by Bob Wheeler

In recent decades we here in the U.S. have witnessed a dramatic change in public morality. What was unthinkable a few decades ago, and would have absolutely horrified our Victorian great-grandparents, is now rapidly becoming accepted as the norm. No-fault divorce, legalized abortion, and now same-sex marriage have radically altered the moral landscape. Biblical morality, by contrast, seems antiquated and out of date.

It is hard for modern Americans even to understand the rationale behind many of the biblical injunctions. Our whole political system is built around the idea of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Laws are made by our elected representatives, supposedly for our benefit. Thus when these contentious social issues reach the courts, considerations of morality are usually dismissed, and the presumption is that people are free to do as they please unless the government can show some compelling reason why they should not.

How vastly different is the biblical view of things! We live in a world that was created by God and designed to fulfill His purposes. He is the ultimate Lawgiver and Judge. Morality consists of a set of norms established by Him, and are unchanging.

The Bible portrays God as “a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2; NKJV). As such He combines functions that we normally assign to different branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. In His executive capacity he rescues the victims of wrongdoing. In particular He is interested in the welfare of the weak and vulnerable members of society, those who are apt to be taken advantage of by the stronger and more dominant elements of society. “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Dt. 10:18). In His judicial capacity “His eyes behold / His eyelids test the sons of men” (Ps. 11:4). And then, reverting back to His executive function, He punishes the wicked: “Upon the wicked He will rain coals: / Fire and brimstone and a burning wind / Shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps. 11:6).

When God, then, looks down upon mankind from His throne in heaven, what He sees is different from what we see. We tend to think in terms of our own personal freedom and self-interest, and our political and economic systems are structured accordingly. God, however, is in the position of an objective, third-party observer; and He is more concerned with how we treat each other. And what He sees in us is that

“They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.”             Ps. 14:3

God’s overreaching concern is to see human society functioning the way He intended it to function when He created it, and specifically he is concerned to see that people do not mistreat each other or take unfair advantage of each other. Part of it, as we have seen, arises out of His own moral character, and part of it arises from His design in creation. Part of it is God’s sense of equity and justice – all men were created equal, and no one deserves to have a special advantage over another. “God shows no partiality, nor takes a bribe” (Dt. 10:7). To that end He proposes a very simple rule of the thumb to guide our conduct: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Put yourself in the shoes of the other person: how would you want to be treated in that situation? That, then, is how you should treat him. The “Golden Rule” is a marvelously simple definition of social justice.

The first thing that this obviously entails is that we do no harm to others.

“These are the things the Lord hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among the brethren.”

(Prov. 6:16-19).

But God’s Law involves more than simply not harming others. It must be remembered that we live in a human society in which we are in some way dependent upon each other. We can harm someone, therefore, by withholding from him something that he needs. Therefore God intended that we would be actively concerned for each other. Thus when Jesus was questioned on the matter He said that the Law could be summed up in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt. 6:5) and “. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; cf. Matt. 22:36-40). Thus the biblical standard of morality entails a sense of duty – a set of responsibilities, obligations and commitments. We are called to honor those obligations because they serve the greater good, even if they involve personal sacrifice.

It is also important to note that God is not merely concerned with external conduct, but with the underlying motives and desires. As King David neared the end of his life he gave his son Solomon charge, saying , “know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (I Chron. 28:9). God is not impressed with hypocrisy!

Our calling in life, then, is to serve God, to strive to please Him in all that we do. Our chief concern ought always be to discern His will, and to perform it faithfully. This will require us, at times, to take stands on issues that are at variance with the thinking of modern society. But we must keep eternity in view and be prepared to make the necessary short-term personal sacrifices.