Friday, August 2, 2019

Morality with God

The article I wrote last week, which you can view here, was a response to an idea sometimes repeated by atheists. They say that Christians are frightening for saying that it is impossible to be moral without believing in God, and I explained that is not the heart of our position. Rather, it is impossible to have the concept of morality without the existence of God. You can do the right thing without believing in Him, and you can do the wrong thing while believing in Him, but “right” and “wrong” make no sense without an objective, eternal standard.

I want to follow up on that concept, but in a way that is explicitly for Christians. The last discussion framed things in a way that I hoped would be accessible to non-believers, as well, which is why I made no references to Scripture. Why argue from what they do not believe? But believers do need to be mindful of what God has said on this issue. We cannot argue from it with those who disagree, at least not directly, but we have to know what we believe so that we can stand strong in it.

The Root of Subjective Morality

There are three similar passages in the book of Proverbs that help us understand the necessity of looking to God for moral guidance. Actually, there are more than that, but I think these three together successfully make the point. They are Prov. 16:2, 25, and 21:2, which read,

All a person’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord weighs motives…
There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way to death…
All a person’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord weighs hearts.

Solomon offers us a warning about the dangers of subjectivity. If someone believes that there is no God, or just ignores God, then they have no reason to believe in an objective moral standard. There is no power greater than them that establishes rules, so there is no reason to do anything other than what they desire. In other words, there is no accountability or fear of judgment.

As we discussed last time, fear of judgment is not the only reason to behave morally. We should do it because it is the right thing to do. But human beings are not perfect. We are inherently selfish creatures, and inherently self-deceptive. We all, in one way or another, admit the existence of moral standards. We believe in the possibility of things being wrong, being other than they ought to be. And we also believe that wrong things come with consequences. If, however, you do not have a basis for the standards, then you can redesign them according to your own will.

The Danger of Subjective Morality

Every human being has the power to do this, but not the right. That is the point of Solomon’s proverbs. We are fully capable of convincing ourselves that we are doing the right thing, when in fact we are not. This, of course, is not merely a fault of atheists. They are arguably in unique danger as a result of it, but it is not a unique aspect of their character. We all do things we shouldn’t and only because we tell ourselves we should.

This results in judgment, which, as I suggested before, is just another word for consequences. Many people are rankled by the concept of judgment. They do not like being told that they are wrong, or that someone can hold them accountable. Consequences are easier to accept. But they are really the same thing from a Christian perspective. God designed nature and morality, and they are heavily intertwined. When you act against them, they kick back. It is not always immediately evident, but it does happen eventually. God is at work in that because it is His will being broken, and His consequences that are being applied.

Along with that is the concept of sin. In one basic understanding, to sin means “to miss the mark.” Again, the word “sin” is one many people do not like, but that describes a basic reality. When you make an error against God’s objective moral order, then you earn guilt (i.e., accountability). It is not an attack on people to say this. It is merely a description of reality.

The reason we so often experience it as an attack is not because it is untrue. It is because we do not want to believe it. We want to conform to our own standard, to one that shifts with our whims, rather than one that is imposed on us by our Maker.

The Need for Objective Morality

That is simply error on top of error. Our way that seems good to us only leads to self-destruction. Instead, we need to seek to pursue God’s way. He is the one who established morality, and He is the one whose will enforces it. He is also the one who has described it. We find it written in nature, which is why it is available to everyone. We also find it written in Scripture, which is where we can see it with the least chance (though sadly, still not no chance) of misunderstanding it.

Maybe this will be a useful example. Everybody laughs at the idea of government agencies performing internal audits. “We examined ourselves, and found that we did nothing wrong.” It hardly comes across as credible. If they are allowed to determine their own guilt, we have no reason to believe they will do so honestly. Why should that be different for anyone else? Each of us likes to think we are basically good, but that self-perception does not accord with reality. When we check it against the outside standard of God’s word, we find our lack and have the opportunity to correct ourselves.

Which, of course, is the reason to teach about sin and judgment. The goal is not to make people feel like failures. It is to give them the reason that salvation is necessary and to show them it is available. It all comes down to Christ. He alone saw things God’s way, He alone fulfilled righteousness, and He alone pays sin’s eternal penalty. We have to be mindful of our flaws, but we have to remember that they should not lead to despair. At least, they do not have to. The heart that rests in the Lord is safe from death, even though that was where its choices were leading. Our job, above all, is to proclaim that.

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