A recent commenter documented an impressive list of biblical "absurdities" which, in his or her mind, make the Biblical account of God seem foolish, primitive, and in some cases, immoral. And while each proposed "bible difficulty" has an associated biblical apology to match, such apologies might not seem convincing to our mindset. So before jumping into "answers," I thought that I might outline some of the principles which Christians, and perhaps others who are considering putting "God on trial" ought to consider. Modern humanists might not agree with these principles, but they are part of the foundational assumptions underlying the biblical approach to judging the righteousness of the Biblical God and his people.
Before we decide whether or not, for example, God’s killing of the
firstborn in Pharoh’s Egypt was just, we should consider the biblical
viewpoints on sin, righteousness, and justice. The first reason why we may not yet be equipped to judge God’s actions, instructions, or inaction is because WE OFTEN UNDERESTIMATE THE EGREGIOUSNESS OF HUMAN EVILS.
Before we even get to evaluting God and His actions and reactions to humanity, we must examine the factors by which we examine ourselves. While some "sins" sound innocuous to us, they may, in fact, be much more evil than we have imagined. Why would we make such a poor estimation of moral turpitude?
1. We tend to justify our own sins to make ourselves feel less guilty
Our estimation of the moral evils usually works this way – sins that I do NOT commit seem hard to understand and evil ("other" people’s sins), while my own seem understandable, and so I make a little more allowance for them. In fact, as long as I am practicing a certain sin, I am usually going to mostly or entirely justify it until I admit it and repudiate it (i.e. repent).
This is clearly reflected in Jesus’ teaching on not judging – note that he doesn’t say that we should not correct others or make moral judgments, but that we should first be aware of our own sinfulness:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You
hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will
see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The exception to this, of course, is the person who is in denial, but knows or believes that what they have done or are doing is sinful. In that case, in an effort to allay their own guilt, they may go on a crusade AGAINST the sin which troubles their own soul so deeply, in a mistaken effort to cleanse their own conscience.
2. Being sinful, we tend to justify sin as a general practice
The bible teaches that until we are born again, we are slaves to sin (John 8:34, Romans 6). The problem is that we are not objective. If we condemn sin, we often end up condemning ourselves, and most won’t do that. While similar to the point above, this point is broader – as a general rule, we excuse and lightly esteem the damage of sin because we are swimming in it. We can’t see it objectively because we can not step outside of it.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
We ought to be aware that when we try to evaluate particular evils, we should step outside of our frame of reference. But into what new frame of reference? One where we are willing to come to the conclusion that our own actions are entirely wicked, if that’s where the data leads. It does not have to, but if we are not willing to become impartial enough to follow the data and assumptions where they lead, we can be sure that our lack of objectivity, and our own sinfulness, will deceive us.
Our tendency towards self-deceit, especially when it comes to seeing evil, is a common idea in scripture.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But
exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that
none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Do you not know that the unrighteous
will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the
sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice
homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
3. Our basis for comparison of evils is often based on the wrong standard – mankind
It’s human. We compare ourselves to other humans, rather than to a
holy and pure God, when judging righteousness. But this method has two
First, it is relativistic – if our companions or leaders or
role models are exceptionally wicked, we might judge ourselves as
pretty good, since we are better than them. If they are exceedingly
virtous, like Mother Theresa, however, we might be doing a little
better. Comparing humans to humans may seem like a reasonable thing to
do, but in light of mankind’s general historical record, why choose
such a low standard (Mother Theresa’s and Ghandi’s are the exception.)
Second, humans are a vastly imperfect standard to measure
by. We ought to compare ourselves to a completely pure ideal – that
is, perfection. Not that we MUST be perfect, but that we should put
the bar high, start with the ideal.
You see, I might seem pretty good compared to say, Hitler, and maybe
a little less than perfect when compared to mother Theresa (ok, a lot
less), but we tend to choose human examples of righteousness rather
than a perfect and pure example.
And even when we have a Ghandi or Mother Theresa, we often don’t use
them as a standard because they are a rarity, and so we excuse
ourselves by ignoring even the best humans possible, again, in order to
2 Corinthians 10:12
But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
4. We live in a world system that is, in general, contrary to God’s love and holiness, so we are often mis-educated about what is right and wrong.
By mis-educated (apologies to Lauren Hill), I mean brainwashed – morally and intellectually blinded. Scripture is clear that human culture, often referred to as "this world" or "the world" operates and teaches in ways that are contrary to God and His Kingdom, and we are blinded by it. In fact, Jesus taught that Satan was the ruler of this world system.
You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world [Satan] is coming. He has no claim on me,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in
which you once walked, following the course of this world, following
the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit that is now at work in
the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
2 Corinthians 4:3-5
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In
their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the
glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The Apostle John clearly outlined the world’s value system, which in itself, is an entire teaching.
1 John 2:16 (KJV)
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
1 John 2:16 (NLT)
For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving
for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.
These are not from the Father, but are from this world.
The Apostle Paul begged fellow Christians to not think or act like "the world," but rather, in order to rightly determine what God is like, and what God’s will is, they should renew their backwards, worldly thinking.
Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may
discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and
1 Corinthians 3:18-19
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise
in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness,"
Ok, that’s a lot of scripture, but I am trying to support one idea – that our ideas about what is right and wrong are heavily influenced by this world, and scripture clearly teaches that until we are re-educated by God’s ways, we are most certainly confused in our thinking, and in fact, CAN NOT rightly understand the spiritual perspective.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
1 Corinthians 2:14
But people who aren’t spiritual
can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to
them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can
understand what the Spirit means.
Note that in context, this last verse actually says that if you are not born again (a Christian), you can not understand the things of God – it’s not talking about "spiritual" in a generic sense. But that’s a separate point to explore elsewhere.
5. If we have persisted in wickedness, God may have judged us by taking away his correction, allowing us to be taken by our own deceptions
This is the subject matter of my two posts of The Wrath of God, which reveals that when a person or group of people persist stubbornly in moral decline, one of the ways that God judges them is by allowing their self-deceit to go unchecked – He "gives them over" to their faulty reasoning.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie….For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions….And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
When asking ourselves if we are fit to determine what is right or wrong, we need to consider that our judgment may be severely clouded because we have been on a moral decline.
And as Romans 1 points out, the evidence of that moral decline and loss of discernment is the acceptance and practice of sexual immorality, and especially homosexuality. If we feel fine about hx, our ability to discern right from wrong is probably extremely warped.
So, with all of these impediments to our ability to judge what is right and wrong, what are the solutions?
- Be aware of our tendency towards self-justification and self-deceit
- Begin to re-educate ourselves about what is right and wrong by studying and applying scripture. I know that this is going to be circular reasoning for the secularist trying to determine if God is just – I mean, taking the biblical definition to determine of the bible is just is kind of circular – or is it?
- If you can’t do the bullet above, at least orient yourself to the BEST examples of righteousness you can find, rather than setting a low bar. Again, we are trying to determine a standard for qualitatively measuring the wickedness of MAN’s actions, so that we can take the next step of evaluating God’s reactions.
- Repent of your own sins and ask God to restore you to holiness. Again, the secularist skeptic probably won’t do this step. But if he or she wants to rightly judge, perhaps a request Godward to awaken and enlighten one’s soul might be useful.
So, having dealt with our own mis-evaluation of sin, we can move on to Part II – by what rules should we qualitatively evaluate the wickedness of various actions?