briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, February 14, 2020

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

It’s Friday, February 14, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

2,411 Aborted Fetal Remains Buried This Week in Indiana: Understanding Humanity’s Natural Revulsion to Great Moral Evil

Yesterday, National Public Radio reported, “Indiana attorney general Curtis Hill presided over the mass burial Wednesday of the remains of more than 2,400 fetuses found last year at the suburban Chicago home of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer, one of the Midwest’s most prolific abortion doctors.” The NPR report goes on to tell us that the exact number was 2,411, and we are reminded tragically of the fact that the bodies of these unborn babies were found in Illinois last year after the death of the abortion doctor. But authorities, according to NPR and others, say they are no closer to knowing why the doctor had been keeping them.

The macabre and gruesome character of this story is made even more clear when it turns out that the authorities after the death of the abortion provider found the more than 2,400 unborn baby bodies, not only in his home but also in his vehicle. Most of the remains so decomposed that identifying them individually has become almost impossible. The medical records were largely destroyed, but there was no doubt that there were the remains in his house and in his vehicle of at least 2,411 unborn human beings who had been murdered in the womb.

We’re also told by National Public Radio that officials there in Illinois and Indiana believe that all of the fetal remains date back to the years from 2000 to 2003. Now, just think for a moment, that means that those babies had they been allowed to live, would now be between 17 and 20 years old. Just keep in mind, we are talking about very real human beings. We’re talking about the reality of 2,411 human bodies, and we are talking about the fact that those babies have now been buried in a plot in Indiana near South Bend, and that there was a least some kind of memorial service presided over by the attorney general of the state of Indiana, Curtis Hill.

Now, just remember this: Back before the discovery of these remains in Illinois, most of the abortions believed to have been performed in Indiana, the state of Indiana had actually passed a law—that’s 2016— a law that requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains resulting from an abortion. Let’s get the historical line right here. That bill was adopted by the Indiana legislature. It was signed into law by the then governor of Indiana, now Vice President Mike Pence, and it was furthermore upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2019. So let’s just remind ourselves, these abortions took place between 2000 and 2003. In 2016 the state of Indiana adopted a law requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains from an abortion. But then three years later in 2019 there was the discovery, not of the remains of one aborted human being, not of a dozen, none of a couple of hundred but of 2,411 and now you have a news story telling us about the burial of those human remains and about the fact that by the very definition this is headline news, this has a certain amount of cultural attention in the United States.

Maybe for many Americans, we’re just talking about the sheer number. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big story in the minds of many Americans if this were just say a dozen or just one or two or even a few hundred, but something about the number 2,411, maybe that triggers something in the American psyche, or we might like to imagine in the American conscience. But from a Christian worldview perspective, there are simply huge issues implicated in this story. It’ll be healthy for us to think about them for just a moment.

When we are thinking about the issue of abortion, let’s just remind ourselves, we are talking about the willful, intentional taking of a human life inside the womb. Let’s remind ourselves that from a biblical perspective, every single one of these babies is a human being made in the image of God. Let’s just remember that the biblical worldview tells us that every single human being is made in God’s image, that every single human life is sacred. That the taking of life by intentional violence is murder. You can go down the whole list. The Christian worldview makes absolutely clear why no Christian honoring the gift of life can possibly be complicit in the enterprise of abortion. But here we’re talking about a story that makes the news. One abortion wouldn’t make news, but here we’re talking about 2,411 abortions. But we’re also talking about the fact that Americans looking at this story, even the Americans reporting it or hearing it or looking at it in headline news, they’re likely to be very confused about why exactly they find so gruesome the idea of the discovery of 2,411 human bodies. In this case, the remains of aborted human infants. Let’s as Christians ask the question, “Why is this so horrifying?,” because it’s a very healthy question for us to ask. If we ask and answer that question correctly, it will underline once again for more clear thinking why it is so gruesome, but also why every single abortion is gruesome and murder and morally wrong.

Let’s just consider this for a moment. Back a few years ago in bioethics, a term emerged known as the yuck factor. This just points to the fact that there is an impulse of moral disgust that seems to come quite naturally to human beings. Now, let’s just think for a moment. If you are, say, an evolutionist, you’re going to all of human behavior in terms of evolution and the material world. If you deny that the conscience is anything other than the interaction of physical forces or realities in the human body and mind, then you’re going to be very hard pressed to explain this moral response of disgust or revulsion as anything other than perhaps an evolutionary survival mechanism, something that helped human beings to survive.

So for instance, those who don’t believe that any genuine moral knowledge comes from this moral revulsion, they will say, “Well, it is understandable that throughout human history there were certain patterns of disgust that probably were necessary for the survival of the human race.” Well, we can start with something relatively simple. Consider this: In every single society there are certain objects that human beings do not want to eat. They consider such objects non-attractive, repulsive even. They do not want to eat them. Now, when you’re looking at that issue, you understand that might be a very important moral knowledge. There are certain things that we ought not to eat because we ought not to eat them. They might even kill us. Without going into detail, there are certain things that no human being should ever eat. They’ll cause illness or sickness or death, but there are other things you outgrow when it comes to that revulsion about eating.

It might be that in your judgment, there would be no adequate rationale for eating octopus until sometime you actually do eat octopus intentionally or unintentionally and think that you like it. It then becomes not a matter of morality, but a matter of taste. Or at least that’s true for you, for the octopus, it’s total commitment. But when you think about other issues, it gets a little bit more complicated. For example, in every single society known throughout the history of humanity, there are certain acts that are considered immoral by virtue of moral revulsion. Consider the fact of bestiality or incest. In virtually every single society there has been a very clear taboo against those sexual sins. They are not only considered to be wrong, they are considered to be, rightfully, objects of moral revulsion.

Now, let’s just consider that as Christians. We understand that that moral revulsion is real. We understand that that moral revulsion also contains information. Now, if you just consider the vocabulary of the yuck factor—that was probably coined by Arthur Kaplan, a rather liberal bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania—there is something about the yuck factor. It just happens that sometimes we think of something or observe something or hear of something, and our first response is yuck. Leon Kass, for many years a philosopher at the University of Chicago referred to the rightfulness of this yuck factor is what he called the wisdom of repugnance. There’s a certain wisdom that we need to keep mind. Now, Leon Kass was a conservative philosopher. He became the chair of the president’s commission on bioethics during the administration of President George W. Bush. Very importantly, it was Leon Kass who courageously argued against human embryonic stem cell research precisely because of the destruction of the fetus from which the fetal cells would then be removed.

The argument of Leon Kass was largely discarded by the field of bioethics because the field of bioethics was willing to sacrifice human dignity, in this case the dignity of unborn human life, in order to bend the knee to the idol of what was defined as scientific and medical progress. So thinking about the yuck factor, or what Professor Kass called the wisdom of repugnance, we understand that there is real wisdom there, but Christians also understand that there is a limitation to how human beings will receive that wisdom. This is because we know Romans 1. We come to understand the human beings are capable of extreme self-delusion. We are capable of extreme moral rationalization. We are guilty of what is identified in Romans 1 as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Here’s the problem with the yuck factor. Evidently human beings can work hard to get over it.

There are individuals who would find that particular act, Christians would understand that act to be sin, as repulsive. But then at some point it becomes less repulsive perhaps because of cultural influence or just perhaps because of a breakdown of conscience, and then it becomes even less repulsive. At some point it becomes perhaps even attractive. Here’s the problem. The wisdom of repugnance is real, but we as Christians understand that the wisdom of repugnance isn’t enough. It diagnoses the human situation, but it isn’t enough because human beings will not receive it for the information that is contained within it. That’s exactly what Paul’s talking about in Romans 1, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

That’s why we as Christians in seeking to be obedient to Christ and understanding what is absolutely right and absolutely wrong, cannot depend upon the wisdom of repugnance. We are instead dependent upon divine revelation. We’re dependent upon the Word of God to tell us ultimately, finally, sufficiently what is right and what is wrong. The wisdom of repugnance can make us pause and ask the question, “Why is this wrong?,” but we’re dependent upon Scripture to explain exactly why something sinful is wrong.

Now, let’s go back to that headline story about the mass burial of 2,411 unborn human beings in Indiana in the middle of this week. Now, National Public Radio covered this, USA Today covered the story. There are a myriad of other major media reports. They wouldn’t report it if they didn’t think the story was news. Furthermore, just about everyone you could imagine connected with the story or in response to this story, whether pro-life or pro-abortion, would almost assuredly agree this is wrong, but what exactly is wrong and what makes it wrong? This is where Christians really have to think. This is where someone who does consider themselves to hold to a pro-abortion, or a pro-choice position, as they might call it, they would say, “This is wrong because this was the wrong way to deal with the remains of any unborn human being. This is just wrong. The wisdom of repugnance should say that it’s wrong.”

Here’s the problem with that: Every major abortion activist organization oppose the legislation in Indiana passed years before the discovery of these fetal remains that required either the burial or cremation of fetal remains from an abortion. Well, did they mean what they said then or do they mean what they say now? Now, one has to suspect that it is the number of the unborn babies involved here that is at least a part of the revulsion. You have to think, well, it is at least in part because the babies remains were found in a home and in a car. There has to be a certain amount of revulsion because no one can explain why this abortion doctor would have kept these remains and kept them in his house and driven around town with them.

The discovery of the 2,411 fetal remains was shocking to the nation’s conscience, but Christians simply have to pause and then turn to the nation and ask, “Why was it so shocking? Why is your moral sensitivity so outraged? Why do you respond to this with revulsion?” And those who hold to anything less than a consistent pro-life position are going to have to say, “Well, I guess it’s the sheer number.” Or, “I guess it’s the fact that the remains were found in a house and in a car.” Or, “I think it’s because this came from only a three year period.” Or “I think, I think, I think,” but the reality is that Christians have to understand that the reason this is so gruesome, the reason it is so horrifyingly shocking, the reason that this actually deserves to be a headline story even bigger than it is, is because we’re talking about 2,411 human beings made in the image of God, every single one of them demonstrating God’s pleasure in that God said, “Let there be life.” And the death, the intentional death, the violent death, the abortion death of every single one of those infants is a moral tragedy tantamount to murder, every single one of them.

Part II

Where Exactly Is the Moral Conscience of the Culture Triggered? Why Divine Revelation Is the Only True Basis for Knowledge of Right and Wrong

In the middle of what should be national heartbreak, a consensus of heartbreak over this story, Christians need to ask what number really operates here? It’s the same question we ask when we turn to those who seek to justify abortion in any form and we ask them, “Well, at what point during the gestation of a baby, from the moment of fertilization until the moment of birth, at what point does a baby become a human being in the womb?” That’s a question that the pro-abortion movement absolutely hates because it can’t answer it. We can, operating from a biblical worldview. The moment that that life becomes sacred is the very moment that God says, “Let there be life.” It is at the very instant of the successful fertilization that comes as those two cells unite. And this is where Christians understand that if you seek to move from that initial number one, the instant of time, one, you are subverting and undermining the dignity and sanctity of every single human life.

Let’s go back to this headline news. The number is 2,411. We need to ask a world right now. We need to ask a nation with a somewhat troubled conscience, where exactly is your conscience triggered? Where between one and 2,411 is your conscience triggered? Where between one and 2,411 do you respond with the wisdom of repugnance, with the yuck factor? And this is where Christians have to remind ourselves again, the sacredness and the dignity of human life has God’s gift means that we can never negotiate, even from the number one. When we as Christians say that every single human life is sacred, that all human life is precious, that every single human being is made in God’s image, we say it because we believe it and we mean it.

Part III

Valentine’s Day as a Reminder of the Unending Love of God, a Love Rooted in the Very Nature and Character of God Himself

But finally as the week comes to an end, we do remember that this is February the 14th. It is the day that on the American commercial calendar is often remembered as Valentine’s Day, and even as we look at a world confused about so many other issues, we also have to recognize on Valentine’s Day that the world is often confused about the most fundamental reality of love.

Now, when you think about this kind of confusion, just also ponder the fact that if you were to go and, say, look at the card rack at your local card store or drug store or wherever you find greeting cards, you are likely to find the most inane statements that are there packaged in a card that is supposed to communicate the most profound human affection and commitment that we rightly call love. But we also see throughout the entire society how love is distorted and confused, but at the very same time, how love continues to shine through, even in a fallen confused world, as something that every single human being knows he or she needs, that every single human being knows that he or she wants, and that in one way or another, every single human being knows that he or she is meant to give. We are living in a time of confusion and once again, even as we’re thinking about the issue of life, we also need to think about the reality of love, and think in a biblical perspective.

Now, love has always been the language of Christianity. After all, one of the shortest, most concise and most profound statements about God in the Bible is that God is love, but this reminds us of a Christian theological logic. And that is that we do not then know what God is like because we know what love is like, rather rightly understood we come to understand what love is like because the Bible reveals what God is like. Whatever God is, that is love. Whatever love is, it is how God reveals himself to us. This means that Christians do understand that there are different dimensions to love. Sentimentality is one of those dimensions. Romance or romantic love is another one of those dimensions.

But Christians come to understand that those dimensions of love are actually in a minor key compared to the biblical themes of love as love and kindness and steadfastness, as covenant fidelity, as God’s never changing love because of his never changing character. It is because love in a Christian biblical sense is always defined by the object of that love. The Bible makes very clear that in our sinfulness we can love the wrong things. We can love the right things wrongly. Our loves have to be disciplined and ordered by Scripture, just like every other dimension of our lives.

Back in 1958, C.S. Lewis gave a series of radio talks that were later released as a book  entitled The Four Loves. He identified those four loves based upon the Christian worldview as affection, friendship, eros (that’s erotic love), and charity. Now we would need to update the language, but we also need to recognize that even as, of course, Christians recognize those different dimensions of love, we also understand that the Greek language used in the New Testament is not quite so neat and clean as C.S. Lewis might have argued.

There can be no doubt that the primary New Testament word for love that is attached to the gospel is agape. It is that self-giving love. This is that love of which Jesus spoke to his disciples as the love for which there is no greater love. It is the love of one for another. It is a self-giving love. It is a love that, in honesty, even Christians find difficult to understand because in our own fallen state, we are incapable of loving in a way that is genuinely exclusively the love of self-giving. But we do understand that we are saved from our sins because and only because God in Christ does love us in exactly that way, and thus the Christian understanding of love is tied to our understanding of grace and God’s mercy, our understanding of substitutionary atonement and what it means for Christ to die in our place for our sins. It means that it is the doctrine of God’s love that helps to explain how indeed we are justified by faith alone through the merits of Christ alone.

It is God’s love revealed in Scripture that is made profoundly clear, as not love in a mere sentimental sense, although the Scripture can speak of God’s sentiment, thankfully, towards us, even as fallen creatures. It is about God’s holy love, his absolutely steadfast love, his unchanging love. Now in contrast, let’s think about the word “love” as it is going to be bandied about in so many contexts today. The reality is that we as Christians cannot help but to be grieved by watching that conversation. Grieved because of what is missing in that conversation. Grieved because when you look at the estate of marriage in, say, the year 2020 you have to consider the fact that we have, as a civilization, subverted that divine institution of marriage, that covenant of marriage in so many different ways, but one of the ways we have assaulted it is by the cultural insistence that romance can be separated from covenant fidelity. That helps to explain the brokenness in the world around us.

But Christians also have to look at this and understand that there’s a bit of hope even in Valentine’s Day. It is a reminder of the fact that even human sin has been inadequate to extinguish all of the virtues that God has implanted within creation and the knowledge of which he has implanted in the human beings simply because we are made in his image. Even the fall, even the reality of human sinfulness, even the conspiracies of Satan are incapable of completely expunging the virtues that God has revealed in nature. So the love that our society is celebrating on Valentine’s Day may be, it certainly is, a very imperfect love. It may be, and of course it is, a very inadequate love. Sometimes a very superficial and surface level love. It is often an unfaithful love, but at the same time it points to a yearning in the human heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for a love that is faithful, for a love that does endure, for a love that isn’t merely superficial, but is ultimately and eternally real.

So do Christians believe in romantic love? You bet we do. But it is romantic love within a biblical worldview that points to the centrality of the institution and covenant of marriage. Do we believe in emotional love? Of course we do, but we believe that that emotional expression of love is only real if it is based upon a reality and a commitment that is enduring.

Merely human attempts to understand love will always be woefully inadequate, but consider what God has told us through the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, beginning in verse 4: “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

That’s the apostle Paul. That’s the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostle Paul. That’s the apostle Paul speaking to the church, speaking to all Christians. It’s the way Christian should also speak to the world, and that raises an interesting question, a gospel question. If love never ends, what kind of love is that? And if it doesn’t end, why does it not end? And the answer has to be that love never ends because the love that never ends is the love of God who is eternal. He has no beginning. He has no end. And the love that never ends, never ends because it is God’s love that never ends, because God’s love is not merely something He does. As the Bible makes clear, God’s love is who he is.

Christians understand that that love does not come from nowhere. Its source in the one true God. Its beginning is in the intra-Trinitarian love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for each other. It then is in the love of God for the creation that He has made. It is in the love of God for fallen sinners through Jesus Christ, His Son whom He loves. And yes, it is romantic love that should point to the holiness and the rightness of marriage as instituted by God.

So in that light, even as we come to the end of the program for February the 14th, 2020, happy Valentine’s Day.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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