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Christian Ethics

Epidemic

Lesson audio 

AIDS

AIDS, we are told, is uniformly fatal.  Largely because of its association with using illegal drugs and homosexual behavior, AIDS in Christian life is often enough kept in the closet.  But consider these situations, and see if that view doesn’t need a little revision:

1.         You are in charge of the church nursery, with children two and under in your care.  Standing at the entrance, a young mother comes to you with a toddler.  As she’s filling out the forms needed, she mentions to you that the child is HIV positive.  What do you do about this?

            a.         Nothing.

            b.         Ban the child from the nursery; toddlers bite, you know.

            c.         Quarantine the kid to keep him separate from the others.

2.         Two of your good friends are dying.  One is dying of lung cancer; you know that he has been a three pack a day smoker for a long time.  The other is dying of AIDS, which you know he got from using prostitutes.  They are in the same hospital room;  each can hear the other talking with you.  What’s different in your conversation?

3.         You have a good job with a good company.  One of your co-workers shows all the symptoms of having AIDS.  You know he is homosexual.  Your boss assigns the two of you to work on a weekend long project.  Do you accept the assignment, or not?  If you don’t, what would your (Christian) boss tell you?

Justification

It’s important to know what the other side of this debate is saying.  Homosexuals tend to justify their actions in a variety of ways:

  • “It’s genetic; I have no choice.”  This one is declining in use, but the argument is still made.  The reason it’s declining is that the argument has unintended consequences.  It is the same argument that pedophiles use to justify their actions.
  • “You are homophobic; you hate me.”  Well, first, homophobic means fear of homosexuals, not hatred.  Secondly, note that this is essential to modern movements; they run on hate.  They must see hatred in their enemies; it inspires their own hatred.  (There are some interesting sexual implications in this.)  Since you hate them, they have banded together to fight for their rights![1]
  • Becoming more common is the argument, “It’s a choice.  What’s wrong with that?”  This fits well with the idea that morality is relative.
Christian reaction

The dilemma is a simple one:  we have suffering sinners to deal with – who make it quite clear they are going to go on sinning until they die.  So what should we do about it?

  • Make it clear – that we love them, not loathe them.  This will require a larger comfort zone.
  • Make it clear – it’s still a sin.  It’s a choice; it’s a choice to sin.
  • The Good Samaritan – our example.  Remember, he helped someone who despised him.

Hunger and Disease

AIDS is just one example of the impact of hunger and disease on this world.  Sometimes we wonder whether or not we can or should do anything about it.  Let’s begin by example.

Biblical precedent

In 2nd Corinthians chapter 8, Paul takes on the task of obtaining financial aid for the church at Jerusalem, which was undergoing a famine.  He begins by giving them an example:

2Co 8:1-5 NIV 

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  (2)  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  (3)  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,  (4)  they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  (5)  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.

Note that the Macedonians (modern Greece) are not praised for the amount but the gift.  Shades of the widow’s mite!  Paul then goes on to instruct the Corinthians in this:

2Co 8:10-15 NIV  And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.  (11)  Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  (12)  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.  (13)  Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  (14)  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality,  (15)  as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."[2]

We may see the general principles by which such supply is governed:

  • The matter evidently requires some training of the will.  It is evident that the Corinthians were eager once, emotionally so, but now the fire has faded.  This is a matter of will, not of emotions.
  • The value God puts on this is measured not by dollars but by sacrifice.
  • Fairness is required.  The giver and receiver must see that the sacrifice made is done so justly.  Even if the receiving church can do nothing but pray for the giver, that alone would make the gift a fair one – for which of us has too many people praying for us?
Does this apply to us?

Evidently so.  As evidence I offer the obvious:

  • There are Christian organizations whose sole purpose is feeding the hungry of the world.  Either they practice mass delusion, or God has caused their work to prosper.
  • Our own church has done this – remember those villages in Afghanistan we fed that winter?
  • Ultimately, however, it comes down to one Christian’s willingness to sacrifice. 

Disease?  There is an economy in feeding the hungry, for it is the hungry who are most vulnerable to disease.  Feed them now, or cure them later.

A story is told which might be of example.  A boy and his father were walking along a beach.  On this particular beach there were thousands of stranded starfish.  Every few steps the boy would reach down, grab a starfish and hurl it back into the ocean.  His father thought this foolish; “You can’t really make a difference in this huge mass of starfish.”  The boy’s reply as he threw another one into the ocean, “I made a difference for that one.”

Wealth and Poverty

We have a saying:  You can’t solve world hunger.  You can’t solve poverty either:

Mar 14:7 NIV The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

Christ is telling us that we will never solve poverty, at least not before the resurrection.  But this verse also implies that you will give to the poor – as a matter of course.  We are expected to play our part.

In geometry there is a problem for which, it can be shown, there is no solution.  That problem is trisecting an angle, using only straightedge and compass. But there’s a big difference between the student who gives up quickly and the mathematician who constructs a formal proof of the matter.  The poor we will always have with us – but should that be from our lack of effort on their behalf?

Is it wrong that the poor exist?

Some among us think that the existence of the poor is somehow sinful.  They point out to us an example from the early church:

Act 2:42-47 NIV  They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  (43)  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.  (44)  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  (45)  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  (46)  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  (47)  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

It’s a great example for us.  Note that the apostles did not level everyone’s income – but they saw to it that those in need were provided for.  There are those whose call from Christ impels them to live a life of service to the poor.  This is a good thing.  I would simply suggest that this is not the call on everyone – but to ignore the call you have is equally false.

It may come as a surprise to you, but the monastic spirit is enjoying a rebirth in the Protestant churches.  There are many who have found the joy of Christ in living a life of poverty and service.  Some of us are the rich young rulers of our day, and should heed this call.

Giving to those who don’t deserve it

Let’s look at the primary objection most Christians raise.  It is simply this:  they don’t deserve it.  Suppose some calamity comes upon you; your house burns to the ground and your insurance doesn’t really cover the damage.  Do you suppose your appeal for aid would go unheard?  No; you reason that those who are Christians close to you will assist you. 

But suppose instead that you are called on to assist an unwed mother and her child.  The objection comes up: she isn’t worthy of it.  She deserves what she got.  But I must respond:

  • Does that little child deserve it too? 
  • If the little child was your grandchild, would that make a difference?
  • What would Jesus do?

The problem is not one of “desert.”  The problem is in our love.  No one is really deserving; we are all sinners.  Our Lord loves us to the point of the Cross; surely we can do likewise for other undeserving sinners.  And if we don’t, what will he say to us on Judgment Day?


[1] A good example of this came from one of Clinton’s nominees for Surgeon General;  she stated that the reason we have no cure for AIDS is that Christians hate homosexuals and therefore blocked the necessary funding.

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