Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Sign of Cain, Romans 10, Dagger in the Heart

 Some items from church, followed by a book write-up:

A. The church service was about peace. The pastor opened his sermon with a story about how anger begets anger. A boss yells at his worker, the worker goes home and yells at his kid, and the kid goes out and kicks the poor dog. The pastor then talked about a blog post by Chad Bird. Bird in his post discusses the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. God rejects Cain’s sacrifice and, when Cain’s anger actually should be directed at God, Cain takes his anger out at his brother Abel, who had done him no wrong. The pastor then said that many define peace in terms of what is absent rather than what is present: peace as the absence of strife, or as five minutes of rest from the demands of one’s family. But the Christian idea of peace includes what is present: Christ and his love and forgiveness. Returning to Chad Bird’s post, the pastor mentioned the protective sign that God placed on Cain, who feared that people would try to kill him. The Hebrew word translated in Genesis 4:15 as “mark” is ot, which, elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, often refers to an affirmative sign. God placed a protective sign on Cain, which demonstrated God’s forgiveness of him.

B. The Bible study was about Romans 10. Some points that were made in that:

—-The pastor talked about a perspective of Christian positions: antinomianism, universalism, and legalism. One Lutheran theologian in the 1940’s, Boener Oehler (sp.?), maintained that the role of the law in convicting people of sin has been fulfilled in Christ, meaning the law no longer serves to convict Christians of sin. Christians are under no condemnation, period. Someone commented that he could somewhat understand how a Christian could arrive at antinomianism and universalism, as erroneous as these positions are; what he could not understand is how a Christian could arrive at legalism, since Paul in Romans 10 emphatically denies that people have to earn their salvation through their own righteousness. For Christians, he continued, there are no eternal consequences that relate to the law, but the law is still relevant to how Christians live here and now. The pastor said that the correct position is that Christians observe the law, not because they have to, but because they want to, in thanksgiving for what God has done for them. In Romans 10, Paul affirms that God’s word is in Christians’ heart and mind, so they want to do it; this is descriptive, not prescriptive. I have two responses. First, what if I do not want to do it? What if I do not want to forgive others, love others, serve others, not have a sex drive, etc.? Second, I am the opposite to that one student. I can understand how a Christian can arrive at legalism from the Bible, for the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, has a lot of “do this,” “don’t do that,” and “if you do such-and-such, you will be condemned.” I have difficulty seeing antinomianism and universalism in the Bible.

—-The pastor referred to another view: if God rejected Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, God would not require the death of God’s own son for atonement. The pastor, of course, rejects this view.

—-Now for Romans 10. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 30:13-14, affirms that God’s word is right here. In Deuteronomy 30:13-14, that word is the Torah. In Romans 10, God’s word is the incarnate Torah, Christ, the end and goal of the Torah. The word of God changes the unbelieving heart to one that is believing. The pastor referred to people who heard Billy Graham: the word that Billy Graham preached changed their hearts as they heard God’s message of conviction and forgiveness; they went from unbelieving to believing, from hopelessness to hope. The Gentiles came to believe because they heard God’s word. The unbelieving Jews had the same opportunity, for they, too, heard the Gospel, but they desired to make salvation about themselves and their own righteousness rather than about Christ. Paul is responding to a Jewish argument that, if Paul is correct, then God is a liar, for God in the Hebrew Bible is faithful to Israel and upholds the law; Paul, in unbelieving Jews’ mind, disputes these things. Paul’s response is that God has always made righteousness by faith, not works. Here, the pastor effectively explained the Lutheran view that the word of God is powerful in transforming hearts. The content of that word itself transforms heart. But does it always do so? Of course, there are people who reject it. But could it be the case that the word even transforms their hearts, in a sense, such that, when they reject it, they turn their back on something that they know is true and good? I am just thinking out loud here.

C. Mario Lazo. Dagger in the Heart: American Policy Failures in Cuba. Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.

Mario Lazo was an attorney in Cuba. In his position, he personally interacted with key players in the drama that he tells, including Batista, Che Guevera, and American diplomats to Cuba.

The Foreword to the book provides a brief history of Cuba, contrasting the culture of South America with that of North America. The body of the book covers Cuba during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. This includes such events such as the Presidency of Batista, the Castro revolution, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the political oppression and economic incompetence under the Castro regime, and Castro’s role in fomenting revolution throughout Latin America.

As the title indicates, Lazo argues that Cuba fell to Communism due to American policy failures. Herbert Matthews of the New York Times wrote influential articles portraying Castro as a hero, one who was standing against dictatorship and poverty in favor of justice for the Cuban people. Liberals in the Eisenhower Administration influenced the U.S. Government to cut off military aid to Batista and to turn a blind eye to the Cubans in the U.S. who were sending supplies to Castro’s revolution. Cuba, as a result, fell to Communism. President John F. Kennedy resumed the Eisenhower Administration’s secret plan to overthrow Castro through anti-Castro Cubans, but Kennedy was not fully committed to the plan. He feared that other countries would conclude that the U.S. was interfering in Cuba, so he failed to implement the plan’s final stage: to provide air cover for the anti-Castro forces. The result was their slaughter. Meanwhile, the U.S. press publicized the location of anti-Castro training centers (i.e., in Guatemala), giving Castro a strategic advantage. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy displayed tepidity. He initiated a blockade against the Soviets to prevent them from getting more missiles to Cuba, but that did not solve the problem of the missiles that were already there. Kennedy decided not to bomb Cuba and made an agreement with Khrushchev that effectively barred the U.S. from ever trying to overthrow Castro. The U.S. also withdrew its missiles from Turkey, allowing the Soviets to strengthen their foothold in the eastern hemisphere.

Lazo attempts to refute what he considers to be myths. He does not think that Batista was perfect, for Batista suspended the Cuban constitution whenever it suited him, and graft thrived under Batista. But it was not as if the choice were only between Batista and Castro, for there were other leaders, some quite progressive, waiting in the wings to lead Cuba. While Batista has been portrayed as a bloodthirsty tyrant, Lazo argues that Herbert Matthews dramatically overstated the casualties, which amounted to hundreds (on both sides) rather than tens of thousands. Lazo also thinks that Batista was more of a softy than a hard-liner, for Batista abolished the death penalty and freed Castro from prison. Liberals have presented pre-Castro Cuba as a lackey for American business interests, consigning most Cubans to poverty for the profit of American companies. According to Lazo, the truth is quite different. Cuba had one of the highest standards of living for South America, and the wealth was broadly distributed. Most companies in Cuba were Cuban owned and run. It was not the case that the vast majority of the land belonged to a few wealthy landowners, for small farms were the mainstay. As far as American companies were concerned, they employed mostly Cubans and respected Cuba’s labor laws. The casinos, of the sort portrayed in Godfather II, were largely frequented by Americans and were limited to the big cities, meaning they were not on the radar of many Cubans. The U.S. purchased sugarcane from Cuba at an above-market price, resulting in prosperity for Cubans. Overall, except for the liberals he criticizes, Lazo has a positive view of the United States. He says more than once that the U.S. years before assisted Cuba against Spanish oppression then refused to make Cuba a colony of the United States.

Against the charge that Castro was popularly supported, Lazo contends that many educated Cubans desired regime change because that would give them a greater chance of receiving a government job, which was one of the few options available to educated Cubans. Against the charge that Castro only turned against the U.S. after the U.S. rejected him, Lazo notes that Castro was cold towards the U.S. immediately after he came to power. Against the charge that the Bay of Pigs would have failed, anyway, Lazo argues that it had a decent chance of succeeding, had Kennedy followed through. Against the argument that Kennedy had to proceed delicately in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lazo contends that the Soviets would not have bombed the U.S. had the U.S. knocked out the weapons in Cuba, for the U.S.S.R. lacked the capacity to attack the U.S.

On some issues, Lazo examines the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of controversial issues. There is the question of whether Castro was a Communist at the outset, and Lazo presents arguments for and against.

Lazo provides biographical profiles of the various figures involved (i.e., Castro), seeking to understand and to explain their motives. He somewhat falls short, however, in explaining why American liberals behaved as they did. He makes an attempt, but the picture that emerges is that the only thing on which they were consistent was in their commitment to leftism. Pacifism, democracy, etc. are all negotiable or dispensable to them, provided that leftism triumphs. What did they think was at stake, though? Did they want to end poverty in Cuba? But Lazo argues that pre-Castro Cuba had a high standard of living, and he observes that Communism was usually stronger in well-off countries than in poor countries, for the Communists desired lots of wealth. Perhaps the liberals were fooled by Matthews’s propaganda: Lazo says this was the case with Eleanor Roosevelt.

On some issues, Lazo was slightly inconsistent. Lazo criticizes the liberal tendency to demand that Batista become more of a democrat, claiming that Cubans gravitated towards strong leaders and lacked a robust democratic tradition. Yet, he also talks about the progressive nature of Cuba’s constitution and discusses Batista’s openness to internationally-supervised elections, even at his own expense. Lazo contends that Castro had few followers, yet he acknowledged that he gained more and more followers over the course of time. Lazo argues that wealth was broadly distributed in Cuba, and he presents compelling statistics to that effect, yet he notes that Castro made ineffectual “reforms” that were designed to give Cubans more wealth and power. Would Castro try to ameliorate a problem that did not exist?

Some notable details in Lazo’s book: Dean Acheson’s journey from being a Communist appeaser to becoming an anti-Communist hawk; Russia’s apprehension about arming Eastern Europe, since the Eastern European countries might use the weapons against Russia; how intermarriage in South America led to better race relations than exist in the United States; how guerilla warfare (both pro- and anti-Castro) burns things that the country needs (sugarcane fields); and the horrid conditions in Castro’s prisons.

I got this book when I was a teen and am glad to have finally read it.

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