The Briefing 08-04-14

The Briefing 08-04-14

The Briefing

August 4, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Monday, August 4, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


In the book of Revelation 6 we read to the four horses, indeed of the Four Horsemen, known throughout Christian history as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. They have been identified with the four great enemies of humanity: war, famine, death, and pestilence (or plague). And when you think about what we’ve learned over the last several weeks, it is very clear that those four horsemen are running loose in this fallen world. Just think of what’s happening in terms of West Africa with the outbreak of Ebola that is now the worst known in human history. This disease, which has been identified only for the last 40 years, is considered one of the most deadly every to of confronted the human species. And when it comes to the mortality rate, it run of the most conservative end at 50% and yet it is estimated by some medical experts to run closer to 90%. The outbreak in West Africa, in the nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea has now claimed at least 826 lives, as the Financial Times reports this morning, and the fear is that the additional hundreds or perhaps even thousands have been exposed to the disease.


Speaking on ABC’s this week on Sunday, Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, said the Ebola virus is now out of control in West African countries, but he also said that he believes it can be contained with certain tried-and-true public-health measures. “The plain truth is that we can stop Ebola. We know how to control it,” but even as Dr. Frieden made that confident statement, speaking on Friday, Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization’s director general, warned “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high rate of spread to other countries,” she concluded, “[this outbreak is] moving faster than our efforts to control it.”


Our deep-seated human fear about this kind of contagion, about the plague, is rooted in a deep historical reality. Just in the 20th century  infectious diseases and outbreaks of those diseases have killed upwards of millions – beginning of course in 1918 with the awful spread of influenza that killed so many millions, not only in the United States but in Europe and beyond. Furthermore, there is the reality that during the medieval period, Europe itself was hit with successive waves of the plague that wiped out a great deal of the population, indeed wiping out entire cities, villages, and generations in terms of many families and nations. But when you look at what is happening in these three West African nations right now, you see the danger of a world that believes that it has conquered infectious agents, that believes that it has control over such things with modern medical technologies and of course the development of antibiotics. But when it comes to disease like Ebola, there is the great humbling reality, the realization that comes to any sane human being looking at the data, looking at the horrible suffering in the death of West Africa, that this kind of thing simply cannot be controlled (not at least simply and solely by human ingenuity and human technology.


Of course, even as we are very thankful for the advent of modern medicine, we should remember by the way that germ theory itself is younger than the United States of America. We should keep in mind that even we have conquered many diseases or claimed to do the same, it turns out that we have not been quite so efficient as we had claimed. For instance, in recent years there’s been the claim that we of wiped out smallpox – one of the most was horrifying, infectious diseases to plague humanity. The belief was that in the last 10 years the disease had been completely eradicated, with vials of the disease left on deposit for medical research only in very restricted laboratories identified as only two: one in the United States and one in Russia. But then in the month of July, it was discovered that samples of the smallpox virus were kept in an unguarded closet in Washington, DC in one of the nation’s research laboratories. During the same period the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was embarrassed to have to acknowledge that several of its leading experts had acted carelessly with infectious agents (including anthrax) leading to a potential dispersal of at least some of the infectious agent far outside of the contamination zone.


In those three West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia we need to keep in mind the chief Ebola doctors in Liberia and Sierra Leone have, in this outbreak, contracted the disease, and both of these doctors have died. And then at 11:00 AM on Saturday at Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia, a medical evacuation plane landed caring Dr. Kent Brantley, an American Christian doctor working with a Christian ministry there in West Africa. In treating the Ebola patients, he had himself contracted the disease. Being brought to the United States, and not without some controversy here in this country, he became the first Ebola patient ever to be treated in the United States. He is being treated under the care of medical authorities in Atlanta under the supervision of the center for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Brantley and his colleague, Nancy Writebol another American Christian serving and medical missions there in West Africa, have become examples of Christian heroism. Writing in the secular news site the, Daily Beast, Michael Daly wrote, “What Brantley did was what Jesus also would’ve done after the doctor’s worst fears became real and he was infected along with a fellow health worker. Only one dose of an experimental serum was available and Brantley insisted that it be given to his colleague, Nancy Writebol.” Daly is exactly right. What we see in the example of Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol is an example of Christian heroism, both the hero and heroine in this case, who demonstrate true Christian service, ministry, and compassion. In serving those, many others would abandon. We need to keep in mind that the Christian church has struggled with this responsibility throughout the centuries. In the early church, the church fathers reminded Christians of the responsibility to stay among the sick, even at risk to themselves. During the Reformation, the same issue arose with successive waves of pestilence and plague in Europe and Reformers such as Martin Luther, reminded ministers and those who were treating the sick, of the responsibility to stay rather than to flee.


Christians must be rightly humbled and chastened by the reality that the leader of the World Health Organization is warning that this outbreak is still out of control and that at this point the outbreak is running faster than medical attempts to contain it. But as we rightly pray for an end to this outbreak of Ebola and an end to the death and suffering there in West Africa, even as we pray for Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, even as we pray that they will not be in outbreak of this contagious plague in other West African nations and in the larger continent, even as we pray for these things in must remember the totality of what we read in Revelation 6. Those four horsemen are not extinguished by humanity. Humanity simply does not have the power to put an end to pestilence and death and famine and war. Those enemies are put to death only by Christ and until Christ puts those things to death, we will face plague after plague, and war after war, which takes us to the other reminder of just how dangerous are world is.


The Horseman of war is also loose among us, leaving many in the international community to believe that we are now living in one of the most destabilized times of recent human history. Not looking back just to the last several decades, but looking all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. A very haunting realization when you consider that this month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Furthermore, as we shall see, the outbreak of the kind of uncertainty and the lawlessness, the tribalism and the terrorism that is taking place now has haunting reminders to us of exactly what did bring about World War I and the deaths of some 37 million people there at the beginning of the 20th century. But as we look at what’s going on in Ukraine with the involvement of Russia, as we look at what’s going on in Israel and Gaza, as he looked what’s going on in so many places of the world, we recognize that the world is not marked by what appears to be increasing stability but rather increasing instability.


The instability in Ukraine amounts to nothing less than war, a war that is aided and abetted, if not absolutely directed and funded, by Russia trying to destabilize Ukraine in the name of a greater Russia. All of this is let of course by the vision and the autocratic leadership of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin appears to style himself after one of the old Russian tsars, someone like Alexander the great. And his despotism and imperialism appeared to be largely unchecked. Furthermore, even as Time magazine this week declares the beginning of Cold War II, we have to reflect upon the fact that Russia was complicit in the downing of a commercial airliner with over 200 deaths as Russian supported forces there in eastern Ukraine used a Russian supplied surface-to-air missile to pull down the massive Malaysian airlines jet. Perhaps no one caught this disaster in terms of words more eloquently than Simon Schuster of Time magazine who wrote:


The scene was almost too horrible to take in, and yet in a world of bristling threats no scene has been more revealing: under the baking July sun of eastern Ukraine, hundreds of bodies lay rotting as pro-Russian militiamen, some of them apparently drunk, brandished their weapons to keep European observers away. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 bearing 298 souls–AIDS researchers, young lovers, eager children–had been blown out of the sky, apparently by a Russian-made missile, and the dead fell in a gruesome storm. One voice, and one voice only…


Wrote Schuster,


…could put an end to this indecent standoff over the innocent victims. But Vladimir Putin merely shrugged and pointed a finger at the Ukrainian government and, by extension, its Western allies. ‘Without a doubt,’ Putin told a meeting of his economic aides on the night of the disaster, ‘The state over whose territory this happened bears the responsibility for this frightful tragedy.’


And yet as many people around the world can only wonder, had Vladimir Putin gone too far? With the political reality in Russia is that Putin’s position is only stronger as the Russian people seem to be rallying to his imperialistic nationalism, even at such a horrific price. Western nations appear to be largely impotent in terms of responding to Putin’s threat. The economic sanctions put against Russia in the aftermath of this most recent atrocity are not going to change Putin’s mind, nor are they going to dissuade his people from supporting him in terms of this kind of imperialism.


And then the scene shifts to the Middle East where on the Gaza Strip Israel and the Hamas organization are locked in what appears to be a battle to the death. This has been one of the ugliest outbreaks in terms of violence there in the Middle East in recent decades. And this one is being played out over against a very interesting background. Hamas is a radical Islamic organization, it is in control the government there in Gaza and it has a declared purpose to put an end to the state of Israel and furthermore it is rallying behind the motto of death to the Jews. Hamas is one of those organizations that has set itself to the total destruction of Israel, and in the course of the last several weeks it has been discovered that there’s been a massive pattern of tunnels dug under the Gaza land right into Israel, these tunnels being used for massive terrorist purposes. Furthermore, Israel had to respond to the firing of rockets upon its own civilian population from Gaza, and as the military efforts have escalated on both sides, it has led to massive death. According to some news organizations this morning the death toll among Palestinians is now approximately 1,600 persons – almost all of them rather innocent civilians innocent, innocent in the sense that they were not combatants.


This leads to a very important worldview issue that Christians must look to with great attention. When you look at the situation there in the battle between Israel and Hamas, we need to keep in mind that one of the most of various aspects of this is that Hamas routinely puts its own military installations, its own military weapon stockpiles, in the midst of where there are concentrated civilian populations. In other words, Hamas uses its own people as intended victims in order that they can become martyrs for the cause. This includes children and families and even facility such as those that are supervised by the United Nations.


In one of the most interesting twist in this current situation, we should note that the traditional allies of the Palestinians (the Arab nations) have been strangely and remarkably silent in terms of support for Hamas. This is explained in a cover story in last Thursday’s edition of The New York Times when David Kirkpatrick reports that Arab nations appear to be all too willing for Israel to battle Hamas because they also see Hamas as an enemy. This is especially true in terms of the nation of Egypt, which has been battling its own Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and which has been involved in nothing less than an internal war there that is involved, military experts believe, far more casualties than the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. Egypt appears to be standing back, allowing Israel to fight Hamas in the hope that Israel be able to weaken the organization. One of the things also to keep in mind is that even as Israel is making issue of the 30 odd tunnels that have been discovered between Gaza and Israel, Egypt discovered over 70 from Gaza and the Palestinian territories into Egypt, also used for military and terrorist purposes.


Aaron David Miller a scholar the Wilson Center in Washington, he’s also been involved as a negotiator in the Middle East for the United States State Department, said “The Arab states loathing in fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” he went on to say “I’ve never seen a situation like where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas – the silence is deafening.” In the last several days, an attempted 72 hour truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed in the even greater violence. And as the morning dawns today in that very conflicted part of the world, no one knows where this is headed. Israel appears to believe that is now gone so far, including the ground incursion into Gaza, that it simply must destabilize or destroy Hamas in order to put an end to the threat. On the other hand, Hamas understand that it actually build its prestige and its power by being seen in conflict with Israel and given the fact that in this fallen world, both sides in this conflict appear to think that the conflict is actually to their advantage, no end is foreseeable.


Needless to say, here in the United States there are plenty of issues we are also concerned about. For instance, last Friday’s edition of Investor’s Business Daily reported that a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation asserted that the Internal Revenue Service ignored complaints about churches violating their tax exempt status by routinely promoting political issues, legislation, and candidates from the pulpit. What the Investor’s Business Daily story gets to is the fact that the IRS has reached some agreement with the FFRF, that’s the Freedom from Religion Foundation, pledging that it will, as a federal agency, scrutinize the preaching taking place in evangelical churches to determine if pastors and churches are violating IRS regulations and federal law by speaking to political issues. Investor’s Business Daily is right to immediately ask the key question: will the IRS considered to be politicking when Christian pastors preach on moral issues that will have a political consequence speaking in defense of marriage of the sanctity of human life or speaking to other moral issues oppressing biblical concern? The editorsof Investor’s Business Daily rightly state,


Congress can make no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. So it’s not clear where the IRS gets off doing just that – by spying on religious leaders, less they comment on issues and activities by government that are contrary to or impose on the religious consciences. Our country,


Said the editors,


was founded by people fleeing this kind of government monitored and mandated theology last practiced in the Soviet Union.


The announcement is the week ended of this agreement between the Internal Revenue Service and the Freedom from Religion Foundation is alarming enough, but it comes on the heels of a series of developments that are all directed at the constriction of Christian influence in Christian speech. Not only in terms of speech in the public square, but as this agreement makes very clear, even speech within the worship space, even within the church the congregation itself, even by Christian pastors.


So as the 2014-2015 season of The Briefing begins we note that the list, indeed the stack, of issues to be discussed appears to be also insurmountable and still growing. Indeed that appears to be an almost permanent condition, Christians in this generation are being called the think through so many issues, so quickly, simultaneously, and our responsibility is to think in biblical terms, to think as thinking Christians, thinking Christianly and biblically. We are called to bring every thought captive to Christ and that means in this world we have to be those who think through a Christian worldview, who consider these things as Christians based upon the totality of Christian truth, reasoning from Christian first principles in our consideration of these issues that are coming to us in almost machine-gun rapidity. It seems to be no exaggeration to believe that this generation of Christians faces a unique, if not unprecedented, responsibility to confront so many these issues simultaneously, and more importantly faithfully. We will try to think of these issues faithfully together.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) West African Ebola outbreak reminder that man has not conquered pestilence

CDC Director Says U.S. ‘Surging’ Efforts to Stop Ebola Outbreak, ABC News (Kari Rea)

Ebola outbreak: We’re heading towards a catastrophe, warns top medic, The Telegraph (Colin Freeman)

‘He Could Have Brought Ebola Here’: Minnesota Widow on Her Husband, Daily Beast (Michael Daly)

2) Global conflicts fill world with uncertainty and lawlessness that only Christ can end

In Russia, Crime Without Punishment, TIME (Simon Shuster)

Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent, New York Times (David Kirkpatrick)

Israeli airstrike kills militant leader before unilateral cease-fire, Washington Post (Sudarsan Raghavan, Griff Witte, and Daniela Deane)

3) IRS agreement to review Christian worship follows trend constricting Christian speech

IRS Strikes Deal With Atheists To Monitor Churches, Investors’ Business Daily (Editorial Board)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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