The Moral Argument - part 5
This is part 5 of a five-part talk on the moral argument for God's existence. In the last section, I presented a variant of the moral argument which asks whether truth-seeking can be intrinsically good or obligatory in the absence of a truth-loving God. In this final section, I want to ask the question: "If the moral argument is sound and convincing, why do we reject it?" To do this, I want to look at what the Bible has to say about the human condition. You may not think the Bible is inspired by God or historically accurate or even in any way relevant to this discussion. But I want you to just consider what the Bible has to say about our predicament, because I think it is quite profound.
This is from the opening of the gospel of John: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." That might sound strange to some of you, but I think it is extremely insightful. What the Bible says is that we have an innate fear of objective morality. We suppress it. And we hide that suppression from ourselves. Why? Because we know, deep down inside, that we are moral failures.
If you don't believe me, let's go back to those thought experiments. Remember the Cipher challenge? Would you accept a life of happiness in exchange for committing a moral atrocity if your memory were erased? No? I'm not so sure. How much of our money and time do you and I devote to alleviating the tremendous suffering and misery going on all around us? Do you realize that the money you spend on a single meal is more than some families make in a week? Do we actually ask the hard questions about how our lifestyle choices need to be weighed against our ability to give radically to the poor? Probably not. Certainly not enough. In reality, we all have taken the Cipher challenge. We all do purchase our own happiness at the price of our indifference towards the suffering of others.
What about the amorality pill? Surely, we would never turn ourselves into amoral monsters, would we? How much time do we spend thinking about the state of the world we actually live in? Do we seek to know the reality of third-world slums or inner city housing projects, or do we harden our hearts and dull our consciences with movies and television and hobbies and sports to avoid the pain of empathy? The truth is that, if we look at our lives with brutal honesty, we will realize how fall short we fall of any objective standard of morality. And this fact explains why we reject premise 2 of the moral argument. The best way to avoid the guilt and shame that comes from recognizing our moral failure is to deny that any objective standard of morality exists.
But the Bible also explains why we reject premise 1 of the moral argument. Look at this passage in the Bible from Isaiah. Isaiah is a prophet, a righteous man, a religious man, a good man. But when he has a vision of God's holiness, he collapses in terror and humility. It is one thing to fall short of an abstract, impersonal standard of morality. That itself is hard enough for us to accept. It is quite another thing to reject, despise, and trample on the commands of a good, holy and morally perfect personal God who has given us absolutely everything we have and who deserves our complete love and devotion. It is not just the moral law that we hide from, it is the moral Lawgiver. So behind our rejection of both premises of the moral argument is a heart problem: we fear and reject the moral Law and the moral Lawgiver.
So what is the solution to this problem? Here, I think the biblical approach is wholly unique. The Bible says that our primary need is not more Law, more rules, more morality, more guidance. Listen carefully: you will not become a Christian by trying hard to be a good person, by following your conscience, by trying to keep the Ten Commandments. God's moral law will always condemn you as a Lawbreaker. You don't need more rules, you need a Savior. You need someone who will rescue you from your sin, your transgression of God's good law. You need someone to forgive you and to reconcile you to God. And that person is Jesus. The message of the Bible is that we have all fallen short of God's moral perfection, whether we are religious or irreligious, moral or immoral. Because of that, we all deserve God's wrath and rejection; we all deserve Hell. But God sent Jesus to live the life we should have lived, to bear our sin, to die on the cross as a rebel in our place, and to rise from the dead to fully reconcile us to himself. And when we trust in what Christ has done for us, God transforms our hearts and our lives, making us new people. When we see what Christ has done for us, we desire to live the life of love and joy and holiness that God calls us to live.
Do you see the difference? In most religions, God's acceptance is based on our obedience. If I live a good life, if I love people, if I keep God's rules, then God will accept me. But in Christianity, our obedience is based on God's acceptance. We desire to obey because God so loved us that He sent his one and only Son to die for us. What kind of religion is this? It's a backwards religion! It's exactly the opposite of how religion is supposed to work. But it is the only religion that can transform your heart and produce in it the kind of love for Him and for other people that God desires. So I leave you with these two thoughts. First, in my opinion, the moral argument does furnish good grounds for believing that God does exist. God is the paradigm of goodness, love, holiness, and justice. He is the Ultimate good and his commands are our obligations. But second, Christianity is the only religion that tells you the truth about yourself and at the same time offers you hope. It is brutally honest about your moral failure. You and I are, by nature, children of wrath who deserve God's rejection. But it offers you the only solution to your problem; what you and I could not do for ourselves, God did for us. God loves you not because you are good but because He is good. If you want complete forgiveness, perfect reconciliation, and transformation, then you can have it as a free gift, based not on what you have done but on what Christ has done for you. Receive the gift, and go on your way rejoicing.
- Do objective moral values exist?
- If naturalism is true, can objective moral values exist?
- Why should we seek the truth?
- Why I am a Christian
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found here.