Morality has been laughed at, spat upon and been the subject of countless TV shows, but why does it even exist in the first place? It can be defined as good behaviour, conduct or simply as ‘the right thing to do’. People like to have a view on this but the question is whether it is a Relative thing which changes over time or whether it has an Absolute character. If it was wrong to steal in the past, we think it is still wrong in the present and that it will be in the future. Morality applies to big issues like international justice and ‘small’ ones such as telling the truth. We look for morality in politicians to be worthy of our vote, heroes to be worthy of acclaim and others to be worthy of our trust and yet ... we find it hard to honestly review our own morality knowing we often fall short! Left or right then in the moral maze? First then, the wider perspective:
- ‘I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing’ – Damian Lewis
- ‘Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence’ – Charles Dickens
- ‘Respect for right conduct is felt by everybody’ – Jane Austen
- ‘We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the colour of our moral character from those who are around us’ – John Locke
- ‘Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not’ – Oprah Winfrey
- ‘I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals’ – Winston Churchill
Jeremy Kyle was credited with the wise statement that ‘Life isn’t a dress rehearsal’. Jeremy made his fame through looking at morals of others but said: ‘We all make mistakes, nobody ever wrote a book saying, This is how you live your life'. Christians would agree that we all make mistakes but they would refer both to the Bible as the basis of moral teaching and to the person of Jesus Christ. Three further insights then:
- ‘Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality’ – Mahatma Gandhi
- ‘The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is’ – Winston Churchill
- ‘What God intended for you goes far beyond anything you can imagine’ – Oprah Winfrey
A simple daily guide for us when we feel overwhelmed with moral choices comes through a sandal-wearing Old Testament prophet from the countryside c.735 BC:
- ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ – Micah 6:8.
Yet it is Micah who points forward to the one who will be more than a simple daily guide when he prophesied the coming of Jesus (Micah 5:2).
Jesus’ own morality, purity, presence and innate authority provoke the famous question from Pilate, ‘What is truth?’ If only he had the benefit as we do of hearing the Lord’s reply to Thomas on this: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). God our Father sets out the moral code in the Ten Commandments but knew it would take the work of his son to fulfil them and to save all who have failed to fulfil them. It was Jesus who gave us the highest moral teaching in both the Beatitudes and in his life’s example which was entirely free from compromise :
- ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ’ – Matthew 5:6-9
And when asked about the greatest choices in moral behaviour, Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself” – Matthew 22:36-39
Jesus called, and calls, a spade a spade! Feeling the release of his grace, there were many who loved it whilst others hated it:
- A guilty woman is spared : ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ – John 8:7
- An accusing group is exposed: ‘“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness’ – Matthew 23:27-28
Some things never change – there are still those who accept and those who reject the greatest ever Moral Teacher. The thing is that he knows us in our hearts and motives. Who might the modern-day Pharisees be who feel threatened by Jesus’ blunt honesty and try to bring him down?
- ‘Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away’ – Matthew 22:15-22
There is always a right and wise thing to do, but knowing that doesn’t always mean we can do it! The Law highlights that, whether it be the speed at which we drive or our tendency to tell half-truths at times, so what are we to do?
- ‘Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’ – Romans 3:20-24
The remarkable thing is that God knows all about our moral dilemmas and still loves us. What he wants from us is honesty with him and then we find ALL the help we need.
- ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ – 1 John1:8.9
- ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ – 1 John 2:1
- ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ – Romans 8:28-35
- ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”’ - 1 Samuel 7:12
Look back and look forwards with Samuel and find fresh courage. As you reflect on past failures in your own morality, take heart from the way Jesus dealt with the crowd wanting to stone the woman taken in adultery. As you face moral choices even now, ask God to help you make the right choices and give you the grace to see them through. When future moral challenges come your way as they surely will, then listen to Jesus and follow his example: ‘By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me’ – John 5:30
God delights in those who delight in him and promises the gift of his Holy Spirit to help us become more like his Son if we will but ask. It’s not too late to start doing the right thing.
TAGS – correct, proper, right, true, example