The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, April 29, 2022

It’s Friday, April 29th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Happens When Marriage, Family, and Community Are Subverted? America Has a Loneliness Epidemic and Its Teenagers Are in a Severe Mental Health Crisis

Several headline stories tell us that American adolescents, indeed Americans in general, even American children, are suffering from mental illness and anxiety at record rates. The New York Times this past Sunday ran not one, but two major stories. One was on the front page, the headline, “It’s Life or Death, U.S. Teenagers Face a Mental Health Crisis.” Inside the same newspaper, as if the other article hadn’t even run, there was a major article. The headline, “The City has a Loneliness Problem.” Then, just days before the Wall Street Journal had announced that children as young as age eight should now be screened for anxiety because the mental illness, the stress, the anxiety problem has now been downshifted to the very young, even to elementary school.

The front page article on teenagers was by Matt Richtel, and he summarized it this way, “American adolescence is undergoing a drastic change. Three decades ago, the gravest public health threats to teenagers in the United States came from binge drinking, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy, and smoking. These have since fallen sharply replaced by a new public health concern, soaring rates of mental health disorders.” The article then goes on to document what it declares to be the soaring rates of mental health disorders. And it ties at least the most immediate months of the crisis to COVID-19 to teenagers being not in school, to adolescents being under stress, as well as their parents and families.

But you’re also looking at the fact that the article documents what mental health observers have indicated as a very long term trend, a very troubling trend. And it is described as a decline in mental health among American teenagers, intensified by the COVID pandemic, but predating it. We’re also told that the problem spans racial and ethnic socioeconomic divides.

It is becoming a widespread problem. So much so that it is now burdening the entire mental health professional class and it’s also alarming many who are involved, especially in education, watching what is going on with American adolescents. But the article is very pathological. It acts as if this is something that has just happened. Perhaps this stress on American teenagers, this new mental health crisis among adolescents, is something that’s just an artifact of the modern age. But here we need to step back and Christians need to think very, very carefully. The assumption in this article is that something horrible has gone wrong in the lives of many teenagers. Their emotional state, their psychological health, even their psychiatric wellbeing is now being threatened by all kinds of forces without and within. To the credit of the New York Times, there are some factors that are identified here. Social media, bullying online, the loss of all kinds of social engagement, especially in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the big point of this article seems to be that there’s a problem and the problem is basically something that has surprised most adults in authority. We’re also told that social media certainly contributes to the problem, but it isn’t the problem. As the article tells us, the crisis is often attributed to the rise of social media, but solid data on the issue is limited. The findings are nuanced and often contradictory and some adolescents appear to be more vulnerable than others to the effects of screen time. We’re told that teenagers are getting less and less sleep. They’re getting less and less exercise. Maybe there are physiological factors involved here. All in a period of life which is absolutely crucial. Then you have major questions such as this one raised in the article, “This surge has raised vexing questions. Are these issues inherent to adolescents that merely went unrecognized before, or are they being now overdiagnosed?”

Now, here’s where I want to step back and say that as Christians look at this, we recognize there really is something going on here. And as we’re going to be looking at the problem of loneliness, New York City is the subject of this article, an epidemic of loneliness there. And as you’re looking at anxiety disorders, we are now told threatening even elementary school-aged children, something has gone wrong. It’s incredibly telling as we look at this article that the secular worldview assumes that whatever has gone wrong must be something in society, must be something like not only the pandemic and social media, but there must be other deep problems. Or maybe, as I just read from the article, these problems have been there all along and they just weren’t recognized. Well, just thinking first about adolescence, it’s always been a period of stress.

It’s always been a period of self-exploration and there have always been particular vulnerabilities, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, during the period of life we know as adolescence. But this is where Christians need to lean into this kind of news and say, it’s insane to question whether or not American adolescents, or for that matter, adolescents throughout human history, should be assumed to have as a normal fact of life all of these psychiatric, psychological, emotional, all these kinds of problems that are detailed in this article. If adolescence has become this dangerous, how is it that any humans emerged healthily into adulthood? But this is where Christians need to bring some honesty to the conversation and also some very good biblical theology, some key insights from the Christian worldview. Insights that any successful civilization, by the way, had better find at least in some form. Perhaps for Christians, we should look at this modern moment, this modern age, and recognize what is missing in the lives of so many young people, particularly in this case, adolescents. What is missing in so many lives is the stability of the family that God had intended from the beginning.

What would we expect if we look at the brokenness that is now written large across so much of American family life? The biblical worldview tells us that human health and human flourishing take place most effectively, most abundantly, within the context of the goodness of God’s creation and the structures of creation that God has given us. At the very center of that is the gift of marriage. And the subversion of marriage in the modern age, the translation of marriage from being a monogamous exclusive union of a man and a woman to being a vast social experiment, which has now been redefined, not only in duration, that is just so long as two people might want to be married, but also redefined in its essence. It is no longer, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, the union of a man and a woman. It can now be a man and a man, a woman and a woman, and of course, we’re just bracing ourselves for what is going to follow.

We have subverted marriage. And once you subvert marriage, you start to subvert the family. And as you weaken the family, one of the things we need to think about is the dramatic falling birth rate in the United States, and in so much of the world today, particularly in the most economically advanced nations. There’s a formula, a pattern we can see at work here. The more economically healthy, the more economically advanced a society becomes, certainly you might say the more wealthy it becomes, the fewer children marriages tend to produce. And that means you have smaller families and that follows the fact that you have so many fractured families or temporary families or weakened families. And then you consider adolescents and they’re living in a world in which the very structures that God had given us in order to protect children at young ages, yes, and through adolescence.

They have been subverted. They have been weakened. They have been undermined by a society that so valorizes and worships individual personal autonomy, that it would be considered rude to raise these issues as contributing factors to what is now, we are told, an epidemic of mental illness, anxiety, psychological problems among young Americans, particularly teenagers and adolescents. But remember that Wall Street Journal article suggesting that there are authorities now stating that children of elementary school age should be routinely tested for anxiety because anxiety disorders are now increasingly found even among those who are as young as eight. Reporter Brianna Abbott of the Wall Street Journal is citing what’s identified as draft guidance from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. We’re told that that group “has made a recommendation on screening children and adolescents for anxiety. The task force, a panel of independent volunteer experts that makes recommendations on matters such as screening for diabetes and cancer, also reiterated its 2016 guidance that children between ages 12 and 18 years old should be screened for major depressive disorder.”

Again, remember the headline is that anxiety screening is not worse for children as young as eight. The question should obviously fall to any intellectually honest person. What has gone wrong in our society that these kinds of headlines would make sense? It is an unfolding tragedy. But we should understand that there is no therapeutic response that is going to be adequate when the structures of creation are undermined. If you really back off of the family, if you subvert marriage, if you suggest that we’re just autonomous individuals living in some kind of accidental community, if any arrangement will do as well as any other, if children don’t need two parents in the home, and for that matter, the radical decrease in the number of siblings and also the lack of exposure to extended family means that children are increasingly alone. And here’s something the Bible tells us very clearly.

It is not good for us to be alone. There in Genesis 2, God makes that declaration about Adam. But of course, it’s an explanation, it’s a declaration about humanity. And God’s answer most fundamentally to that need is marriage, and out of marriage coming children, then the family, and out of extended family coming larger kinship structures, larger structures of support, and eventually neighborhoods and communities. That takes us to that second report that came in the very same Sunday edition of the New York Times. It’s about an epidemic of loneliness in one of the biggest cities of the world. We’re talking, of course, about New York City itself. As I said, this article bears the headline, “The City Has a Loneliness Problem.” John Leland’s the reporter. And this is what he tells us, by the way. Just listen to his setup of the problem. It’s all about evolution, we’re told.

Leland writes, “The human brain, having evolved to make people seek safety in numbers, registers loneliness as a threat. He says that centers in the brain go into overdrive, triggering a release of fight or flight stress hormones. Your heart rate rises, your blood pressure and sugar level increases to provide energy in case you need it. Your body produces extra inflammatory cells to repair tissue damage and prevent infection and fewer antibodies to fight viruses. Subconsciously, you start to view other people more as potential threats, sources of rejection or apathy, and less as friends.” So at one in the same time, this article tells us that loneliness is now of epidemic proportions in New York City, but don’t blame New York City, don’t blame people, blame evolution. It’s evolution that has misdirected our entire brain and physiological system to assume that being alone is a threat. Let’s just back off for a moment.

Let’s just go back to Genesis 2. Genesis 2 tells us that it is our creator who declared it is not good that we should be alone. Have you wondered how to define loneliness? Well, the New York Times will define it for you, “Loneliness as defined by mental health professionals is a gap between the level of connectedness that you want and what you have.” We’re told, “It is not the same as social isolation, which is codified in the social sciences as a measure of a person’s contacts. Loneliness,” we are told, “is a subjective feeling. People can have a lot of contacts and still be lonely or be perfectly content by themselves.” Just remember that the article began by saying that evolution has sort of tricked us into thinking that being alone is a problem. But again, the Bible tells us that our Creator tells us that loneliness is a problem.

So we look at this and we recognize there’s an incredible, massive, secular evasion of the reality that the very structures of creation that God gave us to keep us from being lonely, the structures that lead to human happiness, human flourishing, let’s just mention human reproduction and the raising of children, when you break those down, there are consequences, moral consequences. There are also, it turns out, therapeutic, psychological, psychiatric consequences. And these articles tell us that, as you look at many cities, you’re looking at a concentration of that loneliness and of these problems. And perhaps more tragically as you’re looking at younger Americans, even teenagers and children, you’re looking at the downloading and the down shifting of that kind of anxiety. And it is adults who bear the blame. And we’d simply have to go back and understand that a society that has been breaking down everything that would make us healthy is a society that breeds unhealth.

It’s also very telling that the article about the epidemic of psychological problems and emotional problems among American adolescents also goes to the fact that a part of the stress is an identity crisis. Now, in one sense, that’s always been true the who am I question of adolescence. But this article, even though it is unintentionally doing so, points to the arrival of all the LGBTQ sexuality and gender questions as now pressing upon young people identity questions that the modern age says are inevitable, but we, as Christians, understand should never have been raised in the first place. What would we expect other than when we look to young people and say, you’re going to have to figure everything out for yourself, including your gender identity, your place and role in society, who you want to be, for how long you want to be that, or you could be someone else.

We are creating the problem. And then we pathologize it, we label it, and then we answer it with what is supposed to be a therapeutic answer, and then we appear to be surprised when that breeds only more problems. At one point in this article, it is said that teenagers are suffering from a cognitive implosion. That is simply too much pressure on having to think through too many issues. Just about everyone I know can feel at times like we are experiencing a cognitive implosion. But in this case, it is a pathology that we have brought upon ourselves and are now inflicting upon our own children. At the very least, Christians just have to understand that this points to the goodness of the family, to the goodness of marriage, to God’s plan in that family being a safe haven, a haven in a heartless world, as it was put some decades ago. We come to understand that a biblical theology of family is then extended into a biblical theology of community.

And that means neighborhood. It means organic community. It means town. It means having an identity with other families. A city that is made up or a community that is comprised of persons who have mutual obligations, as well as mutual conversations and personal interactions. When we create a society that tries to move all meaning online and tries to make human identity the most fundamental level just something we determine for ourselves. When we go so far as to argue that even loneliness is just a problem brought about by an accident of evolution, we are truly a pathological society. And for Christians, it just underlines the goodness of what God has given us in marriage and in the family. It should lead us to thank God and to cherish our marriages, our families, our extended families, our kinship structures. Yes, but also community. And for Christians, as we close on this today, it reminds us of the incredible goodness of the community that is the body of Christ.

The church, as made evident in the full expression of the local church. We were made for family. We were made for community. And in Christ, we are made a part of Christ’s family and the new community. If nothing else, all of this should make us as Christians more thankful and should press us on to be more faithful.

Part II

The Spy Next Door: Russian Sleeper Agent Who Headed Spy Group in U.S. Dies in Russia at 79

Finally, before turning to questions, I want to turn to an obituary. In this case, the death of Mikhail Vasenkov. He was 79. He died in Russia. He was a former Soviet spy. And the exposure of his spying inspired the program that lasted for years in the United States, known as The Americans. Vasenkov was head of a group of so-called illegals. That is, they were Soviet agents inside the United States. And in many cases, they were posing as suburban normal Americans. But as it turned out, their cover was blown.

And even as this emerged in a huge spy scandal during the time of the Cold War, Mikhail Vasenkov was honored in the Soviet Union for his valor in putting together this ring. Now, the story unfolds telling us that, at least according to American and allied intelligence agencies, the ring didn’t accomplish all that much. And at least some of them were so careless, they were eventually detected by intelligence agents for the United States. But nonetheless, the plan was there, the sleeper agents were in place. They were embedded within society. And yes, they were Soviet agents. By the way, when they were exposed, one of the couples left behind a teenage son who did not go to Russia with them.

Sometimes, truth is even stranger than fiction. And sometimes, there really is a spy living right next door.

Part III

What is the Conservative Solution to Income Inequality? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Turning to the Mailbox, a question from Ryan. He says, what’s the conservative solution to runaway income inequality?

He said, does it require vast changes in the economy? Ryan, I’m simply going to cut to this. Inequality, in itself, is not the problem. If everyone is gaining economically, it really shouldn’t matter much who is gaining relative to whom. The fact is that if you look economically over the course of say the last century, the big story is a massive rise in wealth just about across the board, particularly in Western countries. Just consider the size of the dwelling in which most American families live. Consider the kinds of car we drive, the things we take for granted just as absolute necessity, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioning.

All of this means that in relative economic terms, most of us are incredibly wealthy compared to any previous period of human existence. Some of us are super wealthy. There’s a responsibility and a temptation with that, of course, but the Christian worldview, I believe based in scripture, tells us that we should honor the conditions that lead to the greatest amount of human flourishing, the greatest amount of good things for all human beings.

And that seems to come through a free economy, even a free market economy, even protecting that free market economy. And that will come with a certain inequality. But again, human beings aren’t even equal in the things that we want. Some people would rather have more time off, some people would rather have overtime pay. Ryan, I think from a biblical perspective, what we should seek is a just society, not so much an equal society. It’s hard to imagine how that would come about anyway.

Part IV

Should We Use Genetic Treatment or Modification for Embryos? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

A question that comes from Titus. Titus is 16. He wants to ask about genetic altering technology. He says, quote, I think it could be good for things like removing down syndrome, but on the other hand, it could turn our children into super soldiers or something. What does this mean for us? Great question, Titus. And I simply want to point out that the main systems we’re talking about right now, the technologies are what’s known as PGT, which is preimplantation genetic testing. But that’s the testing of embryos through in vitro fertilization.

And Titus, basically, it’s a genetic screening. It’s not a treatment. That means that there’s a screen. So here’s the horrible thing. If there is a detection of down syndrome, which is now possible by this kind of screening, the reality is that most of those embryos are simply never implanted in a mother’s womb. They are simply destroyed. That is not a form of genetic therapy or genetic treatment. That’s a search and destroy mission against those who are judged to be unworthy of life. The other technology is newer and it’s even more controversial. It’s known as CRISPR, C-R-I-S-P-R technology. And that is the modification of human embryos. But at this point, there is no actual therapeutic application. And what we see is the danger of designer babies, of humanity being redefined as to say the babies, the offspring, that we will not only design, but that we would demand.

And if they don’t meet our expectations, well they’re then genetically inferior. Titus, the big issue here is that if we are talking about something that can be, say, medically cured, that’s very different than something that is merely medically screened, and then the embryos destroyed. We’re also looking at the ethics of the technologies themselves, and we’re looking at the technological temptations. They’re huge. One of the saddest things we face right now is that basically we are looking at an international effort to try to stamp out children with down syndrome. But that doesn’t mean some kind of treatment. It means nothing less than an attempted elimination.

And as Christians, we should recognize that’s nothing less than horrifying.

Part V

Does Hebrews 11:3 Undermine Creation Ex Nihilo? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Andrew wrote in saying that in his daily Bible study, he came across Hebrews 11:3. And he’s asking, does that verse disprove creation ex nihilo. That is, God’s creation of all things out of nothing when it says that God created the universe out of things not visible.

Well, actually, I’m going to turn this around and I’m going to say, Andrew, that affirms God’s ex nihilo creation. He created everything out of nothing. He didn’t take preexisting matter and shape it into something. The writer of the book of Hebrews there inspired by the Holy Spirit is actually making a parallel point. He’s just saying that when you look at the natural world, the created world, God did not create that just by forming it out of something else. Everything that exists, everything that is visible, is something that he created out of nothing. Andrew, this is where we also need to interpret Scripture by Scripture. That’s a basic evangelical principle. So just as you’re thinking about, say, Genesis 1, where God spoke and it came to be, and Hebrews 11, where you were just reading. Well, consider also a text like the 33rd Psalm, beginning in verse six. By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth, all their host.

He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap. He puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. Now, consider verse nine. For he spoke and it came to be, he commanded and it stood firm, end quote. Andrew, God’s creation ex nihilo, that is out of nothing, of all things, is fundamental to scripture, it’s fundamental to the biblical worldview, and I believe it is actually entirely consistent and even amplified by the very text you raised, and I’m glad you read it in your personal devotions, Hebrew 11:3. And it also fits the larger logic of that passage.

Part VI

Why Will We Have Tears to Wipe Away on Judgment Day When We Are in the Presence of God? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, Andrea wrote, and she mentioned a verse that I had cited on the briefing about God wiping away all of our tears. Of course, that’s Revelation 21:4 where we are told he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

No more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. Andrea says that it’s such a beautiful image of a tender father bending down to comfort his child, but then she asks, but why do we have tears if we’re in the presence of God? Well, just consider this Andrea. First of all, this is expressive language. It’s poetic, it’s apocalyptic language. That’s one thing. But furthermore, I think it’s literally what it says. It is God wiping away our tears. It is on the great day of judgment. And when Christ’s kingdom comes in fullness, at that moment that death dies, sorrow ceases, and pain is no more. And at that point, our tears are wiped away. There’s no indication that there’s the continuation of tears in heaven. It is there no more sorrow, only joy.

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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