Social Issues

Infographic for God Made All of Me

Infographic for God Made All of Me

Child sexual abuse is more prevalent than most people think and the offenders are usually people parents and the children know, not strangers.

The good news is that parents are not helpless. As a matter of fact, incorporating parents into prevention efforts makes child safety training most effective.

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Here are the citations for the infographic:

  • “About one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused during childhood.” —National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Programs for Children, 2011.
  • “A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger.” —Roland C. Summit, “The Child Abuse Accommodation Syndrome,” Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 7, 1983: 182; and Jon R. Conte, ed., Critical issues in Child Sexual Abuse (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications), 122.
  • “Most victims of child sexual abuse know their attacker; 34% of assailants were family members, 58% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.” —US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000), see Table 6 on page 10.
  • “Incorporating parents into prevention efforts makes child safety training most effective.” —National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Programs for Children, 2011.
  • “Involvement by parents is crucial because 65% of social workers, 53% of doctors and 58% of physician assistants do not report all suspected cases of child maltreatment. Several studies document that even medical professionals often miss cases of child abuse or fail to report suspicions.” —Steven Delaronde et al, Opinions Among Mandated Reporters Toward Child Maltreatment Reporting Policies, 25 Child Abuse & Neglect 81, 88 (2000); David Finkelhor, Is Child Abuse Overreported? 48 Public Welfare 22, 25 (1990); E.G. Flaherty, et al, Pediatrician Characteristics Associated with Child Abuse Identification and Reporting: Results from a National Survey of Pediatricians, 11(4) Child Maltreatment 361 (2006); E.G. Flaherty, et al, From Suspicion of Physical Abuse to Reporting: Primary Care Clinician Decision-Making, 122  Pediatrics 611 (2008); and V.l. Gunn, et al, Factors Affecting Pediatricians’ Reporting of Suspected Child Maltreatment, 5(2) Ambulatory Pediatrics 96 (2005).
  • “Personal safety education involves simply telling children that the parts of their body covered by bathing suits are not supposed to be touched by others and, when they are, they should tell someone. If the person they tell doesn’t believe them, they should keep on telling until they are believed. In addition to teaching the children personal safety, it is important to provide instruction to the parents so that they can reinforce these lessons at home and will know how to respond if a child makes a disclosure. Many teach fire safety, school crossing safety, or even swimming safety and yet bristle at the thought of personal safety designed to empower children to protect themselves against offenders.” —Victor I. Vieth, “Suffering the Children: Developing Effective Church Policies on Child Maltreatment,” Jacob’s Hope (Vol. 2, Issue 1, June 2011).
The Church and Women at Risk

The Church and Women at Risk

Lindsey, my wife, wrote this article—“The Church and Women at Risk”— for the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This article is relevant for October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The entire article can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt:

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.

Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” ( James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.

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Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue

Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue

Jackson Katz gave a TED talk on the issue of violence against women. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are often called “women’s issues.” But in his talk, Jackson points out that these are intrinsically men’s issues — and shows how these violent behaviors are tied to definitions of manhood. It’s a call for everybody — women and men — to call out unacceptable behavior and be leaders of change.

Jackson is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I assigned his book, Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, in a few of my courses when I taught at the University of Virginia. Students loved reading it. He also created the poster–“10 Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence“–which is also available in Spanish.

 

God & Sexuality

God & Sexuality

There are moments for Christians to decry rebellion against Christian sexual ethics, but we should also celebrate and talk about God’s original plan for sexuality too.

Christians too often express what has been called a “Puritanical”view of sex in which it is seen as something that is dirty and an abasement of human morality. However, God made humans inherently sexual beings, both in terms of their biological natures as male and female and in terms of their desires to use their bodies in the context of marriage for pleasure and procreation.

According to Stanley Grenz, “the assertion that sexuality belongs to the essential nature of the human person arises from two Christian doctrines, creation and resurrection. God created us as embodied beings, and in the resurrection recreates us in like fashion. Together the two doctrines confirm a basically holistic anthropology that includes our sexuality.”

In the Bible, human sexuality begins in the garden of Eden, where God created all things good, including the male and female and their sexuality, and commanded humans to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Sex was God’s idea and an expression of shalom, peace, love, and unity.

It is after this original goodness when sins enters the world and all good things are distorted and everything goes haywire, including sex. About God, sex, creation, and sin, Robert Gagnon writes: “Scripture regards the urge to gratify intensely pleasurable sexual desires as part of God’s good creation. Nevertheless, given their often-insatiable quality, Scripture also recognizes a constant threat to the Creator’s norms.”

Thus, from the biblical perspective, there is one conclusion. The proper context for sex isthe “permanent, monogamous relationship called marriage. This perspective is the basic teaching of the Bible in both Old and New Testaments.” At the same time, there is much more in the Bible regarding sex, shalom, sin, grace, and hope.

Here is a slightly longer version of the Bible’s story about sex.

In the Beginning, In God’s Image

The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good Creator of all things and the One who rules the universe. His creative handiwork—everything from light to land to living creatures—is called “good.”But the crown of God’s good creation is humanity. We are made in the very image of God. And God declared: “behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature as we were created like God (Gen 1:26), by God (Gen 1:2), for God (Gen 2:15), and to be with God (Gen 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let us make man in our image.” The fact that our Creator gave us a remarkable title—“the image of God”—speaks of the inherent dignity of all human beings. The expression “image of God” designated human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe.

Multiply and Have Dominion

Immediately after making the man and woman, God granted them a special commission: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’”(Gen 1:28).This verse contains five commands:  “be fruitful,” “multiply,” “fill,” “subdue,” and “have dominion.”  These decrees reveal our most basic human responsibilities.

With the commission to multiply, Adam and Eve’s job was to produce so many images of God that they would cover the earth. Then God ordered them to have dominion over the earth, or exercise authority over creation, managing its vast resources on God’s behalf, not dominating it, but being good stewards of creation and creators of culture.

Multiplication and dominion are deeply connected to our being the image of God. To be sure, God had no problem filling the earth with his presence, but God chose to establish His authority on earth in ways that humans could understand. God commanded His images to populate the landscape of His creation. In the command to “multiply,” God wanted His images spread to the ends of the earth. His command to “have dominion” is God giving humans authority to represent Him in His world. Marital sex is one of the means by which we fulfill our calling of multiplying and taking dominion.

Shalom

God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with His image bearers, who were to glorify Him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and His wise rule, is called shalom. Cornelius Plantinga writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

Shalom means fullness of peace. It is the vision of a society without violence or fear: “I will give you peace (shalom) in the land, and none shall make you afraid”(Lev 26:6).Shalom is a profound and comprehensive sort of well-being—abundant welfare—with its connotations of peace, justice, and the common good.  Shalom means harmonious and responsible relationship with God, other human beings, and nature. In short, biblical writers use the word shalom to describe the world of universal peace, safety, justice, order, and wholeness God intended.

In shalom, sex was also a reflection of unity and peace between man and woman. It is a picture of two becoming one. God meant for sexual feelings, thoughts, and activity to be pleasurable and intimacy building in marriage.

Sin

Sin distorts this beautiful act of union, pleasure, calling, and worship. God intended humankind to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), spreading divine image-bearers throughout his good world. This multiplying of offspring and exercising of dominion was to happen through the God-ordained sexual union between man and woman, husband and wife, in the context of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:24-25).

This peaceful, loving relationship was shattered by the entrance of sin into the world. Sin has distorted this beautiful act of union, pleasure, calling, and worship. Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and shalom was violated. Sin wrecks the order and goodness of God’s world. One scholarcalls sin “the vandalism of shalom.” Instead of unashamed intimacy and trust, there is shame and mistrust. Instead of grace, there is disgrace.

A foundational element of paradise—sexual innocence in community—has been spoiled by the treachery of sin. Sex—the very expression of human union, intimacy, and peace—became a tool for pain, suffering, and destruction after the Fall.

Grace

But sin is not the last word on the world or us. God reconciled the world to Himself through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). By dealing with sin at the cross, Jesus made reconciliation between God and humanity possible, as well as reconciliation with one another.

The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace. God’s redemption imparts grace and brings peace. The effects of grace include our sexual past, present, and future. There is healing, hope, cleansing, and forgiveness for all who trust in Jesus.

God does not leave things broken, and is always at work redeeming the sin, wounds, and brokenness involved in human sexuality. Where sin does its damage, God brings forgiveness and healing, which are part of God’s larger plan of restoring shalom.

Hope

Redemption removes and rectifies the alienation introduced by the fall, restoring humankind to fellowship with God (Rom. 5:12-21; Eph. 2:1-22) and with itself (Isa. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-7). Further, Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit offer hope even now to grow and become more sexually whole in Christ.

In Christ there is also great hope for human sexuality. Lewis Smedes writes:

“Jesus did not have to talk about sexuality to affirm it. Sexuality is affirmed by the route that God took for the redemption of humanity. The Resurrection, as well as the Incarnation, carries the body-life of humankind in a deep divine embrace. Redemption is not the promise of escape from the demands or appetites of the body. To confess that Jesus Christ arose from the grave bodily is to reiterate God’s good feelings about his own creation of human beings as body-persons; to celebrate the Resurrection includes a celebration of human sexuality. God did not become man to show us how to get out of our body by means of spiritual exercises. He created a community of resurrection hope and invites us to bring our total sexuality into it. Christ’s resurrection makes permanent God’s union with the whole of humanity, and it thus affirms sexuality as part of our hope for ultimate happiness and freedom.”

God and God’s People

In the New Testament we also learn that human sexuality paints one of the most moving pictures of God’s relationship with His people. In the Old Testament, Israel is repeatedly portrayed as a wayward lover of God, who had redeemed her. In the New Testament, the church is referred to as Christ’s bride (e.g., Rev 19:7), and Paul explains that the one-flesh union of man and woman mentioned in Genesis is a picture of Christ and his church (Eph 5:28-33).

Jesus seems to imply that sex will not exist in heaven as it has on earth (Matt 22:30). Likely this is because the sexual union ultimately points to the relationship that Christ has with His people, which will be consummated upon His return. As we are the beloved of God, He promises always to satisfy all of our deepest longings and desires, allowing us to “drink from the river of Your delights” (Psalm 36:8; cf. Rev 22:1-2), now and forever in the age to come.

Conclusion

In the Bible, we find a divinely created pattern for sex, but in the Bible we also find it violated frequently and these violations are repeated throughout human history. God does not leave things broken, however, and is always at work redeeming the sin, wounds, and brokenness involved in human sexuality. God redeems and restores. He reestablishes the original peace and goodness that was violated by the Fall. God’s recreation is not simply a repair job so thing work a bit better than before. Rather, in his creative loving power God finds a way to restore his creation in such a way that everything is even better than it was before sin mucked everything up.

Apologetic of Mercy

Apologetic of Mercy

My friend and former student, Chris Sicks, wrote an important book titled Tangible: Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth. In today’s Church there seems to be two well-intentioned groups. “Deed” people feed the hungry and help the poor while “Word” people proclaim the Gospel and engage in apologetics. The two often seem to compete with one another, but God always intended them to be partners. Sacrificial love can grab the attention of those we serve, opening their ears and minds to the words we share.

Chris was my student at Reformed Theological Seminary, where his personal ministry and his studies in my apologetics course combined to develop his thesis, which forms the basis for his book. His labors have resulted in a great book that I am proud to endorse and plan to assign in future courses. Chris cares passionately and has thought deeply about this topic.

He invited me to write the foreword, which is below.


 

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that He was the fulfillment of these words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). In this declaration and in His ministry Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed are at the very center of His divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set His people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet His teachings and example show us that if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power, the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors.

Historically, the Christian church has at its best been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The fourth-century church provides one example:

In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. . . . He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

In more recent history, Christian churches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives.

Mercy ministry is an opportunity for Christian churches to take the gospel to those most in need, provide the marginalized and oppressed an alternative community centered on Jesus (the church), and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to social injustice in our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of Jeremiah 29:7 for God’s people to seek the welfare of the cities where God has placed us, and to obey the call of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for the most vulnerable.

Chris Sicks knows firsthand that mercy ministry is an effective apologetic for the gospel. A former atheist who rejected many intellectual apologetic arguments, Chris is now a pastor who leads numerous mercy ministry initiatives. He has seen with his own eyes how God uses the church to both help hurting people and to reveal Himself to them and others. In the midst of their suffering, people need to see God as Rescuer, Healer, Comforter, and Savior. Thousands of Christians are already serving the poor and oppressed, and many are also committed to the work of apologetics. Sicks’ intent is to help the church see how deeds of compassion can be a compelling argument for the existence of a loving God.

Chris is not promoting a repackaged Social Gospel. He understands that the gospel cannot be communicated through deeds alone; as Duane Litfin has written, “If it is to be communicated at all, the gospel must be put into words.” In this book, Chris repeatedly emphasizes that deeds of mercy are insufficient in themselves, and do not by themselves form an apologetic. Instead, the combination of deeds of mercy and words of salvation comprise what Chris has called the apologetic of mercy.

Most apologetic strategies target the head. In contrast, the apologetic of mercy begins with the heart. It is often in the midst of our pain that the “God of all comfort” makes Himself known most clearly. This is not a new idea, but it is the pattern of God’s gracious interaction with His people in the Old and New Testaments, and continues in His dealings with us today.

God has placed each of us in a particular place, in relationships with people who have needs. If we ask Him to use us to reveal Himself, we will have the privilege of showing His compassion and love to hurting people. As we make meals, give rides, or provide shelter, we will build relationships. When we share the gospel in the context of a merciful relationship, we speak with authenticity. Our words about God’s love are believable because we have shown God’s love in action and in truth (see 1 John 3:18).

The Kidnapper and His Victims

The Kidnapper and His Victims

Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped two teenage girls and one young woman and held them captive in his Cleveland house for over a decade, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years. He was found guilty of 937 counts that included aggravated rape, assault, kidnapping, and murder.

The victims testified that they were raped and tortured on a regular basis. Victim Michelle Knight was impregnated by Castro at least five times and was forced to miscarry through starvation, while being repeatedly punched and stomped on the stomach. Another victim, Amanda Berry, gave birth to a daughter who is now 6.

How Common Is Sexual Violence Like Castro’s?

Often when we see high-profile cases like these on TV, we unknowingly create distance between their situation and ours. We tell ourselves that such things rarely happen in real life.

While it is true that we seldom hear about cases as horrific as this one, the fact is that sexual violence is an all-too-common problem in everyday life. According to studies, an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted, and every two minutes someone in the United States is a new victim.

Victims’ profiles are wide and varied. Sexual assault happens without regard to age, race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. It is a frequent enough phenomenon that it is described as a “common experience” for women, men, and children. The odds are very high that either you or someone in your life has been affected by sexual assault.

How Sexual Violence Devastates Lives

Its commonality, however, never makes sexual assault a “normal” experience. Sexual assault negatively affects every aspect of life—e.g., self-image, relationships, emotions, beliefs, etc.—long after the event has passed. This is why victims are far more likely than others to struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and thoughts of suicide.

The devastation sexual assault can leave in its wake is of a magnitude that can only be met by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel declares that sexual assault does not have to have the last word on victims’ lives. It is not beyond the scope of healing and hope. It is not ignored by God or minimized by the Bible: God is active in bringing redemption, renewal, and re-creation. God imparts grace and peace.

How To Make A Difference

As Christians, we are called to stand up for the powerless and abused and address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. The epidemic of sexual assault and sex trafficking in our society ought to be a priority for churches, and every church leader needs to be equipped to address this evil with their congregation.

Here are some resources to help you effectively lead your church through the reality of sexual violence:

Resources:

Organizations fighting sexual violence:

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims.

Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims rather than on perpetrators. Research findings suggest that blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that “the only social reactions related to better  adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.”

This post is an excerpt from Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

 

Why the Rising Social Awareness in the Church Should Encourage Us

Why the Rising Social Awareness in the Church Should Encourage Us

Recently, we have begun to see an encouraging trend in Christian circles: a greater awareness of violence and oppression (such as human trafficking), as well as an increased concern for rescuing and caring for victims. We are seeing an explosion of attention to social justice issues in organizations like Passion, International Justice Mission, and the World Evangelical Alliance, and with the publication of books like God in a Brothel and The White Umbrella. Everywhere you look, churches, parachurch organizations, and individual Christians are waking up to the hidden world of injustice, violence, abuse, and slavery around us—and taking action.

The Bible does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of violence and oppression, and in fact God’s people are clearly called to fight for justice and mercy for all people. Throughout the entire Bible, God is portrayed as one who is just and merciful in his dealings with humanity. Psalm 68:4-5 says, for example, that God is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” Theologians from a wide variety of backgrounds—from Gustavo Gutierrez to Nicholas Wolterstorff to Tim Keller—have concluded that God has a special place in his heart for the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, part of Israel’s vocation was to enact social justice, not for its own sake, but because in so doing Israel would reveal the character of God to the surrounding nations, as a city set on a hill.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17)

In this declaration and his ministry, Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is crucial to his divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teachings and his example show us that proclaiming the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ example revealed God’s heart for the despised, the weak, the abused, and the vulnerable. Jesus spent significant amounts of time with children, women, the poor, the diseased, Samaritans, and other outcast and disliked groups, valuing and loving those who were excluded by the society of his day. This paradoxical approach to the power structures of the world is echoed by Paul when he writes, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

Apologetic of Mercy

Historically, the Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The fourth-century church provides just one example:

“In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the Emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. Referring to Christianity as “atheism,” he asked, “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?” He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

Similarly, in more recent history, Christian churches of the 18th and 19th centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives.

Social action is an opportunity for Christian churches to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus (the church) to the marginalized and oppressed, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to oppression and social injustice in our world and our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of Jeremiah 29 for God’s people to seek the welfare of the cities where God has placed us, and to obey the call of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for the most vulnerable.

In light of the theology of justice that permeates Scripture, we should give thanks that the renewed emphasis on care for victims and the oppressed has helped many Christians better realize a neglected aspect of our calling in the world. As Christopher J. H. Wright says, “Mission that claims the high spiritual ground of preaching only a gospel of personal forgiveness and salvation without the radical challenge of the full biblical demands of God’s justice and compassion, without a hunger and thirst for justice, may well expose those who respond to its partial truths to the same dangerous verdict. The epistle of James seems to say as much to those in his own day who had managed to drive an unbiblical wedge between faith and works, the spiritual and the material. If faith without works is dead, mission without social compassion and justice is biblically deficient.”

As we preaches the gospel of Christ’s atoning work, leading to liberation from sin, we must also apply that liberating and atoning work to the evils of this world. Otherwise we are like the person to whom James refers in his epistle: “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:16)

Put simply, without embracing both the physical and also spiritual aspects of redemption, Christians will have an incomplete concept of God’s mission for the world.

Creeds and Deeds

As we celebrate the church’s reawakening attention to oppression and emphasis on action, we must watch out for our historical tendency to swing between extremes. One side focuses exclusively or primarily on meeting material needs—this could be labeled the “deeds not creeds” extreme, with its focus on action at the expense of proclamation. This approach, frequently but incorrectly labeled “social gospel,” reduces human beings to merely material beings and ignores the need for spiritual new birth and forgiveness of sin through the work of Christ, received through faith by hearing the word of God’s grace.

Fearing this pitfall, we sometimes swing to another extreme, the “anti-social gospel,” which could be dubbed “creeds not deeds.” This extreme emphasizes sound doctrine and focuses on proclamation, but meets only “spiritual” needs while ignoring or minimizing tangible action. As Michael Horton argues, a “creeds not deeds” approach fails because it is actually incompatible with biblical doctrine:

“While it is certainly possible to have a church that is formally committed to Christian doctrine—even in the form of creeds, confessions, and catechisms, without exhibiting any interest in missions or the welfare even of those within their own body, I would argue that it is impossible to have a church that is actually committed to sound doctrine that lacks these corollary interests. With respect to individual Christians in their common vocations, the mercies of God in Christ propel a profound sense of obligation and stewardship. God has given us everything in Christ, by grace alone, so our only “reasonable service” is to love and serve our neighbors out of gratitude for that inexhaustible gift.”

To avoid the pendulum-swing between extremes, the church must emphasize both creeds and also deeds, recognizing that Good News results in good deeds. Without that theological center, the church will be tempted to spin off into either deeds only or creeds only. God’s grace motivates repentance and change, and only by proclaiming God’s gracious, merciful response to our sin and failure will we find the fuel for loving and serving our neighbors in action and in truth.

The rise in awareness of oppression and concern for victims from the church should encourage us. Because of God’s lavish grace toward us through the work of Jesus, we are motivated to be agents of his grace to others, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. By responding to oppression and injustice, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations and to participate in God’s mission by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Nature

Only the biblical understanding of human nature can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact.

“What a freak, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a marvel! Judge of all things, and imbecile earthworm; possessor of the truth, and sink of uncertainty and error; glory and rubbish of the universe.”

Blaise Pascal

Selections from The Thoughts

 

As Blaise Pascal recognized, human beings are a paradox, capable of both great nobility and horrendous evil. Today, April 8, 2013, a day designated as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, we come face to face with one of the starkest reminders in our time of the human capacity for great evil.

A recent New York Times article reveals new research that only heightens the reality of the shocking levels of violence and oppression of which humans are capable. The new findings show that during the Holocaust there were some 42,500 Nazi camps and ghettos throughout Europe, including 30,000 slave-labor camps, 1,150 Jewish ghettos, 980 concentration camps, 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps, 500 brothels containing sex slaves, and numerous other camps for euthanizing the weak and elderly, performing forced abortions, or shipping victims from camp to camp.

It can be difficult to comprehend how human beings could possibly descend to the depths of evil that we see in the Holocaust. Faced with this uncomfortable reality, many attempt to rationalize genocide as somehow deriving from outside forces. Thinkers as diverse as Gustav Le Bon, Sigmund Freud, and Reinhold Niebuhr explained genocide as a result of the evilness of the collective, believing that while individuals are capable of goodness and morality, groups are inherently selfish and uncaring. Others attempt to explain genocide on the basis of ideology alone or as resulting from leaders with an authoritarian personality type. However, none of these explanations can fully account for the existence of genocide and mass killing.

The most realistic conclusion is that reached by leading genocide scholar James Waller in his book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, which concludes that all people share a human nature that includes the capacity for both extraordinary good and extraordinary evil under the right circumstances.

The Bible on Human Nature

As uncomfortable as it is, this diagnosis fits with what the Bible teaches about human nature. The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” Humanity, being the image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation—“behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature—as they were created to be like God, by God, for God, and to be with God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: “in the image of God.” This expression reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings, because it designates human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe. As God’s image-bearers, human beings are imbued with dignity and worth beyond that of animals. Speaking to Noah after the flood, God emphasizes that human life is to be highly valued, and that violence against any human being is to be rigorously punished (Gen. 9:5–6).

But Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and the peace God intended was violated. In a moment of cosmic treason, Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command. Instead of trusting in God’s wise and good word, they trusted in the crafty and deceitful words of the serpent. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death. The royal image of God fell into the severe ignobility we all experience. The Bible sums up the bleak condition of human nature after the Fall in Genesis 6:5, as “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Human evil is described as being characterized by intensity (“great in the earth”), inwardness (“thoughts of his heart”), pervasiveness (“only evil”), and constancy (“continually”).

As fallen human beings, all kinds of evil now comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt. 15:17–20; Mark 7:20–22). As Jesus tells us, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17–21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Hope Amid the Evil

The only explanation that can account for both the evil of the Holocaust and the compassionate response of the world community after the fact is the biblical understanding of human nature. The reason we react with horror to the Nazi atrocities is because we are made in the image of God, which includes the conscience that God has given us and our capacity for compassion and love. Yet the ultimate reason such atrocities could be carried out is the same reason every one of us is capable of evil: human nature is fallen under the curse of sin.

Because of sin, human beings do evil, but we are not as bad as we could be. In his mercy, God restrains human evil from always reaching the depths that it could. Yet our true hope for change is ultimately in God’s power.

The Holocaust is a sobering reminder of the capacity for evil present in the human heart. It should lead us to look to God for deliverance not only from the evil of others, but from the evil in our own hearts. It should remind us that we need rescue and that Jesus is our ultimate hope.