Wednesday, March 25, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, March 25, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
How Should We Think about the Economy As Lives Are Threatened by COVID-19? A Material World and a Spiritual Reality
In the midst of a crisis such as we are now facing with the Coronavirus, big questions emerge. Some of them in private conversations, even within the context of a family. Sometimes they emerge in a limited sphere. At other points unexpectedly, perhaps even unpredictably, they explode into a public conversation such as the case with comments made over the last couple of days by the Lieutenant Governor of Texas. As a news report in The Dallas Morning News tells us, "Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick repeated his call Tuesday for the country to soon return to work, despite the potential health risks from the ongoing spread of novel Coronavirus." The Lieutenant governor said, “Obviously we put life and this virus first, as the president does, but we also have to measure that and weigh that with people losing their jobs and losing their businesses."
The Lieutenant Governor went on to say, "As a senior citizen, my focus is on my grandchildren and your grandchildren and the entire next generation, that we have an America to leave them.” He continued, “And on the path that we are on right now, if we close down America, that American dream is going to disappear very quickly.” The Lieutenant Governor of Texas indicated his agreement with the president of the United States in hoping that America could return to something like a reopened condition by Easter Sunday. The Lieutenant Governor went on to say about the president, "If he needs more time, let's trust his judgment."
On Monday night, he made a statement in a more shocking form. He said to Fox News, "My message is that let's get back to work. Let's get back to living. Let's be smart about it." He went on to say, and these are the most crucial words, "And those of us who are 70-plus, we'll take care of ourselves, but don't sacrifice the country." Now, all of this comes as jurisdictions around the United States, in particular states and cities, are issuing even more stringent restrictions on human movement. This will lead of course, to even greater economic impact, and you don't have to watch the stock market very closely to understand that we are facing a genuine economic crisis, that the crisis is occasioned by the Coronavirus and that responding to the Coronavirus in the interest of preserving life is simultaneously to take interventions that are likely to harm the economy.
We're looking at a massive moral trade-off and it's clear that there is not a consensus, there's certainly not unanimity, in this country about how that trade-off should be balanced. But looking in particular, first of all, at the statements made by the Texas Lieutenant Governor, I want to step back and say I can't read his heart. I don't know exactly what he intended to say, but there is nonetheless now injected in our public conversation an argument that demands our very close Christian biblical worldview consideration. It comes down to this: How would a Christian think through the difficulty of balancing, say, economic strength with continued vitality and life?
How do we measure these things? How do we measure efforts that would be taken to preserve human life by seeking to stop the spread of the Coronavirus and efforts that will be focused upon human flourishing, arguing that the economy needs to be sustained and that we must be careful in taking actions that will have a negative impact upon the economy because after all, this will impact the economic world that our children and grandchildren will inherit? Neither of those is a stupid argument. Neither is an irrational argument, but we do have to look more closely at how a Christian should thread through and think about those arguments.
For the sake of clarity, perhaps, it would be good to start with the argument that we should take actions to preserve the economy. The economic future, not only for ourselves, but also for our progeny, our children and our grandchildren, and that beyond even our personal relationships, just thinking about what we owe to not only the current generation, but future generations. Material wellbeing is a very important issue. God has made us needy creatures. We require food and shelter and sustenance. And furthermore, the dominion order that is given to human beings in the very first chapter of Scripture tells us that economic activity in and of itself honors God, with human beings made in God's image relating to one another, conducting transactions, trusting one another, building community together—indeed, building an economy.
We can look at all the blessings that God has given us even in economic terms throughout the years and come to understand that indeed, the material aspects of our lives are very important aspects. We come to understand that sometimes they are themselves matters of life and death. This is seen most clearly when there is someone who might be suffering for a lack of food during a time of famine. You have a direct threat to the continuation of entire civilizations and of course, families and human lives as we're thinking an individual lifespans. We are material beings and we require material sustenance. And furthermore, not only is civilization an achievement, but economic wellbeing is an achievement. And when you look at the history of humanity, one of the dimensions you have to look at is the economic dimension.
And here we will also see that God has made his human creatures to flourish and to flourish under specific conditions—conditions that build trust, that ensure liberty, that are based upon justice and that require a work ethic, that demonstrate a linkage between labor and reward, that increase and incentivize thrift, all of these things including building investment, they are all rightly understood things that bring honor to God as humans individually and together, are economic actors. We are involved in an economy and for the sake of human flourishing, we need to build the economy.
You can look at the history of humanity and human economic activity and you can see rival visions of economics, you can see the disasters of communism and socialism, you can also see the unleashing of human activity, of energy and intelligence and entrepreneurship within the context of a free market with human beings respected, not only as workers, but as free economic agents. And again, this reminds us that we do believe emphatically according to the biblical worldview that we live in a material world. We have material bodies and we have material needs.
But Christians must get to that second question and we have to get there quickly and we have to get there urgently. We have to get there biblically because even as the biblical worldview affirms that we are living in a material cosmos, a universe made up of atoms and molecules of chemicals and stuff, and even as we understand that human beings are also embodied, we have a body, it's material, it's also made up of atoms and molecules, we also come to understand that there's far more to what it means to be a human being made in the image of God. It means that we are spiritual beings, not merely material beings. And the Bible is emphatically clear, it is a consistent biblical theme that more important than our material reality is our spiritual reality.
In the very earliest chapters of Scripture, we are told that Adam is ensouled, that he is a spiritual being and that's true not only for Adam and then for Eve, but for all of those who have descended from them, for every single human being. You will never meet a human being who is not made in God's image and who is not a spiritual creature, period. And even as our bodies will remind us of our material needs, the reality is, that those material needs pale in light of our spiritual needs because our greatest spiritual need is to be made at peace with God against whom we have offended and sinned, a totally righteous and holy God who cannot tolerate sin but must punish sin with the outpouring of his wrath. The greatest spiritual need we have is for reconciliation with our Creator and that is made possible only because you know the biblical texts, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
God took the initiative in Christ to save us from our sins and He has accomplished in Christ’s atonement all that is necessary for our salvation. Salvation, eternal life, and forgiveness of sins comes to all who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and are saved. "All call upon the name of the Lord will be saved," says Paul in Romans 10. And “if we profess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved.”
And furthermore, even as regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we continue as spiritual beings redeemed to have continuing spiritual needs. This is why we are dependent upon what the reformers called the "ordinary means of grace,” most centrally, the preaching of the Word of God, the fellowship of the church, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the encouragement that comes to one another in worship. We are dependent upon the ordinary means of grace for our spiritual sustenance. Even as in Scripture, we are reminded that we are to feed upon Christ and we are to feed upon the Word of God. Even as we have a physical hunger, we also are to be reminded of an even deeper, more urgent and even eternal hunger that is a spiritual hunger. We need nourishment for our souls even more desperately than we need nourishment for our bodies.
The balance between the spiritual gift of life and the material sustenance we need, even material possessions is referred to often in Scripture. Just think of a passage like Luke 12:15 where the Lord told his own disciples, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." We have the warnings that Christ gives us, reminding us that where our treasure is there will our hearts be also. We're asked the question, “What does it profit a man that he would gain the whole world and lose his soul?” We also have the biblical reminder that every single human life is a gift of God of immense, infinite worth. Now, this is not to say that at times human beings are forced to make decisions that will have an impact upon life and death. This is the very definition of the context of war. In the context of war, some decisions are made that will lead to death, but of course, we come to understand they can only be justified in the interest of preserving life. That's a basic Christian presupposition that is the very centerpiece of how Christians think through issues of war and peace.
But the specific question that is now presented in public is whether or not effectively we should just consider perhaps older people to be in larger numbers, necessary casualties of the Coronavirus in order to protect the economy. In the comments at least that were made on Monday night, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas seems to be saying that older Americans should just take it as unnecessary risk in order to protect the economic futures of their grandchildren. What should Christians think about this? Well, this is where Christians understand that we cannot enter into a decision making formula that says that certain human lives have simply gone on for long enough. These people are now expendable. We can now increase the risk on them precisely because the economy must be preserved at all costs.
Now, let's be clear. No one has made that argument in exactly that form yet in a public context, but that argument is out there. And it's an argument that is being discussed in certain economic circles, even in some political circles, whether or not it is discussed in those sharpest and starkest of terms in public. It's appearing even within a secular context and the secular worldview is incredibly incapable of handling these questions sufficiently. Louise Aronson, writing in the New York Times, asks a question as to whether or not something very dangerous is being communicated when you hear people say something like this, "COVID-19 kills only old people. Only?," she asked. "Why are we okay with old people dying?"
Now let's be clear. This argument is not likely to come in the form of someone who's going to stand behind a microphone in a national format and say, "Look, let's be honest. We're okay with old people dying." But it is nonetheless something that is being reflected in behavior, certainly with reports coming that younger Americans are not obeying many of the restricted movement orders precisely because the Coronavirus does not appear to be much of a threat to them.
Aronson begins her article "Not just old people. Younger adults are also getting the Coronavirus." Aronson went on to say, "The words seem to suggest that COVID-19 didn't matter much if it was a scourge only among the old." Later in her article, she says this, "When we look at people as nothing more than an amalgam of age and diagnosis, we miss their humanity." Now let's just state that from the Christian worldview, that's emphatically true. The interesting thing here is that Louise Aronson writing in a secular newspaper, perhaps the very epitome of a secular newspaper, writing as a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is trying to convince others operating from a secular worldview that it is wrong to depreciate and to discount the humanity of those who are represented by what she describes here as an amalgam of age and diagnoses.
Now, the interesting question, a haunting question that should come to us as this: How from a secular worldview perspective does one answer that question? That's a very pressing issue because if you do operate from a consistently secular worldview, it's virtually impossible to keep out of that worldview certain ideas and ideologies that are directly subversive of human dignity. The sanctity of life ethic to which Christians are called, it's revealed and demanded by Scripture, affirms the total dignity and sanctity of every single human life from the moment of fertilization until natural death, under any condition, at any point of development, regardless of circumstances. And that principle affirmed in the context of the Coronavirus crisis reminds us of our responsibility to contend for the dignity and sanctity of every single human life regardless of age. No doubt, there may be horrifying decisions ahead, but the reality is, that we have to hope and pray and contend for those decisions to be made with a full acknowledgement of the dignity and sanctity of human life.
A Titanic Clash of Worldviews: The Importance of a Sanctity of Life Ethic from Conception to Natural Death
Now, behind all of this, we have to remind ourselves is a titanic clash of worldviews and we need to understand at least two rival worldviews that will intrude upon the current context. They're there. If not far in the background, then ominously even closer in the foreground. What are we talking about? Well, if you go back to the 19th century and you consider the beginnings of Marxism, if you go back to Karl Marx and the entire experiment, the ideology of Marxism, it is based upon what Marx affirmed as dialectical materialism. That is the worldview that's even more basic than the ideology of communism. When Marx talked about dialectical materialism, the dialectical part went back to the German philosopher, Hegel, and his understanding of cycles of history. You can put that aside for a moment.
The most important part of dialectical materialism was the materialism. The belief that the only reality is a material reality. That stuff is all there is. It was an explicit rejection of a Christian worldview. It's the explicit rejection of the idea that human beings are anything other than mere matter, and the horrors of the communist experiment just demonstrated what it is to believe that the material world is all there is and all that matters. Human beings become as merely material objects, expendable in the name of the communist revolution and the regime. Socialism, at least Marx's understanding of socialism is also based upon the fact that human beings are merely material and that all that really matters are our material wants and our material needs. We have to simply point out as Christians, that is a direct contradiction with the biblical worldview from the very first verses of the Bible.
Now, Christians affirm the reality of the material world and we affirm the goodness of the material world and God's original creation intention, and we look to the goodness of human economic flourishing and we look to the blessings of God in prosperity. We do look to the responsibility to take care, to invest, to seek to bequeath to our progeny, our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, prosperity rather than want, food rather than famine. But we can never act as if we are operational materialists. That is simply not allowed by the biblical worldview.
The bottom line in this is that Christians have to affirm the dignity and sanctity of every single human life. That's an affirmation I am sure the Lieutenant Governor of Texas shares. In his political career, he has contended for the right to life of the unborn and the sanctity of human life and he's a Christian and a member of a Baptist church there in Texas. But the swirl of conversation about these comments does raise a host of issues and we are looking at the fact that many people in this society, whether they acknowledge it or not, are operating from a basically materialistic worldview. As we think about the hard decisions that are going to have to be made and are being made even now, it is easy to dismiss all of them as politics. Now, there's no doubt that President Trump is eager to get the economy restarted, especially as he is in a campaign for reelection. That's understandable and he's been pressing very hard even talking about getting the economy reopened by Easter Sunday.
At this point, the president appears to be in conflict with many of the most important medical authorities in the country who are warning that this kind of restricted movement and physical distancing is going to be necessary for a matter of weeks yet. Even many Republicans, including some within the administration argued that the president's comments may well be premature, but at the same time, it is interesting to know that this is not merely a partisan issue. It's not just President Trump. As the New York Times reported yesterday, "Even Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York whose state has emerged as the center of the outbreak in the United States has begun publicly floating the notion that, at some point states will need to restart economic activity and debating how that should unfold." This Democratic governor who has issued some of the strictest restrictions on economic activity and movement himself said, "You can't stop the economy forever, so we have to start to think about does everyone stay out of work?"
Jon Hilsenrath and Stephanie Armour writing a front page article for yesterday's edition of the Wall Street Journal put the quandary this way, "The White House is discussing easing social-distancing guidelines as early as next week amid a broader debate over how much economic loss the country can bear to save an unknowable number of lives threatened by the novel Coronavirus pandemic." That is perhaps the clearest paragraph I have yet seen in the national conversation about the difficulty of these decisions as we look ahead.
Interestingly, a healthy word seems to come from a former cabinet member and a former president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers. He's a former US Treasury Secretary. He's also held other senior economic positions and as I said, was the president at Harvard. He's now a Harvard economics professor. He said, "I don't think we need to turn this into a dollars-versus-lives thing at this stage." That's another very helpful way to put it. We dare not at point, simply translate it into a dollars-versus-lives thing. In a helpful extension, Mr. Summers went on to say that the best choice for now is first, addressing the health risk, second, treating the economic damage, and then third, working to prevent future pandemics. That sounds like a very reasonable plan. That seems to be a platform that is consistent with the Christian worldview, save lives first, first priority, and then try to resolve the economic damage, second priority, and then seek to prevent future pandemics, third priority.
A Significant Sign of the Scale of the Challenge We Now Face: Tokyo Summer Olympics Postponed Until 2021
In closing, it is interesting to note how many people around the world were focused upon one question and that question was whether or not the 2020 Summer Olympic games would be held in Japan. As it turns out, they are going to be delayed at least into 2021, future details yet to be announced. That's just one sign, but a very internationally significant sign of the scale of the challenge that we now face. At other times in modern Olympic history, the only times that the Olympics have not been held is in the context of war, which when you think about it pretty well describes the context in which we find ourselves right now. But in this case, it's not war as nation against nation, but as humanity against a virus. And in this one, we're all in it together.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
I had the hope to have the opportunity to meet many listeners face-to-face on Friday at Boyce College Preview Day, but that just won't be possible given the threat of the Coronavirus we now face. But I'm pleased to let you know that Boyce College will be hosting a virtual preview day on Friday, the same day, March 27 beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. If you're a high school student considering where to attend college or if you love or know a high school student considering where to attend college, I hope you'll join us for this online experience. You'll be able to ask me direct questions during a live Ask Anything event, you'll interact with Boyce College’s world-class faculty, and learn more about our campus and student life during a live Q&A.
To register and to learn more about the uncompromising Christian worldview programs of Boyce College, just visit boycecollege.com/preview. I hope to meet you then even if it's on a computer screen.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.