Friday, January 20, 2023

It’s Friday, January 20th, 2023.

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

Part I

‘The State Doesn’t Surrender in the Face of the Mafia’: Italy’s Top Mob Fugitive Captured After 30 Years on the Run

Today we’re going to get to questions, but first we’re going to think just a bit about crime and punishment. We need to remind ourselves that in a fallen, sinful world, not only does sin happen, but sin becomes a syndicate, it becomes formalized, it becomes corporatized, it becomes, well, big business, big evil business. And sometimes this comes to light, it did just in the last few days. And this particular headline has been coming from Rome, as Frances D’Emilio of The Associated Press reports, “Italy’s number one fugitive, a Mafia boss convicted of helping to mastermind some of the nation’s most heinous slangs was arrested when he sought treatment at a private clinic in Sicily after three decades on the run.”

Three decades on the run, more than 30 years of being one of the most-wanted criminals there in Italy and in Sicily, and eventually the number one most-wanted criminal, and wouldn’t you know it, he was found because a medical condition required treatment, and in the course of that treatment, it was discovered who he actually was. And who he was, was Matteo Messina Denaro. He was, by the way, already tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders. I go back to state that: dozens of murders. One of them, the murder of a young child just in retaliation against a criminal enemy.

Celebrating the arrest in apprehension, one prosecutor for the state there in Italy said, “We captured the last of the massacre masterminds,” of the 1992-1993 Mafia killings. “It was a debt that the republic owed to the victims of those years.” The Premier, that is the prime minister of Italy tweeted that the arrest of Mr. Denaro and his capture was “a great victory of the state, which shows that it doesn’t surrender in the face of the Mafia.”

Now, this is a fascinating issue just in terms of criminal history. Even in the United States, for a very long time, it was denied that the Mafia and, for that matter, organized crime, was a reality, or to put it in the phrase of some at the time, was even a thing. But of course we know it not only was a thing, it is a thing, it hasn’t gone away. And until Jesus comes and puts an end to sin, the reality is you’re going to see something like the Mafia, something like the syndicate, something like organized crime, wherever fallen human beings can organize much of anything. And you’re looking, by the way, at Italy and in Sicily, at a regime of crime, systemic crime, organized crime, that in many ways has threatened the entire society, over and over again, claiming murders that went all the way up to Italy’s prime minister. Now, of course, there’s so many questions you might think about here. For one thing, how exactly does someone evade capture for 30 years, for three decades?

While the answer probably has something to do with his ingenuity, and the complexity of the Mafia’s organization, it also probably has something to do with a bit of incompetence when it comes to law enforcement, and perhaps a bit of corruption as well. That’s something that American authorities are saying, although they’re saying it rather softly. Something else comes immediately to mind, and that is that this mastermind of mass murder wasn’t apprehended by some means of an extensive detective organization, but rather because he showed up at a clinic and eventually his identity didn’t match. And people began to put two and two together, and eventually they got to four. They identified who he was, and the law enforcement officials eventually apprehended him and they arrested him at this health clinic. And yet tucked into the news reports as this little bit, and that is that he had been in that clinic basically for a year.

Mafia bosses getting by without arrest in Italy or for that matter elsewhere has been a long story, as The Associated Press report tells us, “The Italian Mafia boss who set the record for the longest time on the lam was Bernardo Provenzano. He was captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive.”

The New York Times, usually pretty restrained in dealing with crime stories as compared to the tabloids, nonetheless sounded almost like a tabloid in its front page article about the arrest. A pair of reporters reported from Rome, “Even by Mafia standards, his crimes curdled the blood authorities linked him to dozens of murders in the 1990s, including the kidnapping,” and well, it goes on to describe the murder of a young person. He played a role, the story tells us, in the murder of two anti-Mafia prosecutors in Italy, and he was the mastermind behind “deadly bombings in Milan, Rome and Florence.” Other crimes are provided in detail, and I’m going to avoid sharing those details today.

And then The Times tells us, “But on Monday after 30 years on the lam and achieving infamy is Italy’s most-wanted fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro, age 60, the last Italian mobster linked to a savage period in which Sicily’s Black Hand, another name for the Mafia, “declared war on the Italian state, was quietly arrested outside a clinic in Palermo after he showed up under an alias for a medical appointment.” One of the persons behind the arrest, the chief prosecutor in Palermo said, “Until this morning, we didn’t even know what face he had.” The Italian authorities are claiming that this is a deadly blow against the Mafia, but law enforcement officials around the world are saying, “Well, we doubt it’s going to be a fatal blow to the Mafia,” but prosecutors have made those claims over and over again before, it’s deeply driven into the culture. And for that matter, you arrest one godfather and there’s another godfather or multiple godfathers waiting in line.

Now, there are some interesting biblical worldview perspectives on this. One of them is that it takes a lot of creativity and a lot of intelligence to be successful in carrying out evil for this length of time, and that is simply to say that a liar has to work harder than someone telling the truth to keep up with a lie. A thief or a murderer, a criminal trying to avoid arrest, has to work very hard to avoid being detected, identified and eventually apprehended. Law enforcement, the forces for good, actually have to work harder, however, in order to get into the mind of those carrying out such crimes and seeking to avoid prosecution and arrest. They sometimes have to get into the mind of the criminal in order to figure out how the criminal might eventually be arrested, apprehended, tried and punished. It’s not an easy process, and that’s not just true in Sicily.

Okay, here’s another twist in the story. It turns out that there was no actual photograph of this fugitive when he was on the run, and yet there were those who said they had some idea what he looked like, but there were also reports that he had undergone facial surgery to change his appearance. But the law enforcement officials at the national and international level also put together a composite, and they actually arrested a man they believed was this Sicilian Mafia boss some years ago.

Listen to this section from The New York Times, “To narrow their search, the authorities produced a computer-generated image of Mr. Messina Denaro based on his picture from a 1990s family album and circulated it to international police forces and the news media. In September 2021, a man from Liverpool, England was arrested in the Netherlands after he was wrongly identified as Mr. Messina Denaro.”

The story simply concludes “he was released days later.” But when he was caught on Monday and when federal law enforcement officials there in Italy confronted him, when they asked him his name, he actually told the truth, Matteo Messina Denaro.

Again, this is good news, and law enforcement officials not only in Italy and in Sicily, but elsewhere in Europe, and even in the United States, were celebrating the arrest, but one of the prosecutors acknowledged this, “Obviously, the Mafia is not defeated. It would be a big mistake to think that the game is over.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. That’s almost assuredly true, but it’s not the only part of this picture that underlines the criminality of human beings and the pervasiveness of sin.

For understandable reasons, violent crime gets so much of the attention and grabs so many of the headlines, but a recent headline in The New York Times gets to another dimension of human wrongdoing, asking, “Is corporate fraud common?” In this case, Ephrat Livni is the reporter for The New York Times, and he raises the question, “Just how pervasive is criminality in American corporate life?” It’s an interesting question because there tend to be patterns in arrests and patterns in investigation, but does that mean that there is also a pattern of rise and fall of criminality and wrongdoing in corporate life and in business?

The New York Times piece cites one official by saying that they estimate that about 40% of American companies are “committing accounting violations and that 10% are committing what is considered securities fraud,” that’s amounting to something like $830 billion in 2021. Now, we simply have to say that those two things are radically different. And accounting irregularity in this sense, as the authors acknowledge, could or might not actually have anything to do with criminal wrongdoing, but that 10% is the more important number. Committing “what is considered securities fraud”. This particular authority said, “What people don’t get is how widespread the problem of corporate fraud is.”

Later in the article we read this; “The amount of fraud perpetuated at any given time stays pretty steady,” that’s according to the same expert, “He and his colleagues wanted to scratch the surface of misconduct in public companies to figure out how much of it goes undiscovered normally. To do this, they first examined a period of unique scrutiny in accounting history,” that’s the 2001 demise of the auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, after the collapse of Enron. That was a major American corporation that collapsed after having been in the business of massive fraud.

Now, my point today in putting these two stories together on a Friday edition of The Briefing is to say sometimes headlines reveal to us an important principle even when it comes to human sinfulness. And what’s the principle we’re thinking about today? It is this. In human sinfulness, given the pattern of human depravity, there are certain persons who will get involved in certain enterprises and, one way or another, however they are defined, they are about not only breaking the law but doing evil rather than doing good.

And here’s the very humbling thing, they often get away with it for a very long time. This Mafia boss was on the lam, as they say, for 30 years. He was arrested only when he was sick and in a clinic, by the way, wearing a $35,000 watch, that also gave him away. And when it comes to so-called corporate crime, the reality is that’s also crime. How pervasive is it? Well, by definition, we really don’t know.

But we do know this; wherever human beings are found, we need to pray for several things. First of all, we need to pray for God to restrain human sinfulness. That’s something that’s deeply biblical. We pray that God will restrain human beings from doing evil things. Now, that does not mean that God will prevent all evil things. Now, that’s also a biblical principle. Evil is something that human beings begin in their hearts. Only after the heart does it get extended into acts, into criminal conspiracies, into actual crimes. And that’s why you can apprehend a body, but you can’t actually apprehend a heart. Only the Holy Spirit could do that, by the way, bringing about the conviction of sin. Human courts can convict a criminal of a crime, but only the Holy Spirit can convict a human being, a sinful human being, of his or her sinfulness.

But the Bible makes clear a couple of things with which we will conclude this consideration. One thing is that it is good when wrongdoing comes to the light, that itself is a good thing. And the arrest of this Mafia boss in Italy, in Sicily, a very good thing. The second thing is this. Even if this man had successfully evaded criminal prosecution and the arrest by the police for the entirety of his life, well, we state this often, he would not escape the final bar of justice.

Part II

Given His Omniscience and the Occurrence of So Many Miscarriages, Is God the Most Prolific Abortionist? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Well, next we turn to questions.

One question came in from someone making a criticism. Chris wrote in saying, “In your message about Senator Warnock’s victory, you accuse him of being for abortion without restriction.” The man who wrote the letter said this, “No pro-choice person believes this. There are ethical restrictions on when abortions are permissible based on age of gestation.” This letter writer correctly points to the Roe v. Wade decision that was, by the way, overturned this past June, saying that the point of viability was a crucial issue. And as we often discussed, in the Roe v. Wade decision, you had the division of the period of pregnancy into three trimesters, so three months, three months, and three months.

But the bigger point is this. This letter writer says that I made the error of saying that this particular senator, Senator Raphael Warnock, recently reelected in Georgia, that he is for abortion without restriction. But I’m not going to back up on that because so far as I know, and I’ve looked at this as closely as I know how, this senator has opposed virtually any restriction on abortion whatsoever. He has failed to give political support to any restrictions on abortion. And I might even put it this way: an opposition to any meaningful restriction on abortion at any point. And that is becoming the reigning orthodoxy in the Democratic Party. And I’ll simply say that as you look at President Joe Biden and his administration, let’s ask the question honestly, at what point would President Biden now say that abortion should be illegal and should not happen? I would be very interested to see the incumbent President of the United States answer that question.

Now, this is a shift. It is a shift on the left, it is a shift of strategy among those who are pro-abortion. This letter writer, by the way, uses the term pro-choice. I’m not going to quibble about that because I’m not going to use the term. I don’t think pro-choice is an accurate moral description of the position currently held by the pro-abortion movement. It’s not pro-choice, it is becoming increasingly and clearly pro-abortion.

But then this letter writer, and I’m thankful he sent me the letter, it’s very instructive, he twists the knife a little bit by writing, “Riddle me this, if God knows us before we were in the womb, why do about 25% of miscarriages occur spontaneously, often of a child that was planned and wanted? Doesn’t that make God the most prolific abortionist? No one ever gives me an answer for this phenomenon, I would appreciate the favor of a reply to my query. Thank you.” Well, thank you for the letter. I’ll give you a reply.

Number one, the Bible makes very clear that God knows us before we are. Before we are even in our mother’s womb, He knows us. You either believe the Bible on that or you don’t. Furthermore, we’re told that God is good and that God is sovereign. And if indeed you do have the phenomenon where, I’ll just take the number offered here, something like 25% of miscarriages occur spontaneously, I will simply say that that, like every other human injury, every other human tumor, every other human illness, every other human death, is simply left, in biblical terms, to the goodness and the sovereignty of God.

The Bible is also clear about this, whatever God does is right. We as human beings are just not in a position to argue with our Creator. Let me just also say as kindly as I know that the Bible just doesn’t give us options when it comes to so many of these issues.

Now, by the fact that this letter was written, I appreciate the fact that this listener is listening and wrote the letter, I mean to respond only with respect, a respect that is owed to any listener to The Briefing, but the issue of abortion, and here we’re talking about willful, elective abortion, the issue of abortion is one that increasingly is going to reveal the underlying worldview. And that worldview is either going to be consistent with the Scripture, which is necessarily going to be pro-life, or it’s going to be at odds with Scripture.

And as I say, with every passing day, that pattern is just becoming, I think, more honest.

Part III

Why Did the FDA Change the Packaging of the Morning After Pill? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, a listener writing in from South Africa—and thank you for listening from South Africa—mentions The New York Times article that recently said that the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. is changing the packaging required on the so-called morning-after pill. It’s described as a contraceptive.

“To say the pills definitively do not cause an abortion,” the listener asked the question, “is that true or are they just not defining their terms as they used to, pretty much saying that life does not begin at conception, so no abortion is happening according to the FDA?”

Well, I simply will respond to this very intelligent and sensitive question by saying a little bit of all of this appears to be going on. First of all, this is a political act. It’s undertaken and celebrated by this administration. It didn’t start, this entire process didn’t start in the Biden administration, but nonetheless, it is being celebrated by the administration. And this is something that the pro-abortion side has been seeking for a long time.

And that is because if you go all the way back, not only to the so-called morning-after pill, but if you go back even to some other oral contraceptives, there was the acknowledgement in the packaging and sometimes in the medical literature that the makers of the pill weren’t sure whether its effect was to prevent the union of the egg and the sperm or the successful implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. And so just because of legal liability, you had drugmakers who were often saying this is a possible effect. Now you have the morning-after pill, as it’s called, being redefined by the FDA in order to take out the idea that it could have any effect that might be described as abortifacient.

But this letter writer is onto something I’ve mentioned on The Briefing. This is just profoundly true, we have seen the attempted and largely successful redefinition of conception away from the beginning of life and the fertilization by the sperm of the egg to the successful implantation, and by the way, that can be a rather lengthy process, of the fertilized ovum in the womb.

And so what you have here is an effort to try to use the word contraception in a way that betrays the fact that there would be fertilized eggs that would not be successfully implanted perhaps by this kind of medical effect, but it wouldn’t be acknowledged as being an abortifacient in any sense. Now, I am not a medical doctor, I’m not a pharmacologist, I’m simply saying this is very well documented, and I think, in this case, the political nature of this decision should be abundantly clear.

Part IV

I Had a Miscarriage at 11 Weeks Due to a Blighted Ovum. Was There Ever a Life in Me? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But next, a sense of urgency leads me to acknowledge a very sensitive question sent in by a woman listening to The Briefing who writes, “My husband and I are Christians and pro-life, but I find myself struggling with what to think about that pregnancy. It was a pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage at 11 weeks.” And this particular letter writer, writing consistently with the kinds of questions we’ve been dealing with so far today, is simply asking the question, “How am I to think about that pregnancy?”

And I have nowhere to go in answering this question, but to the biblical affirmation, where we stated this just a few moments ago, of both the sovereignty and the goodness of God. And so even as we have no explanation for many events that we experience, and I simply want to validate the fact that you and your husband experienced a very real loss, and the entire Christian community, your brothers and sisters, should uphold you and pray for you and grieve with you in this loss, but what we know is that much of this is just inexplicable, not only by medical science, it’s inexplicable theologically except to affirm simultaneously that God is good and God is all-powerful.

And so in some sense, unknown and unknowable to us, but certainly known to God, this is what in his view and in His sovereign will was right and good, for reasons that if we knew would also be unquestionably right and good.

This does not mean that in a fallen world we say that a tumor’s good or we say that a miscarriage is good, we are just saying that in the total context of the sovereignty of God, he means good for his own. And we just have to hold on to that.

And I want to offer one other word of which I am absolutely sure, which I hope will encourage you. And that is this, I am absolutely certain that your little one is loved by God and is absolutely safe with the Creator who himself said, “Let there be life.”

Part V

What is the Meaning of the Term ‘Catholic’ in the Apostles’ Creed? What Does the Apostles’ Creed Mean When It References the Communion of the Saints? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Very interesting, next, that we get two questions on the Apostles’ Creed. I’m proud to say I wrote a book on the Apostles’ Creed. My exposition is simply entitled, by the way, The Apostles’ Creed, still very much in print. There are two questions here. The first listener asks, “What is the meaning of the term “catholic” in the Apostles’ Creed?” She asked the question, “Is the presence of the word “catholic” in the Apostles’ Creed the reason it’s not recited in Baptist churches?”

Well, the answer is, it has often been recited in Baptist churches, but there is a certain linguistic issue, and I deal with this in the book, and this is easily documented, the word “catholic” there does mean universal, in the sense the church everywhere, including all the redeemed in Christ. It’s simply a statement of the ultimate unity of the redeemed in Christ.

So you can use the word or not use the word. In the Creed, it should be not a capitalized word as in the name of any religious group, but rather as an uncapitalized C, as a modifier of the church. It is indeed the church made up of all the redeemed, throughout all the ages, to the glory of God by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The second question is about the phrase, “I believe in the communion of saints.” And the question is just how do we as evangelical Protestants believe in the communion of saints?

Well, we believe in the communion of saints in the biblical sense, which is not in the sense of praying for the intercession of the saints, but rather for praying with the understanding that with the Lord Jesus Christ, the saints will reign and are even now present with Christ. And those before the throne are pleased with the things that please the Lord, they’re displeased with the things that displease Him, and there is a sense in which the communion of the saints means that we are in communion right now with all believers throughout all the ages, no matter where they may have been found or are found right now.

There is a fellowship, perhaps that’s a word that would better communicate a Protestant understanding, there is a fellowship of the saints, past, present and future, that is absolutely precious and non-negotiable in biblical terms. But we do not pray for the intercession of the saints, we celebrate the fact that we are in fellowship with the saints.

Part VI

What is Satan’s Purpose and Goal? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, a question about Satan.

This is a good place for us to end today. The question is straightforward, “What is Satan’s purpose and goal?” Now, there would be many biblical texts to which we could turn, and of course, this goes back to the very beginning of the Scripture itself. But I think the best way to summarize Satan’s ambition, purpose and goal is this; he wants to glorify himself and rob God of his glory. That appears to be the entire summation of the sinister and indeed, by definition, diabolical plan of Satan. He wants to rob God of his glory, and he wants to rob God of that glory and give it unto himself. This is perhaps most graphically and clearly demonstrated in the temptations of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.

Satan wants the glory, he wants to rob God of his glory, he wants to grab it for himself. And he will use human beings as his co-conspirators in that effort to rob God of his glory. And it’s a good and precious thing that the Scripture tells us in advance what that conspiracy is, in order that we have no excuse not to know it.

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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