The Validity Of The Bible In An Age Of Skepticism – Part 6

I’m going to talk today about the Bible and the moral law. And I want to start by reading to you some word from an op-ed piece out of The New York Times written by David Brooks. Brooks is a very sharp intelligent man and his pieces in the Times are always, I think, quite good. He titles this, “If It Feels Right”. He says, “During the summer of 2008, the imminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted an in-depth interview with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, and Patricia Snell-Herzog, and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth. Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives and the results are quite depressing. It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18 – 23 year olds, what’s disheartening though, is how bad they are thinking and talking about moral issues. The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, and the rambling answers which Smith and company recount in a new book, Lost in Transition, you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so. When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at the parking spot. Not many of them had previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked, Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong, but aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school, or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it. The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. It’s personal, the respondents typically said. It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say what’s right or what’s wrong? You know, as I read this, the one thought that kind of ran through my mind was this phrase, “moral confusion”. There seems to be a moral confusion out there in the world. And with this kind of as my introduction, I want to begin with this thought. That God is the ultimate moral lawgiver and his moral law is found in the Bible. Now, as you think about that, that thought, I want to share with you a scene from a movie that came out approximately 20 years ago. I saw it, I think it got pretty good reviews, but most people I asked, they haven’t seen it. It was called “Grand Canyon”. Kevin Cline was in it, and Danny Glover. And in this, there’s a scene where Kline has been to a professional basketball game and he gets on the interstate and realizes that, you know, it’s really crowded, so he veers off, and he’s going to take a shortcut to get home and, in the process, finds himself in a pretty rough area of town, lost, and then he pulls to a stop, and then his car, this Lexus he’s driving, dies. And so immediately he gets on his phone and he calls a wrecker service and while he’s waiting, you can imagine, you see these teenage kind of thug-looking guys come out of the shadows and they see what they’ve found and they’re getting ready to, well, we don’t know, because right when it gets to kind of the moment when you think they’re really going to do some damage, the cavalry arrives. Danny Glover drives up as the wrecker person and, as he does, he steps out and he’s going to hook up the car, and these teenage thugs protest because here they have a guy that they can mug. This beautiful car, he’s a well-dressed lawyer, and 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 the lawyer, “is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.” I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of an interesting thought. Life the way it’s supposed to be. He’s referring to a type of moral behavior that we expect in human beings. There seems to be a right way to live. Donald Miller in his wonderful book, Blue Like Jazz, shares this about one of his friends. He says, “I know someone who has twice cheated on his wife, who I don’t even know. He told me this over coffee because I was telling him how I thought, perhaps man was broken, how for man, doing good and moral things was like swimming upstream. He wondered, then, if God had mysteriously told me about his infidelity. He squirmed a bit and then spoke to me as if I were a priest. He confessed everything. I told him that I was sorry, that it sounded terrible, and it did sound terrible. His body was convulsed in guilt and self-hatred. He said he would lie down next to his wife at night feeling walls of concrete between their hearts. He had secrets. She tries to love him, but he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He cannot accept her affection because she’s loving a man who doesn’t exist. He plays a role. He says he’s an actor in his own home. Designed for good, my friend was sputtering and throwing smoke. The soul was not designed for this, I thought. We were supposed to be good, all of us. We were supposed to be good, but we’re not. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.” You know, what’s interesting, is the social sciences in our land like psychology and sociology, look at the human condition and describes this is what’s going on in man. This is why he does what he does. But morality, on the other hand, prescribed the way things ought to be, the way people ought to live, and that’s what we’re looking at this morning, the moral law, the way things are supposed to be. C.S. Lewis says, that just as physical life is governed by the law of gravity, human beings are governed by the moral law, the natural moral laws he calls it. The only difference he notes is that the individual has the right to obey or not to obey. Now, as we talk about this subject, the Christian understanding is this: that the world is designed a certain way and God imparts to each one of us the way things ought to be and the way that we should live. You see, the Bible is, in fact, God’s morality. It spells out absolute moral obligations. The absolute obligations are binding on all people, at all times, at all places. And not only are these moral obligations outlined in the Bible, but we also have an innate moral sense within us because we’re designed in the image of God. It doesn’t mean we follow it, but it’s there. You see, animals don’t have this. They don’t have a moral sense. They don’t act morally or immorally. If my dog goes out and kills a squirrel, you know, we don’t say, he’s an evil dog. That’s just what dogs do. But it’s different with us as humans because we have a moral compass within us that’s been given to us because we’ve been designed in the image of God. C.S. Lewis speaks of this moral sense we have in his book, Near Christianity. Listen to what he says, listen to this, it’s brilliant, he says, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real right and wrong, you’ll find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may could break his promise to you but if you try breaking one to him, he will be complaining, ‘it’s not fair’, before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’. A nation may say treaties really don’t matter, but then the next minute they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as right and wrong, in other wrongs, if there is no moral law, what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that whatever they say, they really know the law of morality just like anyone else. It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real right and wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them just as sometimes they get their sums wrong in mathematics. But they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion. They are absolute moral obligations.” Now, what I see out in the world, there seems, the world we live in seems to have two problems, or seems to have certain problems with the moral law that is found in the Bible. And you have two different groups of people. You have two different groups and they have two different problems when it comes to the moral law found in the scriptures. The first group of people don’t believe in God, so if there is no God, there’s no moral lawgiver. And if there’s no moral lawgiver, there’s no universal absolute moral obligation to follow. Richard Dawkins, famous atheist, probably the most prominent atheist alive today, takes this view. He says this, “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 the universe.” In other words, he’s saying we live in a universe, there is no evil, there is no good, because there is no God that stands behind it, there is no moral lawgiver to dispense this to us. But there’s a second group, a much larger group, and you see it here in Birmingham, Alabama, as you see it all over our country and in the world, who may believe in God, who may believe in a spiritual world, but dismiss the morality of the Bible. You see, they don’t like Christian morality, particularly, now this is interesting, particularly how it addresses sexual conduct. Peter Kreeft, who I quote often, a brilliant philosophy professor at Boston College, he’s written over 50 books, he says this, “People’s fear of permanent objective laws is amazingly selective.” He says, “It always comes down to just one area. Sex and sexuality.” He says, “In my experience, students, like professors, bluff a lot, and do adroit intellectual dancing, but I would bet a lot of money that if only sexual morality in the Bible was made optional, nearly all the hatred and fear of the Church would vanish.” You know, he may be right. You know, what I have observed, if you don’t believe that God determines what’s moral and immoral, you’ll generally find yourself facing all type of moral confusion, like the young people in David Brooks’ article that I started with. And the reason that you have so much moral confusion is if there is no absolute right and wrong, there’s no true good and evil, no morality or immorality, then you have to come up with your own moral code to live by. You have to come up with something. In other words, we have to invent our own morality. And then our greatest challenge becomes how do you find a stable ground for what is right and wrong? What becomes the basis of 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. You see, a person’s final authority today seems to be their heart. Follow your heart, follow your feelings, follow your desires, wherever they lead you. This reminds me of a very famous debate that took place back in 1948 between the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was a very outspoken atheist, and he debated Father Frederick C. Copleston, a Jesuit priest and it was broadcast all over England on the BBC. And they discussed the existence of God and, as the debate progressed, the two men addressed the moral argument for the existence of God, which is really kind of what we’re focusing on. Copleston asked Russell, “How do you distinguish between what’s good and what’s evil?” This is what Russell said. He said, “I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between yellow and blue. What is my justification between yellow and blue? I can see they are different.” Copleston remarked, “You distinguish between yellow and blue by seeing them, so you distinguish good and evil by what faculty?” And Russell said, “By my feelings. By what I feel.” You see, Russell clearly believed that there was not a transcendent law that was given to us and therefore, because there is no God in his mind, ethical decisions should be made by how you feel. Now the modern saying that might best express this system of morality, “If it feels good, you should do it.” However, this approach to life, guys, seems to be a slippery slope that can easily lead us into the abyss. I’m going to give you a really good example of this. You may say this is an extreme example but I think it’s really right on target. Most people believe that the most evil serial killer to ever live was Jeffrey Dahmer. Particularly not only because he killed these innocent victims but he cannibalized those that he murdered. And there was an interview on ABC News that I saw several years ago, this is before he died and this is what he said. He said, “I grew up not believing in a God, therefore I didn’t believe in good or evil. I didn’t believe in a final judgment. I didn’t believe in any type of purpose in life.” He said, “In high school, I found myself with the desire to torture animals.” He says, “That gave me great pleasure.” He said, “And I couldn’t find any sufficient reason not to satisfy my desires, my feelings.” Then, he says, as he got older, he got to the point that torturing animals no longer satisfied him, so he said, “At that point, I decided I’ll torture human beings.” He said, this is what he said, based on his view of life and morality, and I quote, he said, “I could not think of a reason why I shouldn’t torture and kill people.” Now I’m not saying that all atheists end up serial killers, but you see this real moral confusion in his life because of his worldview. I followed my desires, my feelings. I recently read about how the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg defended themselves against the allied judges.  These were the exact words that their lawyers used in this trial. They said, “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.” He says, “Our rule involved Aryan supremacy and we did not regard Jews as human beings on the same level as Aryans.” He says, “From our standpoint, then, Jews certainly did not deserve to benefit from the Aryan rights.” Now, listen to this, he says, “The only reason that we find ourselves on trial here is that you won the war and we lost.” You see what happens when you create your own morality? Their contention was killing the Jews was lawful under their value system that they had established. And this is why the Russian author Dostoevsky, his famous quote, you’ve probably heard it, it rings so true, says, “If there is no God, all things in life are permissible.” But if you go back to the Nuremberg trials, it’s interesting to see the response of the allied judges. The chief counsel for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, appealed to permanent trans-cultural values. He appealed to a law beyond the law. A universal law. He 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 says, how could one in good faith say the Nazis were guilty of a crime. Guys, this is such an important issue to grasp. There was a lawyer, he was really a law professor, and his name was Dr. Arthur Leff. He’s now deceased but he was a brilliant professor at Yale Law School and a number of years back, he wrote an article in the Duke University Law Journal titled, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”. And today, it’s considered a very important and prominent essay. I’ve heard a number of people refer to it and read from it in various discussions. Spiritually, Dr. Leff was a religious skeptic. He just wasn’t really sure about God, but what troubled him was that if there was no God, there’s no way that you can make any kind of case for human rights. Listen to what he says, this is right out of the essay, he says, “You can say it is wrong for a majority to disadvantage any minority, but that’s an assertion and not an argument. You can say all sorts of things, but what you cannot say is why one say one point of view is better than any other say. If someone says it’s all right to control a minority with force, and you say no it is not right, who’s to say your view of reality is right and theirs is wrong? Maybe it helps to put the question this way. If there is no God, who among us gets to impose our will on everyone else in the law so that it must be obeyed. Stated that boldly, the question is so intellectually unsettling that one would expect to find what we do find – plenty of legal and ethical thinkers trying not to come to grips with it all.” Again, moral confusion. You know what Leff is saying? He’s saying that if there is a God, then He would make the law for us to follow. We’d base our law on Him. And this, by the way, guys, is why Biblical truth is the foundation that Western civilization has been built upon. You see, you needed a moral foundation to build a culture on. As T.S. Eliot said many years ago, he said, “It is in Christianity that our arts have developed. It is in Christianity that the laws of Europe had been rooted.” But going back to Leff, he’s also saying that if there is no God, then moral law has to be grounded in human opinion. So the question becomes, who gets to enshrine their human opinion as law so that everyone has to obey it? Why should your view have privilege over my view? You see, ultimately, what you end up with is that those in power will make sure their moral values prevail. That’s what happened in Nazi Germany. But you see how this view of life creates moral confusion? And it’s so contradictory. This is what bothered C.S. Lewis so much during his years as an atheist. He said, “My life was full of contradictions.” He wrote these words, “I was at this time living like so many atheists, in a world of contradictions.” See what he realized is, I don’t believe there’s a moral law. There’s no moral law from God because I don’t believe in it. But then he was appalled by the terrible things he saw out in the world and that he saw in himself. Lewis said, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust, but where did I come up with this idea of justice and injustice?” You see, once Lewis became a theist and then a Christian, he quickly recognized the presence of an absolute moral law which had been handed down to us by God, in the Bible and in the process, realized that evil was no longer this meaningless word but rather a stark reality in life. Norman Geisler, who I quoted either last week or the week before, a brilliant philosopher, here’s a great story that I think illustrates the moral confusion in people’s lives today and how your life will, in fact, be full of contradictions if you don’t have a moral standard to live by. He tells a story of a philosophy student in an upper-level philosophy course. The student wrote a research paper arguing that there is no God, consequently went on to argue there could be no objective or absolute moral principles. Judged by the paper’s research, scholarship, and argumentation, most would have agreed it was easily an A paper but the professor wrote these words on his paper, “F. I do not like blue folders.” The student stormed into the professor’s office waving his paper protesting, “This is not fair, this is totally unjust. Why should I be graded on the color of the folder? I should have been graded on the content of this paper, not the color of my folder.” Once the professor got the student settled down, he asked quietly, “Was this the paper that argued that on the basis of the Godless universe in which we live, there are no objective moral principles such as fairness and justice? Did you not argue that everything is a matter of one’s subjective likes and dislikes?” The student finally acknowledged, “Well, yes.” He said, “Well, then?” The professor said, “I don’t like blue folders. The grade is going to remain an F.” He said at that moment, very abruptly, the face of that young man changed. It struck him that he really did believe in objective moral principles such as fairness, such as justice and injustice, and eventually the professor changed his grade and gave him an A. But, he said, the student left with a new understanding of the objective nature of morality. It’s easy to proclaim that there is no God, but it’s quite difficult to live consistently and honestly within the resulting moral framework. Now, hopefully, this makes some sense. We have to have a basis for morality. You see, our morals cannot be determined by feelings and opinions of a plurality of men. Otherwise, we’ll become neurotic and be morally confused and we’ll have a difficult time living with the worldview we profess to believe in. And this is again why the Bible is so important. It gives to humanity a permanent absolute, transcendental law and since the Bible is considered to be the means by which God reveals himself to man, we can know what is truly right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is moral and what is immoral. Then there is no moral confusion. And most significantly guys, it gives moral meaning and dignity to our existence here in this life. I want to conclude with just a couple of final thoughts, then read you something that is really powerful. The first thought goes back to what Peter Kreeft says. He says this, and he’s got the credentials to make a statement like this, he says, “No society has ever survived or will ever survive without morality and no morality has ever survived without a transcendent source.” C.S. Lewis said it even more simply than that. He said, “Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we will surely perish. And furthermore, if we don’t believe nor grasp the fact that God has dispensed to the world his holy moral law, then the depravity of man, the sinfulness of man makes no sense. And the Christian message, the gospel message, becomes irrelevant, which has happened in the lives of so many people in our world today. It is truly irrelevant.” Several years ago, there was a segment on “60 Minutes” where Mike Wallace documented the story of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann who had escaped post-war justice by fleeing Germany and remaining a fugitive for over 15 years was finally captured and put on trial in the early 1960s. Wallace asked his viewers, how is it possible for a man to act as Eichmann acted? Was he a monster? Was he a madman? Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying? Was he a normal person? Wallace followed the question with an interview with Yehiel Dinur, a concentration camp survivor who had testified against Eichmann at Eichmann’s 1961 trial. A film clip showed Dinur walking into the courtroom. He began to weep uncontrollably and then collapsed on the floor. Dinur explained to Wallace, I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable of doing this as well. I’m exactly like he is. See, he recognized Eichmann was no longer that powerful Nazi who had orchestrated the Holocaust but rather simply an ordinary man. And Wallace closed this segment, listen to these words, he closed the segment and concluded, “Eichmann is in all of us. Eichmann is in all of us.” You know, without realizing it, Mike Wallace was expressing a Biblical truth when he said those words. Eichmann is in all of us. Which is true, because as the apostle Paul said, We have all sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. We are all, in his words, miserable sinners. And this is where the good news of the gospel comes in. Once we have come to the realization that we are fallen sinners, we then and only then, can see our need for God’s forgiveness, which is found only in Christ Jesus. I leave you with these words; they are powerful words, a good way to wrap this up, from Charles Malik, who was the former president of Lebanon, and also president of the United Nations General Assembly. He said this, listen carefully, There is truth, and there is falsehood. There is good, and there is evil. There is happiness, and there is misery. There is that which ennobles, and there is that which demeans. There is that which puts you in harmony with yourself, with others, with the universe, and with God, and there is that which alienates you from yourself, and from the world, and from God. These things are different and separate and totally distinguishable from one another. Truth is not the same as falsehood. Happiness is not the same as misery. The greatest error in modern times is the confusion between these orders. Nothing is anything firm in itself – this is the great heresy of the modern world. But there is no power on earth or in heaven that can make falsehood truth, evil good, misery happiness, and slavery freedom. And yet what do philosophers tell you in the great centers of learning today? They insist that everything depends on what you mean. The mind becomes so blurred and confused and blunted in its judgment that it fails to see the real, given distinction between things.And then he asks this question. How do we become true and good, happy and genuine, joyful and free?” He says, “Only by getting in touch with good, true, happy, genuine human beings.” And then he says this, “I suggest you read the Psalms in the Old Testament. Read through the Gospels in the New; read them reverently and prayerfully every day, and I guarantee you two things: first, that you will experience in your life and being a taste of what is beautiful and strong and certain and free; and second, you will then develop a sharpness of vision to differentiate between the true and the phony, between the beautiful and the hideous, between the noble and the mean.”

Let me close in prayer. Lord, we are grateful for just another day to be alive. We thank you so much for the truth that you have dispensed to us through the written word through the scriptures. We thank you that through it, we do have a moral compass, we have moral certainty, and that through it, it eliminates the confusion that we see all around us, in what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is moral and what is immoral. Help us Lord to be students of the scriptures, that our eyes might be enlightened through them, and that we are given a wisdom and understanding that we don’t have. I pray your blessing on every man here in this room, on their families, on their marriages, and their work. I pray your … (recording ended here)

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