While driving down the highways, perhaps you’ve come across “Christian vandalism” that has sayings like, “Jesus Saves” or “Jesus Loves U” spray painted on the side of a bridge or a wall of rock. I always wonder what they were thinking when they did that. Why would someone break the law to share a message that, although important, shows people that Christians do not respect the law? Does the end truly justify the means? Perhaps the Christian vandals believed what was good (or better) was the message, therefore they declared their vandalism, which is legally wrong, was right. This leads me to the passage of Scripture (Isa 5:20) that states, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” How easy it is to excuse or justify actions and call them good when they have already been defined as bad (or evil).
How does evil become good and good become evil? How does wrong become right, and right become wrong? How does this exchange of morals happen in our lives? Let me give a few thoughts as to how this happens:
- Acceptance of Rationalizing, Justifying & Blaming: When we rationalize, we minimize the seriousness of ours and other’s actions. “Oh, he was just tired,” “It’s no big deal. Others have done worse,” “I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t do that,” “She made me angry!”. “He deserved it!” “God wants me to be happy, so it’s OK that I leave my spouse.” All of these are rationalizations justifying ourselves or other’s actions, and we accept them as excuses. When we rationalize, justify, blame, or excuse our actions, we proclaim our actions are “better than” others’ actions, or we declare our actions are acceptable. As we believe our own rationalizations and justifications, we begin to declare our actions as morally good. It’s OK to break the law and spray paint “Jesus Loves You” on another’s property because maybe somebody will get saved. It’s OK to personally tear down a public statue because it represented something I never believed in. It’s right to be rude to people who don’t agree with me because they are dumb. Sometimes it doesn’t take long to convince ourselves into doing something we know may be wrong for something we believe is right. Eventually, however, we’ll actually believe our actions are right because our cause is right, too.
- Defining what is “Good” and “Evil”: Who defines what is “good” or what is “evil”? If what is “good” and what is “evil” is simply defined by God, we have a starting point of discussion and interpretation. If we define what “good” or “evil” is, not God, then our definition of “good” or “evil” must be suspect as we are imperfect & flawed beings due to our sinful or selfish natures. Since we are not All-Knowing, our perspectives are based on our own experiences, perceptions, and assumptions. We may act on what seems to be right / best for us, but that may not be right / best for others or right / good according to God. If we can’t agree on what is good, and defining good is subjective (we define our own good), then we will be more likely to stray and turn from what God has defined as evil as good, and vice versa. Why? Because we’ll be guided by our seared consciences, selfish tendencies, misguided assumptions and interpretations, and personal experiences. We call evil good and good evil because we’ve redefined these words and decided to trust ourselves and not Him. In Mark 10:18, Jesus states that “no one is good, but God.” If that is the case (and I believe it is), then only one who is truly Good can truly define good, not ones who are tainted by sin.
- Interpretive Lens: As stated in former blogs on Black & White Thinking: An Introduction (Part 1 and Part 2), our interpretive lenses play a significant role in defining what is right and wrong. For example, in our political climate, we see how both Republicans and Democrats are guided by what they think is good and right. On one hand, many Republicans are presently guided by following the law, constitution, and following processes and procedures to make laws (consider DACA and immigration – illegal aliens are “illegal”, and congress must change laws, not the president). Following the laws is what is good and right and best. Many Democrats are presently guided by hearts of compassion for immigrants and their families. Compassion, love, and sympathy for the suffering is what is good and right and best. Although this brief explanation is somewhat simplified, both parties (and individuals) act according to what they believe is good, right, or best. Each side has strengths and weaknesses, but our interpretive lenses (law, black & white thinking, concrete issues/concepts vs compassion, empathy, abstract issues/concepts) play a significant role in what we determine is right or wrong. Being created in His image means that we have the capacity for both (as He is both law-giver and merciful), but we tend to lean more towards one than the other. Micah 6:8 gives us a great reminder of what we need to do that is good: “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.” Both are good, according to God, but we must tread humbly as we discern what is best.
How do you define what is “good and right” versus what is “bad and wrong”? Would you stand on your own definitions, those of the culture or society, or on God’s definitions? Do you personally lean towards following laws or standards as good and right or on following your feelings as good and right? Or perhaps being compassionate is right and following laws are therefore wrong?
Many of the conflicts in American society and politics, from kneeling or standing for the anthem or issues such as DACA and building walls, come down to how we align ourselves in determining what is good/right from what is bad/wrong. As believers, we certainly do need humility and discernment to listen to opposing views and to treat one another with respect and dignity despite any differences. And perhaps there will, at times, not be a choice between what is right & good versus what is wrong & bad, but instead about what is “better or best.” One day, perhaps very near for us in America or here already in other countries, there will need to be a choice between obedience to the law (which is largely good) versus obedience to God (which is always good). We will need to discern and choose the best option, which is to follow God over worldly authorities. Until that time comes, let’s make sure that the good we believe and know is the good that comes from God alone, and is not defined by culture or by ourselves.