The Church’s Task Is to Help People – Not Harm Them

The Church’s Task Is to Help People – Not Harm Them

Some religious people have claimed that taking the COVID vaccine is a response to fear. They have posted that idea online and in publications, saying that you won’t get sick from the virus if you have faith in God. This is a sad commentary on human ignorance of medical facts, the Bible, and how God works. It also shows a lack of understanding that the Church’s task is to help people. We need to follow 1 John 4:1: “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they come from God.”

The history of “Christians” and vaccines is not good. They have sometimes been responsible for opposition to vaccines for smallpox, measles, and polio. This ignorance is destructive because vaccines have saved many lives. As Christians, we must do whatever we can to minister to the lost. One way to do that is to make sure we do nothing that harms people. My son died because a man who claimed to be a Christian didn’t care enough about him to get a vaccine or wear a mask so he wouldn’t carry the virus to him.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me all of you who labor … and you shall find rest…” The Church is people, not a building (1 Corinthians 3:16), and the Church’s task is to help people, not harm them. When Jesus was on Earth, He acted when humans could not. In Luke 5:4-9, when Peter had fished all night and caught nothing, Jesus told him to let down his net again. When he did, his catch was amazing.

Miracles in both the Old and New Testaments challenged humans to apply what God gave them. When the prophet Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times, he resisted that silly requirement. But when Naaman did it, his leprosy (the COVID of that day) was cured (2 Kings 5). God has given humans the ability to stop the virus, but we must use what He has given us.

The Bible makes it clear that God does not use force to accomplish His will. Even salvation is not forced on humans. In Acts 2:38-40, Peter says, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” The Church’s task is to help people by sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus. Read Colossians 2:13-3:2 and ask yourself if you want to be a part of the world driven by fear and selfishness, even in the name of religion? Christians must care enough about others and about “the temple of the Holy Spirit” to make sure we do no harm to either.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

A Lesson in Perspective from the Moon

“It all depends on how you look at things.” You hear that common phrase applied to many kinds of issues. If you doubt that, here is a lesson in perspective from the Moon. First, let’s look at the facts about the Moon and what we think we see when we look at it. Astronomer Bob Berman’s article In the October issue of Astronomy magazine contains some interesting facts comparing what we see and reality. 

How big is a full moon? Berman points out that it would take 180 full moons stacked on top of each other to fill the space between the horizon and a point directly overhead. The Moon is very small from our perspective, even though it appears large, especially when it’s near the horizon. How much brighter is the Sun than a full moon? The answer is that the Sun is 450,000 times more luminous. The Moon is a very dim object, just a little brighter than coal and much dimmer than dark green leaves. If you remember albedo from your high school physics class (the proportion of the incident light reflected by a surface), the Moon’s albedo averages 11, and a dark green forest is 15. Charcoal is 5.

Why does the Moon look so bright on a clear night when the Moon is at full phase? The answer is a lesson in perspective. Our eyes are designed to give measures of brightness based on what surrounds the object we’re observing. From our perspective, when we look at the Moon, we see an object in front of a black background. Our brain tells us that the Moon is white because its surroundings are completely black. 

Astronauts have been to the Moon and found that most of its surface is basalt, a black volcanic rock. Basalt reflects very little of the light coming to it from the Sun. So compared to Venus or Jupiter, which have clouds efficiently reflecting light from the Sun, the Moon is a dim and dark object. 

On a human level, there is a lesson in perspective. An old joke tells about the response a man gave when asked if his wife was beautiful. He responded, “Compared to what?” The same issue arises when someone asks if Christianity offers any advantage to a person or the world in general. Compared to all human philosophies, the answer has to be that the world and humanity have benefitted from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are talking about the actual teachings of Christ, not the perversions such as the Crusades, the inquisitions, or ethnic struggles. What have atheism and secular humanism done to benefit the people of the world?

Jesus gave a lesson in perspective in Matthew 5:14-16 when he said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine before mankind that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The Sun is the source of the small amount of light we get from the Moon. Jesus is the source of the light we give to the world. The question for those of us who are Christians should be, “What is our albedo?” How much of what Jesus shines on us do we reflect on a very dark planet?

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Difficult Genesis Issues – Where Did Cain Get His Wife? 

Difficult Genesis Issues - Where Did Cain Get His Wife? 

Several Genesis verses contain some issues that have bothered many people. For example, are we supposed to understand the ages of the people chronologically? If so, how did they live so long? Who was Cain afraid of, and where did those people come from? Where did Cain get his wife? Those are some of the difficult Genesis issues people have tried to resolve. 

The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is the product of scientists who believe in God and accept the Bible as His Word. They have advanced academic degrees, and their articles are very scholarly. Recent issues have carried some interesting discussions of difficult Genesis issues, including the account of Adam and Eve. The September issue contains an article by Dr. Roy Clouser. He contends that we have ignored the Jewish understanding of Genesis, causing credibility issues with the biblical account. Clouser maintains that the ages of biblical characters were not intended to be understood as chronological but symbolic of their character or accomplishments. For example, Methuselah living 969 years would indicate higher qualities than Adam’s 600 years. 

That is an interesting explanation. I am now 83 years old chronologically, and I cannot fathom living for 600 years. The physical weakness that comes from age seems to be built into humans as it is in the rest of the world. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden, they had access to the Tree of Life that would allow them to live forever. The traditional explanation that the human fall into sin brought physical death into the world for the first time has credibility issues with most people. 

Clouser makes an interesting comparison between Genesis 2:7, where God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and John 20:22, where Jesus breathed on His disciples. Genesis tells us that “God formed man of the dust of the ground,” clearly referring to man’s body. Then the verse says, “and man became a living soul.” Genesis 1:26-27 describes the man and woman as created in the image of God. That, of course, refers to the spiritual image because God is a Spirit and not a limited physical being. When humans sinned, God’s spirit departed from them. However, John 20:22 tells us that Jesus “breathed on them (His disciples) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” 

Other difficult Genesis issues include when Cain says, “Everyone who finds me will try to kill me” (Genesis 4:14). Who are those who would try to kill Cain, and where did they come from? Where did Cain get his wife? Cain also builds a city, and that requires large numbers of humans. My response has always been that Adam and Eve had many children in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, all of humanity rebelled against God and were forced out of the Garden and lost a relationship with God. Clouser presents a different interpretation that warrants more study. 

The fact is that the biblical account is accurate and deals with salvation through Jesus Christ. However, understanding how we got to where we are is very complex and will always leave some questions for further study. It is our understanding of the difficult Genesis issues that is in question–not the accuracy of the biblical record

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Mental Health and Faith

Mental Health and Faith

One of the challenges we face in 21st century America is the growing rate of mental illness cases. Every day the media informs us of a tragedy caused by someone who is mentally ill. Closer to home, many of us have had a loved one afflicted with some form of mental illness. Is there a connection between mental health and faith?

Mental illness has many causes. A small percentage of mental illnesses result from a medical condition. For example, my son’s schizophrenia resulted from a congenital condition. Because he was adopted, we don’t know all of the factors leading to his multiple illnesses, but his birth mother had German measles during pregnancy. Brain injuries and drug abuse can also result in mental illness.

A far more common cause of mental problems involves life experiences. Some of us were forced to witness the horror of war, and many others have suffered abuse. Those things have caused a variety of mental issues. We frequently hear atheists claim that religion causes mental illness by heaping guilt on people over something they have done in their lives. Indeed, some preachers have used guilt to motivate people to change behavior or convert to a doctrinal view.

The reality is that there is a connection between mental health and faith. Christianity is a guilt-removing belief system. The Christian message is designed to free people from guilt and promote a healthy and mentally stable lifestyle. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 gives guidelines to a healthy mental attitude. There you will find these keys to mental health: loving others, not exacting revenge or retaliating, caring for others (even your enemies), not being religious for show, and not being obsessed with material things.

We all fail in life, but the Christian system brings forgiveness. When Peter asked Christ how often he had to forgive, Christ’s answer indicated forgiveness should be infinite (Matthew 18:21). Carrying a grudge can cause enormous mental pain, which John compares to walking in darkness, but loving others brings us into the light (1 John 1:7-11). James gives insight into how we can endure hardships and help one another gain a positive perspective on life (James 5:10-16).

As Americans turn away from the teachings of Christ and rely on pop psychology and drugs to achieve sound mental health, the result has been the opposite. Pill popping and drug use have skyrocketed, and so has the number of people in desperate mental stress. Living the Christian life brings stability and fulfillment and the knowledge that there is a place of peace and love when this life is over. Mental health and faith in Christ go together.

— John N. Clayton ©2021

The Design of Death

The Design of Death

It may sound strange to talk about death in a positive way. The truth is that the design of death is part of the creation. The second law of thermodynamics, in simple terms, says that in a closed system, things move toward a condition of disorder. That principle is built into the fabric of the physical universe. It allows the diffusion of resources, the circulation of air, the transfer of energy from one form to another, and multiple other physical processes. It also means that our human bodies are in a constant movement toward decay.

The Bible contains a statement of this law in Isaiah 51:6: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell in the earth shall die in a like manner.” Thus, the design of death applies to the universe and everything in it.

Is our death just a piece of collateral damage to the second law? For those who are Christians, death is not the ultimate tragedy. My son Tim lived his whole life with multiple handicaps, including muscular dystrophy, blindness, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia. Despite those handicaps, his life was full. When COVID-19 took away his ability to swallow, talk, sit up, stand or walk, he could still hear and communicate with me. For him to be unable to die would have been insanely cruel. Isaiah 57:1-2 describes this well: “For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”

For a Christian, death removes us from evil and brings us into peace. I look forward to freedom from politics, pollution, illness, global warming, and pain. In 2 Peter 1:15, Peter talks about his death using the Greek term “exodos,” which means to depart. It is the word from which we get the name of the book of Exodus that describes Israel’s departure from Egyptian bondage.

So far in 2021, I have lost my son, my brother, and three of my close friends to death. They were all Christians, so I am happy for them. I take to heart 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, which tells me not to grieve “as others do who have no hope.” Psalms 116:15 tells us, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” The word “saint” here refers to “one set apart” as members of God’s family of believers–Christians.

When I was an atheist, death offered me no future. As a Christian, I see death as an entrance into a far better existence than I have now. We have an instinctive desire to live, and any change we make can be scary. That is especially true of departing this life. Paul said in Philippians 1:21-23, “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” Death can be beautiful, and the design of death is a reality for the world in which we live.

John N. Clayton © 2021

Experimenting on Human Subjects 

Experimenting on Human Subjects - Tuskegee Institute Historic Site
Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site

One of the challenges of medical science is how to test a new drug or procedure on humans. If people are nothing more than animals, science can justify experimenting on human subjects for the common good. For example, German and Japanese scientists conducted experiments on World War II prisoners against their will. After the war, international courts prosecuted German doctors and scientists for war crimes related to human experimentation. Japanese researchers did not face trial because the U.S. agreed not to prosecute in exchange for access to their data.

Out of the prosecution of German researchers came what is called “The Nuremberg Code.” It involves ten statements describing the ethical standards for experimenting on human subjects in research. In simple terms, the ten statements are: 

  1. Participants must give consent without stress or force.
  2. The research must be able to show benefits for the good of society. 
  3. Findings should justify the experiment. 
  4. Research should avoid mental suffering and physical harm. 
  5. No one should be killed or injured. 
  6. Risks should not outweigh the benefits. 
  7. The research should protect participants from injury or death. 
  8. The researcher must be qualified to do the research. 
  9. Participants should be able to stop participating at any time. 
  10. The researcher must be prepared to stop the study at any time. 

A classic example of how far things can go in today’s world, even in the United States, is the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Male Negro.” That study continued from 1932 to 1972. The United States Public Health Service recruited 600 African American men with syphilis offering them free meals and burial stipends for the right to their bodies after they died. Unfortunately, no medical treatment was made available to those men, and they were subjected to painful spinal taps. You can imagine what they went through with 40 years of untreated syphilis raging in their bodies. 

Looking at what happened in this terrible event brings to mind the struggles in America today. In the past, society considered blacks to be less human than whites. For that reason, causing them pain and premature death to benefit the scientific establishment was deemed to be acceptable. The “black lives matter” movement of today is rooted in this kind of history. 

More to the point is that science ignored the teachings of the Bible. The Bible tells us that humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and the body is the temple of God’s Spirit, and defiling the temple invites God’s wrath (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). That means not caring for every person is a rebellion against God. Experimenting on human subjects in the Tuskegee experiment can only be justified if you view blacks as less than human. It also requires embracing the notion that survival of the fittest means it is acceptable to sacrifice the less fit to benefit the fit. Many people today do not accept the Christian view that all humans are special because we are created in the image of God. We can see the result of that in the chaos tearing at the fabric of society. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

For more on the history of the Tuskegee study see “Who Dares to Speak Up” in the July/August 2021 issue of American Scientist, pages 238 -242.

Charity and Faith in God

Charity and Faith in God

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducts research on donations to charity in the United States. Their recently released figures show that charitable giving in the United States declined between 2000 and 2018. This data is before COVID, so the reduction in giving is not due to the pandemic. Instead, there is evidence for a connection between charity and faith in God. The statistics show that as faith in God declines, so does charitable giving.

In the year 2000, 66% of United States households donated to charitable organizations. In 2018 that figure had dropped to 49.6%. However, the total amount of giving in 2018 was greater than in 2000. So even as fewer people were giving, those who were giving gave more. The study shows that the percentage of Americans giving to religious causes has declined along with the percentage of Americans attending worship services. A disturbing trend is that only a third of households headed by someone under the age of 40 gave anything to charity.

My parents were atheists, and I can remember their argument when my father’s employer put pressure on the workers to give to United Way. Of course, my father didn’t want to give anything, but for social reasons, my mother wanted her name on the list of donors that the employer published.

The numbers are somewhat surprising when you realize that campaigns to raise funds for various causes have become more and more aggressive in recent years. Nearly half of the large volume of mail we receive is solicitations from organizations wanting donations. We have also seen a significant increase in phone calls pressuring us to contribute to various causes.

As our society becomes more secular, it has become more materialistic. Rejecting the teaching of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than receive is reflected in the charity data. We also suggest that this trend explains why marriage is becoming less common and why there is an increase in frustration and lack of satisfaction in sexual relationships. Giving is not just a physical action. It is also a shaper of how we think and how we approach relationships.

There is a connection between charity and faith in God. The Christian system of desiring to give and finding joy in giving works. Rejecting God and the biblical way of life brings unfortunate results for all people.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Associated Press by Haleluya Hadero for July 28, 2021.

New Testament Concept of Priesthood

New Testament Concept of Priesthood

In this day of racial issues, it is essential to understand that there should never be a conflict over race in authentic Christianity. That is because the New Testament concept of priesthood is very different from what many people understand.

In the Mosaic period, priests came from the tribe of Levi. They served as teachers, judges, medical experts, and mediators. To be a priest, you had to be a member of the Levitical tribe and of the family of Aaron ( Numbers 17-18, Deuteronomy 10:8 and 18:1-8, Leviticus 8 and 9.) This was a flawed system because not all Levites were good people.

Jesus Christ abolished that system. Hebrews 7:18-19 says, “For the law that went before is annulled because it was weak and ineffective, for the law perfected nothing, but there has come in its place a better hope enabling us to come close to God.” In Matthew 27:51, we read that at Christ’s crucifixion, the curtain separating common people from the “Holy of Holies” was torn open, making access to God available to all humans.

Galatians 3:26-28 clearly states, “You are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thus, the Bible calls Christians a “royal priesthood” or a “kingdom of priests.” (See 1 Peter 2:4-9, Revelation 1:5-6, and 5:9-10.) That is the New Testament concept of priesthood.

People have tried to continue the Mosaic concept of priests into the Christian era, but that is not what the New Testament teaches. In biblical Christianity, there is no room for placing any person above anyone else. That means there is no room for prejudice. All are equal, and all lives matter. People who justify racial discrimination do so based on human traditions and dogma, not on biblical teaching.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Discrimination Against Religious Beliefs

Discrimination Against Religious Beliefs - Barronelle Stutzman
Barronelle Stutzman – Image Credit ADF Legal

One of the most challenging issues facing churches, businesses, and the court system is how to resolve situations where a business owner refuses to do something that would violate their religious beliefs. For example, recent cases have involved a flower store owner who was asked to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding and a cake artist who was asked to create a cake for a same-sex wedding and then a sex transition celebration. Both of these cases involve discrimination against religious beliefs.

A florist named Barronelle Stutzman in the state of Washington refused to prepare a floral display for a same-sex wedding
because she believes, as her church teaches, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. At the end of June, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear Stutzman’s appeal. That allowed the ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court to stand fining her for violating an anti-discrimination law.

We reported earlier about a case involving Jack Phillips, a cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. The Supreme Court decided in favor of Phillips in 2018 because the suit against him was motivated by anti-religious bias. Since then, another lawsuit was filed against Phillips because he would not design a cake to celebrate a sex transition. Discrimination against religious beliefs continues to challenge Christians.

An even more consequential challenge existed in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia refused to place foster-care children with a Catholic agency because it would not allow same-sex couples to apply to be foster parents. This case is more serious only because it involves children. The question here is whether children can live in a family without both sexes being represented and not have mental issues related to that environment.

As a public school teacher, I saw the challenges faced by kids with single parents. Many of them did well in spite of that situation, but it was an issue. Kids needing foster care are especially vulnerable, and same-sex couples would add another layer of stress to the stability of those kids.

The question of discrimination against religious beliefs is vast. That is one more reason to keep a separation between church and state. Since our political system has embraced everything from prostitution to marijuana, the days ahead look difficult for people trying to live as Christ taught us to live. Remember that Christians in the first century faced the same kind of problems, but Rome never claimed to guarantee religious freedom as the United States Constitution does.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Read more about Barronelle’s case HERE.

On Valentine’s Day

On Valentine's Day

People in many countries observe various customs on Valentine’s Day, February 14, although, in a few areas, it’s celebrated in July. Valentine’s Day is not an official holiday in any country, but it is certainly a cultural holiday.

Saint Valentine’s Day originated as a Christian observance in honor of a saint (or saints) named Valentinus in the third century. It may have been an effort of early Christians to purify a pagan Roman holiday called Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and occurred around February 14.

In the fourteenth century, Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romantic love. Today it has become highly commercialized due to merchants taking advantage of the giving of gifts to loved ones. Many legends about this day have come down concerning its origin and reason and, many countries have their own customs on Valentine’s Day.

One thing is sure—we need more love in the world.
I am not talking about romantic love, but the kind of love that is meant by the ancient Greek word “agape.” The Apostle Paul used that Greek word in his letter to the church in Corinth in the first century. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Whether on Valentines’s Day or any other day, we can never get too much of that kind of love.

— Roland Earnst © 2021