Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

The Life-Affirming Ten Commandments

How often, when we think about the Ten Commandments, do we see them in the negative light of prohibitions? What if we were to consider instead that their main purpose was to point to a life of fulfillment in God?

Joy Davidman (who later became the wife of C. S. Lewis) wrote a book back in 1953 that is little read today. That’s a shame. In it, she takes a fresh look at those Ten Commandments and shows how we should see them, not through the face of fear or as the Ten Killjoys of life, but rather as life-affirming because they, if followed, would lead to true joy and enjoyment of life as God intended.

Smoke on the MountainThe book is called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Not only do I appreciate her perspective, I also am struck by her lively style of writing. In the introduction, for instance, she handles that old cliché about God being a life preserver quite deftly:

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs—and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for that life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates.

But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

Joy LewisDavidman then contrasts three perspectives on law:

Saint Augustine phrased the Christian law as: “Have charity and do what you like.” The modern materialist often makes it simply: “Do what you like,” and then rushes off to ask his psychoanalyst why he no longer seems to like anything. Whereas the Pharisee, alas, tends to invert Augustine into: “Neither do what you like nor have charity.”

All too often, she says, Christians make God’s law a deadening thing, not at all what He intended:

For we live in an age of fear, and we have infected our very faith with our paralysis, as certain previous ages infected it with their cruelty. No wonder the Decalogue makes us uncomfortable. We have turned it from a thrilling affirmation into a dull denial.

Yet there was the sound of trumpets in it once.

The Law, the apostle Paul said, is a tutor to lead us to Christ. But it’s not a harsh tutor—it shows us what life would be like if we were to obey it. Through Christ, we now can enter into the kind of life God has always wanted for us.

Lewis: The Reasonableness of the Miraculous

The Christian faith is reasonable. It’s also based on believing in miracles: the virgin birth of Christ, walking on water, healings, resurrection after the crucifixion. How can one believe in miracles and still be reasonable? It’s not difficult if you consider the attributes of the God who created all things. Once you grasp His very nature, miracles are to be expected.

Reflections on the Psalms 2C. S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, succinctly summed up his view, as well as that of all real Christians:

I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.

Lewis, one of the most learned men of the twentieth century, had no problem believing that the Creator God could alter His creation at any time in any place, and to me, that is a most reasonable assertion.

Like Lewis, I shy away from the term “fundamentalist” only because of the baggage it has picked up along the way. Yet all it intends to mean is that there are certain fundamentals that any Christian believes. God being above His creation is one of those fundamentals. And it is reasonable to believe it.

Lewis: The Reality of the Spiritual

C. S. Lewis 7C. S. Lewis was an atheist in his younger days, but eventually had to abandon his materialism and come face-to-face with the reality of the spiritual. Ten years after his conversion, in an essay called “Religion: Reality or Substitute,” he explained why the spiritual world is not just a figment of men’s imagination:

Authority, reason, experience; on these three, mixed in varying proportions, all our knowledge depends.

The authority of many wise men in many different times and places forbids me to regard the spiritual world as an illusion.

My reason, showing me the apparently insoluble difficulties of materialism and proving that the hypothesis of a spiritual world covers far more of the facts with far fewer assumptions, forbids me again.

My experience even of such feeble attempts as I have made to live the spiritual life does not lead to the results which the pursuit of an illusion ordinarily leads to, and therefore forbids me yet again.

I am not now saying that no one’s reason and no one’s experience produce different results. I am only trying to put the whole problem the right way round, to make it clear that the value given to the testimony of any feeling must depend on our whole philosophy, not our whole philosophy on a feeling.

Feelings, by themselves, are never an accurate guide into truth. That’s why Lewis is saying we need the greater perspective; we need to see the big picture. And that big picture tells us the spiritual world is all too real. If that’s the case, we need to take it seriously.

Why “Pondering Principles”?

Every once in a while, I like to remind readers of this blog just why it’s called Pondering Principles. A principle is a general truth from which one can begin reasoning to proper conclusions with respect to God, man, and society. One must make sure, of course, that the principles one espouses are valid.

Self-Indulgence Principle

Here are some principles I believe are demonstrable in Scripture, and that are confirmed throughout history. These form the basis for all my commentary, whether on faith, culture, education, government, or a score of other subjects:

  • We all bear the image of God within us. We are inherently valuable because of that image. Each of us is distinct and unique, called by God for the purpose for which He created us. That’s why I am strongly pro-life in my views. To destroy innocent children who never have made any choices in life is to destroy someone made in the image of God. The same applies to the handicapped, the seriously ill, and the aged.
  • We were created with free will, and therefore accountable for our actions. God expects us to govern ourselves according to His precepts. We have the capability to make right choices. Sin is a voluntary rebellion against the reasonable and righteous commands of God. This ability to govern oneself extends as well to families, churches, various voluntary organizations, and civil government.
  • The model for civil government can be found in the basic principles God established for ancient Israel. Contrary to popular perception, He didn’t ordain kingship, but instead gave His approval to a system that allowed for representation, the separation of powers, and different levels of government authority. Totalitarianism, in whatever form, is not God’s goal because it violates the first two principles mentioned above.
  • God has given man property, both internal and external, over which He wants us to exercise control. Internally, we have the ability to think, feel, and choose (as already noted), and we must never go against our conscience, which informs us of basic right and wrong. Externally, He has ordained private property of various types so we can learn how to manage things properly. Any economic system that denies private property hinders us from learning in this “school of accountability.” Therefore, I believe that a free-market, private-enterprise system is what this principle supports.
  • Due to that free will given by God, we are to enter into cooperation with others voluntarily. All external unions should be based on internal unity. Forced unions without unity will eventually fail. This applies to marriage, church, all clubs and associations, and even civil government. The United States is the prime example of a government that was deliberated, ratified, and established by the voluntary consent of its citizens. All collectivist forms of government, whether called socialist or communist, destroy the inherent, God-given value of the individual and violate self-government and the voluntariness of union.
  • Only by taking on the character of God, i.e., becoming Christlike, will this world operate in the way God intended. Every deviation an individual makes from the righteousness of God has a ripple effect throughout society. When a society accepts sinful actions as normal—abortion, homosexuality, theft, racism, etc.—there will be disastrous consequences. This flows smoothly into the final principle, which is . . .
  • We reap what we sow. If we sow Biblical principles in our society, we will reap blessings. Conversely, if we sow unbiblical, humanistic seeds, we will suffer the bad effects of those corrupted seeds. In my view, the wide acceptance of evolutionary theory spawned a wide array of evil applications in America. Biological evolution morphed into a social Darwinism that has led us away from God’s path. The key to any sowing of seeds is the education system. When it is controlled by government (first mistake) and then an unbiblical philosophy is inserted into it (second mistake), we create a society that ultimately rejects Biblical truth and the morality that stems from it. This is why I write often about education and its failures.

These principles don’t necessarily cover all of God’s truth, but they are a good start. They form the basis for all of my thinking about how Godly principles should apply to us individually and to our society as a whole. That’s why this blog is called Pondering Principles.

Liberty vs. License: Where I Stand

Comments from one reader of yesterday’s blog post leads me to want to explain something further. Yesterday’s post was concerned with the rush to judgment in Ferguson and the possibility that the greatest potential victim in this entire episode is the death of due process. There has been, in my opinion, too much pre-judging taking place. You saw it in the many nights of protest that included looting and rioting. You saw it in the statement of Missouri’s governor when he said a vigorous prosecution had to go forward. You saw it also in the arrival on scene of Eric Holder, who made it clear he empathized with the protesters. I questioned whether the DOJ would really conduct a fair and balanced investigation, based on Holder’s public position on the event.

Yes, I have serious doubts about the storyline being promoted by Michael Brown’s defenders. First, the main eyewitness was Brown’s partner in the manhandling of a store clerk and the robbery of the store just prior to the fatal incident with the policeman. Is this a trustworthy witness? There are also accounts of the policeman who fired those fatal shots being attacked by Brown. Who is telling the truth? All I’m asking for is an approach that gets all the facts first, then makes a judgment as to guilt afterwards.

I was asked by one commenter if I wasn’t concerned about how the police acted, and that this might be an indication of statist control of society. Let me be very clear here. Anyone who has ever read this blog on a regular basis cannot fail to understand that I sound the alarm on statism constantly. I firmly believe in the rule of law. The end-run the Obama administration always tries to make around the Constitution is a genuine threat to liberty.

That word “liberty” requires some explanation as well. Some people have a terrible understanding of what liberty actually comprises. It is not licentiousness. That’s why I can never be a libertarian politically. Ideological libertarians want nearly a non-existent government, not only in the economic and educational spheres (where I have substantial agreement with them), but also in the moral sphere (where I disagree with them vehemently). They replace the God of the Bible, who has ordained civil government for very specific purposes, with the god “Liberty.”

True liberty always includes personal accountability and a framework, in society, for order. Liberty to do whatever one wants is not true liberty, but license. What I saw on the streets of Ferguson, as business owners had to defend their private property from those who wanted to just grab things for themselves, was license. A police force must stand against those actions. The responsibility of the police is to protect the innocent from those who are out to hurt and destroy.

Did the Ferguson police go too far? There is an honest difference of opinion on that. I suspect that some of those business owners wish the police had been more of a presence than they were. Did the police charge the protesters, killing and maiming everyone in their way?  I didn’t see any footage like that, did you? In fact, they seemed rather tentative at times, worried perhaps about the reputation they were getting. That never would have stopped Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Castro. We are hardly on the verge of a police state, at least at the local level.

Now, does that mean I have reached a definite conclusion about the events of that night when Michael Brown died? Regardless of my leanings, which are based on what I have read and seen thus far, I nevertheless would have to continue to suspend any final judgment. If I were a resident of Ferguson, I would have a clear conscience sitting on a jury to decide this matter. I would look carefully at all the evidence and make my final judgment only after reviewing the facts as presented by both sides.

But there are some things that are clear to me:

  • Scripture requires an orderly society based on the rule of law.
  • Government is not a necessary evil, but an institution established by God to restrain evil and maintain order.
  • Rioting and looting are sinful actions that need to be met with the force of the government and put down with a force equal to the sinful actions themselves.
  • Guilt or innocence will be decided in a court of law, not in the media or on the streets by the loudest voices.

This is where I stand, and I make no apologies for my stance.

The Pilgrim Story: Communism Rejected

The financiers who provided the funds for the Pilgrims’ voyage to America had as one of their requirements that the farming in the new settlement be set up communally. No individual or family was to have their own land. Rather, everyone had to work on communal land and receive an equal share of the crops. This wasn’t the Pilgrims’ idea, but they felt bound to the arrangement. For a while, at least.

William Bradford 2As governor, William Bradford had to make a decision at a critical point. It was becoming obvious this communal farming was far from ideal. He had difficulty convincing people to take responsibility for their allotted work time. There was no equivalency between how hard one worked and what one received in the end. A hard worker got no more than the person who decided to lean on his hoe half the time. Incentive was non-existent.

So Bradford, trying to stay within the guidelines to some extent, altered the rules to allow a certain portion of the fields to be given over to individual families to see if that made a difference. It certainly did. Bradford commented in his History of Plimoth Plantation that now people went out willingly to work, knowing that whatever effort they put into it, they would receive as a reward. He even noted that some of the women, who had previously found many excuses not to farm, now grabbed their children and took them to their private plot of land to labor.

The conclusion Bradford reached is instructive, not just for the Pilgrims’ circumstances, but for us today as well. He wrote,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe failure of this experiment of communal living, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients—that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community . . . would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.

Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another course was fitter for them.

So here we have, in the early 1620s, a prime example of the failure of communism, more than two centuries before Karl Marx penned his Communist Manifesto. Private property, and the sense of personal responsibility that comes with it, is one of those principles with a Biblical basis. As I said, this understanding is still important for us today. May we learn from history; it’s foolish to repeat the failures of the past.

The Ferguson Debacle

I’m glad having a black president and a black attorney general has taken care of the racial issues in America once and for all.

Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic.

I’ve watched the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, as I’m sure everyone else has also, but have refrained from commenting until all the facts are established. That may not happen for some time, though, so I do want to offer some thoughts on what is already obvious.

First, the killing of Michael Brown has exposed once again the deep racial divide that exists in the minds of some. I emphasize “in the minds of” because it’s rather baffling to me how anyone can call America a basically racist society when the president, attorney general, and key figures in the media, academia, and the sports world are now black. I guess it depends on one’s perspective:

Long Way

I freely admit I’m of the opinion that we truly have come a long way. Now, a critic would say that’s simply because I’m white, but I would counter that critique with my bedrock conviction that God created only one race—it’s called “human”—and that He sees us all as His potential children. I firmly believe there is no Scriptural basis for setting people against each other for any external reason, whether that’s the color of one’s skin or ethnic background. God looks at the heart.

That leads me to another observation: what’s in the hearts of those who think that justice is served by rioting, looting, and destroying legitimate businesses in the Ferguson community? Looting and destruction are not racial issues; they are sin being manifested. I don’t know if hatred was at the root of the Brown shooting; I can’t see into the policeman’s heart. But when I see resentment blazing into outright hatred and destruction of other people’s property, it’s not hard to read the hearts of those involved in such actions. Of course, what they don’t realize is that their selfish, sinful actions are only destroying what they claim they want to preserve. That’s what sin always does.

Back Off

The media has focused on the reaction of the police force and has condemned what it calls an “overmilitarization” of the police. Here’s how one cartoonist has expressed that feeling:

Tear Gas

Not being on the ground in Ferguson myself, I don’t know if the police have overreacted. However, I do know that some of the business owners don’t believe the police have done enough. The rioting and looting continue, and their livelihoods may be destroyed. Police also are being criticized for releasing a video that seems to implicate Brown in a convenience store robbery just prior to his death. I’ve seen the video; it looks pretty conclusive to me that Brown was acting like a thug. At 6’3″ and 300 pounds, I hope you might forgive me if I wonder if the policeman who came upon him later might have felt rather intimidated. The police are also criticized for having only 3% of the force black in a city where nearly 70% of the citizens are black. The former mayor was on TV this morning, though, explaining that they have an active search for black officers, but the pool is small from which to choose. In other words, racism is not the cause of the ethnic composition of the force.

On top of that, we now have the federal government getting involved. Both President Obama and Attorney General Holder are now inserting themselves into this local problem. How is this a federal government responsibility? Look at the pattern: these two men have spoken out on previous events that they concluded were racial, even when that was not necessarily the case—the Louis Gates incident in Boston and the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman spectacle in Florida. If they can fan the flames of racial division, they seem intent on doing so.

Let all the facts come out. If the policeman was out of bounds, acted wrongly, and his actions led to a death that should not have occurred, he should be punished for that. If Michael Brown was the one initiating the action, let’s don’t put him on a pedestal as some kind of martyr.

Above all, don’t let these incidents become trigger points for increased racial tension. Recognize that there are sinful people of all races and ethnicities who would like nothing better than to use such events for their own selfish purposes. Let’s be wise in our analysis and try our best to see this through the lens of Biblical principles.