Friday, May 6, 2022
It's Friday, May 6th, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Far Surpassing Sentimentality: Theological Reflections on Motherhood, for Mother’s Day and Every Day
It is no overstatement to say this has been quite a week, but I want to end this week looking at some different issues, and in particular, I want us to think about one looming event, and that is Mother's Day coming on Sunday. Now, when I speak about that, we need to recognize that most people think of Mother's Day as something of a cultural obligation, and furthermore, their natural response is one of at least temporary sentimentality. That is to say, everyone feels warm feelings towards mom on Mother's Day. Everyone feels the need to say something to mom on Mother's Day. There's an entire industry of Mother's Day cards, flowers, gifts, and all the rest. I would not speak against the holiday. I wouldn't advise doing that.
I'm not even speaking against the sentimentality. I'm just going to say that as Christians looking at an event like this, we need to recognize that it is crying out a certain kind of moral knowledge. It is crying out a certain understanding that goes far deeper than sentimentality. Let's look at it this way. As you think about human beings, well, the first thing you'd want to say about this is every single human being is made in God's image. That's been something we've needed to talk about this week. We end up having to talk about it every week, but there is a second commonality to human beings I want us to think about for a moment. Every single one of us developed our very first relationship with a mother, every single one of us.
There is no exception throughout human history other than Adam and Eve themselves. Other than Adam and Eve, every single one of us, all of their successors, all of their heirs, all of Adam's race share in common that we emerged from a womb, and that means that our very first relationship was within the nurturing womb of a mother. Now, it may be that in some rare cases the child never actually comes to know the mother, but those cases are rare. The norm, the unapologetic norm, in human experience is that that very first relationship is established with a nurturing mother, and that first relationship goes back to the development of the child in the womb, but continues with the nurture and love of the child after birth.
Now, that commonality tells us something very important. It means it's definitional. Not just normative, it's definitional for human beings. One of the worldview instincts we should always have is to look at something and then ask, "Does this come in its emergence from Creation or from the fall? In what sequence in Biblical theology does this come?" If you're talking about a virus, well, that's an effect of the fall. If you're talking about the relationship between a mother and the child, note that is in Creation. That is in Genesis 1. It's in Genesis 2. It is implied in the very physical constitution of the woman.
Now, of course, it takes a father and a mother. It takes a male and a female, but the point is there is a unique role that is played by mothers, and that unique role comes down to this, that our first knowledge is a knowledge that comes to us in a womb and, thus, it is relationally, it's biologically, it is just in terms of nurture. It is a relationship that is established with the person who is our mother. Wait just a minute, the woman who is our mother. We are actually living in such a time of confusion the statements come from our federal government including this new language, it's an atrocity in itself, of pregnant people. People don't get pregnant, women get pregnant.
Of course, even as Creation cries that out, there's no one who fundamentally believes that people get pregnant. They may say they believe that, they may be following some kind of ideological command to say they believe that. They may act like they believe that, may try to convince themselves they believe that, but in reality, the Bible tells us that there are things we cannot not know. There are things we can't get that wrong, not in terms of the formation of our conscience, but the Biblical worldview also points us to something else, and that is that it is actually God's plan that it be this way. We just need to ponder that from time to time.
Sometimes we can just take the very structures of creation for granted to such a degree that we just think, "Isn't it nice that babies come from mothers? Isn't it nice that mothers nurture their children?" We need to consider the fact that God's glory is demonstrated in the right ordering of creation such that under the right circumstances, in the right way, a baby begins to develop within the womb of a mother and that baby develops until the point the baby is born. Then, once born, the baby is still absolutely, fundamentally, unconditionally dependent upon the nurture and care of a mother, and yes, not just of a person, but of a mother.
Without speaking graphically, it is simply a matter of biblical acknowledgement that a party of what it means to be a woman is to have the anatomical apparatus whereby one can nurture a child, and in particular, to feed a child. It's interesting when you think about how this reflected not only in Scripture, but also in Christian testimony.
We're going to be looking particularly at the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Just consider the legacy of motherhood in Christian art. If you go into one of the classic art museums where you look back at Christian art, or the art of Western civilization throughout the centuries. One of the things you will see is an absolute preoccupation with the nurturing role of a mother, and this is often seen even in the act of a mother nursing her baby.
Now, by the way, as you're thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, consider this. As we are looking squarely at the revelation of God in Scripture, and most importantly, the revelation of God in the incarnate, that is the Word Jesus Christ recognized, that even though the Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus, the Son of God, had no human father. He profoundly did have a human mother. He inhabited the womb just as you and I have inhabited the womb. He emerged from His mother's womb the same way that you and I and all human beings have emerged from a mother's womb. That, again, was God's perfect plan. It is a demonstration of the glory of God in the fact that Jesus in sharing things in common with us also shared just what we might call medically prenatal development in the womb. He also experienced a baby's dependence upon his mother.
Now, in Scripture, this is referred to the condescension of Christ. This is Christ humbling Himself. You see this in the letter the Apostle Paul to the Philippians in Chapter 2. He humbled himself taking on human form, and a part of that form was to be dependent, to be born as a baby. As you're thinking about Christmas, not just Mother's Day, think about Christmas. Think about all of those Christmas cards that show Mary and Joseph and the Baby. Now, as you're thinking about that, you recognize it is Mary who had the relationship with Jesus from the very beginning of Jesus' incarnation. When in the incarnation of Christ, the entire story begins with an angelic promise, but it is manifested in a developing baby in Mary's womb.
Then, the story turns to the infancy of Jesus. We need to go back to that history of art in Western civilization. One of the things that sometimes shocks Christians going into, say, one of the classic art museums of Europe is how graphic some of these pictures appear to be. After all, even when Jesus is being presented as a nursing baby, he is often presented in such a way that you would not photograph someone today as a baby nursing from his mother. Why would that be common in Western art? Why would that be so common in Christian art? Why would Jesus so often as a baby be presented in nakedness?
Well, for one thing, it was a refutation of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Now, you might not understand immediately that art can be refutation of heresy, but yes, art can sometimes be refutation of heresy. That ancient heresy was the suggestion that Jesus did not take on real human flesh, and in this case, the art itself is demonstrating, oh yes, Jesus did take on real human flesh. Jesus was not merely incarnated as a human, he was incarnate as a man, and that was true as he was born a baby boy there in Bethlehem. Not only that, Jesus was born having been nurtured in the womb in such a way that he continued to be dependent upon nurture even after his birth, and that's what's testified to. Real incarnation, real human flesh, a real human being, the very Son of God assuming human flesh. God in human flesh, the incarnate Jesus Christ, who just like everyone us as human beings was absolutely dependent upon His mother.
That's one of the reasons why Scripture honors Mary's faithfulness. It's fascinating to see that the Scriptures so clearly honors Mary, first of all, for her obedience to the command of God communicated to her by the angel. Even as Gabriel made that announcement, Mary famously responded to the angel by saying, "Behold the maidservant of the world. Let it be to me according to your word." Those words, "Let it be to me according to your word," are words of unconditional obedience, and that's one of the reasons why we honor Mary. Without Mary, we would not have Jesus. Without Jesus, we would be lost in our sins and trespasses.
It's also interesting to note that by the time you come to the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary is there as well, and Jesus in filial devotion to His own mother, is so clear about the fact that he assigns the Apostle John the task of taking care of his mother who he is now leaving on Earth, even as he will shortly be resurrected from the dead and will ascend unto The Father. It's also so interesting to remember that right after that passage in which Mary speaks her obedience, in Luke 1:38, the following passage tells us about Mary visiting Elizabeth and begins with these words, "Now, Mary rose in those days and went into the hill country with haste to a City of Judah and entered the House of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth, and it happened when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary that the babe leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with The Holy Spirit, then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'"
Now, just notice that both of those phrases are absolutely true. Yes, let's work backwards. Blessed is the fruit of Mary's womb, our Lord Jesus Christ, but also in that same sentence, Elizabeth, filled with The Holy Spirit, said of Mary, "Blessed are you among women," and that is profoundly true. A Biblical theology of motherhood begins at the very beginning of Scripture in Genesis, and it continues throughout the storyline of Scripture. It is a reminder of God's goodness to us demonstrated not only in the fact that we are given the gift of life, but we are given the gift of life within the womb of a mother. Also the fact that we were nurtured and cared for by a mother who was committed to our existence before we were even conscious of our own existence.
By demonstrating the goodness of God even in Creation and in the structure of the family, within the context of marriage and all the good gifts that God has given us, even within the context of God making us in His image as male and female, the reality is that we rightly celebrate mothers. We rightly honor motherhood. It is not a bourgeoisie middle class experience. It is the common human experience that reveals the glory of God in His creative purpose, not only for all of human history, but for every single human being, and that means for you and that means for me and every other listener of The Briefing.
In thinking about mothers and Mother's Day, it's not wrong to be sentimental. It's right to be sentimental. That's a part of the package. That's also a part of the glory of God, but just remember this, which is even more powerful and fundamentally true. God staked the most important event in the history of the cosmos, the very event whereby our atonement was achieved and we are saved. The Father staked that entire saving act in one sense, at one point upon the faithful obedience of a woman as a mother.
I want to finish these thoughts by looking at Matthew 1:45 with a statement from Elizabeth even as The Holy Spirit has urged Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, to speak. What she says is this. It's not often noticed in Verse 45. Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from The Lord." Just think about that. Think about that on Mother's Day as a Christian. Elizabeth spoke about Mary when she said, "Blessed is she who believed," but here's the promise for every single one of us, "for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from The Lord." Let's just add to that, "and thus, we are saved."
Is the Cross a Graven Image? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, on today's edition of The Briefing, we're going to turn to The Mailbox. I appreciate all of the really fine questions that come from so many interesting listeners to The Briefing, and we'll get to as many as we can today. Steven writes in asking, "Could or should a cross be considered as a graven image?" He says, "I believe that it could be. Opinions?" Well, Steven, I'll respond with the opinion, yes, I not only believe it could be, I have seen situations in which I am absolutely certain it had become a graven image. That doesn't mean that it always does. It doesn't mean that it is wrong to put up a cross at the top of a building, it's wrong to have a cross in the architecture of a building. It doesn't mean that it's wrong to put a cross on the cover of a book.
I am saying that there's a reason why in the Protestant heritage, particularly in the Puritan heritage, there has been a real concern about that. Now, often when people come to the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, they note something, and I'm talking about the fact that even though I'll tell you, with pride and gratitude, this is one of the most beautiful academic campuses on Earth, it was designed as a campus by the famed landscape architect of the 19th century, Frederick Law Olmsted. It is a beautiful wooded campus with some of the most elegant Georgian architecture. Most of the original buildings, by the way, designed by James Gamble Rogers.
As you look at the buildings on this campus, you look at traditional columns. You look at all kinds of traditional classical architecture. You look at all kinds of very detailed woodwork and brickwork and all the rest, but I'll tell you what you will not find on this campus is a cross. You look at the top of every building, including the spectacular towers on this campus, that you will not find a cross. You look at the chapel and you look at that towering steeple in front of the chapel, and what's at the top of it? Well, it's not a cross, and as you look across the campus, you don't see a cross.
Every once in a while, someone will ask me, "Why are there no crosses?" I'll simply say, "It's because this campus was also highly influenced even in its architecture by Puritanism, and the Puritans were concerned that our eyes would find some way to turn away from Scripture and turn to some kind of physical object or symbol and begin, perhaps even inperceptively and unconsciously to transfer our reverence to that symbol."
Now, I said that I've actually seen circumstances in which I'm very sure that something like that has actually happened, and I'll tell you that as I've traveled around the world and I found myself in some of the most historic Christian cathedrals on Earth, those cathedrals that are associated with both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, I have seen people line up in order to kiss a cross or to genuflect before a cross.
As you're looking at that, I'll simply say at that point, I am feeling extremely Puritan, so I want to be clear. I am not saying it's wrong to have a cross on jewelry or to say that it's wrong to have a cross on a building. I'm not saying it's even wrong to build your building in the shape of a cross. I am saying it is wrong to transfer to that cross any form of reverence or worship that should be reserved for God and God alone in worship that is ruled by Scripture and Scripture alone. It's just another way of affirming the fact that we understand the vulnerability of our eyes and, in some sense, a desire on the part of the human being to try to find something on which to affix our eyes. At that point, we are reminded that we are instructed by Scripture to set our eyes upon Christ, not upon a physical cross. Good question.
Are There Different Degrees of Murder That Would Not Call for the Death Penalty? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Tim writes a question. "In a Christian worldview, are there degrees of Genesis 9:6 murders that would not call exclusively for the death penalty, but that could allow for life imprisonment or early parole?" Yes, the answer to that question, Tim, is yes, and you find that in Scripture itself. As you work your way through The Old Testament and the unfolding Law of God, when it comes to capital punishment, in fulfillment of Genesis 9:6 and The Noahic Covenant, it is really clear that God gave to Israel a law that established many safeguards and boundaries and actually put conditions upon the exercise of capital punishment, even in terms of the evidence required, the number of witnesses required, the circumstances.
Manslaughter is certainly not to be treated as a matter of capital punishment. It's intentional, volitional, premeditated murder, and even then as you're looking at the legal system, there are different understandings of levels of responsibility and a personal capacity. I think almost everyone recognizes those can be legitimate issues, but frankly, we're living in a time right now when you have people who want to turn to those kinds of situations as a way of trying to get around what really is the most important thrust of The Noahic Covenant, and that is that someone who really does in a premeditated, volitional fashion take a human life. That person forfeits his own or her own life in doing so.
If I Live in a State that Will Sanction Abortion On Demand If Roe is Overturned, Should I Move Our Family to a Different State? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, a fascinating question from John. John's writing about living in a particular state that's extremely pro-abortion and, indeed, has a law on the books right now that basically allows for abortion at any point during pregnancy for any reason. John turns to ask, "Is it right to consider leaving a state with that kind of pro-abortion law in the event that Roe v. Wade should fall and the matter then be returned to the states?" You know, John, you raise a fascinating question and I'll simply say it is not clear that these issues ever really stand alone.
What I mean by that is that when you're looking at state laws and you're looking at a state that has an abortion law as liberal as, for instance, the State of Illinois, which you reference in your question, the reality is that it is likely to be found liberal and contrary to the Word of God on any number of issues. You're also right to point to abortion, the sanctity of human life, as a more fundamental issue, and John, I'll simply say I'm not sure it's right to bind the conscious of fellow Christians on a matter like this because it is often not a matter of choice where we live. It's not a matter of possibility or practicality to consider living somewhere else. There might be contravening issues there such as the need to care for an elderly parent or something.
With all that said, what we're seeing right now is what some refer to as the big sword. We are seeing people moving to states which basically have laws and a culture more congenial with their own worldview, and this has been going on for some time in the United States. That doesn't mean that there are no conservatives in California. No, thankfully there are. It doesn't mean that there are no liberals in Alabama. There actually are, but it does mean that as you look at people making choices about where they live, increasingly both sides in the political equation recognize people are increasingly moving to states, even to neighborhoods, that more clearly mirror their own worldview. This is referred to as an assortative pattern in population and we're seeing it happen right before our eyes. I'm not speaking here so much of a must, John, but of the fact that what you describe is actually already happening
If God is Sovereign, Why Must I Pray? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Izzy, age 17, writes in to ask a question about her own walk with God and prayer life. She asks, "If God is sovereign, why must I pray? He has all history planned and knows what I will say." Well, you know, Izzy, that's a great question, and I'm going to answer it in a way that may shock you in its simplicity. We are to pray because The Lord taught us to pray. The Lord told us to pray. God commands us to pray. God is glorified when we pray, and we are actually told that prayer is one of the means of grace whereby we as Christians are conformed to the image of Christ.
We understand that even as we are told to bring all of our partitions before God, we are to bring our supplications before God, our needs before God, our concerns before God, we are not informing Him. We are rather obediently telling Him, yes, what He already knows, but what is really important for us to say for our spiritual discipline in obedience to Christ. By the way, as you look at The Lord's Prayer, you see that Jesus Himself told us to bring before The Father such prayers. I guess the shortest way I can put it is that we pray not because we are informing God, but because we are obeying God. Great question, Izzy. Thanks for asking it.
Would the Church of Scotland Be So Liberal If Its Conservative Pastors Had Stayed? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Finally for today, Seth writes in to ask a question about my recent commentary on The Church of Scotland. He says, "I'm amazed that you did not mention your denomination's own history combating liberal theology in a different way, refusing to leave and surrender the church to the liberals." He goes on and says that he can't help wonder, "If the conservative pastors who left in 2013 and stayed in and continued to stand on truth on the inside, whether the liberals would have been able to push the Church's position as far as it has gone now." Seth, very bright question, faithful question. I appreciate the question. Why didn't I point that out? Well, it's because in The Southern Baptist Convention, conservatives stayed in for one important reason, there was a mechanism whereby they could actually bring about change, reformation, recovery.
That mechanism was the polity of The Southern Baptist Convention which allows for the election of a president who would make appointments. Those appointments would eventually lead to changing the composition of those who sat on the commissions, on the boards of trustees, on the other boards and committees of the Convention, and that would bring about the change. There was a real mechanism for change and there was also a real opportunity for change, and so, Seth, I just want you to know that the conservatives who led the conservative resurgence in The Southern Baptist Convention were not prepared to stay if the change had not happened.
Indeed, many of them, most famously perhaps the first conservative president of the SBC during this period, Dr. Adrian Rogers, who was then pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, he famously said, "I don't have to be a Southern Baptist, but I do have to be faithful," and he sought to be a faithful Southern Baptist. The very fact that I'm talking to you today as the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary means that I'm incredibly grateful that, indeed, Dr. Rogers and so many other conservatives did stay and did see the change through.
The reason so many of those ministers left The Church of Scotland is that there was no mechanism for conservatives to bring about that change, and that's the case in many other denominations as well. That means that the conservatives within The Southern Baptist Convention stayed at least in part because they believed that the vast mainstream of the denomination wasn't liberal, but conservative, that the laypeople in the main weren't liberal, but conservative, and that, indeed, the majority of pastors weren't liberal, but conservative. Those conservatives that left The Church of Scotland did so after they had stayed in for decade after decade of trying to bring about reform.
Now, did they make the right decision? Well, they believed at the time that that was what faithfulness requires. Will history record that? Well, we don't get to control history. The fact is that in any situation like this, we may stay too long or we may leave too early. We just need to pray to be surrounded by fellow Christians who are also seeking to be faithful to the Word of God in such a way that together we can make decisions about what is right in a given circumstance, in a given denomination or church, in a given moment.
There is one other point that simply has to be made, and this is a point we'll talk about again and again. At some point in the polity of some churches under the church governance and law of some denominations, there comes the demand of positive affirmation, which means if you are going to remain a minister or a church in good standing, you have to affirm churches and pastors you know to be absolutely Biblically aberrant, heretical, and preaching another Gospel. That is a step that faithful Christians simply cannot take. That point was never reached in The Southern Baptist Convention, at least in part because of the freedom of our churches to depart from the Convention if they disagree.
I simply need to mention that that demand for positive affirmation is something that is a very real threat in some churches and denominations, and that becomes the barrier that faithful Christians simply cannot cross. Thanks for the questions. Keep them coming. We'll get to as many of them as we can.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.