Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting articles that indicate moral dilemmas and debates in our culture. The spectrum of articles I’ve seen is broad.
In January, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision was marked. Those on either side of the debate are seemingly becoming more entrenched in their positions. The most remarkable statement I read affirming a woman’s right to take the life of her unborn child said that the writer (a 40-something mother) is convinced that human life begins at conception and that she would still have an abortion now if she got pregnant, because abortion “saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge that my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.” So the abortion debate is now moving towards, “we know the baby is a human and not just tissue, and it’s okay to kill it anyway.”
With that kind of mindset developing, it should be no surprise that the Japanese finance minister recently said that elderly people should be allowed to “hurry up and die” so that the financial strain on the government and economy would be lessened. “Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government…The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.”
In January we also heard the debate about whether the Boy Scouts of America should be compelled to allow homosexual members and leaders into its ranks. To date, B.S.A. has excluded homosexuals, but both internal and external pressure has raised the issue again and some kind of decision will likely be made in May.
Of course this is part of the national debate about gay marriage, which has now been legalized in several states, with more legalization likely coming. And the right to defend a position against homosexual marriage is also being denounced. So the pastor of First Baptist Dallas is mocked for having a biblical position on homosexuality and when it was announced that quarterback Tim Tebow would speak at the church (not on the issue of homosexuality, mind you), he was so vilified for his “association” with the church that he reneged on his commitment and decided not to go to Dallas for the engagement.
Of course homosexual marriage is not the only change in marital status that is coming. If the fundamental nature of marriage being a union of one man with one woman for life is changed to include some gender affiliations, then why not change it more? That’s the argument by a forthcoming book by a professor from Emory University who espouses the legalization of polygamy — if we sanction marriage between two men or two women, then why not marriages between one man and several women? Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller apparently is sympathetic to this question:
If states are able to dismantle traditional or conventional views of marriage by allowing two men or two women to wed, then why should they not go further and sanction, or at least decriminalize, marriages between one man and several women?…
This is an argument that makes defenders of individual liberties sweat, for few people like to be put in the spot of having to uphold a social taboo. But really. If the purpose of marriage is to preserve personal happiness, protect and raise children, and create social stability through shared property and mutual obligation, then why is polygamy so problematic if it occurs among consenting adults? The two-parent household may be an ideal, but real life is far messier than that. Children are raised all the time by groups of adults: there are exes and steps, adoptive parents and biological, mistresses and wives. Didn’t someone say it takes a village?
In recent weeks it was also announced by Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, that the prohibition of women serving in combat was being removed, overturning a 1994 rule banning women from serving in smaller combat units. This change says much about our country’s understanding of gender and roles. Said Denny Burk, “Everyone in America ought to be scandalized by this news, but I’m wondering if it will even register on the radar of anyone’s conscience. To the extent that it doesn’t, we reveal just how far gone we are as a people. God help us.”
There are so many attacks of violence — from daily murders to mass slaughters like Newtown, CT — that while we are periodically horrified by accounts and pictures, we soon return to normality and forget the violent attacks. We are anesthetized to violence. Television shows and movies glorify violence and murder and video games train our youth to kill and desensitize them to death and we are surprised by the proliferation of violence? (Side note: in the past year I have personally counseled two teens who spent 40+ hours per week playing violent video games. And they had those habits for years — one 20-year-old for more than a decade. They had full-time jobs learning the intricacies of killing.)
The question in all of these moral concerns is, who decides? Who decides if an in utero child is a human being and even if it is whether it is acceptable to kill that child for any cause? Who decides when life should end and whether financial implications are just reason for the withholding of services in order to hasten death? Who decides whether private organizations should be compelled to acquiesce to requirements antithetical to their core commitments and values? Who decides what constitutes marriage? Who decides if a contrary opinion can be voiced in debate? Who decides what can be tolerated and what cannot be tolerated? Who decides what appropriate roles and responsibilities for men and women are? Who decides how much murder is acceptable and how much is too much?
That is a question every individual must answer. What is the standard and who dictates the standard? Culturally, of course, the standard setters are becoming very clear: the individual creates the standard for himself, and when that standard might impose any restriction of liberty on even the grossest of immoralities, then the individual must succumb to the standards of perversity.
So is that who decides? We decide for ourselves? And we aren’t allowed to legislate any kind of morality for even actions that have always been understood to be aberrant and evil for the sake of so-called tolerance?
Fortunately, we have clear direction on who decides. God made it particularly clear who decides in a frequently overlooked Old Testament book. He does.
Leviticus is a book that is often rapidly skimmed because the perception is that these laws given to govern Israel’s morals, civil relationships, and worship largely have no bearing on believers in Christ today. “Is it really important for us to know how many days there need to be between the various festivals and when the priests can eat the sacrifices and when they cannot or how the men are to grow their beards?” we ask. And we answer (at least internally): “No.” So we speed read these chapters.
And in so doing, we miss an important principle that is made particularly clear in Leviticus 19. God is the one who decides what we do. We are not the authority, He is. Leviticus 19 begins with the statement, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2). And then 16 more times in the chapter a command is given and then followed with the statement, “I am the Lord your God.” In other words, the reason that they are to obey is that God is the Lord (and they are not). He is sovereign and authoritative and has the right to demand obedience. He is the standard-maker, not Israel.
“But,” someone might argue, “the rationale for these commands isn’t clear. It all just seems so arbitrary. Why should we obey? I don’t think we need to obey…” Yet as Leviticus 19 illustrates and the rest of the book affirms, every aspect of human life — ethical morality, civil relationships, worship, and daily life functioning — is subject to God’s laws. God is the only one who can decree and decide with absolute wisdom and authority. There is no one else worth following. So why should the Israelite in 950 B.C. eat fish but not shrimp, beef but not pork, and why should he worship on Saturday and not Sunday and why should two men not have sexual relationships together? Because the Lord has decreed all these things for the good of His people and for the demonstration of His glory. And because all morality and all conduct rests in the unchanging nature and character of God. As one writer says, “Every biblical statement about God carries with it an implied demand upon men to imitate him in daily living.”
And all of the aforementioned concerns are situations where men are rebelling against God and seeking not to imitate God but to follow their own fleshly and sinful inclinations. Men do not want God, and they certainly do not want His standards and they will certainly cry, “unfair” and “irrelevant” when we affirm the standards God has given. By their sinful yearnings and intolerant “tolerance,” they are seeking to rid themselves of God’s influence — to live life without God.
Here, then, are at least two take-aways for the believer from Leviticus: first, we must let the Lord dictate our lives. When He affirms a standard, then we follow. We give up our American “rights” to resist and argue with authority, and we volitionally and joyfully affirm that we will submit to His ways and not assert our own ways. And secondly, we must never be apologetic for affirming the Lord’s ways to the world. The American church has often lost influence and perverted the testimony of Christ by failing to be bold about biblical standards. (And likewise, we have also lost influence by being assertive about the wrong issues, or the right issues in wrong ways — but that’s an article for a different time.) We do not need to be apologetic or defensive about the Lord’s perspective on abortion, homosexuality, marriage between one man and one woman, the injustice and unsanctity of murder in all its forms, and who should live and who should die. God has spoken unhesitatingly on these matters, and so should we (though we, like Christ affirmed in Jn. 15:18:21, can expect persecution because of what we say). This is not a day to be afraid to speak the truth. This is a day when godly men must be men, unflinching under attack and unafraid to declare, “Thus says the Lord…” and “This is true because God is the Lord…”
God decides. And we must never be apologetic of that truth.