be standout human beings. Do any of us want to live, I mean really LIVE, that way? Is that living? Has that ever, in the entire history of humankind, been living—fully alive?
I don’t think so. And I don’t think many other people think so when they stop to think, if they ever do. The misery, the emptiness, the superficiality, the boredom, the desolation that accompanies this kind of living is devastating, not only to the individuals involved but to their families and communities. And the seepage of such lives into our culture—for no man is an island unto himself—impoverishes us all.”
Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 90-91.
One person lived in the Southern US during the early 1800’s.
Another person lived in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s.
The last person was born in 1985.
As the conversation drifts to the fact that there is no slavery in Heaven, the person who lived in the 1800’s gets very quiet. It’s clearly awkward for them because they never spoke out against slavery.
As the conversation drifts to the fact that Jews are not being murdered wholesale in Heaven, the person who lived in the 1930’s and 40’s in Nazi Germany gets very quiet. It’s clearly awkward for them because they never spoke out against the evils of the Third Reich.
Which topic would make the person born in 1985 grow awkwardly quiet? The Church is pretty vocal against many of the evils of our day: pornography, sexual immorality, global slavery, greed. And yet the Church seems to look the other way in other cases: divorce, gluttony, sloth, materialism.
However, I’m convinced that there is one topic that is largely ignored and yet is the worst human rights crisis in human history. Abortion.
I’ve been afraid to write about this for a long time. Afraid that I’d upset some people I love. Afraid that angry, loud people would ‘come after me’ on social media. But the truth is, abortion is a topic about which I can no longer remain silent. I thought the best place to start would be a simple explanation of how I became adamantly, unwaveringly, and uncompromisingly pro-life.
My journey towards becoming pro-life started, of all places, on the Alaskan Canadian Highway. With my pregnant wife sleeping in the passenger seat, I began listening to a sermon I heard about John leaping for joy inside the womb when he heard Mary’s voice, and I was convinced that, for Christians, there was no other position but for us to be resolutely pro-life. I had previously been an ‘agnostic’ towards abortion; I thought it was bad for Christians but permissible for non-Christians. I would have said “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Cor. 5:12)” I thought that those who held a pro-abortion stance surely had a good reason for doing so, even if I disagreed with them. Almost like the fact that I bought a Honda but other people purchase Subarus, Fords, or Chevys. Surely, those in favor of abortion had good reasons for supporting it… or so I thought.
The next piece of the puzzle was Tumblr. Before I decided to share a quote on this blog every Friday, I had a Tumblr site where I would send them. One day, I posted a link to this video:
Looking back, I don’t really know what motivated me to share that video. I was still a little on the fence about abortion. However, that video was quickly reposted by some abortion advocates and I got to see ‘pro-choice logic’ first-hand. Most people just attacked John Piper (ad hominem), which did nothing to convince me that abortion should be legal. Others argued that a fetus can’t sustain itself, and thus could be aborted. But, if a fetus can’t sustain itself, why would someone need an abortion? In other words, the fetus can sustain itself in its environment, which is why women get abortions in the first place. Furthermore, even a toddler can’t sustain herself without her parents. Can we ‘abort’ toddlers? Another person argued that the fetus looked like a “f***ing shrimp,” so who cares? In short, because a fetus is unattractive it should be expendable. But, using that logic, does that mean that all ugly people should be killed? And who decides who is ugly? A few others appealed to women’s rights. But what about unborn women’s rights? All of the ‘pro-choice logic’ that I encountered was completely illogical. Most of it was self-refuting; none of it was convincing.
Then, on November 22, 2011, my wife went into labor a week early. I remember realizing that Kara was coming a week early. Since Oregon has no abortion restrictions on the books, they would—technically—have still allowed me to get an abortion up until my daughter’s due date. And yet, here she was, a week early. Completely, 100% viable, and yet still abort-able?! Nothing biological was going to change when she was born. In fact, nothing had changed enough to make Kara morally different at any point, whether inside the womb or out. Certainly there had not been enough change in her to morally justify killing her at any point. (Note: I’m not saying there were no biological changes, I’m saying there were none that were substantial enough to morally justify killing her.)
Why then is abortion legal? It certainly isn’t constitutional. I was deep in my thoughts when it came time for my wife to start pushing. Our daughter was born on November 23rd, early in the morning.
The more I learned about abortion, the worse it got:
There have been over 55 million abortions in American since Roe v. Wade.
There are about 3,300 abortions every day in American, or 2.3 every minute (do the math here).
In 2008, there were 43.8 million abortions in the world. To give you a comparison, during WWII (when people were actively trying to kill one another), there were about 10 million deaths per year (see WWII Casualties and divide by 6, the number of years the war was officially fought). In other words, the abortion holocaust is 4 times more deadly than all the armies in the world during World War II.
Despite the rhetoric, only 0.006% of abortions in UK are performed to save the mother’s life (source).
In the US only 2% of abortions are because of rape/incest or the mother’s health (source).
Planned Parenthood targets blacks and Hispanics; 79% of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods (source).
In fact, when you combine natural deaths with abortion deaths, African Americans are dying in our country faster than they are being born (read more here).
Abortion is a world war on women: “In one recent study of clinics in Bombay, of 8,000 abortions, 7,997 were of female foetuses, leading to a move to ban ultra-sound for sexual differentiation. In one hospital 96% of mothers who were told they had a daughter aborted, while 100% with sons carried to term (source).” See also It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World.
- Finally, pro-abortion logical inevitably leads to infanticide. In February 2012, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva published a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics called “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” with their first line of reasoning being that “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus…” (source). Their argument is that, since we kill children in the womb, why not kill them outside the womb?
I’m convinced that the greatest way to fight abortion is by educating people about it. (If you’re pro-choice and you don’t believe me, just go look at some pictures of abortion victims. There’s a reason they’re so disturbing.) With abortion taking over 40 million lives per year globally, it is the worst human rights crisis in human history. Our generation can no longer remain silent on this issue. We must speak out for those who have no voice. A society founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will lose its pursuit of happiness if it does not respect liberty. It will lose its liberty if it does not respect life. Life is the most fundamental right to any human. We cannot look the other way. We cannot remain silent.
Our sin is like the sin of Sodom. In Ezekiel 16, the Lord sends Ezekiel to rebuke Jerusalem and he says this: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Eze. 16:49-50).” The sin of Sodom was that they did not aid the poor and needy. There is no one more helpless—more poor and needy—than a child inside her mother’s womb. There are 3,300 poor and needy every day—2.3 every minute—who are stripped of their most fundament, most sacred, of human rights. We can change this. Indeed, we must. Pray, learn, and speak about this human rights crisis.