Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gun Control

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines regarding Gun Control:

Q:  Is there a Christian position regarding Gun control, and what principles would guide Christians in their consideration of this question in our nation?

It is only very rarely that I encounter someone who is neutral and has not formed an opinion on one side or the other of this topic.  Among Christians, those on both sides of the issue seem to think that their opinion is the same as God’s position on the matter.

As we consult the Bible on this matter, it is important that we first recognize, as with many issues, firearms were not present in Bible times.  This is the reason we will find no verse actually giving a definitive answer on this subject.  However, other forms of weapons, such as swords, and questions regarding self-defense are addressed in Christian ethics. 

A tradition does exist within Christianity called Pacifism.  This tradition holds that Christians should not engage in violence for any reason even self-defense.  The assumption here is that God will defend the Christian if that is His will, and that if He does not defend them, whatever does happen was His will. 

Those who hold this position would cite such things as Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” when slapped by a rival or His warning to Peter that “those who live by the sword will also die by the sword.” 

While this tradition is primarily found in small numbers, such as Quakers and certain monastic communities, there has frequently been questioning among Christians about the propriety of Christians engaging in warfare and other forms of violence, even for honorable reasons such as military service to their nation. 

The broader consensus over the course of Christian history and among Christian ethicists, though, has been that self-defense is a permissible Christian action, that military service is an honorable Christian vocation, and that in some instances, such as a father defending his family, a man is required to resist, even to the point of death in defense of his wife, daughters, or others for whom he is responsible. 

In this case, it would be contended that Jesus’ admonition about turning the other cheek regards those who insult or humiliate a person, and not those who pose a credible threat.  They would point to scriptures such as Paul’s instructions in Romans 13 to honor the government, which acknowledge that governments “bear the sword” in God’s service and for the good of their citizens. 

With the exception of governmental commands that require Christians to sin, it is the New Testament’s consistent position that Christians are to obey their government and work for and within good order in their societies.  For Americans, this means honoring the constitution to which our nation is committed and upon which it is founded.  Whatever position Americans take, it ought to honor the constitutional protections provided or to work only through lawful means to amend them to fit present circumstances. 

Ultimately, we cannot say that there is a single, universal, Christian position on gun control.  This is not an issue where we are deciding between sin and righteousness, but rather one where we are faced with the contrast between wise and unwise action.  In such cases, different Christians will be equally convinced in their own positions.  I firmly believe in the wisdom of one side of this argument, but another Christian might believe firmly in the wisdom of the opposite stance, and in the end, there is not a Biblical command as to which of us is right or wrong.

The Christian’s concern in such circumstances would not be for defending his own position or his own self-interest, but instead to work in the interest of enacting the wisest possible solution within the boundaries set by the laws and constitution of the nation.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do Dead People Become Angels?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about dead people becoming angels:

Q:  Do people become angels when they die, when they arrive in heaven, or at any time?

This is an idea that has been an undercurrent of American spirituality for as long as many can remember.  Consider all the art, drama, satire, and other art forms that have portrayed heaven as a collection of people who have gained wings and dwell in residences of cloud. 

Perhaps this is a product of artistic attempts to use wings as a visual device for portraying otherworldly souls who have departed their physical bodies.  Perhaps it is somehow connected (whether by cause or by effect, I do not know) to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and its well-known saying, “Every time a bell rings, an Angel gets its wings.” 

Whatever the source, this is more American mythology that Christian theological truth.  What we do know about the Angels from Biblical revelation includes that they are uniquely designed spiritual creatures who lack physical bodies.  They serve God, and at His command serve believing humans.  They were created without the capability to reproduce and thus their number is permanently set, and while a third of them did rebel, and are now known as demons, they are not different creatures, but rather, angels-gone-bad. 

On the other hand, we know that when a human dies, their body is buried (or perhaps left behind on earth in some other form, such as results from cremation), and their soul lives on, either in the presence of Jesus or separated from Him, until He comes to judge the living and the dead. 

Another potential source of this confusion may be the misunderstanding about the eternal status of the human soul.  Many mistakenly believe that the heavenly existence where the soul rests with Jesus is the ultimate goal of a person’s journey through birth, growth, life, and death; but in fact, it is only another stop on the way to eternal life—a permanent existence where the faithful live forever in restored and resurrected bodies.  The Bible describes this existence as a “new creation” and a “city of God,” complete with very physical elements and characteristics. 

If one is not familiar with these descriptions and the concept of a resurrection of the body on the last day, though, it is easy to see how the life of angels and that of deceased humans could be easily confused.  If a person is thought to live in a permanent state of non-physical life in God’s presence, and that is the same existence which angels live, than the two would become difficult to distinguish. 

Ultimately, the Bible never speaks of a human becoming an angel, nor does it speak of the reverse, nor does it speak of any hybrid being which blends the two.  Instead, it always speaks of them as permanently distinct creations with their own roles, characteristics, abilities, and callings.  At points, such as in a section of the book of Hebrews, it even compares and contrasts them—a fact which itself reinforces the permanent distinction between the two. 

Rather than seeking the greener grass of angelic life, the Bible instead encourages Christians to look toward the resurrection of their bodies and those of all the faithful—past all the pain, sorrow, and suffering of this world—and instead of a life freed from the body, to a life with our bodies restored to live forever under His care.