100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#81: Where do Christians get their morals?

In my last post we saw that the Theory of Evolution cannot explain universal morals. In fact, whenever I speak to Evolutionists about morality, they invariably share the same conclusion; that our motivation for doing good is ultimately the selfish motive of survival. Okay then, why do we do evil? Once again, it is ultimately for our survival; we war against our own kind in order to protect our own resources. Same motivation. So is nothing evil to the Evolutionist? To an Evolutionist, we need behaviours like aggression for survival and population control. But Christianity says that we don't need aggression, we don't need selfishness. These things are genuinely evil.

I was having a conversation with a group of people once about homosexuality, and the Biblical view of it. At least half of the group, probably more, were themselves gay. Now, not to get side-tracked, but my central message to them was that there is no excuse for sin; whether that sin is gay lust for another of the same sex, or whether it is my own lust for a woman who is not my wife. All sin must be judged by Christ, and unless we put our faith in His salvation, no-one will escape hell. But during the conversation one of them said to me, “Why don't you Google the 'Letter to Dr Laura'? I have never,” she said, “met a Christian who was able to intelligently and Biblically answer that letter.” So I went and read this letter for the first time, and I thought that it was quite sad that no Christian could answer such a letter as this. The letter is too long to cite here, and I'm not going to answer the letter in meticulous detail here either. But the letter consists of various "questions" like this one... “Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?” I choose this one to comment on because the point of this “Letter to Dr Laura” is to demonstrate how inapplicable the Mosaic Law is to us. But this law on hair trimming has to do with the worship practices of pagan religions. Let's read it in context:

You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:26-28)

These all have to do with rituals performed in the worship of pagan gods. It has nothing to do with getting a hair cut because I want to look fashionable, as one might assume when reading the letter to Dr Laura.

The point really being made by the letter, however, is that there are Laws in the Old Testament which not even Christians abide by today. It seems interesting to me that the author of this “Letter to Dr Laura” was unable to try to make their point honestly. But of course, it is true to some degree. We don't stone people for breaking the Sabbath. In fact, Christians don't tend to observe the Sabbath at all! And if for whatever reason we no longer observe the Sabbath, why do we then insist on observing the laws regarding homosexuality? If we don't appear to get our morals from the Bible, where do we get our morals from? On what basis do we pick and choose which laws of the Bible we should and shouldn't observe?

The laws of the Old Testament each have a purpose, and that purpose is not always moral guidance. There are a great many laws which have to do with the manner in which Israel was to worship God; from sacrifices to national celebrations and feasts, to the Sabbath itself which, according to the New Testament, is “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17). We no longer observe the Sabbath because the purpose of the Sabbath that there was a “rest” from our own works coming. We find that rest in Christ, and we no longer need this sort of “object lesson”.

It would be a wonderful and fruitful exercise to go through every law in the Old Testament which we no longer observe, and to give a reason why we no longer do. Well, this is something I always consider as I read through those Mosaic-Law books. As we read the Mosaic Laws, we learn moral principles, rather than simply a list of do's and don'ts. Jesus said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

So what's right and wrong is really determined by answering the question “Is this action motivated by love for God and love for others?” All of the Mosaic Laws are really examples, or cases, of such love being fulfilled. Let's take just one example. In Deuteronomy 22:8 we read “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” We don't observe this law today because in modern society nobody uses their roof as a living area; whereas in ancient times people used to use their roof as a living area, and would often sleep up there. So they made a little fence, or parapet, on their roof to prevent people from falling off. Well, we still have laws today to build fences around dangerous areas of our home, such as swimming pools. The principle behind this Mosaic Law is still applicable today.

Now if the basis for deciding which laws are relevant today, (or rather, how we should apply Mosaic Laws today), is to consider the motivation of love, we may appear to have a problem. The homosexual will say “I love this man, therefore my homosexuality is right.” But love for God and man was always the basis for the Mosaic Laws, and even an Israelite at the time of Moses could have said that. The kind of love that God speaks of is not subjective feelings but is the reality of God's character (for “God is love”; 1 John 4:8). We don't perfectly know how to love God or how to love one another. Being made in God's image, we do have this knowledge and understanding of love, but being a fallen race, our knowledge and understanding of love is imperfect. So God shows us throughout the whole of Scripture what God's love is like, and what His character is like. Christ so loved the world that He gave His life for us. Christians most certainly do get their morality from the Bible, but not in following the letter of the Law; a list of do's and don'ts. Rather, it is by learning about God's love and becoming imitators of Christ. A passage like 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love passage”, will have as much to do with a Christian's morals as the books of Moses.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)

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