“You can’t trust your feelings.” “Don’t make emotional decisions.” “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The heart and its strong feelings are clearly to be held in check in many contexts. But who can love an aloof and unemotional man who goes through life without feeling? A man without emotions is hard to love.
In the context of buying your next car, planning a great vacation, and choosing a college, this advice to “be more rational than emotional” is warranted. To put too much emotional energy into these decisions may lead us to spend too much money and to focus so much on the event planned that it becomes an all-consuming preoccupation, almost an idol. It may even be true that we stop gathering facts to make the best decision because we are already emotionally committed. But emotions are vital to Christian friendships! When we develop relationships with others, we want their heart…and its emotions. Emotions connect us relationally to others. They communicate value to us. Emotions motivate us to action.
Emotions Connect Us Relationally to Others
Love is a determination to do another good. We are called to love our neighbors and even love our enemies. Christians are called to do good to others, to love them. We interact with, help, and always leave a reason for others to ask us of the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). We may even be told that although we may not like them we are still called to love them.
But Christian friendship is more than a determination to do another good. Our good God created man with good emotions. Our Christian friendships, by God’s design, are also emotional. Emotional Adam, in the garden of Eden, was connected to God with more than a determination to do him good. There was faith, a bond of fellowship and friendship between God and his people. “Fellowship and friendship” is emotional language. They walked together in the cool of the day because of the faith (fellowship and friendship) with which God joined them.
Christian love has an authenticity and is fuller than being determined to do your friend good. Romans 12 instructs us in how to use our bodies as living sacrifices. Verse 9 tells us to not have a love that is deceitful or fake. That could be dating because you like the idea of dating or being attracted to another because you like to be seen with him. Deceitful love may be pursuing a relationship, not for the person, but for the conquest. Romans 12:15 helps us understand what real Christian friendship is. We are to rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep. Real Christian friendship necessarily involves the emotions.
Christian friendships so connect us emotionally to others that some guard their hearts for fear of getting hurt should the relationship deteriorate. Perhaps friend groups dissolved in the past, and now we feel as if we have been “replaced” by others. We feel betrayed. To allow new relationships to grow is to be emotionally vulnerable. Some find safety with inauthentic digital games and would rather not face the real world of relationships. These never have deep relationships because they go through life too guarded. Nobody can break into them. Here’s what C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves has to say about that: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Christian young men, women want your hearts. To be handy, humorous, and handsome will only get you so far with the future mothers of Israel. To tie the knot you have to be emotionally involved. Christian husbands, your wives need your hearts. To keep the knot tightly tied, be emotionally attached. Love without dissimulation. Genuinely weep with that woman. Rejoice with her, too.
Christian marriages experience times of difficulty. Partners can grow apart and be estranged. Being confronted with a wife’s lack of love, a husband may come up with a long list of all that he does in the home, in the yard, and with the kids, and how he helps his wife. But conspicuously lacking from that list will be emotional connections, the sharing of life from the heart. Christian friendships are heartfelt. They are emotional.
Emotions Communicate Value
God created us with emotions. God never produces an aspect of creation without reason or intent. One purpose of emotions is to tie us relationally to others; another is to inform us and others of our values. Emotions communicate. When we value our car we have an emotional response when it is damaged. The same is true in our Christian friendships.
Our emotions inform us of the Christian friendships that we most value by our emotions. Although we are called to love all, we value some members of the body more than others. The husband and wife love one another more deeply than they love other members of the church. We value them more. We are emotionally involved with them to a greater extent. I’m fascinated by the fact that there was a “disciple whom Jesus loved.” What does that mean? Does not God love all Christians equally? Did the man Jesus value John more or feel closer to John than to the other disciples? It seems to be so. Christ knew whom he loved most by his attachment to them; and that disciple knew it too. Emotions communicate value to us, but that communication flows out to others as well.
Jesus communicated his valuing of others in an interesting way at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus wept. Jesus got emotional. We don’t read of Jesus weeping en route from Bethany to Jerusalem as he walked with his disciples. Jesus does not seem to have wept at receiving the knowledge of Lazarus’ sickness and death. Our Lord knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so there was not the pain of personal separation. But when first Martha and then Mary wept, then Jesus could not contain himself, and he wept too. Remember that Jesus loved Mary and Martha (John 11:5). Martha was the industrious one who was working in the home, but Mary loved Jesus and clung to his words. Not when just Martha was near Jesus, but when Mary joined Martha, did Jesus weep. “When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33). Then Jesus wept. Jesus valued, loved, was emotionally attached to Mary and Martha. Seeing their great grief, he was touched by their infirmities and wept with them. He wept with those who wept because he loved them. Emotions, both seen and unseen, communicated value. No doubt Mary and Martha remembered for the rest of their lives that day when Jesus wept with them. He communicated value in that weeping.
Emotions Motivate Us to Action
A final way that emotions aid Christian friendships is that they motivate us to action. We ought to mind our emotions. Christian young people, maintain and invest in your relationships, especially those that touch you.
The church is designed by God to include many members whose bowels of compassion are not shut. We have emotions that stir us up. We give bread to the hungry, we clothe the naked, and we give cups of cold water to our thirsty friends. Good, genuine, godly emotions drive us to unselfish action, and by those actions we serve Christ. Think about that. God gave us emotions that drive us to serve Christ! Inevitable fruits of faith. We live in community with his body. Listen to your emotions. Be stirred up. Love one another. Love Christ.
A Concluding Warning
We praise God for the good gift of emotions. Our emotions drive us to action, communicate value to us, and help knit us together. But the reality is that we live in a fallen world, and our emotions did not escape the fall. Some teen boys and girls react to their emotions in negative ways. Teen boys are quick to fight, while teen girls are quick to become jealous or feel betrayed. The high school drama that results from friends sitting by others in the library, or hanging out with others on weekends, or even vacationing with others is shameful. We ought to rejoice that more friendships are being made rather than being jealous and overly possessive of “our” friends. Although emotions drive us to jealousy and anger, logic would lead us to understand that the members of the body are being knit together with more and more bonds. Our emotional reactions distort the work that Christ is doing in his body. We need to learn to live life less defensively. Sometimes we need to learn to share our friends with Christ.
Wisdom demands that we engage with our emotions rather than react to them. As much as possible, notice that an emotion is affecting you. Next, evaluate that emotion. Ask yourself why you are feeling like that. Is there a righteous origin, or is it of sin? Finally, act purposefully. Don’t be quick to speak or quick to wrath (James 1:19).
Many of these ideas are not my own but instead were found in a book about emotions called Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith. You may want to add this book to your summer reading list.
Originally published August 2020, Vol 79 No 8
Characteristics of a Godly Man
Jon Van Overloop
A man’s man is real tough
He avoids what’s just fluff
Occasionally has to be rough
Always nurtures good stuff.
Boys aspire to become men. They want to have big muscles and become the nurturing leaders that their fathers so naturally exemplify. Boys see their fathers as men who are active. They use each day with purpose. They set themselves to a task. They have agency. That is, they shape the world in which they live. They care for the people and things in their lives. Boys learn that men nurture the people and projects for which they care. They aim to fix what they can. Boys also learn that men aggressively fight for those causes that they consider right.
Neither of the above descriptions are explicitly Christian, but I’ll argue that both are in harmony with 1 Timothy 6:11–12. Those verses have the following to say about the man of God: “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
Men flee. Men flee when unnecessary hurt is imminent. Strong and tough men flee! Imagine a lumberman doing good work cutting down a tree. He does the work and flees a safe distance as the tree falls. Men flee when they are up to bat and notice an errant pitch curving towards them. It’s foolish to remain and get hit by the ball unnecessarily. Fighting military men also flee. Even the greatest generals survey the battlefield and plan retreat locations should the battle not go well. It’s smart to flee. It’s even manly to flee. Men recognize their vulnerabilities and guard against them, and in the smart dodging of unnecessary blows they show themselves strong.
The strong and tough Christian man also flees. No matter his earthly physique, he flees. There are many engagements with which men ought to tangle, but others which men need to flee. “O man of God, flee these things” in 1 Timothy 6 refers to avoiding the snares of worldliness and false doctrine. Men understand that the fight against evil is a real militaristic engagement with a dangerous enemy. Not out of fear, but instead by sanctified wisdom, men flee. The worldly lure of life’s physical pleasures is a strong temptation and a very real danger. Our natural man can desire the latest recreational vehicle, the full sound of high-end headphones, an enormous TV half the size of our wall, and the latest smart devices, all of which bring a world of entertainment to our fingertips. But the Christian man knows the cost of such engagements and, as necessary, he flees. The damage done can be the loss of hundreds of hours of income. The fool and his money is soon parted, after all (Prov. 21:20). More importantly, the higher cost or damage is paid in exposure to the filth of the world, a damaged conscience, lack of knowledge of school curricula, loss of knowledge of catechism answers, loss of time with parents and friends, lack of development of a mind capable of deep thought, lack of developing into an interesting person, and an underdeveloped sense of the majesty of God.
Young men, be smart about your entanglements with worldly fluff. Be a man and flee.
Men Pursue Important Things
Men wisely flee when they may get hurt unnecessarily, but men also aggressively pursue important things. For example, men are aggressive and even violent when playing sports. Men also exert themselves at their work. They bend their backs and strain their muscles to get the job done. When the driveway needs shoveling, the snow flies. When walls need building, piles of lumber transform into rigid walls. When the car needs waxing, the rags whirl.
Strong and tough Christian men also doggedly pursue important things. They “nurture the right stuff.” No matter their earthly physique, Christian men violently chase what is worthy. Matthew 11:12 expresses it this way: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” This is a description of the Christian man. The Christian man is violent and takes the kingdom of God by force. Across time Christian men have snatched on tightly or seized or embraced the kingdom. Jacob, wrestling with the angel, said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26). Right doctrine, right living, and genuine love of God are seized on by Christian men. When the light of the gospel of grace shines into men’s hearts, the result is that they have no doubt about what is real, what is valuable, what is worth their best effort…and they get violent to have it.
Specifically, 1 Timothy 6:11 says that Christian men seize on or follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. Men nurture these attributes in themselves and in others. No doubt you recognize these to be the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Christ’s instrument of faith excites men’s souls with the result that they give themselves for the kingdom causes and take on and express these attributes. They desire to support the ministry, be involved in church activities, support their struggling family members, develop good friendships, and find their way into solid careers. Yes, even their careers are viewed as directives from God on how God would have them to engage with and benefit their community. Good men push away distractions and sacrifice other earthly pleasures to create opportunities to engage with these and many more great activities.
Young men, get in hot pursuit of godliness.
Men Respond to Encouragement
Men are not stubbornly individualistic, but instead are energized by the encouragement of others. The football player who makes an important tackle gets a good chest bump or helmet knock from his teammates and is excited to exert himself again in the next play. Effective cross country coaches have high demands for their runners but also shout incentives, knowing how they themselves respond to encouragement. Exhausted warriors rally one another to repel the enemy one more time.
The strong and tough Christian man also welcomes and is spurred on by encouragement. Men nurture others. No matter their earthly physique, they are energized by encouragement. 1 Timothy 6:12 says it this way: “lay hold on eternal life.” The promise of reward comforts and inspires. Eternal life with Christ is surely coming. There’s no doubt in our minds. The time of stress and struggle will be short compared to all of eternity in heaven. As long as we have breath we will work.
Saul’s son Jonathan, at great personal risk, sought out David in the wilderness of Ziph and strengthened David’s hand in God (1 Sam. 23:16). Jonathan reassured David of God’s promises to him. David was to rule a nation for God’s sake and conquer the enemies. David was encouraged and pressed on in his work. Eternal life awaits. For now he must be about his Father’s business. God the Father does not leave us without incentive as we live our lives for him. We “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). We have incentive to make the right choices, “[k]nowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). Christian men are energized and encouraged by these passages. We will receive a reward not on the basis of our good efforts but according to and consistent with those efforts.
Christian men nurture and encourage one another to continue to run the race. The pain is acute. The sacrifice is lengthy. The reward is fabulous.
Young men, lay hold on eternal life, pursue godliness, and flee from unnecessary dangers. These are three characteristics of godly men.
Jon Van Overloop teaches at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, MI, and attends Zion PRC in Hudsonville, MI with his family.
Originally published March 2020, Vol 79 No 3
“I’m working for the weekend.” “Life’s a beach.” TGIF—Thank Goodness It’s Friday. These and many other messages promote the idea that work is drudgery, only a necessity, and that real living is a vacation, relaxation, and lounging. Our society overemphasizes lounging and minimizes man’s need for labor.
But God created man to labor and to lounge only in moderation. He created man with a nature that needs labor. God said, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth…Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:26, 28) “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15) Rev. Herman Hoeksema taught that these verses indicate that man has an irresistible impulse to labor with the creation and develop it. He described this impulse as a “cultural urge.” (Christian and Culture, 1940) The word culture has to do with the development and growth of something because of human influence. Agriculture is the development and good use of a field. Aviculture has to do with the development and growth of a population of birds. Bacteria are cultured when they are grown and developed for a purpose. That man has a cultural urge means that man has a need, a deep internal need, to work with creation and develop it.
Adam had a cultural urge, and that urge has been passed along to us. We also have a fundamental need to be productive. We can’t help but work. We labor to satisfy a human need. It’s not just the need to put food on the table or to pay the bills. Instead, we also labor because we are human. Laboring is like an itch that needs to be scratched. Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 are not merely commandments that God placed in Scripture as a description of what man was instructed to do. “Go and work the garden.” Rather they are commands spoken into us. These commands affected the fabric of man’s soul. Laboring is now a part of our nature. Birds fly, fish swim, and men work. Man is driven to seek out work, to be productive, to develop things. This urge needs to be satisfied. Man is restless when not productive. Not only physical labor is necessary for our soul, but mental labor is also good work that soothes the soul. The doctor and the ditch digger, the author and the artisan, the teacher and the tailor, the counselor and the cook go home satisfied as a result of their labor. A life of lounging is unsatisfying. Young person, keep this perspective of labor. Don’t work for a living but work to live.
Before the fall, Adam joyfully labored with the wonderful properties that his Friend placed in the creation. God filled the earth with powers and properties that were intended to be discovered, understood, and then used by man; not for our own glory but instead to better serve his God and give him glory. Certainly Adam walked with God in the cool of the day as a major aspect of their relationship, but Adam also enjoyed his God when God was not physically present. Adam worked in the garden, was amazed at the physical properties he found and enjoyed engaging with those properties. With labor, by labor, through labor, Adam had yet another way to enjoy and love his God.
It is interesting to note that Jesus himself, before beginning his public ministry was known as a carpenter! Jesus worked the wood around Nazareth. He crafted useful products. Manual labor was not below him. He wanted to work. He felt an urge to work. Manual labor was part of his sinless and faithful service to his Father.
Man is satisfied when he knows he has purpose, when he is able to scratch his cultural urge itch. What a great punishment it is when one is forced to live life without purpose. Failure to have a sense of purpose is one of the greatest trials of the teenager. Teens groan and complain because they don’t feel purposefully directed. They have to “find themselves.” Some Christian counselors will encourage those who have depression to be useful, to go to work, as one small part of the therapy given. Lack of significant work was the peculiar punishment that the mythological figure Sisyphus had to endure. He was forced by the gods to roll a boulder up a slope to a summit. Just as he reached the summit, the boulder would roll back down, and Sysyphus had to repeat that pointless and wearisome effort over and over. The Greeks understood the penalty of pointless work. Interestingly the right to have meaningful work is a human right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the United Nations after World War II. It was so demeaning to pointlessly haul piles of rocks and sand back and forth day after day that it is now a protected right to subject others to work only with purpose, even as a prisoner. The Christian employer ought to take this to heart and point out to the man on the assembly line why his position is important and why his particular job ought to be done well. The employee may feel that they are only one cog in a big wheel. But cogs have significance, and satisfied cogs are those that see the scope of the whole.
Actively being employed in labor is necessary for a satisfied soul, and our good God gives what is needed. He covenantally gives labor to his people. In Isaiah 28:23–29 Isaiah makes it clear that knowing when and how to plant, cultivate, and harvest a crop, as well as which tool to use and how and when to use that tool, are all given from the Lord. How to cultivate different crops in various soils and the skill of using properly crafted tools is tied to God’s good guidance in this chapter. Rather than being characterized as dreary labor, work is described as a gift given by God. In love God teaches us how to produce from the treasures of the earth. With knowledge and skill God equips us for earthly life. “Lord” in Isaiah 28:28, 29 reference Jehovah, our covenant God. “This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working” (v.28). It is the covenant God that teaches the godly craftsman his skill. Adequately equipped for work, man’s soul is satisfied, he fellowships with God as he interacts with God’s creation, he elevates the physical existence of his neighbors, he provides for the poor, he skillfully uses talents given, and he maintains the kingdom causes. The text ends with “This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in doing.” God glorifies himself as he guides his people to produce a well-plowed field, a shingled roof, good software programs, and a finely tailored suit or a good loaf of bread. We lovingly serve him as we labor. Labor, rightly pursued, is a covenantal activity.
Of all the generations that have ever existed, your generation is far more equipped for working in God’s kingdom. Adam labored with little. God’s eternal counsel has delivered fantastic cultural advancements into your hands. Are you using them for God’s glory as you ought? You’ve been given much, and now much is required. Avoid digital distraction! Limit your hours lounging in front of the television. Your generation no longer has to work many hours just to put food on the table or to bring water into your homes. You have air conditioning and electric lighting to keep your minds alert and fresh. Be thankful for the spiritual but also cultural inheritance you’ve been given. What a gift! What a responsibility! Let’s labor with this abundance of riches. Lounge in moderation. Labor in love.
There is something special about being in a relationship. The desire for companionship, already present in childhood, takes on more urgency as we pass through adolescence into adulthood. To desire a relationship is good and natural. Solomon says that “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). God expressed the goodness of relationships to himself in the creation week. “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). Next, God made the value of relationships evident to Adam as Adam named the animals. The cattle, the beast of the field, and the fowl of the air were all paraded before Adam. In the process of naming the animals, Adam quickly realized that no creature was similar to him. None were rational and moral as he was. None could walk and talk with God at the spiritual level that he could. None were created in the image of God as he was. Such was Adam’s great need for companionship that although Adam had a right relationship with God, Adam was unfulfilled as the only human. He was alone. The Holy God, himself said so! “It is not good that the man should be alone” (v. 18). After Eve was created, Adam expresses the joy of having another like him with the words, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23). It was not good that Adam was alone with no one created as he was. Now with Eve as the second image bearer of God, Adam had companionship. That was good…even very good.
The fact that both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image impacted their relationship. The character qualities that God’s image imprinted on their souls enhanced the relationship that they enjoyed. The instruction of Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24 define the image of God as possessing true knowledge, true righteousness, and true holiness. The verses following these texts give abundant practical examples of “image qualities” that benefited their relationship. Some examples include speaking truth, not holding grudges, edifying one another, being kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, having humbleness of mind, and using the greatest gift of charity.
Think about dating relationships as you read what the Canons of Dordt, Head 3/4 Article 1 says about the image of God. “Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy.” Their hearts were full of love (true knowledge) for God and one another. They lived to serve God (true holiness). They enjoyed living according to God’s will (true righteousness).
Let’s focus on true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as they can be applied to our relationships. The result of this study ought to demonstrate that the relationships that Christians have with one another are of a higher quality and different character than the relationships of the ungodly. Please note that the examples given are by no means exhaustive and that each example given could easily be applied to the other aspects of the image of God.
The Christian’s whole life, but also his dating ought to demonstrate true knowledge. True knowledge has to do with knowing God in a personal way such that we love him. True knowledge is informed love that comes by the instrument of faith. “For whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29) means; “For whom he did for love.” When the Bible speaks of Adam knowing his wife Eve (Gen. 4:1), it means that Adam loved Eve.
True knowledge of God gives us both a motivation for serving the other, and it gives us discernment in our dating. To love is to be determined to work for the good or benefit of another. Knowing and loving God is also knowing and loving his body, the church…and our friend. In serving the least of these our brethren, we serve (love) Christ (Matt. 25:40). Rather than dating to fill our needs and our desires we date to serve the other. The world dates to satisfy self—the Christian dates to serve other. Marriage is not for you. Instead, marriage is a relationship that better enables you to serve another. True knowledge also equips the Christian to know what God likes and dislikes. We are conscious to live as God requires of us in his word. With true knowledge (informed love) we will have the discernment only to pursue relationships with other Christians—whom we desire to serve.
The Christian’s whole life, but also his dating ought to demonstrate true righteousness. True righteousness has to do with delighting to live wholly in harmony with God’s will. As a couple, we will delight to live in devotional life. Perhaps we provide and encourage other couples to join us in good, creative, and entertaining group activities. In righteousness, we could take long walks enjoying and commenting on God’s good creation. Together we may try to capture creation’s beauty in photography, painting, or even poetry. Enjoying working with God’s good creation is a narrow aspect of the righteousness that we already have. Together we could craft an end table, a rocking chair, or a dresser. The man will delight in beginning to take headship and lead and nurture his friend, while the woman delights in being a creative loving responder. In righteousness, we might together take out a special needs friend or enjoy a meal with one of our aging grandparents.
Finally, Christian dating ought to demonstrate true holiness. True holiness has to do with a purity of mind and dedication to God’s service. Holiness is not just avoidance of sin but instead has a positive consecration quality to it. The holy instruments of the temple were those set aside exclusively for the direct service of God. Our relationships demonstrate holiness when they are dedicated to God, to church, and one another. Christian couples express holiness when they have devotions. They may also trace the news-worthy events of the day toward God and admire him in the movement of men and nations. A musically talented couple should consider playing and singing together as a way to worship God; not necessarily in an old people’s home, not necessarily in public, but instead as an act of private devotions. A dating couple could also demonstrate holiness by joining a group like Young Calvinists and prepare for the discussions together.
In Paradise, Adam and Eve had a fullness of earthly fellowship that will remain unparalleled until the new heavens and earth are created. Because they had the image of God without sin’s corruption, they were united emotionally, physically, and spiritually in a way that our relationships can’t be. Emotionally, they shared joys, shared the excitement of their faith, and shared an eager anticipation for their future. Physically, they embraced one another, desired to serve each other, and worked harmoniously in the garden. Spiritually, they loved God, lived consciously for him, and were amazed at his good creation. With his image imprinted on their souls, Adam and Eve were very good. Our relationships will not quite be like theirs was before the fall into sin. We will have to work at it. Be prepared to forgive one another’s sins, to forebear with one another’s weaknesses, but also be prepared to foster your relationships through the activity of your faith. Live in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with each other and toward God. Be united in faith and live out of that faith towards each other and your God.
The Christian’s personal relationships ought to be different from the relationships of the people of the world. We are new creatures. Our souls have new qualities. We have the image of God!
The smartphone is an amazing device. Its sleek, glassy screen enables us to connect with friends, watch TV, search the web, process email, take photographs, read books, play games, and even do our devotions. What’s not to love about that?
The answer may surprise you. It’s a lot, actually. There is evidence that our digital devices are changing our brains so that we have smaller attention spans, reduced comprehension, and are more forgetful.
In the past, people used to think that our brain was hard-wired, rigid, and relatively unchanging; like the hardware of your computer. But scientists today are astounded by the number of changes that are constantly occurring. Rather than being hard-wired, our brain is plastic. It is moldable, changeable. For example, every memory that you have is a result of brain cells connecting. Memory is stored in connected neurons. Reading this article will give you new memories. Neurons that never had before connected will now be touching, and that union will constitute a memory.
Some brain neurons are dedicated to forming a mental map of locations. The excessive use of GPS navigation in the last decade has caused a lack of connections in this area. The number of people that have lost the ability to know their geographic location is astounding. People no longer look at maps for planning routes. They don’t have a clear sense of direction. Reliance on GPS devices has caused this generation not to form a mental map of their world. Following the little blue line on the screen has resulted in a loss of spatial awareness. Although they’ve visited many cities, they are clueless about the location of one city compared to the next; nor do they know the major US highways like generations past. But mapping has little spiritual impact.
The lure of social media, online gaming, YouTube videos, and frivolous content is impairing the digital addict from valuable reading skill. This more important loss affects our knowledge of Jehovah as revealed in his word. The Biblical authors were fishermen, but they were also poetic, philosophical, trained in law, doctors, and lawyers. The Holy Spirit guided them to produce passages of scripture in the form of song, poem, metaphor, linear argument, and half-interpreted stories. If one’s brain is unpracticed at processing a novel, a nonfiction linear argument, or a good poem, then he is at a disadvantage. Digital media is dominated by the frivolous, easy to understand, short and sweet, terse, emotionally charged snippets of content. Digital media is shallow. But the word of God is clear but so, so deep.
Digital technology is also changing the way that our brains take in and process information. That’s of concern as well. I fear that the lure of the screen and the distraction of its notifications is shortening devotional time and leaving souls less sanctified. Your brain remembers not only facts but also stores processes. Learning to run efficiently with the right posture and stride is a procedure that can become an automatic habit over time as the mechanism is encoded in the brain. Learning to type and drive a stick-shift car are additional examples of procedural memory.
The procedure of reading on a digital device is stored in the brain in a different way than paper reading is. Reading on a digital device is not like reading a book. When reading on a digital device, your mind is constantly stimulated. There is the blue glow of the screen which shows us pictures, incoming notifications, hyperlinks to explore, menu buttons, and pop-up ads that all together keep our brains in a heightened state of alert. Also with the tap on the screen, you can check Facebook, Instagram, and your favorite blogs. Microsoft Windows just added a “People” button in their taskbar so that now you can “pin contacts to your taskbar and talk to them whenever.” As if I need yet another way to interact with people! I can no longer type a paper without seeing the “people button” and think about contacting someone. Stop the madness! By design and for profit, your digital devices are made to distract you. They are designed to capture your attention. The result is that the procedural memory of sustained, focused, deep, and linear thought remains underdeveloped. Although many words are read on a screen, the process of digital reading has taught our brains to crave a high level of stimulation. We are unknowingly making ourselves dissatisfied with paper books that inherently have a lower level of interactivity. Our brains become dissatisfied with the medium of paper and the longer deeper content that it contains. We zone out before we have grasped the scope of the whole argument. The result is that we don’t think deeply. We’ve become shallow. We ought to dampen down our overactive brain circuits with proper media so that what we focus. Reading without distraction forms the preferred reading procedural memory and results in deeper understanding.
In contrast to the buzz and glow of a screen, the thirsty soul of the meditative man of God thrives on a less distracting experience. In that lower key environment, the Holy Spirit applies the word so that it becomes the very air that he breathes. King David was a busy man and knew the value of a quiet environment. He woke up early while all was calm and during those early morning hours the king after God’s own heart meditated. Psalm 119:147-148: “I prevented [got up before] the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent [opened up before] the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” Psalm 63:1: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” A wise man places himself in a more subdued zone of stimulation that is profitable for his soul. And the Spirit, as the breath of the holy God, himself, nourishes that soul.
Our use of digital devices may also change how we experience and remember life. We are becoming more forgetful. Vivid and long-lasting memory of life’s experiences is formed when our senses are fully tuned into the experience. You’ve experienced these vivid memories. Your first time being completely out of control on a snowboard is burned into your mind. Now, imagine a long hike up to the top of a mountain. The hike is exhausting, you are sweating, and your leg muscles are burning. Upon reaching the summit, your focus goes to your smartphone. You think, “This is a prop for my online content. I’m going to stand on my head and get a picture taken. That will be great for my profile.” A few selfies and maybe a panorama later you head down excited to see the likes. But will you remember that experience vividly? In reality, you just converted a beautiful, rich, God-sculpted scene that he made for his glory into an instagrammable prop that you intend to use to glorify yourself. If that’s how you experience the summit of a mountain, then I would argue that you just exported an amazing multi-sensory memory out of your brain where it should have been stored and enjoyed for years to come and put it instead into your phone. You took an amazing experience that could have benefited you into old age and flattened it out into a two-dimensional image whose vividness will be greatly reduced in a year. A properly focused mind would have captured (truly captured!) the songs of the birds, the cool breeze, the fresh alpine scent, the stream at the base of the glacier, the colors of the birds hopping from rock to rock, the butterflies fluttering around that berry bush, and the layered mountain ranges with intermittent meadows and snowy peaks. Young people, don’t waste the experiences that God gives you by focusing on yourself! Your digital device is degrading your memory. The wise man who summits the mount will “stand still and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14).
If you think it a travesty to, by digital distraction, obscure the glory of God on a mountain top, then what about obscuring his glory in the Scriptures! Do your love of self and the world keep you from seeing his glory in the Scripture? Read, young people. Kingdom treasure is in the Scriptures. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt. 13:44).
Wise young people, buy the field! Expend your energy embracing the treasure. Forsake idle pursuits. Forsake idol pursuits, too.
*Jon Van Overloop teaches at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, MI, and attends Zion Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI with his family.
How dare anyone mock another of God’s precious children? How dare anyone laugh at the physical or mental limitations that God in his wisdom gives to one of his children! We all have thorns; physical and psychological problems that cause us to be inadequate. These thorns are given us by God for countless reasons. They cause us to hope for glory, lead the body of believers to aid one another, they teach us patience, and they also lead us to not glory in the abilities recognizing that they also are from God. How dare one member of Christ’s body make a mockery of another’s God-given limitations?
Perhaps a “slip of the tongue,” in an unguarded moment, can be understood and overlooked. The tongue, after all, is that powerful member of the body that no man can tame and is set on fire of hell (James 3). But the fingers, they don’t function as the tongue does. They make no sudden slips. The tongue may spew a stream of consciousness so that that which is present in the mind is formed into words by the tongue. That which is in the heart comes out at the mouth. But when the fingers do the talking, simple excuses fail. Consciousness does not pour out of our fingers. Our fingers only make intentional movements. Designed by God to do work and manipulate the world, our fingers are under the purposeful, resolute direction of our soul. How incredibly intentional and incredibly cruel is bullying when practiced by our fingers!
Online bullying is known as cyberbullying. Bullying occurs when a person repetitively abuses or mistreats others weaker than themselves. The internet has become a vehicle for bullying. The same repetitive and aggressive power displays that otherwise happen face to face is also done online. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog sites, email, online polls, and the comments section of news sites can all be used to shame and demean others.
Cyberbullying is committed when one takes an untimely picture of another and posts it all over social media with degrading comments. It happens when a poll is produced asking which of the following students is the biggest loser in the senior class. Cyberbullying occurs when a student directly messages another about the uncool clothes, shoes, styles, etc. that another wears. Cyberbullying can take the form of rumors that are fabricated and spread on social media. It happens when one student makes fun of a comment or post that was made in an online chatroom that includes multiple people. Finally, it can happen when a student produces a fake profile of another student and fills it with demeaning and embarrassing content.
The significance of cyberbullying is understood when one understands what the online environment has become. Originally, the internet was a medium for sharing information and promoting one’s business. Today it is a virtual or online public space. Similar to other public spaces, the internet is a place to gather, to gossip, to share stories, to make friendships, and to put one’s best face forward. Young people prefer to meet in real, physical, public spaces. They desire to meet at school, at the park, in the gym, at the beach, or at each other’s homes. But opportunity is limited, so this new virtual public space has become their public space to maintain sociability when they are otherwise restricted by time and their own demanding schedule. This public space is open 24 hours a day and can be accessed within seconds whenever there is a tiny break in their busy schedule.
Unlike the public spaces of the school playground, the gym, the library, and a friend’s home; there is no official monitor online. Those impulses that may otherwise be restrained by the presence and watchful eye of an authority are often not present online. As a result the conversation can quickly become ugly, and bullying comments are both produced and subsequently liked by others.
Cyberbullying is more intentional than other forms of bullying. One has to compose, edit, and then finally publish an online attack. Multiple opportunities to exercise self-control have to be suppressed before the missive is broadcast for other’s enjoyment.
What’s worse is that the public space of the internet is a competitive environment. With everyone posting it is hard to capture everyone else’s attention. Attention is the currency of the internet or the online status symbol of choice. When people post, they want a good number of number of looks, shares, retweets, and forwards. Bullies have discovered that exaggerated, harsh, humiliating, and degrading comments about others pay handsomely.
It can be argued that cyberbullying is more damaging than traditional bullying. Other forms occur when one is out in public. The victim could always retreat to their home. Today the home provides less protection. The computer, the tablet, and the smartphone are all open doors for additional attacks. Today’s victims of bullying have no place of escape.
The internet also makes the attacks much more public. At school the victim is degraded in front of those currently in ear shot. But the sound waves of the internet do not attenuate. The comments linger for all to see for days and weeks.
The internet’s public space provides a safety barrier behind which the bully can cower. Online media distance the bully from his victim. Hiding behind a screen gives those who otherwise are not bold enough to bully in person an opportunity to bully from a distance and bold bullies are less restrained. The immediate facial expressions of the victim are not seen, their cries are not heard, and so the taunts grow more aggressive and have a longer duration.
Cyberbullying is an issue of the heart. As the regenerate soul grows in conversion so that he hates his sin and lives a sanctified life he will stop his behavior of bullying. Addressing the heart of the bully can reduce the incidence of cyberbullying.
A Christian’s heart is affected by the preaching. May we all hear God’s command to love the neighbor, to seek the neighbor’s well-being, and may we be convicted of our sins.
A Christian’s heart is affected by friends. Degrading online comments will be seen in the public space that friends choose to occupy together. Close friends ought to go the way of Matthew 18 and admonish their erring brother. Repentance ought to be sought and forgiveness given.
A Christian’s heart is affected by adults. Parents, elders, ministers, and teachers ought to be present and actively monitoring the public spaces of the online world. Especially those that have authority over the platforms and devices that bullies use ought to be monitoring those devices. The teacher that produces a chatroom must monitor that room. The minister that chooses online platforms to interact with his sheep must be present in that environment.
A Christian’s heart is also affected by laws and punishments of the land. Cyberbullying is against the law. As of Oct. 1, 2015 all public school districts were compelled by law to adopt a policy against bullying and were authorized to execute that policy. The law stated that cyberbullying must be included in policies that these schools produced. The bullying policy must be implemented whenever a student uses school sanctioned sites for academic work. You can read about this yourself by searching Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 380—The Revised School Code, Act 451 of 1976, Section 1310b. Private schools ought to adopt similar policies to suppress the ungodly behavior of cyberbullying.
May God give us wisdom and love as we interact with one another. May the words of Psalm 19:14 guide our online and offline interactions, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
*Jon Van Overloop teaches at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, MI, and attends Zion Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI with his family.
Seventeen-year-old Leah was considered by her parents to be their perfect child. “Life would be easy if all our kids were like Leah,” they exclaimed to their friends. Leah really did have a great deal going for her. She was easy to raise, goal-oriented, reliable, hard working, and eager to please. The combination of these personality characteristics led her to various achievements. Leah learned her catechism well, became an honor student, excelled at volleyball, was named “most likely to succeed” in her grade-school yearbook, and was a first chair in her high-school band. Her parents felt good about how well things were going for her and had high expectations about her future. She seemed to be developing into a well-adjusted, confident, caring, and Christian young woman. All was well…at least from her parents’ perspective.
Although external appearances suggested that Leah was excelling, her inner life, her real life or soul life, plagued her. Beyond the intentional lessons at home, school and catechism, was what one might call the unintentional curriculum. This curriculum is comprised of the unintentional lessons conveyed by family, friends, and the culture in which she grew. These lessons taught Leah that in addition to Christ and kingdom, an important part of life is body and beauty. The very personality traits that from an outward perspective made Leah excel academically also made her try to achieve bodily. She succeeded easily with the one pursuit but struggled with the other. The goal-oriented, possibility-driven, and conscientious Leah was becoming a beauty-oriented, one-size-smaller driven, self-conscious woman who doubted her place in life and who was overly concerned about her body. Although her grades were good and her spikes hard-driven, she grew to be more sullen and dissatisfied.
For Leah, the body-image lessons began when she was 5 years old. At this age she received a Barbie doll at a Christmas celebration. In her own observant and subtle way she began to associate being ultra thin and stylish with popularity. At 7 years old she watched as her mother used Buns of Steel exercise videos every day in the living room. Those videos unintentionally taught Leah that women are supposed to be petite and that even the last bits of fat are unacceptable. The video’s constant encouragement and repetitive phrases both motivated Mom but more importantly became part of Leah’s thought patterns. At 9 years of age Leah was with her mother at the Meijer check-out counter. There she, as is expected from her observant nature, scanned the magazines and tabloids. On one magazine she noticed that a woman with a normal body type was concerned about needing to lose more weight and tone down. Again, her little culturally-conscious mind was influence and she learned that her older sister’s normal body type is actually unacceptable and overweight. Leah continued to grow and noticed that the good girls in the TV programs were always the thin girls. She concluded that if the thin girl is the good girl, then the fat girl is the bad girl… and the programs often bore that out. Her soul was once again affected and she became more determined to control her own body-image.
Leah’s extremely impressionable adolescent years continued to mislead her. One day she was watching the basketball game with her father. A commercial ended with the phrase, “Pizza without the guilt.” Leah again learned, but this time she learned that to eat a reasonable portion of enjoyable foods shows a lack of self-control and that one should feel guilty about eating fatty foods. On another occasion Leah heard her bone-thin mother complain to her father that Brenda (Leah’s older sister) has a weight problem. Leah now learned that even father and mother make value judgments based on appearance and clothing size. If respected and God-fearing father and mother think this way, then certainly weight and body shape are important, she thought. Yet another influence in Leah’s life was her friends. Among other things she finds that talking about food, fat, and figure not only is a ready source of conversation but also one that others quickly respond to and pick up on.
Lastly, to make matters even worse, Leah’s weak parents gave in to her repeated requests to subscribe to Teen Magazine and too often allowed her to watch The Bachelor. Part of their appeal is the many emotions that it evoked in her. At times she laughed and at other times she cried; sometimes she was excited and at other times anxious. The devil, however, only had one emotion, and it made him smile.
The result is that now Leah, who in many respects may be an active Christian, has nevertheless vexed her righteous soul. The choices that she and her parents made included those that moved her closer to her own personal Sodom and Gomorrah. The result is yet another teenager who is consumed with issues of appearance and body shape. She is self-conscious in first meeting up with her friends. While listening to conversations she unconsciously scans those in her field of view and judges them based on their figure. The days in which she feels overweight cause her to also feel less loved and accepted. Leah’s personal worth has become dependent on her body and appearance and less on her life with God. Appearance and figure has become a permanent part of who she is and will continue to influence her for years to come.
I am personally aware of many Leahs in my life. These are men and women who have genuine faith, godliness, and kingdom consciousness; yet their old man, that carnal and earthly-minded aspect of their soul, haunts them daily. Some are so affected that they make moral judgments of their day based on their adherence to weight and figure management programs. They think that the day gone by was either good or bad because of the exercise programs and diets that they maintained. What an earthly-minded mentality a Christian can develop! The caring for their children, bringing of meals to the needy, and time in devotion to God, all aside; when all is said and done and their heads nestle into their pillows, then their thought patterns wander to food and figure as the final moral basis for the day.
These matters are important for us to think about. You women grow into your present bodies through an adolescent culture that is saturated with body-image concerns. It is leaving its mark on you. Tomorrow, many of you women will raise your precious children in a culture that is even more saturated with body-image than ever before. Many of your daughters, just as you might feel now, will be robbed of a sense of being loved and accepted because of their bodies; just as Leah of Jacob did. Our tender-eyed Godly men and women suffer needless anguish because of the worldly messages that they have been cultured into accepting.
What is to be done? Why are our young people like this? What is it that leads us to think these thoughts? Why is so much time and energy put into weight management and beauty programs? What can we learn of Leah?
Of Faith and Food
It’s important that young people establish and maintain a proper perspective on life. Young people must develop, maintain, and cherish a kingdom consciousness. What is the chief end of man? The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We were created with that high purpose. We are to recognize that there is a real King who sovereignly created and maintains all things. It was he who brought us forth, not for ourselves, but instead for his glory. He expects and deserves our praise and our best efforts. In his wisdom he has created a kingdom or realm that has the purpose of giving him glory. God receives glory through the praise of his people, especially in the communal worship of established churches. The 24 elders of Revelation 4 symbolize the Old and New Testament church. These elders are seated around the throne and “worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
The entity by which God caused us to exist is body and soul. That’s borne out in Lord’s Day 1, “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own…” God could have formed us as spirit only; leaving us with no physical aspect. This, however, was not in his wise plan. We are quite familiar with our bodies. The body is the flesh and blood; the cellular and chemical aspect of our being. We tend to be less familiar with the soul. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the soul as it will be instructive for us as we address this problem of food and figure.
The soul-aspect of our person is that spiritual (not physical) part of us that is the origin of life from a rational and volitional viewpoint. It’s the part of us that thinks, wills, desires, plans, and has emotion. The soul aspect of us can exist with or without the physical aspect of our being. In some ways one can think about the soul as the real you. That is, it is you in the deepest sense. One could say that the body does not have a soul but that the soul has a body. Now, one must be careful to not become dualistic about the body and soul because at present they together comprise the self. Someday, when we die, the body and soul will be separated but in the new heavens and new earth our souls will be once again united to our perfected bodies. These two aspects of us are inseparably intertwined in our current state and together they influence the whole person.
Our bodies affect our soul. The music we hear with our ears soothe the soul. Recall the history of David playing to Saul. The sights we take in with our eyes affect our souls as well. Pornography corrupts our souls as it leads us to think more sinfully. Lot vexed his righteous soul, and almost undoubtedly that was partially through his eyes as he lived near Sodom and Gomorrah. Exercise performed by the body is good for the soul. And even the wine that we drink affects our soul. Regarding the topic at hand, the magazines, mall posters, television programs, beaches, and commercials we watch all affect our soul’s thought patterns, too.
Our souls affect our bodies. Those piercings that we chose originated with the soul’s plans and desires. The abuser of cigarettes and alcohol may corrupt the body in various ways as a result of the soul’s decisions. In some ways a postmortem may tell the mortician more about that individual’s soul than it does about one’s final cause of death because written on the tapestry of the body’s skin and organs is a record of the soul’s choices.
Food, calories, and fat are good!
With these thoughts in mind let us turn again to the issue. What is the Christian’s perspective of food and figure? God sustains and energizes you (soul and body) with physical food. The physical affects the spiritual. Nourishment not only energizes the body but because the body and soul are intertwined it also affects our soul! We reason more soundly, think more clearly, remember more distinctly, emote (have emotion) properly when we have adequate nourishment. Food, calories, and fat are good! God has provided them in abundance and it is wrong to despise and have negative thought patterns regarding them. In Genesis 1:29 and 30 we read that one of the earliest provisions to man so that man could serve his God was an ample supply of food. II Peter 2:3 says “According as his divine power hath given us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” God has given us what we need for life. Let’s eat of it and even enjoy it. Also Ecclesiastes 3:13, “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” Carbohydrates in the form of bread is good! In fact your brain runs exclusively on carbohydrates. Let us receive these foods as the gift of God and may it energize our brain. Fat is good! Every cell of your whole body is encapsulated with two layers of fat called a phospholipid bilayer. Let us put away our thought patterns that lead us to despise the good nourishing gifts of God.
The Folly of the Figure
Now that we have before us the correct perspective of life (to praise and serve God) and food (energy for body and soul), the next question… or as it turns out questions…need(s) to be asked. What of figure? What does body shape or facial complexion have to do with this Christian life? Given the preceding line up, whom would you choose to marry? Which of these would love his body of believers the most? Which would encourage you in your devotional life? Which would have the ability to formulate the words that you need to hear when in doubt and despair? Which would sing and pray most fervently? Which will work most diligently at raising your children in God’s fear? Which will be eager to participate in society? Which will weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh? Which will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go to the imprisoned? Which will invite the stranger for coffee? Which is godly? Which is laboring for the meat that endures (John 6:27)?
Isaiah 55:2 says, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Harken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” How much time, money, and energy do you spend on the folly of a good figure? Do you feed your souls? Figure does not satisfy and only has fleeting beauty. Worms will destroy your body and it will wither away as the flower of the field. Young people, is it your desire to someday marry and wake up next to a self-centered, shallow, carnally minded, but beautiful spouse? Does it give you status to date a good looking person? Is beauty your heart’s desire? May we and our Christian young people have eyes to see the true beauty in one another.
Physical beauty is literally only skin deep. Remember this most outer layer of you is not you! Too many young (and old) people identify themselves with this 1 to 5 centimeter thick covering. In reality, you are not your body. Stop identifying self primarily from only the physical aspect. You are your soul! The church of Jesus Christ needs beautiful people, not beautiful bodies. Remember who you are. You are the spiritual (and physical) entity who is loved by Jehovah, redeemed by the Lamb, one whose infirmities touch Christ, a member of his body, a servant to the kingdom causes, one charged to raise future young members of his church, a witness to the world, the salt of the earth, a future mother in Israel. Besides, the body that you have is not even yours anyway. Lord’s Day 1, again. “That I with body and soul both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”
Christian beauty lies in the shape of a woman’s godly spirit, her godly knowledge, her godly wisdom, her godly emotion, her godly love, her godly care, her godly industry, and her godly psyche and not one bit in the shape of her physical body. One of the effects of conversion is that we more and more put away the old man of body worship and put on the new man of Christ. I Peter 3:3,4, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Notice that reference to beauty in the phrase “sight of God.” It’s the soul that has beauty in God’s eyes.
In many ways beauty is a distraction from real life; from soul life and kingdom life. One could wish God made the whole human race of members that were equally beautiful so that the distraction would go away. We see that beauty is a distraction away from kingdom life in scripture when we read of the struggles of David and Bathsheba, as well as Joseph with Potifer’s wife. How many hours do our young people distract themselves from kingdom life when they work to put their faces on in the morning and exercise vigorously to tone and shape their bodies?
A kingdom consciousness guards us from getting distracted by these earthly and carnal goals. Developing a strict morning devotional schedule will benefit many young Christians. Beginning every day with time spent worshiping God develops a spiritual mindset that does not quickly leave us as we progress through the day.
Proper Perspective of Beauty and Exercise
But what is the place of exercise and beauty in the Christian life? Are we not to exercise and are we not to appreciate beauty? Given its distractive nature, should we not do away with beauty and its pursuit altogether? Is it more godly to dress down and develop a code whereby we all agree to wear clothes with a common pattern? Is there room for individuality and style?
God created human beauty and it is to be valued and appreciated. On day six of the creation week God created man. Adam and Eve were undoubtedly beautiful people. They were the pinnacle of his beautiful creation and at the end of the day God looked at all that he had made and said it was very good. Although fallen, God’s creation still has beauty, even today. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). In Christian maturity and in God-sanctified ways we can look upon one another and appreciate his handiwork as revealed by the beauty of the people around us.
I challenge you, though, to rethink beauty. Beauty is culturally defined and has changed through the ages. With no proof whatsoever, I leave this thought with you that Eve may have been farmer-strong and beautiful rather than 2009’s concept of beautiful which to my mind is more of the frail and weak variety.
It is biblical for a bride to adorn herself for her husband. Isaiah 61:10 says, “…as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” We can also be reminded of Abraham’s servant adorning Rebekah when she accepted the marriage invitation with Isaac. Genesis 24:47, “…and I put earring upon her face, and bracelets upon her hands.” Certainly those ornaments were not only worn in secret but also were displayed publicly. Rebekah wore them to Laban’s father’s house. Christians in the New Testament age can dress themselves and look good for those with whom they associate. Beauty is admirable.
Exercise is also valuable and has an important place in our lives. We are not always to be studying and working but must also enjoy exercise. Regular vigorous exercise is valuable to the body and the soul. The body is more energetic and the soul rejuvenated after vigorous exercise. Exercise also maintains our health. We keep this temple of the Holy Spirit in better condition with exercise.
Christian Response to Body-Image Issues
The center of these body-image issues is identity. Too often in young people the body becomes the dominant factor in identify. The center of identity is actually the soul. Young people’s souls need to be fed. Souls are fed by the preaching of the Word. Hearing the preaching of the Word is the most important thing for overcoming these earthly-minded issues that creep up in our Christian lives. Young people need to listen and be fed by that word. As they become more heavenly minded, their kingdom consciousness will overcome insecurities that come with body consciousness.
Reading of scripture also imparts the Word to us. We need to do devotions regularly so that we develop and grow a kingdom mindset instead of an earthly, carnal one. There is so much more to this world than simply what meets the eye. There is a spiritual world of soul-life to develop and nourish.
Christian young people need to know that the devil is active in their lives. The devil and his hosts have access to our souls. They can tempt us and they still do pull us into ungodly thought patterns. Especially when we are young warriors he beguiles us. He’s called the angel of light in II Corinthians 11:14 because he makes us think that things are harmless for us when actually they lead us astray. The devil is active in culture. He is active in music, movies, and on mall walls. He likes to see us become earthly-carnal-body-image-minded people. Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Guard yourselves from those attacks.
Parents must remember to raise up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Authentic parental conversations about life, body, puberty, clothing, exercise, and figure are a layer of protection that stand between our sons and daughters and body-image carnal-mindedness. Parents need to make sure that their children know why they exercise to the extent that they do. Children need to see parents being active and involved in kingdom work. The valuable hours dedicated to God’s work should far outweigh the hours spent exercising. Parents must value and encourage the spiritual gifts that their children exhibit to a greater extent than they value and encourage their children’s physical achievements. Conversation in the home should be positive about what people are doing in our churches and how helpful others are being. In contrast conversations about food and figure should be kept to a minimum. Comments about people having a weight problem, or that others look so good because they lost a few pounds can be taken wrongly by impressionable teenagers. Words do hurt, sometimes seriously.
Comments about people having a weight problem, or that others look so good because they lost a few pounds can be taken wrongly by impressionable teenagers.
Young people and parents need to be aware of the impact that the ungodly culture has on them. The devil is using every tool, including cultural tools to influence our thought patterns. He uses the movies, malls, and magazines. Even Reader’s Digest is filled with advertisements that use body and figure to sell products. In addition many magazines regularly include articles about weight loss and body toning. We need to use these with discretion or avoid them altogether. Mark 9:47, “And if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Perhaps going to the mall every weekend is more damaging that we ever realized. Again, use with discretion.
Finally, we need to continue to pray for Zion. The church is Zion. God’s people are Zion. Prayers should include words like those found in Psalter # 227:3, “Bless they who dwell in Zion, whose joy and strength thou art.” Pray that God will continue to raise up young men and young women who are truly beautiful people.
Solomon finishes the book of Ecclesiastes with these notable words. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” Let us be those who in our youth maintain a kingdom consciousness. Let us fear God with a fear that loves, honors, respects, and adores the holy one. Let us keep his commandments. And let our every work whether it be done by body or soul be done as unto the Lord. God will judge our every work; our every body-image thought as well as our every body-image deed. May our work be kingdom work and the treasure we seek be kingdom treasure.
Some of you may not be familiar with the term “medical ethics” and as such not really understand what you are going to be discussing. Medical Ethics has to do with evaluating the appropriateness of using controversial medical procedures. These practices may include procedures like cloning, genetic engineering, in-vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies, and even things like euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Because of the complexity of the issues I will briefly outline the main concept of each process.
Cloning is the process of making an identical genetic copy of an organism, tissue, organ, or cell. This may be done to any number of things including bananas, new tulip varieties, champion race horses, human hearts, pig livers, highly productive dairy cattle, human beings, or sheep (Dolly).
Genetic Engineering is the procedure by which scientists place genes from one kind (species) into the chromosomes of other kinds so that organisms obtain traits that they were not created with originally. The new organism is called a transgenic organism. Some examples of transgenic organisms are cows that produce human breast milk, goats that produce human blood clotting factor for hemophiliacs, Roundup Ready corn that will not die from Roundup, “golden rice” which produces Vitamin A for people that may not have enough, and perhaps someday spinach that produces vaccines (proteins) so that we no longer will have to get pricked with needles at the doctor’s office but instead just have to eat a salad.
Reproductive Technologies include all technologies that help couples have children when they are not able to have them by traditional means. For example a man may produce sperm that do not swim well because they lack tails or because the tails are too short. Doctors could artificially inject the sperm near the egg so that the two fuse to become one cell. In addition if a woman has poor quality eggs doctors can literally “harvest” an egg, keep it nourished in a petri dish, suck out the bad parts of the egg, fertilize it with the husband’s sperm, and then place the embryo back into the woman. In this way a couple can have biological children of their own.
Euthanasia is the process of “mercy killing.” An individual may be in severe pain as a result of a deadly and painful cancer. When the cancer is advanced and the individual is only in agony and not able to function normally, he may opt to kill himself rather than prolonging the agony.
Assisted Suicide is really a form of Euthanasia except that a professional doctor helps you with suitable techniques and painless drugs.
Questions for Discussion
- General questions you should consider before discussing the specific technologies:
- Is any technology or object wrong in and of itself?
- The Heidelberg Catechism in LD 33 says that good works are those that proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory. This Lord’s Day should guide you as you discuss the questions. Which of the medical technologies can you really justify in this light? Briefly discuss this.
- Discerning God’s will for our lives can be a very difficult process. What principles can we use to know His will with regard to our use of these technologies?
- Regarding Euthanasiaand Assisted Suicide, are these ever morally right for humans to engage in? Come up with specific scriptural ideas to support your answer.
- Genetic Engineering
While walking through the modern supermarket one is exposed to a variety of foods that have been artificially bred and selected for by humans. The fruits and vegetables that existed in Noah’s days were quite different from what we see today. For example, foot long ears of corn are a recent development that humans bred into them. Green apples, yellow apples, red and yellow apples, red and green apples, sour apples, sweet apples are also recent developments. Did you know that broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, and cabbages are all the same plant? They are all Brass ica oleracea. They differ because of breeding for their various characteristics over many years. In addition to fruits and vegetables, the meats also in supermarkets are taken from animals that are more than likely somewhat different from what God originally created. These have also been modified. Many of these are purebreds that humans selected for because of their meat or dairy qualities. As such these specific types have only recently come into existence. Bible storybooks that show the Garden of Eden with long ears of corn, Jersey cows, tall wheat plants, rows of broccoli plants, and perhaps cocker spaniels are giving children (and maybe some of you) false impressions.
- In Genesis 1 we repeatedly read that God created things good. What did He mean by that? Can we change that which God created “good?” In other words is it ethically right to breed and as such alter the species of animals in God’s creation? For example, without human intervention poodles would never have existed. Is it ethically right to breed a poodle?
- Now, instead of breeding new traits into organisms, is it ethically right to take the faster route and just splice (cut and paste) a new gene into an organism? By the way, traditional breeding is very slow and it would never work to take a gene from one species and give it to a completely different one. So for another example, what do you think about taking a gene for the “natural” production of steroids and splicing it into cows so that they grow large muscles over fewer years and without as much food and shots of steroids?
What is the ethical difference between breeding and genetic engineering or are they ethically equivalent?
Proverbs 25:2 says “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” Does this indicate that it is honorable for men to discover the properties that God gave His creation?
Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Does the concept of having dominion include ideas of wise use rather than just simply control?
Putting the two passages together we come up with a calling to not only discover but also wisely use the properties that God placed in creation. I think man has done this in many ways including the development of complex electrical machines like computers. Humans discovered the phenomena of electricity that God placed in the earth for us and then used it wisely. That is in my opinion in accordance with scriptural mandates. Now, add to your thoughts Belgic Confession, Article 12. Among other things it says that God created the world for man. It goes on to say that He created it for man so that man is better able to serve his God.
Can genetic engineering of plants and animals relieve people of many time-consuming burdens so that they have more time to do other things like organize Bible studies, witness, and fellowship with believers? For example, Golden Rice was developed to have more Vitamin A than normal to feed third-world countries. This has the potential of alleviating the many problems that vitamin A deficiencies can bring. With the rice people can spend more time serving God in various capacities rather than deal with their sicknesses. In addition, scientists hope to make cows that produce human antibodies, human breast milk, human blood-clotting factor, maybe even human blood of all types. What about eating your vaccines as a salad? We can make spinach “naturally” produce the vaccines (antibodies or viral proteins) and just eat them. Think of how easy it would be to vaccinate the old people or even a whole third world country against the major diseases just by giving them a salad! Is all of the above a way of developing the properties of creation so that it can better serve us so that we are better able to serve our God?
- Now on to the genetic engineering of humans. Should we ever engineer our offspring for looks, brains, or athleticism?
Parents have a calling to rear their children both physically and spiritually. Does that calling start only after the child is born or did it start at conception?
Would it be ethical to have surgery to cure spina bifida in the womb? (Infants born with spina bifida sometimes have an open wound on their spine where significant damage to the nerves and spinal cord has occurred. Although the spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth, the nerve damage is permanent, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs.)
Instead of performing a surgery in the womb for spina bifida, what if the doctors could someday correct a genetic problem like Down’s Syndrome in the womb. Would that be ethically acceptable and in accordance with the parent’s responsibilities to raise that child as best they can?
God uses many means to make His Church a body of Christ. Historically, sicknesses and diseases often make a congregation grow closer together as they experience that oneness in Christ and help and assist one another. Discuss the benefits of disease for your own congregations. Should this be a consideration in our discussion?
- Is it right to clone plants? For example, bananas as we know (eat) them are sterile. They can not reproduce on their own. In order to grow new trees, we have to artificially propagate (clone) them. May we do this?
- Ok, by now you know what’s coming. Let’s move the discussion from plants and on to animals. If a champion racehorse gets injured so that it has to be killed and as such cannot be used for breeding, can the owner keep some cells and clone them? Cloning is complex but I’ll try to keep it simple. Typically what would happen here is that the nucleus of a female horse egg cell would be removed. In its place a nucleus from any cell of the champion horse would get inserted. This egg with a new nucleus is then tricked so it thinks that it has been fertilized and then it is placed back into the horse’s womb. The resulting colt will be a carbon copy of the original champion because it has exactly the same genes. You can think of it as an identical twin but that it was born 5 years later rather than only 5 minutes later. For a second example, we could image a police dog that was in many ways a perfect dog. It was good tempered, obeyed well, learned quickly, remembered commands, and had a great nose, eyes, and ears. Before its death it could be cloned. The pups could be trained even earlier and at the best facilities and really be great for a variety of police work. The clones themselves could also be cloned and any training mistakes that happened along the way could be lessened so that after several years you know exactly how to raise the dogs to be nearly perfect for your needs. Is that ethically right?
- Now for humans. Is it right to clone any part of a human?
How about if you need a heart transplant? Often times the best heart you could receive would be exactly like your original. That heart would not be rejected by your body. Imagine that scientists could clone your heart cells and grow them in a petri dish for a few weeks. Soon the mass of cells is big enough to place into a young pig. We could give a pig a heart transplant so that its normal heart is removed and your little cloned heart replaces it. After several months the pig (and your heart) will grow to an acceptable size for insertion into you. Now we can simply slaughter the pig with YOUR heart in it and place it into you. Discuss the ethics of this idea.
How about cloning a child that was just lost in a car accident?
- Finally, Reproductive Technologies.
- Is it true that God can use childless couples in special ways in the church?
- How can a couple know if God intends for them to remain childless and be greatly used by Him in the Church of if they can use technology that assists them in having children.
- God primarily gathers His people from lines of continued generations. Can this be an incentive for us to have children and use these technologies?
- Many of these procedures are wildly expensive. Is proper stewardship of our money even an issue in these matters?
- Some facilities that assist parents in reproduction freeze embryos, throw poor quality ones away, and only implant a few. What are you thoughts on these practices and should these clinics ever be used?
- Are reproductive technologies right for you?
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