Friday, April 15, 2016

Can We Justify Ourselves?

This article is going to be off to an odd start, because it is in response to a story I do not want to tell, or share. Suffice it to say, there are indications that incest is going to become another battleground in the war for our society’s soul. Now of course, what I saw may easily have been a hoax. We all know how the internet is, so I am not saying we should become indignant, at least not until the truth is more firmly established. What we need to do right now is be vigilant and sober. That is the reason why I am writing this. I want to respond to the supposed justifications the people in the story offered, and I want to provide a reminder of why we must continue to stand against the tide.

Natural Justification

There are a number of issues involved here, but it boils down to a matter of justification. The people in the story, if they exist, argue that their attraction is a result of brain chemistry they cannot control, and therefore somehow not incest. That is nonsensical, obviously. The behavior is what it is, regardless of what they might claim is causing it. But this idea of brain chemistry or genetics or some other ingrained trait is often used as a justification for debased behavior, and it needs a closer look.

It goes back to the old “Nature vs. Nurture” battle, and the truth is that we still lack a complete understanding of what goes into human decision-making and action. There is something to be said for people being born prone to certain proclivities. But does that make it ok? Does it mean they are compelled to do them? And does it mean they should not be held accountable?

That’s the issue. How much does the nature with which you are born determine your lifestyle choices? If they totally foreordain the direction of your life, then you don’t really make any choices at all. If they only point you in a certain direction, it is still up to you to decide if you are going to walk in it.

In the Bible, in Genesis 3:16–19, we are told that humanity is cursed as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. They introduced flaws into our nature that, as their children, we all must bear. We are born fallen. Each of us will do something in disobedience to God, which is to say, something selfish. It cannot be avoided. For that reason, I pity others as I pity myself. I wish it were not this way, but I see the blemishes in myself and I recognize them in the people around me. I may not understand what those in the story I read want, but I do understand them wanting something they shouldn’t. Wanting it so badly that they feel like it is a part of them.

That understanding of our shared humanity provides a place for compassion, but it does not provide an excuse. While I know it is hard for them to resist, I also know that it is wrong. Furthermore, I know that it is still their choice. We all sin, but the sins we commit are ultimately an act of the will. For all the pressure we face, we are still responsible.

Appeals to nature are not enough to make evil good. Our lives are not that predetermined. It is very natural to want things we shouldn’t. That does not mean we are entitled to them. We need to work at recognizing them for the selfishness they represent, and to seek what is better.

Limiting Principles

That brings us to another aspect of justification. It is odd to see them going hand in hand, but the same people who say they are slaves to their natures are also just as likely to say they are completely free to do whatever they please. Again, we might not quite be to the stage of justifying incest. But look at everything else that is happening. Homosexuality, transgenderism, polygamy, and even pedophilia are finding their defenders in droves. And the defense, usually, is that everyone has their own version of good that they should be totally free to pursue.

It sounds tolerant in theory, but it never is in practice. Homosexual couples want Christians punished for not wanting to participate in their weddings. Men dressed as women want to force their way into girls’ bathrooms. Adults want to abuse children for self-gratification. When people are given the freedom to sin, it does not occur in a vacuum. Others are affected, and negatively.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, it lacks what is known as a “limiting principle.” Turning back to the story we started with, many of today’s social justice warriors could be expected to initially be against incest. But on what grounds? What makes it wrong when so many of the other things they defend are said to be right? How can they deny this freedom when they have extended it elsewhere?

The answer is that they cannot. Not if they want to be consistent, anyway. They envision a world where there is no God, and therefore no accountability. Their universe is one where we are slaves to our natures, but free to pursue them. In such a world, no one has any right to tell anyone else what to do. There can be no justice, and no morality, in such an existence. If the cosmos is totally random, then we have no standard to measure our behavior against. It is every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Secular society wants to tear down the boundaries on behavior, and therefore it cannot offer a limiting principle. There is no end what we can imagine or do, under such a worldview. And it sounds good when you think about the things you would like to not feel guilty about. But it is not so comforting if you take the time to consider what others might want to do to you.

Fortunately, the world they envision is not the one we have. No one can live that way. We all have a sense of justice, as much a part of our nature as our desire to seek selfish gain. Our sin is our fault, but the good in us is the residue of what we inherit from God. We may not always be able to explain it, but we know that there is a difference between right and wrong. We know that there are limits. And we know we are accountable.

 This life is a product of God’s creative work, and our souls are as much a part of it as the physical world around us. When we realize that, we realize who has set the boundaries. Job 38–41 is incredibly moving, and I have linked to all four chapters because I think they are worth reviewing. But in general, they paint an awe-inspiring picture of who God is. The primary purpose of the passage was for the Lord to show Job (and by extension, all of us) how little we know in comparison to Him, and how little right we have to make demands of Him. But it also shows us that God is in control. While writing this, I particularly had Job 38:8–11 in mind. God asks Job rhetorically,

Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band; when I fixed My limit for it, and set bars and doors; when I said, “This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!”

This is a poetic and powerful way to describe God’s act of creation in forming the ocean, but it also goes to the point we have been discussing here. The ocean’s waves are a frequent allusion in the Bible for the chaotic nature of evil. Just as God has set the function of the seashore, so He has also told us how far we may go before violating His expectation of us. God’s will is as clear a line as the sand between the earth and the sea.

We know there is a difference between right and wrong. The presence of that knowledge is in our nature, and we also know it had to come from somewhere. The Bible tells us where, and it tells us what is good and evil. If we shut our eyes to that, we are not building a better life. We are just hoping our problems will simply go away. It is incredibly naïve. Better to open our eyes, though we might not like the view at first, so we can discover the truth of what we must do.

There are many types of sin in the world, and they cannot be excused by either human nature or human rights. God is greater than both, and He will hold us to account according to the principles He has laid down. But while they cannot be excused, they can be forgiven. Don’t pretend evil does not exist, or that you are good. Instead, search for the goodness of the Lord. Through the death and life of Jesus Christ, you can overcome your slavery to sin and find the love of the Creator who wants the best for you. And if you have found it, remember what you were. Let that memory create compassion in your heart, so you can reach out to those who still have their eyes closed, who still believe there are no limits. It is up to us to teach them, and to pray for them to see. They want to justify themselves. Show them that only God can do that, and according to the plan that He has established (Romans 4:5). It is the only way to truly be free.

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