Thursday, October 25, 2012

Redemption Through Suffering

Reflecting on the controversial theological topic that in our culture and time has wrongly become a mostly political topic, and the stances of three men running for office this election cycle whom I support politically, but (two of which) I disagree with in part on what is the complete pro-life priority, my heart is heavy.

As Christians not in the public sphere, we can be clear in a way politicians can't. This is the way of the world. So are we? Here is my attempt: What Satan means for evil (in the case of rape), God can mean for good (in the case of new human life). I hope that is as clear as it gets. The hardest question is not what is God doing in the act of rape that causes pregnancy, but what is he doing in a rape that doesn't? And as an aside, neither question is political at the core. There are political implications in society, to be sure, but we don’t expect any politician to be able to fully articulate the complexity of how they would work in our fallen world to everyone’s satisfaction, especially in the context of a campaign. Or, at least, we shouldn’t expect that. Lest we be na├»ve and even disruptive to the political process.

But the first question, namely, what is God doing in the case of a rape that leads to pregnancy, can be confidently answered at least in part from a biblical worldview. Among other things, most of which we will never understand in this life, in the case where this act leads to conception, we can unequivocally say that one thing God is doing, indeed one thing he already has done, is create life. And that is very good! The God of the universe said so. It is the same life at conception that is present in the case of a pregnancy in a woman who is contemplating abortion because of financial reasons alone, or no reason at all. It is the same life at conception that is present in the case of a pregnancy in a woman who has waited to have kids through several miscarriages, or in a woman who has been blessed with two other children already. It is the same life at conception that was present in your mother when you were in the womb. It is the same life. It is all very good! And defending the sanctity of life means defending all of it. This is the coherent biblical pro-life perspective.

Politically, that does not mean that we as Christians have to automatically abandon support for those who are pro-life but would make various rare exceptions, such as Governor Mitt Romney and apparently Congressman Mike Pence, who now are outspokenly pro-life except in the case of rape (and incest, which isn’t talked about much, and in the case when the life of mother is at stake, which everyone agrees is an “exception” because another life is at stake). But let’s not confuse what the coherent biblical pro-life argument is, or make ridiculous accusations of “insensitivity to rape victims” or “opposition to women” when this perspective is offered. Of equal priority, of course, is to support, care for, and grieve with, victims of rape. Anyone who says the pro-life without exception stance neglects this does not understand the argument or the person making it. Even the President of the United States has implied these things about recent events (on the Jay Leno show of all places), indicating his own naivety to the worldview, and reluctance to hear it simply explained and defended. There is a big difference between disagreeing with this worldview and implying that it is insensitive or unacceptable. So many today blur this difference to their shame. That is not only intolerant but ignorant.

It is not shocking that pro-life without exception is the stance of those who claim pro-life. It is more shocking (though not really “shocking”) to make exceptions while claiming pro-life. Life except in the case of....doesn't make sense in principle. David Weigel in Slate interestingly points out that Joe Donnelly, the Democrat opponent to Mourdock in the Indiana Senate race, is also pro-life and believes that life begins at conception. But he not only makes the exception for rape, but also foolishly accuses those who don't make this exception to be insensitive and unacceptable. Weigel says:

"You've got a Republican candidate who believes that life starts at conception and won't make allowances for abortion, and a Democrat who believes life starts at conception and HEY LOOK OVER THERE." 

At least the exceptions such as in the case of rape indicate real possibilities that need to be addressed, and are indeed unfortunate, and therefore delicate and complicated. Some just disagree that they should be exceptions. In principle, everyone that is "pro-life" should, but the fact everyone doesn't is not the end of the world. Better to defend life in the majority of the instances where abortion is performed when other options should be pursued. There is always a better answer than killing the baby. That is the core of what it means to be pro-life, and it is sensitive enough of a stance, even without the rare exceptions. When those who are pro-life are asked about these exceptions, it sure is nice to have this type of testimony to give us all real perspective and an opinion that really matters:

"My mother was raped at 17. She went to a back alley abortion clinic in 1972. She was so young, she was 17 years old. Her life had been changed, and all she wanted was her life back. I owe my life to pro-life advocates, for saying my life was worth saying. I don't deserve to die for the act of my father. 20 years ago, I was pro-life with exceptions. I never really looked at the child's point of view, I only looked at the mother. I stand behind Richard Mourdock 100 percent because if you're going to be pro-life, there cannot be exceptions, because we're not thinking about the child if there are exceptions."

Frankly, any politician or media pundit talking about this issue seriously without acknowledging and being sensitive to stories like this, hardly deserve your attention or your respect.

I read an article yesterday morning titled, Media's galling abortion extremism double standards, that makes a very interesting point; one that really should be reconciled by those who would consider pro-life without exception to be "extreme":

"It's worth noting that no debates ever ask any consistent pro-choice candidates why they think there should be no protection for unborn children whose lives are ended simply because they're female, or because they have Down syndrome, or because they're inconveniently timed, or because of the circumstances of their conception. Nope, even though the vast majority of Americans seek some or total protection for unborn children, these questions are never asked."

Boy would I love some debate moderator to ask the current President these types of questions. Too late I guess. 

Thankfully, the world is not yet requiring politicians who proclaim Christ to answer the second question I mentioned above, namely, what is God doing in the case of rape that doesn’t lead to pregnancy? What good is coming from that? But they will eventually.

Is the world asking us? If so, what are we saying? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God when it hurts? How could a good God allow evil and still be all-powerful and all-good? What are we saying to these very good, yet very common, questions? Are we ready to give an answer for the hope that we have?

In the meantime, we should rejoice in our sufferings for their (the world's) sake, because in our flesh we will be filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, not by way of accomplishment, but by way of personal presentation. How? By showing others redemption through suffering that they might otherwise never personally see for themselves. Why? For the sake of His body, that is, the church! This is the gospel. All Richard Mourdock was saying is that God can and does bring good (not just better than bad, but ultimate good!) out of evil and suffering. He did this in Jesus. And he can do this in the life of a human being conceived in the horrific act of rape. We know this because he brought even better good than a baby (redemption in Jesus) out of even greater suffering than rape (crucifixion of Jesus). To not understand this is to not understand the gospel. We should not be surprised that the media and the secular world do not understand the gospel. Of course they don’t. It is foolishness. Worse, they hate it. That does not change our message.

If you are a Christian, you, like Paul, have become a minister according to the stewardship of God that was given to you for them (the world), to make the word of God fully known – not partially known – the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the saints. To you God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you…the hope of glory! Him we proclaim, teaching everyone and warning everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (everyone!) - not immature, unable to explain and understand the word of God, and how it applies to life, suffering, and more; even politics - but mature. For this reason we toil, struggling with all his energy (not our energy!) that he powerfully works within us. – Colossians 1:24-29

Praying with you for our leaders, our country, and the unborn - without exception.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Unfortunate Case of Benghazi

I am not completely settled as to how this issue fits in the context of my blog. My conviction is to present simple truth for a complex culture. Sometimes, I think, simple truth can still coincide with the truth of the gospel without explicitly mentioning it. In this case, it is my hope that the truth of the gospel - that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost, and that this truth is constant and the most important announcement in the universe, even within the chaos and the uncertainty of our society, culture, and world - would at least be implicit and God would be glorified. I am preparing a post on how I incorporate Christian faith into a biblical political philosophy that informs my voting and participation in the conversation. That will probably clarify my heart more completely. But this is, for good or bad, some pent up emotion on what is to me a very unfortunate situation that represents a major problem in our country. I don't presume to think I can do much to solve it, but I am deeply thankful for my right to be able to express my opinion about it.

The most unfortunate part of the Benghazi tragedy, in my opinion, is not that there was lack of clarity and mixed messages from the Obama administration in the immediate wake of the attack. This is really bad, but I will listen to the argument that intelligence always comes over time, and initial interpretations are often proved incomplete or outright wrong.

The most unfortunate part was not even that there is dishonesty in what was said and what was known when. There was this. If someone in the Obama administration or in the media insults my intelligence one more time by saying that the President was referring to the specific Benghazi attack, instead of the general concept of terrorism, when he used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden, I am going to scream. I know the English language and this is not a subjective interpretation of what the context seemed to indicate. It is obvious, and everyone knows it. We are not idiots. Admission of some dishonesty would not be an outright deal breaker. Someone should man up. We are all sinners. Yet, this is not the most unfortunate part.

The most unfortunate part was not even that a home-made YouTube video was blamed for such a significant attack. This is questionable and quite ridiculous. Bear with me as I rant. The fact that we are actually trying to be sensitive to, and give any excuse for, the feelings and offense of radical, irrational terrorists, even while we say “there is never an excuse for violence”, is indeed unfortunate. It seems extremely naive that we actually believe that the problem with the enemy is that they are just thin-skinned, and if we are sensitive to this and just avoid offending them, they will have no excuse to attack us, even though we acknowledge that they should never have an excuse to attack us. Right? It is unfortunate that we seem to think we have to acknowledge equally irrational and hateful people who make videos in their basement or street corners, implying that they are credible enough that we have to publicly discredit them in order to clear the air about where we stand. This is the only way the video is relevant – if we believe that we have to speak for even the irrationality in our own society because even it has an effect on the violence from our enemies, which there should “never be an excuse for”. Is that it? Otherwise the very mention of it is embarrassing, and the lack of prosecution of the creator of such a dangerous video is hypocritical.

If our country is in the situation where You Tube internet videos by irrational extremists and unpatriotic and hypocritical Americans present a viable national security threat, than we are in trouble, and the problems of politicization and cover-up and faulty intelligence don’t amount to a hill of beans. We are going to need scores of Secret Service teams and Special Forces soldiers and intelligence professionals and prosecution attorneys watching YouTube and surfing the web 24 hours a day,  making sure none of our enemies are offended by any possible statement or picture or implication on the massive scope of the interwebs. And then we will have to establish committees or think tanks to come up with some kind of measurable criteria as to what would indeed cause offense to the extent of posing a viable natural security threat. Not only will this completely confuse and limit the positive side of freedom of speech and religion, but it will cost a fortune and remove America’s finest from the front lines of battle, where the enemy is plotting to destroy us. And it will reduce these men and women to video surveillance mall cops who probably will spend (waste) more time finding the next “David After the Dentist” internet video sensation, than performing what their original, ridiculous assignment would have been anyway. No. We are not there yet. Someone please stop the madness.

But all that is not the most unfortunate part of this tragedy. The most unfortunate part is, of course, that 4 Americans, a top level diplomat among them, are dead. Period. And not because of a video or spontaneous violence gone bad, but because of premeditated terrorism that could have been known and should have been prevented or at least thwarted. No matter when it was defined as terrorism and by whom, hardly matters now. It is what it is, and should have been prevented. If we claim to be making progress in the war on terror, this type of tragedy absolutely should not happen, or our claim is premature. This is not a lost battle in the midst of a war we are winning. This is evidence that we are not yet winning, maybe losing, and need to step up our game, correctly define the problem, understand the enemy, and aggressively and competently pursue permanent solutions to protect our people here and around the world. It is alright to apologize for failure in the midst of sincere resolve to prevent the same in the future. The Administration is clear on the latter while being afraid of the former. This is disingenuous

In the end, we do not grieve or fear like those who have no hope. As Christians, and as Americans, let us pray for the families of those who lost their loved ones, that the God of all comfort would comfort them, to comfort others. Let us pray for our enemies, that they will receive Christ and that their unjustifiable hatred would turn to humility and compassion. Let us pray for those who would not pray for their enemies, but instead share the same hatred, that their hearts would be softened. Let us pray for our military and diplomatic personnel, especially those in the direct line of fire, that they would be protected and would put their ultimate trust in a God who saves. Let us pray for our leaders, that until that day they would steward their office honorably and reasonably, and restrain evil and promote good, according to the parameters that have been given them by God and in the Constitution, in the interests of the people. May they be strong and courageous and not shrink back from serious threats, or underestimate or misunderstand them. Let us trust that God is Sovereign and is making all things new, and that peace is only ultimately found in him. And let us obey by participating in the process of democracy for the good of our neighbor and the glory of our God, which in this specific case I strongly believe includes humbly vocalizing opinions about an avoidable and tragic situation that has been ridiculously handled after the fact. I hope that is what I have done.