September 25, 2008

The Justice of God – Part I

One o f the problems that troubles Western society is that of distinguishing between good and evil. Many thinkers today have recognized that it is meaningless to speak of good and evil or moral responsibility if we are only developed animals, complex biochemical organisms. We do not accuse computers of criminal behavior, though the complexity of our brain is compared to them, nor do we bring animals to trial, though we are said to have evolved from them.

The inability to distinguish finally between good and evil has produced terrible results throughout the world. In the West it has been one of the major factors leading to the breakdown of sexual morality and of family life, and also to the uncertainty about what constitutes human life. In the Communist world we see this “lawlessness” in the very fabric of government, because the rejection of absolute moral standards is a fundamental aspect of Marxist-Leninist teaching. Leonid Brezhnev repeated in 1970 some words of Lenin:

Our morality is completely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat…. Morality is that which serves to destroy the old exploiting society…. We deny all morality that is drawn from some conception beyond man, beyond class. We say that it is a deception … a fraud.

The consequences of this can be seen most clearly, and perfectly consistently, in the Cambodian revolution in which between one-third and one-half of the population were killed in order to bring about a new society.

God's Righteous Character

Christians should not have this problem of uncertainty about good and evil. God's own character gives us a definition of what is right and good, and all human behavior must be measured against his character. God's law, given to us in the Bible, expresses God's righteousness; and man, made in the image of that righteousness, is called to obey the law and judge his life against it. All human beings are created with a moral conscience, the "law of God written on the heart," but this can become confused or hardened, either by cultural tradition or by the individual's sinful choices. Beyond this, however, we have an absolute basis for knowing what is good and evil, for we can check all human ideas about morality against God's revelation of his character and law in Scripture.

As well as having an answer to the dilemma of moral uncertainty in our culture, the Christian also has a firm basis for determining what to do in his own life. Furthermore, he has a basis for withstanding the immorality of those in power, either in a democracy or dictatorship, and for withstanding "the will of the 51 percent" in Western society where morality changes with the consensus of the day.

Knowing with certainty the principles for human life which God has given in his law, we ought to provide a living example of righteousness to our society. And we ought also to bring these principles to bear on our society to improve its laws and institutions.

The Judgment of God

The doctrine of judgment follows on necessarily from God's revelation of his righteousness. As his character is the moral foundation of the universe, so any failure to meet God's perfect moral standards is known by him, exposed for what it is, and judged. Christians are often embarrassed by the doctrine of the judgment of God, in this age where evil is explained away and excused. But we ought rather to glory in it! Judgment means that in the end it really makes a difference whether we are kind or cruel, merciful or brutal. The Book of Ecclesiastes portrays the judgment of God as the one factor which makes sense of a world in which the wicked often prosper and the righteous perish.

We are taught in the twentieth century that any kind of judgment is cruel and vindictive. As Christians, however, we ought to reeducate ourselves according to Scripture and see punishment as good and right. God's judgment is a revelation that evil is evil, and is destructive to human life, and therefore it must be exposed and dealt with according to its nature. We ought to lament, as Christ does himself, that people are so foolish as to turn away from him and live their lives in disobedience (Matt. 23:37). We ought to imitate Jesus by giving ourselves in service to others, so that they might be moved by our love and come to repentance and faith. Yet we must, in a sense, but glad for the doctrine of judgment which declares once and for all that good and evil are different, that it does finally matter how people live their lives. God's punishment of sin, God's just wrath against the evildoer, must be seen as right and good.

Who Are the Peacemakers?, Jerram Barrs

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