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The third signpost that we should consider is the presence of a moral law.
This is where the Bible plays such a vital role in the health and welfare of our culture. It declares there is a divine moral order that governs life, and that God is the moral lawgiver. His moral law is revealed in the Bible. In essence, God is telling us how life should be lived. He has given us a moral compass so that we don’t get lost, and he has provided a road map so that we can avoid moral confusion.
I want to introduce a key scene from Grand Canyon, a provocative movie that was released almost twenty years ago and that features Kevin Kline and Danny Glover. In the scene, Kline’s character has been to a baseball game in Los Angeles, and he leaves a crowded freeway to try and find a shortcut home. In the process, he finds himself in a pretty rough area of town, and he discovers that he is lost. When he finally stops his Lexus, the car stalls, and he is unable to drive away.
He calls a wrecker service and, while he is waiting, the audience sees a group of teenagers with a thuggish appearance as they emerge from the shadows, and they’re getting ready to . . . well, we don’t know exactly, because just as they are about to do some serious damage, Glover arrives in the tow truck. As he steps out to hook up the car, the teenage thugs begin to protest because Glover is interrupting their plan to pounce on a guy who is at their mercy. Kline, after all, drives an expensive car, he’s a well-dressed lawyer, and he appears to be someone who might be in possession of a great deal of money.
Glover takes the leader of the group aside and announces firmly:
“Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And that dude (referring to Kline) is supposed to be able to wait on his car without you ripping him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is.”
“This ain’t the way it’s supposed to be.” Danny Glover’s character was referring to a type of moral behavior that we expect from human beings. There seems to be a right way to live.
The Christian understanding is this: the world is designed a certain way, and God imparts to each of us the way things ought to be and the way that we should live. The Bible is, in fact, God’s morality. It spells out absolute moral obligations. These absolute obligations are binding on all people, at all times, in all places.
But if you believe there is no God, then there is no moral lawgiver. And if there is no moral lawgiver, there’s no universal absolute to follow. All values become relative. Richard Dawkins, the notorious atheist, takes this view:
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but pointless indifference.”
In other words, Dawkins is saying that we live in a universe where there is no evil, and there is no good. There is no God to stand behind morality; there is no moral lawgiver to dispense it.
Therefore, human beings have to come up with their own morality. But then our greatest challenge becomes how to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. What will be our personal basis for what is moral and immoral?
Tim Keller says that so many of us base our moral convictions on what I like, what I want or what I feel. It seems a person’s final authority today is his or her emotions. Follow your heart, follow your feelings, follow your desires, wherever they may lead you. But this ultimately leads to moral confusion.
The best way to understand how a godless worldview leads to moral confusion is to consider Nazi Germany. When Hitler came to power, a new, brutal, moral philosophy had come to pass in Europe. Hitler’s dream was to see the triumph of the strong over the weak. When Germany conquered Poland, Hitler said that the weak, who could be useful, would have to be enslaved; all others would be murdered. He believed that the Poles should be treated as subhumans, and he planned to kill all Germans with disabilities. Hitler made it clear that, in order to see his dream realized, brutality would have to be cultivated as a virtue.
After the war and in the trials at Nuremberg, the Nazis defended themselves with an interesting argument. Their lawyers’ exact words are below:
“Granted, our legal system" - talking about Nazi Germany - "is not the same as yours. Our fundamental values are not the same as yours, and we simply made our legal system reflect our own cultural values . . . Our rule involved Aryan supremacy, and we did not regard Jews as human beings on the same level as Aryans…From our standpoint, then, Jews certainly did not deserve to benefit from the Aryan rights . . . And the only reason that we find ourselves on trial here is that you won, and we lost.”
It is interesting to note the response of the Allied judges. The chief counsel for the United States at these trials, Robert Jackson, appealed to permanent, transcultural values. He said that one must look to a law beyond the law, a universal law. Jackson said that a system of ethics must point beyond itself. It has to be transcendental, and its basis cannot rest within the finite world. Otherwise, he asks, how could one in good faith say that the Nazis were guilty of a crime?
God has given us the Bible, and the Bible serves as a moral compass that points us to a moral certainty, and through it we have the means to address the confusion that we see all around us.
This has been found to be objectively true in the research of a brilliant man. Dr. Robert Coles is an unusual man. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, having written more than eighty books. He is also a prominent child psychiatrist and a literature professor at Harvard. He teaches literature to business majors instead of psychiatry to medical students, and the reason he gives, we have systems to explain everything except how to live.
Cole has spent his lifetime interviewing and listening to people. What has he learned about the human condition?
“Nothing I have discovered about the makeup of human beings contradicts in any way what I learn from the Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos, and from the book of Ecclesiastes, and from Jesus and the lives of those he touched. Anything I can say as a result of my research into human behavior is a mere footnote to those lives in the Old and New Testaments.
“I have known human beings who, in the face of unbearable daily stress, respond with resilience, even nobility. And I have known others who live in a comfortable, even luxurious environment and seem utterly lost. We have both sides in all of us, and that’s what the Bible says, isn’t it?”
Cole says that he receives a great deal of criticism from those in his profession because he speaks of human nature in terms of good and evil, light and darkness, self-destruction and redemption. He says, “They want some new theory, I suppose. But my research merely verifies what the Bible has said all along about human beings.”
Richard E. Simmons III is the founding director of The Center for Executive Leadership, a faith-based ministry in Birmingham, Alabama focused on counseling businessmen and professionals. His column appears every weekend in 1819 News. Richard is the best-selling author of The True Measure of a Man, Reliable Truth, and The Power of a Humble Life. His newest book, an Amazon best-seller, is Reflections on the Existence of God – a series of short essays seeking to answer life’s most enduring question: Does God exist? You can find Richard's weekly blog, podcast, and more at richardesimmons3.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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