By / Apr 16

He was a professional skier. During a competition he was favored to win, he lost control on the downslope, plunged 30 feet off course, and rolled like tumbleweed down a hill until a tree trunk broke his fall. When paramedics found him, he denied any pain, but repeated over and over, his voice taut with panic, that he couldn’t move his limbs. 

Days later, he lay in an ICU bed with metal screws and rods fixing his spinal column into place. We’d saved his life, but couldn’t save his spinal cord, and he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. Hour after hour he stared at the ceiling, and when we examined him each morning, he’d answer “yes” or “no,” but said little else. 

Then one day, his nurse motioned for us to talk with her in private. She looked stricken. “I offered to brush his teeth, and he suddenly burst into tears,” she said. “He says everything he cares about is gone, and that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.” 

I am lost 

Although few experiences are as devastating as quadriplegia, outbursts like that of this young man echo in every hospital hallway. When an accident or sudden illness assails us, our first desperate pleas are for our survival, and when we escape with our lives we gush with gratitude. In time, however, the dust settles. We stare dumbfounded at our strange surroundings and realize that the lives through which we once absentmindedly strolled have disintegrated. The images we took for granted have burned up, and the elements of ourselves we most highly prized crumble into ash. 

In such moments we can lose sight of who we are. Severe injuries that leave us disabled not only impair us physically, but also can threaten our understanding of our identity, value, and dignity. 

I remember the lament of a man who survived a stroke, only to sink into despair when he could no longer provide for his family. 

A woman for whom I cared would moan through the night from searing pain in her dying limbs, but refused amputations because she could not fathom life without the freedom to walk. 

Another woman cried in anguish when an operation cured her thyroid cancer, but forever altered her singing voice. 

Such stories highlight that even when we escape a health catastrophe with our lives, every disaster leaves a mark. Some scars so disfigure us that we no longer recognize ourselves, and like Jeremiah stumbling through the ruins of Jerusalem, we cry out, “I am lost” (Lam. 3:54). 

Called out of the darkness

And yet, when we look with dread upon the pieces of our fractured lives, our worth derives from something far more permanent, far more precious than these scattered fragments. Our worth doesn’t derive from our self-reliance, our talents, or our independence. We can’t earn it via anything our trembling hands accomplish. Rather, our worth springs solely, wholly, beautifully, and immutably from Jesus. His blood, for ours. Our renewal, caught up in his. 

Our true and foremost identity has nothing to do with the vigor of our limbs or the keenness of our eyesight and everything to do with the truth that we are image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26), loved by God (John 3:16), and made new through Christ (Rev. 21:5).

Consider the words of Peter:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

In Christ, when God looks upon us, even in our lameness, even when we cannot recognize ourselves, he sees righteousness and holiness, a reflection of his own marvelous light. 

A child of God

One day, after a horrific accident, you may glance in the mirror and struggle to recognize yourself. You may remind yourself that you are a spouse, a mother, or a father. You may remember that you were a lawyer, a teacher, or a bus driver. But first and foremost, remember that in Christ, you are a child of God. Revisit John’s declaration: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; And so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Cleave to this truth if the steps you took for granted decades earlier now feel like labor. Revel in itw hen the person you envisioned yourself to be seems a distant memory. When the days unfold before you like a path plunging into the fog, the destination hazy, and the journey bleak, dare to rejoice that all meager, worldly identifiers shrink before who you are in Christ

As a follower of Christ your identity, now and forever, is as one called out of the darkness into his holy light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). By that light, you conform to the image of God’s Son. By that light, God wraps you in his love. And nothing, not illness or death, not halting speech or a crippled limb, can snuff that light out, or enshroud you from its brilliance (Rom. 8:38–39). 

This article was adapted from Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor’s Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God, Crossway, April 2021.

By / May 6

Dan Darling interviews Randy Alcorn about how the Bible informs our care for and value of animals.

By / Mar 24

Yesterday we learned NFL star Darren Sharper’s sentence for raping nine women: “a little less than nine years,” according to a USA Today article. Less than one year in prison per rape? Let that settle on you for a minute. In our culture, a man can arbitrarily select a woman with whom he wants to have sex, violently force himself onto her and the punishment is less than 12 months in prison. When did life become so cheap in these United States? Is there anything in our culture whose value is depreciating more rapidly than humans?

Sharper’s sentence again highlights the decline in value our culture places on women. What is happening to the female demographic is not happening in isolation. Pockets of our culture discuss rejecting the responsibility to care for our elderly since they are no longer contributing members of society and thus a financial burden. A woman can decide the human being in her womb is an inconvenience and dispose of him or her. Society knows that tens of thousands of our children remain in the foster care system trapped behind the iron door of a $25,000 plus ransom, while thousands of adoptive families are just outside, ready and willing to adopt them. I could go on and on, but my point is made: Life has become very cheap in these United States and our women, children and elderly are especially vulnerable.

The official term for this is “the sanctity of human life.” Despite all the modern progress in psychology, the feminist movement, education, and the like, the value of human life continues to depreciate more rapidly than the raw vegetable tray at a Super Bowl party. It remains that the only kingdom in whose culture life is truly valued, especially women, children and the elderly, is the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Where Christ’s rule is established, the value of human life rises; where his rule diminishes, the value of human life follows suit.

Culture will hate this, but if you are a woman and you want life to have great value, turn to Jesus Christ. If you want to live in a kingdom whose culture esteems new and young human life, turn to Jesus Christ. If you get that the elderly should receive utmost respect from their society, you will love living in the kingdom of Christ; you should turn to him.

This was originally published here.

By / Dec 16

It has become fashionable among some to denounce football as barbaric and gladiatorial. Author Malcolm Gladwell has repeatedly called for colleges to drop their college football teams and has asserted that it is barbarism akin to dog fighting. Professor of law at Northeastern University, Roger I. Abrams, asks regarding football, “Should we accept this gladiatorial combat as our national pastime?” Such critics must be watching a different game than the one so many of us enjoy each weekend in the fall.  

A recognition of dignity

Baseball is my favorite sport, but football certainly holds a special place in my affections. I was raised in Alabama, the buckle of the SEC football belt. In the southeast, football has taken on a mythic quality. Football Saturdays are not just games; they are cultural events similar to a massive family reunion. The pageantry and rootedness of cheering for the local school you identify with is a contemporary reflection of southern agrarian rootedness. Auburn University historian Wayne Flynt contends that in the post-reconstruction era “football offered southern men a chance to assert their masculinity and the South’s physical supremacy short of actually taking up arms” (Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives).

Far from being an example of barbaric gladiatorial culture, I think the beautiful and awe-inspiring controlled aggression of football is an example of the value of humanity. Sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, has written extensively on the reasons for the spread of Christianity. Stark explains, “Perhaps, above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death. . . . Finally, what Christianity gave to its converts was nothing less than their humanity. In this sense virtue was its own reward” (The Rise of Christianity).

In an interview with Touchstone magazine, Stark was asked to explain what he meant by his assertion that “what Christianity gave to its converts was nothing less than their humanity.” He responded by explaining Christianity’s influence in restoring humanity by condemning the bloodthirsty gladiatorial culture of the era:

If you look at the Roman world, you have to question whether half the people had any humanity. Going to the arena to enjoy watching people tortured and killed doesn’t strike me as healthy. I’m a big football fan, and I see that, when some player gets hurt, they bring out an ambulance and the doctors take twenty minutes to get him off the field. They don’t want people hurt out there. But these people did. They’d shout, “Shake him! Jump up and down on him!”

It was a new idea. Among the pagans, you get the sense that no one took care of anyone else except in the tribal way. It’s what we’re seeing today in the Balkans—you take care of your brothers, and you kill everybody else. Christianity told the Greco-Roman world that the definition of “brother” has got to be a lot broader. There are some things you owe to any living human being.

A rejection of gratuitous violence

Modern American football is not a contemporary expression of a gladiatorial culture thirsty for gratuitous violence—it is the repudiation of it. Football is a potentially violent sport, but the point of football is not violence or injury of the opponent. As Herm Edwards has said, “You play to win the game.” Football games are won with power and finesse. It is a physically demanding game that will certainly result in occasional injuries, some of which will be serious, but over the years football has been willing to reform in countless ways that have made it safer while not destroying the essence of the manly game. Football also penalizes those who corrupt the game by intentionally attempting to injure an opponent.

As a former high school football coach, I witnessed players injured on the field and have consistently seen players on the opposing team show concern and even gather and pray for the injured athlete. Now as a father watching my own son play high school football, I have observed the same recognition of humanity on the football field. I have been in Bryant-Denny stadium with 90,000 rabid Alabama football fans and have heard the frenzied crowd fall immediately silent when a player was on the field injured. Comparing modern American football to barbaric gladiatorial culture is misguided at best and outright deceitful at worst.  

A noble game

Amos Alonzo Stagg was one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football and a devoted Christian who was initially headed for the pastorate. He coached football at a time when the game was far more brutal than today’s version of the game. Stagg said, “To me, the coaching profession is one of the noblest and most far-reaching in building manhood . . . Winning isn’t worthwhile unless one has something finer and nobler behind it.” Collin Hansen writes that Stagg placed “athletics within the eternal narrative of Christ and his church” and that he had a “vision for football's ability to impart virtue to its participants.” Hansen explains, “Stagg saw in every missed field goal a test of faith, in every tussle at the line of scrimmage the fire of character maturation.”

Stark, a sociologist, and Stagg, a football coach, both have seen and celebrated the humanity of the rugged game of football, and you should too. Football has always had its critics. In the early portion of the 20th century, president Theodore Roosevelt referred to such people as mollycoddles. Do not allow 21st century mollycoddles to steal your enjoyment of the pageantry and excitement of football this season. Be inspired by the honed physical gifts and determination of those who participate in a disciplined, majestic sport that fuses ballet-like choreography with brute power and force. Ask yourself, what parallels you can glean to help you think about your own spiritual life or the discipleship of your children. And thank God for the humanity of football.