Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Morality / Ethics

THE DEADLY POWER OF THE TONGUE

donald-trump[1]

Recently the nation has been shocked by a wave of violence leading up to the election.  One person mailed pipe bombs to a number of prominent of Democrats, and another barged into a synagogue on a Sabbath morning and began shooting at the congregation, killing eleven.  Both of the men appear to have motivated by hate, and the question arose as to the role that President Trump’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric and the social media may have played in the incidents.

In all fairness to Mr. Trump it must be pointed out that part of the blame for the overheated political climate goes to the left.  For some time those on the liberal, progressive left have chosen to see themselves as a loose assortment of oppressed minority groups and have accused their imagined oppressors of being “racist,” “sexist,” and “homophobic.”  It is identity politics, an “us against them” mentality, and it was only a matter of time before white, working class Americans would see themselves as a besieged people group and respond with a kind of white nationalism.

But none of this bodes well for democracy.  In a democratic society there has to be a free and open discussion of the issues, and the ability to reach a compromise.  Name calling and violence eat away at the fabric of democracy by intimidating people and keeping them from making their own decisions.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . .”  But does that mean that people have a right to say whatever they want?  The plain fact of the matter is that we can hurt others in more ways than one by the things we say about them and to them.

The Ninth Commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20; NKJV).  The immediate reference, of course, involves what happens in a judicial proceeding.   A person has been accused of a crime.  Witnesses are called forth to testify, and the fate of the accused hangs on the testimony of the witnesses.  In order for justice to be served it is vitally important for the witnesses to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Anything less could result in the defendant being punished for a crime he did not commit.

But as we look through the Bible as a whole it becomes apparent that there is a broader moral principle as well.  The fact of the matter is that what we say has an effect on other people – for either good or evil.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .” (Prov. 18:21).  Gossip, for example, separates friends (Prov. 16:27,28) and causes strife.  “Where there is no wood the fire goes out; / And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Prov. 26:20).   Juicy gossip distorts facts, destroys reputations and inflames passions.  Likewise someone who simply likes to argue causes strife.  “As charcoal is to burning coals, and word to fire, / So is a contentious man to kindle strife” (v. 21).  In a word, “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor . . .” (Prov. 11:9).

On the other hand the things we say can have a positive effect on others as well.  “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, / Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).  “A man has joy by the words of this mouth, / And a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23).  But to say the right thing it behooves us to listen first to get the facts straight.  “He who answers a matter before he hears it, / It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  And when responding to someone who is visibly angry it is helpful to remember that “A soft answer turns away wrath, / But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

None of this means, however, that we should never say anything negative to others.  In its own way flattery can be just as harmful as slander: “A man who flatters his neighbor / Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov. 29:5).  And if someone is genuinely guilty of wrongdoing, even for his own sake it needs to be addressed.

“Open rebuke is better

Than love carefully concealed.

Faithful are the words of a friend,

But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

(Prov. 27:5,6)

Likewise the New Testament tells us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it might impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29), and that “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting” should “be named among you,” “but rather giving of thinks” (Eph. 5:3,4).

It is obvious, then, that words have consequences, and it is for this reason that God is concerned with what we say.  “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, / But those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Prov. 12:22).  And Jesus warned His hearers, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36,37).

In short,

“’These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate,’

Says the Lord.”

(Zech. 8:16,17)

As Americans our freedom of speech is guaranteed by our Constitution.  But we must never forget that as human beings we are ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and we do not possess the moral right to say whatever we please, whether it be true or false or damages other people’s reputations.  Politicians may rant and rave, giving distorted views of the facts and use inflammatory rhetoric; and this, in turn, creates a charged atmosphere in which some deranged people may resort to actual violence.  But in the end we will all answer to our Creator for what we have said and done.  May God have mercy on us all.

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THE ESSENCE OF MONOTHEISM

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Ancient Israel, almost alone among the peoples among the peoples of the ancient world, held to the belief that there is only one God, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Most of the surrounding nations were polytheistic and idolaters.  They worshipped a variety of anthropomorphic deities.  How, then, did Israel come to be so different?

The answer recorded in Scripture is that God chose to reveal Himself to Israel, especially through the prophet Moses.  And the introduction to that revelation came in the form of the Ten Commandments given at Mt. Sinai.  And the first two of those Commandments stated in bold terms the basic premises of monotheistic religion.

The First Commandment states simply that “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3; NKJV).  Unlike the surrounding pagan nations Israel was to worship only one God.  Moreover they were told, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (vv. 4,5c).  The implication here is that there is only one true God, and that He cannot be compared with any earthly thing.  He alone is the Creator.  Thus to represent Him in the form of a heavenly body or an earthly being would do a grave injustice to what God really is, and is positively insulting and offensive to Him.

But then God gives a reason for all of this.  “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God . . .” (v. 5).  What this points to is that God is not just an abstract philosophical principle to be contemplated intellectually.  Rather, He is a conscious, intelligent, personal Being who created us for His own purposes; and thus He wants us to know Him on a personal level.  If then we worship some other god, who is no god at all, we are being unfaithful to the true and living God to whom we owe our very existence.

And this, in turn, introduces a moral principle.  For God goes on to say that He is “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (v. 5).  Here idolatry is viewed as an “iniquity” or crime, and is punishable as such.  In other words, we are responsible for our actions and will be held accountable accordingly.  To “visit the iniquity” means essentially to punish the crime.  And God does this “on the children of the third and fourth generations.”  Sad to say, descendants often suffer the consequences of their ancestors’ bad decisions.  And the reason for this stern judgment is that, at the bottom of it, the reason that people worship other gods than the one true God (or worship no god at all) is because they “hate” Him (v. 5).  People do not want God in their lives.

But, on the other hand, God is “showing mercy [or, “lovingkindness,” NASV] to thousands, to those who love Me . . .” (v. 6).  God is by nature loving and compassionate, and He desires to have a relationship with us.

But then this points to the nature of morality itself.  What ultimately makes an action morally right or wrong?  Philosophers have wrestled with the question for literally thousands of years, but the answer that the Bible gives is that it is a matter of keeping God’s commandments (v. 6).  This is sometimes dismissed as “the divine command theory.”  And yet if God is our Creator, the sovereign Lord of the universe, and in the end our Judge, He is the One who determines right and wrong.  We are obligated to obey Him.

This, then, is the essence of monotheism.  It is a worldview distinct from all pagan and secular systems of thought, and it has far-reaching implications for us as human beings.  If it is true that we were created by a personal, rational Supreme Being we owe Him our love and obedience.  And in the end no other system of thought offers an adequate explanation of reality.

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER: 20TH CENTURY MARTYR

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Review:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Eric Metaxas

Thomas Nelson, 2010

542 pp., pb.

 

In this age of secularization the Christian is increasingly faced with the question of how to relate to the state, especially when the state espouses values that run counter to Christian moral standards.  The problem is not new, and was confronted in the last century by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian who was put to death in a Nazi concentration camp near the end of World War II.

The story is told for us, in considerable detail, by Eric Metaxas in his New York Times Bestseller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  It is the story of a man who was both talented and devout and who was led to confront directly the evil of Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer came from a very cultured and aristocratic family.  His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a prominent psychiatrist.  His mother was the granddaughter of an earlier prominent theologian, Karl August von Hase.  The immediate family, however, was not particularly religious.  For some unknown reason, however, young Dietrich decided to study theology.  He studied at Berlin under Adolf von Harnack, the renowned liberal theologian, earning a doctorate in 1927 at the age of only 21.  He did local church work and gave university lectures, and from 1930 to 1931 did some post-graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Even though Bonhoeffer came from a liberal theological background, the theologian whose writings influenced him the most was Karl Barth, the famous Swiss proponent of Neo-Orthodoxy, which stressed that God can only be known through revelation.  Bonhoeffer also became involved with the ecumenical movement.  But at some point along the way he discovered prayer and the Bible, and that deepened his faith in God and his commitment to serving Him.  Was this a conversion in the evangelical sense of the word?  Metaxas is not sure, but Bonhoeffer was definitely a changed man.

Shortly afterwards, however, things began to change in Germany as well.  Hitler came to power in 1933 and sought to remake Germany along Nazi lines.  This involved, among other things, changing the Lutheran state church, and the Nazis began promoting “German Christianity,” a version of Christianity reshaped along the lines of Aryan racial identity.  Bonhoeffer, along with others, realized that this was unacceptable, and during the 1930’s he and others organized the “Confessing Church” which would be true to its Christian heritage.  In 1934 it issued the “Barmen Declaration” urging the churches to remain faithful to their doctrinal standards.  It was during this period that Bonhoeffer wrote his famous book The Cost of Discipleship.

But things took a turn for the worse at the outbreak of World War II in 1939.  The racism of the Nazis manifested itself in outright genocide, with the German military slaughtering innocent civilians in Poland and elsewhere.  Bonhoeffer’s well-connected friends and relatives became convinced that for the good of Germany and the world at large it was necessary to remove Hitler from power.  A conspiracy was formed.

Bonhoeffer, however, was at risk of being drafted into the army.  His friends managed to arrange to have him come to the U.S. to teach at Union Seminary.  But no sooner did he arrive than he began to have doubts about the wisdom of the plan.  In a state of emotional turmoil he became convinced that he belonged back in Germany where the struggle was.  He returned to his home country after only one month in the U.S.

But what would he do in Germany?   His sister-in-law urged him to join the conspiracy.  “’You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done,’ she said, ‘but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it’” (p. 359).  A turning point came when France fell to the German armies in June, 1940.  Up until then the hope had been that Hitler would overreach and thereby destroy himself.  But with the unexpected victory in France Hitler was more popular in Germany than ever.  It was at about this time that Bonhoeffer made his decision.  He joined the resistance.

Bonhoeffer’s friends arranged to get him a position in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence.  His brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, was already on the staff of the head of the Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris.  At one point Canaris had asked Dohynanyi to compile a file of Nazi atrocities that could be used to convince others to join the conspiracy.  The file became known as the “Chronicle of Shame.”  By joining the Abwehr himself Bonhoeffer could evade the Gestapo and avoid military service.

But it also involved a certain amount of dissimulation on Bonhoeffer’s part.  Outwardly he would appear to be working for the German government when in reality he was actually working against it.  This, of course, raised a disturbing ethical question.  Bonhoeffer was saying, in effect, that the end justifies the means.

The Gestapo, however, eventually caught up with him, and in April, 1943 he was arrested and taken to jail.  Bonhoeffer’s influential family connections helped ease his discomfort in prison, and he was able to smuggle out letters to his friends, some of which were later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.

However on July 20, 1944 there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler.  Anyone remotely connected to the conspiracy was rounded up and many were executed.  Dohnanyi was one of those arrested, and the Chronicle of Shame was discovered by the authorities.  Bonhoeffer was moved to a prison run directly by the Gestapo and eventually taken to various concentration camps.  He was finally hanged on April 9, 1945, only two weeks before that camp was liberated by the Allies.

There has been some confusion of Bonhoeffer’s theology in its later stages.  His Letters and Papers from Prison reveal and much more complex and conflicted figure, the radical theologian who seemingly embraced modern secularism, the advocate of “Religionless Christianity,” the inspiration for the “God is Dead” movement.  Metaxas feels that while Bonhoeffer was very much concerned with how Christianity relates to an increasingly secularized world, what he wrote in his letters was “simply an extension of his previous theology, which was dedicately Bible centered and Christ centered” (p. 467)  He also says that Bonhoeffer “might be the most misunderstood theologian that ever lived” (p. 365).

One thing that is certain is that Bonhoeffer’s theology did undertake a change of direction while he was in prison.  In some of his letters written from prison Bonhoeffer described the growing secularization of the Western world.  The church had responded to this trend by conceding the advances of modern science, but clung to the idea that God was still the answer to the ultimate questions of life.  But by the mid-Twentieth Century it had become evident that most Germans had grown quite comfortable without religion at all.  The world, in Bonhoeffer’s words, had “come of age.”  What should the church do now?

Bonhoeffer’s answer is not at all clear, partially because he was executed before he had the opportunity to put down his ideas in book form.  He does criticize the church for seeking conversions by making men feel guilty.  He says that the church should rather share the problems of ordinary human life, “not dominating, but helping and serving” (Letters, Macmillan, 1967, p. 204), and should teach positive human values by example.  In some ways his suggestions sound like what we know today as the Social Gospel and Incarnational theology.

What is especially disconcerting about Bonhoeffer is his apparent embrace of secularism.  He claimed that “we must live as men who manage our lives without [God]” (Ibid., p. 188).  He criticizes Christians who use God as a kind of “deus ex machina,” the Person to whom we go when we are in trouble.  He claims that “the Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help” (p. 188).  The church must become “this worldly.”  Dropping religious pretense it must reinterpret biblical concepts and revise the church’s creeds, apologetics and ministry.

There are serious problems with Bonhoeffer’s analysis.  First of all, God is not the weak and helpless figure Bonhoeffer portrays Him to be.  God is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who rules over all things through His providence.  Biblical piety requires us to put our trust in God for our daily needs.  Indeed, that is the very essence of prayer.  Without it religion simply does not exist.

Secondly, embracing secularism is simply not an option for the Christian.  It is expected that the world will reject Christ.  The Christian, however, is not supposed to conform to the world.  He has been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and is expected to live accordingly.  The world does not set the church’s agenda; Christ does.  Bonhoeffer should have recognized the world’s rejection of Christ for what it is: rebellion against God.

Bonhoeffer’s problem can probably be traced back to the weakness of the liberal apologetic.  By accepting the conclusions of modern science and abandoning the authority of Scripture, German Protestantism had placed itself in a position in which it could not state with certainty what was actual truth.  The result was that Bonhoeffer found himself drifting with the general culture; he could not simply go back to Scripture and say “Thus saith the Lord.”  He had no answer to the world’s presuppositions.  It was only a matter of time before he adopted the world’s conclusion: religion is irrelevant.

What it all comes down to is the authority of Scripture.  Is the Bible what it claims to be, the inspired Word of God, true and accurate in all that it affirms?  Or is it just a collection of ancient myths and legends, the product of a society with an outdated worldview?  If the former, then Scripture is our standard: we must heed and obey it.  If the latter, then we are adrift in a vast sea of human opinion.

Bonhoeffer’s Letters raise some intriguing questions about his spiritual and emotional state.  If two different images of Bonhoeffer have come down to us, it may be because he himself was not exactly sure of who he was.  While in prison he wrote a revealing piece of verse entitled “Who Am I?”  In it he tells of how impressed others were of him, but then he asks,

“Am I really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself,

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage . . .”

He then goes on to say,

“Who am I?  This or the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?”

(Letters, p. 188-189)

In his essay “After Ten Years,” also written while he was in prison, he makes this revealing comment: “We have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open . . . What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.  Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”  (Ibid., p. 17).

Bonhoeffer, as we have noted, came from a comfortable upper middle class family.  The picture that we glean from his letters of Bonhoeffer himself is that of a charming and cultured individual – well-educated, able to appreciate music, literature and art.  He was likeable, warmhearted and sincere in his beliefs.  He was also the product of a state church.  To be a good German was to be a good Lutheran.  Bonhoeffer was, in a sense, fulfilling a predetermined role as a member of his nation and class.

This created a dilemma, however.  Was he a Christian because he was a German, or was he a Christian because of a personal relationship with Christ?  And if for the former reason, was he really any different from those who did not go to church at all?  The inner conflict may account for the ambiguity of his theology.

Bonhoeffer’s predicament, in a way, illustrates the problem facing believers in many Western countries today.  These countries have a Christian heritage.  Christianity was honored and respected; and it was easy, under such circumstances, to think of “God and country.”  The professing Christian could expect to live a nice, safe, comfortable middle class life.  But as these countries become increasingly secularized the surrounding culture becomes increasingly hostile to genuine Christianity.  More and more we are faced with the stark reality of God or country.

America today is not Germany in the 1930’s, of course; and it is impossible to say what challenges lie ahead.  But like Bonhoeffer we too may have to learn what is the true cost of discipleship, to learn what Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV).

 

CIVILIZATION REVIVED?

 

Review:

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Jordan B. Peterson

Random House

Random House Canada, 2018

409 pp., h.c.

 

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is being hailed in some quarters as an influential conservative thinker who is values-centered and an advocate for freedom of thought and speech.  He is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto.  In his best-selling book 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos, he lays out some basic principles on how to achieve happiness and fulfillment in life.  In so doing he often calls us back the traditional cultural values of Western Civilization.

In the book Dr. Peterson challenges many of the assumptions of the contemporary intellectual world.  He argues that in order for society to function there has to be a shared cultural system and a hierarchy of values.  Our values, in turn, are often rooted in religious tradition.  But to avoid the dilemma of slavish adherence to the group on the one hand, and outright nihilism on the other, it is necessary for the individual to take responsibility for his own actions.  “We must each accept as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.  We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disorder and break down and recreate what is old and outdated.  It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world” (p. xxxiii).

What follows are the “12 rules for life” that he proposes.  Much of it is good, common-sense advice such as “Make friends with people who want the best for you” (Rule 3), “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them” (Rule 5), and “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)” (Rule 7).

Much of what Peterson has to say is based on common sense and everyday experience.  For him much of it simply means coming to terms with reality.  This would include, among other things, gender roles, which are rooted in psychological differences between the sexes.  He argues that to some degree, at least, these gender differences are desirable.  “It is to women’s clear advantage that men do not happily put up with dependency among themselves . . . a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child” (pp. 329-330).  “Men have to toughen up.  Men demand it, and women want it . . .” (p. 331).

While Peterson comes across as an outspoken defender of traditional Western culture, his approach, however, is not really Christian.  He accepts the idea that human beings are the products of evolution.  He also accepts modern critical theories about the Bible, and says at one point that “The Bible has been thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which itself is a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time” (p. 104).

This, in turn, raises a serious question about the nature of morality itself.  While Peterson has a great deal to say about human experience, he has practically nothing to say about God himself.  The result is a more or less relativistic view of morality.  “You can use your own standard of judgment.  You can rely on yourself for guidance.  You don’t have to adhere to some external, arbitrary code of behaviour . . .” (p. 158); although he then adds parenthetically, “although you should not overlook the guidelines of your culture.  Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own.  The wisdom of the past was hard-earned, and your dead ancestors may have something useful to tell you.”

Peterson will sometimes quote Scripture to support his conclusions, but he will often twist the meaning of the text to fit his own humanistic philosophy.  A good example is his handling of the Sermon on the Mount.  Under Rule 4 he has been discussing the importance of setting realistic goals for oneself.  He states that the proper aim of mankind is to “concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is in front of you . . .” (pp. 109-110).  He then quotes Matthew 6:19-34 and then concludes by saying, “You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do.  You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely” (p. 110).  But it was hardly Jesus’ intention to have people “concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present.”  Rather, what He told His listeners was, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .” (Matt. 6:19), and He went on to say “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . .” (v. 25).  And whereas Peterson wants to let the individual decide for himself what is in his own best interests, Jesus says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .” (v. 33).  God is the kind and He is the One who decides what righteousness is.

In short, for Peterson morality is all about achieving happiness and success in this life.  What is missing is any sense of accountability to God as Creator and Lord.  In that sense Peterson is typical of the great philosophers of the past.  He tries to probe the meaning of existence, but he tries to do it without reference to God.

For the Christian therein lies the whole problem with human civilization.  As human beings we can see the advantages of sharing a settled existence together.  We create governments, we pass laws, and we build infrastructure.  But we do it all out of a sense of self-interest.  What is missing is any due regard for God or for the well-being of our fellow humans.  No sooner do we create the government and laws (ostensibly to promote justice), than we look for ways to circumvent the system we just created.  Our sense of right and wrong is little more than what we can get away with.  Peterson is seeking to revive the cultural values of Western civilization, but he comes short of what our Creator expects from us in the way of moral and ethical behavior.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . because, although they know God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools . . .” (Rom. 1:18,21,22; NKJV).

Our values must be grounded in reality.  But the ultimate reality is God himself, our Creator and Lord; and in the end we will all have to stand before Him and give an account.  It is God, then, who determines what is right and what is wrong, and our lives must conform to His will.  Only then will we find the peace and happiness we all long to enjoy.

ROE v. WADE

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This past week the Senate Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  As was expected the subject of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on abortion, came up for discussion, and as expected, the nominee was non-committal.  At one point in the discussion Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Judge Kavanaugh, “What would you say your position today is on a woman’s right to choose?,” to which he replied, “As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court.”

Judge Kavanaugh was right to be non-committal on the subject.  Strictly speaking the proper role of a judge is not to make law based on his own personal preferences, but to decide cases based on existing law.  But it is for precisely that reason that Roe v. Wade was extremely problematical.  It was marked by a strained, if not to say bizarre exegesis of the Constitution, and it led to a morally outrageous conclusion.

In Roe the Court took up the question of the constitutionality of state anti-abortion laws.  The case basically involved two separate questions: 1) Is the life of an unborn child protected by the Fourteenth Amendment?   And 2) Does a woman have a right to privacy which includes the right to have an abortion?  What makes the decision so bizarre is that the justices took two completely different approaches to answer the two questions.  On the first question they took a very narrow, legalistic interpretation, while on the second question they let their imaginations have free rein.  One cannot help but wonder if the outcome was dogmatically contrived.

On the first question, Mr. Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, argued that the word “person,” as used in the Constitution, does not include an unborn child, and therefore the unborn child’s life is not covered by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  On the second question, however, Mr. Justice Blackmun professed to see a generalized right of privacy, something which he himself admitted was not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the document, but thought might be implied in any one of a number of different provisions.  But whatever it was and wherever it was, Justice Blackmun was sure that it must include the right to have an abortion.

In a sense, we do hope that the Constitution does at least imply a right to privacy.  But the right to privacy does not include the right to commit a crime.  You do not have the right to murder your mother-in-law in the privacy of your own home.  The right of privacy, rather, protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures.

What is morally outrageous about the decision is the implication that there is no longer a sanctity of human life.  Mr. Justice Blackmun asserted that “we need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” and then went on to argue that Texas may not, “by adopting one theory of life,” override the rights of a pregnant woman.  Thus he tacitly admitted the possibility that life might begin at conception, but argued that it does not matter if it does.  The unborn child still does not have a right to life.

What the Bible says about the ancient Canaanites is highly instructive in this regard.  One of the evils that was endemic in Canaanite society was the worship of a pagan deity named Molech.  Molech was an ancient Canaanite god whose worship involved human sacrifice, specifically the sacrifice of children who were made to pass through a fire.  What God told Israel about the practice was instructive.

First of all, the practice had the effect of polluting or defiling the land.  When Cain slew Abel God said to him: “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.  So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen. 4:10,11; NKJV).  And so it was with regard to the Canaanites.  “For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:25).

Secondly, this and other like practices are called “abominations” (vv. 26,27,29,30).  An “abomination” is something that God considers loathsome or detestable.  Nowadays we might say that it “grosses you out.”  It is an offense that is particularly serious.

Child sacrifice is a barbaric and inhumane practice, something that runs counter to the natural sympathy that should exist between a parent and a child.  God made it clear that Israel was to live a different standard.  Leviticus 19, which falls right in the middle of God’s indictment of the Canaanites, contains exhortations to regard the poor, the deaf, the blind, the elderly and the foreigner.  In a word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

The fate of the Canaanites raises some disturbing questions about the possible fate of America.  If God regards abortion as a moral outrage, and if our destiny is ultimately in His hands, then the future looks ominous indeed.  All around one sees signs of impending doom: mired in foreign wars, sinking beneath a mountain of debt, the crumbling family structure, even the erratic weather and invasive species, the divisive politics of the day, we give every appearance of being a civilization in decline.  Could it be that God is telling us something?  Could it be that God’s judgment is not far away?

THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – III

 

 

As we have seen then what God requires of us is that we love Him with whole heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves.  How, then, does a Christian determine whether a given action is right or wrong?  First of all through the imitation of Christ.  We should imitate Him and His example of self-sacrificing love.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” (Phil. 2:5; NKJV, cf. Eph. 4:32-5:1; Col. 3:13).  What would Jesus do in a given situation?  How would He react to the other person?

Secondly, we should follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).  There will not be a written instruction to cover every possible situation.  But a genuine concern for the other person, arising from a proper attitude of heart produced by the Holy Spirit, will lead us to do the right thing.  Our lives should manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

Everything, of course, should be consistent with the teachings of the New Testament.  “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6,7).  “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God: for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 4:1,2)/  Jesus and the apostles have given us general instructions on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.  These instructions are contained in the New Testament and ought always to be observed.

What all of this requires is that we “test” or “prove” what the will of God is.  The apostle Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2), or as it might more literally be translated, “that you might test and prove what the will of God is, the good and the well-pleasing, and the complete or perfect.”  The implication is that in each situation that we encounter we should ask, “Is it good? – does it have a beneficial effect?”  “Is it well-pleasing to God – in accordance with His moral attributes?”  “Is it complete or perfect? – Does it fully meet the need?”  We should apply the general principles of God’s Word to a given situation to see what course of action would be acceptable to Him (cf. Eph. 5:10; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:21,22).

An example will illustrate the difference between being under the law and being under grace.  Consider the biblical teaching on marriage.  The 7th Commandment states “You shall not commit adultery,” and the Old Testament then goes on to condemn various sexual practices: incest, homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), bestiality and prostitution.  It gives various regulations on how to handle cases of sex outside of marriage, female captives taken in war, polygamy and spouses who die without offspring.  And there is a provision on how to handle divorce (Dt. 24:1-4).  Marriage is looked at as a civil institution enforceable by law.  But the Torah (Pentateuch) is largely silent on how spouses are to treat each other.  (There are passages in Psalms, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon that talk about the pleasures and pains of marriage.)

But when we turn to the New Testament a somewhat different picture emerges.  Jesus begins by quoting the 7th Commandment, but then goes on to say, “But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).  Here the focus shifts from the outward act to the inward thought, and it is the thought that makes one guilty in the sight of God.

But just as revealing is Jesus’ teaching concerning divorce.  He began by going to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 (“and the two shall become one flesh” – Matt. 19:5) and then said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6).  He then went on to say that “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (v. 8).  The implication is that Moses had made certain concessions to human weakness, and the Mosaic legislation did not perfectly reflect what God actually requires of us as human beings.

And when we turn to the epistles we get an even fuller picture of what God actually requires of us.  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25).  And “just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (v. 24).  It is not enough merely to avoid an act of open adultery.  Husbands are to love their wives.  And how?  “. . . just as Christ love the church.”  What is required is more than just bare compliance with the letter of the law.  What is required is genuine and active concern for others, a self-sacrificing love; and Christ is our supreme example of that. (Interestingly the Westminster Larger Catechism, in its treatment of the 7th Commandment, does not mention husbands loving their wives, other than “conjugal love” and “cohabitation” ).

The New Testament, then, gives us a fuller revelation of the will of God than does the Old, and the Old Testament should be interpreted in the light of the New.  And sanctification is not so much a matter of following a detailed list of rules and regulations as it is manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

The goal, then, is not just an external conformity to the letter of the law.  What God requires of us as human beings is love; but love cannot be reduced to a set of written rules and regulations.  Love avoids harming others, and thus fulfills the law.  But it goes beyond the law to seek the positive good of others.  And true Christian love springs from an active principle produced within the heart by the Holy Spirit.  Let us make it our aim. Then, in life, to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; II Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10).  May Jesus Christ be praised!

THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – II

 

As we saw in our last blog post when the Apostle Paul said that we are not under law but under grace he was not saying that there is no moral law, but that the only way to fulfill that law is not by keeping the letter of the old covenant but by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Basically there are two major issues here.  The first has to do with the content of the moral law – how do we know what God really requires of us?  The Torah (The Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch) generally does not make a distinction between the “moral,” the “civil,” and the “ceremonial” law.  It was initially given to meet an immediate need for a set of laws to govern the Israelite community, and Israel was bound to obey all of it.  The majority of the laws are phrased negatively and have penalties attached.  Instructions are given on how judges are to decide cases.

And underlying moral code is implied, however.  Part of it is rooted in the character of God himself – His own moral attributes.  “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, / Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15, echoing the words of Ex. 34:6).  This, in turn, means that there are certain things God hates: “There are six things the Lord hates, / Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: / A proud look; / A lying tongue, / Hands that shed innocent blood . . .” etc. (Prov. 6:16-19.  God judged the entire world at the time of the Flood because He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah “because their sin was very grave” (Gen. 18:20).  Likewise the Canaanites were to be destroyed “for they commit all these things and therefore I abhor them” (Lev. 20:23).  Therefore David could say, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? / Who may dwell in Your holy hill? / He who walks uprightly, / And works righteousness, / And speaks the truth in his heart . . .” (Ps. 15).

Jesus himself made it clear that the moral law is not done away.  “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17,18).

On the other hand it is probably not true that “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.”  Strictly speaking, the Ten Commandments (literally, the “Ten Words” or “Sayings”) were “the words of the covenant” (Ex. 34:27,28; Dt. 4:13), a summary of the terms and conditions of God’s covenant with Israel.  While they obviously reflect basic moral principles, it would be a mistake to say that they “continue to be a perfect rule of righteousness.”

But how, then, do we know what the true moral law requires?  To know that we must turn to the teachings of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament.  We must interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New.

And according to the New Testament what is really required from us as human beings and as Christians is that we love the Lord with all of our heart and soul and mind, and lover our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus said (Matt. 22:34-40, quoting Dt. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18).  Or to put it another way, the essence of the moral law can be summed up in the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).  Significantly Jesus said that “this is the Law and the Prophets.”  The mandate to love was always there – it was just buried under a mass of civil and ceremonial regulations.

Love does not do away with the law; it goes beyond it.  If you love someone, if you genuinely care about him, you will not harm him.  In this sense love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15).  But at the same time what love requires cannot be reduced to a set of rules and regulations – “thou shalt not do this” or “thou shalt not do that.”  Strictly speaking the purpose of the written law is to show us what we have done wrong (I Tim. 1:8-10).  But genuine love actively seeks the wellbeing of the other person and is not content merely to meet the minimum requirement of the law.  And meeting the needs of others cannot be prescribed in detail by a written law code.  Love actively looks for opportunities to help and to serve.  It does not have to be told to do so.

Which brings us to the second consideration, which is the motive of obedience.  Why do we do what we do?  Is it a matter of pride?  Or fear of punishment?  Do we simply go the life doing the bare minimum that is required of us in order to please someone else?

A genuinely righteous person does what is right because he wants to do what is right.  He genuinely cares about others and actively seeks their good.  The question is not, what do I have to do?  Rather the question is, what can I do to further God’s glory and help others?  The Holy Spirit produces His fruit in the heart of the believer, giving him the proper desires and motives.  As a result the believer does not have to be told what to do under threat of punishment; he does it instinctively and spontaneously.

C.I. Scofield, who was originally trained as a lawyer, used an interesting example to illustrate the point.  “The law of the commonwealth requires parents to care for their offspring, and pronounces penalties for the willful neglect of them; but the land is full of happy mothers who tenderly care for their children in perfect ignorance of the existence of such a statute.   The law is in their hearts. (“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” p. 41).

THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – I

 

How do we determine right and wrong?  In a rapidly changing society, a society which has legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, the question becomes more pressing than ever.  And even among professing Christians questions arise over various particular ethical norms – is it ever right to take a drink, or to go dancing?  What exactly does God expect from us?

For many years the answer was that “the moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 41).  The Catechism then goes on to give an exposition of each commandment, stating that something is required in each and something forbidden.  Together they constituted “a perfect rule of righteousness” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XIX,ii), and “doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others” (Section v).

More recently that view has been challenged by some, primarily Dispensationalist theologians.  A footnote in the Scofield Reference Bible on “The Christian doctrine of the law” states that “Law is in contrast with grace,” that Christ “redeemed the believer both from the curse and from the dominion of the law,” that “law neither justifies a sinner nor sanctifies a believer,” “The believer is both dead to the law and redeemed from it, so that he is ‘not under the law, but under grace,’” and that “Under the new covenant of grace the principle of obedience to the divine will is inwrought” (pp. 1244-1245).  There are scriptural references for each assertion but little in the way of explanation, and it is not exactly clear what the editors of the Scofield Bible meant by “redeemed from the dominion of the law,” “dead to the law,” and “not under the law.”

What underlies both positions are distinctive systems of theology.  The Westminster Divines held to a system of Covenant Theology, which argues that God made a Covenant of Grace with Adam after the Fall, and that we are still under that same Covenant of Grace today.  The result is a tendency to minimize the difference between the Old and New Testaments, between law and grace.  There is no mention in Scripture, however, of any such covenant with Adam.

The Dispensational position, on the other hand, tries to draw a sharp distinction between “the Dispensation of Law” and “the Dispensation of Grace.”  But is a Christian still obligated to keep the Ten Commandments?  Now that we are “under grace” is it alright to commit adultery?  The editors of the Scofield Bible say that we are not “under the law,” but that we are not free to sin either.  But apart from the law how do we determine what is sin?  Is there not some sense in which we are still “under the law”?

The apostle Paul did, in fact, say that we are “not under the law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14,15; cf. Gal. 5:18).  But what exactly did he mean by that?  The context in both Romans and Galatians is the controversy surrounding Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, and his conviction that Gentile converts are not required to be circumcised or to keep the Mosaic law.  What undoubtedly lies in the background here is the Pharisees’ conception of the Mosaic law as a collection of 613 individual commandments, and that sanctification involved stringent rule keeping.  This, however, misses the point of what God really requires, which is that we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Mic. 6:8; NKJV).

When Paul draws a contrast between “law” and “grace” he does not intend to say that the believer is free to sin.  Far from it.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:14).  But what does he mean?  He goes on in the next chapter to say that “You also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Rom. 7:4).  He then says that “we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we could serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (7:6).

What Paul is saying here is that the written law, per se, is powerless to change us or make us holy.  Only Christ working through the Holy Spirit can do that.  Hence the contrast between “the newness of the Spirit” and “the oldness of the letter.”  He then goes on in chapter 8 to say “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son . . . that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4,5).  The “righteous requirement of the law” must still be fulfilled.  But what does it mean to “walk according to the Spirit”?  It means to “live according to the Spirit” and to “set their minds on the things of the Spirit” and “to be spiritually minded” (vv. 5,6).  Paul, then, is not saying that there is no moral law, but that the only way to fulfill the law is not by keeping the letter of the old covenant but by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He produces His fruit in us.

THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF SEX

4.2.7

Anthony Van Dyck: Family Portrait

 

 

America, in recent decades, has seen a tremendous revolution in sexual mores, and this has placed the more conservative religious groups in an uncomfortable position.  Most younger people today have engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage has made homosexual activity acceptable to much of society.  Now conservative churches are in the position of being labelled prudish, intolerant, and even “homophobic” and hateful.  What should churches do in such a situation?  Accept the sexual revolution as an accomplished fact?  Or remain faithful to the basic moral principles that have guided them for thousands of years?

In a situation like this it must never be forgotten that as human beings we are all ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and that it is our Creator who is the final arbiter of right and wrong.  And sex, like everything else in life, must be understood in terms of God’s creative purposes.

The opening chapters of Genesis describe what those purposes are.  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of “God He created him; male and female He created them.  Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:27,28; NKJV).  The implication here is that the world has a certain natural order to it, an order that placed there by our Creator.  Gender distinctions are a part of that order (“male and female He created them”), and the primary purpose of sex is procreation (“be fruitful and multiply”), and that presupposes a heterosexual relationship.

The next chapter in Genesis goes on specifically to describe the creation of woman.  “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper comparable to him’” (Gen. 2:18).  God then goes on to create Eve, and the passage describes the rationale behind marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

In line with God’s creative purpose, then, there are a number of sexual practices that are condemned in the Bible.  The Old Testament condemns incest (Lev. 18:6-18), adultery (Lev. 18:20; Dt. 22:22), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23) and cross dressing (Dt. 22:5).

Some have imagined that Jesus took a more tolerant view of such matters, but the opposite is true.  The Old Testament allowed for divorce, but Jesus condemned it (Matt. 19:1-12), and at one point actually went so far as to say “But I say to you that whoever looks as a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-30).  And so the apostle Paul could write “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” (Eph. 5:3); and Heb. 13:4 tells us “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Does this mean that Christians are being “hateful” and “intolerant” by upholding God’s standards of sexual conduct?  Not at all!  Marriage was created for our good, and it serves our best interests if done the way God intended it.  “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor or given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30); but in this life “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, / And obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22).

What the biblical standards of morality do is to create a stable family life.  Children are brought into the world by parents who are in a permanent, binding relationship with each other.  The husband and wife naturally complement each other.  In a successful marriage there is real love and devotion towards each other and towards the children that spring from the union.

But what has the sexual revolution done for America?  One out of every two marriages ends in divorce, many children are born out of wedlock, and a large number of children are growing up in single parent families.  Poverty is pandemic, along with a hose of other social problems, and many of these problems can be traced directly back to the unstable family structure.

It all comes down to man’s fallen sinful nature.  There is a difference between lust and love.  Love sacrificially gives of itself to the other person; lust uses the other person for its own selfish ends.  Love builds relationships; lust destroys them.

Are Christians, then, being hateful and intolerant?  Not at all.  If we have a genuine concern for our neighbor’s well-being we will want to promote his best interests.  And sin is never in anyone’s best interest.  Would you buy a bottle of whiskey for an alcoholic?  Or even sell him a pack of cigarettes?   Why then would you help a pair of homosexuals sin by catering their wedding reception?  In each of these cases you would be contributing to the other person’s downfall and ruin.  That is not love.  That is being complicit with the crime, and no one’s genuine best interest is served that way.

Some may argue that the times have changed and that the church must change with the times – that we cannot live in the past.  But as we said before we must never forget that we are ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and that He never changes.  In the end His opinion is the only one that matters.

MAN’S REVOLT AGAINST GOD

4.2.7

Caravagio: The Young Bacchus

The Bible tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1:18; NKJV).  But why would God be angry with us?  He knows that we are only human, right?  God is a loving Father; surely He can overlook our weaknesses and failures.

What the verse goes on to say is that the wrath of God “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . .”  The Greek word translated “ungodliness” might better be rendered “impiety.”  It denotes the lack of reverence and devotion to God.  “Unrighteousness” is the lack of conformity to God’s law.  And that, according to Scripture, is why God is angry with us.

But why?  As long as we mind our own business and do not harm others, what is the problem?

As we have seen, God is our Creator and Lord, and He expects us to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with Him (Mic. 6:8).  What happens in actual practice, however, falls far short of the mark.  We routinely ignore God in our lives.  Yes, we may pay lip service to God, or to some duty, but our “religion” amounts to little more than a mere formality.  We rarely pray; we rarely read the Bible.  Our decisions are mainly based on calculated self-interest.  We assert our independence, and then look for ways to rationalize our behavior.  Scientists and philosophers try to devise elaborate alternative explanations of reality.  The rest of us just fill our lives with money, pleasure or entertainment.  And when circumstances overwhelm us we turn to the psychiatrist or the bottle.  We will try anything and everything except turn to God.  And inwardly we resent the thought of God having any kind of authority over us.  This is what the Bible means by “ungodliness” or “impiety.”  It is the near total absence of God in our thinking.  We call it “secularism.”

And then we are guilty of “unrighteousness.”  We pursue our own individual self-interest, and it often comes at the expense of others.  We try to convince ourselves that we are not really hurting anyone else, but our actions often belie our words.  As a society we will created governments and pass laws; but as individuals we will look for ways to game the system.  We lie and we cheat.  We gossip.  We lose our tempers and seek revenge.  We are motivated by greed and ignore the suffering of others.  We eat too much; we drink too much; we lust after women.  We hurt each other through a thousand tiny cuts.  We know that all of this is wrong, and yet we do it anyway.  This is what the Bible means by “unrighteousness.”

But, you may ask, what about the many people who have made personal sacrifices for their fellow man?  What about Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King?  What about those who have given their lives on the battlefield or those who have devoted their lives to the care of the sick and the poor?  Aren’t they good people?  Aren’t their deeds noble and virtuous?

Yes, indeed, there have been many people who have done great things.  But in the sight of God they are often doing the right things for the wrong reasons.  Most people are guided by a kind of social morality.  They have been raised and educated in a certain culture, and the society in which they live expects them to act a certain way.  There are rewards and punishments.   If you do the wrong thing you could go to jail; if you do the right thing you might achieve recognition from your fellow man.  But the morality of a society is often determined by the social, economic and political needs of that society, and as a result sometime comes into conflict with God’s moral law.  America’s economic system is based on individual self-interest and the profit motive.  The Bible says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim. 6:10).

Thus the behavior of individuals within a given society is motivated by a desire for social acceptance, and this often involves an element of hypocrisy.  We maintain a public persona that we project to others, but inwardly we can be quite different.  The true inner self can be stubborn, proud or resentful.

But all of this is quite different from what God requires.  What He wants is that we love Him with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves (Dt. 6:4; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:35-40).  We look at the outward appearance; God looks on the heart.  He discovers the hidden motive.  And “rational self-interest” is still self-interest.  Civilization is too often an attempt to better our lives without God.

In short, it is the underlying motive that counts.  What motivates us to do good things?  Is it a genuine love for God and for our fellow man?  Or is it a desire for esteem and success?  And what do we do when society’s standards conflict with God’s.

In other words, when God looks down from His throne in heaven, what He sees is not a bunch of basically good people trying their best to do the right thing.  What He sees is a human race that stubbornly refuses to recognize Him as Creator and Lord, routinely ignores Him in daily life, and breaks His commandments when it is convenient to do so.  He sees people who hurt each other in ways large and small.  And that is why God is justly angry with us.