We live in a day when everything is relative. According to the popular mythology, nothing is absolute. (How popular mythologists get by with this absolute I will never understand.) Truth and morality are situational, personal, relational and relative. The all-too common thinking runs something like this: “If I think it is okay, then it is okay. If I perceive it as moral and good, then it must be moral and good.” Usually what such thinkers actually mean is “if what I am doing is something I want to do—that makes me happy—then it must be good.”
This approach is completely out of sync with a biblical worldview—where there are absolutes, and some things are just plain right, and some things are just plain wrong. Unfortunately this mythology has even crept into the church. One way this relativistic view of morality shows up, oddly enough, is in how Christians define sin and evil. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
Some of you may remember what happened in Augusta County, VA just last December (2015). Students in a local public school were asked to copy Arabic calligraphy, which happened to be the Shahadah. The Shahadah is the basic affirmation of Islam—“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” The students were told that this was the Shahadah, but they were not given a translation. It was stated that this was the basic Islamic “statement of faith.” Parents saw this assignment and were outraged. Rapidly voices of protest were heard. So many parents objected that schools officials actually ordered all the schools in the county closed. Many people thought the parents’ objections were a bit extreme. What was the big deal? The Arabic was not translated. Students would not necessarily know what the text said. And they were not being asked to accept the Shahadah, to convert to Islam. What was so wrong?
Another example happened some time ago. It involved a Christian woman I know. I happened to see an adult coloring book laying on a table. The book had a number of pages already colored in. I was disturbed when I saw the theme of the coloring book—mandalas. Mandalas are geometric designs, usually circular, which are used in Eastern religious practice. They are meditation devices in Buddhism. While used for similar purposes in Hinduism, they are also means to invoke the gods. Each mandala has a specific purpose or meaning. This coloring book not only contained numerous mandalas, but the book’s introduction explained the scheme of the work. The arrangement of the mandalas was based on a spiritual journey, from initiation into the spiritual world to final enlightenment—union with Brahman, the World Soul. The book spoke about yoga, awakening kundalini, and opening one’s chakras. Pure Eastern religion! I discovered that the book belonged to one of the children of this woman. I spoke to the mother about my concerns with her daughter coloring in this book. The mother’s reaction? She admitted she knew the contents of the book. But she didn’t see a problem. She said that her daughter didn’t understand what the theme of the book was, nor did she understand the meaning of the mandalas. When I pointed out specific mandalas, such as the one sacred to Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction (who wears a necklace of severed human heads), the mother was still okay with the situation. She said she had prayed about this already, and felt like this was a situation similar to that in 1 Corinthians 8, where we find Paul’s teaching about food offered to idols. Applying this passage to this coloring book, this woman asserted that since an idol (or false god) is nothing, then an image sacred to a god is nothing also. So there was nothing to worry about. Makes sense, right?
One more example will suffice. A few years ago I was teaching on how prevalent the occult has become in our culture. I was explaining that we tend to not take the occult very seriously. For example, kids conduct séances at parties, just for fun. Ouija boards are considered games—even being sold by Parker Brothers. However, despite the light-hearted approach to such things, they are actually very serious. Indeed, God condemns all forms of witchcraft, fortunetelling and occult practice in no uncertain terms (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:14-19). I also explained that any involvement in the occult was serious, and should be confessed as sin. One lady in the class, a very devout Christian, spoke up. She admitted that as a youth she had been in a séance, and had played with Ouija boards. But she saw no problem with this, because she did not take it seriously. Because she did not believe in these things, there was really nothing wrong with it. There was nothing to confess. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Were the Christians who dismissed the matter of the Shahadah being used in public schools right? It was no big deal, right? Was this mother correct, false gods are not real gods, so there is nothing wrong with her child coloring symbols of these gods? And if you do not believe in Ouija boards or séances, then what is wrong with having a little fun with them? No harm, no foul—right?
Wrong! First of all, these things are strictly prohibited by God in the Scriptures. How can we not take seriously something that God condemns as wicked and sinful? It is no light matter to dismiss God’s revelation on these matters. What God says is sin, is sin indeed.
Secondly, as already noted, we don’t take false religion, idolatry and witchcraft (the occult) nearly seriously enough in America today. We don’t see them as God sees them. He takes them very seriously. Indeed, in ancient Israel, involvement in idolatry or the occult was a capital offense. Yes, you could be executed for practicing these things. Such things are truly serious matters.
But there is another concern here. In each of these three examples the rationale for dismissing the seriousness of issue was that the individual person(s) did not have a commitment of personal belief or acceptance of the matter. The students were not asked to believe the Shahadah. The child did understand the meaning of mandalas, and thus did not believe in their power. The Christian lady did not believe in séances or Ouija boards, so her involvement was innocent. Do you notice a common approach to the issue? The rightness or wrongness of the action is based on personal belief. In other words, morality (or immorality) is an existential experience. Something is only truly wrong if you have a personal belief in its reality. If you do not believe in it, then practicing it cannot be truly wrong. Its morality (or lack thereof) is based on the person and his/her belief or disbelief in its reality.
These examples illustrate what is happening in our culture. Our problem here is that we have made morality a personal, relative, existential experience. We have rejected morality as an objective absolute. Something is not wrong because it is just wrong. It is not even wrong if God says it is wrong. It is only wrong if I believe it is wrong.
But from a biblical perspective, morality is not subjective. It is a matter of absolute nature, ordained by God. Let me emphasize this point by changing our three illustrations into parallel situations. Let’s see if this existential, subjective approach still fits.
Suppose that instead of being asked to copy the Shahadah in Arabic, the students had been asked to copy a text in another language, say in Hebrew or Latin. And suppose, though untranslated, the text was from a Medieval grimoire, a book of magical incantations. Now suppose the text was actually a prayer to Lucifer, invoking Satan as a great and powerful god and pledging allegiance to him and his kingdom of darkness. Would this be objectionable?
As for my second example, suppose instead of mandalas, the coloring book’s illustrations were drawings of Nazi propaganda. There were swastikas in various forms. There were SS runic inscriptions. There were cartoons lampooning Jews and showing the superiority of the Ubermensch, the Aryan Superman. The child coloring this book would likely be unfamiliar with such imagery. Would her ignorance be a just excuse for allowing her to color these pictures anyway? Do you think the child’s mother would still okay with this coloring book?
Now for the third example, let’s be a little extreme. Suppose this fine Christian lady admitted that she had cheated on her husband and had had an adulterous affair. But she excused this by saying that it was just in fun. She didn’t love the guy, or make any kind of commitment to him. In fact, she did not really believe in adultery. She believed in committed monogamy. So her behavior was not sinful, and no confession was necessary because she did not believe in the reality of what she had done. Would this be reasonable? Or does it sound foolish?
You see the problem we are facing? We have made morality a matter of personal choice. Even Christians do this. No, we don’t (usually) take this position when it comes to obvious sins (murder, adultery, thievery, etc.), but other sins are a different matter. Especially if it is something we enjoy and find fun. But that is not God’s view. What he says is sin is sin indeed. And witchcraft, idolatry and honoring false gods are wrong. They just are plain wrong. That’s it. God says what is right and what is wrong, and that is just the way it is. End of story.
Furthermore, it is also true that some things are intrinsically evil and immoral. It doesn’t matter if we believe them to be so, or not. They are wrong just because they are wrong, evil things in their own right. It is not wrong because of our acceptance or rejection of them. They are wrong because they are wrong by their very nature. Arabic proclamations of Allah being the true god, images sacred to false gods, and occult practices from the kingdom of darkness are wrong in and of themselves. That’s all there is to it.
Bottom Line: Some things are just evil, plain and simple, and the Christian should have nothing to do with them. Period. And that’s the absolute truth!