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“I Wouldn’t Do It, But I Wouldn’t Say That It’s Wrong”

“I Wouldn’t Do It, But I Wouldn’t Say That It’s Wrong”

“I wouldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t say that it’s wrong”.

It’s a sentiment I keep hearing, everywhere. Certainly from non-Christians, but, increasingly, from the Christian community as well.

And the snarky question I want to ask back is, “Why not?”

But I know the answer. It is an answer borne from a view of the world that is more and more prevalent in our world. And the issue at hand is really this:

How do we decide if something is right or wrong?

Billy Graham

I watched Billy Graham’s last address the other day – My Hope America. This humble, faithful 95-year-old  servant of the Lord spoke of his sadness at how far Americans have “wandered away from God”. And he pointed people, with words clear and true, to the cross of Christ. But one of the things that stood out most to me was the things he said about sin:

“People don’t want to hear that they are sinners. To many people, it is an offense. The cross is offensive because it directly confronts the evils which dominate so much of this world.”

He is so very right.

The concept of sin is the heart of the question about whether things are right or wrong. And, without it, we simply run in intellectual circles in our attempts to justify the necessary strictures that keep human society intact.

Two Ways of Seeing Right and Wrong

There are two major worldviews in conflict, here, over this question about right and wrong. One, exemplified by Christianity, is moral objectivism, which believes that there is an objective reality and morality, independent of our perception of or feelings about it, which has been established by Someone greater than ourselves. The center focus is on God, or a divine being, as the measure of all things.

The other is moral relativism, exemplified by secular progressivism and Humanism, which understands that truth and morality are based on the perceptions and experiences of those experiencing them. In this worldview, truth and morality change according to their consequences in different situations and for different people. The center focus is on the individual as the measure of all things.

One of the major ways of understanding the differences between these two views of the world is looking at some word pictures of how they see morality.

Preference of Perfume

For moral relativists, morality is similar to preferences in perfume scents. Some like more flowery smells, others prefer the essence of musk or shower-clean odors. What is the “right” scent is entirely dependent upon each individual person’s preferences and situation. The point of reference is the individual at hand – his or her own personal experience and proclivities. Obviously you would never propose to tell someone else what scent they should like best; such a decision remains entirely with the preferences of the individual. For the relativist, just like preferences in perfume aromas, even though euthanasia of the elderly, say, might not be something he would personally want to do, it may be the “right” choice for someone else in a different situation. Each person must decide for him or herself what is right for him or her and, like perfume choices, we have no right to tell someone else what is right for them.

The problem with moral subjectivism is a little thing called reality.

The truth is that even those who claim there is no right or wrong cannot and do not live by their claims. They are generally the first to insist it is “wrong” to deny a woman the right to an abortion, or to believe that marriage is only between one man and one woman, and are often willing to scream and demean in order to prove it. They have no qualms about asserting the “rightfulness” of reducing greenhouse gasses or our dependence on fossil fuels. Those who apply the “I wouldn’t do it, but I’m not going to tell someone else it’s wrong” philosophy toward the right of women to have an abortion, don’t use the same reasoning when it comes to the right of pedophiles to have sex with children.

Yes, even those who claim there is no right or wrong live, in actuality, as if there is. They just want to be able to be the arbiters of what those terms mean. When right and wrong become problematic, for moral relativists, is when those principles are defined by someone other than themselves – specifically, by a transcendent Being who not only made the rules, but retains the right to expect people to obey them.

Diagnosis of Cancer

The ultimate difficulty for relativists is that morality is not like differing opinions about perfume scents. No, there is a different metaphor that more aptly describes what “right” and “wrong” are like: a diagnosis of cancer. Morality is, instead, more akin to a doctor telling you that you have a tumor. Regardless of your experience or feelings about the doctor’s diagnosis, irrespective of your preferences or personal situation, you either have a tumor or you don’t. You may not feel it is right for you to have a tumor, and may not prefer it, but it can kill you nonetheless.

Our culture is confused, because it thinks morality is akin to choosing a perfume scent, when, in reality, it is closer to a tumor diagnosis. And it is Christianity that tells us just what that tumor is – sin.

How to Decide What is Right and Wrong

There is a reason that, no matter how much people may want to say they believe the contrary, they live and function as if there were some universal sense of right and wrong – there is.

Right and wrong are embedded in the fabric of our world because they reflect the nature of the One who made it. How do we decide what is right and what is wrong?  It is both simple and complex at the same time:

That which is right reflects the nature and character of God. That which is wrong opposes the nature and character of God.

Good and bad, right and wrong are not subjective concepts based on the experience of each individual any more than a tumor exists based on a person’s perceptions of it. Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that God is the embodiment of good (Luke 18:19, Psalm 25:8, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 100:5) – He is the standard of everything, not us.

There is no good, no “right”, apart from the One who is the Essence of Good. As a result, in actuality “wrong”, “badness” and “evil” are not actual realities in themselves; they are instead the absence of God (the Essence of Good). He, Goodness, is the ultimate reality. Everything that exhibits His qualities is good and right; everything that does not is bad and wrong. Another way of saying it?

That which falls short of the character of God is sin (Romans 3:23).

Adam and Eve

The creation account makes it clear how rejecting God brought the cancer of sin into the world.

After God created man “in his own image” (according to His character and being), scripture tells us that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Good, because it mirrored its Creator. Yet, this benevolent God didn’t want his creation to be forced to choose Him by default; He wanted them to choose to choose Him. However perfect it may be, having no other option than Good and Life is not a choice of truly free creatures. So God placed the “knowledge of good and evil”, in the form of a tree, in the middle of his world, giving His creation the opportunity to be fully free – and choose the opposite of Him if they so desired.

He did this so humanity could truly have free will, even as He knew that this choice of freedom would, ironically, be the very thing to enslave them and bring them to ruin.

Picture the scene. A perfect, beautiful world, wholly good, reflecting the qualities of its Maker. No evil, no suffering, no “shame” (Genesis 2:25). A creation that magnified the Essence of Good….

Until mankind decided it wanted something other than this Good.

Humanity wanted to go beyond the boundaries of God’s Good and Life, to see what there was, other than God. We wanted full knowledge, full experience. But what is there to know, to experience, when you already have the Essence of Good and the Essence of Life?

The opposite. Evil…Death.

Humanity wanted to know. They wanted to live by rules other than those of Good and Life. And God allowed them to, out of a loving desire to give them free will.

But He didn’t do it without a loving parental warning, knowing, as the architect of this world in which they lived, that they were not going to like what they found out and experienced outside of Him: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:15).

He didn’t cause this death. Much like darkness is all that is left over when a light is extinguished, death is simply the default when the Essence of Life is absent.

We made the wrong choice. We chose other than Good and Life. And so we received what was left in the void and the cancer of sin and death entered the world.

What Sin Is

Sin is not some label of punishment given to make people feel guilty. Sin is a tumor sucking the life out of every person who chose, first of all, not to take in the Nutrition that gives life and health, and, who, once sick, has refused to take the life-giving medicine available.

Doing “right” according to the nature of God – being loving, patient, kind, forgiving, faithful, self-controlled, peaceful, etc. – has positive consequences for people and for society because it reflects the character of the God who is Good and Life. This world is now a mixture of God’s fingerprints (good and life) and the cancer of sin (evil and death). Any experience of good, here in our fallen world, is an experience of God’s nature, and the more closely we adhere to the attributes of the Source of Good and Life, the more we will experience both.

That is why, no matter what relativists may posit, qualities like love and compassion and forgiveness universally, throughout all cultures, peoples, and times, have enhanced humanity’s experience of life. And why qualities such as pride and envy and hate have universally diminished it. The rules of creation were embedded in the essence of its Creator.

Being kind to people around us is “right”, and is beneficial to life, because kindness reflects the nature of God. Forgiving those who have hurt us is “right”, and is beneficial to life, because forgiveness reflects the nature of God. On the contrary, selfishness is “wrong”, and creates problems in life, because it reflects an absence of God’s character – generosity. And hatred is wrong, and creates problems in life, because it reflects an absence of God’s character – love.

Getting It Right

Morality – the decision between right and wrong – isn’t a preference for Chanel No. 5 over Calvin Klein’s Obsession. It is the choice between taking life-saving medication or letting cancer run its course. We can say we don’t have cancer all we want, and tell people that they don’t have to get treatment – they are free to do whatever they choose.

But doing so doesn’t change the fact that this cancer always leads to death.

If we understand that “right” can only be that which reflects the nature and character of God, we can reclaim life as it was intended to be. Because there is a cure for the cancer of sin – it’s called Jesus Christ. And all we have to do to reverse the effects of this sickness is to accept the treatment.

Adam and Eve thought they could somehow gain by living outside the parameters of the Essence of Life, but then discovered that “freedom” from God’s guidelines for creation meant the freedom to experience death. They got their choice, only to find that the only options available to them, outside of the nature of the Creator, were the absence of Good.

Just like Adam and Eve, we’ve gotten it all wrong. Moral relativism is not a loving, non-judgmental grace of magnanimity we offer to those who simply want to be free. In actuality, the “I wouldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t say that it’s wrong” philosophy is the equivalent of asking the Stage 4 cancer patient which aroma he prefers to be sprayed with while the tumors eat him alive.

There is a right, and there is a wrong, and they are determined by the nature and essence of God. The closer we get to exhibiting His attributes, the more good we will experience in this life. The cancer of sin is in us, whether or not we want to admit it, and it is only accepting His treatment that we can be saved. Once we do, every bit of His life-giving medicine that flows into us starts killing the tumors and replacing them with health and beauty and life.

And that is so very, very…

yes, I will use the term…

right.

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