‘Get rid of religion and the world will finally be at peace’ say some. ‘There are no moral absolutes; even if God does exist, it is narrow-minded and socially repressive to believe his way is the right way’ they continue.
Let’s stop for a moment. On the surface these statements seem to have merit, but let’s go deeper. The great social experiment of Communism has sought to eradicate religion. According to Stéphane Courtois’ The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, no less than 94 million deaths have occurred under the regimes of China, the USSR, and other communist countries which determined, among other goals, to get rid of religion. It would be difficult to support the ‘no religion—no conflict’ thesis based on the results of communism.
And take another look at the ‘no moral absolutes’ premise; isn’t insisting there are no moral absolutes a statement insisting a morally absolute claim? It is fallacious to use an argument already undermined.
Perhaps the better approach is to be open to exploring God’s existence. See what the Bible says about Him, about His right to be sovereign, His expectations for humanity, and His unfailing involvement in people’s lives. Take on the role of objective investigator. The psalmist does.
“Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. / The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. / My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words. / Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them. / Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts. / Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. / Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. / Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live” (Psalm 119:137-144).
The psalmist is awestruck as he considers the absolute integrity of God. His very first word in the Hebrew, ‘tsadaq’, describes a character trait of God known as righteousness. Righteousness means ‘to have a just cause’, ‘to be in the right’, ‘to be just (in conduct and character)’, ‘to bring justice’, ‘to be proved right’, and even ‘to make someone else righteous’.
Our human concept of justice, equity, and rightness comes from this foundational divine trait featured in the psalmist’s prayer. What the psalmist is considering is that God does nothing from arbitrary whim; having the advantage of omniscience, everything that exudes from Him comes from His eternal innate sense of justice. Think on that thought for a moment. Consider the breadth of the justice that is embodied in God, the one eternal Being. An eternity of justice—the extremity of its reach—is contained in the One the psalmist breathlessly addresses as ‘LORD’, Yahweh, the Great I AM. And so, from His being right and righteous flow actions that are equally right. Similarly, His standards and expectations for His creatures (us) are completely right.
This concept challenges the pervasive worldview of Moral Relativism which says ‘There is no objective standard. I can live the way I want. What works for me is what counts.’ But is this philosophy one that can be truly lived with integrity? Extrapolate that worldview to its extremes and we would find society breaking down, selfishness–not tolerance–pervading the human race. Anything less than mercenary egocentricity would not be consistent with the philosophy.
But accept the initially more challenging worldview—that God exists, reigns in justice, loves us immeasurably and knows how our lives work best—and we find we can live with complete integrity. By increments we learn to trust God’s character to be fully righteous, to appreciate how trustworthy His ‘statutes’ are. Seemingly contradictory and impossible commands like “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” prove God’s wisdom as we learn to obey them.
Jesus lived the perfect example of a life of integrity by unflinchingly obeying His heavenly Father’s precepts. The task prepared from eternity past for Him to accomplish involved submitting Himself to an unjust earthly execution, and—more importantly—accepting an immeasurable weight of divine justice against humanity’s rebellion. In doing so He bought back every individual’s life from an eternal separation from God—an eternity where Moral Relativism would reach its full and horrible potential.
Remember the last part of the definition of God’s righteousness? It was ‘to make someone else righteous’. Here, In Jesus’ role as substitute penalty-taker, God grants us a concession in an eternally binding covenant; we become completely right in His sight—not by what we do but by humbly accepting what Jesus has done once-for-all for us.
So today, as we think rightly about God’s righteousness, everything changes for us. See if thankfulness doesn’t begin to surge through our souls, love for the One who loves us doesn’t grow greater every day, and integrity doesn’t become our defining trait of character. All because of ‘tsadaq’.