23 September 2010

From 2006: When compassion is Satanic

by Dan Phillips

[On this occasion, it seemeth good unto mine eyes to repost the first post I ever posted on this-here blog. The date was January 26, 2006.]

I take great encouragement from the apostles. What a bunch of goofs. What stunningly thickheaded slow-learners, yet all (metaphorically) wearing "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks them who people say He is, then after their response He points the finger and asks "But you -- who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15, emphatic humeis). Peter, in one of his brief, shining moments, gives the right answer, and Jesus says he could only know this by divine revelation. As we see Peter in the Gospels, this is almost a truism.

Then Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to Him. Does He leave out any essential? Not really. And yet, when it all eventually happens just as predicted, they're still utterly thunderstruck. Had they the chance, I can almost hear them choking out, "But... but why didn't You tell us?" What knotheads. Ahh, my kind of guys. I'd have fit right in without a ripple. (Well, except for speaking Greek with a California accent.)

But as I recently re-read this passage, what struck me is Peter's response to Jesus' dark announcement. Peter had confessed the wonderful truth about Jesus, and had received Jesus' affirmation. It was stacking up as a great day for the Rockinator.

But what does Peter do with this new information about Him whom he'd just crowned the Christ, the Son of the living God? He rebukes Him! He takes Jesus to task, chews Him out, tries to set Jesus straight. (Yes, that was as weird to write as it is to read.)

NOTE: I was just reading that section today (9/23/2010) in Mark 8, and I noticed for the first (remembered) time a striking feature in the Greek text: three occurrences of epitiman, the verb usually translated "to rebuke." You can't see it in any English version I saw, because the first occurrence, in verse 30, is usually translated along the lines of "strictly charged" or "warned."  Second, Peter "rebukes" Jesus in verse 32, then Jesus rebukes Peter in verse 33.

But note how Peter rebukes Jesus. The Greek hileos soi, kurie is hard to capture. Probably the best way to render it is to paraphrase along the lines of the ESV's footnote: "May God be merciful to you, Lord!"

Clearly, Peter is appalled to his very soul at the idea. It horrifies him. I wouldn't charge him with great self-interest or any other such base motivation. Peter clearly loved Jesus, by his best lights, and the idea of Him being treated in this way simply sickens Peter to his very soul. Can we blame Him? In his sandals, would we really have sighed, shrugged, nodded piously and said, "Yes, well, that is what some prophecies seem to suggest..."?

Yet Jesus does blame him. In fact, He scorchingly blames him. "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23 ESV). So much for Peter's good day.

But why does Jesus call Peter "Satan"? Wasn't Peter motivated by tender, compassionate concern for Jesus? I would not assume otherwise. Jesus does not say otherwise. He does not fault Peter's feelings, so much as Peter's thoughts. The HCSB version has it, "you're not thinking about God's concerns." "Not thinking" renders ou phroneis, pointing to a mindset, a mental framework or attitude. The concern does not come from God's perspective.

How is that like Satan? My mind goes back to Satan's first appearance, where we see him as Man's Best Friend. Isn't that how he presents himself? First, he can't believe that God really roped off all the trees of the garden. "Did God actually say?" he begins. He hates to see the woman so deprived, so repressed.

Then when Eve misquotes God to Satan, he immediately moves to quiet her fears. She should not deny herself such a boon! The fruit she wants is the fruit she needs, and God has no good reason for keeping it from her! God have mercy on you Eve, take the fruit and realize your full selfhood, your full potential!

And so he had worked in Peter's thoughts, imperceptibly, maneuvering this good impulse and that good impulse (unshored from God's perspective) until what came out of Peter's mouth was exactly what Satan wanted him to say. Peter doubtless felt a sort of compassion; but that compassion was Satanic. It did not start from God's starting point in rigorously, Biblically-analytical and self-critical thinking, and it did not stay there.

Compassion is a wonderful, godly human emotion -- or can be, as it is informed and directed in line with the Word. But if Peter shows us nothing else, he shows us that compassion can go wrong. What are some specific ways?

Given the baleful, bloody anniversary we've just passed in America, I think of abortion. Pro-aborts present their position as a compassionate position, in fact as the compassionate position. Those who oppose abortion rights (as they put it) have no compassion for women in crisis. Of course, we have a ready response, and can point out that we have compassion on both the mother and the child.

But what of the "hard cases"? What of rape and incest? Here is where I've heard many Christians' "compassion" overrule their Biblical thinking.

Now look, let me be plain. I think the utmost of compassion is completely appropriate for victims of these awful crimes. I think such women should be given every kind of help, encouragement, and support that can be afforded them.

I just don't think it is compassionate to turn a victim into a victimizer.

In such cases, there are two victims: the mother, and her child. Neither one should be punished for being a victim. Both deserve compassion and support. I just can see no Biblical warrant for encouraging a woman to victimize her child, to contract his or her killing, and calling that "compassion."

"Ah," many will say. "That's a very emotional issue." Yes, it really is. As was Jesus' prediction of His impending violent death. That was a very emotional issue for Peter. Peter let his emotions rule his thinking, and that took his thinking in a Satanic direction.

Will we learn nothing from Peter?

Perhaps you can think of other contemporary issues where Satanic values masquerade under a guise of compassion. Homosexuality leaps to mind. It sounds like the very distillation of compassion to tell such tortured souls that they should give up the struggle, accept their passions, and embrace them, assured of God's approval. But this is the compassion of Hell. This is the compassion that ignores the Cross, with its equally vast threats of judgment, and promises of redemption, deliverance, and freedom. To tell souls struggling with any vile passions, whether they draw one towards homosexuality, adultery, theft, or murder, that they have no hope for deliverance, that their only hope is to redefine and then embrace sin, is no compassion at all.

But my last thoughts here turn to another Satanic form of compassion: the "compassion" we turn to our own sins.

We can read glibly of all the particulars above, if we've never waged those specific battles. It's easy for one who's never had the slightest homosexual urge to sermonize airily on the topic; and so identically with all the others mentioned.

But what of your bad tongue? What of my tendency for faithless despair? What of her arrogant disrespect for her husband? What of his callous, selfish disregard for his wife, or distant unconcern for his children?

Oh, those are different, aren't they? Those are our darling sins. We have compassion on ourselves, compassion on our pet-sins. We create a force-field of rationalizations around them. They're different, because we're different, and our situation is different. Surely they can't be meant for the Cross! Mortify those sins? Put them to a screaming, howling death? Fight and fight, bloodily and incessantly and unsparingly, until they cease struggling and breathing, and have been replaced by God-honoring attitudes and behaviors? God have mercy on us, this can never be!

Sound familiar?

Satanic compassion. God grant we all learn from Peter.

Dan Phillips's signature


Merrilee Stevenson said...

Wow. This fits well with your last post and it's final comments. And the Lord is using it to convict me, as I have been having a series of turbulent days myself. What I really need is Christ-like rebuke, not satanic compassion. I need to forsake my sinful habits and cling to Christ to pull me up out of the mire.

From a totally different angle, this is also true when confronting a sinful world with the gospel. I think Satan wants us to be soft and "compassionate" towards "victims" of others' sin, and ultimately not address the very personal reality of their own offenses to a holy and righteous God. They need to see their need to forsake and cling to Christ as well.

Halcyon said...

Well said, DJP.

I remember during my undergrad days when social gospel-esque attitudes starting creeping into my college. Anyone who was not on board was "Pharisaical" and "uncompassionate". A few of my friends and I challenged them on it, standing on one and only one question: exactly how are the fires of Hell quenched by freshly upholstered furniture?

Alice said...

The Rockinator...love it!

Great post: timely and true.

DJP said...

Merrilee, for whatever it's worth, I did not intend any connection with yesterday's post. I just did not have the time to compose a new post, and reached back to the beginning for this one.

Glad it was a blessing, glory to God!

Unknown said...

Hi Dan, I have a question about the 9 year old girl who was impregnated with twins by her stepfather. The consensus was that the nine year old would die if she carried twins to term. In this situation, do you think abortion is permissible (i.e., to save the life of the 9 year old)?

Aaron said...

I have an answer to that last question, but since Dan was specifically requested I'll wait to see his response.

DJP said...

Clara, in that razor-thin slice of cases where there is an actual, unambiguous, imminent threat to the physical life of the mother, abortion may be an option -- though not all mothers in those cases choose that option.

But I hope you understand that that accounts for only a tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the abortions that are committed each day.

Unknown said...

Yes, I understand the situation I mentioned accounts for a minute fraction of abortion cases. I was just curious as to what your opinion was in that situation. The Catholic Church excommunicated the child's mother and the hospital workers, which I though unduly harsh given the child's life was at risk...

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. Both penetratingly brutal and manifestly encouraging. This especially touches me as I recently saw a friend's facebook post saying something of the sort, "Christians need to stop being so close-minded - we can't minister to people if we assume they're wrong!"

And of course, as I read the extent of your post, I felt my own soul pierced to the quick - indeed, we have "compassion" on our own selves and our good friends' "issues" far too often, do we not?

"Hath God really said that is so wrong? Be loving to thyself!"

We must have no compassion towards sin and give no quarter to the flesh. Thanks for that post, especially the last paragraph.

naturgesetz said...

We all need these reminders to be concerned about the mote (or worse) in our own eye, as well as to avoid false compassion.

Thanks for reposting.