King of America

Tomorrow will see the inauguration of the next President of the United States. We will end the eight-year tenure of Pres. Obama to make way for (at least) four years of Pres. Trump. The people, as they say, have spoken. Even though Mr. Trump lost the popular vote, the rising tide of partisan politics ironically allied with an increasing distrust of the Washington establishment was sufficient to carry him all the way to the White House.

It’s true that Mr. Trump has been subjected to more media scrutiny than any other candidate I know of, and, given the ubiquitous bias of our news agencies, he has been the subject of more fake or horribly slanted stories than any other as well. However, I’m not here to vindicate him, nor am I here to condemn. Mostly I just wonder at how a man objectively questionable on many metrics made it to his inauguration day — and I marvel a bit at the role the Church played in his doing so.

In a time when the Moral Majority is now defunct and the Religious Right has lost all sway, it would seem impossible for the evangelical voting bloc to influence an election. Yet it did, due in no small part to the tactics and policies of the current/previous administration. Pres. Obama may have billed himself as a champion of hope, but for evangelicals and other Christians, he destroyed hope. His global advocacy for same-sex “marriage” and abortion struck a nerve for many of us, and the policies advanced under his watch created an America defined by liberalism and progressive mores: acceptance of the LGBTQ community and non-binary genders, expanded abortion under the guise of women’s rights (despite it resulting in the deaths of countless women), stronger emphases on scientism and rationalism, restricted religious liberties, major changes to the healthcare system, etc. Most Christians view these as moral issues, and that makes them religious issues. And religion votes if you make it angry enough.

That, to me, is the good side of the evangelical alliance with the conservative party, our commitment to holding the line on some of the things which are clearly taught in the Bible. But there’s a dark side to it, too. Just beneath the surface runs a jingoistic strand of nationalism masquerading as simple patriotism. While I consider myself a patriot, I do not believe every country is totally inferior to the United States in every respect, nor do I believe our nation to be infallible, and I don’t even think capitalism and federalism are sacred cows. So I reject the all-too-common xenophobia, racism, and isolationism of the Republican party. I dismiss its assertion socialized medicine will only destroy us but allowing pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to charge exorbitant prices for what we need to survive will save our lives. Unfortunately, these are evils frequently propagated by those bearing the name of Christ who seem to put party above church and earthly citizenship above heavenly citizenship.

When we re-prioritize state above Savior, we fall into the same trap as did the ancient Israelites in 1 Samuel 8. You can replace “king” with “president,” but verses 6-7 would otherwise read the same: “But when they said ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.'”

To me, the 2016 election sounds an awful lot like 1 Samuel 8. Evangelical voters no longer trusted God to see them through the increased persecutions of a darkening world. Hope had been lost as influence waned, and they cried out for a new Messiah to save them from a shifting, sinful landscape. Prayers morphed to votes, and we elected a man who has yet to prove himself in political office or display the majority of the fruit of the Spirit despite reports of a mid-election conversion and baptism. Is it too early to offer decisive opinions on his presidency and a change of character? Absolutely. Only time can reveal both of those things, no matter how current indicators may appear. Is it safe to say he will do more in favor of Christian values than his opponent would have? Again, absolutely. Another Clinton presidency posed grave perils to evangelical beliefs and freedom of conscience.

But Mr. Trump should on no account be heralded as the new Christ come into the world to save us from the “pagan progressives,” either by name or by fact of attitude. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). Mr. Trump is none of those. The Republican party is none of those. Only Jesus can provide access to all of them, and so it is in him we have hope.

As always, I will obey just laws and submit to all governmental authorities; these are biblical commands. Evangelicals may have cried out for a king of America to rule them in this life — and we received one. And who knows; he may even have been chosen for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). But he is not a Savior, a crucified and risen Lord. So during the inauguration, remember this: Donald Trump will be my president, but Jesus Christ will remain my only King.

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The Absolute on Absolutes

One of the biggest paradoxes in Western culture is the prevailing perception of truth. It seems as though the notion of absolute truth has fallen by the wayside — except when it must be adhered to at all costs.

Let me explain. We have two very popular epistemological assumptions, one broad and one narrow, which must be believed in order to be a good citizen of the twenty-first century. The problem is their direct opposition to each other — a fact which is entirely ignored. On the one side is scientism/empiricism. To be true, something must be capable of being verified under direct observation à la the guidelines of scientific inquiry. Of course, the core tenet of scientism fails its own test (the statement “all things must be empirically verifiable to be true” is not itself empirically verifiable and therefore can’t be true in its own system), but that hasn’t stopped anyone from promoting it as a foundational paradigm. On the other side, and in direct conflict, is moral relativism. What is right for you may not be good in the eyes of someone else, and so you can’t enforce your own moral code anywhere but on your own personal behaviors. I say this conflicts with scientism because without core moral absolutes, morals degrade entirely; they cannot be verified in any way and therefore cannot exist. (Consider, for example, if we cannot agree on what precisely constitutes murder, theft, or rape; if we can’t match the activity to an absolute definition, then it could be argued the activity doesn’t exist according to empiricism. All that exists are uncategorized behaviors devoid of moral content.) Yet we’re bound by social convention to believe they do exist, just not in the same way for everyone. At best we’re left with some ephemeral type of something called “morality”; at worst, we hold a rather large contradiction in our heads because of social mandate.

I realize that probably comes across as splitting hairs or a weird reductionistic stance to some people, so let me broaden the second element from moral relativism to a relativism of all truth. Again, truth must be verifiable to be true; science says things are in fact verifiable; therefore, truth, absolute truth, must exist in the scientistic schema.

But we don’t want to believe that, schema or no. People say that what is true for you may or may not be true for me or anyone else. Absolute truth doesn’t exist — but when people tell me that, I typically laugh and say they’ve just made an absolute truth claim, so they clearly believe absolute truth does exist. (Seriously: if stating your position requires you to contradict it, you might want to get a new position.) We don’t want to believe that, though. Absolute truth creates moral absolutes, or least opens the door for them.

And that’s uncomfortable.

Consider the far-ranging results and implications of the absence of absolute truth. Science, and therefore scientism, fails. Everything based on the acquisition and manipulation of data fails: science, mathematics, history, anthropology, all of it. Even the arts break down once we remove necessary definitions for things such as “blue,” “Middle C,” and “square.” If those no longer exist, what about language? Architecture? Love? Yes, that’s a bit on the reductio ad absurdum side, but other things aren’t.

Scientific fact: humans come with twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in each cell, each chromosome comprised of genes linked together as either an X chromosome or a Y chromosome. (Exceptions are made for gametes and those suffering from rare genetic disorders.) They can only combine in one of two ways, resulting in an individual being limited to one of two biological sexes, an XX chromosome pairing for females and an XY pairing for males (again, extremely rare cases of things like hermaphroditism exist, but I’m talking about the other 99% of the time). These are absolute truths. There is no room in this truth for things such as transgenderism, non-binary genders/sexes, otherkin, etc. There are a number of people putting themselves in wheelchairs, casts, braces, etc. who are medically fine; they simply identify as “transabled,” a disabled person in a healthy body. Adults declare themselves to be children and wear diapers, or, worse, turn themselves into animals simply for sexual identity and gratification. These sorts of things are only permissible if we abandon absolute truths (here offered by biology) in favor of relativism. If we are free to reject what is real for what we want to be real, if we accept a sort of functional subjective metaphysical antirealism, we lose our very selves in the process. In short, self-destruction is the final end of relativism gone rampant.

The logical question to follow this isn’t “is truth absolute,” but, rather, “who determines what is absolute.” Here again our contemporaries offer up science and empiricism as the mediators of the absolute — but remember my earlier caveats. Some people believe such truths are obvious, available freely to anyone with ears to hear, but that leads to a subjective form of truth. After all, we might disagree on a few things due to differences in our sensory perceptions, and then who gets to break the tie? An individual is insufficient to establish absolutes, and those who try actually represent the guiding force of relativism (namely, my word against yours). A related warning: if we do know absolute truths to be absolute, we cannot let them make us arrogant, contemptuous, cruel, or callous. (This is why so many dislike Christians: we speak the truth, but we fail to do so in love, instead offering condemnation for those who fail to live up to our versions of the absolutes.)

What is the source of absolute truth and moral absolutes? To the theist, it is deity; to the Christian specifically, it’s the Triune God. We see this repeatedly in Scripture:

  • Psalm 33:4, “for the word of the LORD is right and true”
  • Psalm 31:5/Isaiah 65:16, “the God of truth”
  • John 1:14, “full of grace and truth”
  • John 14:16, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”
  • John 16:13, “he will guide you into all truth”
  • John 17:17, “your word is truth”
  • 1 Timothy 3:15, “pillar and foundation of the truth” [referring to the Church]

As Christians, we accept the authority of the Bible, and thus we see God as the sole source of absolute truth. If anything is true, it is of God; if anything is false, it is from Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44).

With an external, objective source of moral and truth absolutes, we can make legitimate truth claims. Blue is blue because it possesses the qualities of blueness, not because I personally think it a bit different shade from green. Right becomes right, wrong becomes wrong. Biological fact remains as immutable as all fact is, and deviations can be diagnosed so the one suffering can be helped. We call things what they actually are, not what we wish them to be.

For our wishes are subjective, relative. But truth, like the One behind it, is absolute.

Peace Like a River

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I think most of us in church circles have, at some point, sung “It Is Well with My Soul.” It’s been my favorite hymn since I was a junior in high school. I was in band, and we were practicing “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss” for our spring concert. Mid-song, my father walked into the band room, stood along the back wall, caught my eye, and slowly shook his head. I knew immediately my maternal grandfather had just passed away, had just lost his battle with cancer. With the band still playing around me, I stood up, told the band director what had happened, asked one of my friends to tend to my instrument for me, and left with my father. Had the words of that song not been echoing in my mind and heart as we played, I don’t think I would’ve been able to keep it together like I did. Somehow, it’s just easier to deal with things when the melody behind you proclaims “it is well with my soul.”

The first phrase of that song, “When peace like a river attendeth my way,” speaks volumes to me. I consider it a personal mark of being in God’s will to have peace about me. If a decision throws me into panic or chaos, I search for the option that brings peace when I prayerfully consider it, and that’s the option I choose. It’s not always the easiest option, nor the safest, but it has never failed to be the best. When I’m in the wrong, peace is nowhere to be found, and I know I need to do a bit of self-examination and repenting in order to restore that divine sense of ease. Peace has become my barometer, one of my chief tools of discernment. It’s my way of doing as Paul writes in Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

The Bible has a lot to say about peace. It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), a hallmark of those who are called by the name of Christ. If we are truly new creations through water and the Holy Spirit, we are given the peace of Christ. In most liturgical worship services, there’s even a specific time to “pass the peace.” (I mean, nothing wrong with an old-fashioned handshake line, but deliberately telling the other person “Peace of Christ” when you do it carries just a bit more theological content.) As believers, we are to be at peace with one another and with our neighbors.

The world . . . well, the world doesn’t make that easy most days. If there are four things the world greatly lacks, they’re love, hope, faith, and peace. Because it lacks the first three, it lacks the fourth. If love, hope, and faith prevailed, think of what the world would look like. Peace would abound as war ended, as crime ceased. That would be the legacy of peace. And, to be fair, we do try to promote peace, don’t we? We even have a prize for people who make a difference in establishing peace around the world. Whether or not we listen to those people is another story entirely.

With the lack of peace around us, it can be difficult to establish peace for ourselves. Fortunately for us, peace doesn’t come from ourselves; it comes from God. Philippians 4:7 assures us “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What a beautiful promise! But how do we live into it? The answer is just before, in verses 4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” If we do these things — rejoice, be gentle, stop worrying, and pray about all things while giving thanks — we are promised a divine peace, a peace so boundless and wonderful we cannot comprehend it. And there are some things we shouldn’t try to comprehend; we’re meant to simply enjoy the benefits.

As the holidays end and life gets back to normal, I invite you to a season of peace. Don’t be so quick to jump from one thing to another. Rest. If you’re faced with a major decision, seek the peace from God that comes with the right choice. The Holy Spirit will guide you in the way you should go if only you’ll stop to listen. And even when things go wrong, when nothing is right in the world, you can cry out to God and say, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'” And in that moment, you will receive peace.