We live in a time when people do not believe in an absolute morality; everything is relative. People think morals are adjustable and changeable from person to person and from time to time. If they do not agree with a rule they do not think it is relevant or applicable to them, perhaps even to anyone else. If it’s a good price then it might be acceptable, if not then it isn't. This is the question that C. S. Lewis opens his book Mere Christianity with, the question of moral relativity and moral absolutes. However, this isn't the whole story, as Lewis clearly and forcefully explains. There is an underlying and demanding rule that runs through all of us. This rule is absolute!
Lewis calls this absolute "the law of human nature" and argues that it is a universal rule. There appears to be in all people this basic assumption about the rules of behavior. We expect certain things of others and of ourselves. Lewis forthrightly states, "I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behavior we expect from other people."
This whole question of right and wrong cannot be avoided, particularly when it touches us personally. We expect, indeed demand, to be treated right, or as is so often said, "fairly." Sometimes other words are used--reasonably, civilly, sanely, honestly, appropriately. Whatever terms are used, it comes down to this—is it right or wrong? There is this very certain way of thinking, even in the most relativistic of human kind.
The fact that all people recognize there is a right way and a wrong way to act clearly reveals the reality of a moral absolute. The great lists that come to us about behavior are confirmation of this—the Ten Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi, the Code of Ur-Nammu, Taoism’s Five Precepts, the Papyrus of Ani, and the Book of the Dead. In the heritage of every great people you have glimpses into this absolute principle of right and wrong behavior, good and evil. Ultimately, moral relativism fails in the face of great and profound tragedies--the Holocaust, the horrors of war, the senseless killings, the greedy robber barons, the Covid-19 virus, and many other radical terrors. If morals are relative, then nothing ultimately can be really, absolutely wrong!
Behind the fact of an absolute moral rule there is God. If God is not real, then no moral rule can be real. This is one of the great facts revealed in the Bible. God is real—Creator, Sustainer and Judge of all. We need to recognize that we are individually and corporately accountable to God for how we act and speak. God rules! He is supreme! This is true in both good and bad things. There will be an accounting for this Covid-19 virus and whoever and wherever it came about.
People often encourage one another in wrong things, especially when there is fear involved. This is what the Prophet deals with in verses 5-7 in Isaiah 41. There is fear. The people come together to help one another and to encourage one another in their error and idolatry. The prophet describes them saying, "Be of good courage!" (v. 6) Then they fashion and create their idols; things they worship and serve. The prophet says, "So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; he who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, 'It is ready for the soldering'; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter" (41:7). This brief explanation reveals that those who worship idols are deceived, indeed they deceive themselves. They prop up their idols to keep them from falling over. Yet they worship them as though they were living things!
God reveals here through the Prophet Isaiah the folly of sinful, selfish man. Self-deceived, foolish, wicked and fearful people make wrong choices and fail to please God. They encourage one another in doing and thinking wrong. They worship as God what cannot be God. This is exactly what Paul was talking about when he told the Romans about such people, saying, "although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things" (Rom. 1:21-23).
Then it is interesting that Paul targets the sexual perversion of his day that has also become such a controversial issue today for so many, and has become an idol for some. Indeed, many people are abandoning the moral rule that has for centuries guided human civilization as good and right or wrong and evil. Paul says it is "unnatural" and wrong. It is not how God created us to behave. It doesn’t even work to accomplish the furtherance of the human race. Opening this door will lead to other and worse sins. Tolerance is not the issue here. It is a very simple and straightforward issue that we are facing. It is a perversion of friendship and human associations, substituting what is unnatural for how God made us sexually. The term Paul uses is LUST that describes how people act toward one another. These people “burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Rom. 1:27). In doing this they reject God for who He is and their fitting place in His creation. God created man and woman and gave them to one another for companionship and fellowship in family.
Let me know what you think about moral absolutes, social ethics, sexuality, individual and corporate morals. Let us emphasize God’s love for all and our love as His people—love for God, for country, for family, for church, for our institutions of higher education, for friends, for the good all around us. You can send your thoughts to me at email@example.com, or by “snail mail” P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired history professor