Morality is one of the four big questions in life along with questions of origin, meaning, and destiny. I would actually say it is purposeless to address morality without bringing in origin, meaning, and destiny. This article attempts to do just that.
Equality of value, not of moral outcomes
As the United States’ Declaration of Independence puts it, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
From a Christian perspective, we embrace equality because all humanity was originally made in the image of God. We are equal in value. But that equality does not carry over as an equality of moral outcomes. Some behaviours are more morally good than others, some behaviours are more morally evil than others.
Absolute versus relative morality
Absolute morality deals with moral claims that are applicable to everyone consistently over time and/or space. On the other hand, relative morality deals with moral claims that are not applicable to everyone consistently over time and/or space.
As a result of our individual consciences, something that itself points to the existence of a transcendent moral law, many us would agree that things such as murder and rape are absolutely wrong. But there are other areas such as reproduction, sexuality, gender identity, and marriage where people heartily disagree on what is right and wrong. Even if they agree, they may disagree in terms of whether a behaviour is absolutely or relatively right/wrong.
Objective versus subjective morality
Objective morality deals with moral claims that are based on a transcendent moral law. Subjective morality deals with moral claims that are not based on a transcendent moral law.
On the individual scale, I could say something is morally right but someone could disagree and say it is morally wrong. Ultimately, the claims made by either of us regarding morality would simply be the subjective opinion of an individual.
On a larger scale, we could look to laws and/or societal norms for morality. This is where the majority of people obtain their sense of morality. However, looking to laws and/or societal norms does not provide us with a truly objective point of reference for morality. It is essentially subjective morality because it reflects the predominant opinion of a collection of individuals.
Necessity of a transcendent moral law
The 20th century was the deadliest century. Matthew White estimates that 203 million people died from war, oppression, and the related consequences. Of this, Mao Zedong in China killed an estimated 50-80 million, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union killed an estimated 20 million, and Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany killed an estimated 12 million. The statistic for Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany does not include the 30-40 million additional deaths one could pin on him due to his part in instigating World War II.
However, this is not a matter of a few individuals going rogue, this is a matter of entire societies losing their moral compass. For example, we are talking about laws and/or societal norms in Nazi Germany that led to the systematic segregation, imprisonment, and murder of millions of Jews and other minorities. As such, laws and/or societal norms should not be viewed as an ultimate moral authority.
Furthermore, nothing can be absolutely wrong over time and/or space if we’re looking to laws and societal norms, because we would have to believe that morality changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and/or society to society. After all, we cannot say our jurisdiction/society’s sense of morality is superior to that of another jurisdiction/society unless we compare the two using an objective point of reference for morality whereby one is more moral good or morally evil than the other.
Evil or no evil, transcendent law or not
Many claim to abhor the evils they see in the world, but they reject the very notion of evil existing as a metaphysical reality since they deny a transcendent moral law. A transcendent moral law implies a moral Law Giver and the thought of moral responsibility dissuades people from fully accepting the existence of a transcendent moral law. Here’s a quote by Ravi Zacharias that illustrates the problem at hand.
When you say there’s too much evil in this world, you assume there’s good. When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove.
Because if there’s no moral Law Giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?
- Ravi Zacharias
Using the OT to reject moral authority
I’ve noticed that those who lack understanding about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament will fall into one of these two false views:
The angry God of the Old Testament is different from the loving God of the New Testament. There’s no such thing as greater sin. Jesus just wants us to love everyone and stop judging people’s sins.
Christians are inconsistent and don’t apply the more absurd Levitical laws of the Old Testament.
My quick response to those two false views:
The God of the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same (Heb. 13:8). He is both infinitely just and infinitely loving.
The Levitical law was given specifically for the theocracy of Israel. The law itself was nailed to the Cross of Calvary and thus the old covenant was abolished (Heb. 8:13). The Levitical law can be split up into a moral law, a ceremonial law, and a civil/judicial law. The moral law carries over into the New Testament as much of it is repeated in the New Testament.
The judgements God sanctioned in the Old Testament were just, even from a human standpoint in many cases. For example, God judged societies where children were sacrificed to false gods; something that is heinous (Lev. 18:21,24). In situations where you disagree, remember it is futile to think that our subjective perception of morality supersedes an objective point of reference for morality.
The law was intentionally difficult because it acted as a schoolmaster to show us that God is just, and bring us to a point where we acknowledge that we cannot fulfil God’s law by our own efforts (Gal. 3:24-25).
When we understand that God is infinitely just, we can understand the depths of God’s infinite love in that He came and sacrificed Himself on the Cross to pay the penalty for our wrongdoings.
All sin is equal in that we are all condemned to eternal punishment because of it (John 3:16). However, Jesus Himself speaks about greater sin and greater punishment in eternity (John 19:11, Luke 12:47-28).
Jesus calls us to not judge hypocritically or by mere appearances, but He does command us to judge Christians with righteous judgement using the Word of God (John 7:24, 1 Cor. 5:12).
If a judge punished some crimes but not all crimes, the judge would not be perfectly just because I can imagine someone who punishes all crimes. At the same time, if a judge forgives some crimes but not all crimes, the judge would not be perfectly forgiving because I can imagine someone who forgives all crimes.
We as humans commit so many moral wrongs on a daily basis, and thus the Bible says that even with all our good deeds we are guilty and deserving of punishment before a perfectly holy God. But Jesus, who being God Himself, humbled Himself into the form of man to die on the Cross of Calvary. Jesus paid the cost of perfect justice for our wrongdoings, allowing us to accept His perfect forgiveness.
Your life is not the product of random chance. You are an intricate being created by a God who wants you to experience His love. Love cannot be robotic and therefore love demands the freedom to choose to love or to not love. God gives us free will so we can choose to experience His love.
When we use our free will to reject God, who is the objective point of reference for absolute morality, we are left with evil. God hates evil but He allows it to exist temporarily so that you and I have an opportunity to choose to experience His love eternally.
Those who reject His love will instead suffer eternally because our wrongdoings are against an eternal God who is infinitely holy. We cannot earn our way to God; but we can accept Jesus’ sacrifice, believe in His resurrection, and let His love transform our lives. Truth by nature is exclusive, and Jesus is the only hope we have.
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; (Romans 10:9, NASB)