God Hates Divorce: Slogan or Scripture?

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41rOl3VlaiL.jpg Several weeks ago, I noted how some common translations of Malachi 2:16 are unhelpful because they make the text say that God hates divorce (e.g. NKJV, KJV, NIV).  However, the Malachi 2:16 doesn’t say that; it says, ‘For the man who hates and divorces,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘covers his garment with violence….’ (ESV; see also HCSB).  Based on this discussion, I appreciate Barbara Roberts’ words in Not Under Bondage, a thorough biblical study of divorce, abandonment, abuse, and remarriage.  Here’s how she says it:

“The words ‘I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel’’’ which occur in many translations of Malachi 2:16 have frequently been paraphrased as the slogan ‘God hates divorce.’  At face value this slogan appears to condemn all divorce and all acts of divorcing, with no thought for who is the innocent, or less guilty, party.  Understood like this, it might appear that God hates all divorce.”

“When Christians use the slogan, ‘God hates divorce’ they often have no idea how hurtful their words can be to those who might use divorce for disciplinary reasons – those who divorce adulterers, abusers, or deserters.  Christians who do realize that the slogan may cause pain to an innocent spouse often try to soften things by saying, ‘God hates the sin but not the sinner,’ or ‘Divorce is a sin, but God forgives.’  However, such expressions may not make the innocent spouse feel much better, for every serious Christian knows that the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of sins.  Defining all divorce as sin (albeit forgivable sin) makes the sensitive conscience of an abuse victim tremble with fear.  How dare she divorce if it so displeases God?  She does not want to be a hypocrite by knowingly and deliberately displeasing God, then asking him for forgiveness.”

“…God did not say ‘I hate divorce,’ nor did he condemn all divorce.  We should therefore stop using the slogan ‘God hates divorce.’  If we still need a slogan, it would be better to say, ‘God hates treacherous [unbiblical] divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary [biblical] divorce’” (p. 72-75).

Roberts does give more explanation of her comments based on Scripture.  She also covers other parts of Scripture that deal with divorce.  If you’re looking for a detailed biblical study of divorce and related topics (e.g. abuse, remarriage, adultery, etc.), I recommend this book.  Even if readers don’t agree with everything Roberts says, the book will no doubt be helpful for those who truly want deeper biblical guidance on the difficult subject of divorce.

I’m grateful to Barbara for sending me a review copy: Not Under Bondage (n.l. Maschil Press, 2008).

rev shane lems
hammond wi
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)

Christian Ethics and Digital Media

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG Around eight years ago, very few people spent time on Facebook or Twitter, nobody had any apps or smartphones, text messages were still a novelty, and the average person spent far less time online that the current average of 6+ hours per day.  How should we view digital media today?  Is there a Christian “ethic” when it comes to being online, using smartphones, and sending texts?

Of course Christians should do what God commands, stay pure, love one another, be stewards of time and money, exercise self-control, and so forth – so yes, we should approach digital media from a Christian perspective.  Speaking of this, I recommend this book: The Digital Invasion by Hart and Frejd.  Since this book covers a lot of ground – too much to mention in one blog post – I want to give an excerpt that I thought was helpful.  What follows is a list of questions to discuss with your spouse about using Facebook.  I’m not on Facebook, but since I was for a few months, I can vouch that these questions are worth bringing up with your husband or wife.

1) How much time each day is an acceptable time to spend on Facebook?
2) Are there times during the week that we should be Facebook free?
3) When accepting friend requests from others, who is OK to accept requests from and who is not?
4) Who are the types of people from your past that are OK to search for on Facebook and who are not?
5) How personal can updates and comments get with the sharing of details about yourself, your spouse, your family, your work, and your life?
6) Are there any words, terms, or phrases that will not be typed and shared publicly?  What topics are off-limits to write about in updates and comments?
7) What types of Facebook friends are OK to have private communications with using the FB message and chat feature?
8) What should occur if a Facebook friend crosses the line?
9) How will you and your spouse connect offline about your Facebook experience?
10) Would we be happier in our marriage if neither of us engages Facebook?

These questions can be tweaked, of course, but I think they are helpful ones for husbands and wives to talk about together.  Facebook chats, messages, posts, comments, pictures, and so forth can really harm (even destroy!) a Christian marriage if used wrongly.  I urge our readers who haven’t already done so to have a discussion about Facebook usage with their spouse.  This is a good and wise way to avoid problems in marriage and to walk according to the Christian ethics mentioned above.

Here’s more info on the book I quoted from: Dr. Archibald Hart and Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd, The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), p.107.

shane lems

Genesis 6-9 and Ancient Near Eastern Flood Stories: Is the Noah Account Just One Myth Among Many?

Early in 2014, the news headlines were all abuzz with the “ground-breaking” discovery of a Mesopotamian flood account that featured a round ark. “Ahhhh, yes,” arm-chair critics beamed, “we always knew that the biblical story couldn’t be true. Here is proof that Genesis 6-9 is just one myth among many.”

Besides the fact that ancient flood accounts have been known and studied for long before January 2014 (e.g., the Atrahasis epic which was first studied and translated in the late 1800’s!), does the existence of ancient flood stories with the names of characters changed to reflect local custom and religion pose any challenge to the claim of historicity to Genesis 6-9?

In his An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God (2nd edition; P&R 2007), Cornelius Van Til answers, “No.”

The tradition of the creation story and of man’s residence in Paradise was, no doubt, handed down in the generation of Cain as well as the generations of Seth. Moreover, the revelation of God’s redemptive purpose came to Cain just as well as to Abel. With respect to the generations immediately following Cain, when Adam and Even were still alive to tell the story to their grandchildren, even if Cain studiously avoided telling it to them, we may hold that they “knew” the truth intellectually as fully as did the children of God. All this was carried forth to the nations. At the time of the flood the whole human race was once more brought into immediate contact with God’s redemptive revelation. The tradition of the flood, no less than the tradition of creation, no doubt lived on and on. This tradition was distorted, however, as time passed by. The creation myths and flood myths that have been discovered among the nations prove that the original story was greatly distorted. The result has been that those who came many generations after the time of Noah, and who lived far away from the pale of redemptive revelation as it appeared in Israel, did not have as clear a tradition as the earlier generations had had. This brought further complexity into the situation for them.

Pgs., 141-42.

Of course such a conclusion depends upon belief that the Bible has preserved the true version of the flood, and for those who by “faith” reject the Bible’s meta-narrative in favor of another (the consequences of which Van Til discusses throughout his writings), this way of explaining the various traditions that exist in the world will not seem very appealing. But for those of us who accept the Bible’s story as true (and reap the accompanying epistemological benefits of the Christian worldview), Van Til’s explanation is a reminder of why news headlines about circular arks need not make us worry.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People

http://www.doulosresources.org/books/books/rapidcart/GOTM_estore_files/84_God_of_the_Mundane_Front_Cover_web.jpg Two years ago, Matthew Redmond wrote an excellent book called The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (note: the Kindle version is only $2.99). I’ve blogged on this book before (here), but I wanted to mention and recommend it again by sharing a helpful excerpt that I recently re-read.  I appreciate how Redmond clearly understands that our celebrity (Christian sub-) culture goes hand in hand with the “radical” movement in evangelicalism.

“[The reality is that] we will not be famous. We will not be stars in our culture’s glittering nights. And though many of us have drunk deeply of a celebrity-saturated world, we live a life apart . Oh, we want to be famous, known and revered. But that is not the reality. The reality is no one will write books about us. And outside of our families, we will be forgotten.

This sounds terrible but only because fame — which was never ours — has obscured our view of what really is. And what is that? That we are part of that not so exclusive group of men and women throughout history known as “everyone else.”

Christians are not immune to the problem of being mundane and seeing it as a problem. We have breathed in the same fumes as the rest. Our hearts burn for our deeds to be noticed and celebrated . We want to do something big and have it thrust into cyberspace for all to read. Those who follow the Man of no reputation pine for one, résumés ready.

There are dark and dusty corners of our heart that will fight tooth-and-nail against ever being known to exist. The reason is easy to see. We think the small, mundane, ordinary things we do each and every day are worth nothing before God because they are worth nothing before the gods of this world.

[However,] it is encouraging that there is a God of the mundane, because lives are just that — mundane. This is good news for those who have tired of trying to live fantastically. And this is spectacular news for those who have been tempted to think their lives escape the notice of God because they are decidedly not spectacular. It is encouraging because the mundane is reality. We may flirt with greatness, but the fact is — for the Christian and non-Christian — ordinary is the divine order of the day for the vast majority of us.

Redmond, Matt B. (2012-11-29). The God Of The Mundane: reflections on ordinary life for ordinary people (Kindle Locations 229-249). Kalos Press. Kindle Edition.

shane lems

Set Free to be Enslaved to Others in Love

Clay Werner’s new book, On the Brink: Grace for the Burned Out Pastor (P&R 2014), is chock full of rich, challenging, and gospel-centered reflections for pastors. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think a pastor needs to be burned out to find great value in this book. For those of you non-pastors reading this, On the Brink is also a good read as you pray for and encourage your own pastors. What is more, many of the dynamics pastors experience are identical to the ones you face, thus there are many places where this book “maps” on to your own lives as well.

Here is (yet) another  great one I had to share:

Only the death of Christ, our suffering Servant-Savior, can set us free from our self-absorption that hinders us from sacrificially and genuinely serving others. It is the grace purchased for us by our Servant-Savior that shapes us into his image as servant-leaders. In other words, grace not only frees us from slavery to ourselves, but also empowers us to enslave ourselves to others (Mark 10:43044; Gal. 5:13). We have been set free by God’s love to be enslaved to others in love.

As noted above, there are many things that hinder this mind-set in us. We struggle to serve at all for numerous reasons, and even when we do serve, we can often do it in a very self-serving way! We may have entered into ministry with a love for people in general and realized that genuinely serving and loving particular people in particular ways would mean significant hardship, often thankless service, and mentally and spiritually exhausting ministry. But we have been bought with a price, and our lives are no longer our own! Grace doesn’t just educate, and it doesn’t just give an incredible experience. Grace equips and empowers us to serve. Serving those around us, even when it’s exceptionally difficult over long periods of time, is exactly what we’ve been called to do. Thus, being a servant in a broken world to broken people in broken places entails having a gospel-centered heart, an others-centered mindset, and difficult but incredibly rewarding labor.

Pgs. 116-117.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

When Satan Reminds You of Your Sin

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Satan is an expert at rubbing our noses in our past sins.  He knows how to plague Christians by telling them their sins are so great they should despair.  He masks the truth (“You have sinned greatly against God in thousands of ways…”) with a lie (“…Therefore you have no hope of salvation”).  Puritan Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) said that this is one of Satan’s wicked devices to keep Christians away from Christ: He suggests to the soul the greatness and vileness of his sins.  Brooks also gives biblical remedies for this wicked device of Satan.  Here are four (of eight) remedies (summarized/edited):

1)  The first remedy against this device of Satan is to consider that the greater your sins are, the more you stand in need of a Savior.  The greater your burden is, the more you stand in need of one to help bear it.  The deeper the wound is, the more need there is of a surgeon.  The Christian says: ‘The greater my sins are, the more I stand in need of mercy and pardon, therefore I will go to Christ, who delights in mercy, pardons sins, and is able to forgive beyond imagination” (Mic. 7:8, Is. 43:25).

2) Another remedy against Satan’s wicked device is to remember that the promise of grace and mercy is to returning souls.  You are never so wicked, if you return to God, that he will be yours, mercy will be yours, pardon will be yours: ‘For the Lord our God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return unto him (2 Chr. 30:9).  See also Jer. 3:12, Joel 2:13, and Is. 55:7.  Christ’s heart and arms are wide open to embrace the returning prodigal.

3) Consider that the greatest sinners have obtained mercy, and therefore all the angels in heaven, all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell cannot testify to the contrary, that you are able to obtain mercy.  Consider Manasseh, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  Christ still hangs out a white flag of grace and mercy to returning sinners that humble themselves at his feet for favor.

4) The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is to remember that everywhere in Scripture Jesus welcomes the worst of sinners that are willing to receive him and rest upon him for happiness and blessedness.  Those that come to him he will not cast out, be they ever so filthy, sinful, unworthy, or rebellious.  Oh sinners, tell Jesus that he since he has not excluded you from mercy, therefore you are resolved to sit, wait, weep, pray, and knock at the door of mercy until he says to you, ‘Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven, you are justified, and your soul shall be saved.’  See also Heb. 7:25.

Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (appendix I.1.)

shane lems

God’s Gift of Language: Hermeneutical Confidence for Exegesis and Systematics

In his contribution to the festschrift for Robert B. Strimple, Richard Gaffin makes some excellent remarks concerning the importance of having a God-centered view of language in biblical interpretation. In a time when the perspicuity of Scripture is under attack by deconstructionists and all other deniers of sola scriptura, his reminder of the Holy Spirit’s work is an able answer to the “crisis of uncertainty” many find themselves in today.

Ours, it is fair to say, is a “hyperhermeneutical” age. Most readers do not need to be reminded how in recent decades issues of interpretation have burgeoned in an overwhelming, almost unbelievable fashion and taken on unprecedented dimensions. Projects for construing texts have become paradigms for constructing, or deconstructing, reality as a whole. But the net result of this intensive expenditure of hermeneutical energy is a crisis in hermeneutics, an increasing hermeneutical despair.

I do not for a moment want to deny or even ignore the genuine problems, the real difficulties that come into view here, like the kinds of issues that sometimes confront even the biblical interpretation on which the vitality of systematic theology depends. But it is crucial to recognize what, as much as anything, is at the root of our contemporary hermeneutical malaise. That is the illusion that human language and all our other imaging capacities are self-generated and self-evolving.

Thus, we must be insistent that human language is not ultimately a human invention, but God’s gift, a gift reflective of his own capacities as the Giver. That recognition engenders confidence, a confidence that needs to be focused negatively as well as positively. Our language is not innately ambiguous. Human language does not inherently veil and confuse as it seeks to communicate and disclose meaning. It does not inevitably create a distortion of the subject matter about which it speaks. Human language is not an intrinsically inadequate medium for communicating, for conveying meaning. Certainly our language, as we have seen, can confuse, veil, and distort. But this, we must remember, is directly attributable to our sin, to our varied misuse and deliberate abuse of language, not to any functional defect in our language itself.

Renewing conformity to the image of Christ brings healing and hope for the hermeneutical process and for release from the vicious cycles of postmodernity briefly noted above. The promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit, as “the Spirit of truth,” “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13) carries a guarantee that “the problem of hermeneutics” will not so engulf the church as to produce a crisis of uncertainty. This promise made to the apostles (15:26-27) and so, through them as its foundation (Eph. 2:20), to the church in all ages, is fulfilled in the Spirit’s own, properly authorial “speaking in the Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.10; see 1:4: “the author thereof”) and his subsequent ever-attendant and efficacious witness in the church and within believers to the truth of Scripture….

Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Speech and the Image of God: Biblical Reflections on Language and Its Uses,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries (ed., VanDrunen; P&R Publishing, 2004), pgs. 191-92. (Bold emphasis added.)

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA