Abraham Lincoln once asked how many legs a sheep would have if we called the tail a leg. “Five,” came the answer. No, Lincoln replied, it doesn’t matter what we call it, a sheep will have four legs regardless of what we say.
The Bible gives us the categories of mercy and cruelty. Both of them are defined by God, and not by what we want to call them. These are objective categories, over which Jesus is Lord, and not subjective realities where each one of us gets to roll our own.
For a stark example, a father who refuses to chastize his son physically is a man, Scripture says, who hates his son (Prov. 13:24). But he could, especially in these times, say that striking your son is a fine example of physical abuse, and that he refrains from disciplining him this way because he loves his son. If a man went down to social services for a bit of advice on controlling an unruly son, do you think that man would be told by the social worker there that there was nothing wrong at home that a good whipping wouldn’t fix (Prov. 23:13)?
This is the core battle in all temptation, the battle for control of the definitions. The first instance of it happened in the Garden when our parents fell. Who was going to define the tree of knowledge of good and evil? On their account, Adam and Eve were not eating ruination; they thought they were becoming as God, which was a good thing they thought. In Romans 1, Paul says of the idolaters that they were professing to become wise while they were becoming fools. As they were becoming stupider and stupider, they persisted in giving honorary doctorates to each other.
Now this principle applies to mercy as God defines it, and mercy as man apart from Christ defines it. When man in rebellion against Christ defines mercy, what they are talking about is cruelty. A godly man’s tender mercies extend down to life in his barn, and in a similar way, the cruelties of the wicked extend into everything. Even the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel (Prov. 12:10). A young man may believe all that he was told about sexual liberation, and how important it was not to deny that which was so obviously “natural” to him, and so he pursues the way of fornication, obviously a good and pleasant choice, he believes. What has he done, but give his honor away, and his “years unto the cruel” (Prov. 5:9)?
Why listen to these people at all? Why listen to what they have to say on love, justice, sexual ethics, redistribution, politics, mercy, or economics? “Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps” (Dt. 32:33). They hate God, and they do not love what He loves. The devil, remember, is the father of liars. He does not come to us, tell us the unvarnished truth, in order to allow us to make an informed choice. He lies. And so his cruelties are decked out with noble sounding phrases.
And evangelical Christians go for it. I read just yesterday that the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, a man named Richard Cizik, voted for Obama in the primary (at least), is now in favor of civil unions for homos, and thinks that “character issues” trump disagreement over things like the slaughter of the unborn. There is no other way to describe this than to acknowledge that God has struck our leaders with a judicial stupor. Cizik talks as though character issues are one thing over here, and support for genocidal mayhem is over there. Having a sweet character is here, and approval of sodomy is there. God was clearly in the wrong for His judgment of Sodom’s sexual immorality (Jude 7). He should have come down and judged them for their character issues instead.
No doubt, listening to a talk by Cizik would be an experience in listening to sentimentalist bromides all wrapped up in cotton batting. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t care about the unborn — his tender mercies are cruel.
“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh” (Prov. 11:17).
You can tell if the rot has set in pretty easily. What might the principal mercy opportunity in the United States be? Think about it. A million or more little babies are being chopped into littler pieces. And as soon as someone starts saying, well, yes, “but that’s a political issue. I am more interested in broader issues of mercy and social justice,” the rot has set in. And it is called a good thing — progressive. But as Joe Sobran recently put it, if termites could talk, they would call what they do to a house “progress.” And of course, it doesn’t matter what we call it. The house will still collapse.