jasonbwatson

August 17, 2017

Intentional Idiocy

Fortunately I am not the leader of the free world and therefore no one has been criticizing me for not responding more quickly to the white supremacist nonsense in Charlottesville, VA five days ago. My delayed addressing of it in this space has nothing to do with me not condemning it as strongly as I possibly can and everything to do with being a wee bit busy with the start of a new school year. However, I feel I have reached a point of preparedness for the week ahead that I can pause for a while this morning and type out some of that which I have been thinking.

The first thing I would like to say is simply this: the idea that anyone could still hold to the idea of any race being superior to any other goes beyond upbringing and prejudice and serves as the strongest possible example of intentional idiocy. It is absurd and nonsensical for anyone in the twenty-first century to believe with any level sincerity that one race is superior to any other. The evidence against such a notion is so overwhelming that anyone who thinks it is truly characterized by mental dullness (part of the dictionary.com definition of “stupid”). In case that is not clear, let me be more specific: anyone who actually believes that one race is superior to another suffers from a mental defect. That does not, however, excuse anyone from their ludicrous notions because this is a mental defect that is entirely self-inflicted. Or, at a minimum, self-perpetuated.

Having lived in the south for a number of years I am well aware that there are still areas where people commonly refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. There are people who still hold to the notion that the South will rise again. There are people who still believe that anyone that is not white is inferior, lesser and somehow other than fully, equally human with those who are white. I also recognize that many of those people were born into families and communities that perpetuate that nonsense and have simply been parroting the foolishness they received from their parents, who received it from their parents, and so on back up the family tree. But that does not excuse their stupidity. There have been examples throughout U.S. history of individuals who were born and raised in areas and families of strong white supremacist convictions who overcame that apparent disadvantage by recognizing and accepting the truth about human equality and choosing truth over prejudice. There are even individuals who were born into slave holding families and attended churches that taught that blacks were created by God to be in a condition of servitude to the whites who overcame that by embracing the truth of human equality. Sarah and Angelina Grimké would be two great examples but there are many others.

Sadly, the church does bear some responsibility for the racist notions of many white supremacists. Many Christian schools, especially in the American south, were birthed as part of the “white flight” movement after racial integration became the law. Many white churches in the south would not allow blacks to attend their services much less become members. Interracial marriage was forbidden in many churches–and in some it still is. Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, lost its non-profit status for a while over its refusal to give up its ban on interracial dating, claiming the Bible supported their position. I was present in a Southern Baptist church some twelve years ago when the church leadership announced one Sunday from the pulpit that after prayerful consideration their decision was that the church’s pastor had not done anything biblically wrong by officiating an interracial wedding. It blew my mind that that was still an issue in twenty-first century America. I was relieved that they reached the correct decision, but it should never even have been a question. There is simply no way to accurately interpret the Bible and come to any position other than full human equality regardless of race.

I have disagreed with some of what she has written since, but Dr. Christena Cleveland’s 2013 book Disunity in Christ provides excellent insight into why so many Christians continue to struggle with fully embracing equality in action even when they want to do so and can articulate those convictions verbally. She expresses what needs to happen succinctly on page 61 of her book when she writes this:

We must relentlessly attack inaccurate perceptions in our everyday interactions, weekly sermons, denominational meetings and dinner table conversations. Now that we are aware that categorizing is polluting our perceptions of other groups in the body of Christ, we must do the work of purifying our perceptions. What we need to do is really quite simple: rather than continuing on as cognitive misers who lazily rely on inaccurate categories to perceive others, we need to engage in what my friend Reverend Jim Caldwell calls cognitive generosity. We need to turn off autopilot and take time to honestly examine our polluted perceptions.

Parents, extended family members and communities bear responsibility for perpetuating the notion of racial supremacy or inferiority as well. We know this is true because racism and hatred are not naturally present–even in a world marred by the total depravity of man due to original sin. Jimmy Fallon started The Tonight Show on January 14 by speaking out against hatred and the nonsense in Charlottesville. In his comments he mentioned his 2 and 4 year-old daughters and said, “They don’t know what hate is. They go to the playground and they have friends of all races and backgrounds. They just play and they laugh and they have fun.” I have seen that childlike innocence of race demonstrated in my own daughter. My brother and his wife have four adopted children. All but one of them are of different racial backgrounds than my brother and his wife and that difference is immediately noticeable due to their varying skin tones. When my daughter was still a toddler they adopted their fourth child and she is only one who looks at all like she could actually be their child. My daughter was old enough to understand that the necessary steps and time had not occurred for this new cousin to have joined the family through natural means. As we explained that she was adopted just like the other three children in their family my daughter expressed shock that the three others were not the natural children of my brother and his wife. The varying skin tones meant nothing at all to her!

This is why I call racism and notions of racial supremacy intentional idiocy. It takes intentionality to accept that one race is superior to another. It takes intentionality to teach that to children. It takes intentionality to continue accepting it even in the face of reality and mature understanding that all humans truly are created equal. It takes a conscious commitment to and genuine intentionality to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and think that you are better than someone else simply because your skin color is different than theirs, to think that you deserve more or better than someone else simply because of your race. Doing that for a while, based on your upbringing and your surroundings, may be excusable. Continuing to do it when you’re old enough to know better makes you an intentional idiot.

The same day that Jimmy Fallon began his show by addressing the Charlottesville mess, an editorial by Cal Thomas appeared in The Washington Times. Thomas makes a number of excellent observations in the piece, but one of the most significant is his reminder that there is no such thing as a supreme race precisely because there is no such thing as racial purity. Thomas writes, “Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, discovered in ‘Finding Your Roots,’ his PBS series on race in America, that there are no purebred humans. Mr. Gates himself discovered through a DNA test that he is descended from an Irish immigrant and a slave.”

The idea that there is no such thing as racial purity assumes, of course, that there is such a thing as race. A truly biblical worldview however goes even further and negates the notion of race completely. Are there various skin tones? Of course. But there is only one race and that is this: human. Answers in Genesis, the apologetics ministry that is most well known for its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, has long taught that there is no such thing as race. Search “racism” on the AIG web site and you will find a page under their worldview section that beings like this:

The term race is often used to classify people based almost solely on physical characteristics. According to evolutionary ideas, these so-called races descended from different ancestors separated by location and time. However, based on biblical history, the term race must be incorrect. We are all one race (“one blood” in Acts 17:26), the human race.

It’s not just “black” and “white.” A person’s skin shade (what is on the outside) should in no way invoke any sort of prejudice or racist comments. What a difference we would see in our world if people reacted in accord with biblical principles, understanding all humans are equal before God, and all are sinners in need of salvation.

Anyone claiming to believe the Bible has to acknowledge that the Bible teaches several truths that fundamentally destroy any notion of race, let alone racial superiority. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” God made man–and woman–in His own image. That word man is all-inclusive. Every human being is created in the image of God. Every human being is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and first woman. Every woman being is also descended from Noah, since only Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives survived the destruction of the earth by flood as described in Genesis 6-9. The Bible makes it clear that God does not show partiality and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for human sin because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16), a statement which omits any reference to race. Jesus repeatedly commanded that those who follow Him are to love one another, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. James condemning the showing of any partiality. There is simply no biblical justification for racism or attitudes of supremacy.

But what about Charlottesville specifically? CBS News posted a photographic story on line that included some fifty-five images and paragraph-length commentary or reporting on each one. The title of the story is “White supremacist rallies in Va. lead to violence.” The first picture and caption stated that the rally was planned by white supremacists and “advertised as ‘Unite the Right.'” Whether “the Right” was intended to refer to the political right or to the notion of right as opposed to wrong, it was an inaccurate label on both counts. As demonstrated here already racism and ideas of supremacy are never right. And there is no evidence that most individuals who identify with the right wing of the political spectrum are racists. That some claim that does not make it so for all. Cal Thomas said that David Duke claiming that he voted for Donald Trump does not make Trump a racist or the KKK representative of Trump’s positions or goals for America. “Mr. Duke claimed in Charlottesville that whites elected Mr. Trump,” Thomas wrote. “Sufficient numbers of white voters also elected Barack Obama — twice — so what’s his point?”

The CBS story reported, on the next slide, that in July “members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and called for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments,” a demonstration that came “[a]mid heightened community outcries for the removal of monuments honoring Confederate heroes.” Removing those monuments is another example of stupidity but advocating their removal–or even removing them legally–is no justification for claims of white supremacy.

The Civil War is an important part of American history and there is absolutely nothing to gain by trying to erase all images or references or even monuments to it from our land. According to a Washington Times article published just today, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker “plans to introduce legislation that calls for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building.” The Capitol includes statues of both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. There are, according to the Architect of the Capitol, “three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex.” Is that sad? Of course. But there are ways to fix that problem without eliminating the Confederate statutes. And the statues in Statuary Hall were placed there by the action of each state legislature (each state gets two), so it would make far more sense for state legislatures to reconsider whom they want representing their state in the Capitol than it would for Senator Booker to propose the removal by congressional action. Most Americans do not know who the Confederates in Statuary Hall are and would not recognize their names or historical significance even if they did. (Think I’m wrong? Without using Google or any other resource, tell me who Edward Douglass White, James Zachariah George, Uriah Milton Rose or Zebulon Baird Vance were, for example). The collection of one hundred statutes was not completed until 2005 when New Mexico finally sent its second statue. Seven states have replaced one of their first two since Congress authorized replacements in 2000, so if a state–or the people of a state–want to put a different individual in the collection to represent them let them do so. For Cory Booker or anyone else, however, to say that they have to do so is dictatorial and a clear violation of free speech and other constitutional rights. Alabama replaced Jabez Curry, who was a Confederate politician, in 2009. Florida approved replacing Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate, in 2016. So let the process run its course! (The collection, by the way, only includes nine women and a handful of Native Americans, so there are a number of other underrepresented groups as well).

According to CBS, the white supremacist protesters marching into the University of Virginia campus were shouting “Blood and soil”, a phrase used by Nazis. Demonstrators were giving “Nazi salutes and chant[ing] ‘You will not replace us’ (and alternately, ‘Jews will not replace us’).” One man said he was participating in the march because, “‘Our country has been usurped by a foreign tribe, called the Jews. We’re tired of it.'” Business Insider reported that on Monday, August 14,

“Vice News Tonight” published a chilling 22-minute documentary featuring interviews with several of the white nationalists who helped lead the “Unite the Right” rally that devolved into violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Most prominently featured throughout the episode is Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who provided an in-depth description of his beliefs and his movement’s goals at the rally to Vice correspondent Elle Reeves.

Cantwell offered racist critiques of black and Jewish people, confirmed that his movement was violent, and defended the killing of Heather Heyer — the 32-year-old woman fatally struck on Saturday by a driver identified as a white supremacist — as “justified.”

Later in the article Cantwell was quoted as saying that he wanted a president far more racist than Donald Trump, whose daughter Ivanka is married to a Jew, and that “a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.” He went on to say,

This is part of the reason that we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast — we don’t really want a part of that anymore, and so the fact that they resist us when we say we want a homeland is not shocking to me. These people want violence, and the right is just meeting a market demand.

Cantwell’s statements are disgusting. They may even be construed as illegal and treasonous. The right to free speech and opinion must be protected. We cannot make being an idiot a crime. But actions can become crimes. Illegal marches and protests, inciting others to violence and destruction of public property are all crimes, not to mention actual violence, and they should be treated as such. Anyone who broke the law at the Charlottesville rally should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who broke the law by yanking down a Confederate statue Durham, North Carolina should also be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. One good thing about modern technology like ubiquitous cell phone cameras and social media networks is that someone is almost always filming this nonsense–usually the idiots themselves–and posting it for all the world to see. Arrests and convictions should be rather simple.

There are very few things that will truly unite Americans anymore. Politics will never do it. Sports won’t. Religion will not. But the uncompromising and determined opposition of racial hatred and violence should unite us all. There is simply no place for it in this country. We should be just as united against the idiocy of Charlottesville as we were at the attacks of 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were attacks against the United States of America, against what we are, what we stand for and what we believe. The Charlottesville rally was no less such an attack.

 

 

September 27, 2012

Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?

The question above is one of the most frequently asked questions in the world, I think. Unbelievers ask it of believers, and believers ask it of other believers and of God Himself. It is not an easy question to answer, but there are some relevant biblical passages that I think help to understand.

I am indebted to John MacArthur, John Piper, Lee Strobel and others in developing my own understanding of how to handle this question.

The tragedy and suffering to which I am referring can fall into various categories, I think. Natural disasters and acts of human depravity are the ones we most often think of, and the ones of which this question is most often asked, I think, but the same question can be asked when bad things happen to good people or when wicked people seek to prosper (when good things happen to bad people, in other words). While my answer is aimed primarily at the first two, the principles are applicable to the second two.

Acts of human depravity prompt strong emotions. The resulting emotions are so strong, in fact, that in extreme instances people can remember exact details of where they were when they first heard of the tragedy. Those who were alive during the attack on Pearl Harbor never forgot that news. I can remember my mother telling me of her recollection of getting the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I, like many others, remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first learned of the events of 9/11. It is normal to try to make sense of these senseless acts of violence, and it can be difficult, at best, to try to reconcile these events with a belief that God is a loving and all-powerful God.

Before looking at Scripture in an effort to understand why such horrible acts of human depravity can occur if God is indeed a God of love, two background principles are important. First, Jesus Himself promised, in John 16:33, that we will have tribulations as long as we are on this earth. Second, in I Corinthians 13:12, Paul explains that right now, in our finite human minds, we can see only dimly–we know only in part. Like looking through a fog or gazing into a dirty mirror, we cannot get a high resolution image of why things occur. God has that perspective, and perhaps in eternity–if we still want to know–God will grant us that perspective, but we will never be able to grasp sharp, specific answers to any one natural disaster or act of depravity. As frustrating as that may be for me or for you, that’s simply “the way it is.” I do not know why God allowed Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans, or why God did not stop a young man from chaining doors shut to maximize the loss of life on the campus of Virginia Tech. Furthermore, I would approach with skepticism any person who claims to have a specific explanation for such tragedies. The reality is, we cannot fully know the mind of God in such instances.

But there is plenty that we can know, and I turn now to that.

First, God did not create evil and suffering. In Genesis 1:31 God said, after six days of creation, that the world He created was good. Accordingly, there was no evil or suffering at the end of creation; had there been, God could not have said everything was good. In I Corinthians 14:33 it says that God is not a God of confusion. Regardless of whatever else may occur in the aftermath of natural disasters or acts of mass violence, confusion always results. The panic, the screaming, the smoke and dust, the complete chaos… God does not, and cannot, author such things. I John 1:5 says that in God there is no darkness at all. Habakkuk 1:13 says that “God is of purer eyes than to approve evil or behold evil. He cannot look on wickedness.” And I John 2:16 says, “All that is in the world, all evil categorically, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life is not of the Father.”

However, God had to give human beings a free will in order to give humans the ability to love. Love, whatever else it is or however else it may be defined, is a choice, and without the ability and freedom to make a choice, humans could not love–one another, or God; for if love is a choice, “forced” or “programmed” love is not love at all.

So how did evil enter the world? First, recall that Lucifer was cast out of heaven for wanting to be like God. Isaiah 14:12-14 describes Lucifer’s arrogance and resulting fall. Notice the repeated “I” statements in that passage. Lucifer wanted to be like God. In Luke 10:18 Jesus describes seeing Lucifer fall from heaven like lightening from the sky. Interestingly, Satan, in the guise of a serpent, then tempted Eve the same way in Genesis 3, telling her that if she ate of the fruit, she would be like God.

Sin, then, entered the world through Adam and Eve, and has been inherited by every human being thereafter. See Romans 5:12. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is desperately wicked. James 1:14 says that each person is drawn away by his own lust–meaning we each have our own unique sin nature and proclivities.

John MacArthur, in his sermon “The Origin of Evil,” says: “Listen to this, to disobey God was to initiate evil. Evil is not the presence of something, evil is the absence of righteousness. You can’t create evil because evil doesn’t exist as a created entity. It doesn’t exist as a created reality. Evil is a negative. Evil is the absence of perfection. It’s the absence of holiness. It’s the absence of goodness. It’s the absence of righteousness. Evil became a reality only when creatures chose to disobey. Evil came into existence initially then in the fall of angels and then next, in the fall of Adam and Eve.”

So, God did not create evil, but He did create the possibility for evil to exist by giving human beings a free will, the ability to choose, and make their own decisions. God could have chosen to make us robots, but He didn’t.

Second, God is omnipotent, and He could stop or prevent evil if He wanted to do so. This is perhaps the hardest part to wrap our minds around and come to grips with, because we, in our limited understanding, cannot fathom having the ability to prevent evil and not doing so. In Genesis 18:14a we see the rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for God?” The answer, of course, is no. In Mark 10:27 we see Jesus Himself say, “All things are possible with God.” In Job, we see that God limits the power and reach of Satan (see Job 1:12 and 2:6). So no evil takes place that God does not allow to occur, and no evil takes place that God could not stop. Remember, however, that preventing or eliminating evil would necessitate the removal or, at the very least, the partial suspension of free will.

Third, though evil (including pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution, etc.) is not good, and is not from God, God can and does work through evil to accomplish His purposes. In Romans 8:28 we have the verse that is probably too cavalierly used in attempting to comfort and encourage those who are going through difficulties, but that does not change the veracity of the verse: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB, emphasis added). That little three-letter word “all” is really a huge word, because it means that there is nothing that God cannot and does not work through for the good of those who love Him. God is never surprised, and is never left thinking, “Now how am I going to make anything good out of this?” In His omniscience, He knows full well exactly what will happen and when, and how He will work through it.

In Isaiah 46:9-10 we see that God’s purposes will be accomplished–so evil cannot thwart or derail the plans of God. In Genesis 50:20 we see an excellent example. If anyone had lived a life that would prompt questioning God’s goodness and love it was Joseph. He was sold by his own brothers into slavery, then, after working his way to the top of Potiphar’s household was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, and when he translated dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants he asked them not to forget him, but they did, for several years. Yet, looking back on all that, Joseph was able to tell his brothers that what they had intended for evil God had used for good. In Philippians 1:12 there is a great New Testament example. Paul had suffered tremendously for the cause of Christ, from beatings to stonings to shipwrecks to imprisonment, and yet he wrote that what had happened had really served to further the gospel. We may not be able to understand why, but for whatever reason, God allows deeds that He hates, and He works through them to accomplish His purposes and to bring glory o Himself.

After all, the greatest example of evil ever perpetrated by man would be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was perfect–He had never sinned, never done a single thing worthy of punishment, and yet He was executed on a Roman cross. God could have prevented that evil; Jesus Himself could have refused to allow Himself to be executed. Yet, through that horrible act of human depravity, God worked to accomplish His plan to pay for the sins of humanity and to make possible the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of salvation.

Fourth, it is important that we keep in mind that we can question God–so long as we remember our place, and do so with reverence and respect. Many questions are put to God in the Psalms. Job questioned God. Habakkuk questioned God, too. After asking God whether He was aware of what was going on–and receiving God’s response that He knew exactly what was going on, and was going to address it–Habakkuk was incredulous. God’s solution seemed worse than the problem! By the end of the book though (see Habakkuk 3:16) Habakkuk is well aware of His place. He remembers that God is God, and he is not.

The web site gotquestions.org says, “It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is. God is not intimidated by questions. God invites us to enjoy close fellowship with Him. When we “question God” it should be from a humble spirit and open mind. We can question God, but we should not expect an answer unless we are genuinely interested in His answer. God knows our hearts, and knows whether we are genuinely seeking Him to enlighten us. Our heart attitude is what determines whether it is right or wrong to question God.”

In other words, there is a world of difference in questioning God out of a desire to understand and questioning God as an accusation. One is a humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and an expression of a desire to know what we can learn, how we can help and how we can grow. The other is based on the position that we know better than God, and is the equivalent of yelling at God, “How dare you!”

Fifth, we must remember–and be encouraged by the fact–that God will eventually conquer evil once and for all. Satan has already been defeated, but God has thus far allowed the battles to rage on even though the war has been won. But Revelation 20 makes it absolutely clear that one day that will change; God will say “enough,” and Satan will be thrown forever into the lake of fire.

Finally, we must bear in mind that our suffering in this life is temporary, and it pales in comparison to what God has in store for us as believers in eternity. See Romans 8:18 and I Corinthians 2:9.

No one wants suffering or trials or tribulations or the seeming triumph of evil in this world. And there is nothing wrong with feeling grief, sadness and even anger over man’s inhumanity to man. There is nothing wrong with humbly questioning God. But the truth is, as long as we exist on this earth there will be evil. God, for reasons only He may understand, allows it, and works through it to accomplish His purposes.

So, what’s the bottom line? Evil exists in the world because God loved us enough to allow for the potential for evil to exist. I realize that does not seem to make sense. And please note that I did not say that evil is an expression of God’s love. It absolutely is not, and God hates evil. But God’s love for humans is stronger than His hatred of evil, and therefore He created a world in which we each have the freedom to make our own decisions–even when those decisions are to commit evil.

When we are faced with evil, we must decide how we will respond. We can turn from God, or we can turn to God. But the good news is found at the end of that verse we started with; John 16:33 does promise that we will have tribulation, but Jesus then says, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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