By Seth Guess
Social norms and standards continue devolving at a dizzying pace. Nothing seems certain. College campuses, once the bastion of free speech, are increasingly “safe” places where protests discourage discourse. Debate is often cut short with the reply, “This debate is over because [insert a high percentage] of the scientific community agree.”
Society is especially devolving in two areas: the courts and, even more worrisome, churches. Even though Habakkuk 1:4 was spoken by a prophet in ancient times, the words could describe one of today’s front-page news articles: “Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous: therefore wrong judgment proceedeth” (KJV).
Today, many judges issue rulings based on their personal whims and cultural trends instead of properly applying the law. In 1921, the year after my grandfather was born, the Supreme Court of West Virginia stated in State v. Snyder: “No institution has a more direct influence or a more important relation in life than marriage. Civilization in large measure depends on it, and governments are solicitous to preserve and safeguard its sanctity.” The court recognized traditional marriage’s essential place in society.
Nearly a century later, in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States in a 5-4 decision struck down numerous state laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy declared: “changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.” Kennedy with four others on the Supreme Court decided that “changed understandings” and progressive perspectives dictated that the law change. The majority on the Supreme Court was not content to let state legislatures debate the “changed understandings of marriage,” perhaps because most legislatures affirmed traditional marriage. They wanted to decide the issue once and for all with a “thus saith the Supreme Court.”
Other examples about how the law is either misinterpreted or misapplied abound. A public school employee in Maine was forbidden to tell another co-worker while on school property that she was praying for him. The employee was instructed to “not integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools” and to not express any “reference to your spiritual or religious beliefs.” The school argued the employee violated the First Amendment when she made these comments to her co-worker. For anyone who knows how and why the First Amendment was ratified, it is difficult to conceive of an example more at odds with the purpose of the First Amendment than the scenario in Maine.
Confronted by issues such as these, Christians may wonder, as did Habakkuk, why the “law is slacked” and why “wrong judgment proceedeth.” Though we may at times be discouraged, we should take heart that “the LORD is in his holy temple” (Habakkuk 2:20) and his words “shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Culture, fads, trends, and styles all change — and not all change is bad. Some fads are merely about preference. My first pair of eyeglasses as a boy went out of style a few years later as much smaller eyeglasses became the norm. Now, the style has come almost full circle, as the nearly as-large-as-my-boyhood eyeglasses I now wear are in once again, according to my wife and sisters whose opinion in these matters is more valuable than my own.
We must recognize the difference in changes in essential and nonessential matters. Regardless of one’s judicial philosophy, Christians should stand up against change that is contrary to the Word of God.
Some people propose that Christians adapt their core beliefs to changing, prevalent social values. A host of important issues that were once considered certain and settled by orthodox Christians are now being questioned, criticized, and even rejected. Professing Christians, not just secularists, continue to assault basic points of doctrine, including the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of scripture, God as creator, and the definition of marriage.
Looking at the “beliefs” section of a local church’s website recently, I found the following answer to the question of whether Adam and Eve were “real”: “…the bible is conditioned by the times in which it was written. Some stories—gasp!—might be legends. That doesn’t mean they don’t have great wisdom in them. You do not have to believe that the Bible is without scientific or historical error in order to be a Christian.”
The line of reasoning in the Obergefell decision and a modern, supposedly more enlightened brand of Christianity appeals to some people. They wish to retain a sentimental attitude toward Christianity while minimizing the Bible. They want to pick and choose what they like in the Bible. But if we reject parts — if we treat the Bible as if it’s not the inspired word of God, as 2 Timothy 3:16 claims — what we’re really doing is saying our word matters more. Either God’s word must bend to our wills or ours to his.
If we accept the Bible as divinely true, as Jesus did, there are consequences. Regarding creation and marriage, Jesus addressed them both in Mark 10:6-9. Verse 6 states “[b]ut from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.” This passage clearly shows not only that the Adam/Eve and male/female distinction was from the beginning, but that Jesus believed in creation. The Bible also tells us that Jesus, the incarnate word of God, was directly involved in the creation (Hebrews 1:8-10; John 1:1-3; Revelation 4:11).
What about the flood? Is the story of Noah just another amusing myth for our children? If we believe Jesus, we must believe in the flood also, as Jesus clearly believed it (Matthew 24:37-39). Belief in Jesus also compels belief in the story of Jonah and the big fish. Jesus said this in Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Christians should take great encouragement and comfort from Jesus’ affirmations that the Bible is relevant and true. What God said thousands of years ago is just as true today. The words penned by inspired writers over centuries and preserved to the present is just as true today. What God said about marriage, creation, his divinity and other issues is just as true today. He is always relevant.
God’s immutability — he never changes, is always the same — is cause for praise. The Bible teaches God is the same, steadfast, and on the throne, always reigning and never in danger of abdication or defeat (Malachi 3:6; Revelation 1:8; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 1:11; 13:8; Lamentations 5:19; Psalm 90:12, 103:12). Therefore, what Jesus said about issues then should resonate in the hearts of Christians today.
God’s changelessness should not only encourage but motivate Christians to “seek the good of the land” and positively influence our culture (Jeremiah 29:7). Rebelling against God’s unchanging standards and passing laws in direct opposition to God is not only bad for Christians, but for society as a whole. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
This means we should vote for candidates based on their positions on important issues — not after merely listening to 15- or 30-second advertisements. We should understand the basics of the role and limitations of government, its branches, federalism, and checks and balances. Many programs and policies may sound good but have unintended consequences that harm the people they are designed to help.
Some Christians may have the opportunity to serve as public officials. Daniel served under several powerful rulers. Joseph was second in command in Egypt and helped preserve the country from a devastating famine. Esther used her influence as queen to save the Jews from annihilation. Nehemiah used his position with the king to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
Whether in the political arena or without, we must know, live and proclaim the truth. To know the truth, Christians must be in the word of God. If we are biblically ignorant, we are susceptible to falling prey to each new deception and faulty worldview. The Bible is a compass that always points us in the right direction. To be grounded on a solid foundation and be the “salt of the world” and a “city set on a hill,” we need to immerse ourselves in God’s word and value what God thinks over what the world thinks.
Believing in the constancy of God and his word means living as a witness to those around us — in the pulpit, workplace, public forums, at home, raising children. Even if we do not see results, we are still called to be faithful to God. Paul could have given way to despair while in prison awaiting his hearing before Nero. He could have forsaken the faith. But instead, he persevered and God used his faithful witness to bring the truth to Nero’s own household (Philippians 4:22).
Because God is constant, so are his promises. Believing Jesus’ words on such issues as creation, the flood and marriage fall in line with believing his words about salvation. If we have been called “from darkness into his marvelous light,” as 1 Peter 2:9 tells us, we should live in the light, knowing that truth will be triumphant for God is true. God is constant, his word is constant — and his people should be constant, too.
Seth Guess is an attorney in Memphis, Tennessee.