Welcome to Vernon Smart’s Blog!

February 26th, 2014

Thanks for checking out my blog! I post “Smart Thoughts” on a variety of topics:  Bible, Theology, Culture, Ministry, Politics, Personal Reflections, etc.  I try to think creatively and with some measure of originality (But, is there anything under the sun that’s truly original?!). Anyway, if you like what you find here, feel free to subscribe to my email updates and reply to my posts.  Thanks.

The Sanctity of Human Life

January 14th, 2016

One of the great cultural battles of our time concerns the issue of abortion. Beliefs about whether or not a woman should be allowed to choose to terminate her pregnancy cover a broad spectrum.

On the one end there are those who believe a woman has an absolute right to have an abortion at any time and for any reason. At the other end are those who believe abortion should not be a legal option for any reason at all.

In between these two positions there are a number of modified stances that consider such factors as the viability of the fetus, threat to the mother’s life, and so forth. This article concerns one of the most important of those factors: the question of the sanctity of human life.

The issue of sanctity of life comes down to three questions:

  1. What is life? 2. What is a human? 3. Is human life sacred, possessing the right to life?

The first two are basic scientific questions, and the answers are extremely simple from a purely scientific point of view.

  1. Is it life? More to the point, what is life from a scientific point of view? How does science define life?

The answer is basic knowledge in the science of Biology, which is by definition the science of life. Encyclopedia Britannica defines life as: “matter that shows certain attributes that include responsiveness, growth, metabolism, energy transformation, and reproduction.”* A fetus has all of these attributes. So it is alive. That is the simple scientific answer.

  1. Is it human?

The simple scientific answer is that species is determined by DNA. The fetus in a human womb has human DNA. Level of development has nothing to do with it. Everything it will become in terms of life stages is already encoded in the DNA.

The level of dependency also has nothing to do with it. (This relates to the issue of viability.) A baby after birth is every bit as dependent on others for its survival as it is before birth. Being alive has nothing to do with the conditions that must be met for life to continue and thrive without intervention.

So a preborn baby is alive and is human. That is the simple scientific answer.

This leaves us now with the third question.

  1. Is it sacred?

This is where we go beyond science to the realm of belief.

As a Christian I believe that human life is sacred. For me, it is an article of faith. If someone believes otherwise, so be it, but that is equally an article of faith, whether it is atheistic, agnostic, humanistic, secularistic, or whatever. It has nothing whatsoever to do with science!

If some people do not believe that human life is sacred, and deserving of protection (which, by the way, they generally afford to other species), they should at least be honest about the fact that this is only a matter of their belief. They shouldn’t disguise their denial of the sanctity of human by confusing that question with the science about life and species! If it is simply a question of science, the fertilized ovum is alive and human at conception.

The only question that remains is whether or not that human life is sacred and deserves protection. And this is where it starts to get interesting.

Let’s suppose that maybe we can’t say for sure that life begins at conception. There is another factor to consider, which I will first illustrate from the current controversy over climate change, and then show how it applies to the question of the sanctity of human life.

This is a very relevant illustration because most people who take what they call a “pro choice” position in regards to human life also believe in climate change. (I am not here advocating for any particular view about climate change; I am only using the debate illustratively.)

Many who believe that climate change is real and is caused by human activity also believe that, considering the stakes involved, it is valid to give the benefit of the doubt to the side that predicts catastrophic climate change. The basis of this benefit of the doubt is the question, “What if we are right, even if we don’t have proof?  What if there is only a possibility that destructive climate change is taking place as a result of human activity? Shouldn’t we take action against even the possibility of that danger before it’s too late?”

My question is, why do they not allow that same reasoning to the apply to the question of whether or not life begins at conception? What if it is only possibly a human life? Considering what is at stake (the death of a human being), shouldn’t we apply the same benefit of the doubt to the question of human life that they insist we apply to climate change?

My answer is yes. My answer is that, even if there is only the possibility that the conceived, living entity with human DNA is a human life, the benefit of the doubt should be resolved in favor of that possibility. It is alive, it is human, it is sacred and deserving of protection.

*http://www.britannica.com/topic/life [accessed 1-14-16]

Juggling Life’s Priorities, part 1

March 26th, 2014

Anyone who is serious about living a meaningful, value-based life has to deal with the question of priorities. Perhaps the most common theoretical approach to priorities is the vertically ordered list. For many Christians it goes something like this: God is number one, family is number two, church is number three (or perhaps work and then church), and so forth. Whatever life areas make up such a list for any one person, they are placed in order of diminishing priority.

The problem with this approach is that it sets priorities in a static hierarchy that makes some permanently less important than others. Take family and church for example. If church falls in a lower spot than family, that means that whenever there is any choice to be made between the two, the church always gets the short stick by default. Is it really the case that no church activities are ever more important than certain family considerations? In real life, such an approach to priorities can’t work consistently. If this is so, perhaps a paradigm shift is in order. I suggest that it is and that such a shift would involve at least two steps.

The first step is to realize that all priorities are priorities. In the vertical approach, it’s hard to view something as truly a priority when there are several things ahead of it on a static list! At some point, a low enough spot on such a list renders the idea of a “priority” virtually meaningless. All priorities are priorities.

The second step in the paradigm shift is to move away from the vertical, linear conception, to one that is illustrated by the art of juggling. A juggler works with several balls. Each ball is as important as any other, but there is always at least one that is not in his hands at any given moment. Nevertheless, he is always aware of where that ball is. The more balls there are, the more important it is for the juggler to know a number of things:

• Which ball needs to be in my hands right now?

• Where in the air are all of the other balls?

• Which one will soon need to be caught?

• Which one needs to be let go of to make room for the one that’s landing?  And on it goes.

All of the balls are priorities. As long as the juggler is aware and actively juggling, none of the balls gets dropped.

Now, anyone who has ever tried to learn how to juggle knows that it isn’t easy. Well, guess what? Living life well isn’t easy! But it’s worth the effort required to learn. However, there are some benefits to be derived from learning to juggle priorities. This will be the subject of the next post, along with what should be a burning question for any thoughtful Christian: How does God fit into this paradigm? Stay tuned.

Humble Thoughts, part 3

March 20th, 2014

If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, I invite you to do so now.

How can you become humble?

To begin with, I should reframe the question as “How can you humble yourself?” The emphasis in Scripture is on humbling oneself (an action to be performed) rather than on becoming humble (a trait to be acquired). There are things that you must do in order to become humble.

A good starting point is to examine your motivation. God commands, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord” (James 4:10a NASV). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”  (John 14:15). So, your love for God motivates you to humble yourself. But notice that James continues, “and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10b). There is a promise attached to the command. The hope of reward also motivates you. Once you have dealt with your motivation, I would suggest you take the following three steps.

1. Pray for God’s grace to humble yourself. Notice that I did not say to ask Him to humble you. Trust me, you do not want God to humble you! But you do need His enabling grace  as you undertake the process of humbling yourself.

2. Take your focus off of yourself and put it on to God and others. This is actually one of the characteristics that distinguishes not only humility from pride but also true humility from false humility. C. S. Lewis put it this way, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Even a poor self-image or self-doubt is focused on the self, and in its own way can be a form of pride! This is why you feel self-conscious when you are trying to be humble.

3. Follow Paul’s advice: “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16). If nothing else, this will reveal whether or not you think you are better than they are! You will probably even find that they are better than you thought they were. In any case, there is nothing like rubbing shoulders with such people to keep you grounded in your common humanity with its multifaceted strengths and weaknesses. We are all fellow travelers.

I could go on to speak of serving others, confessing your faults to others, and other acts of humbling yourself, but if you start with the above suggestions, you will be off to a good start. May our humble Savior direct you in the journey.

Humble Thoughts, part 2

March 11th, 2014

In part one of this reflection, I noted that humility is basically an honest response to the truth—both the good and the bad—about you. This means that the good is not exaggerated and the bad is not minimized. But it also means that the bad is not exaggerated and the good is not minimized.

As I am using the terms here, truth has regard to the facts of the case, but honesty deals with the state of the heart. I can speak truth and not be honest. For example, it is quite possible that I might admit to having certain faults but only because doing so makes me look humble. The admission may be true, but it is not honest. I have not embraced the truth in my heart in order to change. I have only used it to bolster my image. On the other hand, I could speak the truth about my accomplishments with a heart full of pride. In this case the dishonesty is in my failure to acknowledge the Source of my success.

So, how do you know whether or not you’re truly humble? The answer is deceptively simple. You know you’re humble when you no longer have to try to be! That an effort is required to be humble may be evidence of pride in the heart.

When someone compliments me on something I’ve done, I don’t have to self-consciously deflect it with awkward disclaimers like, “Oh, it’s not me; it’s the Lord.” I can simply say, “Thank you!” Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I shouldn’t give God the credit, but I am saying that I can feel in my heart when the attempt to do so is either hypocritical (trying to appear humble) or forced (trying to push down the pride I feel rising up).

Now, occasionally people will go overboard in complimenting me. When that happens, I feel it is necessary for their sake to remind them of the Source of my gifts. Indeed, underlying their compliment may be the thought that, since they are not as exceptional as they think I am, they could never be used of God like I am. In this case, my reminder of God’s gracious gift in my life is intended to encourage them that if He can use me, He can use them as well. He is no respecter of persons.

In my final installment, I will look at how we can become humble. I hope you will return.

Humble Thoughts, part 1

March 4th, 2014

What better way to start a blog called “Smart Thoughts” than with a reflection on humility?!

Humility is a virtue, but it is one that is commonly misunderstood. We’ve all heard jokes about writing a book called Humility and How I Attained It. Most humor is based on irony, and we find this imaginary book title humorous because of the perceived irony that one can’t be humble and know it. After all, we’ve often heard it said that “once you think you’ve found humility, you’ve lost it.” However, I think this misses the point about what humility really is.

Now, to be sure, the apostle Paul said, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT). Paul is saying that we should not have too high an opinion of ourselves. But notice that he is not saying that we should therefore have too low an opinion of ourselves! His standard of measure is truth (“Be honest . . .”), not some distorted idea of humility.

If God has given us certain gifts (and that is what the context of Romans 12 is about), is it honest to “humbly” deny them? Does it honor the Giver to denigrate the gift? Conversely, doesn’t it rather honor God to acknowledge both the Giver and the gift? I will illustrate with my own case.

Judging by consistent feedback that I’ve gotten over the years from those whom I have taught, I am an excellent Bible Teacher. How can I say that and, at the same time, be humble? Simple . . . I acknowledge this ability as a gift of God. I have nothing that I have not been given. I can take no credit for it. Nevertheless, I can (and should) humbly acknowledge it. To do otherwise is to discredit the Giver. It is true that I could dishonor God by proudly taking credit for the gift. But “humbly” failing to acknowledge it amounts to the same thing!

In the next post, I will dig a little deeper into the true nature of humility and how you really can know when you’ve attained it! Stay tuned.