Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 21:23-32; Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 53; Leviticus 20
Today’s passage in Romans makes clear the biblical doctrine regarding the ultimate source of moral problems. Ethical problems are not simply challenging dilemmas with uncertainty about knowing the best option. They do not arise primarily because of people’s circumstances or suffering. Certainly, in the midst of a moral dilemma it can be difficult to see the right thing to do, especially when the best alternative seems like the lesser of two evils.
According to the Bible, the ultimate source of ethical problems is spiritual. People behave unethically because they deny God and replace him with speculations. Rather than acknowledging God’s existence and wisdom, people have rejected him and his ways. As a result, we see to do things our way, in ways that please us and bring glory to ourselves. The result is, to one degree or another, we become self-serving and come up with all sorts of ideas about how to live life. God lets us have our way, allowing us to follow our lusts, and reap the consequences of such lifestyles.
Paul first addresses various sexual practices, but we should not remain focused there. Sometimes it is easy to point out problems with various expressions of sexuality, and the problems these can bring. But these are only some of the things Paul mentions in a long list of sins. Greed and arrogance are included, as well as disobedience and heartlessness. Paul is not saying that some sins are worse than others; his point is that everyone is sinful. None of us are as ethical as we should be, and maybe many of us are less ethical than we think we are.
Psalm 53 declares this clearly, a passage Paul himself cites a little later in Romans 3. No one does good, not even one. The fundamental problem is not education or poverty or environment, it is spiritual. The fool has said in his heart that there is no God. Psalm 53 notes that people do not seek God, but turn away from him and become corrupt. In Romans 1 also, the underlying ethical problem is that people do not accept who God is and as a result their thinking becomes futile even while they claim to be wise.
Romans 1 also claims that we are morally responsible for our views about God. The first step is dealing with our problems is to give God his rightful place in our lives. The passage claims that everyone knows that God exists. His eternal power and divine nature are clearly visible. Some will object, saying they see no evidence for God’s existence. Yet even the atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre recognised this. In an interview shortly before his death he said, “I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God… It contradicts many of my other ideas; … And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for want of being able to think otherwise” (Harper’s, February 1984, p. 39).
This view of himself as a created being is part of the way God reveals himself to the world. Yet Sartre would rather suppress that truth and accept his self-contradictory beliefs than admit that there is a God. He goes on to acknowledge why he refused to believe in God. “It has strengthened my freedom and made it sounder… This life owes nothing to God; it was what I wanted it to be.”
When the whole world takes that approach we end up with the world the way it is. To solve our problems, we must begin by acknowledging the truth about God.