Thursday, 20 October 2016

Life, sickness, and death

Today we celebrated my daughter Noelle’s 3rd birthday. She’s a lovely little girl, full of sweet and amusing character, even if she seems quiet at times. But when she was born, there were a few complications, one of them being particularly serious, potentially life-threatening. The doctor took me to a side room to explain her condition, and I did not know what he was saying, but I understood perfectly well that whatever her condition was, it was quite serious. Long story short, after a few weeks in NICU, Noelle came home with a very positive outlook. We are thankful to God and all those who prayed for us.

During those times of uncertainty and fear, I knew God was in control. Whether He takes her life or not, whether He brings a life-long disability on her or not, God would do what is right. I knew He was never malicious. He was trustworthy, and He was all-powerful. But the Bible never specifies how long a man’s life would be (or a girl’s, in this case). So I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and there were moments when I was more afraid than I wished to be.

But there was something I didn’t doubt. Actually there were several things I could say that I didn’t doubt. But one thing I want to say here is that I never doubted that the doctors and nurses would do anything intentionally to harm our little girl. They may be a little incompetent (some did seem incompetent to my untrained eyes), or careless (we are all human after all and make mistakes). But I never doubted that they would do everything they could to make our girl better. I fully assumed and trusted that their sole intention for my little girl was that she would survive by whatever medical actions they took. Some tests, like Lumbar Puncture, looked scarier and more dangerous than others, and the medical staff sometimes looked tired or uncaring (at least from the point of view of this hyper-sensitised dad with his daughter in NICU, his wife in a post-labour recovery room, and a toddler to take care of!). But it never crossed my mind that they would ever intend to do something to harm or even kill her. I don’t think I was wrong to assume that and trust the medical staff. And thankfully, all their hard work was not in vain. As I mentioned, our little Noelle got better, and she is now a sweet 3 year-old girl.

And then this podcast. I listened to it just now.
Here are some keywords. Bio ethics. Medical ethics. Euthanasia. “Right” to die. Hippocratic Oath. Assisted suicide. Organ harvest. Death culture.

Whether you are familiar with these terms or not, I strongly recommend you listen to the podcast. I felt sick in the stomach, disgusted at the state of the culture we are in and where the so-called ethicists are trying to take us. I cannot do justice to the content by summarising it. But here’s the thing. If the majority of bio-ethicists would continue to have their way, what I described above about my daughter would have looked very different. I would not only be worried about my baby daughter’s well-being, but I would be forced to weigh her life’s worth and her chance of survival and calculate it against some number, probably in monetary value. It would be na├»ve to assume the intention of the medical staff, because they would have done their own calculations, and they may as well make a very different conclusion from my own about the worth of my daughter. What’s more, if my daughter or any of my children ever become disabled or have a mental disorder, I will no longer be able to trust the medical staff, not because they lack knowledge or skills, but because they may have a different intention towards my disabled child. And it’s not just the medical staff, of course. It’s the whole society, people you meet on the streets, people you share your struggles with, people to whom you tell about your daughter’s sickness. If the majority of bio-ethicists would have their way for few more decades, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to imagine a situation where you share with someone about your depressed teenage daughter, whom you love and care for and are worried about, and get a response, 'Have you thought about taking her to an assisted-suicide clinic?’ Too far? Too disgusting? I’m glad you feel that way. I do, too. But know that not everyone feels this way. If you doubt this, again, listen to the podcast. And I invite you to pray to God to act in mercy, to give us wisdom and courage to do something about this.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Christianity is the religion of the broken heart

Machen writing in 1923:
[...] a remarkable change has come about within the last seventy-five years. The change is nothing less than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant view of life. Seventy-five years ago, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan.
In speaking of "paganism," we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature' whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends with the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of "Woe is me." Nothing could be further from the fact. On the contrary, Christianity means that sin is faced once for all, and then is cast, by the grace of God, forever into the depths of the sea. The trouble with the paganism of ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God. But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism--a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace.
But although Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin.
(italics mine; p56–57, Christianity and Liberalism)

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Slandering God and the knowledge of God

Why should we be indignant about slanders directed against a human friend, while at the same time we are patient about the basest slanders directed against our God? Certainly it does make the greatest possible difference what we think about God; the knowledge of God is the very basis of religion.  - p48, Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Where do we learn obedience?

Far from being a distraction, the ordinary affairs of life – crying babies and cars that will not start – are in fact the context of God's call to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12). The fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) are not born in a vacuum. It is precisely in the maelstrom of life that we learn obedience.  – p78, Stuart Hitting theHoly Road by Stuart Coulton 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Naturally, God hates sin.

God did not sit down, deliberate carefully, and then decide that on balance he should hate evil. Nor is his freedom circumscribed by some law of retribution external to himself, like some human judge bound, even when he disapproves of them, by the laws passed by his national legislature. “Just” is what God is. “Angry with sin” is what he is. It is his whole nature, his very being, to recoil from it and condemn it. It is unimaginable that he should place idolatry, blasphemy, murder, rape, child abuse, greed, deceit, and exploitation outside the law, ignoring the pain they cause and the havoc they wreak. No human society places evil outside the law, and it is one of the paradoxes of this whole discourse that those who cry out most loudly for justice (against, e.g., child abusers and rapists) are often the very ones who deny the Almighty any judicial function. Yet our human systems of justice can have no legitimacy except as ordained by God, and while postmodernism may calmly discuss “Whose justice?,” our sanctions against crime clearly presuppose the validity of law and of appropriate retribution. We cannot deny to the Judge of all the earth the prerogatives we concede to our own petty judicatories. It is precisely because we are made in his image that we ourselves feel revulsion in the presence of evil.  – p252, Donald Macleod, The Work of Christ Accomplished in The Christian Dogmatics (italics original)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Suffering for the name of Jesus now

Commenting on the suffering for the name of Jesus until He returns, Cole remembers:
‘I recall an amazing conversation at the lunch table at a theological college. A Nigerian student and a Pakistani student in their last semester were discussing returning to their respective homelands. The Nigerian thought he would have to endure beatings and house burnings as he ministered in the northern part of the country. (Sadly, it is far more dangerous now.) The Pakistani student calmly said that he expected to be killed within the first five years of his return.’
 -- God the Peacemaker by Graham A. Cole, p199

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

History and Theology for Christian Faith

"Christ died"—that is history; "Christ died for our sins"—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.
  -- p23, J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism

Church: the gathering, the display, and the means

Reformed theology has certainly realized that the church has two sides, and that besides being the assembly of believers and the revelation of the body of Christ, she must also be the means by which new believers are added.
  -- p263, Vos, Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology, from Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation

Monday, 19 September 2016

Baptism and continuation of the church from generation to generation

For [a Reformed believer] that continuity is assured by the faithful promise of God. Hence, in back of Word and sacrament he places the covenant as the strongest expression of how the unbroken work of grace from generation to generation rests, as all grace, on the sovereign pleasure of God. The church does not abide because we baptize or work regeneration by baptism; rather because God establishes His covenant from generation to generation, therefore, the church remains and we baptize. Since it is God’s covenant and not man’s, it is appropriate for the Christian to recognize this goodness of God in quiet gratitude and in faith and to be strengthened by its sealing.  -- p261, Vos, Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sacraments: particular signs to an all-comprehensive grace

In this connection it may also be noted that the idea of the covenant has prevented too narrow a view of the sacraments. Viewed as seals of the covenant, the sacraments possess just as universal and comprehensive significance as the covenant itself. They cease being signs of a particular grace and become what they should be: particular signs of an all-comprehensive grace. They seal Christ to us, the rich and full Christ, with all that we have in Him. We cannot limit that sealing power to any single stage of the way of salvation. Not regeneration, nor justification, nor the communion of the saints, each in itself, but all of these, as they together constitute the blessings of the covenant, are the object of sealing. If the consciousness of the covenant reflects like a mirror the glory of God, then all the separate rays come together in the sacraments, as a focal point, to one glory.
  -- Italics original, bold mine, p262, Vos, Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation