Beto O’Rourke, the Gospel, and the Law

Christians submit to the authority and reign of the crucified and risen King, Jesus of Nazareth. People usually find our ways and customs to be contrary to the moral culture of a secular, post-Christian America.  Biblically speaking, same-sex marriage is not a marriage in the eyes of God just as gods made with hands are not gods.  The Supreme Court of the United States currently recognizes same-sex marriage in the eyes of the law just as the city of Ephesus recognized Artemis as a goddess to be venerated and worshiped in the eyes of Roman law.  

Since we are made in the image of God, God has a right to determine our worship.  He commands that we have no other gods before Him but to worship the LORD alone in Christ by the Spirit.  He also decrees that we exercise our sexuality in a way that honors Him.  We either pursue marriage to a partner of the opposite sex or abstinence.  Failure to honor God in this way merits His wrath. 

Thankfully, God provided His Son Jesus to die and rise in our place so that those who repent of their sins and come to Jesus as their crucified and risen Lord and Savior will be saved.  Not only that but the Spirit comes to regenerate and purify our hearts so we would not delight in our former sins but delight in God, in whose presence, is fullness of joy.

Christians ought to agree with Paul in saying “The sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  But we also hope with Paul that God will wash, sanctify, justify some of them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel message speaks against people in the LGBTQIA+ community just as it did against the idolaters and magicians in the apostle Paul’s day. Yet Paul did not advocate for Roman law to change such that idolaters and magicians would be prosecuted and put to death, but rather those among them who did listen and respond to his message of faith and repentance gave up their practices willingly while those who disagreed with him were free to continue as before.  Neither did Paul advocate for people to bully, harass, and call idolaters and magicians with derogatory names. 

The church, just as Paul did, works through the power of persuasion.  Laws, just as Roman law did, carry in them the power of the sword, or the power of coercion.  We teach others the moral standards of God, but we do not force them to submit to God by the law when it comes to sins that do not carry a threat to life and property as murder, abortion and theft do. 

Idolatry was the law of the land in Paul’s day just as same-sex marriage is the law of the land in America today.  We do not need to change the law per se, but we faithfully preach the gospel, in the hopes that God will change the hearts of those who are His, so even though sin may be enshrined in the law, they will give up their old sins willingly and return to God in Christ Jesus. 

That all being said, Beto O Rourke’s statement to make religious institutions like colleges, churches, and charities lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage is concerning.   He would be acting as the city of Ephesus did, in bringing the law down on Christians to force them to be in alignment with a moral order that stands in opposition to YHWH. 

Mr. O’ Rourke states, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone – or any institution, any organization in America – that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans.”

The gospel message would be seen as speaking against the full human rights and the full civil rights of those who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community, which would be true in the way Paul spoke against the idol worship of his day. But to say that we are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans would be false, because we do not seek to bring the law down on people to force them into submission with our moral standards. Paul did not infringe on the right of idolaters to worship their pagan gods, as they were still free to worship them as they pleased, but he did speak against these idols as he strived to lead people to God in Christ Jesus.

Separation of Church and State

How does Christianity relate to the political?

In 1930s Germany, Lutherans followed a two-kingdom approach to Christ and culture, in which Christians are not to bring their faith into politics. This eventually led to the disaster of Nazism which led to state-sponsored eugenics and mass murders.

In South Africa, Reformed Christianity believed Christians are supposed to transform culture. An orthodox Reformed theology, invoking the views of Abraham Kuyper, created a civil religion that supported apartheid.

In Justin Taylor’s article, he states “any simplistic Christian response to politics – the claim that we shouldn’t be involved in politics, or that we should “take back our country for Jesus” – is inadequate.”

Mr. Taylor states, “In each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place.” I completely agree with this sentiment.

I have heard one well-meaning American Christian say, ” Abortion is never good. But Christians need to remember this is not a Christian world and not all have faith, and we’re called first of all to proclaim and to live the gospel, and not to make the laws of this world. Participate and be a voice of the Lord, yes, but to “rule”? – Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” to Pilate, and His kingdom hasn’t changed.”

While it is true that Lord Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He also prayed to the Father, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

If Christians always thought that they should not make the laws of this world, they would never have succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in Great Britain as William Wilberforce did, abolishing slavery in America as the abolitionists did, or ending segregation in the civil sphere as Martin Luther King Jr did.

But of course, as we try to make the laws of this world, we may run into issues as we did with the Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, and legitimizing apartheid in South Africa. Yet, the solution to these valid problems are not to excuse ourselves from the political sphere, but to take care in how we exercise our authority.

If we fail to exercise our responsibilities and authority properly, we should make apologies and appropriate amendments, but we do not excuse ourselves from the awesome reponsibilities entirely.

What is Sin?

Sin is any motive, thought, or action construed by God to be dishonoring to Him. Sins are crimes against the authority of God, and they would be punished as harshly as treason would be by a king. Romans 6:23 states “the wages of sin is death.”

The Two Covenants

Now under the Mosaic covenant, the covenant made by God with His people after He freed them from Egyptian slavery, God created a theocracy in which “church” was the state. He gave the people the authority to enforce the death penalty against sins such as idolatry, blasphemy, breaking the Sabbath, dishonoring your parents, sexual immorality, homosexuality, adultery, incest, kidnapping, and murder.

In Jeremiah 31, the LORD promised: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.”

With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the people of God are now under the new covenant that Jesus mediates.

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

(Hebrews 9:14-15)

Just as Americans were once under the Articles of Confederation before moving on to the Constitution, so too are the people of God were once under the Mosaic covenant but are now under the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

Now under the new covenant, sins are still punishable by the death penalty, but now people have the option to believe in the Son to be their perfect substitute, where He died on the Cross for their sins or they may continue in their sins and eventually face due punishment from God.

A New Covenant Case Study

If we look at the apostle Paul’s case in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, we see something interesting. Effectively, Paul acts as a kind of “Moses,” in his epistles as he explains to his respective congregations the terms of the new covenant that Lord Jesus mediates.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul relates how the Corinthian church has a case of sexual immorality, where one of the congregants has his father’s wife. Instead of calling for the death penalty as the Mosaic covenant would dictate, Paul instead sentences the man to excommunication from the local church, and rightly so.

Paul later goes on to describe how the church should relate to “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” He tells the Corinthian believers not to associate with any professing Christian if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

In the above passage, it would appear that Paul advocates for a type of “separation of church and state.” He is making a distinction between the community of believers and the outside world. If a professing believer acts like the outside world, then they should be excommunicated from the local church so they can join the world that they are acting part of.

Later on in the same letter, Paul states the following:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Here we see that actions such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and drunkenness are denounced as sins. But instead of being met with the death penalty by the community of believers, transgressors are encouraged to place their faith in Lord Jesus to be washed, sanctified, and justified in His name and by the Holy Spirit.

Given that the surrounding 1st century Roman culture at the time of Paul’s letter approved of idolatry, drunkenness, homosexuality and other forms of sexual immorality like prostitution, the state probably did not carry out penalties for all these things that are considered sins. It was into this kind of world that professing believers, who sin in the way Paul mentions, would be excommunicated.

In other words, the State at this time had laws that permitted things that God, through His Word and His church, would denounce as sin.
But note that the sins that Paul mentions do not inflict grievous physical harm to your neighbor. Idolatry, homosexuality, adultery, and theft are sins just as much as murder, abortion, and slavery are, but the former are not as life-threatening as the latter are.

They all deserve punishment by God, but the State only punishes some of them, especially the ones that threaten the safety, physical well-being and life of its citizens.

A person guilty of idolatry versus a person guilty of murder would both deserve death for their sins, yet they can find forgiveness and redemption in the blood of Jesus, but the convicted murderer would still face the death penalty while the idolater would not be punished by the State.

It is with this distinction in mind that Christians should consider how we ought to relate to our unsaved neighbors with respect to the government’s role.

The government should play a role, through appropriately defined laws, when the issue at stake involves the safety, physical well-being and life of its citzens. This would act as a form of God’s common grace towards believers and non-believers.

We should outlaw murder, slavery, segregation, and abortion because they are a severe attack against humanity. These sins are crimes because they threaten the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors. While unwarranted gun violence is also sin, guns should not be banned from private usage, because they can be used to protect your neighbors and yourself. They can and should be however, be regulated as sensible as possible on the federal, state, and local level. In contrast, same-sex unions, while still sin, are not as life-threatening as abortion and unrestrained gun violence.

Government is by definition compulsory regulation. As Christians, we have to think wisely and carefully about how such regulatory power should be used. We have to consider whether a given issue warrants regulation, and if so, then how much and how so?

For any given issue, we have options of banning it altogether, regulating/permitting it, or writing no laws about it.

Abortion is the intentional destruction of a growing child in the womb.
Generally we should seek to ban any destruction of innocent life just as we already do with murder. Yet as much as we strive to make the laws rigid, absolute, unyielding, and uncompromising, we can and should tailor them to fit them as best we can to the moral complexities of life. Given that pregnancy is where the child and mother are intimately connected with each other, complications can arise where saving one will lead to the death of the other, especially in light of limited or absent medical technology.

In cases such as ectopic pregnancies, saving the life of the mother will usually lead to the death of the child because we currently lack the medical technology to protect and nourish the child at that developmental stage after separating the child from her mother.
Laws should be written that take this into account, so healthcare professionals are free to take care of their patients without fear of prosecution from excessively oppressive laws.

Unrestrained gun violence is a danger to our neighbors. There should be sensible regulations in place to minimize the loss of life from those who wish to seek to do harm to others. Banning all automatic rifles would be too extreme, but asking for things like requiring licensing exams before possession of a gun, having gun safes at homes away from the reach of young children, and other similar measures would be great.

Slavery, while an affront to humanity, was not always as life-threatening as it was during the antebellum period of America. While slavery was not great for quality of life, at least the people were alive. The slavery back in the days of the Mosaic covenant and in the days of the Roman Empire were more like indentured servitude and employees.

God allowed slavery in the Mosaic covenant, but He regulated it to prevent and minimize it from becoming excessively cruel.

The apostle Paul had commandments regarding slavery, yet he asked Philemon to receive his slave Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). At this time, Paul wanted Philemon to think like an abolitionist not out of compulsion but out of his own accord.

In the above case, slavery was evil and commonly practiced in the Roman Empire, yet Paul wanted Philemon to choose to free his slave in spite of the legality of the institution.

Here in America, we outlawed slavery. We are not simply regulating slavery, but we banned it altogether. While it would have been nice if the slavers in the Southern States chose to free their slaves on their own accord, the issue became enough of a problem back then, that it warranted government compulsion to protect African Americans from the cruelties that came with being seen as property in the eyes of the law.

Next we have same-sex unions. Should our government outlaw or at least refuse to recognize it? If we outlaw same-sex unions, would that mean dissenters would be thrown in jail or pay a fine? Personally, I would prefer that the State just simply refuse to recognize the unions. People seeking to be married to a same-sex partner would not be punished by the law, but they would not have a formally recognized civil union.

Same-sex marriage is a sin, but it is not as threatening to life in the way that murder, abortion, gun violence, and slavery are. It is much more similar to the idolatry of Paul’s day, where it was a sin that was practiced and recognized by the ruling State. Here I believe Christians can make a pragmatic compromise and let the world act like the world.
Same-sex marriage is considered legal, but we can still share the gospel with our neighbors and by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit can then transform the desires of our neighbor’s heart where they will choose to reject same-sex marriage in pursuit of holy joy in God.

In Paul’s case, he asked Philemon to voluntarily free his slave in spite of the legality of slavery.
In our case, we can share the gospel with our neighbors and hope that they will voluntarily reject same-sex unions in spite of their legality.
It may be argued that there should not be government compulsion involved in the case of same-sex marriages.

The case might be comparable to how God hates divorce, but still permits it because of people’s hardness of heart. He allows the dissolution of a legitimate union, and perhaps we could allow as a society the formation of an illegitimate union. If God was willing to allow divorce for apparently pragmatic concerns, perhaps we could do something similar for our unbelieving neighbors.

We tried to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol, but that excessive regulation led to more harm than good. We now permit and regulate alcoholic beverages, but we encourage moderation and punish drunk drivers.

If we try to prohibit same-sex unions we may encounter the same problems as we did with Prohibition, so perhaps we should permit them for now and simply share the gospel with our neighbors and hope the Spirit changes the desires of their hearts so they reject the union on their own.

There should be government compulsion, however, in cases of abortion because we are talking about physical threats to the very lives of unborn children. Pro-choicers say, even if abortion is wrong, we should let mothers decide to reject that option on their own. But precisely because abortion represents such a large threat to the life of an unborn child, the government should get involved just as much as it already does in protecting its citizens from murder.

Below are my concluding thoughts:
-All sins deserve the death penalty from God
-God provided Jesus as a means for people to escape the due penalty of their sins and find forgiveness and eternal life in Him.
-Some sins, especially those that are life-threatening are punishable by the State, but some others, such as those of sexual natures, are not.
-In Paul’s day, we could see that all crimes are sins, but not all sins are crimes as in the case of idolatry for example.
-For Christians then, we should strive to make laws that protect and promote the safety, physical well-being, and life of our neighbors as we do for murder, abortion, slavery, segregation, and gun violence.
-In cases where life or quality of life is not as threatened such as availability of alcohol, contraceptives, and same-sex unions, we could make a pragmatic compromise and create laws that permit and/or regulate these in the interest of living peacefully with our unbelieving neighbors even as we seek their eternal well-being through the gospel.

A Biblical Welfare State?

A welfare state is defined as a system whereby the government undertakes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, especially those in financial or social need, by means of grants, pensions, and other benefits.

For this system to work, you need three components:
1. Taxpayers or some other source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries, those who receive the money.

The system is only sustainable as long as people are able and willing to pay into the system, and both government officials and beneficiaries do not demand and take more than the system can handle.

Venezuela built their social services of subsidized food, education, and welfare on profits from oil prices. Government officials were relatively faithful in their responsibilities in allocating money into their proper departments. The common people, for a while, benefited from these programs.

But when oil prices fell, the whole system collapsed and the people of Venezuela suffered from starvation and poverty. The money left in the system were seized by President Maduro, and distributed amongst himself, military officials, and political allies. All at the expense of the people that the programs were initially built for.

Social Security is where people have been paying into the system in their younger years and reap benefits from it in their retirement years, starting at around 66 years old, at least on paper. Because there is such a large number of potential retirement-age beneficiaries and few young taxpayers paying into the system, there is a danger that the system could collapse. To save the system, young people would have to pay more through higher taxes, or beneficiaries have to receive less money than promised, or the minimal eligibility age would have to be raised. There is also the concern that the government officials overseeing this program may have been pocketing money for themselves on the side at the expense of the expected beneficiaries.

In a nationalized healthcare system, everyone would have to pay more money than now through taxes, higher premiums, or health care plans covering services that they have no use for. Even if taxes are placed initially on companies making a lot of revenue, they may eventually have to cut costs elsewhere by closing down branches, letting go of employees, or providing low-quality goods and services.

The beneficiaries of a nationalized healthcare system are hospitals and doctors but if the government only agrees to pay a certain amount of money below market value in an attempt to make healthcare affordable, that policy effectively becomes a price ceiling. The overall outcome would be medical services demanded will exceed medical services supplied. In other words: an overburdened medical system.

Hospitals, doctors, and nurses would have triages to determine patient priority. Patients would have to wait long periods of times from months to years to see a family doctor. Basically, in an attempt to keep healthcare costs to a minimum, there will inevitably be rationing. There will be a shortage of medical services.

Now naturally if the government paid more money into the healthcare system, hospitals and doctors would be able to provide better services, but the government has the authority and power to withhold money from us even when it is needed. Instead of giving taxpayers’ money to the hospitals that need them, government officials could be pocketing that money for themselves.

Even as hospitals may suffer from inefficiency because of being underfunded, the government could take advantage of this situationto ask the public for more money by raising taxes to help out. More money may go into the system, but still not help hospitals out, because the money just went to further enrich the government officials.

Additionally, precisely because the government is in charge of the payments and have the power and authority to punish dissenters, the hospitals and doctors would essentially have to tailor their services to government standards.

For example, you might have a doctor that only gets paid by the government if he performs abortions, performs euthanasia on an unwilling patient, or prescribe some other treatment that goes against patient wishes. The government could potentially authorize all of this in the name of saving healthcare costs. Ideally, we would have a government that would not do this, but I doubt we live in such an optimistic world.

As I mentioned before, a welfare state comprises of the following:
1. A source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries

Biblically speaking, we do have an idealized version of this.

1. A source of revenue: voluntary donors

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” (Exodus 25:2)

“You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

From the above passages, you can see that rich people should donate money to help the poor out, but this money given into the welfare system is a willing gift and not an exaction. Not only that, but they are able to give according to what they have, not according to what they do not have. Taxes, then, contradict the biblical model. Taxes are money given under compulsion. If you do not pay them, you get thrown into jail. Also, they may be set at a rate that exceeds the taypayer’s ability to pay them.

Should the super-rich pay their fair share? They are certainly encouraged to do so, but the government should not force them to do so. Ideally, the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the super-rich and give them a heart of generosity so that they would decide to give to the poor on their own. Barring that, they should still cultivate a culture of philanthropy where they invest in helping pay people’s medical bills, building more hospitals, and renovating existing ones.

Taxes would completely undermine this process, as the super-rich would be giving money under compulsion and sometimes at a rate greater than what they have available. If too much money is taken from them through high taxes, a super-rich individual would not be able to invest in philanthropy and even have to close up successful businesses, let go of employees, or provide low-quality goods and services.

2. Government officials

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exodus 18:21)

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” (Acts 6:3)

“Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14)

From the above passages, government officials can and should play a role in the efficient redistribution of wealth to their appropriate beneficiaries. They should be trustworthy, hate bribes, be full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and collect no more than needed. They should not abuse the system and thus extort money from the common people.

Maduro abused the system and essentially extorted the people of Venezuela, enriching himself, military officials, and political allies at the expense of the people. The American government through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs could also potentially do the same. The issue of corrupt officials is where Republicans and other conservatives have issues, and for historically good reasons.

When government officials simply keep tax money for themselves, then the beneficiaries the programs were designed for will suffer from poor or absent services.

Government officials should be content with their wages, but unregenerate human nature is greedy and will demand more. It is as true today as it was back in the days of John the Baptist with the Roman government through tax collectors and Roman soldiers.

3. Beneficiaries

“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:16)

Beneficiaries ideally should be people who truly need the help that the program is designed for. They would be people who did not lie about their need for help, and are content with the money they receive.

Since we are talking about free money, it is easy for people to lie to government officials in an attempt to qualify for money that they do not deserve. In addition, beneficiaries may ask for more money than they actually need, thus putting pressure on the source of revenue, such as voluntary donors and taxpayers. For example, hospitals and other subsidized businesses may negotiate with the government to give them more money than needed at the expense of another hospital that provides higher quality services at lower costs. Another way pressure can be placed on the source of revenue is when the number of beneficiaries outnumber the number of people paying into the system, as seen in Social Security.

In conclusion a biblical model of a welfare state would comprise of the following:
1. Voluntary donors, including rich individuals, who are generous and give according to what they have.
2. Government officials or other leaders are trustworthy individuals, who do not exploit the system to take more money for themselves than needed, manage the money well, and actually give the money to benefit their intended beneficiaries.
3. Beneficiaries are those who actually need the money, and generally do not ask for more than necessary, and receive the money promised to them.

Perhaps social services programs, like Medicare for All, could work like the biblical model where taxpayers are in place of voluntary donors if tax rates approximate what taxpayers such as large corporations are able and willing to give. They could work if government officials use the money well and think like a consumer to seek low cost and high quality healthcare services. They could work if hospitals receive money close to market value, and use that money to improve services.

But Medicare for All would fail because it is difficult and undesirable for people to pay a lot of money into the system at a constant rate, government officials could take more money than they need for themselves, and use their authority and power to go against market forces and force hospitals and doctors into undesirable positions, and hospitals and doctors could take advantage of the system to obtain money that does not actually go into lowering costs and improving quality.

Ultimately, I feel a welfare programs can work if morally upright and effective individuals are in power. They can help a lot of people if used well. Otherwise, a lot of people can suffer. The programs are not inherently wrong, excluding the use of taxes, where people are forced to pay and sometimes at rates beyond their means. Right now, I am wary about taking a gamble and giving the government that much control over healthcare which could do a lot of good or cause a lot of harm for everyone. My thoughts could be concluded by this proverb:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
(Proverbs 29:2)

A Biblical Look at Blasphemy

I’ve recently saw this video on my Facebook newsfeed, and I thought I share a few thoughts and insights.

Pakistan has a blasphemy law where if someone insults the Prophet Muhammad, then that person will be sentenced to death.

The Bible also has its own blasphemy law: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:13-16)

People might say that they see no difference between the two laws. In a sense they are right in terms of how the law is defined, but they are wrong in terms of how the law is applied.

Some of the things to consider when looking at the application of the law:
-accusation
-determining guilt
-deciding punishment
-enforcement of sentence
-who enforces the penalty

Both Islam and Christianity are similar in their accusation, determination of guilt, and type of punishment sentenced, but they differ in the aspects of enforcement of sentence and who enforces the penalty.

At one time, both Islam and Judaism expected the religious community to enforce the death penalty on blasphemers.

However when Jesus of Nazareth came into human history, He changed everything. When a person commits blasphemy, that individual deserves the death sentence, but what Jesus did was unique.

The concept of substitutionary atonement is powerful. Jesus let himself be treated as if He was the one who committed blasphemy instead of the one who actually committed the crime so the guilty person could go free.

Indeed, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was committing blasphemy when He assumed the prerogatives of Godhood by saying things like “I and the Father are one”

“At this, the Jews again picked up stones to stone Him. But Jesus responded, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?”

“We are not stoning You for any good work,” said the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because You, who are a man, declare Yourself to be God.” (John 10:31-33)

The irony is that it was the Pharisees who were committing blasphemy in refusing to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Nevertheless, Jesus was treated as a blasphemer so that guilty sinners could go free and glorify in Christ their Savior.

“For our sake he [the Father] made him [the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Also Jesus said, “Furthermore, the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23)

When it comes to the death penalty, it would no longer be the community of God to enforce that punishment as under the Mosaic covenant, but Lord Jesus Himself under the new covenant.

Therefore, when a person commits blasphemy, they do deserve the death penalty, but when Jesus changed human history through His death and resurrection, that person can choose between the following destinies:
-trust in Jesus to be the perfect sinless sacrifice to take his place against the Father’s wrath and to be the resurrected great high priest who intercedes on his behalf or
-face the consequences of his sin which will be enforced by Lord Jesus Himself.

In a sense, Jesus can either die in your place or punish you Himself.
He is either your Savior or your Judge.

As Psalm 2:12 puts it:
“Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

 

The Collection of Private Information

 

I do find this meme humorous, and it raises an important issue.

Some thoughts that came to my mind when I saw this:

Information is power. There are questions about how that information is obtained, who accesses it, and how that information is used.

The Dark Knight (2008) had an excellent scene regarding this issue of invasion of privacy vs public safety: Batman used Lucius’ sonar idea on the people of Gotham’s cell phones to locate the Joker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr7AONv3FSg

The government may invade our privacy for a stated purpose of protecting the public from potential terrorists among us. Or it may use that knowledge to manipulate us into supporting its agenda.

Mark Zuckerberg may invade our privacy and give that data to a political data firm for an efficient marketing strategy. However he is somewhat better than the government, since he generally gives potential Facebook users a notice beforehand that our data may be collected and thus there is more of an emphasis on consent.

So both the government and Mark Zuckerberg are guilty of invading the people’s privacy, albeit for different reasons.

Generally, our privacy should be protected, but there are times when an invasion of privacy is warranted if it is done for noble pursuits. It is similar to how HIPAA permits a covered entity to disclose protected health information to law enforcement if there is a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others.

Collecting our private information for marketing purposes is a little different. Ideally the collector would be transparent about the gathering of data and ask for permission to collect said data. They also need to be careful about how they use that data. They may obtain it for research/academic purposes or to subtly manipulate public opinion and behavior.

All in all, transparency and accountability are key.

Generally, private information should be obtained by consent.
There are exceptional times when invasion of privacy is warranted, as in the case of public safety, for example.
There is a moral expectation that the information gathered should be used in a responsible manner and respects the autonomy of others as much as possible.

Whether it be the government, Mark Zuckerberg, political data firms, marketing firms, and the like, these are some of the guidelines that should be followed.