Can Say What's Right
on Psalm 15 and Selected Texts
on March 20 & 21, 2010
David J. Claassen
2010 by David J. Claassen
each his own.” “Do your own thing, and as long as it doesn't
hurt anyone it’s OK.” These types of statements are as common as
drug commercials on TV.
the overriding question is, “Who can say what's right or wrong?”
This is one of the questions in our “The BIG Questions” series of
Age of Relativism
live in what has been called the age of relativism. What is
relativism? It's not the illness you come down with after visiting
family members you don't like! Relativism is the view that ethical
truths depend on the person or people holding them.
a cartoon that shows Satan greeting people at the entry to hell. He
says to them, “You'll find that there's no right or wrong here –
just what works for you.” That's why pragmatism is closely linked
to the idea that moral truth is relative. If no one can say for sure
what's good or bad, we humans tend to define something as good or bad
based on what works in our own best interests: what's pragmatic.
Pragmatism is the practice of believing in what’s useful and
has become a matter of perspective, What’s true for one person may
not be true for another, or so it's argued. Mark Chan, a Christian
philosopher from Singapore, stated, “The modern mindset is allergic
to universal and absolute truth.” (Christianity
February 2010, p.46) “What works for you” or “This works for
me” is the mantra of the day.
Ortberg told a story about a softball umpire who was stopped for
speeding. He pleaded with the policeman to show him some mercy,
explaining why he was in a hurry. The policeman showed him no mercy;
he told him, “Tell it to the judge” — and gave him a ticket. A
few days later at a softball game, the policeman, who was on one of
the teams, came up to bat and noticed that the umpire was the man he
had stopped a few days earlier.
how did things go with the judge and the ticket?” the policeman
asked with as much concern as he could muster.
umpire replied, “Better swing at everything.”
wrote then, “We all are umpires.” (Know
funny — well, maybe not funny, but true — that many people who
argue that you can't legislate morality or impose your idea of right
or wrong on others believe that there are many things that are right
or wrong. Few people would argue with the fact that Hitler was evil
and that Mother Teresa was good. Few would argue with the fact that
flying planes into the World Trade Center towers was evil. Few would
disagree that firemen rushing into the towers to save lives was good.
it turns out, has some idea of good and evil. Where did this idea
God? No Moral Absolutes
live with all kinds of laws. I live in Bedford township in Monroe
County, Michigan. I just found out the other day that you can't fire
a gun within several hundred feet of a house. I've often enjoyed
target shooting in my back yard with my 22 rifle; I even invited
Pastor Rupert and our youth pastor, Ben, to join me. We fired quite
a bit of ammo in an hour's time. Someone must have complained,
because a policeman showed up! He didn't say much; I assume that he
saw that we looked innocent. Actually, we were breaking a law. Your
three pastors are outlaws!
Bedford township laws exist because of a group of lawmakers called
the Bedford council. There are city laws, with the city being the
lawmaker. State laws are made by state lawmakers. National laws are
made by national lawmakers. Laws have lawmakers. It stands to
reason, then, that moral laws have a moral lawmaker.
if someone doesn't believe in God, as is true with atheistic
naturalists, or if someone believes in God but doesn't take Him into
account, there's no basis for believing in anything being right or
wrong. If we humans are nothing more than the result of a mindless
evolutionary process, there’s no basis for right or wrong.
Anything and everything is permissible.
evolutionary process is based on the survival of the fittest. The
strong conquer the weak; the big eat the little. There’s nothing
wrong with this in nature; it’s just the way things are. How can
we, if we’re nothing but the culmination of a mindless evolutionary
process, declare that it's wrong for the strong to conquer the weak,
or for the big to do what they want with the little?
Alcorn, in If
God Is Good,
wrote, “A system that operates on brute strength, genetic
superiority, and the survival of the fittest can explain and justify
racism, sexism, and oppression. But it cannot explain goodness,
humility, kindness, compassion, and mercy, especially when exercised
on behalf of the weak and dying. . . . The existence of children's
hospitals that spend vast resources to help the terminally ill, the
provision of special parking for handicapped people, Special Olympics
for disabled children – they all reveal shocking aberrations from
natural selection. If naturalism were an accurate worldview, the
human race should welcome the death of the weak, diseased, and
disabled, for its genetic betterment and its own survival.” (p.122)
widely believed that natural law — the evolutionary process, the
survival of the fittest — works for the betterment of the species.
An individual member of the species, whatever the species, matters
little — yet there is within us a sense that we should
— that we ought
care about the individual. It runs counter to a purely naturalistic,
no-God view of existence.
stated, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” If you
don't believe in an ultimate lawmaker, there can be no ultimate law,
no ultimate right or wrong! Your moral feet are solidly planted in
God? Know Moral Absolutes
you center your life around God, you automatically have a moral
compass. God stated bluntly through the prophet Amos, “Hate
evil, love good.”
(Amos 5:15) God also stated, through the prophet Isaiah, “Woe
to those who call evil good and good evil, . . .” (Isaiah
5:20) The psalmist declared, “The
Lord loves righteousness and justice.”
is righteousness? What's the meaning of this word that appears in
the Bible 232 times? The Baker
Dictionary of Theology
defines it as “that which conforms to the norm, and for biblical
writers this norm is the character of God himself.” (p.61) What’s
right and good is that which reflects the holiness and the
righteousness of God. What’s wrong and bad is the opposite of the
way God is. This means that our vertical relationship — our
relationship with God — is supposed to be completely reflected in
our horizontal relationships: our relationships with each other.
to how the apostle Peter laid this out for us: “As
obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when
you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be
holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'”
(1 Peter 1:14-16) We're supposed to reflect the very character of
God! People who want to be close to God are supposed to live the way
God wants us to live. What does that mean? Let's give it some
by God's Standards
psalmist David asked the question, “Lord,
who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?”
15:1) We know that we get right with God by accepting His graciously
given forgiveness that comes through Jesus. God forgives us, but
what's our part after that? David answered his own question about
the kind of person who can be close to God.
whose walk is blameless . . .” Of
course no one is perfect. Blameless, here, means a God-pleasing walk
or lifestyle. What specifically does that mean? David went on to
suggest some possibilities.
. . and who does what is righteous, . . .” We're
supposed to do what's right.
. . who
speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, . .
supposed to keep from twisting what other people say or do.
. . who
does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, . . .”
not supposed to hurt those we associate with by our actions or by
what we say about them.
. . who
despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, . . .”
We're not supposed to look up to someone whose lifestyle would
likely be profiled favorably in a glossy newsstand magazine; we
should look up to a person who makes us think of God.
. . who keeps his oath, even when it hurts, . . .”
We're supposed to keep our word and our commitments, even when we'd
rather back out of them, get mad and run, or cut our losses and go
for something more promising.
. . who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe
against the innocent, . . .”
We're not supposed to take advantage of someone's misfortune,
digging a deeper hole for them.
who does these things will never be shaken.” This
is the way to live; this is the way to have our moral feet planted
firmly on the rock of God Himself!
answer to the question “Who can say what’s right or wrong?” is
that God can — and He does! Every day we have countless
opportunities to think, say, and do what’s right or wrong in God's
eyes, what’s good or bad in God's eyes. Behind the closed doors of
our houses we choose how we treat the people who live there with us.
We make the choices at our workplaces. We make our choices with the
people we call friends, with those at our church, with those we meet
in passing every day.
can say what's right or wrong? The Lord can and does, and we should
be listening! With His gracious help, let's walk more and more on
His path of righteousness with Him — on His right path for us!
Let's do that today!