I was having a conversation with an atheist friend and as we talked about nature, he said that there is something in him that recognises and acknowledges beauty. Most of us understand this as numerous natural sights make us gasp in awe. So, I asked him, “where does this appreciation of beauty come from if we supposedly evolved from lower organisms by random chance?”, he was unable to provide a convincing answer. I believe that our ability to appreciate beauty is God-given and natural beauty points us to intelligent design and therefore, an intelligent Designer. As I reflected on our conversation, it occurred to me that there is also something in us that makes us wince at evil. For instance, most of us would rightly recoil at anyone abusing a baby because we have an innate moral compass that tells us that some things are wrong.
Where does this moral compass come from? Is there a standard for right and wrong, or should everyone be allowed to act as they please? Of course, in civilised societies, people are governed by laws but those laws are not exhaustive. For example, if you come across an old lady struggling to carry her shopping up a flight of stairs, what would be the right thing to do? Help her with the shopping or leave her struggling? You aren’t legally bound to help her, but most of us would agree that it would be wrong to leave her struggling if you can help. Why is this? Who decides what is right and what is wrong?
While responding to a question on evil at one of his talks, Ravi Zacharias said: “when one asserts that there is such a thing as evil, one must assume there is such a thing as good. When one assumes there is such a thing as good, he or she must also assume there is an objective moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. When you assume an objective moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver—the source of the moral law.” Eventually, this is where we find ourselves. There is something within us apart from any judicial framework that convicts us about good and evil, right and wrong, but we didn’t put it there. So, who did?
Morality is one of the arguments in favour of God’s existence because good and evil are not subjective concepts. This means that good isn’t relative, it is not a matter of opinion or belief of a few or many, there is a standard. Therefore, when faced with a moral decision like helping the old lady, there is something that compels us to take or refrain from a course of action. We all face these decisions regularly, but what determines the choices we make? Is there a right way to live?
Over the last few weeks, I have asked how we came to exist and why we exist because I think these are essential questions to answer if we are to understand the moral decisions we ought to make. If we are here by random chance and life has no meaning, then our moral decisions are inconsequential. It would mean I have no moral responsibility towards anyone else unless I choose to be benevolent. It would also mean there is no real accountability for my choices. Therefore, I can ignore the old lady and her shopping if I want to. Ultimately, it means that if we can get away with something as far as our governing judicial framework allows, then why not? It also means might is right and life is the survival of the strongest. Invariably, the poor, the needy and those without a voice are marginalised.
Jesus stands in stark contrast to such a worldview. The Bible tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. As such, every human being has intrinsic worth regardless of their sex, race, creed, ability, class or status. It teaches us that while God gives us the dignity of causation which allows us the freewill to make our own choices, we are accountable to Him for those choices. Because God cares about how we treat each other and respond to the circumstances of life, life has meaning. Since He loved us first despite our depravity [John 13:34-35], Jesus expects us to show that same love to others and he is watching to see how we do [Matthew 25:31-46]. This means that even if that old lady has been awful to me, I must gracefully (not grudgingly) help her because that’s what Jesus expects of me [Luke 6:27-36].
I have often wondered what the world would be like if we all did what Jesus said. For me though, it would mean I would have to love everyone even those who hate me because God loves them. I would have to treat them as I would want to be treated. It would mean that I couldn’t hold a grudge because God has forgiven me and I have done more to deserve God’s wrath than any human being could ever do to me. It would mean that when faced with a moral decision, I would have to base my course of action on what Jesus would want me to do. I must confess that I struggle with this but I found that God’s grace is always sufficient when I truly want to obey Jesus.
If Jesus was to call you to account about how you’ve lived your life thus far, how would you do? There are many who claim that God doesn’t exist and there is no accountability for our moral choices but what if they are wrong?