100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Was Turning The Other Cheek An Insult?

I've been watching the new television series "The New Normal", about a homosexual couple who hire a surrogate in order to have a baby. In the most recent episode, "The Godparent Trap", one of the main characters goes to speak with a Catholic Priest. During their conversation, the Priest says the following... "(Turning the other cheek) didn't mean 'Lay down and take it'. In those days, turning the other cheek was an act of defiance! It meant 'I will see your insult and raise you a 'Suck It!'" Now, this show has plenty to say about homosexuality and the Church, (the Priest also says earlier that homosexuality is not a sin), but I feel like I've already written so much on homosexuality in the past that I'd just be repeating myself. But I did want to comment on a few things from this episode, and we'll start with this interpretation of what it means to "turn the other cheek."

It's a cunning approach here because we have someone who is portrayed as an authority on the Bible, but also they're professing some deeper knowledge of the historical and cultural context of the Bible, and saying "Look, you just don't understand the cultural difference." And so we believe what he says because few of us have an education in the historical and cultural setting to know any better. However, if we look at the passage in question, we don't even need an education in history and culture. It is fairly clear from the Textual context alone that to "turn the other cheek" is by no means to return an insult...

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-4) 

Jesus is clearly saying that we are not to pay-back evil for evil, or insult for insult. He had also said earlier, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth." We can also see that other passages of Scripture would oppose the "insult for insult" interpretation quite explicitly. Consider the Epistle of Peter...

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)

Jesus taught by His example, and His example was not to pay-back evil for evil, or insult for insult.

The program dialog continues...
Priest: "(Jesus) saw hypocrisy and injustice, and he said 'Seriously, you guys are idiots! This has got to change!'"
Bryan: "So you're saying the Church can change?"
Priest: "Well, it would. I've seen gay people battle discrimination and march for marriage equality. They demanded the right to fight for their countries, but for their souls...? Nope! They just give up and walk away. Jesus was a fighter, son. How about you?"

Now, I said earlier that I wasn't going to get side tracked into talking about homosexuality and the Church, so don't misunderstand me... the point I'm about to make is more general than that, but homosexuality in the Church will be our "working example." Despite the Priest's comment, homosexuality is a sin according the Bible. In this last extract of dialog which I transcribed, the Priest is arguing that the Church needs to change, and the character Bryan asks "So the Church can change?" as if to ask "Is that even possible?" And of course, Martin Luther was one who saw change in the Church as necessary, and also showed it to be possible. But what kind of change was Luther seeking? He wanted the Church to move from un-Biblical practices back to Biblical practices. The Church cannot be whatever it wants to be; it is Christ's Church and He, as the Head of the Church, has spoken as to what is and isn't acceptable within the Church. The Priest argues, however, that the gay community should fight for acceptance in the Church, which he calls a "fight for their souls." This implies that if the gay community can get the Church to accept them, they will gain their souls, (or salvation). But this couldn't be further from the truth. Again, we're only using homosexuality as a working example, but the key point is this... your salvation does not depend on whether the Church accepts you or not, but on whether your faith is in Jesus Christ. Salvation is as attainable for a gay man or woman as it is for anyone else, but all must attain it through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. It's not whether the Church accepts you, but whether you follow Jesus and His Word despite the teaching of the Church which may be in error. This is what Martin Luther and the Reformers realized; that they would rather be rejected by the Church and follow Christ because the Church, despite having the name "Christian Church", was in fact opposed to Christ. And this is also what Jesus did in His days on the Earth, as the Priest himself pointed out in the episode we're considering. He did see hypocrisy and injustice and demand a change, rebuking the religious leaders at the time, saying...

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

The lawyers were those who, like the Priest in this episode, were supposed to be experts in the Law (that is, the Law of Moses... the Scriptures.) But they led people astray from the Scriptures by "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." This Priest, (or in reality, the writer of the episode), didn't even teach correctly something as clear as what it means to "turn the other cheek!" If we want to be a fighter like Jesus, our fight must be for adherence to the Scriptures...

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is Marital Fidelity A Sin Against Yourself?

I read the following statement in an article recently in relation to adultery: “Our age allows most things to happen before marriage but accepts nothing much thereafter.” Before we’re married we’re permitted to sleep around, and so the implication seemed to be that we should also be permitted after marriage because the urge to do so doesn’t change. Of course, as a Christian this kind of logic really gets me stirred up, because once upon a time society did not approve of sleeping around before marriage, but as society abandoned this Biblical principle, many Christians everywhere would have been saying “This is the start of moral decay, so that eventually adultery will even be acceptable.” And here we have an article explicitly trying to move us further down that path of moral decay. Whereas the article would suggest we should permit philandering after marriage because we accept it before marriage, I would argue the other direction to say that we should not permit it before marriage precisely because we don’t permit it after marriage.

The article seems to put forward the argument that because we all have the desire to be adulterous, it is actually just as wrong to deny ourselves that desire as it is to be unfaithful. We essentially need to hurt someone; either our family or ourselves, and so we can legitimately ask which is the lesser of two evils. But I think that even a straight forward “lesser of two evils” evaluation would find us against adultery, since the damage done to the whole family is greater than the damage done to ourselves. I have a very worldly friend who says, in all honesty of heart, “Cheating is ok as long as you don’t get caught.” So even by her standards the damage to the family is greater, but can be avoided by them never finding out. Thankfully this “utilitarian” kind of morality is not how Christian morality operates. We know that God has created us, and has designed us with a certain nature in mind, and to follow a certain order. When we operate contrary to that order, we typically call that sin. Our consciences, among other things, tell us the difference. We know that adultery is wrong because nobody can do it in good conscience. This is why they keep it a secret. If we have to say “Cheating is ok as long as you don’t get caught,” then this reveals that our conscience knows it to be wrong for, as the Bible says: “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:20)

The Bible uses marriage to illustrate man’s relationship to God. A marriage, as God intended it to be, illustrates a God who loves us so much He would even die for us, just as a husband might love his wife so much he would even lay down his own life for her. And it shows Man as devoted to God exclusively, like a faithful wife. If, in reality, men and women cannot help their adulterous desires, then how much more will Man fail to be faithful to God? As society accepts more and more such things as promiscuity before marriage, and as Man more and more turns away from God, then a greater frequency of adultery is precisely what we should expect. If you cannot be faithful to your spouse, you can hardly be faithful to God; but the opposite is true as well, I think, because if God does not exist then your “god” is yourself. You are the highest authority in your own life, and as “god” you can decide what is and isn’t permitted, and what is and isn’t best for you. As this article I read pointed out, adulterous desires are always going to be there - the question is whether you are going to hurt your family by indulging in them, or yourself by not indulging in them. But if you are “god”, the law-giver in your own life, then you’re fairly biased in this judgement. Statistics show that around 50% of married people have been unfaithful, and I’ve thought for a long time that the real reason behind this is selfishness, or self-centeredness. Unless we deny ourselves and put our families first, of course we’re far more likely to give into temptation when that temptation inevitably arises. But the fundamental principle of Christian morality, which will guard against all temptations toward committing adultery, is to put others first, especially our spouses and children.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Biblical View of Fasting

I have never done a Bible study on the topic of fasting, and I have never heard a sermon preached on the topic of fasting. Speaking to my brother the other day, he made this observation as well, asking me "What is fasting all about? Is that something we're supposed to do as Christians?" The Bible speaks of fasting, yet I find that Christians never seem to talk about it. My understanding of fasting has come directly from my regular reading of the Bible over the years, essentially without any external influence at all. So I thought I'd share with you the conclusions I've come to on the topic of fasting.

What I find as I read the Bible is that fasting is often linked with prayer, which might give the impression that sort of "adding" fasting to your prayer life will make your prayers more effective. But is this a voluntary denial of food in order to make the prayer more effective? I don't see how the denial of food would make prayer more effective. When the Bible teaches explicitly on how one is to pray effectively, it teaches that we should pray according to God's will (which is almost the same as saying "according to Scripture"), and that we must be living righteously. I'm not so sure that denying one's self food will affect our prayers. But what I have found in my own life is that, when I'm really stirred up to pray about something, I actually lose my appetite for food somewhat involuntarily; and I suspect that this is what fasting meant to those characters in the Bible which fasted. When we're distressed, or in grief, we often lose our appetites. I have a friend who, when his girlfriend broke up with him, ate nothing for days. He was simply too upset. What kinds of things might cause a Christian to become that upset that they lose their appetite? And wouldn't they be the kinds of things that a Christian might begin to pray about fervently? As I read the Bible, I find that fasting is almost always in response to some distress, as is the prayer associated with it. Some Biblical examples would be when David's first child to Bathsheba becomes sick; David prayed and fasted over that. And Saul, when he was confronted by God on the road to Damascus, ate no food for several days after. We can be distressed or grieved by our circumstances, but we can also be distressed over our spiritual state of being. When I as an unbeliever, for example, truly came to understand the weight of my sins, this for me was a time when I literally lost my appetite and couldn't eat. And we see fasting of this kind in the Bible as well. Another example would be when the King of Nineveh proclaimed a fast in response to the preaching of Jonah, which convicted the whole city of their sins.

Quite often in Scripture we find people, usually those in power, proclaiming a fast. This is often in the form of a king's edict that everyone in the city should fast, like in the case of Nineveh. Another example would be where Esther proclaimed a fast before she approached the King about the fate of her people. In such cases it seems as though a fast would not be involuntary, but would be deliberate, and obviously toward some purpose. But whereas I might fast in response to a distress which affects me, these proclamations are in response to some distress which affects the whole city or people. I have no doubt that culturally it was a symbol of expressing one's distress to God. But as always, it was not the outward gesture which was important to God, but the true attitude of the heart; and I think that if my city was preached to by Jonah, I might have gone into that "involuntary fast" over it whether the King proclaimed a national fast or not. It's a bit like when, in our culture, we commemorate certain tragic events with a minute of silence. One can keep silent for a minute and be thinking about all manner of things besides the dead soldiers, or what have you... but if the memory of those soldiers really does mean something to you, you might consider them during that minute as you ought.

Isaiah 58 is probably the most explicit text on fasting in the Bible. It begins with the people asking God "Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?" They possibly saw fasting as a way of making their prayers more effective. But God answers "Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers." And then, with words of correction, God says...

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Isaiah 58:6-7)

These things don't really have anything to do with denying one's self food, and that's God's point. God is not interested in asceticism, or self-denial, in some attempt to get closer to God. Rather, God is interested in good works. Going without food so that some starving person might have a meal; that might be the kind of fast which God is interested in. And to be so grieved over the spiritual state of those in the world around us that we lose our appetites, that's what Biblical fasting really is.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9:14-15)