Tuesday, 23 January 2018

What is good/evil anyway?

We live in a world where what is right and acceptable seems to be changing at a lightning pace. Yet if we're really honest with ourselves we will realize that future generations as well as the current and previous generations will all likely fail to live up to life in it's fullest. We are constantly changing and adapting to try to reach a better understanding of what is right, and what is wrong.

Scripture talks a lot about purity. I sometimes wonder if purity is something that needs to be separated from right and wrong actions. When the Bible talks about being pure, it never really means that this individual has done nothing wrong. Purity is a state that someone is seen to be despite their past, present, and future actions.

Last weekend we looked at the second half of 1 Peter 1 and saw a few important lessons about purity and holy living.

1) God is the one who makes us pure:

1 Peter 1:13-15 (Exerts) - "Set your hope fully on the grace given you... just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do."

Peter starts this section by reminding us about the grace that God offers us as our reliance for holiness. Christian theology has long taught that it is God's work to save someone, purify them, and bring them to himself. The term 'sanctification' refers to how God continues to work in us through our lives to purify us, change our living, and bring us in step with him.

The problem comes when we start to take that responsibility on ourselves as individuals and as a church. Every church has it's priorities and essential practices. Often these are things like abstinence before marriage, not drinking/smoking, giving a tithe of some sort, attending a service, participating in prayer/study, and a myriad of other examples. What we tend to forget is that the priorities we set as individuals and churches are not necessarily God's priorities for someone's life. While we may tell someone that they must stop cursing, God's work in them at that time may be around some sort of heavy addiction that we know nothing about. The mistake of 'challenging' or 'rebuking' others in the church, which has caused so much pain, is that these challenges and rebukes often come from a place of selfish motivation.

Instead we should learn to develop the spiritual skill of discerning where God is moving in someone's life so that we can speak into their experience with encouragement rather than rebuke. God is the one who makes us pure, but we can become important participants in that, both individually and communally.

2) God is the one who 'knows:'

1 Peter 1:17 - "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

The idea of God's judgment here is one which always causes problems. One of the greatest reasons for this is because our experiences in our lives make it very difficult to imagine a perfect judge, and we're constantly reminded that we live in an imperfect, or even corrupt, justice system.
But scripture constantly teaches God as one who's judgment and justice is tied to his perfect love for an imperfect world. This means that God is the only one who truly knows justice.

It becomes interesting when we look at the way people often try to 'know' what is right in the world now. Such as...

The majority- In our democratic societies where the majority are the one's who decide who has the power over our lives, laws and society, it makes sense that we would put a lot of trust in the idea that whatever the majority believes is right must be right. Anecdotally we cold come up with many examples of people who have tried to use the 'the majority of people agree with me' argument. 

The problem is that the majority isn't usually the majority, but rather the majority of whoever that individual speaks to. But even if it is an actual majority that agrees with us we need to remember the vast examples of geniuses from history who were opposed by the majority. Even Galileo's theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was opposed by the majority of experts and scientist for many years.

The loudest- It seems like loud people always get the platform. You might say that loud people are listened to because we have no choice. I would say that the louder someone is the more likely I am to ignore what they're saying. And yet it seems that those people who have the larger platforms, biggest stadiums or the reddest face when they speak are given a lot of credit for these things.

When I look at a loud person I can't help but feel like "wow, there's a person who has life figured out" (sarcasm intended). I find that often when you get past the bluster and noise you rarely find much behind what's being said. And on the other hand, there are many wise people in the world who will never have a platform because of their quiet, meek, and honestly more holy manner.

Intuition- Beyond the others is the prevailing thought that we must naturally know what's right. We understand what is right and acceptable naturally and should trust our instincts. And while this may be true for some things, such as torture and murder, even with those examples we can see instances where people just don't seem to understand the natural immorality of these tragedies.

The problem with being guided by intuition means that we're rarely convinced about doing good, or challenged to be holy in a way that doesn't seem natural. Truly holy living requires sacrifice and humility. Intuition will rarely lead someone towards giving away their possessions, blessing an enemy who harms them, or refusing pleasures. Yet all these things are clearly taught in scripture as holy living. surely living 'right' means giving ourselves to a lifestyle more difficult and challenging.

3) Purity creates communal love:

1 Peter 1:22 - "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart."

The biggest lesson we need to learn is that true purity, true holy living, or simply what is 'right,' will always result in greater love for each other. It's unfortunate that we can so easily turn purity into some reason or excuse for ignoring or even casting away people we don't like. But purity can never be used as a reason for exclusion or bigotry. Neither should purity be seen as something which makes anyone better than, or above others. True purity will only result in bringing people together, working through problems, and creating a more fulfilling experience for those around us as well as ourselves.

Discussion:

  1. What is something that you know is acceptable? What is something that you know is wrong? How do you know? Does it compare at all with 'majority opinion, loud teaching, or intuition?'
  2. How do you look for God in the people around you, and the society as a whole? 
  3. How do you encourage someone towards purity without seeming to belittle them?



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