Thursday, 27 October 2011

How can I ever move on?

Whether you’ve been divorced, discarded, bereaved, betrayed or overlooked, it remains an uphill task to put the past behind you and move on.

Perhaps, the real reason is the extent to which we invest in trying to convert the status quo into what we want for the future. In most cases, we have no grasp of how the things we hold on to today might hinder another stage that is crucial to our progress for the future. We may even realise that the things that we crave are irreconcilably toxic: the unsparingly critical partner will not suddenly become tolerant; the dismissive employer might never consider your best efforts as meriting acknowledgement and promotion. Yet, we want the best of both worlds: retaining precious tokens of the past, as we strive for a future that may be completely incompatible with the restrictions imposed by obstacles we cannot currently recognise as preventing our advancement.

The book of Proverbs provides a vital insight into this type of emotional turmoil: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when joy comes it is a tree of life’ (Prov. 13:12) God may allow us to face loss in this world, but it is only for us to find a way to insulate ourselves from further harm, for our roots to dig deeper and demonstrate that we can find a way to become invincible in His love. We can prosper without the need for those earthly promises that evaporate in the heat of adversity: ‘For his anger is but for a moment, and his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ If we can hold out long enough, a new day of positive transformation will dawn. Time, patience and God's grace will revive us in the midst of our troubles!

This scripture also explains why so many wander about this world in debilitating aimlessness. The patient in anguish in a terminal ward having discovered that the vital treatment prescribed by the doctors has failed and the husband who is served with divorce papers after completing a last-ditch effort at relationship counselling have one thing in common. Both have seen their earthly hopes vanish with no prospect of restoration. There is nothing more depressing than a life-giving hope that is postponed, or repeatedly denied. In contrast, there is nothing that rouses us more to positive action than the prospect of realising our dreams.

The ‘tree of life’ metaphor is used elsewhere in scripture: ‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ (Jer. 17:8) The underlying theme is to be constantly replenished in adversity. What a striking paradox: green leaves and fruit-laden in the midst of drought!

Why? Because those whose roots are forceful enough will push past short-term fixes to find the lasting providence needed to sustain them through life's harshest troubles. They don’t simply give up, instead they eventually discover new paths to achieve their goals by an approach that maintains integrity. It takes divinely-inspired unyielding resolve to draw upon this eternal reserve of perseverance, rather than to abandon hope while complaining endlessly.

So instead of fainting, we should push downward through all the layers of conditional, pretended assurance that 'fair-weather' friends and short-lived compromises offer us in order to reach that distant underground stream of eternal promises that keep faith with Christ. Like Jacob, we should wrestle tirelessly with God through hardship (who often descends into our experience as an inspired message of insight) asking incessantly for His help until He blesses us with a ladder of hope. So, don’t curse those who abandon you for their own social and material advancement. JUST DIG DEEP AND WAIT FOR THE INEVITABLE DROUGHT. If you hold on , your leaves will stay green, their rootless lives will shrivel!

Jeremiah’s prophecy provided lasting reassurance to the minority who decided to remain loyal to their worship relationship with Jehovah, rather than follow the rest of the nation in defecting to serve short-term aspirations. This means that to become that tree of life, we need to re-commit to our integrity: our sense of being completely the person that God intended us to be in all circumstances. That is so much more preferable than resorting to a poor, uninspiring compromising betrayal of whatever worthy ideals we once pursued. ‘For what should it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.’ (Mark 8:36) Often, we just don’t realise how much we’ve compromised, the values that we've abandoned to reach that state of psychological dependence on another person, cultural bias or creature comfort. Nothing, materially or socially, can restore a failure to maintain complete integrity. Nothing, I repeat, except repentance, restoring our values and embracing the forgiveness that we find in Christ.

'When joy comes, it is a tree of life'. Joy comes from the assurance of anticipating fulfilment. It's delighting in something that we rightfully expect to happen. Paul describes the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit as ‘the powers of the world to come’ (Heb. 6:5). As we surrender to God, the experiences of extraordinary intervention and deliverance in our emotional and physical lives should lead us to rejoice in the assurance that our march towards the new heaven and new earth continues unabated.

Nevertheless, there is one thing we must not do. We must not look back. It was the downfall of the Israelites who died in the desert. They considered any hardship that they experienced in pursuit of the Promised Land as a proof that God didn't truly love them: ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’ (Ex. 14:10) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’ (Ex. 17:3) ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (Num. 20:5) Is this how you view transitional hardship, that your life will amount to nothing more than a celestial snuff flick? Used, abused and then left for dead? Be assured that God takes no pleasure in needless human suffering.

Lot’s wife also turned back towards Sodom, rejecting the divine effort to help her escape. She clearly hoped to retrieve elements of her former life there: one that was now under the unyielding curse of God. She was consumed by that curse, secretly hoping to continue her old life. Could there be a similar hidden motive in our efforts to hold on to the past? A faint glimmer of compromise with those who have discarded us as ‘dead weight’? The message must be clear that THERE IS NO COMPROMISE WITH BLATANT, UNVARNISHED CONTEMPT.

We must therefore assume that there is no further benefit in perpetually mourning anything we have lost that hinders our progress with Christ. Paul asks rhetorically, ‘What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.’ (Romans 6:21, 22)

He says of his former public standing as a pillar of virtue in the Jewish community: ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philipp. 3:7 – 11)

As much as it was his heart’s desire for Israel to discover Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, Paul’s own journey of ever-increasing devotion to God was not to be overthrown by his Jewish opponents. He loved his nation and its place in God’s plan of restoration for mankind, but he accepted that many of his countrymen would not tolerate the idea of Jesus as their promised Messiah. He had found a new family of faith in Christ with new values on his new journey of discovering everything he could about Christ. It assuages our grief to know that, in spite of wholesale ostracism, we are assured that the relationships we lose will be replenished from elsewhere: ‘I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29 –30)

Should the loves of your life be lost to disease, tragedy or selfishly withdrawn, don’t let your mourning extinguish your own capacity to love and help others. Allow that vacuum of aimlessness to be filled with commitment to work as a channel of God’s love elsewhere. The poor, the disabled, the underprivileged will crave a compassion that others may discard in their efforts to find acceptance and advancement among their peers. Dig deep into God’s love for you and share that love and your possessions generously with those deprived in this life, those who are, in fact, God’s candidates for prosperity in the next. Thereby, you will win the greatest prize of all, Christ Himself!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

‘Provoke not your children to anger’

Paul directs the above admonition to fathers in the Ephesian congregation (Eph. 6:4) He contrast this with a more supportive approach: ‘but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’. He repeats a similar command to the Colossian congregation (Colossians 3:21). The Greek word used there, erethizete means to stir up anger, or exasperate. The consequence, if his warning is not heeded, is athumōsin. This word that is better rendered as complete despair, rather than anger.

Paul is saying don’t overwhelm your children with criticism. They can only take so much negativity. This is easily my biggest failing as a parent. Perhaps, the lack of positive reinforcement is the greatest cause of generational alienation. As parents, we are too harsh, demanding and critical, hoping that children will redress our own shortcomings and capitalise on every opportunity that we squandered. Equally, we compete with them for supremacy and are sparing in our praise of their achievements.

After the chastisement of a particular member of the Corinthian congregation produced the repentance that he demanded, Paul exhorted fellow church members to encourage him. Paul reminded them that the devil can use hopeless moral despair as a weapon:

‘Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.’ (2 Cor. 2:7 – 11)

Once the error was addressed, we see Paul is now in a restorative mood: almost hurrying to set aside his sense of being personally wronged. Anger must also not be so conclusive as to discard the restraint of a fair amount of probation.

In the Ephesian admonition, the word used is parorgizó. It’s formed from two root words: para meaning alongside, or near, and orgizó meaning to become angry. Literally, it means anger at close-quarters. This is the hostile indignation that is aroused when parents, and by implication, those in authority react to what they perceive as contempt from their more junior charges.

Yet he also says, ‘Be ye angry (orgizesthe) and sin not’. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?

In the next verse, Paul says, ‘Do not let the sun go down upon your anger’ (parorgismō). So, there are times when we will be aroused to confrontational anger. Paul expressed outrage in several recorded instances in the book of Acts and even in his letters. In most cases, it was directed towards those who showed contempt for God’s generous redemption in Jesus, or wanted to hinder the cause of the gospel. Yet, this was not his normal mode of interaction. With even wayward churches, his opening salutation is typically, ‘Grace, peace and mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ’, not ‘what’s this bad news that I've heard’. In all of these cases, he maintained a cogent, articulate impassioned defence of his position. What Paul is against is the use of anger that only seeks reprisal for past indignation, is self-excusing and lacks the generosity and restraint to encourage and restore.

Anger becomes a form of intimidation when others feel immediate relentless hostility. 

A reaction that attempts to intimidate, rather than reason carefully and threatens swift sanctions is inconsistent with the justice that God metes out, justice that saved ME by preferring forbearance to intolerant censure: ‘the wrath (orge) of man worketh not the righteousness of God’ (James 1:20)

To my daughters: please forgive a silly, old man!

To Christ, thank you for completing John the Baptist’s mission: ‘And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children’ (Luke 1:17)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Pro-creation: Legal vs. moral rights of marriage

Gay marriage advocates have challenged the necessity that marriage has pro-creative intent that excludes homosexual couples. In this post, I challenge that notion of marriage that lacks an intent to form the physical affinity upon which consanguine ties are developed.

The fact that the State permits non-procreative sexual acts between consenting adults does not mean its policies on marriage, ipso facto, encourage, or discourage those actions. Mere permission is a liberty right, or privilege provided by the State to accommodate a range of outcomes, including exceptions, just as free speech permits a variety of views that might include radical dissent from mainstream opinion. It does not trigger an automatic claim right, the duty of the State to promote any non-procreative relationship to the status of marriage, not any more than the State has a duty to promote a particular opinion because it permits its unfettered expression.

Legal permission is merely a right of conduct; permissible doesn’t prove it’s reasonable, or moral. Marriage involves more than legal permission, it claims a moral duty of the State to provide a supportive framework in relation to all of marriage’s morally worthwhile outcomes: stable families that are conducive to good society. In order to achieve this status, a non-procreative relationship must also pass the reasonableness test: are non-procreative relationships sufficiently representative of the goods of marriage to impose a reasonable moral duty on the State to support them as marriage, or should they be accommodated in another way as exceptions?

The added reasonableness test justifies moral rights over and above legal rights of conduct. For the legal rights, there is only a need to demonstrate that there is no conclusive legal reason (duty) not to do something. It is not necessary to prove the moral case: that it is actually reasonable to do it. Compare Leif Wenar on epistemic vs. legal rights

The State may consider that its policies in support of marital pro-creation and child-rearing offer sufficient incentive to couples, without making them compulsory. Other rights, such as privacy, (as in Griswold v Connecticut) may trump State regulation of marital pro-creation issues, such as birth control, not because pro-creation is a non-essential good of marriage, but that to do so would violate privacy. The absence of legally enforced measures relating to pro-creation is due to a reluctance of the State to legislate in matters of marital privacy. So what if there’s no legal compulsion for couples to pro-create? The State’s moral duty to support marriage requires that couples enter it with an understanding of its possible pro-creative outcome. Why? That’s because marriage law has been developed to meet that possibility.

It is reasonable (i.e. there is a preponderance of evidence, rather than the lack of any legal exceptions) to expect that marriages will involve pro-creation. Does the State support my right to void a marriage because it leads to pro-creation? No. In fact, the legal system assigns special claims and privileges to couples in order to support their on-going involvement in mutual loving support, pro-creation and child-rearing. The discovery of fertility or failure of a contraceptive is not a reasonable ground for divorce. Yes, you are free from state coercion to pro-create. However, that only means that there is no conclusive *legal* reason not to pro-create. Pro-creation may still be an entirely reasonable outcome that is supported by society’s moral expectations of those who marry.

The claims and privileges of marriage may be legitimately limited to a particular class of couples, heterosexual ones, in order to support their peculiar and singular contribution to a State goal: supporting the cohesive mutual private welfare arrangement that those couples provide for offspring as a reasonable outcome of procreative sex. There should be alternative equitable privileges for the homosexual partnerships and their dependents.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Converse Accident

The converse accident is a logical inductive fallacy. It’s where an exception to a generalization is applied to cases where the generalization should apply.

In the debate over gay marriage, exceptions, such as infertility and the use of birth control, are used to demonstrate that the pro-creative component of marriage is a non-essential good. Apparently, as with mathematics, all it takes is one exception and the generalization collapses like a house of cards. Fortunately, life is not a mathematic problem. Our legal system governs choices for which there is an opportunity cost that, to some extent, we all have to bear. There is no mathematical certainty in the social sciences. There are always exceptions that a general rule can accommodate, as another example of a converse accident shows:

If terminally-ill patients are permitted to use heroin, it proves there is an exception to the notion that there is a general rule that society has forbidden and will always forbid heroin use. Historically, in many stable societies, the psychedelic forms part of an important religious experience that responsible citizens participate in, e.g. the Delphic oracle, peyote use in Native American rituals. These exceptions prove that the use of narcotic drugs has not only been permitted, but also endorsed in the interest of society.

Consequently, there is no general rule that heroin use is either generally forbidden, nor is it proven to be a consistent detriment to society. In fact, its use by terminally-ill patients proves that it can be permitted in a controlled manner without detriment to society. It therefore follows that all adults should be permitted to use heroin in controlled quantities without the threat of legal sanctions.

Of course, when you highlight the distinction between terminally-ill patients and the rest of society, the proponents of this view claim that you are begging the question: reasserting that heroin use is normatively prohibited outside of the cases that they cite, when the prohibition on the use of heroin is the very premise in question. In fact, you are not referring to the general rule to prove the premise, you are merely showing that the terminally-ill are still exceptions to the majority.

Nevertheless, as one writer put it: ‘The truth of a general rule, on the other hand, leaves plenty of room for exceptional cases, and applying it to any of them is fallacious.’

The real question is whether any of these exceptions are valid counter-arguments that justify dismissing the limitations of general rule and incorporating the converse accident as part of the principle instead. Do the exceptions prove that legalising heroin is a good idea? Is society decidedly better off by making heroin legal?

Ultimately, humans are not laboratory rats. The law may decide that the potential consequences of permitting controlled adult experimentation with heroin are too costly. Society can accept the preponderance of evidence based on the numerous cases of harmful heroin addiction; cases that prove that generally legalising heroin would be a bad idea.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Impunity, Invulnerability, Inertia

‘Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.’ (Ezekiel 16:49)

To some extent, liberal writers are correct to challenge the reductive conservative view that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God for homosexuality. It’s far too easy to brand same-sex relations as the focus of God’s vengeance, while conniving at heterosexual adultery, casual sex, gluttony, overconsumption of alcohol, spousal mistreatment and the callous indifference towards those deprived of rights and means. This mistakenly assumes that the latter are substantially less culpable and more excusable sins. It’s clear that the sexual proclivities described in the Genesis account were the culmination of a nexus of immoral activity that incurred divine wrath. However, we need to identify the key factors which led to Sodom’s downfall. As the quoted scripture attests, the fatal trait was their pride that gave rise to impunity, a false sense of invulnerability and an inertia born of wilful ignorance. I shall touch on these themes in later posts.

St.Peter views the biblical record as a reminder that the pain of God’s wrath is only stayed by his time-limited offer of mercy: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness’ he says (2 Pet. 3:9). God is decisive. He does not dither. As history shows, He sends swift calamity, once probation is closed. The amnesty that is offered to the hitherto impenitent is under the fixed terms of His own generous prerogative of mercy. In the parable of the vine, Christ says: ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ (Luke 13:9) So much for ‘love wins’!

God is not fooled by our empty self-promoting moral gestures, nor our pious-sounding religious affiliations. He will not endure the perpetual humiliation of those who wish to banish Him either subtly or brazenly from their mind-set. So, once His attempts at reconciliation have been fully spurned and His overtures of providence have been completely exhausted, judgement falls without hesitation upon the remorseless like the hail of scorching, toxic destruction that ended His display of forbearance towards the cities of the plain.

‘He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.’ (2 Pet. 2:10) Their abrupt exposure to fatal harm is a pattern of the annihilation that will end the current era of rebellious, impenitent and godless humanity.

St. Paul also attests to this: ‘For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thess. 1:6 – 9)

Note that there is no hint of peaceful co-existence between the godly and the rebellious: ‘What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?’ (2 Cor. 6:15) Part of human defiance towards God is expressed as a mortal hostility towards those who remind the proud of an inescapable final date with their retributive destiny. Consider Paul who, awaiting his cohorts in Athens, is described by Luke as being: ‘greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.’ (Acts 17:16). Peter also described the allegiance of righteous Lot to God in this way: ‘distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard’ (2 Pet. 2:7,8)

If you are on God’s side, the lawlessness of this era will greatly trouble your soul. As with Lot, those, who side with God and justly refuse to compromise with society’s defiant escalating mass defection from Him, are promised the respite of divine intervention: ‘At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.’ (Mark 13:27)

St. Paul concurs with this, in a later direct prophecy from Christ: ‘According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.’ (1 Thess. 4:15 – 18)

There is an end to this war against Satan and human defiance. The power of God is invincible. Resistance, as they say, is futile.