Early Intervention and the Good News of Jesus

A friend visited me this weekend and reminded me of a post I’ve been wanting to write for years that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. This friend teaches in an elementary school, and we talked about several students she has had over the years who have had some form of learning disability or special need. Every time we talk about this, I am reminded of my own son’s early issues, and my own inner turmoil that went along with it.

I had my eldest when I was 34. At the time, I felt accomplished in a lot of ways. I had a masters degree in math education and taught at the local community college. I was deacon of women’s theology and teaching at a megachurch in Seattle. But parenting my little guy challenged my view of myself in profound ways.

We brought our tiny little guy home from the hospital (5 lbs 10 oz), did our best to gently get him into a routine, and began the long marathon of parenting. He reached all of his early milestones slowly. He didn’t walk until he was nearly two, utter discernible words until well after two, or potty train until nearly 4. Though those things do not bother me AT ALL now, they bothered me greatly early on as a young, inexperienced mother. Consistently, when with peers his age, my son was behind them in development. He cried and threw things. And if we were ever in a group setting with other parents and kids his age, he consistently disrupted the group or entertained himself away from the group.

At age 2 ½, we started a hippie neighborhood preschool. At the time, I was hoping to build relationships to minister in my community. But the Lord instead used the preschool to minister to me as I struggled to understand and parent my son. One thing was clear from the first weeks of preschool – my son was not like other kids in his class. But his teachers were kind and compassionate. They talked with me about having him tested for learning disabilities, something that at first seemed terrifying. They knew this would initially feel threatening to me and worked to show me the value of early intervention in children with learning disabilities. I got him tested, and we began speech and occupational therapy. And, sure enough, a decade later, I can clearly see how this intervention helped him. He is delightfully quirky, but he is also loving and lovable. His developmental issues no longer hold him back or disrupt our family.

If this story sounds familiar to you and your family is still in the early stages of struggle, here are some things I learned the hard way.

1. It is not your fault that your child has some kind of disability or learning issue.

During my early years of parenting, I lived in Seattle, home base of the granola mom. Though I did more natural, healthy things than some moms, I did a great deal fewer than the best natural moms in my area. I felt a lot of guilt over this, concerned by the constant influx of information on types of diets and baby foods. But more than the food my son ate, I felt great guilt in particular for not teaching him baby sign language. For some reason, I became convinced that was the source of his language struggles. At least, it was something I could latch onto that I could have done that I didn’t. He did eventually learn to talk and is quite the conversationalist now. He also reads and writes well. But even if he didn’t, I no longer believe things like baby sign language make or break verbal development. In general, the amount of moralistic information pushed on moms of young kids is overwhelming. Lots of things are moderately helpful, but that does not make them absolutely necessary.

In both secular and religious mommy circles, there is always some way we can drop the ball, starting with the first feedings after birth. From the first moments my two were born, I started down the path of mommy guilt. I am a type 1 diabetic, and I could not get my newborns started on my breast right after birth because of their dropping blood sugar (which according to some was key to starting my newborns off right). Which led to guilt that I didn’t better control my blood sugars during my pregnancy. Which led to guilt that I developed type 1 diabetes in the first place. Which is IRRATIONAL. From the first moments my boys were born, I was on the irrational spinning wheel of guilt in which many, many moms like myself have existed. Praise God that the good news of Jesus gives us another way of thinking about such information, which leads to number 2.

2. Come what may, your identity is secure in Christ. And so is your child’s.

When I say your identity, I’m talking about the qualities that distinguish your value as a person. What makes you valuable? What makes your child valuable? How do you define your own worth to humanity? How do you define your child’s? The world projects onto us the need as parents to give our children every opportunity to be great in all of the things. But when we take that responsibility on ourselves, we project it onto our children as well. In that paradigm, their self-worth and self-identity will come from how well they measure up and move past classmates and peers. Trained by the pressures from their parents, they find their identity by how they COMPARE to others. But the Bible gives a sobering assessment of that mentality – “they that compare themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12).

Self-worth by peer comparison IS NOT WISE. It’s not wise for parents, and it’s not wise for kids. This isn’t the hope Christ offers or the peace in which He equips us to live. Just as we are saved from condemnation for our failures by grace through faith in Christ (Romans 8:1), we are equipped for the good works God has prepared in advance for us the same way – by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Your identity—your value—rests in Christ in you. And your good works (or your kids’) will only be good when they are the ones God prepared in advance for you that you accomplish by His grace at work in you.

Be at peace, stressed mother of an out-of-sync child. In Christ, you can rest from your attempts at good works, including trying to be the best mom of well rounded kids in your neighborhood, church, or school (Hebrews 4:10). Such peace through Christ enables us for point 3.

3. Do not feel threatened by a friend, family member, or educator suggesting intervention for your child.

I did feel threatened when the preschool teachers first mentioned testing to me. I wanted them to make me feel better by saying something like, “Oh, he will catch up quickly on his own. Just you wait.” Or, “Don’t worry about what you are seeing. You don’t need to do anything extra.” But instead, they told me about studies on early intervention, particularly around ages 0 to 5. They told me of the value of facing the developmental issues head on and doing what I could to support my son in these early years so he would be better adjusted for elementary school. It meant going in for a barrage of testing and then sifting through what I could and could not do in terms of recommended interventions. I opted for speech therapy and some occupational therapy. Then we got an IEP (individualized education plan) once my son hit elementary school. God was gracious to give us an elementary school with an awesome special education teacher. And after a few years, his teachers and I decided he no longer needed the IEP. In many ways, he remains out-of-sync with other kids, but it is no longer debilitating. His weaknesses are also his strengths, and I am learning to redirect them with an eye on how these quirks are part of his giftedness for the good works God has prepared for him.

The gospel equipped me to face my son’s difficulties head on without either he or I being defined by them. If I did drop the ball in his early years, there was no condemnation in Christ. And that freed me to help him in the ways that worked for our family and his teachers. I was not earning my righteousness by producing the ultimate well-adjusted child. I was freed from the mentality of having to try all the good things. Instead, I could prayerfully take the opportunities given to me that I could do and let go of the ones I couldn’t do.

Jesus says over the woman anointing his feet with oil in Mark 14, “She has done what she could.” At multiple points in my life, Jesus’ affirmation in those words has been a lighthouse beacon for me. I don’t have to do all the things. But prayerfully, in His name, I will do what I can according to how He leads me. The good news of Jesus changes everything, including our responses when our kids need help.

6

A Woman’s Cruciform Love

Tonight on Facebook, I read an update on a friend’s life that left me sobbing. I won’t share the details, but it echoed the stories of several women I know. Fighting for faith as they persevere in trial, just to be abandoned in the middle of it by the one they thought was in it with them. For several friends, the abandonment has been by their spouse, a most bitter betrayal when you are already fighting to endure in suffering. But some have been abandoned by siblings, parents, churches, or friends. The friend tonight wasn’t bitter, but she was grieving deeply. And that, friends, is the difference in worldly love and cruciform love.

Cruciform love. Love in the shape of the cross. My online news and social media feeds don’t much understand cruciform love. Sometimes I don’t think too many Christians do either. Who doesn’t get bitter when their spouse emotionally divests from their relationship in the middle of the terminal illness of a child? Who doesn’t get bitter when the friend or family member you thought was on mission with you decides they just don’t care anymore? So when I stumble across cruciform love in the middle of betrayal or abandonment (and what other kind of love could possibly endure such a thing?), I take note of it.

Cruciform love feels the sting of betrayal. Cruciform love doesn’t deny the existence of pain but faces it head on and walks through (or limps through) it anyway.

Luke 22:42 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”

Hebrews 12:2 … who for the joy that lay before Him endured the cross and despised the shame …

Jesus faced his suffering head on and felt its pain deeply. Love in His image hurts, which is why most of us avoid it like the plague.

There is overwhelming sadness and betrayal in this world. There is overwhelming sadness and betrayal in my little Facebook feed as well. The temptation again and again is to harden ourselves to it. We don’t just get angry at sin, we get angry at sinners. When our love is thrown back in our faces, we batten down the hatches and take down the sails. We will endure, but not vulnerably. We ride out the storm by locking ourselves in. This seems the way of survival. But it is not cruciform love. Cruciform love doesn’t protect itself. It loses its life. Praise God though that Jesus affirms such loss as the path to finding true life (Matthew 16:25).

Cruciform love is the gospel lived out. It is the essence of imaging out our God to a lost and broken world.

Luke 6 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

In this post, why do I emphasize the cruciform love of believing women? I have watched men live out cruciform love as well, but they are not the ones that share with me the private stories of pain in their lives the way many women do. Also, there is a particular vulnerability in our gender related to our creation in the image of God as ezer. The term reflects both God’s strength and His care, His protection and His compassion. And caring leaves us vulnerable. It left God vulnerable too, hanging on a cross exposed to a jeering crowd. And instead of anger or bitterness at the betrayal of the crowd that had cheered Him as Messiah just a few days before, He prayed in the midst of their jeering cries, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This love at His most vulnerable, exposed moment is cruciform love.

I want to give a shout out to the women I see living out such love, but I note they are not much for shout outs. They love this way because they are convinced they ARE LOVED this way. And what other response could they possibly offer?

I John 4:11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

I John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.

Instead of a shout out of affirmation, I will offer simply an encouragement. Sister in Christ, though the world despises cruciform love and projects weakness onto those who believe in it, know that it is the gospel playing out in your life. The pain of your circumstances tempts you to harden yourself, except that you know Jesus loved you vulnerably even when it hurt Him deeply. And so you stay engaged as you can, loving those who can not return it. Bless you, sister, for you encourage me in Christ.

Is the Bible Good for Women?

is good cover final finalWaterbrook/Multnomah is offering a sneak peek at Is the Bible Good for Women?  Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture.  If you know or love someone wrestling with this question, please share.

 

“Is the Bible good for women? Many people (both women and men) would emphatically say no. To them, the Bible promotes a patriarchy that has historically crushed women and given men license to suppress and abuse them. After all, how could a book that talks about forcing a raped woman to marry her rapist or tells wives to ‘submit’ to their husbands be good for women? Without flinching at the difficulty of certain parts of the Bible, and while at the same time upholding divine inspiration of the Scripture, Wendy Alsup weaves together answers that are not only consistently Christ-centered but are also true to the heart of the Lord who loves women. As a woman who highly values both women and God’s Word, Alsup gives us answers to some of the most difficult questions about gender in the Bible. Because her answers are deeply compassionate and true to Scripture, this book will be good for you. I highly recommend it!”

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, author of Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings

 

“Is the Bible good for women? Some hear the question and scoff: ‘Of course not! It’s antiquated, dangerous, misogynistic.’ Some hear the question and grieve: ‘Of course it is! It’s God’s Word, and it frees women to be who God means for them to be.’ What Wendy Alsup understands and articulates is that even something as good as the Bible can be put to poor use in the hands of sinful people. Thus she approaches the question with care and insight to provide an answer that is thoroughly biblical and so very satisfying.”

Tim Challies, blogger and author of Visual Theology

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On the Women’s March

Last week’s march on Washington and many other cities drew widespread national attention. Many were for it, and how dare you criticize it. Others were against it, and how dare you entertain the idea of going to it. I am usually pretty good at resisting such binaries. The intense irony of the binary was summed up well with Hannah Anderson’s tweet:

We will get back to the specifics raised in her tweet at the end of this post.

I didn’t go to the march, mostly because I didn’t have one close by that I could go to. If I had, I would have held up a pro-all-of-life poster of some nature. I was deeply disturbed that the organizers didn’t let pro-life feminists into the march. But then I realized, Christian pro-all-of-life women and men needed to show up anyway. And many did. That is exactly the kind of action in relationship with need that Jesus taught.

Matthew 5

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

How much wisdom Jesus communicated through the choice of salt and light as the analogy for a Christian’s need of involvement in the world. Salt in its container on the counter of the kitchen, looking at the food across the way but never touching it, does not do anything worthy of its name. Salt that is in contact with meat but has lost its distinctive influence is not doing anything worthy of its name either. Salt is for flavoring. Salt is for preserving. And salt is meaningless if it is not in contact with the thing that needs flavor or preserving.

How can we be salt and light through something like a women’s march? What value is there in applying ourselves directly to the meat in question?

1) By affirming the concerns that we hold in common with other women at such a march, we can show how many of them flow from a Judeo-Christian understanding of ethics.

We are concerned by Trump’s language of sexual assault because God created women in His image, and He was the first to proclaim a legal penalty for sexual assault. We are concerned by Trump’s lifelong pattern of insulting women on their looks because God taught us that while man looks on the outward, God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7). We are concerned by Trump’s ability to discard his wives because God first instilled in us the need for faithful covenant in relationship. We are concerned by Trump’s mockery of the disabled and inflammatory statements concerning immigrants because God was the first to teach us to value and care for the poor and marginalized in society.

2) By affirming the concerns Christians share with a secular women’s movement, we can show the natural out-working of those same concerns applied to life before birth.

My next sentence may be the most important you will ever read on defeating abortion. We can not show the worth of lives before birth without showing the worth of life after birth. The perceived dichotomy between the two has become the great stumbling block for the pro-life movement, often championed by those who are also willing to defund social services that are a lifeline for the women considering abortion who might choose to give birth to their child. As we affirm the dignity of all human life after birth (the disabled, the immigrant, the poor, the marginalized) and advocate for a safety net for vulnerable children and single mothers who bring them into the world, we remove social stumbling blocks that cause many to consider abortion an option. We bolster a pro-life position when we do not separate it from an all-life position. We bolster a pro-life position when we put off language that dehumanizes the poor and marginalized that would consider abortion.

In conclusion, Hannah’s tweet reflects an irony for many conservative believers who resonated with parts of the women’s march initiatives. I particularly resonated with their first principle: Ending Violence. “Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies.” Though Trump is not the first president with multiple allegations of sexual violence against him, he has definitely been the first to glory publicly in his misogyny, boasting to Billy Bush about 2nd degree sexual assault (sexual contact without consent for which he later apologized). But his multiple appearances on Howard Stern have best reflected his attitude towards women, and for those he’s only reveled, never apologized. Is it appropriate to call Trump a sexual predator? Well, his bragging of grabbing women without consent certainly fits that label. “A sexual predator is a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically “predatory” or abusive manner.”  His inclusion of strip clubs in his casinos and glorification of porn culture fit such a label as well.

It is ironic that a man who glories in the male appetite for sex without consequences (for the man at least), which is the very culture that puts women in a place in which they feel they need abortion, is the same man celebrated for hopefully ending abortion. If you don’t address the need for abortion and male participation in a hook up culture that wants sex without responsibility, you will always have abortion. You may have it illegally. You may have it in back alleys. But you will always have abortion.

So I was willing to march, because though the march organizers want both abortion and a change to the culture of predatory sex that Trump has come to represent, I believe there is a better way. When believers address and rebuke the culture of predatory sex Trump represents, we are salt and light aiding in ending abortion. I am encouraged to see more and more orthodox believers putting off the binary between pro-choice and pro-birth and advocating for flourishing life both before and after birth. In doing so, we reinforce that flourishing life was God’s idea first and that we can go to the Bible for wisdom for life, and health, and peace. Truly, through Abraham’s Seed and the Word that reveals Him, all nations shall be blessed.

 

**Waterbrook/Multnomah is offering a BOGO promotion for preorders of Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture, which releases in March.  Though I started this project 3 years ago, it seems more relevant and needed than ever.**

 

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Why Paula White is a Heretic

On Thursday night, NBC Nightly News showed a tweet by Dr. Russell Moore, leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, calling the leading religious figure in Donald Trump’s life, Paula White, a heretic. The NBC reporter asked White, “Do you think it is because you are a woman?” “No,” I loudly replied. “It’s because she’s a heretic!” But, of course, no one could hear me in my living room.

Interestingly, the same day, I listened to a free lecture from Reformed Theological Seminary from their History of Christianity I class . I’ve been working through this class on their free app, and Thursday’s lecture was on the Council of Nicaea which produced the Nicene Creed. For many of us, the word heretic is simply a pejorative term. But among the church fathers in the history of Christianity, it had a specific meaning, that someone was teaching a belief in the name of Christ that didn’t match orthodox Christian faith.

But here we have another word, orthodox. What does it mean?

Orthodoxy (from Greek ὀρθοδοξία, orthodoxia – “right opinion”) is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodoxy

It’s been interesting to study the history of Christianity and the development of the creeds by the early church fathers to combat heresies. The primary ones were around the nature of the Trinity and particularly around the nature of Christ. The more you study it, the more you get how concerning the debate last year over Eternal Subordination of the Son was in terms of the orthodox Christian faith. As a result of this class and that debate, I’ve been using a more discriminating eye as I evaluate what books I do and don’t recommend. For a time, I used some books by conservative men and women whom I now recognize as being fuzzy on the Trinity in a way that would have concerned the church fathers. Because these authors were conservative on gender, I mistakenly assumed they held closely to conservative orthodox faith. But I have found that is often not the case.

I have also met more women equally burdened as I for discipling women in the faith of our fathers, understanding how Scripture led early church fathers to affirm old creeds and how those should still constrain us for today.  These women believe that an orthodox understanding of the Trinity and nature of Christ are essential doctrines for Christian women, and their writing and teaching affirm these doctrines.

Which leads me back to Paula White. There are a lot of folks who hold to an orthodox understanding of the faith with whom I disagree on secondary issues. I am presbyterian. I have attended baptist churches in the past, but I also tend to disagree with them about church polity. I have attended methodist churches, but I disagree with them around Arminian doctrine. But while these are big issues, historically, they have been secondary to divisions over the very nature of God. And Paula White operates in a theological system that denies the basic tenets of the nature of God and the Trinity from an orthodox Christian view.

One example is her affirmation of the statement  that “Jesus is not the only begotten Son of God … He is the first fruit.” She is either denying the deity of Jesus or elevating believers to deity. She goes on later to say in a CNN interview that she affirms the Nicene Creed. But saying you do doesn’t actually mean that you do. I wonder if she even understands the Arian heresy the Council of Nicaea was called to address?

Some might have a problem with Paula White because of her marriages or because she pastors as a woman. But grievously, not that many understand the problem with her understanding of Christ. But you should. And if you are interested in knowing more theology and history of orthodox Christianity so you recognize among either conservatives or liberals what is not actually the historic Christian faith, I highly recommend the RTS app and the History of Christianity I class by Dr. Donald Fortson. I listen while driving on errands and can usually finish a lecture a day doing so. And, sisters reading this, we need to know orthodox doctrine!


Post-Trump Reflections 4: Inauguration of the King

Part 1: Dueling Moralities

Part 2: Care of the Poor in Scripture

Part 3: Turning to Assyria for Help

In the last post, we looked at God’s warning to King Ahaz not to put his trust in one god-less leader to ward off another. God promised a sign in Isaiah 7:14, a sign Ahaz said that he didn’t want but one that God sent anyway.

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

By the time this sign emerges on the scene, Ahaz is long dead and the nation of Israel has become a small, powerless remnant. We meet Simeon and Anna in Luke 2, some of the few who remain devout in belief that God would fulfill His promise.

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

This baby was God’s salvation, the Light of revelation to even Gentile nations, and the glory of God’s people, the dispersed remnant of faithful believers. Jesus was later received into Jerusalem as king and then crucified by the same fickle crowd. But He rose again from the dead, defeating not just the oppressive rulers of the day but the very weapon that gave them power, the threat of death. Rulers would still oppress, but their greatest tool of manipulation, the fear of death, was defused. For true believers, death has lost its sting, the grave no longer threatening annihilation. We serve the One who has defeated the greatest threat of all.

Before Jesus returned to heaven, He gave us a new version of the same commission God gave at the Garden before death entered the world. Go into all the world. Overcome the chaos with the message of God’s kingdom. This remains our commission, though we feel a disaffected remnant in a “Christian” nation that chose a god-less leader to save them from terrorism abroad and closer to home.

We remain constrained by God’s commission. Go. Serve. Protect. Teach. Disciple.

We remain constrained by God’s instructions. Pray for our leaders. Pay our taxes. Pursue justice. Stand firm in our faith.

We do all of this under King Jesus, whose reign is now established. Other dictators have lost all of their weapons. They cannot threaten us with death, for God has overcome it, and death has lost its sting. They cannot threaten us with harm, financial or otherwise, because our God is sovereign, and we can trust His protection.

John 1
5 That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness can not overcome it.

Even in the middle of the fallout in Isaiah from Ahaz’s disastrous alliance with Assyria, the faithful remnant had hope.

Isaiah 26:12
Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

Isaiah repeatedly refers to this remnant, for whom God makes level paths in the middle of a treacherous landscape. God instructs in Isaiah 26:20 …

Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.

Go, enter your rooms and close your doors behind you. It is God’s job to bring peace, not your own, and we know that He will do it, for He cannot deny Himself.

This may be something of which you need to be occasionally reminded. But for me, it is the lifeblood for surviving not just day by day but hour by hour. As the inauguration of a leader who mercilessly mocks God’s image-bearers approaches, this must be my meditation for I am similarly tempted as Ahaz to put my trust in yet another. But the Light has come, and darkness will not overcome it. God has established peace for us, dear brother or sister in Christ. And any good that we accomplish, He is actually the one who did it for us. Hunker down for a bit as God rouses Himself to judge those who turn to idols while calling His children to lean into Him more and more. The true Name of God is secure. His glory will shine, and His word will be accomplished, not some adulterated version perverted by American nationalism but the good news of His care for those who cannot bring about their own salvation.

Luke 4: 16-20

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Post-Trump Reflections 3: Turning to Assyria for Help

Part 1 – Dueling Moralities

Part 2 – Care of the Poor in Scripture

When we read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, we get a sense of both the personal nature of sin and the corporate nature of sin. Modern Christians, particularly conservatives who speak out and rally against abortion, understand corporate sin in at least that realm. Though most individual Americans have never had an abortion and few individual lawmakers have ever performed one, conservatives still understand there to be a corporate culpability for the killing of children soon to be viable outside of the womb by the lawmakers that allowed it and the voters who supported it.

The book of Isaiah gives us a depressing look into widespread, national sin that results in widespread, national judgement. It makes the case against corporate sin particularly around two areas: oppression and injustice against the poor explored in the last post (see Is. 1:17) and the idolatry of turning toward a god-less leader to protect from another god-less leader.

I spent the last part of 2016 reading through Isaiah. I understood parts but had questions about others. I noted the strong judgement of God, but I didn’t fully understand exactly what God was judging. But last month, my pastor preached sermons from Isaiah 7-9 during Advent and recommended a commentary on Isaiah by Motyer. That commentary is long and involved, but Motyer’s (and my pastor’s) discussion of the history of the northern and southern kingdoms through Isaiah was super helpful for understanding the specifics of the idolatry which dismantled what was left of Israel at the time.

Here is a historical summary. After the three first kings of Israel—Saul, David, and Solomon—the nation of Israel split. The ten northern tribes, also known as Ephraim or Jacob, were consistently wicked. The two southern tribes formed Judah. They were mostly righteous and still worshiped Yahweh. The Davidic king, King Ahaz, still reigned in the southern tribes at the start of the book of Isaiah.

The big enemy of all of the tribes of Israel was Assyria. The smaller enemy was Syria. The unrighteous northern tribes made an an alliance with Syria to fight Assyria. The southern tribes, Judah, rightly did not enter into this alliance. But Israel and Assyria threatened to invade Judah and set up their own king in place of Ahaz. As a result of this, Judah wanted to align with Assyria. They wanted to align with the worst enemy of all to ward off their other enemies.

Isaiah 7 begins God’s message to King Ahaz of the southern tribes of Judah. After describing the situation at hand, God told Isaiah to say to King Ahaz, “Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering stubs of firebrands” who plot harm against you. Then God says in v. 7-9:

This is what the Lord God says:

It will not happen; it will not occur.

If you do not stand firm in your faith,
then you will not stand at all.

God tells Ahaz to calm down, be quiet, and hold firm. He did not need to make an unrighteous alliance out of fear, for God would see that none of their enemies’ threats came to pass. But in the next verses, we see that Ahaz’s mind was already made up. God graciously offered Ahaz a sign that God would keep them safe as He promised, but Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.” This is not a super spiritual response by Ahaz but one of a hardened heart. He is terrified, and he has made up his mind of how he will respond to the enemies at his door. There is no point in God offering him a sign, because he isn’t going to obey God either way.

The Lord promised to give them a sign anyway, the great comfort of Isaiah 7:14 – Emmanuel. But by the time this sign is fully recognized, the two kingdoms of Israel will be dismantled. “The king of Assyria is coming,” God says in v. 17. The one Ahaz embraced against God’s warning to save them instead became their executioner.

All this comes to pass as God said, and no part of the nation of Israel is in power again. When the virgin does conceive and has the Son we call Emmanuel, Israel is under Roman occupation, a marginalized people group who remained defeated after Ahaz sold his soul in terror to align with one who would only make it worse.

It takes no effort to see the relevance of the history of Israel in Isaiah to the choices made by enough evangelical Christians to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Two things affect whether we see the book of Isaiah as relevant instruction on how those of us grafted into the Vine should think about modern politics. The first of course is doctrinal persuasions. For those from a dispensational background, the history of Israel is informative but not definitive. We can learn from it, but we should not feel any obligation to be constrained by it. But for those with reformed convictions from Scripture, we fundamentally believe that we ARE Israel, grafted into the Vine as Paul describes in Romans 9-11. And God’s strong words to the king of Judah not to align with a godless oppressor to protect from another godless oppressor are of great importance.

The second thing that affects how we receive these instructions is the same thing that affected King Ahaz. It is simply the hardness of our hearts. Some Christians just can’t hear that voting for Trump as a reaction against both Hilary and ISIS was a rejection of God. And, the difference here is that they don’t attempt to logically defend themselves from Scripture or if they do, they only appeal to the godless nature of the alternatives. Their fear of the alternative is so great that they can not admit they chose against the commands of God.

Psalm 20:7  Some trust in chariots, and others in horses,
but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.

Of course, at each election cycle, we are choosing between the “lesser of two evils.” I was willing to vote for both Romney and McMullin, neither who claim orthodox Christian faith. The difference is the pains that the God of the Bible seeks to warn us against exactly what evangelicals did in choosing Trump. God specifically warns us against both oppressors and fools. And often, these two characteristics coincide.

God gives us much wisdom on recognizing a fool …

Proverbs 10:18  The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.

Proverbs 10:23  As shameful conduct is pleasure for a fool, so wisdom is for a man of understanding.

Proverbs 12:16  A fool’s displeasure is known at once, but whoever ignores an insult is sensible.

Proverbs 12:23  A shrewd person conceals knowledge, but a foolish heart publicizes stupidity.

Proverbs 14:9  Fools mock at making restitution, but there is goodwill among the upright.

Proverbs 14:16  A wise man is cautious and turns from evil, but a fool is easily angered and is careless.

Proverbs 18:2  A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.

… and warns us clearly on the results of associating with known fools.

Proverbs 13:20  The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 14:7  Stay away from a foolish man; you will gain no knowledge from his speech.

Proverbs 17:12  Better for a man to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his foolishness.

But, though the warnings from Scripture are grim, in the final post of this series we will reflect on the fulfillment of the promise God gave in the midst of the hardness of King Ahaz’s heart. The rest of Isaiah contrasts the utter destruction Ahaz’s hardness against God’s warning brought upon the people of God with the coming hope of restoration through the Promised One. We too who are struggling after this election season (whichever way we voted) can find much hope in the promises of God in Isaiah, as we who see the problems with Trump face the same temptations to guard ourselves from his evil through unholy alliances that have undone the people of God time and again.

 

  • This episode of the Pass the Mic podcast with Andy Crouch is relevant to this discussion.  I highly recommend it.