Monthly Archives: July 2015

Atticus Finch and the Search for an Unchanging Standard of Justice

Atticus Finch is a hero.  Or is he?  For decades the character from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been a larger-than-life icon of racial justice.  That image was deeply imprinted on an entire generation when Gregory Peck brought Atticus to the big screen in the 1962 movie.

But now another book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, reveals a saint that is more ‘complex.’  Atticus, it turns out, was a segregationist who attended Ku Klux Klan meetings.  How will a generation who bowed at the altar of a committed prophet for racial justice deal with his fall from grace?

First of all, let’s not forget that Atticus was never a real person.  The saintly version of the fictional Atticus Finch was probably too good to be true all along.  Real people are not that morally tidy.  The real heroes of civil rights struggles were often more ‘complex,’ as were the segregationists they opposed.

Our struggle for moral clarity in an often confusing and dark world creates a desire in our hearts for strong transparent examples whom we can look to as faithful models.  Like Atticus, however, many of our heroes eventually disappoint us.

Some people will surely be disappointed in the new version of Atticus, wishing to hold on to the morally pristine man that Gregory Peck portrayed.  Others may be willing to embrace the new version of Finch.  They may see the revised character as a reminder that real life is not always so easy to categorize into neat little packages of good and evil.

Whatever happens to Finch’s popularity, we are likely to go on searching for a hero worthy of our admiration and imitation.  Knowing that life is complex does not discourage us from yearning for someone who can present a compelling moral vision and back it up with a consistent inspiring life.

Can we find a great model worthy of following?  One who is more than imagination, someone who lived in our world but did so with victory?  Can we find someone whose message was consistently true and loving, never compromising or accommodating, despite the personal cost?

Years ago, a 30-year-old carpenter laid down his tools and turned to a life of preaching.  That he was no ordinary preacher was evident from the beginning.  His words came with stunning power.  He spoke with authority like no other.

It didn’t take long for this carpenter-turned-itinerant-preacher to make enemies.  Those who hated him made him face the ultimate test: give up his message or give up his life.  He refused to back down or to run away.  He was willing to risk it all.  He was betrayed by a friend, denounced by his people and destroyed by the authorities, or so it seemed.

For two millennia Jesus’ message has outlasted all others.  Many attempts have been made to alter or cast doubt on his life story and his divine message.  But his life is more than fiction and his word is more than inspiration.  In addition, Jesus died for more than his beliefs, he sacrificed himself for his followers.

Jesus is more than a great moral model.  We should do more than imitate him.  Jesus is God’s resurrected Lord and Savior.  We should bow down to him.  Praise God there is one who is always faithful, one whom we can always trust.  Jesus is still Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Camden, July 2015

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Thinking about Gay Marriage on Independence Day

The Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same-sex marriage. Will freedom be denied those of us who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful? What about the spiritual future of our culture? Can we get a word from our Lord about how we should respond?

In 1 Peter 3 we read that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears on their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those doing evil.” This is a quote from Psalm 34, which was written some 1,000 years earlier. Peter applies an ancient and established truth to current circumstances. The passage of time had not diminished the Bible’s truth.

This is a much-needed affirmation about the Bible and about the God of the Bible. Our circumstances will change, but God’s word and his character do not change. His holiness and righteousness, his love and mercy, they are established and they will never alter.

Leviticus 18 has not changed. Romans 1 has not changed. God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage and for family has not changed. God’s design for marriage is still one man and one woman committed to one another for life, raising their children together and enjoying their grandchildren. And more than that, Christian marriage is still meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. None of this has changed. Nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can change these fixed realities.

But our country’s definition of marriage has changed. It has moved sharply away from God’s design. Will those who believe in God’s design for marriage be penalized in this rapidly changing moral storm?

The text from 1 Peter 3 continues: “Who will do you harm if you are zealous for good? But if you suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed.” Jesus agrees with the notion of suffering for doing what is right. In Matthew 5 he says, “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” But do American Christians actually believe that suffering is a blessing? In other countries, China for instance, Christians understand these frequent Scriptural statements about suffering for the truth. Because of our religious freedom, this aspect of the faith is unfamiliar territory in the U.S.

1 Peter 3 continues: “Don’t fear what they fear, nor be upset.” Fear is not the answer. Fear is never to be our master. God has not abandoned his people or his plan. He can still be trusted. Some may fall away, but those who believe will discover the anointing of God’s power enabling them to represent him faithfully regardless the cost.

So what should we do? Next, 1 Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready with an answer to everyone who asks you for a word about the hope which is in you.” Notice that it does not say that we should always be ready to defend our right to speak, but we should be ready to speak.

Christians in America have sometimes been quicker to defend a right than to exercise it. Tell believers that they cannot pray and they will line up for battle, rightly so. But do those same believers take the time to attend a prayer meeting? Instead of fighting for the right to speak, we must speak what we know is right.

But what about religious freedom? Is legal same-sex marriage not a threat to our religious freedom? Should we not fight for our religious freedom? It has become popular to call religious freedom our first freedom. But is this really true? Religious freedom is a great heritage, a right for which many fought and bled and died. Our first freedom as believers, however, is our freedom in Christ, not political liberty but spiritual freedom.

A person can be politically free and spiritually bound. It is also true that one can be politically bound and spiritually free. Given the choice, we would embrace both freedoms simultaneously. Forced to choose, we relinquish our political liberty in order to remain faithful to our Lord.

The kingdom of God has advanced for millennia, often without the benefit of religious freedom. In fact, sometimes religious persecution has spread the fire of the faith more effectively than religious freedom, which sadly seems to produce spiritual complacency.

We are instructed by 1 Peter 3 to be ready to give a word about our hope. What is our great hope? It is not freedom of religion, nor is it freedom of speech. Our great hope is not the Constitution of the U.S.A. Religious leaders who tell followers of Jesus that they should put their hope in freedom of speech, freedom of religion or the Constitution are at best confused and at worst false teachers.

The Bible tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, not our political freedoms or our political documents, as helpful and brilliant as these things may be. Our struggle is not a battle for religious freedom but a battle for spiritual truth. What should we do? We must set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and be prepared to speak about him, nothing less.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist in Camden, AR, July 3, 2015

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