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"The BIG Questions”
Part 5:

"Who Can Say What's Right
or Wrong?”

Based on Psalm 15 and Selected Texts
Delivered on March 20 & 21, 2010
by David J. Claassen

Copyright 2010 by David J. Claassen

“To 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.

Perhaps 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 messages.

This Age of Relativism

We 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.

There's 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 beneficial.

Truth 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 Today, February 2010, p.46) “What works for you” or “This works for me” is the mantra of the day.

We're All Umpires

John 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.

“So, how did things go with the judge and the ticket?” the policeman asked with as much concern as he could muster.

The umpire replied, “Better swing at everything.”

Ortberg wrote then, “We all are umpires.” (Know Doubt, p.156)

It's 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.

Everybody, it turns out, has some idea of good and evil. Where did this idea come from?

No God? No Moral Absolutes

We 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!

The 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.

However, 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.

The 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?

Randy 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)

It’s 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 to — care about the individual. It runs counter to a purely naturalistic, no-God view of existence.

Dostoevsky 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 thin air!

Know God? Know Moral Absolutes

When 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.” (Psalm 33:5)

What 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.

Listen 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 thought.

Living by God's Standards

The psalmist David asked the question, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (Psalm 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.

“He 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, . . .” We're supposed to keep from twisting what other people say or do.

“. . . who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, . . .” We're 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.

David concluded, “He 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!

The 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.

Who 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!

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