When the morning news is dominated by multiple fatalities from a dust storm in Illinois, tornadoes in Virginia and Florida, a Hollywood writers strike, and the death of legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, it’s uplifting to find stories of heroism as well. For example, a Michigan seventh grader recently took control of his school bus after the driver lost consciousness. He stepped to the front of the bus and used the hand brake to ease it to a stop.
He told his parents later that he knew what to do because he watched the driver do it every day. None of his fellow students was injured in the incident.
The news report nowhere speaks to the young man’s religious beliefs or lack thereof. Of course, none of us would claim that he would have to be an active Christian to do what he did. Being kind to others is instinctual for most humans since, according to social scientists, kindness clearly raises personal happiness. Living with meaningful purpose in the world is similarly linked to positive mental health and well-being. These facts are facts regardless of one’s religious commitments, if any.
“People are selfish; deal with it.”
Yesterday we noted a recent Pew Research Center report in which 65 percent of Americans agree that “it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral.” Such a claim is popular because its underlying lie is popular: morality is what you believe it to be, so you need no divine assistance in defining your moral standards or achieving them.
We are watching this worldview undermine the very foundations upon which our democracy was built. The Founders declared that “all men are created equal” and thus possess “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” However, if all truth is subjective and personal, the Declaration of Independence can be just the Founders’ truth. I am free to live by my own truth. And if my truth is that the world and everyone in it is a means to my end, who are you to tell me I’m wrong?
In this context, I found David Brooks’ latest column in the New York Times to be both relevant and disturbing. He warns about “a kind of nihilism that you might call amoral realism” and explains: “This ethos is built around the idea that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Might makes right. I’m justified in grabbing all that I can because if I don’t, the other guy will. People are selfish; deal with it.”
According to Brooks, “People who live according to the code of amoral realism tear through codes and customs that have [been] built over the centuries to nurture goodness and foster cooperation.” In their world, “cruelty, dishonesty, vainglory, and arrogance are valorized as survival skills.” As a result, “Other people are not possessors of souls, of infinite dignity and worth; they are objects to be utilized.”
Brooks applies his thesis to national and international politics and politicians, but we are watching it in the news every day. From street violence to mass shootings, sex trafficking, and the rising popularity of abortion and euthanasia, the ethos that other people are “objects to be utilized” is spreading like a moral and spiritual cancer in our culture.
Three urgent steps
You and I are just as temptable as anyone else, just as subject to the fallen human condition in which we exert our “will to power” over others as we seek to be our own god (Genesis 3:5). In fact, Satan employs a subtle deception for evangelical Christians by which we are tempted to separate our public moral stands from our private moral failures. Accordingly, God is calling us to take three urgent steps today.
One: Settle for nothing less than holistic holiness.
Scripture declares: “Blessed are those who keep [God’s] testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” (Psalm 119:2–3, my emphases). What is your “heart” condition today?
Two: Seek an intimate, transforming relationship with Jesus.
Years ago, some pastor friends and I were discussing the plague of pornography in our churches. One of them said, “Our biggest problem is that our people don’t love Jesus. If they did, they would hate what he hates and love what he loves.” The pastor was right: “If we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). How fully are you walking “in the light” today?
Three: Trust Christ for victory over sin.
Charles Spurgeon reminded us that just as we are saved by grace, we can be sanctified only by grace. Our works were of no benefit for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9); neither will they enable us to achieve the holiness we desire.
The psalmist testified, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). When we turn to God, “They who wait for the Lᴏʀᴅ shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). And we will say with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
When we bring God our persistent temptations and sins, he often leads us to counselors or trusted friends who can help us. He gives us guidance in his word by his Spirit. But ultimately, we must ask him for the victory we need and trust him to provide it.
“You are a fire ever burning”
Is it possible for us to know Christ with such transforming intimacy? St. Catherine of Siena (1347–80) did. She prayed, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied: what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”
As a result, she could say to God, “You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being.” And she could add, “You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food.”
All this because “your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you.”
Would you ask the Spirit to do the same for you today?