The ‘Hidden’ Theology of ‘Hidden Figures’


The critically-acclaimed 20th Century Fox film Hidden Figures tells the story of the gifted mathematician Katherine Johnson who, along with Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, played key roles (to say the least) in NASA‘s endeavor to launch astronaut John Glenn into space.

As someone who has had an interest in history since my earliest childhood, I can appreciate the significance of films like Hidden Figures in that they help to educate and inform us about aspects of American history that were previously unknown (or little known) to the masses.

A case in point is yours truly, who readily admits to having absolutely no idea who Katherine Johnson was prior seeing the movie trailer for Hidden Figures while watching television one weekend afternoon.

And though I now count myself among the millions of Americans who, by virtue of the Hidden Figures film, have come to greatly admire Katherine Johnson for her invaluable contributions – to America and the world – particularly considering the degree of racial and gender animus she was required to endure, my esteem for her, and her colleagues, is not based solely in the fact that they accomplished what they did as women who are black.

Having said that, I am not at all naive to the likelihood that the ethnicity of these women served as a primary impetus for why the film Hidden Figures was made or the book written.

Given the cultural and societal implications of what these women accomplished in the Jim Crow 1960s, when racial segregation was openly practiced at workplaces like NASA, it is both logical and natural that ethnicity and gender would be considerations when reflecting on what is unarguably an incredibly unique story.

NASA’s own website provides a glimpse into the kind of work environment the women of Hidden Figures would have encountered:

The first African-American “computers” did the same work as their white counterparts, but in a period when segregation was policy across the South and in the U.S. armed services, they also encountered segregated dining and bathroom facilities, along with barriers to other professional jobs. One woman, for example, recounted being hired to work in the chemistry division, but ended up reassigned to the West Computers because African-Americans were not employed for her original position. Computing sections became more integrated after the first several years. Katherine Johnson, who joined the West Computers in 1953, only spent a few weeks there. Then assigned to work with Henry Pearson in the Flight Research Division, Johnson went on to join the Space Task Force in 1958 where she calculated trajectories for Alan Shepherd and John Glenn’s space flights. 

So, yes, I fully comprehend the racial, social, and cultural ramifications of what Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson accomplished.

I get that.

In fact, I have no doubt that the film Hidden Figures will serve – and is already serving – to encourage and inspire many young people, regardless of ethnicity or gender, to pursue their own dreams of a STEM-related career (perhaps even at NASA).

But to whatever extent the film Hidden Figures may serve as a catalyst for such admirable pursuits – be it to one person or one million – the impetus for such desires should not be that these gifted individuals are black and female.

As laudable as their accomplishments are, what Mss. Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson achieved should resonate with us not as beacons to highlight what those who are of a particular ethnicity or gender are capable of in and of themselves, but to shine a light upon a sovereign God who created each of us with the biological and physical characteristics we possess, and who endows us with the various talents and gifts we each have (James 1:17).

“God is actively involved in bringing about the worldly success of His people and leveraging that success for His purposes.” – Nate Shurden, “Worldly Success”, as published in the January 2017 issue of TableTalk Magazine, p. 7

In titling this blog post The ‘Hidden’ Theology of Hidden Figures, I am in no way suggesting that there exists an underlying Davinci Code-type message to be deciphered by watching the film, but to proffer that our accomplishments in this life, however significant or insignificant, should point us always to God and never to ourselves.

Notwithstanding the well-intentioned – and much-appreciated – objective of films like Hidden Figures in raising our awareness of achievements of women like Katherine Johnson – if for no other reason than her accomplishments are so incredibly unique – the greater story is of the God who created Katherine Johnson to possess those unique talents, and who foreordained that she would employ them in making the momentous impact on the world that she did.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

As we appreciate women like Katherine Johnson, and the encumbrances she, and others with her, were forced to overcome, namely racism and sexism, obstacles that are inherently anathema to the biblical precept of imago Dei, we must not lose sight of the fact that the discernible characteristics that make us who we are as human beings – our ethnicity, our gender, our gifts, and our talents – are determined and imparted by a sovereign God for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:2324).

It is not that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson accomplished what they did as black women “computers” at NASA that makes Hidden Figures story so noteworthy, but that God, who created them black and female (Acts 17:26) chose, in His sovereign grace, to imbue them with the requisite talents and gifts which He, in His divine omniscience, knew they each would need for such a time as theirs.

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.” – Psalm 115:1 (NASB)

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credits:
pressenza.com
spaceflightinsider.com
kuow.org

Why Christian Love Doesn’t Actually Look Like What Many Christians Think It Does


That you and I live today in a politically-correct society should not be understood strictly in a secular sense.

The truth is in many ways the same can be said of the church.

In recent decades the ideals of relativism and pluralism have gradually gained traction within the church, so that long-held orthodoxy is being second-guessed if not outright rejected .

This is nothing new of course.

For centuries the evangelical church has endured challenges to its stated beliefs, the vast majority of which have originated from within the church itself.

It is no different today.

Only instead of arguing over Christian orthodoxy, the discourse has morphed into a fundamental question of what the term Christian means to begin with.

The pluralistic, all-inclusive theology of 21st century Christianity is, in many respects, a worldview that has become virtually indistinguishable from other worldviews.

Talk to most professing Christians – the operative word being professing – and they would likely opine that to be Christian is essentially to “love everybody”.

It is this “kum-bah-yah” view of Christian love that assumes every person on the face of the earth, simply by virtue of his or her existence, is my brother, my sister, or my neighbor, regardless of how Jesus Himself defined those terms.

But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:48-50 (NASB)

There is an inherent danger in espousing a theology that teaches Christians are to “love everybody” without regard to other considerations, namely, the innate sinfulness of all human beings (Genesis 8:21b; 2 Chronicles 6:36a; Romans 3:10, 23).

Biblical counselor Dr. Heath Lambert underscores this point by declaring that:

“…God’s image is marred in fallen human beings. We see that the image is broken in all the ways we fail to represent Him as we should. We demonstrate that God’s image is broken in us every time we do not think as we should, obey as we should, love God and others as we should, or care for the creation in the way we should. In short, the defacing of God’s image in all those places where sin distorts how we were created to function.” – A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry, pp. 188-189

Conversely, consider the words of the late Dr. Jerry Bridges, who states that:

“Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.” – The Gospel For Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Gospel…Every Day, p. 19

The world has successfully convinced many Christians that loving everybody is not only a command to be unquestioningly obeyed, but complied with to the complete disregard of its hamartiological implications.

Consequently, we subjectively parse selected Scripture passages so that certain tenets of the Christian worldview, namely love, come across as more inclusive, even of those who do not subscribe to its teachings.

A primary example of this type of hermeneutical genuflection is how we twist and contort Matthew 5:44:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  

There are those today who would leverage these specific words of Jesus in an effort to promote a politically-correct theology of Christian love that is boundaryless and open-ended.

It is this kind of “blank check” approach to Christian love that has convinced many believers it is anathema to point out sin in another person’s life (James 5:19-20), or to exercise spiritual discernment with regard to the intentions of one’s motives (John 7:24).

What those who think this way fail to understand, however, is that intrinsic to Jesus’ command to “love your enemies”, is the universal attestation that everyone who follows Him will have enemies (John 15:18).

This reality is clearly underscored in Paul’s exhortation to believers at the church in Thessalonica:

“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (NASB)

Contrary to the pluralism inherent with 21st century Christianity, a person’s mere physical existence does not suffice to deem him or her my “brother” or “sister”.

Though we are all God’s creation (Genesis 1:27), we are not all God’s children (John 1:12-13).

The Muslim man, for example, though he, too, bears the image of God, as do I, is, nonetheless, not my brother. Likewise, the Hindu woman, though she also is God’s image-bearer, still, is not my sister.

My pointing this out is not to suggest that we who, by God’s unmerited grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), are believers in Christ should be less motivated or inclined to genuinely (from the heart) demonstrate His love toward those who do not believe in Him (1 Peter 3:8-9; Romans 12:14).

To withhold that love – as if you and I have that right – would be both hypocritical and an egregious affront to the One who loved us before we ever loved Him (1 John 4:19).

Nevertheless, the Word of God is clear that unbelievers in Christ are the enemies of God (James 4:4) and, as such, remain exposed to His wrath (John 3:36).

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”Matthew 10:16 (NASB)

Christianity is not a faith to be lived blindly.

That we are to love others must not be at the expense of biblical discernment or common sense, which God gives abundantly to all who belong to Him (Proverbs 2:7-11Romans 12:3; James 1:5).

The open-ended “love everybody” Christianity of today’s politically-correct culture is a theology rooted in spiritual naivety.

But, as James 1:27 points out, Christians are to be spiritually discerning in all our actions and decisions as we strive to keep ourselves “unstained” by a sinful world (John 17:151 John 2:15-17).

As followers of Jesus Christ we must reject the empty pluralism and vain ecumenicism that calls believers in Christ to “love everybody”, yet would leave us blind to the reality that this world is becoming increasingly hostile toward the things of God and His people (Romans 12:9).

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image Credit:
diggingtheword.blogspot.com

Related:
Family: Forgiving Church Shooter Doesn’t Mean Sparing Life

Why the Talladega College Band Should March in the Trump Inauguration Parade


According to a CBS News article a controversy has arisen regarding the decision by the “Great Tornado” marching band of Talladega College, a historically black college and university (HBCU) located in Talladega, Alabama, to participate in the inauguration parade of President-Elect Donald J. Trump on January 20.

At first glance it would be easy to assume the consternation being expressed is merely the fruit of an ideological rejection of Donald Trump by certain individuals close to this venerable institution.

And though I do not doubt that is the case to a great extent, I would argue there is more that lies beneath the surface. Namely, the long-held stereotype that black Americans, whether individually or institutionally (as in the case of Talladega College), should myopically support the ideals and activities of the Democrat Party and its candidates.

This mindset is not exclusive to white Democrats, as evidenced by remarks made by First Lady Michelle Obama – an African-American woman – to African-American voters just days before the presidential election in November 2016:

“That’s my message to [African-American] voters. This isn’t about Barack. It’s not about the person on the ballot — it’s about you [African-Americans]. And for most of the people that we’re talking to [African-American voters], a Democratic ticket is the clear ticket that we [African-Americans] should be voting on, regardless of who said what or did this. That shouldn’t even come into the equation.”

We need not be naive about what is actually going on here.

The reality is that had Hillary Clinton been elected and not Donald Trump, I wouldn’t be writing this article because there would be no controversy to write about.

Why?

The reason is clear enough: Hillary Clinton is a Democrat and African Americans – simply because they are African American – are obliged to do whatever the Democrat Party requires of them.

It is an ideological stereotype the genesis of which goes back more than half a century.

With all due respect to the alumni, faculty, and student body of Talladega College, the truth is the institution would not exist were it not for the aid of Republicans like Union Army General Wager Swyane, a member the Freedman’s Bureau.

In fact, the vast majority of HBCUs can attribute their origins to Republicans who, during the Reconstruction Era, advocated for the education of former slaves and their children.

Conversely, Democrats, primarily through the enacting of racist Jim Crow laws, employed every conceivable method to deny freed slaves – and their descendants – access to such opportunities.

Ultimately, this “controversy”, such as it is, is neither about Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. Nor is it about to whom kudos are due for establishing the many HBCUs that exist across our country today.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” – Ephesians 4:31 (NASB)

To whatever extent the alumni and supporters of Talladega College are opposed to the worldview of Donald Trump – as is their solemn right – what brings about change in people’s minds and hearts is dialogue not distance.

Which begs the question: What do those who are protesting this decision by Talladega College really gain by its marching band refusing to participate in the Trump inaugural parade (as many other performers have done)?

At best they will have “made a statement” (which is fine as far as making statements go).

At worst they will have deprived this historic institution of the opportunity to build on its legacy by participating in one of the truly unique events in American history, while accomplishing nothing toward ameliorating the concerns that gave rise to this particular disputation to begin with.

When all is said and done, the debate over the participation of the Talladega College marching band in Trump’s inauguration parade is less about politics and more about the legacy of an institution that was founded on the principle of opening minds not closing them.

Admittedly, this is not always an easy goal to pursue.

It was not easy on November 20, 1865, when Talladega College was founded by two former slaves. Nor will it be easy on January 20, 2017, when Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

Nevertheless, I say, let the Great Tornado march.

And may the great discourse begin.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Brief Reflections on the Deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4 (NASB)


In reflecting this morning on the death of actress Carrie Fisher, and of her mother Debbie Reynolds, who passed away the very next day, I was thinking of their families and the inexplicable grief they must undoubtedly be experiencing during this time.

When you think about it, the degree of grief we feel over the death of those we love is directly commensurate to the degree of our love for them.

You see, the truth is that apart from love there is no such thing as grief. It is the proverbial two-edged sword.

We grieve because we love.

It is the same way with God when it comes to our sin.

God grieves over that which and whom He loves.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” – Isaiah 53:3 (NASB)

The depths of grief God feels over our sin is directly connected to the unfathomable depths to which He loves each of us.

Likewise we, too, should grieve over our sin because of our love for Him. God provided tangible proof of His love for us by sacrificing His only Son (John 3:16) so that we, who are innately unlovable, might know what it is and means to be loved by the God who created us and who sent His only begotten Son to die in our place.

Conversely, tangible evidence not only of our love for God but our belonging to Him, is we are grieved in the depths of our heart when we sin against Him.

To those who are truly the redeemed of Christ, grief and love are inseparable with respect to our relationship with Him.

So, examine your own heart and consider, just between you and God, whether or not your professed love for Him also encompasses grieving over your sin.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit:
vimooz.com

Related:
Yes You Can Die of a Broken Heart – dailymail.com
Grief and Loss (podcast) – The Regular Reformed Guys
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to Have Joint Mother-Daughter Funeral – ABC News

A Theology of the Electoral College

Image result for Founding Fathers Electoral College


As I consider that today the United States Electoral College will cast its votes to certify Donald Trump as America’s 45th President-Elect, I am struck by the reality that there actually is much theology to be found within the Constitution.

Please understand that in stating the aforementioned, I am in no way inferring or implying that the United States Constitution is a theological document in and of itself.

I am not saying that at all.

What I am saying, however, is that the protections that are inherent within it are clearly and unarguably rooted and grounded in the doctrine of the sinfulness of human beings.

The Electoral College is but one example of this.

“Every soul has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ. The unregenerate soul is unclean and sinful both in condition and in action.” – R. Stanton Norman, from A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin, chapter 8, Human Sinfulness, p. 434

Regardless if the Founders were deists, theists, agnostics, or even atheists, they clearly had an appreciation (if not an affinity) for the fact that human beings are innately sinful and, as such, are susceptible to the temptations and seductions that invariably accompany positions of power and influence.

So, it is in that sense that I am most thankful to God for the wisdom bestowed upon the Founding Fathers in giving our nation both the Constitution and, conversely, the Electoral College, as safeguards that exist for the purpose of protecting us from ourselves.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23 (NASB)

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

The Danger of Viewing Jesus as a Melanin Messiah


As a child growing up in the “black power” era of the 1970s it was imparted to me, and undoubtedly to other black children like me, that Jesus Christ was a white man.

My adoption of this visage of the Son of God was achieved not so much directly, as if through a series of catechismic conversations I had with my parents, but indirectly by virtue of the seemingly ubiquitous paintings, and other such visuals that were present in our home and at the small house-church we attended, that depicted Jesus as a tall, slender, Caucasian male with golden blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a deftly-manicured beard.

(Perhaps this same visual of Jesus is entering into your own recollection as you read this.)

But though the human appearance of Jesus was consistently represented by such phylogenetic features, I never felt compelled, nor was I ever unduly influenced or encouraged, to formulate a Christology of Jesus through the filter of race or ethnicity so as to view Him as the “God of the white man”.

“For too long Christ has been pictured as a blue-eyed honky. Black theologians are right: we need to dehonkify him and thus make him relevant to the black condition.” – James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation

To whatever extent I had been imbued as a child – primarily through the commingling of accepted societal and ecclesiastical teachings and traditions – with the understanding that the corporeal substance of Jesus was tantamount to that of a white man, it was secondary to my being convinced of my innate sinful condition, and that Christ had come into this world as the propitiation for offenses I had personally committed against a holy and righteous God (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10).

But, be that as it may, there is a sense today in which certain socio-ethno dynamics, such as incidents of police-involved shootings of black Americans are, under the banner of social justice, serve as an impetus for many black Christians, particularly those who are of the millennial generation, to endorse a theology rooted in a racial or “tribal” Jesus.

It is a worldview that simultaneously rejects the traditional orthodoxy and orthopraxy of “white Christianity” or, more specifically, white Christian America, while embracing a dogma that preaches a Christ with whom they can identify racially first and theologically second.

Consequently, many black Christians become attracted to and influenced by the activist philosophy of entities such as Black Lives Matter whose agenda, whether intentionally or not, proves effectual in shaping within them an ethno-centric Christology of who Jesus is.

“For black theologians, white Americans do not have the ability to recognize the humanity in persons of color, blacks need their own theology to affirm their identity in terms of a reality that is anti-black — “blackness” stands for all victims of white oppression. “White theology,” when formed in isolation from the black experience, becomes a theology of white oppressors, serving as divine sanction from criminal acts committed against blacks.” – Dr. Anthony B. Bradley, ‘The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology’, as published by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, April 1, 2008

None of this is to suggest or imply the existence of an organized effort on the part of Black Lives Matter, or any other social justice movement, to discredit, deconstruct, or otherwise depreciate Christianity as a viable theology for black Americans.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that to the extent that Black Lives Matter, in particular, has served as a clarion call to countless black millennials to rally around the cause of racial and social justice – particularly in light of the numerous incidents of police-involved violence against blacks over the past several months – it has impacted not only their view of the role of politics and government in bringing that justice to fruition, but also their view of Jesus Christ and His church.

It is this activist and confrontational approach of Black Lives Matter in pursuing what is unarguably a gospel-centered mandate, namely, the equitable treatment of all human beings (Genesis 1:27; Luke 6:31-36) – particularly when contrasted with what many black Christians today perceive to be a rather placid and imperturbable attitude of white evangelicals on issues of justice – that often factors into young black Christians becoming increasingly comfortable with inculcating certain tenets of groups such as Black Lives Matter into the traditional Christian worldview handed down to them by their parents and grandparents.

The result of this theological appropriation is a rejection by many black Christians of “white Christianity” – and its “white Jesus” – on the basis of what is perceived to be the egregious passivity of white evangelicals in not being more active in helping to rectify and emend what they observe to be systematic injustices being committed with impunity against people who look like them.

“Historically, white Jesus has been used to oppress and erase the histories of people of color in a way that Korean Jesus or black Jesus has not. While a Korean or a black Jesus might not be historically accurate — just like a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus — people of color have the right to see themselves in their religion, especially after centuries of being taught and forced to worship a God that doesn’t look like them.” – Franchesca Ramsey, as published by The Huffington Post in an article titled ‘Jesus Wasn’t White and Here’s Why That Matters’, December 22, 2015

It is an unarguable fact that, historically, both Christianity and Christianity’s Christ have been leveraged in such ungodly ways as to reduce the humanity of blacks to less than that of individuals who are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Even Puritan stalwarts like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, men whom we Reformed believers esteem so highly, and rightly so in my opinion, are not without guilt concerning this.

“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” – Ecclesiastes 7:29 (NASB)

But notwithstanding this unfortunate yet undeniable reality, the question I have is: How long will black Christians hold our white brothers and sisters – and such they are – responsible for the transgressions of their predecessors?

Is the sin of “hermeneutical homogeneity” – a term I use to describe the historical misapplication of biblical Christianity by white people toward the goal of keeping black people “in their place” – a legitimate reason to hold over their collective heads the wrongs of 400 years of mistreatment and miseducation as if it were the Sword of Damocles?

I think not.

“…while we need to be honest about the sins of our spiritual forefathers, let’s be careful not to view them or portray them as if they were nothing but sinners. Slavery is a big issue, but we should not make it the defining issue in how we view people lest we fall into another kind of idolatry.” – Joel Beeke, from the article ‘Propaganda: Giving the Puritans a Bad Rap’, October 25, 2012

To whatever degree white evangelicalism played a role in fostering an environment of racial injustice toward blacks, is resorting to an ethno-evangelicalism of our own any less sinful?

Or do we not realize that whenever Christianity has been used for an ungodly purpose it is not Christianity – nor Christianity’s Christ – that was to blame, but the innate sinfulness of the human heart that manipulates the Word of God in an effort to concoct such depraved schemes (Genesis 8:21b; Jeremiah 17:9Mark 7:20-23; James 4:1)?

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals, for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9 (NASB)

I have long been troubled by the fact that many of my black brothers and sisters, under the guise of “social justice”, have been quick to conjure up – whether past or present – the sins of white people as if to imply that we ourselves are clean.

We are not.

Then, again, no one is (Romans 3:23).

But the question of which ethnicity – blacks or whites – is more worthy to “cast the first stone” is not even the issue (nor has it ever been).

What is the issue is that God did for believers from all ethnicities that which He was not obligated to do.

He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into a world ravaged by sin so that sinners like you and me – of every ethnicity – would be eternally rescued from the wrath of a holy and righteous God (Acts 17:26-27; 1 Thessalonians 1:10Revelation 5:9).

Whatever shade it was, it is not His melanin that makes Jesus the Messiah.

Regardless how Christianity might have been used in the past, or even today for that matter, it is an egregious sin against God to take the One in whose image we are all created and remake Him in our own image.

To do so is nothing more than identity theology.

And identity theology is nothing less than idolatry.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:

The Rage of White, Christian America – The Washington Post
White Christian America Is Dying – The Washington Post
Slavery and Jonathan Edwards – John Piper (audio message from Desiring God)
What Do We Do With Our Slavery-Affirming Theological Heroes? – John Piper
Puritans, Slavery, and Criticizing Heroes – The Heidelblog
The New Black Atheists – Chris Cameron

Image credit:

From the CBS network sitcom Good Times which aired from 1974 to 1979

Fidel Castro and the Gospel of Grace


‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’ – Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB)

Fidel Castro is dead.

Depending on who you talk to, news of the Cuban dictator’s demise is either being celebrated or lamented.

The atrocities committed by Fidel Castro during his lifetime are well-documented; but if Castro is in hell – as many surmise – it may surprise you to know that it is not his atrocities that put him there.

Whatever evil this notorious despot was responsible for during the 90 years he spent in this mortal coil, it was the expected fruit of an unrepentant and unregenerate heart (Romans 2:4-5). In other words, the crimes Fidel Castro exacted against the Cuban people were the evidence of a life that was not born-again (John 3:3; Matthew 3:8).

I say this because of 1 John 3:9:

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His [God’s] seed abides in him; and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born of God (Cf. John 1:12-13).”

Contrary to popular belief, even among many Christians, it is not a person’s sinful deeds that condemns his or her soul to hell, but unbelief in the One who came into this world to rescue us from the penalty of our sins, namely, Jesus Christ.

It is a doctrine that is clearly established in John 3:18:

“He who believes in Him [Jesus] is not judged; he who does not believe [in Jesus] has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Just as our good deeds are not salvific in themselves, likewise, our evil deeds are not in and of themselves condemning.

Though how we live our lives definitely matters to God (1 Peter 4:1-6), what ultimately condemns a person to hell is not how “bad” they were during their life on earth, but their unbelief in Jesus Christ, the result of which is separation from God in eternity.

We see this in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 where the apostle Paul, speaking of the second coming of Jesus, writes that upon Christ’s return He will be:

“…dealing out retribution to those who do not know God [unbelief] and to those who do not obey [deeds] the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

This incredibly sobering text in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians provides us with a clear and concise biblical theology of hell.

In short, hell is a state of perpetual and conscious hopelessness.

It is a place where unimaginable anguish is eternally and tangibly experienced, such as that which is depicted in Luke 16:24 and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, wherein the rich man bemoans:

“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”

Though it is true that our good and bad deeds do have a bearing on our eternal rewards (Romans 2:6-8Revelation 22:12), those deeds are in no way effectual with regard to our salvation.

The apostle Paul underscores this truth in Romans 10:9:

“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

To further Paul’s point, consider the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus who were condemned to death because of the evil deeds they committed (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32, 39-43).

That one thief went to heaven and the other did not, is only because the one thief confessed belief in Christ whereas the other did not (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13).

“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”Romans 14:12

Had the unrepentant thief made the same confession from his heart, then, despite his sinful deeds he, too, would have been assured of the same glorious promise of spending eternity in heaven with Jesus.

It is a reality that would have been just as true for a murderer like Fidel Castro on the day of his death, as it was to the thief on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.

Conclusion

I was complelled to write this blog post because the death of well-known individuals like Fidel Castro serve as a reminder that there are countless millions of people – Christians and non-Christians alike – who are living under the misconception that their works, for better or worse, play a role in God’s sovereign act of salvation.

This is not what the Bible teaches.

God’s Word is unambiguous that His elect are saved by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

It is only belief in Jesus that saves us.

It is only unbelief in Jesus that condemns us.

“Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” – Charles Spurgeon

Despite his many sins, had Fidel Castro only believed on Jesus Christ he would be in heaven today (Romans 6:23).

For the same gospel of grace that applies to “whoever believes” would also have applied to him (John 3:16).

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:
What Is the Gospel? – Dr. R.C. Sproul (Ligonier Ministries)
The Final Divide: Eternal Life or Eternal Wrath – John Piper (Desiring God)
What Faith Must Believe – Ligonier Ministries
How Salvation Brings Freedom – Jen Wilkin (The Gospel Coalition)
The Five Solas – Reformed Forum

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