Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hacking Agag to Pieces

Before the month is over, I wanted to draw your attention to one of the most supercharged scenes from our film of the month, A Raisin in the Sun. In just over 90 seconds, some big issues are placed side by side in a battle of wills - God's vs. Man's. Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) claims that there is no God. She believes that God is simply "a matter of ideas" and proudly asserts that she is sick and tired of God getting credit for all the glorious achievements of mankind. Her mother (Phylicia Rashad) puts an abrupt end to her line of thinking:

There were a lot of things that went through my mind when I first saw this scene in the movie. But one thing I am not accustomed to is seeing a grown woman being slapped in the face by her mother. At first, watching Mrs. Younger shake her daughter and insist that she repeat the words: "In my mother's house, there is still God!" may seem like a bit much. This is not a ten-year-old child. This is a grown woman who is applying to medical school. But there is biblical evidence to support the idea that Mrs. Younger's reaction was necessary and appropriate.

I am reminded of John MacArthur's book, The Vanishing Conscience, in which an entire chapter is titled, "Hacking Agag to Pieces." You may remember the story in 1 Samuel 15. Saul was commanded to kill the Amalekites and spare no one. But instead Saul spared Agag, King of the Amalekites, along with the best of the livestock. When Samuel discovered what Saul had done, he rebuked Saul and the Bible simply says he took out his sword and "hacked Agag to pieces."

A bit extreme, no? Samuel didn't have to get so gruesome, did he? Why not simply strike Agag with a sword? Was it really necessary to hack him to itty bitty pieces? The gory scene is indicative of what God wants us to do with our sin. MacArthur states in his sermon, "Hacking Agag to Pieces:"
There are some Amalekites running around loose in everybody's life. We all have our Agags. And the problem in our Christian lives is not that sin has not been defeated with a crushing defeat, it has but there is still remaining sin. There are some loose iniquitous Amalekites in all of us. And though there was a great and glorious and triumphant defeat at the time of our salvation, there is the necessity that the remaining sins be hacked to pieces or they will revive, they will plunder our hearts and sap our spiritual strength. We cannot be merciful with the Agags of our life. We cannot be merciful with the remaining sins in our life or they will turn and create an insurrection and a rebellion to attempt to destroy us.

Sometimes our sins are "just a matter of ideas." We are unhappy in a marriage, and we have an idea: "God doesn't want me to be unhappy!" Before we know it, we have an affair. Perhaps we are struggling with trials. We have an idea: "The Christian life doesn't work!" Before long, we have stopped reading our Bible and given up completely. In Beneatha's case, the idea is that there is no God, and since there is no God, she thinks she deserves the credit for everything she's ever achieved. This is a powerful example of idolatry. Beneatha has literally pushed God off the throne and has seated herself on it instead. Beneatha's idolatry is obvious. But when we choose to keep certain little sins as "pets," we are committing idolatry as well. Truly, Beneatha has a problem that goes far beyond "a matter of ideas". But what about the rest of us? What ideas have we chosen to spare, when God has ordered us to hack them to pieces?

When we consider Samuel's reaction to Saul's decision to spare Agag, we can see why Mrs. Younger reacted the way she did to these "ideas." And we should have the same attitude toward these types of ideas in our own lives. Racism, sexism, murder of the unborn, sexual perversions, and other types of rebellion are justified in our society today because they are simply viewed as "a matter of ideas." If we do not labor tirelessly to hack these ideas to death, we will see them make their way into the fabric of the church. Matthew Henry puts it nicely in his commentary on Colossians 3:
It is our duty to mortify our members which incline to the things of the world. Mortify them, kill them, suppress them, as weeds or vermin which spread and destroy all about them. Continual opposition must be made to all corrupt workings, and no provision made for carnal indulgences. Occasions of sin must be avoided: the lusts of the flesh, and the love of the world; and covetousness, which is idolatry; love of present good, and of outward enjoyments. It is necessary to mortify sins, because if we do not kill them, they will kill us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

They're Not Really People At All

One of the most important exchanges of dialogue in our April Film of the Month, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, occurs when Bruno's father tries to help Bruno understand why he needs to stay away from the Jews in the concentration camp, which Bruno, in his childhood innocence, thinks is a farm. In an attempt to help the boy understand why these people are shackled and living in a cage, Bruno's father explains, "The thing is Bruno, those people - well you see . . . they're not really people at all."

So many of us have looked at photos of the Holocaust and asked, "How could one human being do something like this to another?" The answer lies in Bruno's father's reasoning - they're not really people at all. Present within this statement is the admission that human life is sacred. In other words, if we were talking about humans, such acts would be unmistakably heinous, horrible, and downright evil atrocities. But if we are not talking about humans, then what is happening to them is not immoral. And since they are not really people, we can justify killing six million of these vile creatures and not feel the slightest guilt about it. In fact, we can feel good about ourselves for what we've done, i.e. "The Jews would have destroyed our country." This is not the most glamorous undertaking, however it must be done for the greater good of all mankind. Murder is wrong. But we're not committing murder. You see, they're not really people at all.

If we were talking about humans, such acts would be unmistakably heinous, horrible, and downright evil atrocities. But if we are not talking about humans, then what is happening to them is not immoral.The Holocaust was not the only time such rationalization was used to excuse human cruelty and genocide. For hundreds of years, American families owned, bred, and sold African slaves. Once again, looking back on history, we can shudder at the thought of these poor souls being packed together in slave ships, tight as sardines, with no food, water, or variation in movement for months on end. We don't understand how people could justify allowing these people to lie in a puddles of their own urine and feces as they made the trip from Africa to become their slaves, but they did. The white slave traders were full of the same rationalizations as the Nazis.

Some would argue that they didn't want to keep slaves, but it was a necessary evil. Their personal financial situation would not allow them the luxury of setting them free. "Who will work the crops?" They'd say. "My family could not survive without slaves! You don't understand my situation." Others would argue that slavery was more humane than freedom: "These people don't know how to read. They are incapable of problem solving. They would never make it on their own. As slaves, they are given food, clothing, and a roof over their heads. Making them slaves is the best thing we can do for them." Of course, the reason we got ourselves into this situation is simple: slavery is not immoral to begin with. These Africans are savage beasts, akin to apes and monkeys. To put them to work, beat them into submission, and discipline them harshly is not immoral. You see, they're not really people at all.
We can look at all these injustices throughout history and see the wisdom of the Bible. There is nothing new under the sun:
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
"See, this is new?"
It has already been in ancient times before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

A generation comes, and a generation goes. Each believes it is smarter than the last, yet because people are all depraved, none of it is new. It's just the same sin, recycled, repackaged, and put out into the world. We look back on the injustices that were committed during the American slave trade and thank God we are so much wiser now. We reflect upon the Holocaust and promise ourselves that we will never allow something like this to happen ever again. Oh, but there is nothing new under the sun.

Today, a young woman waits nervously for her appointment. As she fills out the paperwork detailing her medical history, she tries to drown out the voices calling out to her from outside. They are saying, "Come away from this place! Don't commit this wicked act!" She would much rather not go through with the procedure. But she doesn't have a choice. "I could never survive if I didn't go through with this. They don't understand my situation." She glances briefly out the window, and tries to read the poster signs they are holding. They are telling her she is about to commit murder, but she comforts herself in the fact that what she is doing is a necessary evil. "The child could grow up in an abusive family. This is the most humane thing I can do," she rationalizes. She knows she must go through with this now, before it grows any more. The people calling to her outside are telling her it is a human life. Judging from the pictures, it certainly looks human. But she sticks to her guns, and turns her back on those pleading with her to come out of the building and let them help her.

Really, those fanatics are just overreacting. After all, it is just a blob of tissue, is it not? Oh reader, atrocious as our past history has been, this time, it really is different. It is not immoral to kill these blobs of tissue we have labeled a "fetus." You see, they're not really people at all.

Click here to see signs from the Genocide Awareness Project, courtesy of (Warning: graphic images.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

See 'Em with Your Heart

There are times when TV and theatrical productions can illustrate great truths about sin better than words alone could explain. Take a look at the following clip from the 1977 made-for-TV miniseries, Roots, which features two separate scenes that convey the same message: we cannot judge people by the way they look:

In the first segment, Bud's father Tom has been whipped by the KKK after bringing evidence of their guilt to the Sheriff. Bud tells Martha "I'm going to kill those white men someday," and she tells him, "Hate 'em for what they done, but not because they's white." (And in case you're wondering, that is indeed a very young and adorable Todd Bridges playing the role of Bud.)

In the second segment, we see Chicken George reunited with his wife Matilda after a long separation. As they settle in for the night, Tilda says to her husband, "Good thing you come home after dark, George, cuz I's so old and ugly I might scare you to death." Her husband looks at her tenderly and says, "I don't see you with my eyes, honey. I sees you with my heart."

The great thing about these scenes is that the first segment tells us what our response to sin should be: love, not hate. The second tells us how we muster up the faith to respond that way: we see 'em with our hearts. "That's sweet," you say, "But thankfully I don't hate people because they're black, white, or elderly. So this doesn't apply to me." Are you sure about that?

How many times have you said or thought the following (or something like it):
"Men are pigs."
"Men only want one thing."
"Men think with their 'other' head."
"He's a man. Don't expect much."
"Men are stupid."
"Men are inept and can't do anything without a woman's help."
"Men are all the same."
"All of the good ones are married or gay."
"What are you talking about? There are no good men, period."
"I hate men. I hate 'em!"

I once hated men. I figured they were all the same. I remain single because throughout my 20's and early 30's I would not consider the slightest possibility that marriage was worth the price I'd have to pay to submit to "sexual slavery." I hated men because I thought they were all sexist. What a hypocrite I was. The pot doesn't get more prejudiced against the kettle than that!

The world is full of beautiful, godly men. All you need to do is open your heart and look around!The man who inspired this very blog hurt me, defrauded me, and treated me as though I was a "game" to be played instead of a sister in Christ. To make matters worse, he never repented when confronted with his sin. I hate what he did. I hate when any man behaves this way. But I don't hate men for being men. Some of you reading this have gone through much worse than my experience being defrauded in a romantic situation. Some of you have been physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by men. Some of you are children of absent fathers. Some of you are ex-wives of unfaithful husbands. What these men did is irresponsible, hurtful, and sinful. We hate what they've done. But we cannot hate men because they're men. We cannot hate them at all.

As Martha tells Bud, hating whites for being white makes him no different from the men who whipped his Daddy. Does hating men for being men make us any better than the men who took advantage of us for being women? Does it make us feel any better for hating them? Women's Liberation certainly deserves some credit for establishing equal rights for women, but did it end the distrust we have for men? Listen, no Civil Rights movement, no Women's Lib, no Sexual Revolution, or any other political or social cause is going to change what we see with our eyes. If we insist on seeing only the hurt and abuse and injustices that have been done to women throughout the ages, we will never see an end to hatred.

If there are men in your life that you are disrespecting, simply because they are men, I urge you to "see 'em with your heart." Too many of us have our vision obstructed by past hurts to notice, but the world is full of beautiful, godly men. All you need to do is open your heart and look around!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

--Langston Hughes

Our film of the month takes its name from a line in the preceding poem. A Raisin in the Sun is Lorraine Hansberry's classic play about a family struggling to find their dreams and identity in 1950's America.

Year: 2008 (Not Rated)
Directed by Kenny Leon, based on the play by Lorraine Hansberry.
Starring Phylicia Rashad, Sean Combs, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and John Stamos.
Setting: Chicago, 1950's.

Content warning: There is the mild profanity during a scene when Walter (Sean Combs) is drunk. We also see one scene where Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) takes the Lord's name in vain repeatedly, however she receives a strong rebuke by her mother (Phylicia Rashad). This film has a happy ending.

1. Respect for Men (even when they screw up). Walter makes a very bad financial decision that nearly robs his entire family of their dreams. When the temptation to withdraw respect for his leadership rears its ugly head, his mother continues to believe in him.

2. The Search for Identity. My favorite character in this story is Beneatha, who is desperately trying to find herself. She searches high and low for meaning, and tries to define her identity through activities (like horseback riding) and African culture. Our true selves will eventually shine through, despite our numerous attempts to become someone we feel is more glamorous or important than who we were born to be.

3. The Lure of Success. What is success? Is it defined by money? Happiness? Love? Freedom? What lengths will we go to achieve it? What happens when our plans are ruined? Are we at peace, knowing that God is in control, or have we given up hope for a brighter tomorrow?

The play was adapted for the screen twice before: 1961, (starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee), 1989 (with Danny Glover and Esther Rolle). Both Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee were also members of the original Broadway cast.

Click here to go to the official website. The official trailer is below: