Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Romans 1:28-34. When choice is unfree (II)

I do not want to make a big mystery of this. It is simply a matter of logic. By their very nature, moral codes are not subject to choice. The notion that I should follow or adopt the moral code that I like best, or that fits my circumstances best, or that best appeals to my training, intellect, aims, or appetites, or that I should do “what is right for me,” cannot be supported logically. If my choice of moral codes is founded on any of the above criteria, then my morals are no more than an expression, respectively, of my preferences, my assessment of my circumstances, my training, intellect, aims, or appetites, or even my whims. It is not an expression of what is right and wrong in any objective or global sense.

It is a further snare that the act of choosing grants the illusion of choice, the illusion of freedom in an arena where freedom is inherently impossible. (By the way, only one moral code is available. The other formulations are strikingly similar, as C. S. Lewis demonstrates in The Abolition of Man. Moreover, since the moral code has transcendent roots, contradictory variances are impossible; there can only be one. This point is made nicely by David Klinghoffer, in a review of Rodney Stark’s book, For the Glory of God, in National Review, July 28, 2003, where he writes, “If there is only one God, …then that implies that there can be only one transcendentally true foundation on which all of ethics is built. Relativism becomes impossible.” I understand Mr. Klinghoffer to be Jewish. His review was fair and favorable.)

The Law, that great body of prohibitions, that tablet of moral absolutes, which is not a set of suggestions or principles, but actual injunctions, is written on our hearts by our training and our nature. (God has not left us to be complete victims of our society. He scatters His light around as it pleases Him to do so.) When we begin short-circuiting those processes, we pay a terrible penalty as a society, and we pay an even greater penalty as individuals. The Law is true; it is the rightness that cannot be supplanted. (Psalm 19:9. “The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.” [NIV]) Yet the City, our society as it has been evolving in recent decades, has tried to do exactly that. It wants to substitute a new set of foundation principles.

Note what the Law is. It is not a set of moral axioms. It does not set forth a pattern of moral principles. Its statements are not in the indicative mood at all. They do not, in general, assert the existence of anything, any over-arching ideals or paradigms of social organization. Only two indicative statements appear in the Ten Commandments passage, (Exodus 20:3-17) one dealing with the rationale for the Sabbath, and the other, a statement about God’s character, that He is “a jealous God.” All other statements in the passage are imperatives. They function, not to inform us about moral philosophy, but to keep us from falling off the moral cliff. They say to us, in effect, “Stay away from these evils. If you approach them, you are in danger.”

We do not receive reasons why stealing and murder and covetousness and false witness and adultery are wrong; we are simply prohibited from committing these acts, and from their prohibition we infer that they are wrong. The Law delivered on Mt. Sinai is founded on the authority of God. Though the Law has good reasons embedded in it and is therefore not arbitrary, adherence to the Law always boils down to regard for the authority of God. By contrast, the City’s smorgasbord of moral codes is rational, reasoned from humanist principles, and pragmatic. Prohibitions in the City’s moral codes are not absolute but consequential. Corner cases (computer guy jargon for the special cases where rules intersect, i.e., appear to collide) expose gaps in the moral fabric, which therefore require constant revisions. But the City’s illusion of choice for moral codes is the basic mechanism that propagates moral revisionism and relativism.

So long as the moral code is subject to choice of any kind, sin will express itself, and it will do so under the cover of virtue. It will produce obdurate sin, the sort that Jesus described as unforgivable. (Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10) To use F. F. Bruce’s line of analysis (in The Hard Sayings of Jesus, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Il., 1983), it is not that slanderers of the Holy Spirit have committed a sin too terrible to be forgiven of, but that those who slander God, who claim persistently and whole-heartedly that God is not able to do what He says He will do, never do repent and hence never receive forgiveness. Sin, preached as virtue, acted out in clear conscience, embraced as salvation, in people whose ideas are mature and well considered, is accordingly an (almost) insurmountable obstacle to faith. (Never say “never.” Look at Saul/Paul. Jesus, the righteous Judge can say, “Never,” for He has the authority, and He can look in people’s hearts. We cannot.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are we to live in a theocracy? If the City dictates moral code, in such that it aims to allow personal freedoms that do not cause harm to others, how does a theocracy differ from that? The Roman Catholic Church had control of it's subjects, dictating right and wrong. The Pharisees of Jesus time had their control. Iran and modern Orthodox Jews have thier control. In the end, no matter what man, or the City, does, it will lose sight of God because of the selfish nature of man. So, best to leave government out of religion if man is to be free to truly learn from God. As soon as man is restricted from learning directly from God, then true freedom has been lost and we will have to wait for God, in his own time, to set us free from what we imposed upon ourselves. An example is what God did through Martin Luther. So regardless of what the city, which I believe you equate to the devil, says is good and right, as long as it does not attempt restrict you from learing from God on your own, and you are aware of the attacks on your soul, then you remain free.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Robert McAnally Adams said...

Well, I am not trying to make a political statement. God is sovereign, and the church (including its members) has suffered through some horrific governments, including the one under which it first emerged. Frankly, the health of the church throughout history has been observed to be proportional to the degree of persecution it endured.

The City is not a metaphor for government but rather for culture. The fact that culture offers (apparently) a choice of moral codes by which to live does not make this choice any more real. It is an illusion, a very dangerous one.

The City is not the devil. It is but one of the many tools of hell. The real question is one of compulsion. Does the City invariably have its way with all people? Clearly not, but it has its way so frequently that it looks like government, often acts like government, and fancies itself to be the government. Devices of human control do not have to be armed with legislation and law, but it helps.

If you must know, I favor limited government (no surprise there). But I am far from seeing in government of any kind of way out of the oppression of popular culture.

Rather than look to personal and political freedom as a precondition for seeking God, Christians are urging people to seek God irrespective of their situation. This is why I support the mission of Arab Vision, a video mission pointed to the Arabic-speaking world.

As to living in a theocracy, I assert without hesitation that that is exactly what we need, and we will get it the moment Jesus Christ returns.

Thanks for your remarks.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, poorly communicated on my part. I agree with you that people should seek God irrespective of their situation. What I was getting at, is that in a man controlled theocracy, God will be distorted in such the people will be told what God says. This is a situation that must be avoided. Where the city(culture of the devil) and the government should not be allowed to venture.

Yes, a true theocracy, where the head is Jesus, is exaclty what is needed and I certainly look forward to it.

6:43 AM  

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