Say Yes to Life

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Say Yes to Life

Welcome to Christianity Oasis Purity Publications. This E-book is titled Say Yes to Life written by Author Morris A. Inch. Christianity Oasis in association with Purity Publications proudly presents you with this Say Yes to Life E-Book free of charge for your enjoyment.

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The choice between life and death strikes close to home. Mother was beyond the age when women generally give birth when she conceived. Moreover, she was not in the best of health. There was risk involved in bringing the fetus to full term. Had she opted for abortion, my life would have been terminated.

I gather that she never genuinely regretted her decision. Even though the birth was difficult, she chose life. Even though there were lingering adverse effects, she chose life.

Of course, I was not consulted. Scripture encourages us to make provision for those who are importune. The fetus would seem to eminently qualify.

In Jewish tradition, three are implicated in birthing a child. Along with mother and father, there is God. The implication is that all three have invested interests, which should be addressed.

I cannot remember a time when I was not loved. Mother expressed her love in a variety of ways. For instance, by her loving care. For another, when she would show her approval. Dad was of necessity less involved. His love translated into being a good provider, a respected virtue in our village culture. Then, too, in playing with me from time to time, or reading to me when I was ill. Not to be overlooked, there were my siblings, extended family, and childhood friends.

A road separated our home from my father's store. It was some time before mother would allow me to negotiate the road, and then only after considerable coaching. "Look both ways," she would shout after me. "Yes, mother," I would indulge her.

I came of age while World War II was raging. It was a time when life was increasingly uncertain. Mother seemed to sense that I would not return from overseas deployment. Her intuition proved misleading.

My parents have passed away, as have my siblings and ever so many more. I supposed that the hurt would diminish with the passing of time. Perhaps for the time being, only to be renewed on occasion. Given the opportunity, I would opt for life–for myself and for others.

If for no other reason, the Christian faith appeals to me. "I am come that they may have life," Jesus affirmed, "and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Things are not always as they appear. In a manner of speaking, the Christian martyr chose life rather than death; inasmuch as he or she would not exchange a few fleeting years for the prospect of eternity.

The above comments will suffice for the present. Walk with me as I subsequently explore the topic in greater detail. It will hopefully prove to be time well invested.

First Things First

"The greatest power we possess is the power to choose. Our most important choice, whether on the plains of Moab or in today's fast paced world is between life and death. The appeal to choose between life and death is common in the Old Testament."1 It is no less prevalent in the New Testament.

* * *

Illustrations abound. "See," Moses solemnly addressed the people, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship, them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed (Deut. 30:15-16).

In context, the phrase I set before you implies that a categorical choice must be made between life and death. There is no third option.

Moreover, the decision is urgent. We cannot resurrect the past, and we cannot presume regarding the future. As I was assured as a child, "Life comes around only once."

Much is at stake. Life and prosperity is set over against death and destruction. Life and all that it affords; death and the loss of all that might have been. The contrast is intentionally stark.

Moses next sets out to explain his use of terms. Life is generated from loving the Lord your God, and eventuates in walking in his ways. This, in turn, involves keeping their covenant obligations.

Conversely, death results from disobedience. In any regard, but expressly concerning idolatry. Idolatry can take many forms. Some actually worship figures made from wood, metal, or clay. Either that or what they suppose the figures represent. Others are more subtle. They simply esteem things of this world more than their benevolent benefactor.

Idolatry reveals a complex dynamic. It appears to satisfy the concern to have a visible object for adoration; it may result from ignorance (cf. Acts 17:30); it often allows the person to be self-serving; it can be a means for exercising control over others. All things considered, there is some truth to the assertion: "One is as good as the gods he or she placates."

The prophets were quick to point out that idols lack vitality. They have ears, but do not hear. They have mouths, but do not speak. In this regard, they qualify as harbingers of death.

Finally, Moses associates the choice with the promised land. If the people choose life, "the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." If they opt for death, "you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess." The focus is not on some ethereal hope in the distant future, but concerning impending events.

Consider another example. "Enter through the narrow gate," Jesus admonished. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt. 7:13-14).

Initially, note the context. The Golden Rule, do others as you would have them do to you, might be said to constitute the high point of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The four paragraphs that follow contrast the two ways, two kinds of fruit, two kinds of followers, and two kinds of builders. In each instance, a sharp distinction is drawn between true discipleship and religious pretense.

Jesus calls for decisive action. There was no time to attend to extraneous matters; nor to consider what might lie in store for them. There was no room for ifs or buts in the disciple's response. In nautical terms, they were to set sail and weather the storms as they arose.

Jesus elaborates. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction. It is readily accessible to all. It has the approval of most. Nonetheless, it will inevitably lead to destruction.

Conversely, small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. The few is not specified. C. S. Lewis once observed that upon gaining access to heaven, persons will likely discover that some of those who they took to be pious simply enjoyed good digestion. "Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith," Paul admonishes his readers (2 Cor. 13:5). Leave nothing to chance.

The discussion now takes a more philosophic turn. Some decisions are manifestly complex. "I have good news for you," a faculty colleague used to greet his freshman students. "Now that you have matriculated, your options are dramatically reduced. You do not have to decide whether or not to study; you will study! You do not have to weigh whether to get enough rest, eat properly, or have regular exercise–since these are conducive to study."

So it is with those who opt for life. It will impact on the priorities we set, how we expend our energies, and how we measure success. It will impact on the priorities we set. Jesus cogently observed, "for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" (John 5:30). He assumed this as the prime directive.

It is in the above regard that the worthwhile may keep us from excelling. The worthwhile qualifies as anything that appears to us and/or others as a positive course of action. Conversely, we excel only in conjunction with God's gracious will for our lives. It is in this manner that we refine our potential by means of his enabling grace.

An illustration will perhaps clarify my thinking. Ed was a devout young college student, who struggled to find his calling in life. After graduation, he took a year's study in seminary. It was never his intent to become a pastor, but he presumed that the theological training would stand him in good stead. He eventually became a missionary educator. I have seldom seen a person so assured of his calling, or more enthusiastic in rendering a ministry.

Moreover, Ed made a practice of considering others in deference to himself. In order of priority, it was God first and others second. His concern appeared to focus on those near at hand: his instructors and fellow students. It extended, as the opportunity afforded itself, to persons further removed. Such as those he and his friends would visit on a Sunday afternoon, as a means of sharing their faith.

Then, when his education was completed, he ventured into strange surroundings, among people of a different ethnic and cultural orientation. His life was cut short by some tropical decease, and he was buried in a distant land–close to those he was privileged to serve.

Ed seemed of the opinion that he had everything to gain, and nothing to lose in venturing forth in faith. "But seek the kingdom of God first," Jesus admonished, "and all these things (concerning our daily provision) will be given to you as well" (Matt. 6:33). In this regard, Jesus reminded them of God's providential care for the lilies of the field.

On a later occasion, the Lord observed: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). "That self-seeking is self-defeating is the central paradox of Christian living. In the context of cross-bearing it would appear that 'gaining one's life' may refer to escaping martyrdom by denying the faith. ...The saying of Jesus is also true in a more general sense; to pursue selfish interests is to lose out on what life if all about... ."2

If we opt for life, it will also influence how we expend our energies. "Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness," the psalmist enjoins (96:9). It is emphatically time well spent. Without worship, life loses its seasoning.

Two related observations would appear in order. First, worship is an expression of gratitude; as relates to God's person and provision. Our God is a great God! There is no one to rival his majesty.

In addition, he provides for us as would a parent for his or her children. Indeed, we are blessed from one generation to the next.

Second, our gratitude is confirmed in the manner in which we live. In a passage I have appreciatively quoted on various occasions, "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:23-24).

Justice must be cultivated in diverse contexts. There is legal justice. "How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?" the Almighty indignantly inquires. "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed"
(Psa. 82:23).

There is also distributive justice. This balances the privileges and obligations one assumes as a member of society. It is incumbent that persons not be expected to bear a disproportionate share of responsibility, but neither should they be excused from contributing as warranted.

Likewise, there is commutative justice. Such as is related to the exchange of commodities and services. "Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales?" God rhetorically inquires (Micah 6:11). Certainly not!

Then, finally, there is retributive justice. The Lex Talionis serves as a prime case in point. In biblical terms, "an eye for an eye" (Exod. 21:24). Its expressed purpose was to prohibit excessive punishment. Whatever the specific application, let justice flow on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

The alternative may be said to focus our attention on the grave. That is all that remains to bear witness that someone once walked this way. If he or she had accumulated this world's goods, others are left to enjoy them.

If we opt for life, it will likewise inform us how to measure success. "Now this is eternal life," Jesus observed: "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). "In this world we are familiar with the truth that it is a blessing and an inspiration to know certain people. Much more is it the case when we know God. To know him transforms us and introduces us to a different quality of living."3

Initially, note the analogy. We are privileged to become personally acquainted with certain people, who leave a lasting impression on us. We are now and forever in their debt.

Sometimes these people are renowned. More often than not, they receive little notice. In any case, they qualify as exemplars.

Secondly, consider what is lacking. There is no reference to the accumulation of material things. We would be led to believe that these have little to do with establishing the quality of life.

So it was that Jesus told a parable concerning a certain rich man, whose ground produced a pumper crop. He pondered to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops" (Luke 12:17). Then he concluded, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'"

But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

After that, Jesus concluded: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." He apparently felt no additional commentary would seem necessary.

Thirdly, note the preeminence of God If certain persons can be said to enrich our lives, how much more must this be true concerning the Almighty!

There are various means through which we experience God. Through his creation. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard" (Psa. 19:1-3).

Via wisdom. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Prov. 1:7). As an example, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise. It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (6:6).

From salvation history. As with Moses, who chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. ...By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. ...By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned (Heb. 11:24-25, 27, 29).

In the person of Jesus. "Lord," Philip said to Jesus, "show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8).

Jesus replied, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has see the Father." It is in the form of a gentle rebuke.

All things considered, by being open to the opportunities life affords. It is as we enthusiastically embrace life that God delights in revealing his will to us. According to conventional wisdom, "Live and learn."

Textual Studies

The doctrine of the two ways, so admirably set forth in Psalm 1, permeates biblical narrative. I have chosen representative passages, so as to elaborate on the choice between life and death. As noted in the book's title, this constitutes the choice, since other choices take their point of departure from this initial juncture in our earthly sojourn.

The Akeda

It would appear that the most captivating biblical passage for Jewish piety is the akeda (binding) of Isaac. It appears as if a haunting memory, touching on the pathos of life, and soliciting uncompromising devotion to the Almighty. It is no less a profound commentary on what is sometimes a subtle choice between life and death.

* * *

From a literary perspective, "The action is not merely broken up into steps. Each step is told slowly, in considerable detail, and several sentences are long, carefully built up by balanced clauses. It is the slow-telling technique discussed above, handled with virtuosity."4

"Abraham!" God summoned the patriarch.

"Here I am," Abraham replied. It was not his intent to state the obvious, but to express his availability and attention.

Then God directed him, "Take your son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Sacrifice was a regular part of the worship of Abraham and the Israelite patriarchs. After God had appeared to him at Shechem, he built an altar to the Lord and offered a sacrifice (Gen. 12:7). Later altars were subsequently erected at Bethel (12:8; 13:18).

The sacrifice is best thought of as a token expression of one's religious devotion. It decidedly did not excuse a lack of piety. In the terminology coined by Dietriech Bonhoeffer, it was not meant to accommodate cheap grace.

Human sacrifice, however, was quite a different matter. The practice appears to have been common among the Canaanites, but discouraged by the Mosaic tradition. As an apt illustration, "You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fires as sacrifices to their gods" (Deut. 12:31).

Of course, the patriarch may not have had a settled conviction in this matter. As sometimes expressed, he was a project in progress. Pagan ways cast an exceedingly long shadow.

Early the next morning, Abraham got up and saddled his donkey.  He took with him two of his servants and his son, Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for a burnt offering, he set out to locate the place God had described.

On the third day, he looked up and saw the location in the distance. He instructed his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

Abraham took the wood for the brunt offering, and placed it on his son's shoulders. He himself carried the fire and knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac broke the silence. "Father?" he asked in an questioning voice.

"Yes, my son?" the patriarch invited him to continue.

"The fire and the wood are here," Isaac observed, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." Then the two of them went on together. As for commentary, repetition appears to be especially characteristic of more ancient forms of narrative.

This might be due to the circumstances that oral composition and transmission are greatly helped by regularly repeated elements; furthermore, ...such elements make a story which is listened to sound better. ...All this might seem to lead to the conclusion that the narrative manner of the Bible is relatively close to ancient and primitive conventions, though–since its repetitions are not quite regular–one step higher on the evolutionary scale.5

When they had reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar–on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his cherished son. However, the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

Now the angel of the Lord characteristically serves as his messenger. This invites the impression that he, at least on occasion, constitutes a manifestation of God. In this capacity, the angel resembles the burning bush that was not consumed, and which solicited Moses' attention
(cf. Exod. 3).

"Here I am," the patriarch again replied.

"Do not lay a hand on the boy," the angel protested. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." The fear of God conveys something more profound than simply dread or terror; it suggests awe-inspiring reverence.

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went over and took the ram, and sacrificed it–in place of his son. So the patriarch called that location The Lord Will Provide. "And to this day," the narrator observes, "it is said: 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'"

Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time, "I swear by myself," the Lord declares, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.

"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice," the author of Hebrews observes. "He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (11:17-19).

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (v. 1). This is more along the line of a description than a definition. Faith might be defined as a radical commitment of one's life to the Almighty. As such, it involves knowledge, trust, and obedience. Knowledge in the sense of comprehension, trust with regard to reliance, and obedience as its corollary. In the memorable words of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, "only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes."6

It was God's intent to test Abraham, but in what regard? Clearly, in keeping with God's promise to fulfill his promise through Isaac. So it would seem that the comment concerning Abraham's belief in God's ability to raise his son from death is not off the mark, because Isaac's survival was necessary to the realization of the promise–assuming his life would be taken. As it turns out, this was not the case, except in a figurative sense.

"Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?" James rhetorically inquires. "You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did" (2:21-22). "The idea is not that faith was perfected in the sense of it having been less than faith before, but that faith is brought to maturity through action (cf. 1:4; 15). There is a mutuality: Faith informs and motivates action; action matures faith."7 James means to repudiate a false dichotomy, in preference for a faith that rings true.

The comments of the early church fathers are likewise pertinent. Clement encourages his readers to reflect on how one might obtain God's blessing. In this connection, "Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? Isaac, with perfect confidence, as if knowing what was to happen, cheerfully yielded himself as a sacrifice."8

The term blessing acknowledges God's favorable disposition. In particular, Abraham merited God's approval because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith. Then, too, Clement supposes that Isaac was not hesitant to comply with his father's wishes. The wood he bore on his shoulders is represented as analogous to the cross.

Irenaeus reasons along a complementary line: "For Abraham, according to his faith, followed the command of the Word of God, and with a ready mind delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only begotten and beloved son, in order that God also might be pleased to offer up for all his seed His own beloved and begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption."9 In order that bonds the two events together, in terms of promise and fulfillment.

Moreover, the Word of God provides an unifying theme. When the patriarch heard God's word, he obeyed. When the apostles were summoned by the Incarnate Word, they also obeyed. When anyone reflects on the revealed word of God, it is their obligation to be obedient.

One additional instance will suffice, although I have little more than scratched the surface. Cyprian observes that we ought not to complain, but endure hardship in God's service. He recalls in this connection the Job narrative, before turning his attention to the binding of Isaac. The latter expressly serves to demonstrate that God means to prove the instrument of his use.

Then, in summary: "As gold in the furnace He proved them, and as burnt-offering He received them. And in their time there shall be respect of them; they shall judge the nations, and shall rule over the people; and their Lord shall reign for ever."10 But not before they have been refined in life's furnace.

It remains to focus more precisely on the mix of life and death imagery associated with the binding of Isaac. It begins with God. Abraham, conversely, resembles more a member of the supporting cast. He comes on stage for the time being, only to leave out of deference to others.

God is there all along. In the beginning, at the end, and for the interim. He is the one constant in the midst of change. Life revolves around him.

Now life originates with God. First, he created a habitable environment. There was heat to warm the firmament. There was water, which withdrew to allow land to appear. There was flora and fauna of rich diversity. Then, finally, there was humanity–as if a capstone to God's creative activity.

Humans are not the most robust of God's creatures. They need to bond together in order to survive. God graciously made provision for community.

The biblical writers assume that since God created the world, he is necessary to sustain it. "He covers the sky with clouds," the psalmist enthuses; "he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle, and for the young ravens when they call" (Psa. 147:8-9). In more general terms, "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made" (Psa. 145:17).

Jesus concluded, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matt. 22:32). This he said by way of rebuking the Sadducees who reasoned that there was no resurrection. John Calvin observed that it is customary for a father to have children. So it is that to affirm God's existence is to confirm life.

The notion of life asserts itself again concerning God's promise to Abraham. It was couched in the context of the mandate to leave familiar surroundings and a supportive extended family structure, so as to claim his inheritance. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you," he was told; "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you will I curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:2-3).

He would be blessed. In antiquity, this was as a rule associated with long life and a large family. If, that is, life is relatively free from misfortune, and the children are not contentious. These desirable considerations in and of themselves would not substitute for a walk with God.

He would be a means of blessing. Consequently, he would more resemble a channel than a reservoir. It was never God's intent that we should squander his blessings on ourselves.

As noted above, it was this promise that kept the patriarch on course. Since God had promised, it was as good as done. If it took raising Isaac from the dead, God could be counted on to manage it. If by some other way, God is faithful. In a manner of speaking, this was not so much Abraham's problem as God's.

The lad's life was not spared until the last moment. The knife was already poised in his father's hand when the angel of the Lord stayed the execution. It is perhaps not surprising that Jewish tradition finds in this a cause for martyrdom. "It may be pointed out that the prohibition against suicide in Judaism is not absolute. A Jew is actually obligated to accept death rather than commit murder, idolatry, or incest."11 Such are said to die sanctifying the Holy Name.

Conversely, his life was spared. This serves as a reminder that God does not take pleasure in human sacrifice. Life is sacred from the moment of inception to its demise, and should be treated with the greatest of respect.

As noted at the outset, the akida has made an unique contribution to Jewish piety. As subsequently observed, it has not gone unnoticed by the New Testament writers or the early church fathers. Now it deserves to be given serious attention in the midst of the current clash between the cultures of life and death.

You Shall Not Murder

The significance of the Decalogue can hardly be overstated. The rabbis "speculated that it was prepared on the eve of creation in anticipation of subsequent use; they asserted that as each commandment was sounded from the lofty heights of Sinai it filled the world with a pleasing aroma; they concluded that all nature hushed to hear every word as it was spoken."12

* * *

Initially, I will briefly sketch the events that led up to the gathering of Israel at Sinai to embrace its covenant obligations. Severe famine ravaged the land, prompting the extended family's flight to Egypt. One generation died, and another replaced it. The "Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them" (Exod. 1:2).

A new ruler, with no recollection of Joseph, came to power. "Look," he said to the people, "the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country." This, in turn, would diminish the work force available.

So they put oppressive slave masters over the Israelites, and forced them to build store cities for Pharaoh. These served as centers for gathering and distributing grain, not to exclude other enterprises that would contribute to their importance. "They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly."

Then the king summoned the mid-wives who birthed the Hebrew women, and commanded them to put to death any male children they would deliver. But the mid-wives feared God, and made excuse for failing to keep their instructions. After that, Pharaoh issued a decree: "Every (Hebrew) boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live."

So it was that when Moses was born, his mother hid him for three months. "But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile" (2:3). His sister stood at a distance to see what would transpire. The child was discovered by Pharaoh's daughter, who embraced him as her own.

One day, after Moses had matured, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew–one of his own people. Seeing no one to observe his actions, he killed the oppressor and hid his body in the sand. When what he had done became known, he fled to Midian. There he took a wife, who presented him with a child.

Meanwhile, the Israelites continued to suffer in slavery. Thus it was that God confronted Moses from a burning bush that was not consumed. "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt," the Lord assured him. "So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (3:7-8).

Moses reticently accepted God's mandate that he serve as his representative. The contest that followed was calculated to demonstrate the impotency of the Egyptian pantheon when confronted with the living God. When Pharaoh could drag his feet no longer, he granted Moses' request that the Israelites be permitted to assemble before the Lord in the wilderness.

Having a change of heart, the king ordered his troops to apprehend the Israelites, and bring them back. God miraculously intervened, so that the Israelites escaped and their pursuers perished. Then Moses and the people sang unto the Lord, He "is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (15:2).

It was the third month to the very day after the Israelites had left Egypt that they made camp before Mount Sinai. Then Moses went up before the Lord. God said to him, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (19:5-6).

The covenant is structured in the form of a vassal treaty. Its preamble is meant to solicit reverence concerning the Universal Sovereign. The historical prologue recalls his benevolent dealing with the people up to that point. The stipulations constitute the body of the text. They consist of general principles, and case instances; that is, apodictic and casuistic law. Heaven and earth is subsequently called up to bear witness to the pact. Curses and blessings are elaborated, contingent on keeping the covenant obligations. Then, finally, there is provision for treaty renewal. This would affirm the binding character of the covenant in the light of subsequent developments.

It is in the above context that we are introduced to the so-called ten words (commandments). These are apodictic (see above) in character. They are customarily divided among duties to God and to others. As for the former,

You shall have no other gods before me (in the sense of tolerating them). You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me (idiom expressing continuity), but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exod. 20:3-8).

When taken together, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37).

As for the latter,

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exod. 20:12-17).

As succinctly expressed, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39). "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments," Jesus then concluded.

We now come to consider the prohibition against murder in its biblical setting. In particular, the renewed promise of God concerning blessing in the promised land, the deliverance of his people from what had become for them a culture of death, the covenant stipulations, and especially those general principles set forth in the Decalogue.

You shall not murder. The prohibition is derived from the conviction that since God gives life, he alone has the prerogative to take it away. The intentional killing of another, except in carefully prescribed instances, was strictly forbidden. The life of a child was considered as sacred as that of an adult.

The exceptions are worthy of note. The first concerned capital punishment. As an example, "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate" (Exod. 21:12-13). In the initial instance, the death penalty means to preclude the wanton taking of life. The implication is that the failure to do so devalues life.

In the second instance, death was not premeditated. Should such occur, the person implicated was to flee to a city of refuge. There he would be safe from those who would avenge the death of their kin, as was the custom.

Great care was to be taken in making a determination. There must be a least two credible witnesses to confirm what had transpired. Extenuating circumstances could be taken in consideration. No undue suffering was to be inflicted on the guilty. In these and other ways, it was evident that the death penalty was not to be exercised lightly.

Legitimate warfare was a second exception. It would come to pass that the Lord instructed Moses, "Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name...all the men of Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army" (Num. 1:2-3). The presupposition is that they would be called upon to wage war when necessary.

There were obvious qualifications to be considered. For instance, "War must always be the final resort, the last extreme measure in the political order. Only after every other bloodless effort that is humanly possible and sufferable has been tried to resolve a conflict and has failed, may a nation resort to war."13 That is, if we take the Hebrew precedent at face value.

Then, too, one should not resort to war if its prospect entailed greater suffering. This is a difficult call at best, especially since short term strategies often frustrate long term solutions.

Hebrew ethics expands the scope of murder to include both doing anything that would endanger the life of others or failing to do something that would protect them from peril, distress, or despair. Consequently, persons were prohibited from deliberately putting someone in harm's way. According to rabbinic commentary, such as stranding a person in a situation where he is likely to starve.

Sins of omission are no less acceptable. According to conventional thought, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

The concern for civility is likewise relevant. In this connection, persons were to honor their parents. Initially, by providing for their physical needs. So also in expressing appreciation and loving concern. Moreover, by observing their sage counsel. Then, when they have passed away, by fondly remembering them.

Civility extends to all areas of life. Such as listening courteously to someone who is speaking, waiting your turn in line, allowing for a difference in opinion, and returning good for evil.

The sometimes illusive goal of civility appears served in two ways. First, we ought not to attribute to others the worst of motives. I was encouraged as a child, "Give anyone the benefit of a doubt." Second, we should not assume that we are activated by the best of motives. This can be very misleading. In any case, motives are characteristically mixed.

All things considered, the dark night of oppression was past. A new day had dawned, with greater potential than could be imagined. Welcome people of God to a brave new world!

I will conclude with some representative commentary. "If a person sees someone pursuing another for the obvious or suspected intent of committing murder or with the intent of causing the pursued to commit a sin, and the observer is able to stop the pursuer by wounding him, but kills him instead, he transgresses this commandment (you shall not murder)."14

The issue has to do with excessive means. If the person could be restrained in some other fashion, the taking of life was prohibited.

"A person is commanded to allow himself to be killed rather than kill," the rabbinic text adds. "This means that if people try to compel a person on pain of death to kill someone, he must not commit murder regardless of consequences."15

The issue concerns personal responsibility. If the person is killed in pursuit of what is right, then he is not at fault. If, however, he violates the prohibition under duress, he stands condemned. The rationale carried over into the general prohibition against taking one's own life.

"You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,' and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment," Jesus recalled. "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool! will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matt. 5:21-22).

Jesus deftly applies the text to two contributing factors. First, the indulgence of anger. Such resembles a boiling cauldron. It needs only the occasion to take the life of another, if not actual then by disregard and lack of concern.

Second, the expression of anger in abusive language. Such as is meant to inflict injury on the other person. Then, too, to depreciate him in the sight of others.

"While angry outbursts are denounced in verse 22 as punishable by hellfire, in verses 23-24 the forgiving grace of God comes to the fore. While anger is damnable, genuine repentance permits reconciliation with God as well as with the injured sister or brother."16 "Therefore," the extended passage reads, "if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."

So it is that the echoes of Sinai reverberate down through the corridors of time (to embrace a frequent metaphor). They can be heard in the daily conflicts that come about in the pursuit of routine duties, the crisis situations that arise from time to time, the efforts to amend our ways, and such times as solicit celebration.

"Life is good," we are reminded. "Wherefore a man should treasure it, not despise it; affirm and not deny it; have faith in it and never despair of its possibilities. For behind it is God. Life is good and man can find it such, provided–and this is the great condition to everything else–that it is properly lived."17

The Holiness Code

The designation holiness code is not employed in its more restricted sense–as concerns chapters 17-26 of Leviticus, but in more general terms. In the latter connection, Mary Douglas aptly observes: "We can conclude that holiness is exemplified by completeness. Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused."18

* * *

The term holy implies being separate from all that is unclean and reprehensible. "Be holy," the people were admonished, "because I, the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). We are thus to understand that God's holiness provides the paradigm for individual and corporate behavior. "This principle can well be regarded as the watchword of the covenant people. The personal characteristics of holiness as reflected in God's nature include the perfected state of such ethical attributes as righteousness, love, goodness and purity."19

I will return to the earlier quote, before continuing with the latter. Holiness is exemplified by completeness. In ethical terms, it is being all that one can be. It goes without saying that this cannot be accomplished without God's enablement. Grace is a pervasive ingredient of life.

The human body serves as an example. Some are given more to work with than others. All can benefit from regular exercise, and proper diet. All should refrain from harmful practices, such as smoking.

The human body also provides corporate imagery. "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many," Paul observes. "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be" (1 Cor. 12:14, 17-18). Each serves a distinctive function, and in doing so, the welfare of all.

Moreover, holiness requires that individuals conform to the class to which they belong. In this regard, humans are set off from all of God's other creatures. They alone are said to be created in his image (cf. Gen. 1:27). This implies at least three complimentary characteristics. First, the privilege of communing with his or her maker. "Evening, morning and noon I cry out in my distress," the psalmist asserts, "and he hears my voice" (55:17).

Second, man's benevolent rule–meant to emulate God's disposition. "When I consider your heavens and the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Psa. 8:3-4). He appears as little more than a bit of protoplasm on an inconsequential planet, in one of the less impressive galaxies.

Upon further reflection, "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas" (vv. 5-8). As God would have it, and as ultimately accountable to him.

Finally, humanity's astonishing endowments–in keeping with its demanding calling. For instance, a highly developed use of language. Such as allows humans to reflect on things that have transpired in the past, anticipate the future, and make decisions that will impact on life. In addition, all that permits them to bond together in some corporate endeavor that will far exceed individual efforts.

Then, in conclusion, Mary Douglas confirms that holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused. Initially, such as distinguishes one creature (or set) from another. As an example, "Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales–whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water–you are to detest" (Lev. 11:9-10).

The clean species are those with fins and scales. These as a rule "swim at various depths in the water, whereas the unclean species tend to have their habitat in shallow water. Unclean fish would include the edible crustaceae such as lobster, crab, shrimp and similar species that feed from decaying flesh, where it happens to be available, and can transmit infection readily."20 Since this is not necessarily a health problem, it may suggest a precautionary consideration.

Secondarily, such as recognizes a proper distinctive among those who constitute a given kind. In some detail, "No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. ...Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife, and defile yourself with her. ...Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev. 18:6, 20, 22). Holiness can thus be seen as maintaining not only the integrity of the kind, but the person.

As promised earlier, we return to the second quote. The holiness principle can well be regarded as the watchword of the covenant people. It qualifies as their modus operandi. As such, it is the source of their effectiveness. Apart from it, they lose credibility.

The Jewish sages have long speculated concerning why God chose Israel from among the nations. Given their waywardness, it did not seem due to some intrinsic merit. Perhaps because of the patriarchs, they reasoned. This seemed more plausible, although not altogether convincing. Perhaps because only Israel would embrace the challenge, since it would entail hardship and suffering. Whether for these reasons or for some other, only God knows for certain. While the discussion takes different directions, it seems to end with the same conclusion. In biblical perspective, holiness is what I long for and holiness is what I need.

R. K. Harrison identifies four ethical attributes associated with holiness. I will briefly touch on each in order. Righteousness implies conformity to God's will. Conversely, sin is characterized as any lack of conformity. This might take the form of commission or omission.

Righteousness brings to mind the rugged terrain of the Judean hill country. The rock strewn paths are not easy to make out, and can prove treacherous. Given the circumstances, one is well-advised to have a capable guide. It should be someone who knows the way from beginning to end. Moreover, one who accompanies you along the way. This seems an especially suitable metaphor for reflecting on the admirable character of righteousness.

Aheb is the prime Hebrew term for love. It is used in a variety of contexts: as concerns parental love (Gen. 37:4), affection for friends (1 Sam. 20:17), and sensual desire (2 Sam. 13:1-15). The term hesed is also employed, as when contrasting God's steadfast love to human undependableness (cf. Job 6:14-15).

The multi-faceted character of love can be further illustrated by the four associated Greek terms: storge, eros, philos, and agape. Storge is the least familiar. While not expressly used in the biblical text, the notion is indirectly acknowledged. As an example, Jesus inquired: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? ...If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:9, 11). Storge focuses our attention on filial devotion. As illustrated in conventional wisdom, "Blood is thicker than water."

Eros is reserved for the attraction one feels for someone of the opposite gender. "The ideal hinges on the complementary character of the couple. Each could contribute to the relationship something lacking in the other. As a result, both would be fulfilled. Conversely, neither should be reduced to simply an object for sexual gratification."21

Philos closely approximates friendship. "Wounds of a friend can be trusted," the sage cogently concludes, "but an enemy multiplies kisses" (Prov. 27:6). This is because the friend wishes us well, while the enemy means to deceive us. In antiquity, philos was sometimes used concerning persons bonded in a common intellectual pursuit. Currently, it might be more appropriate for persons sharing an athletic activity or interest.

Agape was singled out to express God's love for fallen humanity. As such, it is not solicited by human merit but volunteered as an expression of God's grace. It, nonetheless, constitutes what we have come to call hard love. That is, it insists on personal integrity and moral rectitude.

The latter two terms are featured in one of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. "Simon son of John," Jesus inquired of Peter, "do you truly love (agape) more than these" (John 21:15). These is not identified, but might refer to others or the accruement of his fishing vocation.

"Yes, Lord," he replied, "you know that I love (philos) you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." "Simon son of John," Jesus asked him a second time, "do you truly love (agape) me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philos) you." "Take care of my sheep," Jesus enjoined him. Jesus questioned him a third time, "Simon son of John, do you love (agape) replaced by (philos) me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus had pressed the issue. "Lord," he said, "you know all things; you know that I love (philos) you."

"Feed my sheep," Jesus insisted. "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." John adds by way of explanation, "Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God."

Now the interchange of terms may or may not be significant. Some suppose it simply a literary device. On the other hand, Jesus means to prepare the apostle for the critical times that lay ahead. Moreover, he employs in the first two instances the term that roughly corresponds to unconditional love (agape). After that, he shifts to philos, perhaps to accommodate to Peter's cautious reply. In any case, he highlights the importance of love to the holiness tradition.

Harrison adds goodness to the growing list of ethical attributes. In this connection, we read: "God saw all that he had made and it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Two implications readily surface. First, that creation was aesthetically pleasing. We would gather as much from observing a splendid sunset, a colt frolicking in a pasture, or young lovers walking hand in hand.

Nevertheless, the appeal is not simply superficial. The sage observes, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion" (Prov. 11:22). Consequently, she is not a good candidate for marriage. As it is sometimes alleged, "Genuine beauty is not skin deep."

Second, the creation was eminently functional. While we tend to take this for granted, the prospect of life developing in so fortuitous a fashion is virtually non-existent. It might be said to constitute a cosmic miracle.

Along this line, "every good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. ...Thus by their fruit you shall know them" (Matt. 7:17, 20). "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21). Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Goodness can be known by the company it keeps.

Purity rounds out the list of ethical virtues. There appears to be a consensus that it is linked to ritual observance. For instance, "The precepts and ceremonies alike are focused on the idea of the holiness of God which men must create in their own lives. So this is a universe in which men prosper by conforming to holiness and perish when they deviate from it."22

If in fact a picture is worth a thousand words, then ritual plays a critical role in religious practice. If for no other reason, it serves as a dramatic reminder of the foundational facets of one's faith and commitment.

Ritual, however, is not meant to substitute for moral rectitude, but to require and enhance it. As cited earlier, "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. ...But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:21, 24).

It can be readily seen from the prior discussion that these virtues are derived from a vibrant relationship with the Almighty. This, in turn, is cultivated in a corporate setting.

Then, too, biblical holiness is not realized in isolation from the world, but in engagement. It is not passive, but militant. In this and other regards, holiness commends life in its fullness. It is not willing to settle for less.

Contest on Carmel

Baal (master) was the Canaanite fertility god of great renown. In particular, he was associated with the winter rains and periodic storms. Baal worship was especially degrading, and involved sacred prostitution. This was perhaps intended to incite the deity to inseminate the land. Baalism likely appealed to the Israelites both for its intrinsic character, and what it was reputed to offer concerning agricultural productivity.

* * *

Omri assumed the throne in the Northern Kingdom following fifty years of instability. He set out to rectify the problem through an alliance with Tyre. The latter was at the height of its colonial expansion, and offered Israel an outlet for agricultural produce and enhanced commercial opportunities. However, the situation continued to degenerate.

Then, too, Baalism flourished with royal patronage. The king of Tyre had sealed the alliance by giving his daughter Jezebel to Omri's son Ahab. She, along with her retainers and associates, were allowed to retain the worship of Tyrian deities. Wholesale apostasy soon threatened.

It was said of Ahab that he "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30). The narrator singles out his marriage to Jezebel and devotion to Baal as evidence of his defection from the faith of his fathers.

"Towering over all of Jezebel's foes...was the prophet Elijah (Yah is God)–a figure so eerie and so awe-inspiring that his deeds became legendary in Israel. ...He is depicted as a dour, lonely figure clad with the hair mantle of his austere calling, possibly a Nazirite in perpetual fitness for war."23 In any case, he assumed the role of an uncompromising prophet of the Lord.

What sort of a person was the prophet? "To us a single act of injustice–cheating in business, exploitation of the poor–is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to the to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world."24 In brief, they exhibited a keen sensitivity to the seriousness of sin for the individual and society as a whole.

Elijah, the Tishbite (from the Transjordan region), made a dramatic entrance. "As the Lord, the God Israel lives," he announced, "there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (17:1). This would be taken as a pointed challenge to Baal's prerogative.

"Leave here," the Lord urged, "turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine; east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." The Lord was apparently concerned for his prophet's safety.

This appears as the first time God miraculously provided for the prophet's need. It, no doubt, was intended to prepare him for the confrontation that lay ahead.

Some time later the brook dried up. "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there," the Lord directed Elijah. "I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food."

Once again, he was obedient. Upon his arrival, he inquired of the woman: "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" After that, he called after her, requesting a piece of bread.

"As surely as the Lord your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread–only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it–and die."

"Don't be afraid," Elijah encouraged here. "Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me... . For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.'" It was a severe test of her faith, which she passed with flying colors. God provided as he had done on the precious occasion.

Some time later, the woman's son became ill, and got progressively worse. Finally, he stopped breathing. The woman inquired of Elijah, "Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" Sin and death are associated in her thinking, but the connection seems imprecise.

When the prophet had carried the limp body of her son to the upper room where he was staying, he interceded: "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" The Lord honored his petition.

"Now I know that you are a man of God," the woman responded, "and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is true." Thus are we primed for what follows.

During the third year of the drought, the Lord again spoke to his prophet: "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain to the land" (18:1). Meanwhile the famine was severe throughout the land.

Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. Obadiah was a devout person, who had once hidden away a hundred prophets in two caves, and supplied them with food and water–so that they might escape Jezebel's purge. The king instructed him to search for grass for the horses and mules, so they would not have to be slaughtered.

As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. "Is it really you?" Obadiah asked in seeming disbelief.

"Yes," the prophet replied. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'"

Obadiah protested, "I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't bind you, he will kill me."

Elijah reassured him, "As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today."

When the king saw Elijah, He inquired: "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"

"I have not made trouble for Israel," the prophet countered. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." While Baal was in essence a singular deity, he was identified with various locations. So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel.

Elijah went before the people, and inquired: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." His challenge was met with silence. "I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets," Elijah observed.

Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood and not set fire to it. Then you will call on the name of your God, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire–he is God.

In this manner, Elijah set the conditions of the contest to favor the prophets of Baal. " (1) They could be first to choose the sacrifice. (2) They could pray first and for as long as they wished. (3) The proof-sign was to be fire. Since Baal was supposed to be the god of the sun, the god of the storm, they could not object."25 In particular, fire would bring to mind lightning.

The people were convinced. "What you say is good," they acknowledged.

So the prophets of Baal prepared their altar, and called upon the name of Baal from morning to noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted–as they danced around the altar they had constructed.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he admonished. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened."

So they shouted louder, and slashed themselves–as was their custom. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice.

Then Elijah summoned the people. He repaired the altar of the Lord, and prepared the sacrifice. "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood," he instructed them. "Do it again," he added. "Do it a third time," he ordered. The water ran down around the altar, and filled the trench.

"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel," the prophet petitioned, "let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am you servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord are God, and that you are turning their hears back again." Then the fire of the Lord fell, consumed the sacrifice, altar, and even licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they prostrated themselves. "The Lord–he is God!" they cried out. "The Lord–he is God!" The prophets of Baal were summarily executed.

Elijah advised the king, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." Then when Ahab had left, the prophet climbed to the peak of Carmel, bent down to the ground, and put his face between his knees. "Go and look toward the sea," he instructed his servant.

"There is nothing there," the servant reported back. Seven times the prophet repeated his instruction. On the seventh occasion, his servant observed: "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."

So Elijah told him to inform Ahab, "Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you." Meanwhile, the sky grew ominous, the wind rose, and a heavy rain pelted down on the fleeing ruler. The power of the Lord came upon the prophet, and he ran ahead–all the way to Jezreel. It serves as a fitting climax to one of the most dramatic episodes in the biblical narratives.

In retrospect, For although Obadiah builds Ahab up as one to be feared (18:9-14), from the moment Elijah meets the king he dominates him. Ahab speaks but once in the entire story (18:17), and having been silenced by Elijah's aggressive and fearless response, he spends the rest of the time either doing what the prophet tells him (18:19-20, 41-42, 44-45) or watching from the sidelines so quietly as to be invisible (18:21-40). He is as impotent as the god he worships.26

When Jezebel heard what had happened, she sent word to the prophet: "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them (the slain prophets)" (19:2). She likely meant to intimidate him. If so, she succeeded. Elijah wasted no time in fleeing to Beersheba. He left his servant there, and continued on alone into the wilderness.

He soon despaired of life. "I have had enough, Lord," he concluded. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he fell asleep.

An angel appeared to him. "Get up and eat," the celestial visitor encouraged him. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel returned a second time. "Get up and eat," the visitor insisted, "for the journey is too much for you." After taking additional nourishment, Elijah traveled for forty days and nights until he reached Horeb (Sinai)–associated with God's covenanting with his people.

There the Lord inquired of him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" It was perhaps in the form of a mild rebuke. In any case, it invited the prophet to express his concerns.

He replied, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

The Lord responded, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face, and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Thus are we to gather that God does not always manifest himself in spectacular fashion, but through his word faithfully ministered.

The Lord again inquired of him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" The prophet responds as before. This time the Lord directed him to return by the way he had come. He was to anoint Hazael king over Aram, Jehu over Israel, and Elisha as his successor. "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel," God said by way of encouragement, "whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

The last three verses of Malachi provide a cogent transition between the testaments. In retrospect, "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel" (4:4). In prospect, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." As in other contexts, their choice was between life and death.

The Nativity

During the years my wife and I lived in Jerusalem, I had a favorite place for meditation. It consisted of a flat rock, situated on the side of a hillock, overlooking the shepherds' field. It brought to mind the angel's announcement: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). The message seemed as relevant then as when first spoken.

* * *

There are alternatives that appeal to some more than others. I recall one evening observing a group of persons, several bearing torches, working their way along the far side of the Hinnom Valley. They seemed bent on carrying out some sort of esoteric ritual.

It brought to mind a text concerning Josiah, "He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech" (2 Kings 23:10). It occurred to me that I could be watching an expression of neo-paganism. Then, if so, perhaps rituals associated with death.

The religious architecture that adorns the city curiously has the effect of distancing me from the events they seek to commemorate. It is not that I am unappreciative of the piety they express. It is simply that the Jesus of history seems obscured by the Christ of faith.

I also note that which solicits no religious response. Such as the meager remains of the Antonia Fortress, indicative of the Roman presence in the time of Jesus. So also that which recalls Herod's monumental building projects, except as they draw significance from some other source. They serve to remind us, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18).

The little hillock overlooking the shepherds' field invites our further reflection. Manger Square is in the distance, as is the road running from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. There are no urban sounds to interrupt one's contemplation. A bird flutters in the tree overhead. On rare occasions, a dog prowls the area. For all practical purposes, one is left alone with his or her thoughts.

So this is where it happened! In general terms, since we cannot be more precise. The shepherds were tending their flocks by night. Such might own a small parcel of land, but were likely employed by others. Consequently, they exercised little power or privilege.

Moreover, their vocation hindered them from meticulously carrying out the detailed religious observances. They were am-ha-arez (people of the land), or as described in the gospels–sinners (since they were classified as non-observant). As a result, they were at the bottom of the religious pecking-order.

Nonetheless, they were singled out as recipients of good news. Since they represent the poor in spirit; those who mourn, hunger and thirst for righteousness; are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers; those who are persecuted for righteousness. Indeed, those who are destined to embrace the kingdom.

Incidentally, these shepherds probably tended the flocks from which sacrificial offerings were selected. This, in turn, recalls John the Baptist's identification of Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Luke would have enjoyed hindsight.

In addition to the shepherds, there were angels. One at first, and then "a multitude of the heavenly host."

Given the respect assigned earlier to the Jerusalem temple and particularly to its sanctuary as the axis mundi–the meeting place between the heavenly and earthly, the divine and the human–this appearance of the divine glory is remarkable. ...Luke thus puts us on notice that the new world coming is of a radically different shape than the former one, that questions of holiness and purity must be asked and addressed in different ways, and that status and issues of values must be reexamined afresh.27

This was perhaps anticipated to some degree by the rise of synagogue worship. It seems to have arisen during the exile, and came to supplant the temple in many regards as the focal point of Jewish piety. This is not meant to preclude the centrality of the Jewish home in religious nurture.

With the passing of time, the temple would be demolished–leaving the devout to cope without recourse to its sacred precincts. It brings to mind the interchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain," she observed, "but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem" (John 4:20).

Jesus replied, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." In spirit as opposed to mere formality; in truth as in keeping with God's initiatives.

I have not knowingly entertained angels. However, I can identify with worshiping God in spirit and truth. One gets the impression that he or she has entered a holy sanctuary. In a metaphorical sense, shepherds and angels rub shoulders.

The angel's announcement eminently qualified as good news. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stand condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3:17-18).

In more precise terms, the angel identifies the infant as Savior, then Christ, and finally Lord. The term savior was in common usage, both in Jewish and Gentile circles. "Augustus himself was known as Savior, as were others–gods, rulers, physicians, and so on. ...Jesus' birth calls into question both the emperor' status as Savior and the 'peace of Augustus' that gave rise to that acclaimed status."28 Since the peace of Jesus was not of this world, it would not suffer the demise characteristic of the kingdoms of this world.

The term Christ (in Hebrew, Messiah) here appears as a royal deliverer from the lineage of David. Not to be overlooked are the pronounced ambiguities associated with the identification. "On the one hand, it appeared as if God Himself would intervene; on the other, as through a chosen agent. On the one hand, the Messiah appeared as a military figure; on the other, as a heavenly agent. On the one hand, he was represented as the royal heir to David's throne; on the other, as a suffering servant."29

Lord might be employed concerning God, simply as an amenity, or with various connotations that lie between. As noted above, Jesus' royal lineage is expressly in the forefront. Other implications are largely derivative.

The appropriate response to good news is great joy. So it was that when the shepherds returned from the manger, they glorified and praised God for all the things they had seen and heard. So also Simeon praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

Great joy also contrasts to the pronounced fear the shepherds had initially experienced. Such would seem to characterize those who diligently pursue God's ways.

For all the people accents the universal scope of the good news. Consequently, it anticipates Jesus commission: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:18-19). In particular, it embraced the Gentiles along with the Jews; regardless of gender, social status, or previous reputation.

The good news involved the birthing of a child. Its unique character only enhanced the glad tidings. "This will be a sign to you," the angel told the shepherds: "You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." It was not a sign in the miraculous sense, but served as corroborating evidence.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and declaring: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." The theocentric focus of the passage is thereby highlighted. The angelic host appear as God's entourage.

In essence, to God be the glory, a great thing he has done. One might conclude that this was one provision among many. Thus God is forever helping man through the resources and dependability of the physical world. He helps man further through man's own body, skilled, adaptable, resilient; through his mind, eager and ingenious; through his heart, life-loving, courageous, and aspiring. He helps man through the medium of other men; their capacity for cooperation; the social wealth and technical information they have amassed together; the love and understanding they afford one another... .30

In these and countless other ways, God is life's benefactor.

Even so, this constituted the climactic event in salvation history. There were earlier elements, initially with the deliverance of Israel from bondage. Then during the turbulent time of the Judges, with the rise and fall of the monarchy, and the return from exile. So also with the temple ritual. However, now with finality.

On whom his favor rests probably means to implicate all, rather than a select company. Stated in different terms, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem. "Where is the one born king of the Jews? they inquired. "We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him?" (Matt. 2:2). The Magi were astrologers, who studied the location and movement of the heavenly bodies concerning their presumed influence of human affairs. They probably came from Babylonia, where they would have come in contact with the Jewish exiles, and developed a lively interest in the coming of the Messiah.

The star has been variously explained. For instance, "Jupiter was regarded as the star of the ruler of the universe, and the constellation of the Fishes as the sign of the last days. In the East, Saturn was considered to be the planet of Palestine. If Jupiter encountered Saturn in the sign of the Fishes, it could only meant that the ruler of the last days would appear in Palestine."31

Herod was disturbed by this announcement, since he zealously guarded his political office and associated privileges. Calling together the chief priests and scribes, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.

"In Bethlehem of Judea," they replied., "for this is what the prophet has written: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (cf. Micah 5:2).

"Go and make a careful search for the child," Herod ordered the Magi. "As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After that, they went on their way. The star they had seen in the East went ahead of them, and hovered over the place where the child lay. When they saw the child, along with his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. Moreover, they presented him with gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh. Having been warned in a dream concerning Herod's treachery, they returned to their country by another route.

When they had left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So the family fled to Egypt.

When Herod realized that the Magi had outwitted him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time the star was said to have appeared.

Toward the end of Herod's reign, he became increasingly cruel. "Suspicious that his own family was plotting his overthrow, he murdered his favorite wife (Mariamne), her mother, two of her sons, and his own eldest son. Augustus...who for years had retained confidence in Herod, finally acknowledged that it was safer to be Herod's pig (hys) than his son (hypos)."32

This tragic supplement to the nativity account invokes the image of death. It was said to fulfill that which was prophesied (in the sense of set forth, and thus typified), "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (cf. Jer. 31:15). In the original context, Rachel's ghost is depicted mourning for her descendants carried away into captivity.

It is curious that no mention is made of the Jewish religious leaders, who were consulted by Herod, making any effort to locate the child. They may have been more concerned to protect their privileged positions than risk reprisals.

In any case, the thought of death was not paramount as I sat on my prized rock, sipping water from time to time from the canteen perched beside me. It was rather on life: the birth of the Christ child, abundant life as now experienced, and the life that awaits us beyond death. It was time eminently well spent.


"Although death and life coexist on earth, they do not have the same worth. Only life is worthwhile, death is not. These are the stakes in Israel's faith in the Living God; Jesus is the authentic interpreter of that faith."33 These well chosen words invite our detailed consideration.

* * *

Death and life coexist. "Like the majority of us, Jesus did not first of all face his own death. He experienced it while seeing others disappear. By every likelihood he saw his father Joseph die, and he knew the bloody repression in which, in Year 6 of our era, Varus crucified 2,000 Galilean revolutionaries."34 It may well have occurred at Sepphoris, less than three miles from Nazareth.

Joseph probably died while Jesus was still a youth. The evidence is circumstantial, but consistent with that thesis. One would imagine that Joseph became increasingly feeble during the period leading up to his demise. Gloom settled in on the family circle, since death was not thought of as a welcome visitor.

One would assume that Jesus did what he could to provide for the needs of the family. They were many and diverse. This would involve sustained prayer, since in Jewish tradition, God alone can console and sustain us at such times.

There was a lingering hope that Joseph might recover. Again from Jewish tradition, God heals us from all our illness but the last.

When Joseph eventually succumbed, there was a time for mourning. This served a dual purpose: to bring closure and comfort for those remaining, and to memorialize the deceased. Then, in a broader sense, to reaffirm one's faith. As expressed by the patriarch Job, 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (1:21).

In all probability, Jesus knew some of those who perished in the slaughter of the Galileans. Certainly that would be the case if it took place at Sepphoris, which would have attracted persons from the surrounding area.

Violent death impacts on one differently. I say that with confidence, although I am not quite certain why it is so. For one thing, it appears as an untimely death, before life is allowed to run its course. In this connection, "The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away" (Psa. 90:10).

For another, it is as a rule invasive. That is, inflicted by someone or as the result of adverse circumstances. Whether in this connection or some other, death is often personified. For instance, "The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death" (Prov. 13:14).

Jesus did not discuss death in theoretical terms. Instead, he alluded to it in the context of his teaching. As an example, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar names Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores" (Luke 16:19-21). The one had more than enough; the other was pathetically lacking.

The time came when the beggar died and angels bore him to Abraham's side. "The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'" His request appears more than a little presumptive, given his previous disregard for Lazarus' plight.

"Son," Abraham replied, "remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." The patriarch's refusal is based on two considerations. First, the reversal of circumstances–conditioned by their prior posturing toward life. Second, the irreversibility of the subsequent state of affairs. Then, in turn, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, "Only God knows when additional time will serve some constructive purpose."

The man continued, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." He shows interest in others for the first time, but for those of his own family rather than the poor lacking mercy. Moreover, he continues to presume–in condescending fashion–that Lazarus might be dispatched on his errand.

Abraham countered, "They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them."

"No, father Abraham," the man protested, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."

The patriarch assured him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." Those who read Luke's narrative could scarcely help thinking of Jesus, whose resurrection was greeted with rejection by the religious establishment.

Only life is worthwhile. After breathing his or her last, the person is laid to rest in the ground. There the body will decay. It is alluded to as a region of darkness. Nothing more can be seen or heard.

As a result, death would seem to triumph. Life perhaps put up a valiant struggle, but could at best only postpone the inevitable. In some instances, it would hardly appear to be worth the hapless effort.

Conversely, it was a victory without promise. All death could offer was nothing in place of something. On an satirical note, it is the kind of triumph that might appeal to terrorists and parasites.

Then, too, death does not get to write the final chapter. "I know that my redeemer lives," Job declares, "and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God" (19:25-26). Note the patriarch's rationale. Initially, his faith was in the living God. There was no time when God was not. Even before there was time as we know it, God was. There will never be a time when he is not. All things considered, "Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Psa. 90:2).

Secondarily, his faith was in the God of the living. "But about the resurrection of the dead," Jesus inquired, "have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matt. 22:31-32). As for commentary, "Any trustworthy belief in the resurrection must be based not on wishful thinking or on a theory about the immortality of the soul but only on the doctrine of God. ...The resurrection of the dead is to be seen as an inference drawn from the doctrine of God."35

The inference is drawn by way of the covenant relationship between God and his subjects. Such are the stakes in Israel's faith in the Living God, Jesus being the authentic interpreter of the faith.

One additional example will suffice. Jesus exclaimed,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs to the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, "If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets." So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets (Matt. 23:29-31).

In proverbial terms, "Like father, like son." In this and other ways, Jesus establishes his interpretive credentials.

Now a man named Lazarus, not to be confused with the beggar mentioned previously, was sick. He was from Bethany, as were his sisters Mary and Martha. This Mary was the same one who poured perfume on Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." Since this served as a sufficient identification, one would assume that the ties between Jesus and the family were very close.

When Jesus heard this, he said: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified though it" (John 11:4). Along this line, Paul admonishes his readers to assume the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... . And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name above every the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-9, 11).

Although Jesus greatly loved the sisters, he stayed where he was two more days. He may have been engaged in some urgent ministry that required his continuing attention. It was manifestly not for lack of concern or compassion.

Then Jesus urged his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

"But Rabbi," they protested, "a short while ago the (adversarial) Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" According to conventional wisdom, "Discretion is the better part of valor."

"Are there not twelve hours of daylight?" Jesus rhetorically inquired. "A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." In other words, one must seize the opportunities that life affords.

Jesus then continued, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up."

"Lord," his disciples replied, "if he sleeps, he will get better."

After that, Jesus told them plainly: "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." While his reasoning may have been obscure, his intent was quite clear.

After that, Thomas admonished the remaining disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." It is curious that he steps forward in this unaccustomed fashion. It was an obvious display of courage, but may suggest that he had been reflecting on the suffering servant motif–associated with the messianic tradition.

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. When Martha heard that he was coming, she went out to greet him. "Lord," she said to him, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Her initial remark probably expresses regret rather than rebuke, although the latter may be implied. Whatever you ask should likely be taken as a general expression of confidence.

Jesus assured her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus replied. "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "So much are resurrection and life associated with him that he says that he is the resurrection and the life. ...It means

"Yes, Lord," she asserted, "I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." In this connection, she appears to have understood at least the general thrust of Jesus' words. She then alerted her sister Mary that Jesus had arrived. When Mary quickly rose and left, those who were comforting her followed, supposing she intended to mourn at the tomb.

"Lord," she said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died." We are thus alerted to the fact that the sisters shared a compatible perspective.

When Jesus saw her weeping, along with those who came with her, he was deeply moved. "Where have they laid him?" he inquired.

"Come and see, Lord," they responded.

Jesus wept. The people observed, "See how much he loved him!" However, some of them speculated, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" Consequently, they seem to lack the settled conviction of Lazarus' sisters.

Arriving at the tomb, Jesus was again deeply moved. "Take away the stone," he said to them. Martha protested, since she supposed the corpse would be giving off a bad odor. Nevertheless at Jesus' insistence, they rolled the stone back.

"Father," Jesus expressed gratitude, "I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he called out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out!" At this, the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus instructed them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Let him go from all that pertains to death. Let him live a full and fulfilling life, with confidence in the resurrection.

Consequently, many believed in Jesus. However, others plotted to take Jesus' life when the opportunity afforded itself. Each exercised their freedom of choice, the former for life, and the latter for death.

The First Day

"To talk about another's death is relatively easy, at least as long as one allows oneself, as Jesus was, to be permeated through one's ancestral culture with the presence of a God who is stronger than death. To frontally meet a personal threat of death is another thing... . Death threatened Jesus."37

* * *

Matthew employs the phrase from that time on at two critical junctures in the life and ministry of Jesus. First, "From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (4:17). In this regard, the death of the prophet Jesus is presented as the culmination of a long series of killings inflicted on the prophets, most recently concerning John the Baptist.

As for John the Baptist,

  • He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism for the remission of sins.
  • When asked if he was the Messiah, he deferred to one yet to come.
  • But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch for the evil things he had done, Herod had him thrown in prison.
  • He subsequently had John executed.

Now when Jesus heard that John was beheaded, he withdrew by boat to a solitary place (cf. Matt. 14:13). This would provide safe sanctuary for the time being. It would also allow for extended prayer. Such, however, was cut short by the arrival of people from the neighboring villages. Jesus had compassion on them, and ministered to their needs.

Second, "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (16:21). "In terms of the narrative, this first passion prediction is the watershed that divides the Galilean ministry from the passion. From this point to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem the emphasis is placed on Jesus' preparation of the disciples for his death."38 Not concerning his death alone, but associated with his resurrection.

Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he protested. "This shall never happen to you!"

Jesus turned and said to him, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Indeed, the disciple should follow Jesus rather than impede his efforts.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Genuine life is to be found in realizing its purpose.

Now the cross begins to loom on the horizon. Jesus strides out ahead, with the disciples strung out behind him. Where have I seen a similar sight? When a shepherd leads the way, with the flock follows in his footsteps. Goodness and love bring up the rear, as if two faithful guard dogs (cf. Psa. 23:6).

"Yes, Jesus sets his face toward the death that approaches. His attitude seems to be in characteristic fashion during the course of two episodes of the Passion: in the Upper Room and in Gethsemane."39 I will touch on these in turn, as recorded in the Fourth Gospel.

The Upper Room. "Having loved his own who were in the world, he (Jesus) now showed them the full extent of his love" (John 13:1). In this manner, we are reminded of Jesus' characteristic compassion for his disciples. This could be illustrated in various ways, some more subtle than others. Such as in his intercession on their behalf, loving instruction, attention to detail, and exemplary behavior.

After that, we are told that he now set out to exhibit the full extension of his love. This would be expressed in his sacrificial death on the cross. It would be portrayed in the context of service.

John next turns our attention from Jesus' purpose to his perception. "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power," the apostle observes, "and that he had come from God and was returning to God." He was confident that the anguishing events to follow were within the Father's benevolent design. Moreover, his descent anticipated his ascent.

So it was that Jesus took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel. It was a task as a rule assigned to a servant. When he came to Peter, the apostle incredulously inquired: "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." In context, the reference to later probably implies after his death and resurrection.

"No," Peter protests, "you shall never wash my feet." While expressing the concern that this was improper behavior for a rabbi to wash his disciples' feet, he usurped the role of rabbi in doing so.

Jesus responded, "Unless I wash you, you have no part in me."

"Then, Lord," Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well." He perhaps hopes to improve on the metaphor.

Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet... ." This concluded the interchange, allowing Jesus a final word: "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." This would presumably entail a full range of ministry to one another, and not simply a ritual observance.

After this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and solemnly observed: "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." The disciples inquired of whom he spoke. He answered, "It is the one to whom I will give the piece of bread." He dipped the piece of bread, and gave it to Judas. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus instructed him.

As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. John informs us that it was night. We would have assumed as much, but the apostle no doubt means to capture its metaphorical significance. As expressed earlier in his narrative, "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

When he had gone, Jesus declared: "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. ...My children, I will be with you only a little longer. ...A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Now suggests a condition about to be realized, and is confirmed by the observation that he will soon depart.

In addition, the disciples are enjoined to love one another. The commandment to love one another does not as such qualify as a new commandment (cf. Lev. 19:18). The new ingredient is the disciples' privileged relationship as a faith community, activated and motivated by the paradigm of Jesus' love. This was to be their distinctive characteristic.

"Lord," Peter inquired, "where are you going?" He seems oblivious to the wider implications of what Jesus was saying.

Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."

"Lord," Peter pressed the issue, "why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."

Jesus countered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" After that, Jesus comforted his disciples concerning his departure, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he prays for himself, his disciples, and in anticipation of all who will believe in him.

Gethsemane. When he had finished praying, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley to an olive grove at the ascent to the Mount of Olives. Judas knew of the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. If in its technical sense, a detachment would normally consist of about 600 men. It was calculated to make short work of any resistance. "Who is it you want?" Jesus inquired of them (18:4).

"Jesus of Nazareth," they responded.

"I am he," Jesus said. At this, the intruders drew back and fell to the ground. "On the face of it, the simple words I am he (lit., 'I am') merely identify him as Jesus of Nazareth, the object of the group's search. But they also correspond exactly to the formula by which Jesus revealed himself as God according to 8:24 and 28."40 The ambiguity notwithstanding, they were intimidated.

He inquired again, "Who is it you want?" In this connection, he reveals his intent to surrender to them.

They replied in like manner, "Jesus of Nazareth."

"I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." All things considered, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (cf. John 10:14-15).

Then Peter drew his sword, and cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant named Malchus. It was an act of desperation, given the circumstances.

Jesus commanded him, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given to me?" Qualifications aside, this would serve to characterize Jesus' disposition as the passion narrative unfolds.

These are the subsequent events which John elaborates:

  • Jesus is taken before the high priest and interrogated.
  • Meanwhile, Peter denies Jesus as anticipated.
  • Jesus is brought before Pilate, and sentenced to be executed.
  • He is crucified.
  • Death ensues.
  • Jesus is buried.
  • His tomb is found empty.
  • He appears to His disciples.

We will pick up the order of events with Jesus' crucifixion. They crucified Jesus at a place called Golgotha (meaning skull), perhaps because of some physical feature and/or the gory practice that transpired there. Pilate had a notice prepared that read, Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. The chief priests protested, suggesting instead "that this man claimed to be king of the Jews" (19:21).

Pilate insisted, "What I have written, I have written." He had lost the substantive issue, but retained a token victory.

The soldiers cast lots for Jesus' garments. As for an abbreviated commentary, "the significance of the first scene is that Jesus is shown having let go of his possessions. The second scene shows him letting go of his family, especially his mother, whereas the third scene he let go of life itself."41

Jesus saw his mother standing nearby, along with the disciple he loved. He said to her: "Dear woman, here is your son," and to this disciple: "Here is your mother." From that time one, the disciple took her to his home.

Later, recalling a text from the Psalter (Psa. 69:21), Jesus expressed his thirst. When he had received the wine vinegar, he announced: "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. All things considered, it served as a note of triumph. He had completed the task assigned to him, and there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Still later, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, with Pilate's permission, took the corpse, and wrapped it with spices in strips of linen. This was to conform with Jewish burial customs. Then they laid him in a new tomb, near to where Jesus was crucified. There was need for haste, for it was getting near to sundown when the Sabbath would commence.

Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and saw that the stone had been rolled back. So she came running to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved with the word, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" (20:2). When the two of them reached the tomb, they found the linen strips lying there, separate from the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. When the other disciple saw this, he believed Jesus to be raised from the dead, although had not as yet understand this from Scripture.

When the disciples had returned to their homes, Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent down to look into the tomb, and saw two angels seated where Jesus' body had been. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

She responded, They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, although she did not recognize him.

"Woman," he asked her, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Supposing he was the gardener, she again recited her dilemma. Jesus fondly addressed her, "Mary." She turned toward him, with the exclamation: "Rabboni" (Teacher).

Jesus cautioned her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" We should probably understand Jesus' words to mean stop clinging to me.

On the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples were gathered, and the doors secured for fear of their adversaries. Jesus came, stood, and greeted them: "Peace be with you!" (20:19). After that, he showed them his hands and side–which had been pierced by a spear to determine that he was dead. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw him.

The implication is that Jesus made his entrance by some other means than normal access. Either he simply appeared or made his entrance in some other manner. In any case, the means were of secondary importance.

Again Jesus said to them, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" The repetition provides emphasis. "I have told you these things," Jesus confided earlier, "so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Jesus' words amount to a commission. The disciples were to go at his bidding, to accomplish his purposes, without undue consideration for their personal concerns, and with the prospect of giving a strict accounting of their faithfulness. In this regard, the more one is given, the greater the expectation (cf. Luke 12:48).

Having commissioned them, Jesus provides the means. They are to experience the Spirit as an indwelling presence and power. As for the former, Jesus promised: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth (John 14:16).

As for the latter, Jesus would confide in them: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This power would appear to incorporate courage to declare the gospel in the face of opposition, apathy, and indulgence. It would also have implications for the effectiveness of the endeavor. Along this line, Paul recalls: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (1 Cor. 2:4).

In more specific terms, their ministry would consist of declaring whose sins are forgiven or not. This assumes that they are aware of God's disposition, resulting from a corporate sensitivity to the indwelling Spirit.

Since Thomas was not present on the above occasion, the other disciples informed him, "We have seen the Lord!" (John 20:25).

He resolutely replied, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

A week later, the disciples were again gathered, and Thomas was with them. Again Jesus stood miraculously in their midst. He greeted them in like manner, "Peace be with you!" Then he invited Thomas to touch his hands and side. "Stop doubting," Jesus admonished him, "and believe."

Thomas responded, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus then concluded, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." As for them, it is the way of life; for others, death lingered.

The Damascus Road

I recall the situation vividly. Two of my faculty colleagues and I were attending a lecture by the erudite New Testament professor Joachim Jeremias. He remarked at the outset, "Either Paul was essentially in agreement with Jesus or he was not. I will demonstrate that he was." His thesis held up exceedingly well under the onslaught of those critical of his conclusions.

* * *

It was not always so. We first encounter Saul (Paul) consenting to the death of Stephen (cf. Acts 8:1). After that, he went from house to house, dragging off men and women to prison. Still not content, he obtained authorization from the high priest to bring back any disciples he might discover in Damascus for imprisonment.

With the passing of time, Paul would recall his religious heritage: "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (Phil. 3:5-6). As for circumcision, it does not make a person Jewish, but recognizes the fact that he is a Jew–birthed by a Jewish mother.

In particular, he was from the tribe of Benjamin. The territory of Benjamin originally lay north of the larger region of Judah.

Jerusalem, although formally allocated to Benjamin, actually formed an enclave between the two. When the united monarchy was disrupted after Solomon's death, Benjamin was drawn by the gravitational pull of Judah and Jerusalem into the southern kingdom. The people of Benjamin naturally tended to lose their tribal identity, but some at least did not allow it to be obliterated.42

The parental choice of Saul as their son's name was associated with their tribal connection. Saul was anointed the first king of Israel, and was recalled as the most prominent Benjaminite in Hebrew history–his grievous faults notwithstanding.

A Hebrew of Hebrews reveals the tradition within which he was raised, and to which he was committed. It stands in contrast to the Hellenistic Jews of the time. "The distinction was probably linguistic and cultural: the Hebrews, in that case, attended synagogues where the service was conducted in Hebrew and used Aramaic as their normal mode of speech, while the Hellenists spoke Greek and attended synagogues where the scriptures were read and the prayers recited in that language."43

This served as the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The distinction carried over into a broad range of cultural preferences. The Hebraic Jews were more disposed to retain the tradition of their people, and resist the appeal of Hellenism. Conversely, the Hellenists were more accommodating.

A Jew born in a Greek-speaking city like Tarsus might be expected to be a Hellenist. While Paul was obviously familiar with the Greek language, he insists that he maintained the religious tradition of his faith without compromise. His parents made certain of this by arranging for him to spend his formative years studying in Jerusalem. As he recalls the situation when assailed for his faith, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem). Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today" (Acts 22:3).

In regard to the law, a Pharisee. This would be consistent with his being trained by Gamaliel. The latter was said to have been the grandson of Hillel, whose rabbinic school was more influential than its rival–that of Shammai. It was especially characterized by the importance given to tradition. Moreover, Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin–the high council of Jews in Jerusalem.

The designation Pharisees first appears about the middle of the second century B.C. These separated ones apparently derived their identity from a steadfast resistence to the incursion of Hellenism. Then, in turn, over against less meticulous Jews and even among themselves. Josephus aptly observes that they "are supposed to excel others in the accurate knowledge of the laws of their country."44 Whether in this capacity and/or some other, they enjoyed considerable acclaim among the populace.

According to Pharisaic thinking, the Torah was experientially relevant for all times and circumstances. This encouraged a growing body of religious literature, calculated to anticipate virtually any conceivable situation. It came to rival the biblical text, and even supercede it. It is in this context that we are to understand Paul's additional comment: as for legalistic righteousness, blameless.

Finally, as for zeal, persecuting the church. There were two relevant conflicting points of view in Jewish tradition. The first is represented by the advice given by Paul's rabbinic mentor Gamaliel: "Leave them (the disciples) alone! ...For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men, you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts. 5:38-39). This was certainly good Pharisaic teaching. While men may disobey God, his will ultimately triumphs.

The alternative assumes that persons should initiate a course of action, which demonstrates their good faith. So it was said that if all Jews were to attend the synagogue on a given occasion, it would entice the Messiah to come. In addition, it was thought that persons engaged in some worthwhile activity were more available to God's leading than if tolerating adverse circumstances.

It remained for Paul to reconcile these conflicting points of view in terms of what he construed to be a serious threat to the religious tradition he cherished. As a matter of record, he seized on what appeared to him to be the most likely course of action. While as a rule overlooked, this assumes that God might reveal his way more perfectly in connection with subsequent developments.

As Paul drew near to Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice calling out: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4).

"Who are you, Lord?" he inquired.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," the voice replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." I am Jesus served to identify the Christ of faith with the Jesus of history. This was likely a linkage missing in Paul's reconstruction.

In a less direct fashion, it indicated that Jesus had left behind a tangible presence in this world–in the form of community. This can be seen in the fact that by persecuting the fellowship, Paul was afflicting Jesus.

Those traveling with Paul were speechless. They heard the sound (perhaps as if thunder), but apparently not the words (cf. Acts 22:8). When Paul stood to his feet, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand to Damascus.

After that, he fasted for three days. This may be indicative of his contrition. It might also be in preparation for receiving further instruction.

There was in the city a disciple named Ananias. The Lord said to him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

"Lord," Ananias protested, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." He was obviously reluctant, and for good reason.

The Lord was adamant, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." The metaphor recalls a vessel fashioned by its potter. In this connection, it is necessary that the clay be pliable and responsive to the artisan's touch.

This would seem to portray Paul's experience more in terms of his calling than conversion as such. In particular, one designed primarily to embrace the Gentiles, but not to the exclusion of the Jews. As for suffering, Paul would subsequently recall: "Are they servants of Christ? I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again" (2 Cor. 11:23).

Paul's characteristic zeal was now expressed in a different manner. He courageously declared that Jesus was the Christ. Then, when threatened with death, he managed to make his escape. Returning to Jerusalem, he was rebuffed in his initial effort to join with the disciples. Barnabas interceded, and so Paul continued to speak out boldly. Again threatened with death, the disciples brought him to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus.

Thus are we alerted to the fact that Paul was introduced into an already existing fellowship. This, in turn, presupposes a primitive tradition associated with Jesus' life and teaching. Such as was faithfully preserved in the apostolic community.

Then, too, concerning Paul's experience. Initially, in connection with his encounter with the risen Lord on his fateful journey to Damascus. From that time onward, drawing upon his experience in community and with mission.

It remains to illustrate from Paul's extensive correspondence. "Now, brothers," the apostle writes, "I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve" (1 Cor. 15:1, 3-5). After that, to an increasingly larger number of persons.

In another context, Paul testifies: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). I am not ashamed is borne out in his bold witness to the truth of the gospel. He accounts for this because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes. Salvation is often construed in a negative manner, to suggest deliverance from sin and/or related matters. However, it is not without a positive counterpart. In particular, it nuances God's enablement and provision for the believer.

Considering the two texts in conjunction, the object for faith is implicit. It involves faith in the crucified and risen Christ. It is decidedly not faith in faith, which qualifies as little more than positive thinking.

As I have noted on other occasions, Paul views the death/resurrection of Jesus as threefold. Initially, it is objective. It took place sometime, somewhere, and in the presence of others. Then, too, as a climax to his life and teaching.

In this context, we are reminded of the prologue to Luke's gospel (since he was a frequent companion of Paul):

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (1:1-4).

Moreover, it is vicarious. As observed above, Christ died for our sins. "He was delivered over to death for our sins," the apostle elaborates, "and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). This is perhaps an excerpt from a primitive confession of faith. In any case, we are reminded that he was delivered over to death for our sins, and raised to life for our justification.

This, in turn, recalls a passage from the Isaiah text: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities" (53:4-5). The repetition is for emphasis.

Finally, it is efficacious. The Isaiah text continues, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." "So I find this law at work," Paul confesses:

When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. ...Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:21-25).

It bears repeating for emphasis, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In another context,

Paul declares: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13). In this manner, the apostle brings closure to this brief digression (vv. 11-13), in which he explains that his joy in receiving their gift was not predicated on their meeting his need. ...(He thereby) transforms the very Stoic-sounding sentences that have preceded from appearing to promote any sense of sufficiency within himself to a sufficiency quite beyond himself, to Christ.45

"Therefore," Paul concludes, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17). The apostle employs the preposition in with the object Christ (or synonym) 165 times in his letters, as indicative of the importance he puts in the expression.

Paul paints a dismal portrait of the person apart from Christ. The good he would do, he finds difficulty doing; the bad he would refrain from doing, he falls prey to. Deliverance is lacking.

Conversely, he portrays life in Christ as eminently fulfilling. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live," he confides, "but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20). It consists of life lived by way of a dynamic relationship, drawing upon heaven's treasury, and well exceeding anything one could have previously imagined.

The Finish Line

Origin aptly observes, "Those whose piety is grounded on the teaching of Jesus also run until they come to the end of their course, when they can say in all truth and confidence: 'I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness'" (cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8).46 Paul serves as his exemplar.

* * *

Following the apostle's encounter with the risen Lord, he was a man with a mission. His labors were extensive, and the results impressive. Those of like precious faith owe him a great debt of gratitude.

"I am going to Jerusalem," Paul announced, "not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and compete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:22-24).

His resolve recalls that of Jesus, who set his face toward Jerusalem. Neither would settle for a safe sanctuary, among devoted associates. Unlike Jesus, Paul has only a general impression of what would transpire. It would involve imprisonment and difficulties; this much was certain.

In perspective, it did not matter to him so long as he was permitted to finish the race and complete the task Jesus had given him–that of heralding the gospel. The metaphor is instructive.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1-2).

We are left to speculate on who comprise so great a cloud of witnesses. There are those who observe us in the daily routine of life. Along this line, Paul writes: "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

Perhaps we are meant to include the heavenly hosts. In ministering on God's behalf, they encourage those engaged in running the course. In context, our attention is drawn to those exemplars of faith alluded to in the previous chapter. They are certainly an incentive, whether or not they were meant to be included among the many witnesses.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. There are many things which may be perfectly all right in their own way, but which hinder a competitor in the race of faith; they are 'weights' which must be set aside. It may well be that what is a hindrance to one entrant in this spiritual context is not a hindrance to another... . But there are other things which are not perfectly all right...but are essentially wrong.47

Since these alike hinder the runner's progress, they must be set aside.

The above is by way of preparation. It remains to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Some years ago I decided to participate in a 5K run. Since I jog regularly, no special preparation seemed necessary. However, without glasses my sight is considerably restricted. Then, too, my hearing is impaired. Some distance into the race, I heard a voice calling out to me: "Sir, if you want to go with the others, they turned off a way back." After expressing my appreciation, I took off after them. To state the obvious, it does not accomplish anything to pick up the pace if one is going in the wrong direction.

Then, too, one must persevere. There are distractions along the way. One feels tempted to slacken the pace. Some drop out of the race altogether. Whatever the circumstances, one must press on.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. As would one focus on the person who sets the pace. This, in turn, dictates how to manage the race. Jesus qualifies on two grounds. As author (pioneer), he leads the way. As perfecter, he brings to completion that which he initiated.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross. Its suffering and its shame. Crucifixion was thought so degrading that Roman citizens were exempted. After that, Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father. However, not a moment before he had finished the course.

"When we arrived in Jerusalem," Luke records, "the brothers received us warmly" (Acts 21:17). It was in sharp contrast to the initial encounter after Paul's conversion. The next day they were taken before the elders of the Jerusalem assembly, and the apostle reported in detail what was transpiring among the Gentiles. When they heard of this, they praised God.

Then the elders enjoined Paul to join in the purification rites of four young men, so as to reassure the Jewish believers of his fidelity to ceremonial obligations. But when he attempted to do so, certain Jews of the diaspora seized him. "Men of Israel, help us!" they shouted. "This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place." Luke explains that they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul, and incorrectly assumed that he had brought him into the temple precinct.

Were it not for the intervention of the Roman guard, the apostle would have been killed. As the soldiers were about to take him into the barracks, he requested permission to address the agitated crowd. The populace was unsympathetic to his extended explanation, and demanded that he be executed.

Instead, the commander ordered him flogged–hoping to obtain some better understanding of the cause for the uproar. "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" Paul protested. "In earlier days the exemption was total, and although under the empire it was sometimes inflicted on citizens as a penalty after conviction, they were all exempt from it as a third degree method of inquiry before trial."48 Then those who intended to question him immediately withdrew, but the apostle was held over.

The next day, the commander ordered the Sanhedrin to convene, and brought Paul before its members. "My brothers," the apostle addressed them, "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." This precipitated a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees, since the latter held that there is no resurrection. Again, Paul was bound over.

The following night, the Lord admonished his servant: "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." At least until that time, the race must be continued.

The next morning, Paul's adversaries formed a conspiracy, and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed him. There were more than forty men implicated. When Paul's nephew heard of this, he brought him word. When the commander was informed, he had the apostle sent under heavy guard to Caesarea. He sent a covering letter as follows:

Claudius Lysias,
To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

As can be readily seen, he was not reticent to stretch the truth in order to put the matter in the best possible light.

Five days later, the high priest and associates presented their case against the apostle. Paul was permitted to defend himself against the accusations. Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, dismissed the proceedings with the observation: "When Lysias the commander comes, I will decide your case." Then he ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard, but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to minister to his needs.

Several days later, Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the impending judgment; the governor was afraid. "That's enough for now!" he exclaimed. "You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." Meanwhile, he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.

When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Since the latter wanted to please the Jewish protagonists, he left the apostle in prison. He eventually heard the accusations and Paul's defense. Wishing to do Paul's adversaries a favor, he inquired: "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?"

Paul answered, "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. ...But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

The right of appeal (prouocatio) to the emperor arose out of the earlier right of appeal to the sovereign people (the populus Romanus), one of the most ancient rights of a Roman citizen, traditionally going back to the foundation of the republic in 509 B.C. It was usually exercised by appealing against a magistrate's verdict, but might be exercised at an earlier stage of proceedings... .49

After Felix had conferred with the council, he declared: "You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go."

A few days later, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea. Hearing Festus' account of the case concerning Paul, Agrippa confided: "I would like to hear this man myself."

The next day, Agrippa and Bernice made a grand entrance into the audience chamber, along with the high ranking officers and leading men of the city. Then, at Festus' command, Paul was brought before them. "Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him."

"You are out of your mind, Paul!" Festus subsequently shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane."

"I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable." After that, he turned his attention to Agrippa–who he assumed would be better able to grasp his words.

"Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Agrippa incredulously responded. He may have been embarrassed by the apostle's ardent appeal.

Paul replied, "Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains." Given his privileged perspective, he was more free with chains than they were without them. The audience was concluded.

Paul eventually arrived in Rome. He spent two years under house arrest, and was allowed to welcome visitors. "Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (28:31). Thus Luke concludes his second volume, with the apostle waiting trial before Caesar.

It appears that the apostle was released, only to be apprehended a second time. As he composes a second letter to Timothy, he is now in confined imprisonment in Rome (1:16-17; 2:9). He has already undergone a preliminary hearing (4:16-18) and is awaiting his final trial, from which he has little hope of anything except death (4:6-8). His confinement is an obvious hardship for him. Some have ministered to his needs (1:16-18); others have gone out on ministries (4:10, 12); and at least one has abandoned him (4:10).50

Paul perceptively comments: "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness...and not only for me, but also for all who have longed for his (the Lord's) appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

All else appears to coalesce in I have finished the race. The fight to which he refers is not military in nature, but athletic. I have kept the faith would likely mean that he had remained faithful to that entrusted to him.

Paul would agree with the adage that "life (as we now know it) is prelude (to what has yet to be)." So then there is in store for me the crown of righteousness. One is reminded not only of wreaths of honor bestowed on those who excelled in the athletic contests, but also the awards made to loyal subjects by their grateful sovereigns. Incidentally, it seems best to interpret the crown of righteousness as being that of a righteous person.

The apostle deliberately points out that this reward is not his alone, but one to be shared with all who have longed for his appearing. Consequently, his emphasis is on finishing the course laid out for the participants. So much the more now that the finish line is clearly in view.


The succeeding discussion serves a dual purpose. Initially, it delves into the biblical text as a normative commentary on the choice between life and death. After that, it primes the reader for selective social applications.

The choice. We are confronted with various options throughout our lifetime. In a given day, the number would multiply dramatically. In most instances, the issues involved are trivial. The choice among cereals for breakfast provides an example.

Sometimes more is involved than we realize. A decision to take an evening's walk could put us in harm's way. "We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the center: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of them into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision."51

This does not suggest that everyone who takes the wrong turn is destined to continue in that way. It does suggest that a person may have to reconsider, and opt for a more promising alternative.

If by any other designation, the basic choice we all must make is between life and death. Either life and all the opportunities it affords, or death and the loss of what might have been. The wise person opts for life.

The God factor. Scripture informs us that life originates with God. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he sustains life as well. So it is that the psalmist concludes, "For with you is the fountain of life" (36:9). Such brings to mind a constant source, appealing to the weary pilgrim.

The alternative is indeed bleak. "My people have committed two sins," the Lord declares: "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jer. 2:13). The broken cisterns are associated with their practice of idolatry.

Life is thus construed in terms of stewardship. Along this line, Jesus told a story concerning a man who was going on a journey. He summoned his servants, and entrusted his property to them–each according to his ability. After a long time, the man returned. "Master," the first said, "you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more" (Matt. 25:20).

His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness." So also with the man having been entrusted with two talents.

Then came the man who was entrusted with one talent. "Master," he said, "I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you."

His master responded, "You wicked, lazy servant! So you know that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest." Then he had the one talent given to the one who had been given ten, along with the observation: "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." In conventional terms, "Use it or lose it!"

Biblical narrative. I have relied heavily on the narrative account to pursue the general topic. This is out of deference both to its appealing and authoritative character. As for the former, Much is obviously due to the art, technique and manner of the telling, for even the best story falls flat when badly told. That is why this study is mainly concerned with the craft of Biblical storytelling. To find out how it is done one must read slowly and carefully, looking, so to speak, over the writer's shoulder as he practices his art.52

As for the latter, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking correcting and training in righteousness, to that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16). "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

As an aside, the worth of narrative is sometimes lost on those of us raised in the classical tradition. We are prone to favor abstract concepts, void of concrete reality. Conversely, it might be said of biblical revelation that the medium is the message.

The accent on Biblical narrative was not meant to rule out other sources as they appeared relevant. In particular, I drew on both Christian and Jewish commentaries. Then, too, from the early church fathers, conventional wisdom, personal antidotes, and miscellaneous sources. Such might be said to illustrate Augustine's provocative conclusion, "All truth is God's truth."

Life is characterized by ambiguity. A given text can often be interpreted in a variety of ways. It seemed best to acknowledge this reality without unduly laboring the issue. Some situations invited more elaboration than others.

Continuity. In Jewish tradition, the time line is drawn between the present age and the age to come. In Christian thought, the age to come was initiated with the advent of Jesus as the Messiah. The consummation remains future. This results in what some have construed as an overlay of the two ages. In particular, we are said to live in the now but not yet interim.

Moreover, Scripture is said to be normative in matters of faith and practice. This creates what has been described as a fusion of horizons. The far horizon, the biblical text, remains constant; whereas the near horizon changes with the times. As a result, one must preserve biblical fidelity–preferably in a relevant fashion. Few would claim this to be an easy task, but it is no less a necessary one.

Then, too, we are being drawn toward the future. God's promises serve us well in this regard. They resemble a distant landfall, toward which we steer our course into a safe harbor.

Social Issues

The choice between life and death continues to evidence itself concerning current issues that face us today. As the sage observed, "The more things change, the more (some) things remain constant." After that, to appreciate the fact that we are called upon to appropriate biblical truths in the course of our daily routine.

A Life Boat

"The most merciful thing a large family can do for one of its infant members is to kill it."53 So writes a prominent advocate of population control. In this instance, she has gone beyond the effort to eradicate supposed inferior humans to include prime subjects born into marginal economic situations. It is not my intention to fault what is a legitimate concern for the quality of life, but to approach it in context of a respect for life itself.

I have opted to discuss this topic initially because of its pervasive character. It is sometimes explicit, but more often implicit in life and death issues. In this connection, it reminds me of a trump card that can be used when all other considerations seem to fall short.

Two analogies will serve to expose the rationale. The first concerns a village commons, and the second a life boat. In nineteenth-century England most villages were adjoined by a commons, land which could be used by the citizens of a community for grazing. "If the commons was used judiciously in a small village, individuals could gradually increase their wealth. But as the communities grew the temptation to overgraze grew stronger."54 When one yielded to the temptation, it encouraged others to follow.

Sooner or later, but sooner than we would like to think, the commons can no longer sustain its increased usage. In fact, further use of the commons for grazing purposes will actually reduce its productivity. If no corrective action is taken, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

The commons represents our environment. We have limited resources, and an ever-increasing population. Time is said to be running out.

Consequently, it would appear that we should settle on rules agreed upon to keep population growth in check. If this appears unlikely or impossible, it will be necessary for the elite (however constituted) to make the determination, and see that it is observed.

The life boat analogy is perhaps of more recent vintage, being currently associated with the Values Clarification Curriculum. In this instance, the students are asked to imagine an overly crowded life boat cast adrift in the open sea. There are scant resources, compounding the dilemma.

It soon becomes evident that not all can survive. It remains to decide whose life shall be terminated. Since one candidate is elderly and has already lived a full life, he seems a likely candidate. However, it turns out that he is a research scientist, who might make some discovery that would greatly benefit mankind. The latter argues that he be removed from consideration.

Cultural bias can be detected in the selection process. Clergy do not rate among the most highly valued, which might suggest that their activity is perceived as relatively marginal from a cultural perspective. Educators do better; lawyers and car salespersons worse.

Meanwhile, the situation worsens.  The craft is taking in water. Some are incapacitated by trauma. Others feel compelled to throw off their natural constraints to preserve life, and deliberately cast some overboard.

Several preliminary observations would seem in order. First, the situation is contrived. For instance, Let's assume that we can put everyone in the world into families of four. We'll give each family a three bedroom house on a 50-foot lot, with a nice front yard and room for a garden in the back yard. ...How much land will we need? ...Well, the fact is that we could all fit in the state of Texas, with some space left over for the cowboys and oil wells.55

Well, of course, there are additional factors to take into consideration. Such as the means to provide food, transportation, and the like. However, the situation is not nearly as desperate as the prophets of doom would have us imagine. Especially would this be so if we were to take our environmental responsibilities more seriously.

Second, the persons implicated are anonymous. This brings to mind the tragic case of Kitty Genovese. Persons were stunned at the time by her death at the hands of a stalker, while neighbors looked on from their bedroom windows for some thirty-five minutes while the assailant beat, stabbed, and left her for dead. No one protested, let alone came to her aid. Finally, a seventy year old woman belatedly called the police.

When persons were asked why they did nothing, their responses ranged from "I don't know," and "I was tired," to "We were afraid." The bottom line was that they failed to come to the aid of an endangered stranger.

Then, too, I recall the revealing comment made by a physician, who had employed prisoners for experimental purposes in Nazi Germany. "I felt no animosity," he confessed. "I simply did not think of them as anything other than guinea pigs."

Third, there is the temptation to play God. This can be illustrated by contrasting two views of life. In the first instance, "Human life from conception to natural death is sacred and worthy of protection." As a result, the preservation of life should take precedent over concerns for liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the second, "Human life, which begins and ends when certain individuals or groups decide it does, is valuable as long as it is wanted."56 Consequently, it has no intrinsic value.

As otherwise expressed, human caprice is cultivated as an alternative to divine providence. After that, the law of diminishing returns sets in. As the sage observes, "When life is cheapened in some regard, it is cheapened in all."

Finally, those making the determination appear characteristically to exclude themselves from its consequences. If a class, then its instructor and students. Their purposes are thought served by the elimination of some less fortunate persons. This would seem to turn the Golden Rule on its head. That is, "Don't do to others what you would want them to do to you."

It is time to move on.

Imagine that we invented a mighty Convenience Machine that would make our lives wonderfully more enjoyable and enable us to reach more of our goals. Unfortunately, using the machine would cost us about 50,000 lives each year. Would you use the machine? Should we allow it to be sold on the market? When I have asked audiences this question, there is virtually universal agreement that we should not, for no amount of comfort equals the value of a single life.57

If, however, we defer simply to the quality of life, some will conclude that the taking of 50,000 lives or five million lives is thereby warranted. The obvious question concerns the quality of life for whom? Most notably those calculated to survive. Then, perhaps in addition, those whose demise might be considered an act of mercy.

The rationale recalls a young couple, who were eagerly expecting their first child. Much to their dismay, the child was severely handicapped, and would require continued assistance throughout its life. The husband concluded that if there were a God, he would not have allowed such a thing to happen. His wife was more temperate in his response, but the burden obviously weighed heavily on her.

With the passing of time, a remarkable change took place. The husband reported that he had experienced love in a way he had never thought possible. It was generated from their relationship with the child, and one another. Moreover, God seemed as if born again in his experience. His wife gratefully smiled her assent.

This should not have come as a great surprise. Along this line, Jesus declared: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Then we may conclude that the quality of life derives from seizing the opportunity for service.

As observed in an earlier context, life is good when lived according to God's design. When not, the situation is calculated to turn from bad to worse. Then, in the end, it is beyond recovery.

There is further evidence that survival should not in every instance be the prime concern. "Risks of life are often worth the goals of enhancing the quality of life for others. The martyr, the missionary to hostile territory, the settler, the witness of the truth all value something higher than their own life."58 It bears repeating, than their own life–since it concerns our corporate existence.

All things considered, the quality of life ought to be fostered in the context of life itself. This implies an openness to God as life's mediator, and availability to one another. Conversely, it ought not to provide an excuse for our unwillingness to tolerate inconvenience.

Advocates of population control generate a varied agenda–as the following will serve to illustrate:

Social Constraints

  • Restructure family
       a) Postpone or avoid marriage
       b) Alter the image of ideal family size
  • Compulsory education of children
  • Encourage increased homosexuality
  • Educate for family limitation
  • Fertility control agents in water supply
  • Encourage women to work

Economic Deterrents/Incentives

  • Substantial marriage tax
  • Child tax
  • Tax married more than single
  • Remove parents tax exception
  • Additional taxes on parents with more than 1 or 2 children in school

Social Controls

  • Compulsory abortion of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
  • Compulsory sterilization of all who have two children except for a few who would be allowed three
  • Confine childbearing to only a limited number of adults59

In less detail, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America concludes that universal reproductive freedom is perhaps the most critical step in solving the problems of hunger, deprivation and hopelessness associated with poverty, and the depletion of our natural resources. Universal reproductive freedom consists of making contraception, abortion, and sterilization readily available to all. This, in turn, implies social approval–as students are quick to point out.

Speculation abounds. One social theorist commends restricting humans to enclaves connected by transportation arteries. He would leave the remainder for flora and fauna to forge for itself. His approach hinges on rigorous population control, and coercive management.

Another social theorist proposes that we make better use of the land available to us, so as to develop primary employment towns–where the quality of life will be vastly improved. He has in mind the vast stretches of land visible from the window of an overflying airplane. His approach invites quality control, with a prime concern for the inherent sacredness of human life. Meanwhile, the controversy continues unabated. Often it generates more heat than light.

In summary, it would seem that a creative solution, whether in the above connection or some other, must initially set sound priorities. I take it that this involves an appreciation of the sacredness of human life, as derived from God for his benevolent purposes. Other legitimate concerns properly derive from this fundamental perspective.

It would, therefore, appear evident that the quality of life should not be treated in an autonomous fashion. We ought to promote quality in our devotional exercises, family and social life, political expressions, and international affairs. We ought not in the process overlook the simple things of life, since they not uncommonly prove to be the more rewarding. Such as a breath of fresh air at the close of an oppressively hot day, a leisurely meal with family and/friends, or a welcomed repose after the demanding duties associated with one's vocation.

It is also necessary to evolve social means that approximate our corporate ideals. This will require something akin to compromise, which is said to be the genius of social programming and political activity. I mean this in the characteristic English sense of the term, as constructive accommodation.

The above requires cultivating a genuine sense of humility. Not self-effacement, which would seem to resemble a negative expression of pride. To qualify as humble, a person must not be unduly concerned for self–whether to magnify or disparage.

The endeavor will likewise require civility–a recurring theme in my extended discussion. That is, to refrain from character assassination and focus on issues. Jesus' counsel is pertinent in this connection, "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:44-45).

Finally, one must persist in doing good. According to conventional wisdom, "Nothing worthwhile comes easily." Such could be said not only concerning what we hope to accomplish, but in terms of enhancing spiritual maturity.

Much of the above will be applicable for that which follows. Qualifications aside, social issues are cut from the same bolt of cloth. Let the reader take note.

The Agonizing Issue

"Abortion, perhaps more than any other practice, deserves to be labeled 'the agonizing issue.' God must certainly hold us guilty for the wanton taking of life. Much of the debate over abortion seems little more than an exercise in casuistry."60 This serves as a prime example where the exceptions, if such can be demonstrated, ought not to establish the rule.

Abortion, even though widely practiced, was considered immoral and illegal in most modern western societies until this generation. ...The 1960s brought increasing activism in favor of legalizing abortion. Initially, the motives were to help women who were victims of rape or incest, and those who carried deformed babies, as well as to eliminate the dangers of illegal abortion. Later, the goal of the advocates became abortion-on-demand for any reason at all.61

In retrospect, the advocates for abortion-on-demand gained sympathy for their cause by greatly exaggerating the problem and over-simplifying its proposed resolution. As for the former, it is estimated that less than two percent of abortions are performed for the purposes initially introduced to justify abortion practice. As for the latter, abortion techniques have become increasingly safer, so that the risk factor has been substantially reduced. It is estimated that "ninety-eight percent of currently performed abortions are done because the pregnancy is inconvenient."62

Early Christian response to this pro-choice activism was mixed. The official stance of the Roman Catholic Church was categorically opposed to abortion. Protestant churches were divided. The more liberal denominations were in favor of lessening the restrictions on abortion. Some have more recently come to decry casual abortion, while others carry on the pro-choice agenda as if it were a moral crusade. The more conservative denominations were sometimes slow to pick up on the issue, but aligned themselves more with the official Roman Catholic position than that of their liberal counterparts.

The U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision struck down all state laws restricting abortion. It said that the states could not forbid or regulate abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, but could regulate the procedure during the first and second trimesters. In the final trimester, the states were permitted to prohibit abortion–except when the life or health of the woman was at stake. Health came to be understood as synonymous with the women's emotional well-being. Since any unwanted pregnancy could result in emotional turmoil, abortion-on-demand became the practical outcome of the Supreme Court's ruling. Conversely, the emotional turmoil often generated by abortion was largely ignored.

It is said that more than twenty million abortions have been performed since the 1973 decision. It would seem obvious that this creates not only a problem for those within the Judeo-Christian tradition, but runs counter to the disposition of the people as a whole. In this connection, former President Clinton observed that most Americans want abortion to be safe, legal, and seldom. The current practice, in attempting to guarantee the first two of these goals, makes a mockery of the third.

As a result, the positions have increasingly polarized. Pro-life advocates not uncommonly portray their opponents as evil people, whose driving motivation is to make money by providing abortion services. Conversely, pro-choice advocates are disposed to depict their adversaries as insensitive to those subject to an unwanted pregnancy. The fact is that persons are disposed to prioritize different ethical principles, with conflicting results. Moreover, motivations are characteristically mixed–tempting us to portray others in the worst possible light, while exonerating ourselves from blame.

In any case, the traditional appreciation for the sanctity of life began to erode. For many, it was linked to the belief that humans are created in the image of God. However, the sanctify of life principle was embraced by others as well–so as to provide a impressive cultural consensus.

Aware of support for the sanctity of life, pro-choice advocates initially argued that life did not begin at conception. Confronted with the evidence that biological life does in fact begin at conception, they contended that personhood is distinctive from biological life. Moreover, that its definition is so imprecise as to prohibit the setting up of restrictions on abortion. Then, more recently, to assert that the right to self-determination takes precedent over the value of a potential person.

As a matter of information, several alternatives have been proposed concerning when the fetus becomes a person with an inherent right to life. Quickening. Some have held that the soul entered the body at the moment of quickening, when the mother first felt the fetus move. In this regard, it seemed reasonable to countenance abortion during the first weeks of pregnancy. However, this view no longer solicits much interest, and so it remains a live option for only a few.

Viability. The U.S. Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision, came close to espousing viability as the cutoff point between not having a right to life and having one. The court held that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting potential life and that this interest becomes compelling at viability "because the fetus then presumably had the capability of meaningful life, outside the mother's womb."63

Nevertheless, the implication lacked detailed exploration. For instance, why should the fetus be thought to have a more meaningful existence outside its mother's womb than inside? Moreover, the time of viability changes with our advance in technology–making this guideline imprecise.

Experience. It is claimed that a right to life must embrace the ability to perceive, suffer, and remember. It is further alleged that the fetus is unable to do any of these, and so does not need to be guaranteed life.

This view is subject to two primary objections. First, the argument, if strictly interpreted, would appear to exclude infants as well–since they do not perceive in the strong sense of the word, nor do they remember in a mature fashion. Second, there is ample evidence that the fetus experiences both pleasure and pain.

Birth. Many hold that birth is the decisive point at which one becomes a person. This seems arbitrary, since there is no compelling reason to suppose that the fetus' status should be fundamentally altered in the birthing process. As a matter of fact, a prematurely born infant may be considerably less developed than a fetus that has come full term.

The seemingly inevitable conclusion is that none or all of the above options provide a convincing rationale for why we should make a distinction between potential and actual human life. Perhaps viability comes closest to a plausible criterion, but is difficult to define in any acceptable manner. At least for the present, the U.S. Supreme Court seems reluctant to make the effort. Short of more definitive guidelines, the carnage continues.

Louis Pojman sets forth in comprehensive fashion the liberal alternative, an appraisal of the conservative/liberal dialogue, and a mediating position. I will sketch his analysis, citing an occasional quotation.64 The liberal position "asserts that it is always or almost always morally permissible for a woman to have an abortion. It allows abortion on demand. Four arguments for this position have been offered."

Initially, radical relativism. Abortion is said to be strictly a individual matter. No one should be coerced into having unwanted children. Morality, from this perspective, is a private concern.

If, however, we were to be consistent, this would rule out the protection guaranteed to all. Unless, of course, there is some compelling reason for excluding the fetus from consideration. If this is not the case, and the burden of proof lies with the pro-choice advocates, then the wanton taking of life amounts to mass extermination.

After that, the right to privacy. For instance, The National Organization of Women insists that women have an absolute right to their bodies. Since the fetus is dependent, she can dispose of it as she wishes. If this involves abortion, it is within her prerogative. Incidentally, those who serve in crisis pregnancy centers report that the most common observation shared by those seeking help is their lack of information which would allow them to make an intelligent decision. It is as if society had conspired to coerce them into aborting their offspring.

Conversely, it is not certain that we have any absolute rights, in the sense that one right precludes all others. In conventional terms, "Your freedom stops where my nose begins." In addition, one would have to make a case for why the right to use one's body as he or she wishes would constitute an absolute right.

As touched on earlier, the quality of life. This, as a rule, begins with the prospect of the deformed or retarded child, thought to have little potential and being a burden to others. "The argument can be extended to cover cases where the woman is incapable of providing an adequate upbringing for the child to be born, the case of a teenage pregnancy, the family with children that cannot afford another child." As noted previously, the specter of over-population provides an added consideration.

In brief, while quality of life is a legitimate concern, it ought not to be used as an excuse to sanction irresponsible and immoral behavior. Since I have previously considered the issue, I will not labor the point on this occasion.

Finally, as concerns a person. As noted previously, personhood is distinguished from that which has the potential of becoming a person. In particular, the mother is given a status that not only exceeds that of the fetus, but strips it of any inherent rights.

As earlier concluded, the distinction seems arbitrary. One moment the fetus has no rights, and the next it has gained equal protection under the law. It bears repeating, the burden of proof would seem to lie with the pro-choice advocate.

As for dialogue, If the personhood argument were followed, we would be permitted to kill unconscious and severely retarded and senile humans–even normal people when they sleep... . The argument would also sanction infanticide... . Finally, the argument ignores the fact that the fetus is a potential person, and potentiality for self-consciousness should be seen as granting a being similar rights as an actual person.

In response, the liberal maintains concerning the severely retarded and senile that most have retained an adequate amount of rationality. Consequently, it would be dangerous to put into practice a policy of doing away with all but the most extreme cases in point.

As for those who sleep or are unconscious, they have the capacity for rational self-consciousness. In this connection, the liberal distinguishes between capacity and potentiality.

As for infanticide, The liberal can distinguish between a natural and a social right. A natural right is one which is enjoyed simply by virtue of its intrinsic qualities. As social right, on the other hand, is something bestowed by society. "The core of the liberal position is the notion that we are not born persons but become such through adequate socialization."

The mediating position attempts to steer between the polar positions. It takes issue with the conservative inasmuch as he or she refuses to take into consideration extenuating circumstances concerning unwanted pregnancies. Precisely which qualifies remain unclear, except as reflected in individual preferences.

Conversely, the mediating position objects to abortion on demand. The fetus is "in the process of developing into the kind of beings who will be socialized as self-conscious persons. The closer they come to birth, the more the presumption of life is in their favor." Carried to its logical conclusion, the mediating position would go a long way toward realizing the social objective of significantly reducing the frequency of abortion.

I would like to conclude with a moving story concerning the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. As a child, he was stricken with polio, leaving him severely incapacitated. He wore braces on both legs, and could walk only with the assistance of two crutches.

One evening, he was to give a concert. He deliberately made his way across the stage to a chair in which he seated himself to play. As soon as he appeared on stage, the audience enthusiastically applauded and then waited expectantly.

No sooner had he began to play than one of his violin strings snapped with a sound resembling a gunshot. He could have halted the performance, and replaced the string before continuing. Instead, he hesitated and then signaled the conductor to continue. He proceeded to improvise with the remaining strings on his instrument.

When he had finished, those in the audience sat for a moment in stunned silence. Then they rose to their feet, and cheered wildly. They realized that they had witnessed an extraordinary display of skill and ingenuity.

Perlman raised his bow to signal for silence. "You know," he said, "sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left." While he likely had in mind his impaired instrument, his comment could have implied as well to his crippled body. The world is a better place for Perlman's artistry. Then, too, for his constructive approach to life.

It is dreadful to think of how many gifted persons, let alone those less so, who were never allowed to achieve their potential. Perhaps because some deficiency was diagnosed in the fetus. Otherwise, because of economic considerations. Worse yet, simply because giving birth would have created an inconvenience.

A Good Death

"The English word euthanasia is derived from a combination of Greek words: the adverb eu (well) and a form of the noun thanatos (death, usually meaning 'a good death' (or an easy death). Euthanasia, in the classic usage, refers to mercy killing–the act of purposefully ending a human life with a motive of compassion."65 It remains an issue of critical importance in itself, and its implications for a wide range of associated issues.

It is not my intent to focus attention on so-called passive euthanasia, which might better qualify as humane treatment. This concern is best served through a living will, whereby the person may opt not to prolong life through artificial means.

Twenty-one year old "Karen Ann Quinlan lapsed into a coma from which she never emerged. Thus began the most famous case in the history of American medical ethics. (She had suffered) extensive brain damage and a state of persistent vegetation that was to last 10 years, while the family, the hospital, and the courts angrily fought over her body."66

After months of watching their adopted daughter's body curled up in a fetal position, and maintained by a life support system, Joseph and Julia Quinlan despaired of hope. With the approval of their priest, they requested that the attending physician disconnect the ventilator. He agreed to do so, providing they sign a form absolving him of liability.

The physician subsequently changed his mind. He informed Mr. Quinlan that it would be necessary to obtain a court order appointing him her legal guardian before he would be willing to take her off life support. He had concluded this was necessary, because Karen was not technically brain dead–although neurologists agreed that her comatose condition was irreversible.

Paul Armstrong, Mr. Quinlan's lawyer, initially argued that since Karen was brain dead, she should be allowed to die. When it was pointed out that she did not meet the criteria, he amended his brief to incorporate concerns related to religious freedom, cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to privacy. Religious freedom constituted an appeal to Karen's religious beliefs. Cruel and unusual punishment drew its analogy from prison guards. The right to privacy appealed to the Roe v. Wade U. S. Supreme Court decision, illustrating how interwoven are the issues concerning life and death.

Ralph Porzio, representing the attending physician, argued that to allow Karen to die would start a slippery slope leading to the killing of people thought to live a poor quality of life. In this context, he made reference to the Nazi atrocities. The judge embraced Porzio's rationale, and ruled that the family's anguish concerning their comatose daughter was clouding their judgment.

Gino Concetti, a Vatican theologian, meanwhile condemned taking Karen off life support. He categorically ruled that a right to die does not exist. Even a life in ruins serves to protect life with every possible care.

The case was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which overruled the prior decision. It set aside all criminal liability for removing Karen from a respirator. The hospital administration stalled, even adding a second machine to control her body temperature. After several weeks of waiting, Karen was taken off life support.

However, she continued to survive. The hospital asked that she be removed to another institution. The transfer was refused by twenty institutions, before she was taken to a nursing home. This was five and a half months after the court's decision to allow her to die.

For nine years Karen lay in a comatose state, artificially sustained by a feeding tube. Each day Mr. Quinlan would rise at 4:30 for a forty mile drive to the nursing home, where he would talk to Karen, massage her back, and sing to her–even though she showed no awareness. The long vigil finally came to an end. There is said to be over ten thousand people in the United States in similar condition.

The modern euthanasia movement has in the West focused on the voluntary consent of the patient. It is estimated that Danish physicians terminate five to eight thousand patients a year. This would extrapolate from eighty to one hundred and thirty thousand persons with comparable practice in the United States.

The above physicians inject patients with a fatal dose of phenobarbital and curare. The guidelines set down by the Royal Dutch Medical Association are as follows:

  1. The performance of euthanasia should rest upon voluntariness.
  2. The patient should be experiencing unacceptable and prospectless suffering which can no longer be made bearable.
  3. The patient's longing for death should be durable and well-considered.
  4. The case should be discussed with colleagues.
  5. Euthanasia should be performed in a medically pharmacologically justified way.
  6. Death certificates should not be falsified (e.g., "pneumonia") but should state that euthanasia was performed.67

Recent revelations suggest that the above guidelines are often disregarded. This has been especially documented concerning the failure to secure consent. In such instances, it appears that doctors not uncommonly take it upon themselves to assure a good death.

In the light of the discussion to this point, the slippery slope argument deserves more careful attention. In brief, to allow a single instance whereby life is terminated would eventually lead to endangering all life. So it might initially appear.

Appearances, however, can be misleading. We customarily distinguish between legitimate and comprehensive concessions. Such as allowing for some reduction in room temperature during the winter months, without simply throwing open our doors and windows to allow nature to take its course.

Notwithstanding, there is some merit to the slippery slop rationale. Primarily in that it encourages us to take every reasonable precaution to keep things from getting out of control. In terms of euthanasia, if one is prone to err, then let it be with regard to the protecting of life rather than accommodating death.

Moreover, our obligation as humans calls on us to make difficult decisions, and to accept our accountability. After that, to learn from both our successes and failures. Subsequently, to pass on our collective wisdom to succeeding generations. According to the sage, "let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance... . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Prov. 1:5, 7).

Finally, one should bear in mind that being conscientious in matters of relatively minor consequence conditions us to be responsible concerning those of more critical nature. It is often said, "As the twig is bent, so will it grow." This would appear to qualify as the positive side of the slippery slope argument.

In any case,

The dilemma with which the doctor has to grapple is not an abstract problem in the field of ethical theory but the practical question of what is the proper treatment for an individual patient in particular circumstances. And here a number of different factors are involved. He has a clear duty, for example, to preserve his patient's life in any acceptable way, but this does not imply a duty to prolong the process of dying by what may aptly be termed "meddlesome medicine".68

Again, he has an obligation to relieve his patient's suffering by any legitimate means, but it does not follow that administering a lethal dose passes muster.

The reasons are varied. For instance, the patient may consent not out of necessity but because he or she is discouraged. As has rightly been observed, the consent in this instance may be more of a petition for help than a termination of life. What the person needs is compassionate support, rather than an easy way out.

Likewise, one may have been persuaded to relinquish life rather than become an unnecessary burden others. In a worse case scenario, family members hope to benefit from an early demise, before savings have been radically depleted.

The ambiguous consent might also be more along the line of assisted suicide. Suicide may be defined as an act whereby a person intentionally causes his own death, without coercion from another. Assisted suicide solicits the help of another in bringing about the termination of life.

Intention is deemed to rule out such high risk factors as overdrinking and smoking, electing to walk through a high crime area, and the like. While these might well result in an early demise, it is not characteristically for this reason that persons choose them.

It is customary to distinguish between self-regarding and altruistic suicide–if by this or some other designation. "Traditionally, Jews and Christian have condemned self-regarding suicide as an affront to God, because only God can give and take innocent life. Our lives are gifts of God. They are not owned by us but are God's property. We are stewards of his property."69

Apart from a comparable religious orientation, the rationale appears irrelevant. As a colleague once remarked, "If God is dead, then man is also dead."

The second prime argument against self-regarding suicide derives from nature. Apart from extenuating circumstances, persons are generally disposed to enjoy the benefits that life affords. Such would serve as an encouragement to those going through times of testing.

Exceptions should be noted. Some persons cultivate a dismal attitude toward life. On occasion, it appears related to a chemical imbalance. In any case, adverse circumstances can make life seemingly unbearable.

Altruistic suicide is of a different sort. It involves freely giving one's life for some noble cause. Early Christians often embraced martyrdom willingly and enthusiastically. The martyrdom of Polycarp serves as a classic example. When he heard that the officials were looking for him, he retired to a country house. When those who sought him were nearby, he departed to another dwelling. They eventually apprehended him, but not before he had made every reasonable effort to preserve the gift of life.

Now as Polycarp was entering the stadium, there came a voice from heaven encouraging him: "Be strong, and show yourself a man!"70

The proconsul urged him, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, 'Away with the Atheists' (Christians, since they deny the gods)."

Polycarp waved his hand toward the pagan multitude, and upon looking up to heaven said: "Away with the Atheists."

The proconsul again pressed him, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar."

Polycarp replied, "Since you...pretend not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them."

The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, except you repent."

"Call them then," Polycarp responded, "for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous."

Again the proconsul threatened him, "I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beast, if you will not repent."

Polycarp remained resolute, "You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will."

"While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium three times, 'Polycarp has confessed to being a Christian.'" Upon hearing this, the multitude demanded that he be executed because of his supposed crime against humanity.

After that, they bound him on top of a funeral pier. "I give you thanks that you have counted me worthy of this day and this hour," he prayed, "that I should have a part in the number of your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption (imparted) by the Holy Ghost." Polycarp died, as if a sacrificial lamb.

"This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp," who being the twelfth of those martyred in Smyrna, "yet occupies a place of his own in the memory of all men, insomuch that he is everywhere spoken of by the heathen themselves. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ."

Then, in turn, to put the character of a good death is a new light: not simply nor necessarily indicative of an easy passing, but in terms of a vibrant witness. Whether in life or death, to glorify the Lord.

Death Row

As a student activist, "I once opposed increased police protection for my neighborhood..., arguing that we must get to the causes of crime and not deal only with the symptoms. I later realized that this was like refusing fire fighters the use of water hoses to put out fires because they only dealt with the symptoms rather than causes of the fire."71 Thus Louis Pojman introduces his rationale for capital punishment. This, understandably, is a highly emotive topic that demands that we bring to it a historical perspective and moral sensitivity.

Although few of us are arrested on criminal charges, let alone resided on death row, most have strong feelings concerning appropriate punishment. Note your reactions to the following accounts, based on newspaper articles:

  1. A drug addict stabs to death a vibrant, gifted 22-year-old graduate student who had dedicated her life to helping others.
  2. A sex-pervert lures little children into his home, sexually abuses them, and then kills them. Over 20 bodies are discovered on his property.
  3. A man sends his wife and daughter on an airplane trip, puts a time bomb into their luggage, and takes out a million dollar insurance policy on them. The money will be used to pay off his gambling debts and for prostitutes.72

The former student activist, mentioned above, might have argued that all should be set free–since they are presumably the helpless product of a degenerate society. This, in turn, reminds me of a fictitious story told concerning two sociologists on the Jericho Road. It seems that they came across a person severely beaten and left for dead. One sociologist said to the other, "We must find the people who did this; they obviously need our help. It serves to get a running start. Punishment may be defined as a penalty inflicted on a person by those in authority for some perceived offense. The penalty may involve incarceration, physical abuse, probation, and/or social castigation. It may be for a long or short term. It may have considerable or little lingering effects.

Those in authority provides a certain legitimacy to the infliction of a penalty. It precludes others, except when authority is construed in a broader sense–as with the provision for citizen's arrest. It assumes that those in authority will function within the scope of their duties. For instance, they are not to use excessive force.

An offense consists of violating some established social regulation. Ignorance does not qualify as an excuse, although it may be considered as an extenuating circumstance. A voluntary offense may be construed as a more serious offense than an involuntary one, as with first degree murder in contrast to manslaughter.

Two prime theories have been introduced to justify punishment: retribution and rehabilitation. In addition, restitution plays an important role in Old Testament legislation. Retribution. In this context, punishment is inflicted in proportion to the offense. For instance, the Lex Talionis (an eye for an eye) provision was meant to prohibit excessive retribution, rather than require an exact recompense.

Advocates of retribution argue that justice is served by treating persons in a way comparable to the seriousness of their offense against others. According to the pundit, "Fair is fair." One does not have to go into any great detail to appreciate the logic of the position. However, there may be other legitimate concerns to be factored into the punishment formula.

Rehabilitation. Crime is said to be analogous to a disease. The criminal is sick, and needs to be treated rather than punished. As pointedly expressed, "Therapy, not torture."

The rationale is as good as the propriety of the analogy. In particular, it assumes that persons would not normally embrace anti-social behavior. After that, the hope is that they will readily respond to remedial treatment. Neither of these conclusions would adequately factor in the voluntary aspect of human character.

Restitution. In this instance, punishment involves paying back a debt to society. This may be in terms of society in general, such as a certain number of hours of community service. Conversely, it may be more specifically in terms of the person against whom the crime was committed. This might include payment for damages inflicted on one's person or property.

In general terms, there is much to commend this alternative. It certainly appears to be a more constructive approach than simply letting a person languish in prison at the expense of society. It, however, has limitations. As an example, it may be impossible for the person to provide adequate recompense.

This brings us to a consideration of capital punishment, which involves taking the life of the offender. The death penalty has been used throughout history for virtually every crime imaginable. "In the seventh century B.C. Draco's Athenian code prescribed the death penalty for stealing fruit. Later Athenians were executed for making misleading public speeches. The criminal code of the Holy Roman Empire and later Europe punished sorcery, arson, blasphemy, sodomy, and counterfeiting by burning at the stake."73

In retrospect, most of us are appalled by such extensive use of the death penalty. On the other hand, most people in England (and other Western nations) consider it is perfectly right and proper for the State to inflict the death penalty in suitable circumstances, and some Christians even affirm that this is actually mandatory in the case of murder; but there are many others who are passionately opposed to the death penalty ever being exacted, and some who regard it as fundamentally contrary to Christian principles.74

If in suitable circumstances, then such as society dictates. One can expect some latitude in application from one society to the next. One would also hope for considerable continuity.

As far as biblical tradition is concerned, we read: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Gen. 9:6). Some take this to mean that capital punishment is obligated in appropriate instances. Others assume that it is permitted. It does not appear that there is anything in the inunction to suggest that it is categorically prohibited.

So it is that those who claim that the death penalty is fundamentally contrary to Christian principles must look elsewhere. Expressly, to Jesus' teaching–thought to negate or refine the earlier instruction. This requires two questionable assumptions. First, that there is sufficient discontinuity between the testaments to allow for this change of venue. Second, that we can be certain of the application of Christian ethics in regard to capital punishment.

As a matter of fact, the reverse seems true. "If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die," Paul affirms. "But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" (Acts 25:11). He thus allows for the death penalty in appropriate instances, and there is no reason to suppose that he meant to depart from Jesus' teaching in this or some other regard.

It has been traditionally thought that the death penalty provided an effective deterrent to homicide. Studies do not seem to bear this out. I recall mentioning this fact to a policeman, who responded: "Well, it certainly acts as a deterrent for the person executed." Apart from the alternative of a life sentence, his observation has merit. One is especially reminded in this connection of the exceedingly high rate of repeat offenders.

Of course, deterrence is not the only concern. For instance, I think that we have come to overlook the importance of symbolic actions in structuring societal life. Instead, we think in more pragmatic terms. This, in turn, associated with short rather than long term results.

There are other objections to capital punishment. It is claimed that the death penalty is a morally unacceptable thirst for revenge. It provides a means to indulge the society in violent behavior. It also invites retaliation, since violence breeds violence. In the end, all are said to suffer.

In response, revenge is best construed as a personal attempt to address a wrong. Capital punishment, conversely, is viewed as an impartial and impersonal response to a crime of sufficient consequence to warrant the taking of a life in return. To paraphrase Marin Luther's comment in this connection, "If I were to be executed, I would prefer that it be done by a Christian, since he would not enjoy his duties."

A more common complaint has to do with the execution of innocent parties. This appears to have taken place more often that we had previously surmised, given the current availability of DNA testing. There is always the possibility we shall discover our mistake, but death is irrevocable.

Again, in response, the alternative may be even more objectionable. In particular, if it means that a vast number of murderers go free, so as to compensate for the unfortunate execution of relatively few. It is not a perfect world in which we live, so that we must do our best with the options that are available. Such would include making every reasonable effort to see to it that no innocent person be subject to the death penalty.

It is also argued that capital punishment constitutes a denial of the person's dignity as a human being. No matter how perverse, one should be regarded as endowed with certain unalienable rights, chief among these being life itself. In metaphorical terms, one does not cast away anything of genuine worth.

Still again, in response, the death penalty may work in quite the reverse manner. First, in that it respects the worth of the victim. Columnist Mike Royko responds as follows:

Whenever I argue this with friends who have opposite views, they say I don't have enough regard for the most marvelous of miracles–human life. Just the opposite: Its because I have so much regard for human life that I favor capital punishment. Murder is the most terrible crime there is.

Anything less than the death penalty is an insult to the victim and society. It says, in effect, that we don't value the victim's life enough to punish the killer fully.75

Second, it is precisely because we view murderers as free voluntary agents that we hold them responsible. To not hold them responsible for their crimes would be to diminish their worth. Moreover, the course of justice allows ample time for the offender to confess his or her sins, and make his peace with God.

In actual life, execution occurs within a particular set of circumstances. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born to privilege. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a professor of psychiatry and neurology. His mother, Paula, supervised a large family with loving compassion and marked piety.

Dietrich choose early on to take up theological studies. Unlike those who were raised in the church, and later had to find their way in the world; he set out to discover the church.

He excelled in his studies. Karl Barth described his doctoral dissertation, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints), as a theological miracle. It was a rare complement from a distinguished theologian.

Dietrich had strong pacifistic tendencies. He explored this possibility at some length. Meanwhile, he became increasingly aware of the evils associated with the Nazi regime. The time came when he concluded, "When you see a madman driving down the road, you do not simply shout for people to get out of the way, but you try to stop them." He appears to have been at least consenting to the aborted effort to assassinate Hitler.

Dietrich was eventually imprisoned. He wrote in this regard, "The tone is set by those warders who behave in the most evil and brutal way towards the prisoners. The whole building resounds with vile and insulting abuse, so that the quieter and more fair-minded warders, too, are nauseated by it, but they can hardly exercise any influence."76

I am especially fond of his poem Who Am I? It reads in part:

Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell's confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

...Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat...?

...Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.77

The order came down that Dietrich was to be terminated. It was assumed that he had information that the authorities did not want to fall into the hands of the allied forces. His life was expendable.

The attending physician recalls the events leading up to and including his death:

Through the half-open door in the room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of his execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.78

So it was that Dietrich faced his execution, not with a protest, but a prayer.

If he were given the option of release, no doubt he would have taken it. Unless, of course, it meant incriminating persons involved in the plot against Hitler or otherwise compromising his convictions. If given the alternative of life in prison, he might have had a more difficult decision. For his own sake, he might well have chosen death to being contained like a bird in a cage. Nevertheless, I suspect he would have taken the option, not so much for himself but the opportunity it would afford to minister to others.

War and Peace

"The global threat of nuclear war is...a moral concern for the global church, for the church is transnational. Many of us wish the nuclear bomb had never been invented. But the fact is, we have it. And now what are we going to do with it?"79

There is little high ground when it comes to this issue, since any alternative is plagued by ambiguity and potential disaster.

Even so, the term transnational begs the question. In particular, Augsburger pits national interests over against global concerns. This seems to me a false dichotomy. Both would appear to be legitimate considerations in the quest for shalom (peace in the comprehensives sense of the term); or as I like to put it, "When the train runs on time."

In greater detail, Biblical shalom appears in seven complementary contexts:

  1. Shalom denotes a harmonious relationship between people (Gen. 37:4; Eph. 2:15).
  2. (It) includes personal well-being (Gen. 32:14; James 2:15-16).
  3. (It) at times focuses specifically on health (Gen. 43:27-28; Mark 5:34).
  4. (It) is often a promise of safety and security (Gen. 43:23, 44:17; Luke 11:21).
  5. (It) occasionally means an absence of war (Exod. 3:8; Rev. 6:4)
  6. (It) is used to express peace in death (Gen. 15:15; Luke 2:29).
  7. (It) means the blessing of God (Num. 6:22-27; Rom. 15:33).80

Given this breadth of perspective, it would appear that conflict might on occasion be in the best interest of achieving a harmonious relationship between people. It is, in any case, a critical point at issue.

It has been customary to discuss the issue of war and peace concerning pacifism and the just war theory. These alternatives can be further refined to include: nonresistance, Christian pacifism, the just war, and the preventive war. I will single out the holy war for special consideration.

Nonresistance. Hermon Hoyt decries the use of the term to describe this option, since it comes across in negative terms. He derives his posturing from Jesus' injunction, "That ye resist not evil" (Matt. 5:39; employing the KJV). Consequently, he elaborates the position in seven connections.81

(1) "Nonresistance is one aspect of the biblical teaching of separation from the world." This is said to cover all practices that characterized the present, evil age. Moreover, it is to bear testimony to its righteous alternative. Hoyt understands this to pertain at times of peace, as well as during times of war.

(2) "It becomes clear from the basic injunction on separation that there is a definite separation of church and state according to the divine Word." He reminds us, in this connection, of Jesus' declaration: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). It follows that the Christian should be guided by kingdom ethics, whether in this regard or some other.

(3) "Since the church and state belong to separate kingdoms or spheres of operation, the methods for defense and offense should also be different." Hoyt thinks this is self-evident from Jesus' observation, "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36).

(4) "On the basis of the foregoing points, it follows that physical violence is forbidden to believers as a method of accomplishing a purpose." He suggests that this is confirmed by the injunction "to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6). As elaborated, "follow his steps: Who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

(5) "Where physical violence is forbidden for any purpose, it is made only too clear that believers have no right to use physical violence in the propagation of the Christian faith." Conversely, this does not mean that they are left without adequate means to accomplish God's purposes. Quite the reverse!

(6) "What has been true in using force to extend the church has also been true when the church joined the nations of the world in the exercise of force." Such legitimately solicits the criticism of believers and unbelievers alike.

(7) "Lest we draw an incorrect conclusion, let me say that even though believers are forbidden the use of physical force to accomplish a temporal end, they are still obligated to exercise spiritual means to do good and to bring blessing to others." While it is not easy to resist evil by spiritual means, "Christians are left with no other alternative." After this pointed conclusion, Hoyt moves on to related matters.

Christian pacifism. It would appear on the basis of the associated article on Christian pacifism that the first two options have much in common. Expressly, they appeal to nonresistance as normative for Christians, one that ought to distinguish them from the world, and yet reflects their stance in the world.

The most striking difference seems to be the contrast between a more functional approach, which informs other areas of life, and (with Christian pacificist) a more conceptual (world view) approach. This can have practical implications. For instance, Hoyt allows that Christians may participate in conflict as noncombatants, while Augsburger argues that they should have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

One representative comment will suffice, Christians should be excellent citizens in any state, respecting the government and praying for those in authority. But their citizenship in a given nation is second to their primary citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. ...Christians seek to enrich the lives of all with whom they associate, to extend the mission of Christian service into area of need, and to exemplify by their own sacrifices and priorities of spiritual personhood over the sensual and material dimensions.82

The Just War. Augustine is commonly credited with formulating the just war theory. Worthy of note in this regard, Augustine was concerned with the disposition of Christians to surrender themselves to martyrdom as the ultimate evidence of their piety. It seemed to him preferable for them to become engaged in rectifying the multiple problems that confronted them.

This brings to mind C. S. Lewis' observation that as a rule we err by opting for one of two opposite alternatives. As applied to this situation, either we reject the legitimate use of conflict or settle for conflict when some preferable option would serve in its place. The former might qualify as a sin of omission, as the latter a sin of commission.

Today the just war legacy can be said to consist of seven guidelines:

  1. War must always be a last resort.
  2. There must always be a just cause.
  3. War must be declared by a legitimate authority.
  4. The goal of war must always be attainable.
  5. The means used to conduct the war must always be proportionate to the end sought.
  6. Noncombatants must always be protected in the conduct of war.
  7. The ultimate objective of war must always be the restoration of peace.83

Note the repetition of the term always, explicit in six of the seven guidelines and implicit in the seventh. No exceptions are anticipated.

The issue perhaps hinges on whether war can serve justice. If not, then a just war is a misnomer. If it can, it is legitimate to employ this designation. In any case, the hidden premise would seem to be that justice serves to establish and maintain shalom.

The preventive war. The preventive war assumes that it is also a just war. However, "By preventive war we mean a war that is begun not in response to an act of aggression, but in anticipation of it. A preventive war intends to forestall an evil that has not yet occurred."84

The Holocaust provides a case in point. Had the allies taken action early on millions of Jews and other oppressed people might have been rescued. Meanwhile, the Nazi regime built a formidable military force, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides of the conflict. Given a different scenario, suppose that Hitler had been successful in subjecting more people to his cruel tyranny. The prospect of such a thing occurring might occasion preventive conflict.

The holy war. Three plausible examples readily come to mind: the Jewish conquest, Crusades, and Jihad. Now the Lord said to Joshua, "you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them" (Josh. 1:2). Several observations appear pertinent. First, the conquest presupposes that the inhabitants of the land have reached a place of no return. As a result, God means to cleanse the land of its pollution.

Second, more leniency is shown to those who reside outside the highly contaminated area (cf. Deut. 20:10-15). The implication is that the conquest should not be used as a blanket precedent; if in fact, a precedent at all.

Finally, the Israelites were subject to the same uncompromising standards as the former inhabitants. In this regard, "And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations before you" (Lev. 18:18:28). All things considered, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Prov. 14:34).

In a manner of speaking, the Crusades are a horse of a different color. To the degree that the early church was influenced by the Jewish heritage, it allowed for military conflict. Note in this regard John the Baptist's instruction to soldiers soliciting his counsel (cf. Luke 3:14).

If this perspective were modified by subsequent considerations, the followers of Jesus might have been more disposed to nonresistance. For instance, Christians would have found it impossible to take the religious vows required of Roman conscripts. Insofar as they took advantage of the Pax Romana, without rendering service in return, they were vulnerable to criticism.

With the conversion of the emptor Constantine to Christianity and the subsequent Constantinian Settlement of 313, the situation shifted dramatically. As a result, the number of Christian soldiers increased steadily. ...Christians realized that by living in the world they could no longer avoid responsibility for the world. A peaceful domestic and international order benefitted Christians as well as non-Christians. And an inevitable dimension of that order was the necessity of restraining unjust violence through the use of violence, whether domestically by the police force or internationally through soldiers.85

In 1905 Pope Urban II convened the Council of Clermont, meant to reform the church and enforce the church brokered peace. Meanwhile, the Seljuk Turks threatened the Byzantine Empire with extinction. The latter appealed to Rome for military assistance. "Urban saw an opportunity to unite the West, to heal the East-West schism, to elevate the papacy, and to wrest the entire holy land from the control of the Muslims."86 Consequently, it would serve both domestic and international purposes.

There was already enthusiastic support for the venture. Pilgrimage to the holy land had come to play a significant role in Christian piety. Access now became increasingly difficult due to an unsympathetic Muslim administration. Emotions ran high. Before an official Crusade could be launched, large groups of pilgrims began their long trek to the land of their faith's birth. Many pillaged along the way.

Economic factors were a prime factor. The Muslim advance had seriously disrupted commercial activity in the East, adversely impacting the viability of the Roman infrastructure.

In large measure, the Crusades were an exercise in futility. Its victories were selective and short-lived.

As a final example of the holy war, the term Jihad means struggle or militancy. Initially, it concerns the struggle against evil within. It extends to lands, peoples, and powers not yet subservient to Muslim control. It is not an exclusive reference to overt warfare, but embraces all such social and political means as can contribute to the conquest.

According to Muslim thought, the world is divided into two spheres of influence: the Dar al-Islam–he abode of peace, and the Dar al-Harb–the contrasting abode of war. It is incumbent upon all Muslim to answer any legally valid summons to war against the infidels. As one might surmise, it is often difficult to determine when a summons is valid or not.

Moreover, one is obligated not to allow territory which has been freed to return to its original state. In keeping with this injunction, conversion to another faith is punishable by death, as is the effort to convert a Muslim. Conversely, those who give their lives in the struggle are guaranteed paradise.

People of the Book (Jews and Christians) may be allowed to continue their religious practices providing they assume a subservient role. As such, they were regarded as "second-class citizens" and constrained to behave in such a way as not to offend Moslem susceptibility. They must not attempt to proselytize among Moslems, nor could their men marry Moslem women. They were looked down as "dhimmis," as protégées and had to pay a personal toll, a "djiziah."87

They were subject to various indignities, such as being required to wear distinctive clothing, and prohibited from riding in the middle of the road–since this might result in their looking down on Muslims.

From the pacifistic tradition, the notion of a holy war makes no sense whatsoever. Qualifications aside, war runs counter to religious piety. It is categorically sinful and reprehensible.

From a just war perspective, the idea of a holy war would seem to confuse ends and means. While the means employed may be legitimate, they are plagued by extenuating circumstances. For instance, when civilians are killed in saturation bombing–as during World War II.

From a holy war point of view, the pacifist appears irresponsible. If a Muslim, he is obligated to become engaged in the struggle against evil. As noted above, this extends from the struggle against evil within to the social and political arena. Others are expected to cooperate.

This recalls an instance when another Christian and I were discussing religious matters with four Muslims. These included a religious judge, retired university professor, an instructor, and a business man. I did not know what direction the discussion might take.

"Now concerning the doctrine of the Trinity," the retired professor began. "I do not think this should concern us. Of course, I cannot accept the Christian dogma, but I do not find the idea of plurality within the Godhead objectionable. I suggest that we can on with some more critical concern."

Silence marked our approval.

After that, he continued: "You Christians say that if someone strikes you on one cheek, you should turn the other cheek to him. We Muslims say that if someone should strike you, strike him harder. It will be good for him, and good for you as well." Thus began a spirited interchange concerning what Jesus meant by enjoining his disciples to turn the other cheek, and our religious obligations concerning the struggle against evil.

In turn, the just war theory appeared faulted from the perspective of those committed to Jihad by its notable lack of religious orientation. In greater detail, it failed to recognize that man's chief aim is to glorify God, or that we are engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Man's chief aim is to glorify God. It is not to accumulate possessions, since we are stewards of life in all its ramifications. It is not for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, which qualifies as idolatry.

We are engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Paul admonishes readers, "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:11-12).

In retrospect, it would appear that the just war option is the more mediating position. The pacifist and holy war alternatives serve as polar opposites. As for the former, conflict is prohibited on the grounds of religious conviction. As for the latter, it is required for the same reason. Conversely, the just war advocate must live within approximate means to accomplish limited goals. Otherwise, we are again reminded, "All that good people need to do is nothing for evil to triumph."

I will touch in closing on a feature which seems to be overlooked in the consideration of war and peace: the war analogy. We noted this in the above context, where it was used concerning spiritual conflict. As such, it constitutes what might be described as a favorable analogy.

In contrast, God depicts faithless Israel as an adulterous woman (cf. Hosea 1:2). It was for this reason that he instructed Hosea to restore his wife, as a dramatic representation of God's reaching out to his wayward people. Thus are we are alerted to the fact that there are both favorable and unfavorable analogies–which likely reflect the general perspective on their respective practices.


Nine eleven is one of those cryptic references that as a rule needs no explanation. It brings to mind the Trade Towers billowing smoke, the lives lost in the conflagration, and the heroic efforts of the rescue workers. It also incites in most Americans a surge of patriotism. It remains the most conspicuous example of international terrorism. Since it would appear obvious that terrorism will not simply go away, it remains for us to learn how best to cope with it.

Terrorism can be defined as violence meant to promote social and political change. It has come to especially come to apply to purposely inflicted civilian casualties. As an example, the detonation of a bomb in a crowed restaurant or shopping district. These are sometimes identified as soft targets, in contrast to the more dangerous assault on a military or otherwise secure installation. Recall that this is violation of the just war theory.

Terrorism in one sense or another is decidedly not a new phenomenon. For instance, the Jewish Sicari sought to intimidate those compromising with the Roman occupation. Their favorite weapon was the sica, a short dagger, which they used to execute those deemed apostate. Then, in addition, to warn others not to yield to the temptation. Such killings usually occurred during daylight and in public for maximum effectiveness.

The Muslim Assassins provide another illustration. They, too, were given to stabbing their victims in broad daylight–before witnesses counted upon to spread the report of what had transpired. Their executions were often carried out on holy days, a tactic meant to affirm their religious zeal, and receive greater notoriety. Like some of the more recent terrorists, they supposed the sacrifice of their lives would guarantee their entrance into paradise.

Sacrifice was also a feature of the killings carried out by the Thugees, an Indian religious cult that ritually strangled their victims. The latter were usually travelers chosen at random. Their death was considered an offering to the Hindu goddess of terror and destruction, Kali. In this instance, however, the purpose was to terrify the victim rather than influence change in the social order. It is estimated that over the intervening centuries, the Thugees (who have bequeathed us the term "thug") were accountable for approximately one million deaths.

"The English word 'terrorism' comes from the regime de la terreau that prevailed in France from 1793-1794. Originally an instrument of the state, the regime was designed to consolidate the power of the newly-installed revolutionary government, protecting it from elements considered 'subversive.'"88 As viewed from an official perspective, it was thought a good thing. Such would not be shared by the estimated forty thousand persons who were executed by the guillotine.

Terrorism now influences events on the international stage to a degree in excess of any previous time. This is largely due to the attacks of September 2001. "Since then, in the United states at least, terrorism has largely been equated to the threat posed by al Qaeda–a threat inflamed not only by the spectacular and deadly nature of the Sept. 11 attacks themselves, but by the fear that future stirkes might be even more deadly and employ weapons of mass destruction."89

Two planes loaded with passengers collided with the twin trade towers, leading to their destruction. A third crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth in an open field in rural Pennsylvania. Its target is thought to have been in Washington, D.C., possibly the Capital or White House. Todd Beamer was one of the passengers who perished in its futile effort. He was a graduate of Wheaton College, on whose faculty I served for twenty-four years. While I did not know him personally, I have an understanding of and appreciation for the personal dynamic that motivates such person's thinking and behavior.

Beamer, age 32, was an Oracle Inc. executive at the time. Lesa Jefferson, a GTE supervisor, talked with him for about thirteen minutes before the plane went down. He informed her that he and his associates had decided not to be pawns in the hijacker's suicidal plot. He made her promise to call his wife and their two boys: three year old David and one year old Andrew.

Beamer confided that he and the others had decided to jump on the hijacker thought to be carrying a bomb. Jefferson could hear shouts and commotion. After that, Beamer asked her to have prayer with him. They recited the Twenty-Third Psalm together. It takes on fresh meaning in this context:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He dropped the phone, leaving the line open. The last thing Jefferson heard was his characteristic expression, "Let's roll."

"Just knowing that when the crisis came up he maintained the same character we all knew," he wife subsequently reflected, "it's a testament to what real faith means." Indeed!

"Each person who lives the life of faith is keenly aware of that 'great cloud of witnesses,' in this world and the next, whose influence shapes our lives" Marilee Melvin–Vice President for Alumni Relations, Wheaton College–aptly comments. "This compilation of devotionals written by Wheaton alumni, professors, and friends gives fresh testimony to God's grace today."90

One of the two entries I contributed to the volume concerned a poignant passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians. My commentary reads as follows:

One day a freshman student unexpectedly appeared at my office door. "Can I disturb you?" he hesitantly inquired. "No, you cannot," I replied, adding after a moment's pause, "You cannot disturb me, because you are the reason I am here." A broad grin bathed his face, as he draped himself over an uncomfortable chair for an extended visit. Such occasions are, as a rule, remembered with pleasure. Sometimes we were able to work through a pressing problem. Now and then, a life ministry came into focus. More times than not, they provided a time for fellowship and mutual encouragement. Paul wrote to the Philippians: "I thank my God every time I remember you" (1:3). He recognized God's providential purpose in his association with others, and returned thanks to God for them. The apostle continued: "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel." My reflections of virtually a quarter of a century at Wheaton College are of similar nature. Even so, I have never been more impressed with the Wheaton enterprise than in viewing alumni serving around the world, often in strategic places with marked excellence. When it occurs to me that I may have played some small role in their preparation, I feel singularly rewarded. I should like to use this opportunity to express sincere thanks to so many Wheaton alumni who have remained faithful to the Wheaton motto, "For Christ and His Kingdom." Thank you for keep the flame burning. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that Christian fellowship resembles a bonus: to be in Christ is quite sufficient; fellowship is something over and above. So it is with the Wheaton connection, a generous bonus that becomes richer with the passing of time. It is an occasion for giving thanks to God and rejoicing in others.91

Todd Beamer would have readily recognized the subtle themes resonating in the text, while those unfamiliar with the Wheaton situation should be able to recognize its general thrust.

In particular, For Christ and His Kingdom implies a comprehensive world and life view–resulting in social engagement. A world view provides a context in which to interpret events; and in this regard, to render a plausible explanation for factors not subject to precise investigation. As for the latter, such questions as concerns life after death, and the origin of evil.

Recent studies have suggested that relatively few persons have a well refined world view. This results in compartmentalization, inconsistency, and ineffectiveness. The alternative requires thoughtful input, and continued attention.

 "When we ask about the ethics of Jesus, we must first ask about the center of his message, which makes the proclamation and realization of God's will comprehensible and imperative. The the message of the imminent coming of the kingdom..., marking as eschatological epoch."92 It is in this context that we should understand the above reference to social engagement. In brief, the Christian is to cultivate Jesus' example in life and deed.

A mandate of such breadth precludes any simplistic solution to complex issues. This realization, in turn, encourages us to explore further illustrative developments in the wake of the 9/11 episode. As an example, the National Guard has increasingly been adapted to homeland security. This appears more in keeping with its original mission, and before it was called upon to compensate for shortfalls in the military's overseas deployment. "A milestone was reached in 2000 with the deployment of the National Guard's 49th Armored Division from Texas to command the U.S. contingent of the Bosnian peacekeeping force–the first time any Guard formation had assumed such a responsibility."93

As a matter of record, the Guard had prior to 9/11 begun the process of restructuring its units to play a more active role in homeland security. In the light of 9/11, the process took on considerably greater urgency. Under the revised plan, a number of heavily armored and mechanized brigades would be converted to motorized infantry. In military jargon, they would become Mobile Light Brigades. These would be focused on the low end of the combat spectrum, ranging from homeland security to higher intensity conflict.

The second initiative concerns the expanding of engineer, chemical, and military police forces. It is anticipated that this can be accomplished by not eliminating units scheduled to disband, and/or forming new units. For instance, ten new companies of military police would be added between 2002 and 2007, with a total complement of 1800 personnel.

In summary, the Army National Guard has realigned its force structure somewhat to face the new demands of the war on terror. The Guard has made an intelligent move in re-equipping of heavy units with lighter vehicles to fit them for a motorized infantry role. ...For the future, most indications point toward the Guard slowly assuming homeland security as one of its primary roles, of roughly equal emphasis with additional war-fighting forces for conflicts abroad.94

Should its responsibilities for homeland security substantially increase, "there will be no prospect for reinforcement for the active Army even if direly needed."

Along a different line, it is incumbent on us to settle on language that accurately reflects the current state of affairs. As an example, the American involvement incorporates a mix of lower combat, lower risk activity; and a higher combat, higher risk peace enforcement. "This distinction is important because such a mix will see more U.S. troops killed than would occur from the keeping the peace alone. As such, the tendency among the media and policy makers to call virtually all military actions in Iraq 'peacekeeping' must be corrected if Americans are to form realistic expectations about the casualty rate there."95

Gen. Charles Krulak, Marine Corps Commandant from 1995-1999, coined as a phrase meant to describe such multi-purpose engagement: a three-block war. In particular, it was intended to embrace a spectrum of operations: from humanitarian missions, through peacekeeping and peace enforcement actions, to full-blown combat–possibly within the area of three urban blocks. In order to succeed, the force deployed must be able to effectively make the transition from one phase to another, while accenting its peace associated responsibilities.

The area of operations between peacekeeping and peace enforcement is well described as the gray zone. There is no neat division that allows for precise application. Therefore, one must anticipate the necessity to be alert to both aspects in an extended deployment.

President Bush was correct when he announced that the major combat operations in Iraq were concluded. He was also correct in saying that we must expect a continued loss of life in pursuit of national goals. Those who supposed that the end of major combat operations precluded substantial casualties were unfortunately not correct, given the reality of a three-block conflict.

Nor is the issue today precisely the same as at the time the decision was made to fight a preemptive war. We must now take into consideration the likely results should we withdraw too hastily or continue beyond a preferable time for disengagement.

Nor can we afford to think in terms of Iraq alone. What transpires in Iraq has a significant bearing on the entire Middle-East. Then, in turn, on international affairs around the world.

American international policy is governed by a combination of humanitarian concern and national interest. These jostle around for favorable consideration.

We should not assume that what we perceive as in our national interest is necessarily compatible with what is good for other nation states. Initially, our perceptions may be misleading. In addition, what serves one conglomerate may do a disservice to another. All things considered, there is some justification to thinking in terms of a global community.

In any case, 9/11 has greatly changed life from how we formerly experienced it. There is no prospect of things returning to the way they were. In this connection, Christians are encouraged to live toward the future. Tomorrow is a new day, with its distinctive challenges and opportunities. In the memorable lyrics of Charles Wesley, "To serve this present age, my calling to fulfil; O may it all my powers engage, to do my Master's will."

Freedom from Religion

One is reminded of Johnny Hart's comic strip B.C., wherein he depicts a caveman inscribing a wood tablet with the question: "Is it true that, over there, you have freedom of religion?" He throws the tablet into the ocean, and watches the tide carry it away. Finally, it comes floating back with the response: "Yes–and if the hotshots in the black robes have their way, we'll soon be free of it altogether." William Watkins concurs, "Through their judicial decisions, black-robed judges have put religion in serious trouble in the land of the free."96 If there is something worse than the tyranny of the majority, it is likely the tyranny of the minority.

"At the core of the religious impulse is a sense of awe, an attitude of bewilderment, a feeling that reality is more amazing than everyday scientific reasoning can comprehend. Wonderstruck, we humbly acknowledge our limits and accept that which we cannot explain."97 David Myers elaborates on the above in terms of the mystery of the ordinary.

"There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand," the sage illustrates: "the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of man with a maiden" (Prov. 30:18). These alike reflect a remarkable design.

Once caught up in the awe of the ordinary, we find ourselves at the threshold of religious experience. It is said to sense God's presence, resulting in awe and reverence. C. S. Lewis coached his readers to initially imagine a tiger in the next room. After that, a ghost in the same room. Finally, a Spirit who mediates life in all its dimensions.

The moral impetus is often associated with religion. As an example, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:26-27). In particular, one can go through the ritual of worship thoughtlessly and without commitment, but the evidence of one's devotion lies with the willingness to obey God's ways as revealed.

The assault on religion is pressed on two fronts: with what has sometimes been called the deification of man, and the effort to eliminate religion from the public arena. I will consider these separately, although they are inexorably linked.

The deification of man. The Enlightenment provides a credible point for departure. The term Enlightenment came to signify the period of European history from the close of the Thirty Years War (1648) to the French Revolution (1789 and following). It was the age which brought together the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century to usher in the so-called Modern Age.

More than anything else the Enlightenment marked a revolt against authority, and the emergence of individual reason and conscience as the primary arbiter of truth and action. While every age has produced those who challenged the accepted authorities of their day, the Enlightenment enthroned autonomy as if its patron saint.

This had the effect of jettisoning biblical authority. Man was free to accept or reject biblical teaching, according to whether or not it suited him. Others enjoyed a similar privilege, thus voiding any concept of absolute truth.

Ecclesiastical tradition was likewise rejected. The wisdom of the ages appeared to be an encumbrance to forging a brave, new world. In retrospect, a spirit of naivete plagued the endeavor. This was especially evident in the realm of morality.

Man seemed enamored with playing God. He thus gave partial and potentially misleading insights much more credence than they realistically deserved. He might better have taken into consideration, "The more we know, the more we realize that we do not know."

In the course of time, the first of several humanist manifestos was published; the year was 1933. An excerpt from its preface reads, "The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes."

Representative of its contents,

Sixth: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of "new thought".

Seventh: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation... .

The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.

Initially, it would appear that the advocates of humanist thought are content with what was identified above as the mystery of the ordinary. Given this perspective, they opt to pause at the threshold of religion as associated with the presence of God. In this manner, they acknowledge no Spirit who guides us into the fullness of life.

Fifteenth and Last: We assert that humanism will:

(a) affirm life rather than deny it;
(b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and
(c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.

If, in fact, man is the master of his own destiny.

In this and countless other ways, the stage was set for the exclusion of religion from public affairs. It is to this development that next we turn our attention.

Religion and the public arena. "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The Supreme Court has repeatedly been called upon to interpret the meaning of these sixteen words. The results have been less than encouraging.

Stephen Monsma contends that the problem lies with two invalid assumptions: that "the religion provisions of the First Amendment should be read as two distinct clauses with two distinct objectives, rather than one provision with one objective; and that governmental neutrality toward all religions and between religion and nonreligion is achieved if a wall of separation is maintained between church and state."98 Whether expressed in this or some other fashion, his analysis seems fundamentally sound.

As for the first complaint, it would appear that the no establishment of religion, and free exercise of religion clauses should be maintained in constructive tension. If we give deference to the no establishment clause, it results in the avoidance of religion; if to the free exercise of religion, then to restrain legitimate public concerns–such as compulsory vaccinations.

As for the second complaint, we are reminded of the much heralded metaphor concerning a wall of separation between church and state. In brief, it is a misleading metaphor, since such was assuredly not the intent of the founding fathers.

Michael Novak offers as a provocative alternative,

On a January day some years ago the author (Monsma) stood in a World War II military cemetery for 4,000 slain Americans just outside Florence, Italy. Although this neat, restful, and silence-inducing site is maintained by the U.S. government, these graves are not individually marked by a uniform secular symbol. On the contrary, since most of the U.S. soldiers who died in World War II belonged either to the Christian or the Jewish faith, the grave of virtually every soldier is marked by a cross or a Star of David.99

Whether in life or death, the purpose ought not to be to obscure our religious commitments, but to accommodate them. Monsma coins in this connection the designation positive neutrality.

The ideal notwithstanding, we have courted one establishment after another. At first, it might be described as a Protestant establishment. I recall my teacher reading a selection from the Psalter, thought acceptable to both Jews and Christians. So far as I can recall, there were only nominal Christians in attendance. Moreover, the practice reflected the distinctive Protestant appeal to sola Scriptura. The alienation felt by dissenting groups contributed to the parochial school movement, and after school religious instruction in the Jewish community.

A secular establishment would eventually supplant its predecessor. In this connection, If the school's teachings are offensive to you because you are gay or black or disabled the chances are that the school will at least give you a hearing and, if it does not, that many liberals will flock to your side and you will find a sympathetic ear in the media. But if you do not like the way the school talks about religion, or if you believe that the school is inciting your children to abandon their religion, you will probably find that the media mock you, the liberal establishment will announce that you are engaged in censorship, and the courts will toss you out on your ear.100

Not necessarily in every instance, but often enough so that you come to realize that secular ideology has monopolized the public school enterprise.

This, in turn, recalls a comment made by Paul Tillich some years ago. As paraphrased, he affirmed: "Whenever human ideals replace religious convictions, they function as a religion." Thus in attempting to exclude all religions, the effect is to promote one to the exclusion of all others.

As an example, the promotion of safe sex takes on the value otherwise assigned to some religious tenet. That is, it is simply true. Conversely, studies seem to suggest that safe sex instruction has little effect in reducing pregnancy–presumably because it encourages increased sexual activity. Moreover, it increases the frequency of sexually transmitted diseases. Meanwhile, abstinence programs are often discouraged for fear that they will erode the dogma of political correctness.

Religious cleansing is a term sometimes used to describe the current assault on religion in the public arena. Not that persons are prohibited from practicing religion in their homes and places of worship, but as a vital aspect of living out their faith in society. They venture forth under duress.

In defense of the secular establishment, a spokesperson of the American Civil Liberties Union recently objected to references to God in the public school, "since children are so impressionable." This would not seem a compelling reason for eliminating God from the classroom, unless one supposes that religion constitutes a negative influence. Then, too, it fails to apply the criterion to other plausibly more objectionable topics.

I have heard it said, "If everything else fails, read the instructions." Qualifications aside, the Declaration of Independence would seem to qualify as a prime example. Herein we discover these pertinent words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all man are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

These truths are self-evident in the sense that they may be intuited, known with certainty, and requiring no additional means of authentication. This could not be said of those who indulge a hierarchical system–wherein some are born to privilege. Consequently, it is perhaps employed with apologetic intent.

"An 'unalienable' right was a natural right embedded in the created order itself, which came from the hand of God. This means that no created entity, human or otherwise, can grant these rights or destroy them. Their existence and authority are dependent on God, not man."101 These, consequently, constitute a sacred trust–that requires continued vigilance.

"Historians are divided over whether the God of the Declaration should be identified with Christian theism or an Enlightenment form of deism. But for the purposes of the argument here, it really does not matter. The fact is that the Declaration unequivocally regards the existence of a deity as a given."102 It would, therefore, seem proper to acknowledge this fact on appropriate occasions in the course of public affairs.

Nor is it adequate to recall the words of our founding fathers simply as matter of record, as legitimate as that may be. It is rather that we do so as a means to reaffirm our continuity with the founding principles. Our identity and dynamic as a people is critically at stake.

Moreover, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of persons who declared their independence in 1776 were of Christian persuasion. Puritanism alone provided the moral and religious background of an estimated seventy-five percent of the people. So regardless of the ambiguity that may have existed concerning the avowal of God, it was viewed essentially in Judeo-Christian terms.

As noted in an earlier context, the initial unalienable right safeguarded life. The remaining rights, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, were an extension. Once formulated as a triad, the disregard for one right eroded that of all.

The authority to govern was meant to be derived from the consent of the governed.

Democracy does not guarantee good results, but it does keep things open. It does provide channels for criticism and for change. Its people are not saints, but they are challenged by the opportunities and responsibilities of self-government. Indeed, the most corrupt periods in the histories of democratic societies seem also to be those times when people are least interested in exercising their opportunities and responsibilities.103

So, in conclusion, our need is not for freedom from but of religion. It will not be served by theophobia (the fear of God). It is rather promoted by reflection on a benevolent Benefactor.

Struggle for Survival

"More than one third of the world goes to bed hungry each night. Ten thousand people starve to death each day. Another two billion are malnourished. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 460 million people are permanently hungry, almost half of these being children."104 Meanwhile, another third of the world live in relative affluence. We need to work toward long term solutions, rather than settling for a band-aid approach to this relentless problem.

Good intentions are not adequate. We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought that if we passed laws to raise their wages and lower their rent; if we gave generously to help support mothers without husbands and children without fathers, we could aid the poor in their flight from poverty and alleviate much of their distress while they were still in it. We were wrong.105

First, we thought if we passed wages for the lowest paid workers, we would increase their income and help them escape from poverty. We overlooked the fact that the lowest paid persons are as a rule the least trained, and therefore least wanted. By artificially raising their wages, we made them even less desirable.

We also ignored the fact that persons work not only for their employer, but indirectly for the consumer. Since the latter is not disposed to purchase overpriced products, this can have the effect of driving entrepreneurs out of business. As a result, all involved suffer.

In more graphic terms, one cannot climb the ladder of success without first getting on it. The challenge consists in first getting persons on the ladder, and then helping them ascend it. We defeat our purpose by making it more difficult, if not impossible, to secure a position commensurate with their training. Pious platitudes will not compensate.

Second, we thought that by passing laws holding down the costs of urban housing, we would make many more inexpensive lodgings available to those struggling to escape the grasp of poverty. We forgot that the purchase price for the renter coincides with the selling price of the owner. The more attractive it is for the former, the less attractive for the latter.

When landlords are forced to reduce their rents in the face of burgeoning costs, they allocate their investments in other ways.

For example, when rent-control ceilings make it unprofitable for landlords to rent their apartments, they often sell those apartments as condominiums, and thus escape real estate taxes and the high cost of urban upkeep.

Because the supply of condominiums then increases, their selling price tends to go down, thereby aiding wealthy urban dwellers, the only one who can afford to purchase them.106

In order to prevent this from happening, we sometimes pass legislation prohibiting condominium conversion. This can prove counterproductive for a number of reasons. For instance, the landlords seek unreported compensation from their clients, defer maintenance costs, and/or get out of the housing business altogether.

Third, we thought that by providing for the needs of mothers with illegitimate children, we would ease the burden for children without fathers, and mothers without husbands. We failed to take into consideration the hazard of encouraging the situation we meant to alleviate. By making illegitimate children a credential for financial assistance, we intensified the problem.

Tragically, the more illegitimate children a woman bears, the more she becomes mired in poverty. In addition, the more likely that she will bequeath her ill-conceived legacy to subsequent generations. As often noted, "Poverty breeds poverty."

Another unintended consequence of our efforts to aid single mothers and their children is that the husband becomes a liability. Welfare forces him from the home or into hiding. Such is calculated to result in disaster.

Fourth, we thought that we were simply aiding those in need. We failed to comprehend the complex character of the problem we attempted to address or the resources readily available. As for the former, poverty is usually the result of a combination of contributing factors: such as inadequate training, ill health, and a floundering work ethic–differing in mix from one person to another.

As for the latter, persons can as a rule help improve their situation; if in no other way, through careful management of limited resources. Meanwhile, there are public and private relief agencies, coupled with individual benefactors.

Finally, as a result of our indiscriminate giving, we create a culture of dependency.

By failing to distinguish the deserving poor from the undeserving, we told the economically disadvantaged that the diligent application of their private means to the alleviation of their personal distress is either unimportant or ineffective. ...This message, coupled with the notion that the poor are poor because of the perverse machinations of the rich leads (them) to conclude that they are not responsible either for their poverty or their extrication from it.107

In concise terms, the constructive alternative draws from John F. Kennedy's memorable exhortation from his inaugural address, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country." Such is calculated to foster a spirit of generosity, among both the affluent and poor. Then, in the process, to firm up the integrity and dignity of all.

All things considered, I am reminded of Abraham Maslow's discussion of the hierarchy of needs. Survival (life) constitutes the basic need. A friend would recall from time to time, "If we do not eat, we will starve." Given his appreciation for food, starving would not seem likely.

It is not surprising that the need for survival would take precedence under minimal conditions. Such as when it becomes necessary to spend much of the day gleaning from the field. Then, too, to share one's meager resources with those unable to fend for themselves.

Ascending the hierarchy of needs, safety and security next bid for our attention. These are meant to protect us from a sometimes hostile environment, whether construed in physical or social terms. Mankind is vulnerable to the chaos that threatens to engulf it.

According to conventional wisdom, "Some order is better than none." Language is a prime example of our effort to bring order out of chaos. It allows us to draw on our legacy from the past, anticipate likely developments, and promote creative endeavor.

We have considered two aspects of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and three remain. First, there is the need to belong and experience affection. The Enlightenment tradition does us a disservice in this connection, since it put a one-sided emphasis on the individual–at the expense to our reliance on community. We are not simply one apart from others, but one among others.

Maslow observes that we continue to downplay the importance of one's territory, clan, and associates. In this regard, persons need to love and be loved. This constitutes a difficult but nonetheless attainable goal. It is something we can approximate but never perfect.

Second, there are the needs associated with esteem. This involves the approval of others. More in particular, the approval of significant others. In the early years, especially the approval of parents. In due time, that of our school instructors. Throughout, the approval of our peers.

Moreover, we need self-respect. It is important for us to realize that we have made a conscientious effort to do what is right. Even if this opinion is not shared by others, since they must judge by superficial impressions.

Finally, there is the need for self-actualization. "A musician must make music," Maslow concludes, "an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature."108 In other words, he must actualize his potential.

In religious terms, this is closely associated with one's calling. Some are called to one thing, and some to another. All are called upon to reach their potential in the service of others.

Christians are called to a holistic ministry. It is one that takes into consideration a full range of human needs. "We can help the poor," Michael Bowman concludes, "but we must do so as good, rather than dangerous, Samaritans." He supposes this initially requires that we:

  1. Put welfare programs in the hands of contributors, not recipients or bureaucrats.
  2. Redefine poverty.
  3. Re-educate the politicians and the poor.
  4. (Recognize that) no perfect solutions are possible.
  5. (Moreover, realize that) abundance can be wrenched from scarcity only by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.109

Put welfare programs in the hands of contributors. Recipients and their political patrons have conspired to divert public funds in increasingly large amounts to self-serving ends. This can be seen in viewing welfare as an entitlement. Preferable is the notion of welfare as charity.

Bauman suggests that increased discretion over charitable gifts will lead to better accountability. This might better be accomplished by giving tax credits for documented charity, rather than blanket provision. It would hopefully encourage government programs to be more effective, efficient, and less expensive.

Redefine poverty. Nearly forty percent of those Americans defined as poor own their own homes, accommodations with more living space than enjoyed by most middle-class Europeans. Nearly seventy percent of American poverty stricken families own at least one automobile.

In the light of such statistics, Bauman urges that the term poor should retain its earlier connotation: concerning the lack of food, shelter, and/or clothing. "And while we are engaged in the task of redefining," he pointedly adds, "we ought to remind ourselves that the definition of compassion is not increased control of private income by government."

Re-educate the politicians and the poor. As for the politicians, they are best reminded that to promote the general welfare is not the same as promoting welfare generally. They should not to think in terms of dollars alone, but morality and accountability.

As for the poor, they should be assured that there is no shame to being poor. The shame derives from being indolent. Moreover, in welcoming welfare while refusing honest work thought demeaning.

Recognizing that no perfect solutions are possible. "The poor you will always have with you," Jesus observed (Matt. 26:11). It was not his intent to disparage meeting the needs of the impoverished. He does imply that this should not keep us from addressing other legitimate concerns.

Even though poverty cannot be eradicated, it can be ameliorated. It is to this end that persons ought to strive, both individually and collectively.

Realizing that abundance can be wrenched from scarcity only by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. In this connection, ministering to the full range of their needs–as outlined above. So also by rejecting some simplistic solution to what is a complex and continuing problem.

This will require that we listen attentively to what persons have to say, and to qualify our preconceptions as necessary. It will necessitate that we continue our efforts, even when the results seem discouraging. It should encourage us to draw on the spiritual resources available to the wise. In this regard, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isa. 40:30-31).

"It is not enough to talk the talk," we are cautioned, "but to walk the walk." With such in mind, I recall A Statement of Intent drawn up some years ago, and that remains a challenge for us today. Several representative excerpts, and succinct commentary will suffice.

We are deeply disturbed by the human suffering present in the agonizing realities of hunger, malnutrition, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, deprivation and starvation. It is said that one is known by the company he keeps. Note, in this regard, those painful realities associated with hunger and starvation.

We are deeply disturbed by the inability or unwillingness of the governments of the world to grapple with this injustice and tragedy. These seem more often concerned over the struggle for power and preference. Conversely, the Christian is called upon to promote righteousness and justice.

We recognize that the Bible teaches that the mission of the church includes the proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of its relevance by working for community development and social change. In this manner, to proclaim the good news by word and deed.

Finally we resolve to reconsider the use of the resources which God has given us, in order that such resources may contribute more effectively to God's kingdom and righteousness, love and justice.110 Since we are entrusted with such resources as we enjoy, and will give account of how we have managed. Thus can we ease the burden of some, and thereby improve the lot of all.

The Family

"In many ways, the family is the most conspicuous field of conflict in the culture war. Some would argue that it is the decisive battleground. The public debate over the status of women, the moral legitimacy of abortion, ...and so on, prominently fill the headlines of the nation's newspaper, magazines, and intellectual journals."111 It would appear that the welfare of the family ought to be at the top of our social agenda, thereby conditioning how we look at related issues.

Initially, it is incumbent that we reflect on the historical legacy of the family. In this regard, Raphael Patai observes that the Middle Eastern family of yesterday and in large measure today is characterized by six traits. It is extended, patrilineal, patrilocal, patriarchal, endogamous, and occasionally polygynous.112 It is extended. It is headed by an elderly man, and embraces his wife (or wives), unmarried daughters, sons, and the wives and children of these sons.

The family may compromise a dozen or more members. They live together in one house (or tent) or in adjoining houses. All property is held in common, and administered by its head. The family functions as an economic unit. The men work together in joint ventures, such as animal husbandry, agriculture, artisanship, or business. Expenses are defrayed from the common income.

It is patrilineal. The family member is associated with his or her father's family, rather than that of the mother. According to an Arab proverb, "The mother is like a vessel of oil that is emptied."

Since the social groupings larger than the family are characteristically made up of extended families, every person remains a member of the larger social group to which his or her father belongs. So it is with the clan and tribe. In more recent times, it may carry over into the political party.

It is patrilocal. Newly married couples take up residence with or in the vicinity of the bridegroom's father. As a result, brothers usually live together, as part of the father's extended family. Married sisters live separately from their parents, and one another, with the extended families of their husbands.

As late as 1944, a study concerning a Palestinian Muslim village found that only one-third of the sons took up residence away from their parents' home. So are we reminded, "Old ways die hard." Even then they often remain as a nostalgic reminder of a preferred way of life.

It is patriarchal. The father is the titular head of the family. In antiquity, he had jurisdiction over life and death, and well as less consequential matters. Quite recently, a woman was executed because of her conversion to Christianity. The authorities opted not to intervene, since it was deemed a family matter.

Consequently, children were obligated to conform to the wishes of the family elder. In one instance that inadvertently came to my attention, a young man of perhaps thirty years of age wanted to emigrate from Palestine to Canada. When his father heard of his plans, he strictly forbad it. His son was devastated by the prohibition, but did not challenge it.

It is endogamous. There is a preference for marriage within a relatively narrow circle of associates. In theory, the Koran allows for marriage between any Muslim man and woman. "Marry not women who are idolaters, until they believe...and give not women who believe in marriage to the idolaters until they believe... ." (2:200).

In practice, "it can be stated that each social group in the Middle East tends to behave as an endogamous unit. Marriage outside one's own group is frowned upon, discouraged, forbidden, and not infrequently severely punished, occasionally even with the death penalty." These restrictions are characteristically enforced more rigorously with women than men. It is assumed that common values provide for stable families.

It is occasionally polygynous. According to Koranic law, a man can be simultaneously married to no more than four wives (4:3). In addition to marriage, there is the provision for concubinage–which allows the man to expand his sexual relationships without inhibition. Large harems were the exception in antiquity, and much less so today.

Intricate laws were established to regulate the polygynous relationship. The husband was obligated to be equally available to each of his wives, or provide compensation if not. The polygynous union was fraught with difficulties, and became increasingly restricted to the affluent.

The appeal for monogamy was routed in the biblical precedent, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). It may seem curious that the man is said to leave his father and mother, while in practice it is the wife who takes leave. However, the reference is more likely to emotional detachment. According to a sage saying, "A son is a son till he gets him a wife, a daughter is a daughter all her life."

When Christianity was still a fledgling movement, the pax Romana was in full sway. The Romans promoted marriage as a valid social contract. Adultery was a common practice, as was homosexuality and pedophilia. Prostitution was exercised as a matter of course, and in connection with religious ritual.

Abortion and infanticide were widely practiced among all classes of Romans, both within and outside family households. The poor killed their children out of desperation, and the wealthy so not to fragment their assets. The practice became so extensive and detrimental, that toward the end of Rome's rule legislation was passed in an attempt to curb the killing and increase the birthrate.

Christianity derived from its Jewish antecedent, and vigorously promoted an alternative family ethic. This ethic advocated monogamy and sexual fidelity within the bonds of marriage. Conversely, it prohibited cohabitation, premarital and extra-marital sex, and limited the justifiable reasons for divorce. Husbands and wives were committed to one another in the bond of marriage until separated by death.

The new ethic greatly appreciated the value placed on human life. Children were to honor their parents; parents were to be sensitive to the concerns of their offsprings. Couples were to complement one another, through mutual submission and loving constraint. In ideal terms no doubt, but nonetheless as those to be emulated.

The family agenda had wider implications. It was seen as a divine means for the recovering society. "Christians maintained that all human beings were descendants from one set of parents... . Over time, however, their descendants grew apart, becoming cold, even hostile toward one another. ...Now (via marriage) they are one, sharing the same path. Marriage became the blood that binds."113

The emigrants from Europe brought their family ethic with them. Families were relatively large in colonial America. The first U.S. Census, taken in 1790, reported the average size of American households as 5.8 people. It was not uncommon to find families with five to ten children. Benjamin Franklin came from a family with seventeen siblings.

Parents zealously nurtured their children. Vocation often took the form of a family enterprise, in which parents and children shared obligations. When the parents became ill or too elderly to work, their children took care of them.

As for legal considerations, husbands were responsible for the support of their wives, and the debts incurred by them. Wives enjoyed inheritance rights. Husbands were prohibited from abusing their spouses. Divorce was quite rare.

Early Americans recognized the family as the basic building block of society. In the home American children received moral and religious instruction, learned about the country's heritage and its laws, and most importantly, perhaps, were taught that their lives did not belong to them. Their first duty was to God, then second to their country, their third to their family, and their fourth to themselves.114

It bears repeating, their lives did not belong to themselves.

The situation has changed for the worse. "War of the Roses is...a tale told by a cynic–family friend and the husband's divorce lawyer–played by actor Danny DeVito, who offers sardonic commentary on the mad proceedings. ('What do you call five hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good beginning.')"115

The film describes the lengths to which two property-oppressed people will go to protect their sacred possessions. In the course of the film, they literally demolish their beautiful home, and themselves in the process. The popularity of the film may be due in part to the growing realization that divorce does not represent personal liberation, but a tragic failure to make something more worthwhile out of life.

It was once thought that, given love and support, children would readily rebound from family dissolution. It now appears that adverse effects often linger into their twenties and thirties, and in some instances for a lifetime. These include fear of commitment, lack of direction, and the feeling that one has little control over his or her life. Not only has divorce been made too readily available for trivial reasons, but promoted for its supposed benefits.

The family portrait increasingly reveals only two faces. In 1960, only thirteen percent of married women (ages 25 through 29) were childless. This had risen to twenty-nine percent by 1993. Stock excuses include dissatisfaction with traditional roles, preference for a more rewarding career, and peace of mind. Children are characterized as inconvenient, messy, and time-consuming.

The avoidance of child-rearing often runs deeper than the rationalizations meant to account for it.

Many moderns are too wrapped up in themselves, too self-infatuated, to have affection to spare for another human being. It is also a life-affirming act. Parenthood is an affirmation of a belief in the goodness of existence, of our love for life and the world around us. Valuing life, we symbolically declare our desire that humanity continue after us.116

Don Feder concludes that it constitutes a spiritual act.

Symbolism, as noted earlier, is significant. If for no other reason, the traditional family norm of parents and children is critical. So also is a heterosexual definition of marriage, since it models the goal of procreation. The model is not impaired by the death of one of the partners, since this is anticipated in the marriage vow "until death do us part." Nor is it substantially depreciated by persons who choose to remain single, because there are legitimate reasons for doing so.

J. Gordon Melton lists fifteen recent cultural developments that have impacted on the way we view sexuality and the family.117 I will paraphrase select instances, and add an abbreviated commentary. The acceleration of the onset of puberty, very early adolescent dating without chaperons, and exposure to explicit sexual scenes in mass media have introduced young people to their sexuality and forced them to early decisions concerning sexual matters. The current American culture is critically lacking of effective rites of passage. As a result, adolescents must learn to cope in a twilight zone between maturity and the dependency associated with childhood.

Were this not difficult enough, they are hounded by a sex oriented culture. It is one that removes sex from its normative association with procreation, and the appeal for commitment. Qualifications aside, it reduces sex to entertainment. Moreover, the family appears not only as unnecessary, but inhibiting. As expressed by one critic: "The family, historically, was a prison."

The inability of husbands to provide the financial resources necessary for the family has forced their spouses into the labor force, creating the child alone syndrome. The term necessity must be viewed in a qualified sense. While it is true that the economic situation may press both parents into contributing to the family income, it is often so that they may enjoy a standard of living to which they hope to become accustomed.

The child alone syndrome is not a figment of our imagination, in spite of the sequence of films that fantasize concerning it. Some innovative programs have been instituted to serve in lieu of a parent in residence. Examples include child care centers, and latchkey initiatives for after school hours.

Experiments in communal living in the 1960s and early 1970s encouraged alternative family arrangements. The best scenario is that these approximate the extended family model associated with the traditional family. For instance, it would provide a means for the more elderly to continue in a productive capacity, and to maintain their self-esteem.

The worst scenario is that these arrangements fail to meet the purposes for which they were intended. As an example, I recall an Israeli effort to supervise children largely apart from parental input. These experiments in communal living were soon modified, since they did not live up to expectation.

A growing emphasis upon individual freedom has challenged family and community ideals in social ethics. Lost in the shuffle of ethical priorities has been the realization that there can be no freedom from societal restraints that does not embrace freedom for the service of others. In other words, rights must be considered along with responsibilities.

It seems to me that the idealization of youth has contributed to the problem. Persons have in large measure lost the ability to age gracefully. In contrast, traditional society was more disposed to view the aging process as an accomplishment. In this connection, they emphasized life rather than subterfuge.


One additional cultural development will provide a convenient transition into the current topic. The rise of the feminist movement paved the way for new understandings of female and male roles which eschew the double standard previously practiced in sexual ethics and empower women to make independent decisions about their sexual behavior.118 In the process, we ought not to allow past injustices and present inequities to excuse vindictive discrimination.

In approaching this topic, it is difficult to distinguish truth from fiction. As a result, terms do not as a rule retain sufficient neutrality to be readily usable. It would appear that a prime exception is security. In antiquity, women were characteristically sheltered from the more threatening aspects of society.

Qualifications aside, this was considered a good thing. More traditional women tell me that there was more to be lost than gained in agitating for equal rights. The thought of women in the military comes across to them as demeaning and barbarous.

In any case, the system was subject to abuse and retribution. For instance, one of my West African students described a situation in which his elder brother had beaten his wife and driven her from their home. Even though younger siblings were to show excessive deference to their elder brother, he was called upon to join other adult male members of his extended family in chastising the offender. They took turns beating the wretch, while he passively submitted. "He will think a second time before he mistreats his wife again," my student observed the obvious.

If the family had not intervened, as it was expected that they should, the matter would have been taken up by the village elders. Should the latter fail to take action, the tribe might intervene. We find a comparable instance in the biblical account concerning the Levite and his concubine. The Levite complained, "They have raped my concubine and she died" (Judges 20:5). The tribes of Israel sent word to the people of Benjamin, "What about this awful crime that was committed among you? Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel."

However, the people of Benjamin would not listen to them. Warfare ensued, and the ranks of the Benjamin were greatly decimated. Moreover, the Israelites had vowed not to give their wives in marriage to the men of Benjamin. Lest the tribe cease to exist, it was decided to look for another source of women that might be appropriated. Welcome to the alien world of antiquity!

Traditional Athens had much in common. "A respectable Athenian woman was not permitted to leave her house unless she was accompanied by a trustworthy male escort, commonly a slave appointed by her husband. When the husband's male guests were present in his home, she was not permitted to eat or interact with them. She had to retire to her woman's quarters."119

Female infanticide far exceeded that of the male. In this regard, a baby girl was considered an economic liability. Conversely, the male child was thought to validate its mother's importance to the welfare and reputation of the extended family.

Discrimination began early in Athenian society. Unless a slave, boys were trained to read and write, and touch on a large range of subject matter. Pointedly, neither slaves nor girls were allowed this privilege.

The woman was not allowed to speak in public, since this was thought to be unbecoming to her. In this connection, the famed philosopher Aristotle observed, "Silence gives grace to woman."120

Women were not uncommonly portrayed in a negative manner. As an example, a chorus declares: "Evil of mind are they (women), and guileful of purpose, with impure hearts."121 This would suggest that women managed by way of subtle means, lacking a more overt way of addressing their social grievances.

Roman society also had a higher rate of female infanticide, a seeming index of subsequently deprivation. If from the privileged class, girls received some instruction in grammar and reading. However, there were many restrictions placed on them. As with their Athenian counterparts, wives were not permitted to eat with her husband's male associates.

As paterfamilias, the married man assumed authority over his children even when grown, including his grandchildren. He could chastise his wife and children as a matter of course. He could in the case of adultery take the life of his wife. If for some other reason, it was customary to have the consent of an extended family tribunal.

Rome's civic institutions were restricted to men. On one occasion, a group of women entered the Forum to protest the restrictions placed on them. The statesman Cato supposed they could as well have inquired of their husbands at home.

The essential equality of men and women in Hebrew thought is rooted in the biblical text, "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). If created alike in God's image, then deserving of equal dignity and respect. Consequently, infanticide was in all instances strictly forbidden.

The birthing and raising of children was commended. It was recalled that God had said, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). It was a mandate pointedly associated with divine blessing.

Marriage involved a relationship described as expressive of one flesh (cf. Gen. 2:24). "This does not denote merely the sexual union that follows marriage, or the children conceived in marriage, or even the spiritual and emotional relationship that it involves... . Rather it affirms that just as blood relations are one's flesh and bone, so marriage creates a similar kinship relationship between man and wife."122 Then, in turn, the beneficiary of participation in her husband's extended family.

Still, the domain of the woman was largely restricted to the home. Herein, the wife exercised considerable authority. So it was that one Jewish man recalls his mother saying, "When I want your opinion, I will tell you what it is." Moreover, a rabbi suggested that I confer with his wife concerning religious observance in the home, since she would be better informed.

However, men for the most part dominated public life. For instance, women were as a rule segregated in synagogue worship, where men were the prime participants.

Neither Jesus nor his apostles organized or promoted anything that approximated a women's rights movement. Conversely, the Christian fellowship provided a means for women to greatly enhance their social status. So it was that Paul appreciatively wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). It is estimated that women comprised in the vicinity of sixty percent of the early church's membership.

Christianity carried over something of its Jewish legacy. Especially was this true concerning the high value placed on human life–regardless of gender, the distinctive importance of woman in birthing and fostering life, and the need to provide a supportive social structure. Other legitimate concerns, such as for equal recompense for work rendered, may be thought of as derived from more basic considerations.

Christianity also expanded on its Jewish legacy. It came on the scene at a time when a cosmopolitan faith was desperately needed. The patron gods from antiquity no longer met the needs the populace. Not only did Christianity provide a sovereign deity, as did Judaism, but in terms of the life and teaching of Jesus. This, coupled with the report of his resurrection, seemed to offer the best of this world and that as yet to come.

The task continued, first in one connection and then another. As an example, the industrial age created a novel situation demanding a creative response. Charles Sheldon's In His Steps posed the provocative question "What would Jesus do?" It meant one thing for a newspaper publisher, struggling to make ends meet; it meant something different for an accomplished vocalist weighing how best to invest her life and considerable talents.

In metaphorical terms, "A lot of water has flowed under the bridge." Take the charge of sexual harassment. It is said to consist of such things as touching, suggestive remarks, verbal abuse, staring, demands for sexual favors, and assault. What kind of a look qualifies, and who is going to make the call?

Some women want to see men walking around in a perpetual state of terror, afraid to make eye contact, weighing each word before it's spoken, flattening themselves against a wall, lest shoulders brush inadvertently. It's the feminist way of punishing men for everything from diapers to date rape and establishing gender superiority.123

Feminism insists that women must liberate themselves from male bondage. As such, it appears as a variation of liberation theology–inasmuch as it is expressed in religious terms. As noted in an earlier context, liberation theology seizes on the exodus as a paradigm. However, it ignores that the exodus was essentially a religious contest between Yahweh and the Egyptian pantheon–substituting a struggle of social and political nature.

Several characteristics emerge. First, the alleged forces of oppression are demonized. They are vilified for all that has gone wrong. They are not given opportunity to defend themselves. Their voices are shouted down.

Second, the oppressed are exonerated. For all practical purposes, they can do no wrong. Even if they do, it should be overlooked in the light of their longsuffering. They have a legitimate score to settle.

Third, criteria are often suspect. For instance, gross annual income is often cited for the disparity between the wages of male and female workers. While this is a legitimate concern, it fails to factor in voluntary considerations–such as the decision to raise a family. Not only does this cause the woman to lose ground in vocational advancement, but adversely impacts on her retirement reserve.

Finally, most women do embrace uncritically the feminist agenda. "They don't feel abused, oppressed, or exploited. They don't hate their nature. They do not nurture a gender grudge the size of Mt. Rushmore. They generally like men. If one steps out of time, they know exactly how to handle him."124

Some years ago, about fifteen percent of the Wellesly College student body signed a petition protesting the selection of Barbara Bush as the year's commencement speaker. The were outraged. They maintained that women should be rewarded for their own exploits, rather than be rewarded for those of her husband.

It did not seem to occur to them that they were enjoying a prime education due to the beneficence of their fathers. Nor that they would eventually seek employment not strictly on merit alone, but with their father's intercession. To top it off, they might drive home in a gift from the same.

There is more to concern us. These offended students had come to depreciate the role of wife and mother in the family circle. In addition, they failed to recognize the degree to which men are genuinely indebted to their wives for their achievements in public life.

There are other signs of the times. Major Rhonda Cornum was captured after her helicopter was shot down over Iraq. At first, she maintained that she was treated just the same as male prisoners. Under questioning, she admitted to being violated manually, vaginally and rectally by her captors. She added in a politically correct fashion, that this was "an occupational hazard of going to war." Not precisely, since it resulted from deploying women in a war zone.

The feminist movement seems increasingly to be taking its agenda from the sacred symbol of the Mother Goddess. Note the following:

In our own time, in our own culture, the Goddess once again is becoming a symbol of empowerment for women; a catalyst for an emerging spirituality that is earth-centered; a metaphor for the earth as a living organism; an archetype for feminine consciousness; a mentor for healers; the emblem of a new political movement; an inspiration for artists; and a model for resacralizing woman's body and the mystery of human sexuality.125

In order to accomplish this goal, the author concludes that it will be necessary to go beyond three opinions promoted by both religious and secular institutions. In particular, these are that a male god created the world, humans have a right to dominate nature, and man has a right to dominate women. I will briefly comment on each of these specifics by way of conclusion.

A male god. This protest brings to mind a paraphrase from C. S. Lewis, "If people can't appreciate adult books, they shouldn't read them." God is neither male nor female. Theological vocabulary is analogical, so God is sometimes expressed in masculine, and sometimes in a feminine terms.

Humans have a right to dominate nature. Not in a disparaging sense. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (Gen. 2:15). He was to serve in a stewardship role.

Man has a right to dominate woman. No so. Paul prefaces his commentary concerning the respective duties of husbands and wives with the injunction, "Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). After that, he enjoins the wife to be submissive to her husband, and the husband to love his wife–as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In so doing, it seems to me that he is advocating a complementary–rather than competing–relationship.

Gay Agenda

It was customary in traditional Jewish circles to refer to homosexual practice as the Greek sin. As such, it served as a concrete expression of pagan depravity. Gay activists have introduced an aggressive alternative agenda that portrays those of conflicting views as suffering from homophobia. This is one of those issues which as a rule seems to generate more heat than light. In any case, I would invite earnest dialogue, which attempts to sift fact from fiction.

The contrast between Greco-Roman and Hebrew perspectives bears closer scrutiny. any noble sense of the word, means to Athenian gentlemen of this (Platonic) period the love of men for other men, the protective love of a full-grown man for some gallant, promising youth or the love of two comrades for one another. ...Women were kept secluded at home and their relationship to men was on a lower plane altogether.126

In retrospect, it would appear a heightened expression of chauvinism.

It also took into consideration more practical concerns, especially that of accommodating military service. Along this line, "And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each others side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world."127

That Roman homosexuality was largely pederastic is a matter of record. For instance, the poet Martial writes, "You do it with long-haired boys whom you have procured for yourself with your wife's dowry."128 It is said that beardless youths were prohibited from participating in Saturnalia (a festival in honor of the harvest god) for fear that their virtue would be compromised.

Two biblical passages will illustrate the contrasting Hebrew perspective. The first relates to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29). Two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and saw Lot sitting in the gateway of the city. He prevailed on them to accept his hospitality.

Before they had retired for the night, "all the men from every part of the city–both young and old–surrounded the house." We to understand that the culpability was pervasive. They called out to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may have sex with them."

The patriarch attempted to dissuade them. It was to no avail. Then the visitors struck those at the door with blindness, so that Lot and his family could escape. After that, the cities were destroyed.

In defense of gay rights, some claim that the inhabitants of the city merely wanted to get acquainted with Lot's guests. Their sin lay in the failure to provide hospitality. This seems extremely unlikely for the following reasons:

  1. The adjectives wicked, vile, and disgraceful do not seem appropriate to describe a breach of hospitality.
  2. The offer of women instead would suggest a sexual connotation.
  3. Although the verb yada is employed only ten times concerning sexual intercourse, six of these are in Genesis, and one appears in the Sodom narrative as expressing the virginity of Lot's daughters.
  4. Jude makes explicit the "sexual immorality and perversion" of those implicated (7).129

The term referent is sometimes employed to describe the situation where a particular offense serves to illustrate the general state of affairs. As mentioned at the outset, homosexual activity appears to represent the degraded condition to which humanity had succumbed (cf. Rom. 1:21-24).

The second passage derives from the Holiness Code. In particular, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev. 18:22). Moreover, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable" (Lev. 20:13).

Some insist that the prohibitions refer only to religious practices, or that they can be disregarded for a variety of reasons. Conversely, a traditional Jewish commentary characterizes this as the abyss of depravity from which the Torah saved the Israelites.

New Testament texts appear in thorough agreement. As an example,

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you are sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

"The first word, malakoi, has the meaning of 'soft'; but it also became a pejorative epithet for men who were 'soft' or 'effeminate,' most likely referring the younger, 'passive' partner in a pederastic relationship–the most common form of homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world."130 The latter is less easy to identify, but may refer to those who took the active role in homosexual activity. Taken together, this seems to constitute a comprehensive repudiation.

Not to be overlooked, the biblical prohibition of homosexual sex does not rest on isolated proof texts alone, but on a pervasive world view. This embraces the potential for perpetuating life, and provides male and female role models. This, in turn, would not obscure the distinction between man and woman, but enhance it in a constructive fashion–rather than by demeaning any.

"Had Christianity not entered the pagan culture of the Greeks and Romans, where pederasty was common, widespread, and accepted, it is doubtful that there would now be laws against child molestation. It can also be argued that if Christian values and influence continue to deteriorate, the resistance to pederasty will weaken and decline."131 The latter observation pertains to Western Civilization, where Christian values are increasingly under attack, and not to those massive regions where they are gaining momentum.

As an example, the North American Man/Boy Love Association advocates removing all current legal restrictions concerning sex between adult males and boys. It is said to represent one million members. In England, the age for consenting homosexual sex was reduced from twenty-one to eighteen in 1994, and to sixteen in 1998. In Denmark, it was lowered to fourteen.

Several rationales are said to lend support to the legitimacy of homosexual behavior. One concerns cultural diversity. It is claimed that the biblical text was addressing problems unlike our own. For instance, "The difference between 'inversion' and 'perversion' would have been incomprehensible to them. The very notion that two men or two women could fall in live with each other and develop a deeply loving, stable relationship comparable to marriage simply never entered their heads."132

This would seem to suppose that the biblical writers were far more sheltered than was actually the case. For instance, there was a substantial Gentile presence in Palestine at the time of Jesus. More specifically, he opted to set up his base of operation in Capernaum, which lay along a branch of the Via Maris international trade route. As noted earlier, the notion that same-sex partners could provide a stable relationship was in fact common in antiquity.

Another common reasoning concludes, "Since God made me gay, it must be good." This would presume a biological explanation for homosexuality. Initially, it should be observed that orientation does not necessarily condone practice. According to the preponderance of evidence, homosexuality results from a combination of factors: genetic, intrauterine, and postnatal environment. One scenario begins with birth. The boy (in this instance), who will one day struggle with homosexuality, is born with certain features that more resemble homosexuals than the male population as a whole. These might include a greater sensitivity, a strong creative drive, and a keen aesthetic sense. None of these individually or collectively destine him for eventual homosexuality.

As time passes, he perceives himself as being different from the rough and tumble of his peers. He may be more interested in reading. In any case, he finds it difficult to relate to other fellows of his age. This may be compounded by the lack of a positive male figure in the home and/or a dominating mother.

Early counseling can be successful in preventing the development of homosexuality. Conversely, introducing him to homosexual polemics can have the opposite effect. According to one adolescent, "We discovered in school that it was the in thing to do."

Now the subject of our scenario finds a support group in the gay community. Persons assure him that his difference is the result of being homosexual. Moreover, they convince him that this is alright, and those who think otherwise suffer from homophobia. This turn-around casts the homosexual critic as pathological.

Homosexual practice becomes normative behavior for some. Gay activists publicize ten percent of the population. Research would seem to suggest something more in the realm of two percent.

What is to become of our hypothetical subject? He is badgered to come out of his closet, and make his sexual preference a matter of public record. If reluctant, others may threaten to reveal his carefully guarded secret.

Most homosexual relationships are short lived. One study of same-sex partnerships failed to provided an instance where the relationship had survived a seven year period. Meanwhile, the health risk is manifestly unacceptable. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is not peculiar to the homosexual community, but it is relatively frequent. The costs associated with the treatment of AIDS patients is substantial, and places a heavy burden on society. Meanwhile, other pressing needs with less visibility go relatively unattended.

Such is the prospect faced by the confirmed homosexual. He sees his friends waste away before his eyes. His own future is precarious.

Homosexual associates assure him that there is no alternative. There is. Celibacy is an option for anyone. Moreover, many have been able to make the transition from a homosexual to a heterosexual lifestyle. It is seldom easy.

Still another common thesis resolves around the notion of quality relationships. It is said that homosexual relationships are not intrinsically wrong, but only as they lack a loving concern for the same-sex partner. This would include such features as commitment, tenderness, and faithfulness.

The reasoning implies that love is the sole criterion. Love, however, requires definition. Otherwise, the term is meaningless.

In more practical terms, it would not seem to be a loving act to put one's partner at risk. Given the high risk involved in homosexual practice, abstinence would seem the more considerate alternative.

Along a different line of reasoning, it is argued that the recourse to homosexual sex conforms to the code of justice. The argument runs something like this: "Just as we may not discriminate between persons on account of their gender, color, ethnicity, or class, so we may not discriminate between persons on account of their sexual preference. ...What civil rights activists were in the 1950s and '60s, gay rights activists are today."133

As with the feminist movement, the rationale turns on liberation theology. It is no more convincing in this instance than the previous one. In particular, the analogy between homosexuals and persons of color is unwarranted.

A final rationale revolves around the idea of acceptance. Just as I am takes on new meaning in context of the gay activist's reasoning.

There is an element of truth to the appeal. God loves us as we are, lost and without hope. However, that is not all there is to the gospel message. As

C. S. Lewis observes, "Because God loves us, he means to make us lovable." In conventional terms, "It is important to read the fine print."

All things considered, I am reminded of a story concerning a pastor who preached from copious notes. One day as the custodian was cleaning the sanctuary, he came upon the sermon notes which were inadvertently left on the pulpit. As he shuffled the pages together, he saw where the pastor had scribbled in the margin: "Argument weak, shout loud." When all else fails, gay activists often attempt to shout down their opposition.

As a result, those who disagree are summarily accused of hate crimes. The charge itself may be thought self-validating.

As a well- publicized example, the Boy Scouts have come under sustained attack by the gay activists. According to one spokesperson, "The scouts are un-American." It is a curious way of thinking, since it is hard to imagine any group more representative of American ideals in historical perspective.

The controversy takes some unexpected and revealing turns.

Barney Frank and his lifestyle are the subject of considerable debate in Jewish circles. One commentator delineates the unbridgeable chasm which separates the Jewish ethic from the homoerotic culture. While the National Association of Reform Rabbis has determined to ordain homosexuals, an Orthodox rabbinic court announced it had excommunicated the gay Massachusetts congressman for "desecrating the name of God and the Jewish people."134

The unbridgeable chasm shows no sign of dissipating. As in the before mentioned case studies, there is at issue the choice between life and death.

Alien World

Cult members appear to outsiders as living in an alien world. It differs substantially from what passes as normative (mainline) religions. Moreover, it is often associated with practices thought detrimental to its participants, and a negative influence on society as a whole. This phenomenon is far more pervasive than we might realize, and demands our serious attention.

Jonestown stands out as a prime example of when things turn from bad to worse. Jim Jones' following had grown substantially, as he drew from the downtrodden and those bent on helping them. He advocated racial integration, a relatively unpopular theme at the time. He founded the People's Temple in 1963, and he subsequently shifted his focus to the San Francisco area–spawning satellite congregations.

Jones widely publicized his services, promising miraculous cures. He professed to have visions, revealing confidential information to him concerning those in attendance. Persons who visited one of his several congregations were warmly greeted.

The demands made on a new member were initially minimal, but gradually increased with the passing of time. By the time they had become oppressive, these were justified on the basis of former commitment. Persons were eventually encouraged to turn over all their personal property, savings, and income to the Temple. This was in the context of communal living.

Persons who resisted the gradual erosion of their personal prerogatives were chastised by other members of the congregation for their unbelief. Parents would publicly beat their children, and punish one another. Abuse became increasingly severe. Moreover, persons within the family circle were encouraged to inform on one another: parents regarding their children, and children concerning their parents.

Positive enforcement was also provided. Disputes within the families diminished, since Jones took it upon himself to lay down the guidelines. Life now appeared less complicated, and harmony ensued. The Temple came to be seen as the only safe haven from an evil world.

In the process, adherents were encouraged to isolate themselves from family and friends–either as a matter of course or by fostering enmity. This was validated with reference to the cost of discipleship. As a result, even when they were dissatisfied with what was transpiring, there was no one to confirm their reservations.

Jones founded an agricultural colony in Guyana (1973). The population of Jonestown was in excess of nine hundred, amidst increasing signs of Jones paranoid behavior. U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited the colony in November of 1978. He and his party were murdered, and the Jonestown residents for the most part committed mass suicide.

It would be comforting to conclude that this was a thoroughly unique situation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As similar dynamic can be observed in numerous other cult groups. Jones reminded his followers from time to time that theirs was a cause worth dying for. As it turned out, that was the price they paid.

Robert Ellwood identifies fifteen general characteristics of modern American cults, allowing that respective groups will verbalize them differently. Initially, I will list the characteristics, and then comment on select instances–drawing primarily from my own experience.

  1. A founder who has had, or at least seems to know the secret of nontemporal ecstatic experience.
  2. An interpretation of the experience as possession or marvelous travel.
  3. A band of supernormal helpers.
  4. A desire to be "modern" and to use scientific language.
  5. A reaction against orthodoxy.
  6. Eclecticism and syncretism.
  7. A monistic and impersonal ontology.
  8. Optimism, success orientation, and a tendency to evolutionary views.
  9. Emphasis on healing.
  10. Use in many instances of magic techniques.
  11. A simple but definite process of entry and initiation.
  12. In some cases, the establishment of a sacred center.
  13. Emphasis on psychic powers.
  14. Tendency to attract isolated individuals rather than family groups.
  15. Increasing emphasis on participation by all members in the ecstatic experience through group chanting, meditation, and so forth.135

As an aside, I have studied sample sectarian and cult groups in the context of the above characteristics. Without exception, groups identified as cults had a high correlation, and sectarian churches revealed a contrastingly low correlation. This was in spite of the fact that the churches differed substantially in terms of dogma. As one minister observed, recognizing our theological differences: "At least we live in the same world." The same could not be said concerning the cult membership.

It remains to comment selectively. A founder who has had, or at least seems to know the secret of nontemporal ecstatic expression. Otherwise expressed, he or she had discovered some insight into the character of life not readily, if at all, observable to others. This impression is as a rule created before being expounded upon.

Not uncommonly resources are cited to confirm the founder's claim. These, however, do not characteristically bear up under closer scrutiny. In proverbial terms, "A text without its context is a pretext." As a result, the founder takes unacceptable liberties with his or her source material.

The founder is often disposed to solicit testimonials from persons with name recognition. This is coupled with the suppression of the opinions of those in disagreement. Their reluctance to embrace his claims is written off as a lack of piety and/or ignorance.

A desire to be "modern" and to use scientific language. On the one hand, there is a disdain for science and technology for their own sake. On the other, there is a concern to appear in touch with the times. This bifurcation provides for some paradoxical comments when viewed in comprehensive fashion.

This also becomes a means for disassociating from their previous religious tradition. Not uncommonly in cults drawing from a Judeo-Christian heritage, this takes the form a faithful remnant motif. This can be portrayed in terms of the end times, and serves to legitimize otherwise extreme measures.

A reaction against orthodoxy. Church teaching may be vilified. Church practices are held up to ridicule. The piety of church members is held in question, if not actually derided. In one instance, the cult membership decided to join a local church, with the intention of seizing control. Failing in their attempt, they broke off their short association.

Their repudiation of orthodoxy can be observed in other connections. Most obvious, regarding alienation from the family circle. Communication becomes strained or non-existent. Cult members no longer take it upon themselves to care for their parents or show interest in their siblings. It is as if the fruit of family life withers on the vine.

Optimism, success orientation, and tendency to evolutionary views. These themes play off one another so as to give the impression that life here and now is greatly improved. This is often coupled with derision of those thought to give too much attention to the future life.

The confidence is often expressed in psychological jargon. Group therapy, if by some other designation, takes precedence over worship. Counseling becomes a main component in the cult enterprise. If persons live at a distance, they are virtually required to submit to counseling by telephone.

Social engagement proves to be the exception, rather than the rule. Not uncommonly, it is limited to the needs of the cult constituency. Thus are persons bound closer together in the cult complex.

A simple but definite process of entry and initiation. This appears necessary to establish a corporate identify significantly different to give expression to what is thought to be the cult's manifest destiny. It is sometimes preceded by a probation period, calculated to emphasize the seriousness of the commitment.

The adherent may also be subject to probation on subsequent occasions. This is generally as the result of incurring the displeasure of the leader. For instance, when one person purchased a new automobile, without first consulting his mentor, and when a used car would in the opinion of the latter be adequate. It, of course, would have allowed the additional funds to be available for the cult's activities.

Finally, in some cases, the establishment of a sacred center. Such as might be designated by the leader, and/or draw from past associations. In a metaphorical sense, one ascends to the setting from which the cult members draw their spiritual vitality and vision.

Cults are not alone in sponsoring a sacred center. What is more or less distinct is the sense of dependency that they foster. As sometimes expressed, cults are lacking in universality.

It often helps to look at a topic from different vantage points. The Stockholm Syndrome provides just such an opportunity. The designation was coined in the early 1970s to describe a puzzling reaction of four bank employees to their captors. They were held prisoner for six days, during which two ex-convicts threatened their lives, but also showed them kindness.

It came as a surprise when the hostages resisted the efforts to secure their release, and were eager to defend those holding them captive. Two of the women eventually became engaged to the perpetrators. After that, the situation was reviewed to determine if this were a freak incident, or something relatively common. The latter proved to be the case. A similar thing occurred among concentration camp prisoners, cult members, pimp sponsored prostitutes, incest victims, emotionally abused children, and the like.

Persons can fall prey to the Stockholm Syndrome when the following conditions are met:

  • A perceived threat to survival from those in charge.
  • An awareness of small concessions of kindness within the context of terror.
  • Isolation from the perspectives of others than those in control.
  • A perceived inability to escape.

In brief, the Stockholm Syndrome serves as a survival mechanism. Those implicated do not necessarily lack intelligence or virtue. They are for all practical purposes fighting for their lives.

Consider another vantage point. Ronald Enroth has done us the service of composing two well-documented books: Churches that Abuse and Recovering from Churches that Abuse. In the former, he offers assistance for those hurt by legalism, authoritarian leadership, manipulation, excessive discipline, and spiritual intimidation. In the latter, he describes the road back from spiritual abuse, healing for families who hurt, reentry for survivors, and guidance for pastors and counselors.

I will touch on representative excerpts in order to fill in the portrait.

God, it was said, was using the connections to break down the barriers and inhibitions within the congregation... . "We're gonna fall in love with everyone," was the message. Although this inevitably led to marital friction, the members were told that intimate spiritual experiences with members of the opposite sex, other than one's spouse, could help defeat the demons of jealously and open up the person to a deepened experience of the love of Christ.136

It appears that the congregation assumed the cost of terminating pregnancies created by the exhortation to experience the freedom achieved through intimate spiritual experiences. Its pastor remonstrated with those who equated abortion with murder as suffering from legalism–"a term used to refer to an incorrect or overly literal interpretation of biblical, civil, or moral law."

"Virtually all authoritarian groups that I have studied impose discipline, in one form or another, on members," Enroth concludes. "A common theme I have encountered...was that the discipline was often carried out in public–and involved ridicule and humiliation."137One former cult member confided in me that he was not permitted to speak out in the meeting or to discuss the matter of his probation with his wife in the privacy of their home. This served as the proverbial last straw, which caused him to search for a way to escape the abusive situation.

The road to recovery is seldom easy. "Learning to trust others in authority without creating a new codependent relationship is one of the first issues that victims of spiritual abuse confront. ...They must experience true acceptance, love, and a sense of belonging. ...It is important to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings."138

True acceptance implies a willingness to consider alternative opinions, to clear away misunderstandings, and to enter enthusiastically into a corporate search for truth. Love is best considered in context of its companions. In this regard, Paul wrote: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22). It is fitting that love should be listed first among these virtues, because it serves as both the measure and goal of freedom–as elaborated in the apostle's correspondence.

A sense of belonging is, as noted earlier, one rung on the hierarchy of human needs. It can be exploited, for the purposes of control; or it can be enhanced, in pursuit of all that is good and wholesome. Orthodox teaching embodies that which has been faithfully embodied in Christian tradition.

Along with life, we aspire to liberty. The latter is a commodity sadly lacking in the alien world of the cult, and is best discovered within authentic community.

The Magic Word

"What is the magic word?" my mother would pointedly inquire. This would prompt me to employ the term please in my supplication. It was an exercise in civility. Upon being granted my request, I was to say thank you. This, too, was a mark of civility. These were meant to encourage me to be considerate of others. When there is a better way of doing things, civility serves as a case in point.

"The word (civility) derives from the Latin civitus, which means 'city,' especially in the sense of civic community. ...Although we can describe the civil as courteous, polite, and well mannered, etymology reminds us that they are also supposed to be good citizens and good neighbors."139 One qualifies as a good citizen by assuming the responsibilities it implies. One qualifies as a good neighbor by ministering to the needs of others. Note Jesus' account of the Good Samaritan in the latter connection (cf. Luke 10:25-37).

The alleged collapse of civility has received considerable attention. No single factor seems to account for what appears evident. Notwithstanding, postmodernism appears to be one of the culprits. While the term postmodern was employed during the 1950s and 60s, "the concept of postmodernism cannot be said to have crystalizerd until about the mid-1970s, when claims for the existence of this diversely social and cultural phenomenon began to harden within and across a number of different cultural areas and academic disciplines."140 Stephen Connor subsequently dates the demise of modernism on July 15, 1972 at 3:29 p.m. in St. Louis with the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Ignoe housing complex, after having consumed millions of dollars in renovation as a result of sustained vandalism.

This brings to mind an earlier instance concerning the Columbia Point Housing Project, located in Dorchester–an inner suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. The year was approximately 1952. I was serving a parish in South Boston, a blue-collar community bordering Dorchester.

Housing was a problem. Everyone seemed to concur. The federal government offered a resolution. While not everyone was impressed, those in authority insisted this was the proven way to go.

Soon the Columbia Point Housing Project became a reality. Uniform high-rises provided ample accommodation for distressed families. Public officials took turns patting themselves on the back. Expectations ran high.

Time passed. Problems intensified.. In one instance, the enterprising children of two single, working parents knocked out an entrance between their apartments so that they could visit back and forth more readily. Eventually, things deteriorated to the point that police cars would flee from rock throwing gangs of unruly youths.

There remained what might be described as pockets of civility. Such as a solicitous grandmother, attempting to raise her grandchildren in the fear of the Lord. She was not given to complaining. She confided in me, "I don't want to cause nobody any trouble." All things considered, she was genuinely a blessing.

In retrospect, several things appear to have gone wrong. First, the authorities disregarded the meaningful traditions of those who took up residence in the housing complex. As for commentary, "Rights that are purchased at relatively low cost stand a fair chance of being abused, simply because there is no history behind them, and thus little pressure to use them responsibly–in short, because nobody knows why the right exists."141

Such rights as we enjoy were bequeathed by previous generations. They came about at considerable sacrifice. We are obligated to enhance them as a corporate trust. It is an impossible task without recourse to civility.

Second, they failed to appreciate the social dynamics of diverse people compressed within a highly constricted area. This exacerbated the problem.

"The city, in a peculiar way, holds within its history the collapse of one form of civility, based on norms learned from small, known communities, and the development of another, based on norms learned from larger, anonymous ones. ...The only trouble is, the standards are often morally inferior to the ones they replace."142 In addition, there are difficulties associated with the transition from one cultural configuration to another.

Third, they did not take human depravity seriously enough. This was common for the naive optimism in which modernity was steeped. As a result, the strong preyed on the weak. Security proved to be ineffective.

As a result, some chose to relocate. Others would have done so if it were not that they required subsidized housing. The tragic case of a single young mother especially comes to mind. She was driven to the point of desperation. She pathetically concluded, "I have no good alternatives."

Finally, they prohibited the public display of sacred symbols. Most of the inhabitants had previously thought of themselves as residing in some Roman Catholic parish. In our case, it was associated with The Gate of Heaven. This had practical implications. On one occasion, I sought out the advice of the senior priest as how best to cope with vandalism of our church sign. "Put a cross on top of it," he advised me, "and then they will not dare to desecrate it." It worked.

In stark contrast, the impression was given in the housing project that God was not welcome. For all practical purposes, this invoked a secular jungle. With the erosion of modernity, postmodernism was in the making.

It is helpful to think of postmodernism in terms of a paradigm shift. Three stages are implicated. The first stage consists of a time when the former perspective seems no longer to satisfy its promise. There may be new data we feel obligated to factor into life's equation, or to establish alternative priorities and agendas.

The second stage invites tentative alternatives. These are usually promoted by persons who do not perceive themselves to have too much to risk. Conversely, those more closely associated with the establishment are disposed to play it safe. They often turn to coercive means in a futile effort to maintain the status quo.

The final stage coalesces into a new paradigm. It must still be refined. This amounts to a reestablishment phase. Given the current ambiguity surrounding postmodernism, one would assume we have not as yet arrived at this juncture. Suffice to say, the need for civility is most critical when engaged in a paradigm shift, and perhaps least in evidence.

It remains to consider how best to cultivate civility. I have settled on ten guidelines, drawn from a potentially longer list. These might alternatively be described as rules for living.

1. Cultivate the practice of attentive listening. I have heard it said that Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave the impression of giving his undivided attention to whomever he was talking. It is far more common for persons to listen selectively, either giving more attention to some than others or settling for some segment of what is said.

P. M. Forni elaborates:

  • I am not just talking with a colleague but with this colleague, who told me several weeks ago that he was concerned about his child's health and whom I have seen grow more and more preoccupied in the last few days.
  • I am not just reminiscing with a high school friend but with this friend, who married early, never went to college, and seems threatened by the friendships I developed in college.
  • I am not just critiquing the work of a student. I am speaking to this individual student, whom I saw struggling during the semester as she tried to match the performances of more seasoned fellow students.143

2. Distinguish between the person and what is at issue. As for the former, expect the best from individuals. They may mean well, but fall short of their target. Moreover, our motivations are characteristically mixed–so that we ought not let the bad obscure the good.

As for the latter, issues should to be taken seriously. Civility and disagreement should be thought of as complementary rather than competitive. I have heard it said, "One can disagree without being disagreeable." Then, likewise, "Truth is too prized to be taken lightly."

3. Be conciliatory. In graphic terms, build bridges. Bridges of understanding, and bridges of trust. In this connection, I recall the observation of a Roman Catholic scholar, who concluded that the one-sided Protestant accent on grace was unacceptable. I was not at all offended by his comment since we enjoyed a cordial relationship. Instead, I simply replied: "It is not a matter of grace or works, but a grace that works." He nodded his approval.

One must cultivate at least two skills in order to assume a conciliatory posture. First, the capacity to consider that we might be wrong. Only God is right all the time, and we do not qualify. Second, the willingness to admit that we do not know something. As an instructor, I would often couple this admission with the offer to research the matter and report back.

4. Be sincere. Sincerity requires that we be forthright. "Wanting to please others is a noble sentiment at the root of civility and an indispensable ingredient in happy relationship. However, just as crucial for our happiness (and the welfare of others) is the ability to establish firm personal boundaries."144

It is not always necessary to press the issue. For instance, if someone asks us to participate in an objectionable practice, we might simply respond: "No, but thank you for asking." If they inquire whether we have convictions on the matter, then we should candidly reply. In any case, we ought not to sacrifice our conscience on the altar of civility.

5. Be kind. It may be kinder simply not to comment. Will what we say contribute to the discussion? Can we introduce a helpful example from our own experience? Are we introducing a useful perspective? Questions of this sort will help us decide whether or not to verbalize.

When encouraged to speak, do so with others in mind. Speak distinctly and deliberately. Avoid going off on a tangent. Solicit the input of others as appropriate. Bear in mind that "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov. 15:1).

6. Be respectful. Respect is multi-faceted. For instance, we ought to show respect for the opinions of others. When appropriate, the following may contribute to the cause of civility:

  • Save the core of someone else's opinion even as you qualify your acceptance.
  • Recognize that although you don't agree, what you hear is not unreasonable.
  • Allow that if you knew more, your opinion might change.
  • Make ample use of the difference in perspectives.145

As another example, show respect for those in authority. The pattern is best set with our parents. After that, our instructors. Especially those who have developed an expertise in some subject matter. Government officials, security, and the like.

7. Be constructive. It is usually easier to be critical, since no one is perfect. Constructive endeavor requires a creative insight that can see the potential in some seed thought. It might qualify as a critical optimism. In this connection, I have heard it said: "The difference between an optimist and pessimist is whether the persons view the glass half full or half empty."

As an example, I would make a point of commending a student's paper for some favorable feature. I took this as an indication that he or she could do better on a future occasion. We can all benefit from encouragement from time to time.

8. Be generous. Be generous with our possessions. In Jewish tradition, industry is commended in anticipation of generosity. A prime instance involves hospitality. The host was said to be honored by his or her guest.

Be generous with our time. It is a precious commodity, meant to be put to good use. It is not wasted on others.

As implied above, be generous with our praise. "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matt. 19:42). So Jesus extols even the gift of a cup of cold water, provided a good intention.

9. Accept responsibility. It is tempting to shift the blame. "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" God inquired of Adam (Gen. 3:11).

Adam replied, "The woman you put here with me–she gave me some from the tree, and I ate it." Thus Eve appears as the culprit, and perhaps God indirectly.

Then God addressed Eve, "What is this you have done?"

She responded, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." So the blame was passed from one to another, and civility suffered in the process.

10. Be alert to persons in their religious, social, and environment setting. As a representative commentary, "In the absence of that language of loving sacrifice, that connection to the transcendent, civility, like any other moral principle, has no firm rock on which to stand. Civility that rests on the shifting sands of secular morality might topple with the next stiff political wind."146

In more concrete terms, "In the wake of the ecological revolution, it's impossible to be civil without an active concern for the health of our badly wounded planet."147 Thus are we admonished not to litter, nor employ products harmful to the environment; to recycle; conserve water, electricity, and fuel; and use alternative forms of energy when possible. All things considered, to enthusiastically opt for life instead of death.


1. John Maxwell, Deuteronomy, p. 320.
2. Robert Mounce, Matthew, p. 99.
3. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 637.
4. Jacob Licht, Storytelling in the Bible, p. 119.
5. Ibid., pp. 62-63.
6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 69.
7. Peter Davids, James, pp. 68-69.
8. The First Epistle of Clement, xxxi.
9. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V. 4.
10. The Treatises of Cyprian, 15.
11. George Robinson, Essential Judaism, p. 186.
12. Morris Inch, Scripture As Story, p. 35.
13. Bernard Haring, The Law of Christ, vol. 3, p. 126.
14. Chaim Clorefene and Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile, p. 81.
15. Ibid.
16. Douglas Hare, Matthew, pp. 51-52.
17. Milton Steinberg, Judaism, p. 59.
18. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 54.
19. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus, p. 195.
20. Ibid., p. 126.
21. Morris Inch, Why Take the Bible Seriously?, p. 63.
22. Douglas, op. cit., p. 52.
23. John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 246.
24. Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, p. 4.
25. Russell Dilday, 1, 2 Kings, p. 213.
26. Iain Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, p. 139.
27. Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, p. 131.
28. Ibid., pp. 134-135.
29. Morris Inch, Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew and Up From the Depths, p. 9.
30. Steinberg, op. cit., p. 47.
31. Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus and His Story, p. 33.
32. Mounce, op. cit., p. 13.
33. Xavier Leon-Dufour, Life and Death in the New Testament, p. 11.
34. Ibid., p. 3.
35. Hare, op. cit., pp. 256-257.
36. Morris, op. cit., pp. 488-489.
37. Leon-Dufour, op. cit., p. 49.
38. Hare, op. cit., p. 193.
39. Leon-Dufour, op. cit., p. 79.
40. J. Ramsey Michaels, John, p. 305.
41. Ibid., p. 327.
42. F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 41.
43. Ibid., p. 42.
44. The Life of Flavius Josephus, 38.
45. Gordon Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, p. 434.
46. Origen, Against Celsus, VII. 52.
47. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 335-336.
48. F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 421.
49. Ibid., p. 453.
50. Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, pp. 12-13.
51. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, pp. 5-6.
52. Licht, op. cit., p. 9.
53. William Watkins, The New Absolutes, p. 81.
54. Louis Pojman, Life and Death, p. 1.
55. Steven Carr & Franklin Meyer, Celebrate Life, p. 11.
56. Watkins, op. cit., p. 56.
57. Pojman, op. cit., p. 15.
58. Ibid., p. 22.
59. Carr & Meyer, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
60. Morris Inch, "What Does the Church Say?" Abortion (Hoffmeier, ed.), p. 134.
61. Robert Orr, David Schieldermayer, and David Biebel, Life & Death Decisions, pp. 48-49.
62. Ibid., p. 50.
63. Pojman, op. cit., p. 72.
64. Ibid., pp. 74-82.
65. Orr, et. al., op. cit., p. 152.
66. Pojman, op. cit., p. 53.
67. Orr, et. al., op. cit., pp. 156-157.
68. Norman Anderson, Issues of Life and Death, p. 95.
69. Pojman, op. cit., pp. 44-45.
70. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, IX.
71. Pojman, op. cit., p. 86.
72. Ibid., p. 87.
73. Ibid., p. 91.
74. Anderson, op. cit., pp. 198-109.
75. Mike Royko, Chicago Sun-Times, September, 1983.
76. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers From Prison, p. 249.
77. Ibid., pp. 347-348.
78. Wolf-Deiter Zimmermann and Roger Smith (eds.), I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 232.
79. Myron Augsburger and Dean Curry, Nuclear Arms: Two Views on World Peace, p. 5.
80. Ibid., pp. 34-35.
81. Herman Hoyt, "Nonresistance," War: For Christian Views (Clouse, ed.), pp. 32-34.
82. Myron Augsburger, "A Christian Pacifist Response," War (Clouse, ed.), p. 63.
83. Augsburger and Curry, op. cit., p. 94.
84. Harold O. J. Brown, "The Crusade or Preventive War," War (Clouse, ed.), p. 155.
85. Augsburger and Curry, op. cit., p. 85.
86. Clyde Manshrek, A History of Christianity in the World, p. 117.
87. Saul Colby, A History of the Christian Presence in the Holy Land, p. 29.
88. Center For Defense Information, A Brief History of Terrorism, pp. 2-3.
89. Ibid., p. 7.
90. Marilee Melvin (ed.), Stones of Remembrance, p. v.
91. Ibid., pp. 82-83.
92. Wolfgang Schrage, The Ethics of the New Testament, p. 18.
93. Center For Defense Information, The Army National Guard's Restructuring for Homeland Security, p. 1.
94. Ibid., p. 3.
95. Center For Defense Information, The Marines' Three-Block War in Iraq, p. 1.
96. Watkins, op. cit., p. 49.
97. David Myers, "The Mystery of the Ordinary," Psychology of Religion (Malony, ed.), p. 407.
98. Stephen Monsma, Positive Neutrality, p. 18.
99. Ibid., p. ix.
100. Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief, p. 52.
101. Watkins, op. cit., p. 57.
102. Ibid.
103. J. Philip Wogaman, Christian Perspectives on Politics, p. 161.
104. Pojman, op. cit., p. 139.
105. Michael Bauman, "The Dangerous Samaritans," God & Caesar (Bauman and Hall, eds.), p. 201.
106. Ibid., p. 204.
107. Ibid., p. 212.
108. Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, p. 46.
109. Bauman, op. cit., pp. 213-215.
110. Ronald Sider (ed.), Evangelicals and Development, pp. 15-16.
111. James Hunter, Culture Wars, p. 176.
112. Raphael Patai, Society, Culture, and Change in the Middle East, p. 84.
113. Watkins, op. cit., p. 108.
114. Ibid., p. 110.
115. Don Veder, A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America, p. 19.
116. Ibid., p. 24.
117. J. Gordon Melton, The Churches Speak On: Sex & Family Life, pp. xiii-xiv.
118. Ibid., p. xiii.
119. Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence, p. 98.
120. Aristotle, Politics, 1. 1260a.
121. Aeschylus, Suppliant Maidens, 748-749.
122. Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 71.
123. Feder, op. cit., p. 205.
124. Ibid., p. 206.
125. Elinor Gadon, The Once & Future Goddess, p. xv.
126. Lousie Ropes Loomis (ed.), Plato: Apoloty, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, pp. 157-158.
127. Ibid., p. 167.
128. Martial, Epigrams, 7. 97.
129. John Stott, Same-Sex Partnerships?, p. 21-23.
130. Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 243.
131. Schmidt, op. cit., p. 87.
132. Stott, op. cit., p. 42.
133. Ibid., p. 56.
134. Feder, op. cit., p. 76.
135. Robert Ellwood, Jr., Religious and Social Groups in Modern America, pp. 28-31.
136. Ronald Enroth, Churches That Abuse, p. 43.
137. Ibid., p. 152.
138. Ronald Enroth, Recovering From Churches That Abuse, p. 65.
139. P. M. Forni, Choosing Civility, p. 12.
140. Stephen Connor, Postmodern Culture, p. 6.
141. Stephen Carter, Civility, p. 68.
142. Ibid., p. 63.
143. Forni, op. cit., p. 37.
144. Ibid., p. 110.
145. Ibid., p. 78.
146. Carter, op. cit., p. 31.
147. Forni, op. cit., p. 148.


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