Rev. Steve Ranney is a Presbyterian pastor in Tustin, a town in the Los Angeles area. Last week, his hair was shoulder length.
If I had met him before he led last Sunday’s worship service, it would not have occurred to me that he’d stopped cutting his hair in December 2019 as a sign of “lament” that his congregation was not able to meet in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. Or that he would have it cut after the service to celebrate the full lifting of pandemic restrictions.
As we have noted this week, perception is not always fact.
Here’s a dangerous example: one of the “deadliest plants in North America” is both blooming and spreading. Poison hemlock is so dangerous that it can cause respiratory failure and death if eaten. Even touching it can cause blisters. Its relative, the spotted water hemlock, is even worse: eating it causes death within two hours. It grows across North America, including where I live in Texas.
What looks innocent and even beautiful can be deadly.
If I were a farmer in Egypt, I probably would not expect to find in my field a 2,600-year-old stela (a commemorative stone slab) erected by a pharaoh who ruled from 589 to 570 BC. Before reading a report that scientists have learned how to convert plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring, I would not have expected such news. Nor would I expect that a plague of mice could force a prison evacuation in Australia.
My truth and the truth
Perception is not always reality. Truth is more than “my truth.” If we are going to engage our secularized culture with biblical truth, we must believe it to be the truth, since such engagement with moral issues faces greater opposition than ever before in American history.
The number of Americans who find gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable has escalated from 40 percent twenty years ago to 66 percent today. We have seen a similar rise in acceptability regarding sex between unmarried adults (from 53 percent to 72 percent) and divorce (from 59 percent to 77 percent). In 2006, 49 percent said it was “very important” that couples with children legally marry; in 2020, this was down to 29 percent.
Evangelical Christians might be influenced by a culture so highly resistant to biblical truth, or at least reluctant to speak such truth at a personal cost. This is why we need to continually remember what we believe, why we believe it, and why it matters so much.
One reason to believe biblical truth is that God said it (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Someone testified, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” A better statement is, “God said it and that settles it whether I believe it or not.”
However, secular people are no more likely to accept this truth claim than if it were made for the Qur’an or your personal diary. Thus, we need secular reasons for spiritual truth as well.
A psychiatrist endorses spirituality
I recently discussed such evidence with regard to legalizing prostitution: studies show that 70 to 95 percent of prostitutes are physically assaulted; 60 to 75 percent are raped; 89 percent told researchers that they urgently wanted to escape prostitution; and areas where prostitution is legalized or tolerated see an escalation in human trafficking and commercial sex slavery.
Let’s consider more evidence for biblical morality in the news.
A psychiatrist reports in Scientific American, “My own research has demonstrated that a belief in God is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes for acute psychiatric patients.” He concludes that “patients in distress should certainly have the option to include spirituality in their treatment.”
As the sexual revolution continues, sexually transmitted diseases have reached an all-time high for the sixth consecutive year in the US. An article in The Spectator states that “the media is guilty of gross negligence on gender reassignment reporting” and points to growing concerns in the medical community over such practices for younger patients. As the battle continues over abortion and when life begins, I was gratified to learn that 60 percent of “very pro-choice” biologists now agree that life begins at fertilization.
“The joy of Jesus lifts up life to be celebrated”
All truth is God’s truth. You can know that biblical morality is best for all of us because the One who made each of us in his image knows and wants what is best for each of us (Genesis 1:27; John 10:10; Romans 12:2).
You can also know that God’s word is true because of the consequences when we reject it. English philosopher J. V. Langmead Casserley was right: the person who jumps from the tenth-story window does not break the law of gravity—he illustrates it.
And you can know that God’s word is true because of its results in your life when you trust and obey it regardless of your circumstances. Henri Nouwen observed:
“The joy that Jesus offers his disciples is his own joy, which flows from his intimate communion with the One who sent him. It is a joy that does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure, experiences of honor from experiences of dishonor, passion from resurrection.
“This joy is a divine gift that does not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression, or persecution. It is present even when the world laughs or tortures, robs or maims, fights or kills. It is truly ecstatic, always moving us away from the house of fear into the house of love, and always proclaiming that death no longer has the final say, though its noise remains loud and its devastation visible.
“The joy of Jesus lifts up life to be celebrated.”
Will you choose such joy today?