The Innocent Christ Child: Meditation for the First Sunday of Advent

Baby in MangerWhat sort of baby was Jesus? We know what sort of man he grew to be. He was totally devoted to God and always obedient to him. He was a miracle worker and a powerful preacher. He was a master of Scripture and one who struck a note of fear in the demons. He was a friend of sinners but without sin himself. He understood that people were more important than legalism, and that women were fully human and deserving of respect.

But what was he like as a baby? Was his mind full of the secrets of the universe when he was fussing because he was hungry? When he was cuddled and comforted by his mother, was he restraining his mighty powers? When he was worshiped by the magi, did he know their inner thoughts and motivations? Was he in divine communication with the angels announcing his birth while he was wrapped up and laying in the manger?

Mercifully and wisely the Bible neither gives us these sorts of details nor speculates on the inner workings of the baby’s mind.

So, indulge my lack of wisdom for a minute and let me speculate on what this baby was like.

In the StableI think he was a joy to his mother that brought many tears. Mary was aware of the specialness of her new son and perhaps had a vague sense of what his future might be. But most of all, on that night she was a young mother for the first time. Her thoughts were not for herself or her husband, but for this treasure she had been given, a healthy baby boy. I can’t imagine that Mary acted stoically or like the Queen of the Universe on that night. She acted with the love that only mother can understand, and with the care that a baby needed.

I think that the baby Jesus seemed just like any newborn baby. His eyes didn’t focus yet. He didn’t have much hair. He couldn’t walk or talk. The pictures of him that show him as a tiny adult sitting on his mother’s lap like it is a throne are wrong. Newborns cannot hold their heads up or sit up by themselves.

And finally, I think he was totally pure and innocent. I have long thought that the experience of a newborn should be evidence against the doctrine of inherited, original sin. I know they can cry and get all red-faced, but a sleeping baby is the most peaceful thing in our experience. And even in their crying, there is an innocence and beauty that transcends the noise.

The marvel is that this purity and innocence never left Jesus. He always had the soft heart, never the hard heart. He always obeyed, never rebelled. As an adult, his strong emotions of anger came because he was aghast at injustice and lack of compassion. This to me is the wonder of Bethlehem, that a baby’s innocence never left this man. And for that, I give thanks again to God my Father. Thank you for sending your Son, born in a stable, born of a woman, born as a baby.

Aside: has anyone ever painted Madonna and Child with the baby fussing? Just wondering.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Is Same-Sex Orientation Sinful?

San DiegoI am in San Diego at the annual meeting of the venerable Evangelical Theological Society. A hot topic this year is all matters concerning same-sex relationships as well as various gender identity issues. Next year the theme for the annual meeting will be Marriage and Family, so this is just a prelude.

I am struck by a couple things here. One is the generally hostile and condescending tone toward even the topic by most of the older ETS members (my generation). The second is the presence of younger scholars (even millennials) who are patiently asking tough questions that deserve answers.

Readers of this blog well know my general distrust of systematic theologians, especially in their handling of biblical information. Sometimes I don’t think the guild of systematicians should be allowed to use the Bible at all, but I know that is unrealistically harsh and stupid of me.

An example yesterday was a presentation that asked whether same-sex orientation in and of itself was sinful. That is, if a man has lustful thoughts about another man, is that sin? The presenter concluded that it most certainly is sin and that there are no gray areas here. His conclusion was based on the idea that Jesus condemned looking at a women “lustfully” meant that “adultery in the heart” had been committed (Matthew 5:28). I will admit that this presentation gave me pause. We have often focused on sin as action without considering the sins of our thought world, and I thank the presenter for this reminder.

However, I was troubled by the way in which the presenter applied this to the issue of same-sex orientation. To be sure there was a careful parsing of words, but his conclusion was that for a man even to be attracted to another man in any sort of sexual way was sinful. Therefore, anyone who admits to having such thoughts is admitting to sin. There is no excuse for any biological, sociological, or circumstantial factors, same-sex attraction is sin.

The presenter based this on Jesus’ words and on his belief in the “impeccability of Christ.” For those of you who have never heard of this doctrine, check out this link. This doctrine teaches that Jesus was not capable of sin. If we impose this doctrine on Jesus’ thought life, we must conclude that he never had a lustful thought. Even further, that Jesus never was sexually attracted to men (or to women) because this would have only been appropriate for his wife, and he was not married. So we get a sinless, sexless Jesus.

I don’t think this is very helpful, and is closer to the gnostic Jesus than the biblical Jesus. It reminds me of Phil Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew. This is the Jesus of the systematicians, the Jesus that we are taught in church many times. Yancey said that when he really began to read the Gospels without this filter, he found a very human Jesus, the Jesus he never knew and had never been taught.

The conclusion, then is that it is not enough to tell a person that homosexual activity is sinful. We must teach that same-sex orientation for whatever reason is sinful, and that celibacy for a person with this orientation is not sufficient.

I’m not sure this is helpful (or biblical).

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Islam as the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas

1-Maher and HarrisRecently, Fareed Zakaria invited one of the leaders of “New Atheism” for a brief debate on his Sunday morning CNN show, “GPS.” The atheist was Sam Harris, author and critic of religion. Harris had made news by his statement on Bill Maher’s HBO show to the effect that “Islam is the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas.” You can view Fareed’s 8-minute debate with Harris at this link.

While some Christians may cheer on Harris’s attack on Islam, it raises an interesting question, because we should be assured that Harris is no friend of Christianity. He is perhaps best known for his best-selling book, Letter to a Christian Nation. This confrontational book (which I have not fully read) contains challenges like, “People have been cherry-picking the Bible for millennia to justify their every impulse, moral and otherwise.”

So here is the question: Is there a point where Muslims (like Fareed) and Christians (like me) become allies as theists against the onslaught of atheists (like Harris and Maher)?

We might consider the old principle from warfare and diplomacy: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But who is the enemy here, the atheist or the Muslim?

I’m still chewing on this. If you watch the video, you will see that Fareed becomes uncharacteristically angry and defensive. He asks Harris if his conclusion to over a billion Muslims world wide is the “your religion is crap.” Yet isn’t that what Christians generally say?

Harris returns twice to the reasonablist position: words and ideas have consequences. What he means is that if jihad as holy war is found and sanctioned in the Quran, we should not be surprised that many Muslims support Sharia law and forced conversions. There is a basic reading of Muslim Scriptures that leaves no room for tolerance of other faiths. Harris’s point is that this was the Quranist reading of Osama bin Laden, and that bin Laden represented the scriptural spirit of Islam with a purity that apologists for Islam do not. It is not a philosophy of peace, but of the sword, and it has been this for over 1,000 years, according to both bin Laden and Harris.

Some things to think about.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Elections and Shame

VoteTomorrow is election day in my state. I vote in every election and consider this a civic duty. When I first began voting 40 years ago, it was exciting for me. I studied the ballots, paid attention to the issues, and attempted to use my vote wisely.

In recent years, my enthusiasm has waned. I have been trying to pinpoint the reason for this in my own soul, and last week I had an epiphany that helps me understand why I lack any passion for the elections and the electoral process. The reason is that I am ashamed. Let me explain in three ways.

1. The ads I see on television are hugely negative. There is little attempt to tout the credentials, agenda, or abilities of a candidate and massive attempts to discredit the candidate’s opponent. Both parties are guilty of this, although in my congressional district, one party in particular has no shame in what it will say. I am ashamed of candidates who would condone or endorse these adds. I know that the worst ones are paid for by third-party PACS, but the candidates are silent regarding the distortions and outright untruths of these third party ads. We should all be ashamed of this situation.

2. If both candidates are complicit in these shameful tactics, I am forced to vote for someone for whom I am ashamed. This means that no matter who wins the election to be my Congressman, I will be ashamed of that person. Should I forget this and move on after the election? Sorry, I can’t turn that feeling of shame on/off so easily. This, I think, contributes to the historic low opinion the American people have of their elected Congress. The approval rating for Congress is 14%.

3. It has been years since I read Niccolò Machiavelli, the 16th century Florentine politician and philosopher, but I do remember that he taught that the art of governing consists of two things:

  1. Gaining power
  2. Retaining power

In the end, gaining and retaining power is all that matters. In Macchiavellian terms, anything is justified in an election for me to be elected. Once I am elected, anything is justified to keep me in office or allow me to advance to a higher office. There are no absolute ethics or morals.

Contrast this with the last words of David: “He who ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” (2 Sam 23:3). God’s king knew he was answerable to God himself and I don’t think he wanted to be ashamed of his performance.

So yes, I will vote tomorrow, and I hope you do, too. I will cast my ballot with sadness and with shame in some cases. Then I will go to Starbucks and have a latte to cheer myself up.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College