Saturday, November 19, 2011

Divorce an ailing spouse? That’s sick

Pat Robertson, host of the popular show “The 700 Club,” drew flak for advising a viewer to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease. Robertson maintains his comment was “misinterpreted.” He says he did not mean to give general advise but rather his statement was for this specific situation — the viewer was already committing adultery.

Still, Robertson’s remarks were especially shocking coming from a Christian leader.

Jesus taught that marriage was ordained by God, saying “the two shall become one flesh … therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ideally only death should dissolve marriage. The Bible does teach that divorce is permitted in the case of adultery or desertion by a non-Christian spouse. In both these scenarios, the divorce is initiated by the betrayed and not the offending spouse.

However, sickness is never scripturally cited as a reason for divorce.

No one would argue that Alzheimer’s is a difficult illness — not just for the patient but also for family members. It is hard to watch a loved ones waste away as they lose intellectual, social, emotional and physical ability. It is especially difficult when patients no longer recognize friends and family. Caregivers can feel as if they have lost all that they cherished about a loved one.

In a traditional Christian wedding ceremony, couples vow to be faithful in sickness and health, for better or worse, until death. Patients — even if nonresponsive — need their spouse’s love and care.

Instead of encouraging divorce, Robertson should have addressed the need for caregivers to find a support system or even professional help. If the patient’s spouse is contemplating divorce or committing adultery, it may be because he or she is unable to handle the overwhelming demands of being a caregiver.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul defines the characteristics of love in a chapter that is often recited at weddings: “Love is patient … it is not self-seeking … it always protects … always hopes, always perseveres.”

We should not cast judgment on the person who can no longer handle the pressure of caring for a sick spouse, but a Christian leader should never promote abandonment. The challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s are enormous. It is normal to want to give in, but God promises to provide comfort and strength — to care for the caregiver.

Perspective helps us give thanks in tough times

For many Americans, 2011 has been a difficult year. The national unemployment rate continues to linger around 9 percent, the number of home foreclosures rose last month, the cost of food has increased across the globe and gas prices remain high. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be hard to find a reason to be thankful.

One of the more challenging directives in the Bible is found in the book of Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice always … give thanks in all circumstances.” Certainly this is easy to do in times of prosperity, but it can be an arduous task in trying economic times such as these.

Maintaining a mind-set of gratitude has benefits that extend beyond the spiritual. Experts agree being positive can reduce stress. Optimistic people also have a tendency to aim high and make the most of every situation; the result is their lives can be more fulfilling.

While it is unlikely that the economy will turn around soon, all that may be required to remain thankful is a change in perspective.

Seventeenth-century theologian Matthew Henry uttered this prayer after being robbed: “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

The Apostle Paul is not instructing us to suppress unpleasant emotions. Pain, sadness and suffering are real emotions that we will experience from time to time. The Scriptures even tell us that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. What Paul is encouraging is an inner joy and sense of contentment that recognizes that even in less than ideal conditions or when we are unhappy, we likely still have many reasons to be thankful.

We take a lot of things for granted. As tedious as the presidential election process is, and as much as there is to criticize on both sides of the aisle, I am grateful I live in a country that allows us to peacefully disagree. I’m thankful for the freedoms we enjoy as a result of living in a democratic nation, in particular freedom of speech and freedom to worship.

If you are employed, or if you have a place to call home, or if you have warm clothes to wear this winter, or if you’re not relying on your local food bank for your Thanksgiving meal, or if you’re in relatively good health, or if you have loved ones to spend the holidays with, you have a reason to be thankful.

Remembering the past also can stir up gratitude. If we recall times when things were better, we can give thanks and live with the hope that someday they will be again.

This Thanksgiving, let’s pause to give thanks for our many blessings, despite the challenging economic circumstances. If you’re reading this column, you’re alive. That’s another reason to give thanks.

When Bible translations go too far

This summer, the Southern Baptist Convention wisely rejected the updated New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible at its annual convention in Phoenix.

The new translation uses gender-neutral language. Published by Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House, the 2011 edition is meant to replace the 1984 NIV, which has been widely accepted and revered by evangelicals.

The Southern Baptist Convention notes that the gender-neutral NIV “alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language.”

The Bible was written by about 40 authors over 1,600 years. Christians believe that these men were led by God. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Therefore, evangelicals affirm that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. The Scriptures teach that God never changes. The Bible, therefore, is just as authoritative and inspired today. A translation should not manipulate the message even if it is perceived to be politically incorrect.

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. The first English translation of the Bible is believed to have been completed in 1384 and is attributed to John Wycliffe. The King James Version (KJV) was published in 1611 and for more than 300 years it was the most prominent translation. However, as the English language evolved, translations emerged for modern readers.

The 20th century produced many contemporary renderings of the Bible, including the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New King James Version (NKJV), which modernized the King James while attempting to retain its traditional phrasing.

Some translations, such as the New American Standard Bible, attempt literal word-for-word renditions. Others, including the New International Version, are less rigid and more idiomatic. Nonetheless, evangelical scholars generally agree that the variations among the widely accepted translations are relatively insignificant. While various translations may use distinctive words and phrases, they preserve the message.

But the 2011 New International Version goes beyond acceptable translation practices and changes the original meaning of the text to accommodate current social norms. The convention is justified in rejecting it.