When Marriage Brings Judgment

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said,” My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:1-3 (ESV)

GayMarriageMonogamy and marital stability are in crisis, and the gay lobby is capitalizing on this situation as it argues for “gay marriage.” They say that a change in law will encourage homosexuals to move from a lifestyle of dangerous promiscuity into the safety and decency of a covenanted relationship. But as the Bible shows, while the prospect of monogamous-marital devotion is extremely important, it is not enough to make a marriage valid.

From the wonders of Creation and Eden, through the Fall, to the Flood, Genesis traces humanity’s downward spiral, culminating in God’s judgment of drowning on everyone except Noah’s family. One offence, noted in Genesis 6:1-3, has prompted a range of interpretations. It is not entirely clear who the “sons of God” might be, but they had no business marrying the “daughters of man.” Some say these “sons of God” were angels. Others claim they were the offspring of Seth, who married the children of Cain. The crucial question for marriage is not what they were, but what they were not, namely acceptable spouses for the “daughters of man.”

The text offers no suggestion that the marriages were short-lived, contentious, or superficial. It is quite reasonable to suppose that at least some of these unions were lasting and peaceful, but that was not the point. They should never have been solemnized in the first place.

If the “sons of God” were angels, then the marriages were contrary to the order of Creation. Such unions would have been unnatural, as would homosexual marriages (cf. Romans 1:26-27). If “the sons of God” were Sethites, who chose their brides from the “pagan pool” of Cain’s progeny, then their matrimony would have been unholy. Either way, the Lord was disgusted with these unions, no matter how devoted the partners were to each other. He shortened their lives and began to withdraw His favor (v. 3).

Genesis 6:5 presents the grounds for God’s sending a worldwide destructive flood—that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is a very general statement of rampant evil, and it is quite significant that the only specific evil named in the beginning verses of this chapter concerned marriage. God could have mentioned robbery, murder, adultery, or any number of other grave offenses, and He did speak of corruption and violence in subsequent verses (vv.11-13), but He chose illicit wedlock as His lead example.

In other words, marriage is defiled not only by unfaithfulness; it can be impure per se, wrong from the very moment of its inception. No matter what promises certain couples might make to each other, or where they might make them, the relationships are, in and of themselves, profane and cannot be sanctified. Despite many claims to the contrary, there is clearly more to sexual ethics than the imperative to covenanted faithfulness in relationships.

The perceived benefits of widening the definition of marriage are far outweighed by the damage that would be caused by granting legitimacy to deviant behaviors. Marriage is a wonderful means of God’s blessing for whole societies, but the story of the Flood stands as a warning that, when perverted, it can also be the source of terrible curses. Such would be the case with homosexual “marriage” which is both unnatural and unholy.

Repentance, the First Key to the Kingdom—Reinhold Niebuhr

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First as a pastor in Detroit and then as a seminary professor in New York, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was an influential voice for Christian ethics in the twentieth century. The cross of Christ was a particularly important theme in his thought.1 In this passage from “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” Niebuhr explains that brokenness and repentance at the foot of the cross are essential, that arrogance is deadly, while humility and godly sorrow are life-giving. This is true for civilizations as well as for individuals.

The question is, what shall the Christian Church say to this modern culture, which began its adventure in autonomy with such gay self-assurance, which is already so deeply involved in “riotous living” and which faces so certain a doom of a mighty famine?

We must, of course, preach the gospel to this, as to every generation. Our gospel is one which assures salvation in the Cross of Christ to those who heartily repent of their sins. It is a gospel of the Cross; and the Cross is a revelation of a love of God only to those who have first stood under it as a judgment. It is in the Cross that the exceeding sinfulness of human sin is revealed. It is in the Cross that we become conscious how, not only what is worst, but what is best in human culture and civilization is involved in man’s rebellion against God. It was Roman law, the pride of all pagan civilization, and Hebraic religion, the acme of religious devotion, which crucified the Lord. Thus does the Cross reveal the problem of all human culture and the dilemma of every human civilization.

Repentance is the first key into the door of the Kingdom of God. God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Whenever men trust their own righteousness, their own achievements, whenever they interpret the meaning of life in terms of the truth in their own culture or find in their own capacities a sufficient steppingstone to the Holy and the Divine, they rest their life upon a frail reed which inevitably breaks and leaves their life meaningless.

Perhaps that is why the truest interpretations of the Christian faith have come in moments of history when civilizations were crumbling and the processes of history and the judgments of God had humbled human arrogance. The faith of the Hebrew prophets was thus formulated when the culture religion of Israel was threatened and finally overcome by the mighty civilizations of Assyria and Babylon. Augustine wrote the City of God when Roman civilization, once mighty enough to seem identical with civilization itself, had become the helpless victim of barbarians; the renewal of the Christian gospel in the Protestant Reformation was, historically speaking, the consequence as well as the cause of the crumbling of a once proud medieval civilization. Proud men and successful civilizations find it difficult to know God, because they are particularly tempted to make themselves God. That is why “not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise after the flesh are called.” Without the godly sorrow that worketh repentance there can be no salvation.2

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Endnotes:

1 Mark Noll, “Reinhold Niebuhr,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 842.

2 Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Christian Church in a Secular Age,” in Christianity and Power Politics (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1940), 210-212.

Without Compromise, Saint Francis Preaches to the Sultan

In 1219, in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis of Assisi crossed unarmed into the enemy camp in order to preach the gospel to Sultan al-Kamil, the Muslim ruler of Egypt and Saladin’s nephew. In his hagiographic account of this incident, Bonaventure relates the following:

St. FrancisWhen [Francis and his companion] proceeded farther, the Saracen sentries fell upon them like wolves swiftly overtaking sheep, savagely seized the servants of God and cruelly and contemptuously dragged them away, insulting them, beating them and putting them in chains…When that ruler inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent and how they got there, Francis, Christ’s servant, answered with an intrepid heart that he had been sent not by man but by the Most High God in order to point out to him and his people the way of salvation and to announce the Gospel of truth.1

Francis was neither naïve nor mad. He knew very well what he was getting into. Contrary to the excessively tender image of him propounded by Hollywood and supported by popular piety, he was a knight of Christ and a seasoned soldier with crusade combat experience before his conversion. This feature is often overlooked in attempts to portray him as a syrupy environmentalist.

On this, his third attempt at converting the Muslims,2 he once again knew that his life was at stake, and he was prepared to sacrifice it. According to Bonaventure and earlier biographers, the sultan was so overwhelmed by Francis’s courage that he invited him to stay longer. Francis said he was not interested in the sultan’s favors, but only in his conversion. The saint even offered to undergo ordeal by fire, similar to the one Elijah went through in 1 Kings 18:17-40, in order to convince the sultan of the truth of Christianity.

While approving of the saint’s determination, the sultan replied that his acceptance of Christianity would cause a military uprising and was, therefore, a political impossibility. He repeatedly offered Francis gifts and alms for the poor, but the saint refused to accept them and returned to Italy.

This story is an eloquent testimony to the inspired boldness of the Christian saints. It also provides a stirring example of integrity in the face of an offered bribe, this time in the form of compromising hospitality. Furthermore, the incident is a prophetic condemnation of the use of violence to advance the cause of a religion—whether through crusades or terrorism. In the midst of a bloody warfare and in the time when forced conversions were a sad reality, St. Francis manifested the power of Christ, which “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

 

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Endnotes

1 Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis, 9.8, in Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God, The Tree of God, The Life of St. Francis, trans. Ewert Cousins (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1978), 269.
2 Ibid., 9.7.

Steady, Gradual Growth—Vance Havner (1901-1986)

Vance Havner was a beloved and influential American preacher, known particularly for his pithy, insightful quotes. Of him, Billy Graham once said, “I do not know of any man in my generation who has stirred revival fires in the hearts of so many people throughout the nation as has Vance Havner . . .”1

The following quote, taken from a collection designed for daily devotion, brings Havner’s sharp mind to bear on the problem of spasmodic discipleship. And though he was known as a revival preacher, whose meetings were marked by dramatic spiritual encounters with the Lord, it was his conviction that sanctification comes typically in orderly fashion.

We do not grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ by leaps and bounds but some try. They bounce from one mountain peak of Christian experience to another. Every year or so they make a new start, turn a new leaf, have a new thrill. Children do not grow by suddenly gaining a few inches or adding a few pounds now and then. They grow gradually, daily, by food, rest, and exercise. Christian growth comes the same way by feeding on the Word, resting in the Lord, and exercising unto godliness. It has been said that nothing is more detrimental to Christian experience than too many Christian “experiences.”2

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1 See Vance Havner Website, http://www.vancehavner.com (accessed March 31, 2010).
2 Vance Havner, The Vance Havner Devotional Treasury: Daily Meditations for a Year (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 49.
 

Ella Broadus Robertson and the Art of Motherhood

In 1930 when Ella Broadus Robertson published The Fine Art of Motherhood, she was already an accomplished speaker and author. The daughter of the famous preacher and professor John Broadus and wife to the world-renowned New Testament linguist A. T. Robertson, she sought to counter the rising tide of feminism by encouraging women with practical, biblical wisdom.

Ella lived in a time of great change for women. Suffragettes stormed the White House in July 1917. The police had no patience for this display of female aggression. They arrested several women and sent them off to a workhouse. The tide, however, had shifted. America had become convinced that women, who so ably served the cause of war, deserved the right to vote, and a few years later, on August 26, 1920, the nation secured it with ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.1 Not all changes were positive. In 1928 feminist author Charlotte Haldane secularized the women’s movement. In Motherhood and Its Enemies she argued mothers need political not biblical guidance.2 She advocated equality unchecked by Scripture.

motherchildernIn this new century, women wanted female leadership. Haldane provided it. Thankfully, so did Ella Robertson. In most of her works she devoted herself to serving families. In 1911, she published The Heart of the Bible, a collection of readings through the Old and New Testaments “for young people, parents and teachers.” Robertson wanted children to read and understand Scripture, and she approached this edition with the belief that “every part of the Bible is to be read in the light of the Bible as a whole.”3

The Art of Motherhood (1917) is based on talks she gave in summer conferences throughout the country. Robertson exhorted mothers to entrust their children to God. She spoke of Augustine’s mother, Monica, who diligently prayed for her young son while he lived in sin.4 She challenged mothers to trust in the Lord even when death takes a child: “[S]ome of the deepest truths have been struck out of the rock by hearts in anguish.” She spoke from experience, having herself lost a child.5 Furthermore, she offered advice on discipline. Children ought to obey, but not out of terror: “[A] child learns, as we learn, to trust the wisdom and love of the one who commands.”6 She encouraged mothers with the reminder that parenting is divine business.

In The Ministry of Women (1921), she challenged women to think about the changing world. She opened by referencing the historic ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment: “Since woman has become a citizen, it seems more and more manifest that her best public service will still be done as woman.”7 Gender equality was the national mood, and Robertson thought biblically about the matter. She pointed women to the examples of Rebekah and Elizabeth. She noted that Zelophehad’s daughters were “pioneers of woman’s rights” because they asked and received a portion of the inheritance of Israel though their father had no sons (Num. 27:6-8).8 She asked probing questions: “Is our suffrage going to usher in a golden age?” “What reforms should women most concern themselves about?” “What did we learn from doing war work?” The questions spurred discussion and indicated that Robertson wanted wives and mothers to think carefully about their roles in the modern age.

Ella Robertson urged women to realize their valuable place in both the family and society. She believed God used women, wives, and mothers to change the world. In her last book she exhorted her readers to stand firm against the onslaught of world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Women have a precious role to play in supporting the family and protecting and promoting the gospel.9

Today’s Charlotte Haldanes would have mothers believe the best they can do is stay in the workforce to foster independence and secure a healthy pension.10 God created women to embrace larger goals. Whether working at home or in the marketplace, He calls them to make an even longer-term investment in the family, the Church, and the spiritual well-being of the world.

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Endnotes:

1 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999), 658-659.

2 Charlotte Haldane, Motherhood and Its Enemies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1928), 250-251.

3 The Heart of the Bible, ed., Ella Broadus Robertson (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1911), v.

4 Ella Broadus Robertson, The Fine Art of Motherhood (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917), 50.

5 Bernice O. Skaggs, “Archibald Thomas Robertson,” 194?. Manuscript available in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Archives.

6 Robertson, Art of Motherhood, 117.

7 Ella Broadus Robertson, The Ministry of Women (Oklahoma City: Messenger Book House, 1921), 5.

8 Ibid., 92-93.

9 Ella Broadus Robertson, These Things Remain (Nashville: Broadman, 1941).

10 Individual Retirement Account. See Leslie Bennetts, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (New York: Voice, 2007).

God’s Counsel for Dark Days

WorryChristians experience sadness, burdensome circumstances, and even depression—a state of mind in which every aspect of life seems negative and dark. Though some may deny this reality, the Bible shows that seasons of difficulty have troubled God’s people since the Fall. Sadness and depression should never be embraced by Christians, since Scripture teaches that Jesus came to give life “abundantly” (John 10:10) and that the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes joy and peace (Galatians 5:22). Still, we’re not alone when we experience dark times. From Charles Spurgeon and John Bunyan to Martin Luther and Richard Baxter, great saints have endured great heaviness in their souls. Fortunately, the Bible contains abundant counsel on sadness, trying circumstances, and depression. Consider the following:

Difficult circumstances can be God’s tool to refine us. Believers only experience trials God has deemed necessary to our spiritual development (1 Peter 1:6-7). Keep believing God’s promises, and your trial eventually will yield to a season of joy—even if you have to wait for it until you reach heaven.

Troubling thoughts may stem from Satan’s attacks. After all, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Though the devil cannot control believers, he can suggest frightening, perverse, disturbing, or painful thoughts. When Christians sense that troubling thoughts have been thrust upon them by an unseen evil force, we should resist Satan with prayer and trust in Christ (James 4:7).

Feelings of weight or burden can be God’s discipline for sin (Hebrews 12:5-11). Non-believers may disobey God without feeling the stress of guilt, but the Lord loves His children too much to permit unchecked rebellion. If you have sinned, repent and God will “restore” to you “the joy of [His] salvation” (Psalm 51:12).

Depression can be the result of a medical or psychological problem. At times, physiological factors can cause life to seem overwhelmingly negative and dark. In such instances, medical help is the appropriate remedy. Indeed, Scripture speaks of taking medication for physical ailments (e.g., 1 Timothy 5:23).

Despair can stem from laziness and lethargy. Proverbs speaks of laziness’ leading to weariness and unsatisfied desires (Proverbs 21:25; 26:15), so be diligent in every aspect of life.

Material needs or stressful circumstances can produce deep anxiety. God’s prescription for these stresses is reasonable thinking, thankfulness for our blessings, and replacing worried brooding with prayer (Philippians 4:5-7).

Seasons of needless burden can be produced by a weak conscience that falsely condemns. If you feel the weight of guilt but believe you haven’t sinned, trust God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation over your finicky feelings. “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20).

Of course, these aren’t the only causes of dark seasons in life, but considering these penetrating diagnoses from Scripture often leads to relief for Christians who find themselves saying with the psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Whether the remedy comes from medicine, believing God’s promises, or gaining proper perspective on our trials, heeding the Bible’s advice can lead the burdened Christian to also say with the psalmist, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 43:5).