September 5, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, September 5, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll ponder from the Christian worldview why it’s so difficult to be able to come to terms with the motivations of another person or even to understand them. In this case we will be looking at the dictator of North Korea. We’ll also in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey consider what we learn in terms of the fragility of our stuff contrasted with the strength and resilience of human relationships, and we’re going to look at the continued controversy over the Nashville Statement on human sexuality, gender, and marriage. And we’re going to see from that controversy why it’s so important now to see the difference between two rival visions of Christianity. We’ll understand why it’s important to take our stand with the historic Christian faith.
Lessons small become lessons large: North Korean threat reveals necessity of stability and order
The threat posed by the nation of North Korea took on an entirely new dimension over the weekend when that nation claim to have detonated its first thermonuclear device. That would be a genuine game changer. It has been known now for a number of years that North Korea had become an atomic power. It had been able to develop a crude, a rather simplistic, atomic weapon. But the weapon that was detonated on Sunday was by no means crude. And even though the Kim regime is known to be congenital in its lying and consistent in its threats and misrepresentations, in reality seismic observers in South Korea and in China and in the United States noted that this particular blast was so strong that it set off a significant seismic event. This adds to the likelihood that in this case North Korea wasn’t lying. It actually does possess and has detonated a thermonuclear weapon, a so-called hydrogen bombs, and this came just days after the nation committed what is legally an act of war, sending a ballistic missile over the island nation of Japan.
And just hours after the detonation of this weapon on Sunday, sources in the military intelligence community in South Korea and elsewhere indicated the likelihood that the Kim regime was ready to launch yet another ballistic missile weapon. And in this case, what you have is the combination of two separate technological achievements, both now apparently made by the communist dictatorship of North Korea. This means both a true thermonuclear weapon and a means of delivering it – that is a ballistic missile. The third achievement, which would be necessary to make North Korea fully weaponized in terms of a thermonuclear ballistic device, would be miniaturizing the thermonuclear weapon and achieving a ballistic missile that could carry that weapon and successfully reenter the atmosphere before detonating.Show Full Transcript
We need to pause for a moment to reflect upon the fact that humanity has lived with a nuclear threat, the threat of nuclear weapons, for now over 70 years. But ever since World War II, the conclusion of that warm there has been no nuclear exchange. Although it is clear that the world did come close, for example, in the early 1960s between United States and the Soviet Union in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the reasons in retrospect that there was no outbreak of nuclear war during all of those decades is because for the most part nuclear weapons were in the hands and under the control of political grown-ups, most particularly of the superpowers of the United States, the Soviet Union and China. Add to that the historic European powers also very historic very responsible and you come to understand why it was that even during the Cold War, when the USSR and the United States faced off with nuclear weapons and even as the Soviet Union installed some of those nuclear weapons so close to the United States and Cuba, there is no way that the Soviet government would’ve put the control of those weapons in the hands of the Cubans even in their ally Fidel Castro.
But since that time, the situation has changed, and it has changed with two particular nuclear threats noted by the United States. The first is Iran, and the second is North Korea. But in this case, as fanatical as the Shiite regime in Iran is now known to be, the regime of the Kim family in North Korea poses a far more unpredictable and volatile threat. Now just to state the matter bluntly, Iran has never done anything like what has now been done repeatedly and expansively by North Korea. Writing over the weekend at the New York Times, Motoko Rich and David E. Sanger point to the most elusive question of all, what does the Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, want? They write,
“six years after Mr. Kim took power and began executing those who challenged his rule — sometimes with an antiaircraft gun — there is no issue that confounds analysts more than the motives of a 33-year-old dictator whose every move seems one part canny strategy, one part self-preservation, and one part nuclear narcissism.”
Also writing over the weekend at the Financial Times of London, Gideon Rachman writes,
“North Korea is such a closed society that even academic specialists struggle to interpret its behaviour. The mainstream view,” he says, “is that Mr Kim’s pursuit of advanced nuclear weapons is motivated by a search for security.”
He goes on to say he learned this lesson perhaps by seeing the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammer Gaddafi, but he says that doesn’t explain all the behavior evidenced by the North Korean dictator. He points to the risk that Mr. Kim is miscalculating by pressing the United States and its allies and by actually weaponizing its claims and doing so in a way that is extremely provocative. The provocation indicates that deterrence of his own threat does not appear to be Mr. Kim’s main or at least only concern.
From a Christian worldview perspective, this is a huge lesson in the fact that lessons small become lessons large. The necessity of stability, security and order in the smallest human community points to the fact that we face the very same needs on the biggest global level in the relationship between nations. Just as a rogue individual can create mayhem on the playground, a rogue nation can create absolute chaos and worse in terms of the international order. And when it comes to an issue like this, there is the very humbling reminder that a threat like this simply can’t be avoided. This is a foreign-policy challenge that cannot be simply wished away.
But this also points to the absolute danger represented by an autocratic dictatorial state driven by this kind of ideology in this case a very unreconstructed form of communism. And of course you add to that the worship of the regime within North Korea and the absolute paranoia of the entire society starting at the very top. All that is a very toxic brew. But add to that the fact that everyone seems to be asking exactly the same question, what exactly does this dictator want? That points to the fact that when you are dealing with the dictatorial autocratic form of government it really comes down to just one individual. The biblical worldview and its doctrine of sin explains why this kind of power should never be invested in a single individual. And this case reminds us of the fact that that isn’t just a lesson in theology, it’s not just a lesson in civics or political science, in this case, it’s an absolute issue of life and death in the headlines coming at us day by day.
The strength of relationships vs. the fragility of stuff in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
Next we shift back to the United States where the nation’s fourth largest Metropolitan area, the city of Houston and its suburbs, continues to limp towards recovery. The rains have stopped. But the floods have not and extended the damage and devastation, of course, throughout most of the Texas Gulf Coast extended now into the state of Louisiana. But looking at this, it’s very clear just days after Hurricane Harvey hit that there is a contrast between two realities, both of which are important to the Christian worldview. The first reality is the observation of how fragile our stuff is, but the second is the observation of how strong human relationships and human bonds are. Our stuff turns out to be truly fragile even the biggest, the sturdiest and most sophisticated of our stuff. You take a city like Houston and you look at the fact that square-mile after square-mile has been cleared and filled and built upon, houses and schools, and all the artifacts of civilization churches, and shopping centers and institutions of communal life, add to that bridges and sewer systems and in the city of Houston, two major airports. Well you could go on and on, including such artifacts of modernity as the Johnson Space Center there also near Houston. But what we now see is that even our sturdiest stuff turns out to be quite fragile over against a storm with the potential of something like Hurricane Harvey turned out to possess.
But at the same time, the strength of human relationships was also fully apparent. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, even in the darkness, neighbors set out on their boats to find neighbors or for that matter complete strangers. News reports in the United States and elsewhere around the world have documented the fact that in the hours just after Hurricane Harvey sent a flotilla of volunteer boats, which represented neighbors trying to help neighbors, appeared in the rising waters around Houston. There is something very encouraging and very revealing in this fact. We sometimes put far too much trust in our stuff and far too little stock in human relationships. The clarification that comes in the aftermath of a disaster like Harvey should fully have our attention.
But we should note another point as well. And it’s the absence of an argument we often hear elsewhere. We’ve been seeing how human dignity and the definition of what it means to be human, the claim that there is a special dignity to human life, is too regularly debated, especially by scientists and ethicists and philosophers on academic campuses. But you’ll notice how absolutely ridiculous those arguments become in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Harvey. There was no debate about whether or not human lives were of particular priority when it comes to saving people and serving people in the aftermath of the hurricane. All those ridiculous academic arguments questioning whether there is a special status to being human. All of that became not only irrelevant, but it was shown for what it really is, a ridiculous argument that simply can’t stand the test of a disaster. Over time, only the biblical worldview can undergird the why of why it is that human beings possess this special dignity made in the image of God, but it is still very instructive that in the clarifying event of the hurricane and its aftermath the people in Houston pretty much figured that out. It didn’t take an argument. It just took a certain moral instinct. And in this case we should be very thankful for that moral instinct.
Meanwhile, even as we continue to pray for the folks in Texas and beyond, we need to be very prayerful and aware of the fact that there is another category four hurricane now churning in the Atlantic. It’s known as Hurricane Irma, and as of this morning, it appeared to be more likely than not that this hurricane will pose a danger to some part of the United States as well as to the Caribbean. But we should be thankful that at least we can track these storms that’s a technology not possessed by previous generations. Thus we are warned in a way that they were not, but at the same time we have no more control of them than any previous generation. That’s also a humbling realization.
Two rival visions of Christianity on display in the response to the Nashville Statement
Finally, I turn to the continuing controversy over the Nashville statement on human sexuality marriage and gender. Over the weekend I wrote an article that appeared Sunday in the Washington Post. As I pointed out America’s theological and moral fault lines are fully in view. As a group of evangelical Christians adopted the Nashville Statement and within hours some of the most vitriolic responses to the document actually helped to clarify why the statement was so necessary and timely. As I pointed out, those of us who affirmed the document did so for one main reason. While the Christian church has held to a normative understanding of biblical sexuality for over 2000 years, we now face challenges to biblical teaching that require an unprecedented level of specificity. But I also wanted to make the point that we released this statement out of love for those who are questioning and struggling with their own sexuality with their own gender identity. We made it as a public statement of concern because that is exactly what the Bible instructs us to do.
And at this point we simply have to observe that the push back to the Nashville Statement has revealed these fault lines to be even deeper than many had imagined because the pushback is basically revealing the contours, the great contrast, between an understanding of Christianity that is based in an unchanging divine revelation and an understanding of Christianity that holds the faith to be endlessly mutable and thus transformable into any form in every generation. And thus you see two very different understandings of how Christian love would be extended. In the second case those arguing for a far more liberal or they would style progressive understanding of Christianity, they would say that Christian love means never judging anyone for his or her sexuality.
But when it comes to the biblical understanding, the historic Christian faith has been premised upon the understanding that we must preach what is found in the Bible, we must teach what is found in the Bible and we must convey to all people what God is revealed in the Scriptures in order to understand what He thinks and how He would have us to understand ourselves, our gender, our self-identity, marriage and our sexuality. These two rival understandings of Christianity translated into two rival definitions of love eventuate into very different, contrasting, indeed contradictory, understandings of sexual morality in light of the new moral revolution. The liberal perspective is that love means that we change our Christian moral understandings in order to make persons feel far better about themselves and their sexual orientation. The accusation is here that historic Christianity has been wrong and thus that the change must be made in order to rectify Christianity’s posture over against the sexual revolution.
Meanwhile, the historic Christian church has understood things in a very different life; rather, biblical Christianity has been premised upon the fact that what’s most important and what love of neighbor would require us to demonstrate is telling each other the truth as God has revealed the truth. In the first case, the more liberal perspective would say that love means never telling someone that their sexual orientation or their sexual behavior or their definition of marriage might be wrong. But in the second case the historic Christian church has said that love means that we have to speak to one another the truth as God has revealed the truth. And furthermore, this means that love actually requires us to say the difficult things to one another, the truths revealed in Scripture, in order that all of us knowing our plight as sinners will know our need of Christ and in him find salvation and wholeness.
Evangelical Christians believe that God has spoken in the Bible and that obedience to what he has spoken is both true and at the same time essential for human wholeness, freedom and fulfillments to what we call human flourishing. The controversy no doubt will continue, but the very fact that the statement made such headlines and was greeted with shock and surprise in some quarters underlines why it was needed. We believe that human dignity, human flourishing and true human freedom are at stake. We know the two rival visions of what it means to be human are now fully apparent. We stand by the vision affirmed in the historic Christian faith.