Getting It Right

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Contributed by Brian Knapp, Elder Overseer of Equipping at Image Church

A few weeks ago as I was listening to Chris speak about Jacob’s polygamous marriage to Leah and Rachel, I was reminded of a discussion some friends and I had previously had years ago. On that day we sat around discussing polygamy, expressing disbelief that some people still practiced such a thing.  In the midst of that discussion, one of my friends shocked us all by stating that he had spoken with his wife about bringing yet another woman into their marriage.  We listened in disbelief as he told us his wife was in favor of the idea, and that they were already looking for this “other woman.”

Putting the question of legality aside, we began to discuss whether polygamy was right or wrong.  However, the more we discussed the issue, the more we argued over whether or not a polygamous relationship would even “work”.  Some claimed it was not possible for a man to truly love more than one woman, and therefore the relationship would fail.  Some stated there would be constant competition for affection between “wives”, and therefore the relationship would not last.  Still others pointed to the confusion the children would have as which woman was truly their mother, which would eventually lead to a dysfunctional family.  

For each argument we presented as to why polygamy would not work, my friend either countered with evidence that refuted it, or challenged us to support our opinions.  He had obviously done his homework, and was much better prepared to debate the issue than we were.  In the end, despite all our best efforts, we failed to convince him that a polygamous relationship would not work.  As a result, he left the discussion feeling even more confident (even empowered) in his chosen course of action.

A day or so after the discussion, as I reflected on my failure, I came to realize the point at which the debate was lost was the point that I allowed it to move from a discussion about what was morally right or wrong, to a discussion of what would or would not work.  This move from morality to pragmatism changed the entire direction of the discussion, and ultimately gave my friend the upper hand.  In the end, all he had to do was be creative enough to solve any of the problems we brought up, which he easily did.

I highlight this failure in my own life to point to a much larger problem that I see everywhere I look; the constant desire to define right and wrong according to our own standard rather than God’s.  In the example above, my friend took an issue of morality and decided the appropriate way to answer the question “should I do this?” was to entirely avoid what God had to say and appeal to his own personal standard.  In fact, in this case he incorrectly decided that the question wasn’t even a moral one at all!  By doing this he never had to answer for himself the question “is this right or wrong” – he entirely skirted the question.

This mode of thinking is more prevalent than might first meet the eye.  Consider the question of abortion.  When presented with the question “should I do this”, what do many women do?  Do they first seek to determine whether it is a moral question?  In many cases they do not.  Some of the most common arguments in favor of a woman’s right to chose abortion are pragmatic.  The arguments of “It will be too difficult for me to carry this child for 9 months” or “there will be nobody to care for this unwanted child once they are born” are entirely pragmatic in nature and completely overlook the morality of the decision.

What about the question of premarital sex?  When presented with the question “should I do this”, again, many ignore the moral aspect and instead head directly to the pragmatic.  The response “it is ok as long as I protect myself from disease” is entirely pragmatic in nature.

How about the question of dishonesty in all of its many forms (bearing false witness, exaggerating, embellishment, etc.)?  Lying is such a pervasive problem with some people that they have long since moved beyond the question of right and wrong, and instead have focused on only one thing – namely, how to ensure they are never found out.  More often than not, it means coming up with a new lie to cover the old ones.

So what is the correct approach to answering the question “should I do this”?  First of all, we must determine what the Bible has to say.  For each and every decision we make, we must consider whether the issue at hand is ultimately moral in nature, and we must look to the Bible for the answer to that question.  God’s word is a moral handbook for us, giving us explicit commands of things to do (and things to avoid doing) regarding a number of areas of our lives.

But just as important as knowing whether something is wrong, is ultimately knowing why it is wrong.  This is crucial because the Bible does not contain explicit commands regarding every moral decision we will end up being faced with throughout our lives.  There is no way it could, considering the variety of ways in which it is possible to sin.  And so, knowing why thoughts and actions are wrong is important to being able to evaluate those things not directly addressed in the Bible.

So what makes something wrong?  Pay close attention, because this is extremely important:

Something isn’t wrong because the Bible tells us it is wrong.  Rather, something is wrong when it offends who God is.

Murder isn’t wrong because the Bible tells us it is wrong.  It is wrong because it is contrary to the nature of God for his creation to destroy that which bears his image, which mankind most definitely does (Gen. 1:26).  Lying isn’t wrong because the Bible tells us not to bear false witness.  Lying is wrong because it goes against the nature of God to lie (Num. 23:19) and therefore for those who bear his image to lie.  Homosexual marriage isn’t wrong because the Bible tells us it is wrong, it is wrong because it is against God’s nature for his creation to establish relationships that are contrary (Rom. 1:26-27) to his created order and purpose (Gen. 2:23-24).  As our ultimate purpose is to glorify God (Rom. 11:36) by pointing to who he is, anything we do that is contrary to or falls short of this is sin – something we all are guilty of (Rom. 3:23).

There is a subtle but important distinction between why something is right or wrong, and how we know that something is right or wrong.  God’s revelation to us, whether the more general revelation of nature or the more special revelation of the Bible, is the ultimate means (Prov. 1:7) by which we know anything at all, especially right from wrong, but it is not the reason why something is right or wrong.  Right and wrong are ultimately founded in the very nature of who God is (1 Pet. 1:15-16).

As I reflect back on the conversation with my friend about polygamy, I can see now how I should have responded to him.  Rather than allowing the discussion to drift out of the moral sphere and into the world of problem solving, I should have kept it on track and held it up to the light of scripture.  Specifically, I should have pointed out the sinful nature of a marriage relationship which runs contrary to God’s created order and purpose, and then left it at that.

I pray that God gives me the clarity of thought in future discussions to do just this, and I pray that he does the same for you.  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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4 Responses to “Getting It Right”

  1. Papa Dayee Says:

    I like the thoughts you are sharing. I want to meet with you sometime soon to bounce some things off you about Crash, cool?

  2. Nick Freitas Says:

    Great piece! I have fallen into the same thing many times. Where one starts arguing based purely from pragmatist grounds. Where every problem has about 30 different “right” answers in theory. Its amazing how God’s commandments and warnings always ring true; even when our reasoning ability dreams of solutions that, when we lean on our own understanding, seem to make sense.

    I think you bring up another very important point that I have tried to articulate as well. The fact that your friend left not only believing the same thing as when he came into the conversation but emboldened.

    A byproduct of our sinful nature is that we prefer an easy excuse to a hard answer. We appreciate those excuses the most when they originate from the weakness of an authority figure’s argument.

    I have debated with people before where I have answered 9 out of 10 of their questions successfully, but the only one that ever seems to matter later is the one that I gave a weak answer to. 9 out of 10 didn’t make them re think their position, it convinced them that because they were able to trip me up on one aspect of a much larger conversation than their view point must be valid.

    Again I think this is in part due directly to a sinful nature that seeks out excuses from God’s law, but it is also due to the way we educate. Postmodernism and subjectivism have not only taught our youth to accept contradictory view points, they have extolled such opinions as intellectually superior. Combine this with a general assault on language (i.e. a fixed meaning for words) and you have a generation that is almost completely incapable of critical thought.

    That is why presuppositional apologetics is so important. It takes nothing for granted and starts at the foundation of every question. Which is basically “The God of the Bible is God”. From that presupposition and no other can a completely sound argument originate.

    I once participated in a debate about abortion where we were arguing round and round, before I bothered to ask the question “Do you believe in absolutes”? When he responded that he didn’t it became very obvious where the disconnect was. Not the least of which was his desire to turn the law of non contradiction on its head (no such luck for him).

    So I know that this post has rung true for me in 2 very big respects…

    1. Always remember that God is sovereign and his law supersedes our understanding.

    2. It is our duty when we engage on an issue that we take care to provide a sound, comprehensive and most importantly Biblically based argument. Because nothing is so appreciated by the other side as a weakness in the argument of a presumed authority. Luckily the God of the Bible is the God who has given us the ability to reason!

    Great post Brian!

  3. Shannon Says:

    This may be the best blog you’ve ever written … and that’s saying something! In a world in which relativism reigns, you have eloquently reminded us that the absolute not only exists, but actually matters in every day conversation.

  4. chrisrhodenhizer Says:

    Bro this ties in with what I have been striving to drive home with the 10 commandments!!! Right on bro!

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