July 30, 2018 § Leave a comment
Last weekend we visited and hiked to the top of a 75 foot high, 45 acre pile of rocks at a place called the Weldon Spring Site near Saint Louis. You won’t find it very high on the list of area attractions, maybe because it’s a dump site for nuclear waste.
The property is surrounded by wild flowers and features a small museum in front of a massive dome of rocks that entombs 1.5 million cubic yards of radioactive material left over from a uranium ore production plant closed in 1966.
The toxic waste sat on the property for decades, sickening area residents, poisoning the water, and producing some pretty strange looking frogs. The EPA finally decided to clean the site in the 80s, which took two more decades, resulting in this gigantic hill of stones you can practically see from space. It’s been deemed safe (though some have claimed otherwise), but the structure is nonetheless a reminder of our toxic past.
We often attempt to cover our own messes, but find it doesn’t happen without coming to terms with what we’ve done to get ourselves in the mess. And even then, our own covering is inadequate. The EPA has hidden the mess, but you can’t miss the much larger 7-story rock pile in its place.
The same Bible that tells us “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1) also proclaims that “He who covers his transgressions shall not prosper…” (Proverbs 28:13). This isn’t a contradiction. The difference is who is doing the covering. Only the blood of Christ can be an adequate covering for sin, when the sin is removed “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12).
Our own attempts to cover our sin might change its shape or appearance, but the mess is still there. When Adam and Eve’s feeble attempt to cover their nakedness with fig leaves failed, God provided animal skin as an adequate covering (Genesis 3:21). In order to do that, a blood sacrifice had to be made.
Sin is our mess. It’s toxic if we don’t do anything about it, and we can never really get rid of it by our own efforts. God is the only one who can accomplish this, and He’s done it through the sacrifice of His own Son Jesus.
June 28, 2018 § 1 Comment
“If life is common, then where is everyone? … Drake put forth an equation that allowed us to make an estimate of the number of spacefaring, intelligent alien civilizations out there — in either our galaxy or the entire observable Universe — at any point in time. (But) there are still a few enormous unknowns that are out there. … steps that we simply don’t know how frequently they occur. They clearly occurred here on Earth, but we haven’t, as of yet, discovered anyplace else in the Universe where even one has occurred. These are the steps that lead us from non-living molecules to the complex, differentiated, intelligent species that we fancy ourselves to be.”(1)
This Forbes article discusses the enormous improbability of intelligent life created by cosmic accident, all the while presupposing an enormously improbable cosmic accident —life on Earth—and also the obsession with finding and communicating with other enormously improbable cosmic accidents. Atheism assumes purpose while assuming a premise that can yield no purpose: We are enormously improbable, and lonely, cosmic accidents.
1) Siegel, Ethan. “No, We Haven’t Solved The Drake Equation, The Fermi Paradox, Or Whether Humans Are Alone.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 June 2018, http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2018/06/26/no-we-cannot-know-whether-humans-are-alone-in-the-universe/.
March 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
Have you ever had a friend or relative disappear from your life for a while and it’s hard to recognize them when you run into them? Maybe they shaved their beard, lost a ton of weight, or just aged a lot since junior high.
Many of Jesus’ good friends found it difficult to recognize Him after His resurrection. Aside from a few scars Jesus showed to Thomas, scripture doesn’t tell us about any major physical changes to His appearance over the three days since they’d seen Him crucified. Yet the Gospels record three encounters between Jesus and His disciples on the first day out of the tomb where they, for a short time, didn’t know who He was. What could have made Jesus unrecognizable to those who had known Him so well and followed Him for the previous three years? And what made them finally recognize the risen Savior?
Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:11-16)
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
A couple possible reasons that Jesus’ friend Mary didn’t immediately recognize Him come to mind. One is her grief, which often clouds or dulls perception. The other is the simple fact that she was looking for a different Jesus. Mary came to the tomb hoping to anoint a lifeless body with spices (Mark 6:1) and was not expecting to meet a resurrected Jesus.
What made Mary recognize Jesus? “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'” He spoke her name. Not long before this, Jesus had told the Pharisees, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) The Pharisees never recognized Jesus for who He was, but Mary did. As a follower, she knew His voice. Especially when He spoke her name. We don’t get to hear exactly how he spoke it, but I imagine it was the tone and inflection of a close and faithful friend. And He was very much alive, the Jesus she should have been looking for all along.
The disciples on the lake (John 21:1-7)
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
I suppose distance or low light could have factored into the disciples not recognizing Jesus standing on the shore. The men were also pre-occupied with fishing, maybe to get their minds off the loss they were feeling over Jesus’ death. It’s what they’d always loved to do and now they didn’t have anything else to do. The very one who gave their lives purpose and said He would make them fishers of men was lost to them, at least for a while. Even in serving in the church, we can be so focused on the Lord’s work that we forget the One we’re doing it for.
What made the disciples recognize Jesus? It was the miraculous catch of fish that opened John’s eyes. When Peter recognized Jesus, the one who couldn’t get away from Him fast enough the night of His trial turned into Michael Phelps and couldn’t get to Jesus fast enough. Jesus’ miracles always served a deeper purpose than their material results. They were to reveal who Jesus truly was—the Messiah, God’s Son sent with the Father’s message, authority and approval.(1) It took a miracle for these men to see Jesus, as it often does for us.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast.One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morningbut didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled togetherand saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
These two followers of Jesus, reeling from the events of the last couple days, were actually “kept from recognizing” Jesus (verse 16). Did God cloak Jesus in some way for some particular reason? On this walk, this presumed stranger rebukes their doubt and begins to explain to them “what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (verse 27). Perhaps the distraction of seeing their risen Savior would have kept them from listening to Jesus as He connected the dots for them. For whatever reason, He seems little more than an incredibly interesting stranger to them.
Not until the end of their journey together do the men realize it was Jesus, now sitting with them for a meal. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…”. Maybe it was the fellowship that finally opened their eyes. Or maybe it was a deeper understanding of the broken bread representing what Jesus’ body had gone through for them.
The last time Jesus broke bread was in the upper room with twelve other disciples; a purpose and command now revealed to these two in communion with Jesus. Do we not gain a unique familiarity with our Savior at the Lord’s table, when we pass the bread and cup and remember Him in thankfulness and worship because of His sacrifice for us? And how often can we look back at a particular journey in our lives and in hindsight recognize that He was actually with us in our despair and confusion, teaching us and reviving our spirits?
Like Mary, are you grieving? Or are you looking for a different Jesus? Like the disciples on the lake, are other things—even ministry—taking your gaze off Jesus? Or are you trying to do it all by your own strength? Like the two on the road to Emmaus, are you in doubt or despair? Do you need a reminder of God’s love and sacrifice for you?
Whatever we know or hear about Jesus, none of it matters if He didn’t actually rise from the tomb. Paul reminded the believers at Corinth, “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Imagine if Mary Magdalene had actually found the Jesus she was looking for—a dead one. An occupied tomb would have proven Jesus was not God, that He did not defeat death, and had no business paying for our sin. On Easter, Christians celebrate a living Christ who personally knows our our grief, our doubt, and our name, and who walks with us in our fear, and loves us whether we see Him or not. To recognize Jesus for who He really is, we need to recognize that He is risen indeed!
1) The Purpose of Miracles (Bible.org) https://bible.org/illustration/purpose-miracles
March 14, 2018 § Leave a comment
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.”
“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Sadly, the world lost Stephen Hawking, a brilliant author, cosmologist, and theoretical physicist, who died in his sleep early this morning. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Hawking lived with ALS and lived far beyond the expectations for anyone with the debilitating neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. He was diagnosed at age 21 and died at 76. Only 10% of ALS patients live longer than 10 years. Some consider this miraculous.
While Hawking ultimately rejected the existence of God, he was plagued by the same God-given curiosity we all have to wonder and explore, to look up instead of down for answers about the universe. In the end though, despite our heavenward gaze, many will miss the divine ordering of nature and God’s direction of humanity’s place within it. The apostle Paul in Acts 17 explained to the curious Athenians their own upward gaze: “God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.”
Don’t miss Him!
(Related post: A Time to Dance: Finding Hope in a Season of Grief)
March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment
Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?
Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.
RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES
How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.
Can science explain God? No. Science can’t explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.
Can science explain science? No. It can’t provide an adequate explanation for itself because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it.
J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(1) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”
Can God explain science? Yes. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.
The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.
The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(2), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(3) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(4).
The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(5)
We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(6)
TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES
If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.
While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.
Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.
This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(7). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(8). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.
Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”
SCIENCE AND FAITH
Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.
Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.
If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.
In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.
1) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
2) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
3) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
4) “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
5) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.” Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011, blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic
6) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
7) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
8) My post: “God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)
February 12, 2018 § Leave a comment
Try this great #DarwinDay cake recipe to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin and his pioneering work on the theory of evolution by natural selection.
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. milk
8 oz. frosting
Instructions: Add all ingredients to bowl and throw them away, because ingredients must not be pre-selected or measured. Ingredients must be raw and in their simplest, most unrefined form. Like the finished cake, all ingredients must be naturally selected for based on random mutations and pressures from the environment. Ingredients cannot be selected on purpose or mixed into a common environment; they must already exist in the environment wherever they happen to exist and left to mix on their own. Keep in mind that the wrong ingredients, the absence of certain ingredients, or the right ingredients in the wrong amount will not result in a cake.
Prep time: Uncertain, but many suggest formation began shortly after the appearance of the first oceans.
Oven temp: You can’t use an oven. Any heat used in baking the cake must be naturally occurring in the environment rather than purposely selected on your oven.
Baking time: Baking time varies depending on genetic mutations and adaptability of the cake over time, but plan on anywhere from many thousands to many hundreds of millions of years, or perhaps more. Nobody knows. Test with a toothpick and allow to cool.
Frosting: Any “Happy Darwin Day” messaging, imagery or other decorative elements must also be naturally occurring on the cake without the input of intelligence or design.
Serves 12-15. Happy Darwin Day!
February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment
If you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.
Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.
Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:
1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.
We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.
HOW WE ARE CREATED
“…among these are Life…”
God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.
God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.
“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.
HOW WE ARE COMMANDED TO TREAT OTHERS
Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.
As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.
The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.
“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.
“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.
“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.
The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.
I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).
So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.
In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.
This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.
• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.
And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.
Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.
HUMAN RIGHTS THAT ARE SO NOT
Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.
Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.
The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.
The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.
There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.
From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.
Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.