The ninety-fifth Academy Awards are this Sunday. If you remember nothing from last year’s Oscars, you undoubtedly know that actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage after the latter made disparaging remarks about the former’s wife.
Later that evening, Smith apologized to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and to the other nominees, though not to Rock. The next day he utilized social media to issue an apology to Rock and to the Academy. Four months later, Smith posted a YouTube video in which he addressed the incident and said, “I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk.”
Apart from brief references to the incident, Rock did not respond publicly for nearly a year. Last Wednesday, he addressed the topic briefly during a standup show in Boston. Then, last Saturday night, he performed a live comedy special on Netflix in which he spoke at length about last year’s Oscars.
According to the New York Times, Rock claimed that Smith’s slap was “an act of displacement, shifting his anger from his wife cheating on him and broadcasting it onto Rock.” The reviewer adds: “The comic says his joke was never really the issue. ‘She hurt him way more than he hurt me,’ Rock said, using his considerable powers of description to describe the humiliation of Smith in a manner that seemed designed to do it again.”
“Anger is possibly the most fun”
It is conventional wisdom in our secularized culture that biblical morality is not just outdated and irrelevant but dangerous to modern society. Today’s discussion proves that the opposite is the case: it is secular morality that is dangerous to society.
For example, refusing the biblical call to forgiveness makes conflict ever more painful, more protracted, and more pervasive. If someone “slaps you on the right cheek” and you “turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39), you break the cycle of vengeance and escalation. If you strike back, however, you feed the fire of animosity and retribution.
You may think your reaction harms the other person more than yourself, but you’re wrong.
In Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Frederick Buechner writes: “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.
The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Imagine a society in which everyone chose to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). What would happen to crime and war? To human trafficking, racism, and poverty? To lying and deceit?
Which ethic is dangerous to society: Scripture or secularism?
How “morality works best”
However, it’s not enough to believe that Christian morals are superior to other moral systems or even to practice such morality as an end unto itself.
Michael Kruger, president of the Reformed Theological Seminary campus at Charlotte, explains: “To believe in Christian morals, without actually believing in Christianity, can only be sustained temporarily.” This is because “morality works best when it flows from a transformed human heart, not when it is merely forced by external laws.”
Dr. Kruger adds: “That is not to suggest external laws don’t matter. We should still make good laws and enforce such laws. But the healthiest cultures are the ones where morality flows naturally and internally.”
For example, the Pharisees ascribed to one of the most rigorous systems of morality known to the ancient world, yet Jesus told one of their leaders, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). It is only when we make Christ our Lord that we “become children of God” (John 1:12). It is only then that we become God’s “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
The goal is not to try harder to be better. As Dr. Kruger noted, such self-reliant morality “can only be sustained temporarily.” It is to submit every day to God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) so that the “fruit of the Spirit” flow through our lives, transfusing us with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
If every follower of Christ manifested the character of Christ like this, how could our culture stay the same?
“The love we most long for”
Henri Nouwen was right: “Jesus is the revelation of God’s unending, unconditional love for us human beings. Everything that Jesus has done, said, and undergone is meant to show us that the love we most long for is given to us by God, not because we deserved it, but because God is a God of love.”
As a result, according to Pope St. Leo the Great (AD 400–461), “Christ has taken on himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won.”
Will you win his victory today?