Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
The Basic Problem
Have you noticed lately how often in the news you hear the terms “moral, morality, justice, injustice, right, wrong?” These terms are used over a wide range of subjects, from the treatment of illegal immigrants to how outrageous it is that Georgia lucked out over Clemson. A restaurant manager who has strong political views kicked out a customer who did not affirm those views, and in self-congratulation fashion said she did so as an act of “morality.” A spokesperson for a mob demonstration justified the violence taking place as an act of “justice.” Political talking heads spewed forth philippics all over the place to protest “immoral actions” of their political opponents. “We want justice now,” screams a group of young people who probably have no idea how that would look. On and on go the screeds, the spewing forth of these terms that express emotions which are often totally divorced from any intellectual content. “Right, wrong, moral, immoral, justice….?” Let’s stop, take a deep breath, and ask a fundamental, often never asked question, “is there any consistent definition of these terms? What is the basis for saying something is RIGHT, something is WRONG?”
It is obvious that confusion, corruption, dissonance, anger, accusations, a host of irrational events and statements have become the norm of our generation. Billy Graham loved to tell the story of the Catholic priest who was striving to talk a despairing man who was about to jump from a bridge out of jumping. “Why do you want to end it all?” asked the priest. “Because the world is in a mess, and it is getting worse.” The priest said “look, things are not as bad as you think. You take five minutes, tell me why you think the world is hopeless, in a mess, why you should jump. I will take 5 minutes and convince you not to jump.” The man began to list the woes of civilization, the hopelessness of his generation, and the miserable conditions of life. Then they both jumped.
OK, without wanting to be peddlers of pessimism, moaning forth elegiacs, be constantly looking into the garbage cans of contemporary events, or jumping off bridges in abject despair, let us face the fact: THE FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE WE FACE TODAY IS THE CLASH OF WORLDVIEWS. Wait a minute, make certain we are stating this succinctly: When we distill the raging rhetoric coming from news makers, the acerbic accusations being hurled in all directions, the pandering politicians who wallow in partisan politics, toxic disagreements, etc etc, what we have is a clash of WORLDVIEWS. It is imperative that we understand this axiom: THE BASIC PROBLEMS WE FACE TODAY ARE THE RESULTS OF CONFLICTING WORLDVIEWS.
At the expense of appearing pedant, or just plain showing off, let me state what is a worldview: it is a set of presuppositions, assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false, which we hold about the basic makeup of existence. We hold these views consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently about the world, about existence. You may have never heard the term, don’t really care about the term, and bristle at the thought that you have a “world view.” You and I have a worldview that consists of the values, ideas that determine our attitudes, beliefs and ultimately actions. We vote based on our WORLD VIEW. We say it is WRONG to sit in my seat based on our WORLD VIEW. We label an act UNJUST based on our WORLD VIEW.
A WORLD VIEW includes issues such as the nature of God, is there a God, what does it mean to be human, the meaning of life, death, what is right, what is wrong. E.g., if we believe that when we die, we are like the dog that barks for the last time, or like the cow that moos for the last time, and then fades away into nothingness, then that world view could justify a nihilistic and narcissistic approach to life, views that define much of modern existence. If we hold to a worldview that views history as a series of capricious and meaningless events, then we are prone to echo the words of a Camus protagonist, “nothing really matters.” We begin developing our world view as young children through interactions within our family, then social settings such as schools, churches, friends, and life experiences. We are saturated with powerful media images in movies, television, music, literature, and these play a key role in shaping WORLDVIEWS. Then we act and believe based on what our German friends call WELTUNSCHAUUG; OUR VIEW OF THE WORLD, HOW WE INTERPRET LIFE’S EXPERIENCES.
Listen to the rancor filling the airwaves concerning MORAL, JUSTICE, RIGHT, and WRONG. Was the Ku Klux Klan WRONG? Why is it “moral” to feed the hungry, care for the poor?” What makes something “unjust?” On and on go the basic questions of existence. However, all of life’s questions are sooner or later viewed within the context of the fundamental question: is there a God, and if so, what is the nature of God? Does this God care about humans, and if so, how has God manifested this care? The answers determine our WORLD AND LIFE VIEW.
“If there is no God then anything is permissible,” pontificates Dmitri in Dostoyevsky’s classic novel THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. This protagonist correctly sees that without God, humans are left to create their own “morality” and “justice.” The much quoted philosopher Kant perceived that the sense of “right, wrong, toughness” would no longer be a “divine imperative,” but the result of a socially conditioned conscience. To put it as clearly as possible: If there is no God, we as humans are left to make our own laws and establish our own principles for living. There is no ultimate right or wrong, only the right and wrong established by humans who control society. The disturbing words of Judges 21:25 become the epitaph on the gravestone of our civilization: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Just as disquieting are the words the Apostle Paul wrote to describe the spiritual decay and moral destruction of ancient Rome:
“Their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21). This describes the consequences of “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” (1:25). The destruction of morality was based on the WORLD VIEW that God did not matter, therefore, “eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die and that is that.”
Jeremiah 6:10 describes a society that has a WORLD VIEW which ignores THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF: “Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The Word of the Lord is offensive to them, they find no pleasure in them.” Such a WORLD VIEW leads to the terrifying words of 8:12: “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all. They do not know how to blush!” No, Jeremiah did not write this morning, but it accurately describes our society this morning.
A society has not “progressed” nor “become more tolerant” when their WORLD VIEW leads them to cast aside the GOD WHO IN HAS REVEALED HIMSELF AS LOVE, GRACE, AND COMPASSION. That society has merely “lost the capacity to feel shame, they have become hardened in their rebellion.” Then if we are intellectually honest we can say “we are NOT becoming more PROGRESSIVE. WE ARE BECOMING MORE PAGANIZED.”
The Judeo-Christian worldview begins with the assertion that we live in an orderly universe, and the fact of design leads us to believe there is a DESIGNER. The fact of universal laws (e.g. gravity) leads us to believe there is a LAW GIVER. When we observe creation we do not give away our brains when we believe there is a CREATOR. With our Jewish brethren, we Christians base our WELTANSCHAUUNG (WORLD AND LIFE VIEW) ON THE AXIOM OF GENESIS 1:1; “IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED…”
Here is where we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ should stand. Our WORLD AND LIFE VIEW must reflect the NATURE OF GOD AS GOD IS REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST.
The prophet Isaiah (28:17) proclaims that there is a PLUMBLINE that determines what is RIGHT, WRONG, and JUST. It is the GOD WHO REVEALS (also Amos 7:7). When God’s PLUMBLINE is ignored, disdained, moral decay sets in. Society “falls down and does not get up. It clings to deceit and refuses to listen to what is truly right. It pursues its own course like a horse charging into battle. And since they have rejected the WORD OF THE LORD, they lack wisdom to know what RIGHT is and what is WRONG.” Jeremiah 8:4-9.
As followers of Jesus Christ, our WORLDVIEW is based on the truth that “God so loved the world that He gave…” That “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself…” That “God demonstrated His love for us. Christ died for our sins.” (John 3:16; II Corinthians 5:18-21; Romans 5:8). This WORLD AND LIFE VIEW then leads His people to live out “What He has shown you, what is GOOD, what God requires of you, to act JUSTLY, and to love MERCY, and to walk HUMBLY with your God.” Matthew 25:31-40 kicks in. The hungry are fed, the stranger is invited in, the sick are looked after, and those in prison are cared for. JUSTICE AND MERCY become meaningful and active virtues in the lives of God’s people. And in the words of the prophet Amos (5:24)” JUSTICE WILL ROLL ON LIKE A RIVER, RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A NEVER FAILING STREAM.”
These MORAL virtues are possible because they are based on a WORLD AND LIFE VIEW that declares “O LORD, OUR LORD, HOW MAJESTIC IS YOUR NAME IN ALL THE EARTH.” (Psalm 8) AMEN!