The Moral Necessity by Mark Dunagan

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Sunday Sermons

The Second Question

Mark Dunagan
09/05/10 – Sunday Evening

The Second Question
The Moral Necessity

As we observed in the first question, The Three Questions, Francis Schaeffer noted that philosophy and religion deal with the same three fundamental questions. 1. The question of existence: Where did all this come from? 2. The question of man: Who is man and what is the basic of morality. 3. And last, the question of knowing: How do we know that we know? In this lesson I want to deal with the second question. In the book He Is There And He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer writes, “We now turn to the second area of philosophic thought, which is man and the dilemma of man. There are, as we have seen, two problems concerning man and his dilemma. The first of them is the fact that man is personal, different from non-man, yet finite. Because he is finite, he has no sufficient integration point in himself. Again, as Jean Paul Sartre put it, if a finite point does not have an infinite reference point, it is meaningless and absurd. The second point concerning man and the dilemma of man is what I call the nobility of man… There is a wonder of man – but contrasted with this there is his cruelty. So man stands with all his wonder and nobility, and yet also with his horrible cruelty that runs throughout the warp and woof of man’s history” (pp. 21-22).

No Sufficient Integration Point in Himself

In other words, seeing that man is finite and limited, man himself cannot be the absolute reference point of truth. Man cannot say, “This is true, because I say so”. This is one reason why it is so ridiculous to say, “What is true, is what is true for me”. In Jesus’ day people understood that authority that rests solely with man is a very weak argument, when they asked, “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25). In fact, man is so finite that claiming that the authority for something a person believes or does rests purely on human authority, is viewed as an insult, “But if we say, ‘From men’, we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:26), or as in, “You must made that up, didn’t you”?

Impersonal Beginnings and Morals

“With an impersonal beginning (everything just came from energy or matter, plus time, plus chance) morals really do not exist as morals. If one starts with an impersonal beginning, the answer to morals eventually turns out to be the assertion that there are no morals (in however sophisticated way this may be expressed). This is true whether one begins with the Eastern pantheism or the new theology’s pantheism, or with the energy particle. With an impersonal beginning, everything is finally equal in the area of morals… Let in this position, we can talk about what is antisocial, or what society does not like, or even what I do not like, but we cannot talk about what is really right and what is really wrong” (pp. 22-23).

Statistical Ethics

In 1972 Schaeffer quoted Marshall McLuhan in reference to the idea that democracy was finished and in its place there would be coming a time in the global village when we will be able to wire everybody up to a giant computer, and what the computer strikes as the average at any given moment will be what is right and wrong. We might not be wired up to a giant computer, but most people today are wired up to the Internet. Thus if we begin with something impersonal, like Evolution, we end up with nothing more than “statistic ethics”, that is, something is right or wrong only because at least 51% of the people think it is. In fact, it is worse than that. Seeing that many people opt out, and many do not vote and others simply respond “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”, often something is right or wrong because 43% of a group says it is. Yet even unbelievers often do not accept statistical ethics. This was recently seen in the last election. The majority of people in the State of California said “no” to gay marriage, and this “statistical moral code” was not accepted by the homosexual community. Before we move on, we need to remind ourselves that God is obviously not into statistical ethics. Even if everyone contradicts something that God has said, God is still right (Romans 3:4). If the entire world stands against God and His eight followers, God and His eight followers are still right and the world is wrong (2 Peter 2:5). It is noteworthy that Abraham did not believe that truth was with numbers, rather he hoped that a small minority that was right could keep God’s judgment from destroying the city in which a loved one lived (Genesis 18:25-33).

What Man Really Believes

  • It is clear that men have always felt that things are right and wrong. “I am not talking about certain norms being right and wrong. All men have this sense of moral motions. You do not find man without them anywhere back in antiquity” (p. 23). We see such emotions in men like Abimelech, who said to Abraham, “You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (Genesis 20:9). 
  • Wherever you go, and whenever you live, you will find that people have definite feelings about various actions. In our modern society, people have strong feelings about perceived greed that has affected them or what they consider to be “torture” or “unjust”. Therefore, no one is an “true” relativist.

Man’s Attempted Answer for Man’s Cruelty

“There are two possibilities. The first is that man as he is now in his cruelty is what he has always intrinsically been: that is what man is. The symbol m-a-n equals that which is cruel, and the two cannot be separated” (p. 27). Yet there are a couple of problems with this point of view. First, we have too many examples of man not being cruel, and we ourselves have been the recipients of many acts of human kindness. We actually do see people living the precepts of Scripture (Galatians 5:22-24; 2 Peter 1:5-11), and history is filled with many examples of nobility (Hebrews, chapter 11). Second, if man was created by a personal God, and if man is inherently cruel, then how does one escape the conclusion that the Creator must be equally cruel? At this point Schaeffer notes that much of liberal theology in the West says something like, “’We have no answer for this, but let us take a step of faith against all reason and all reasonableness and say that God is good’. That is the position of all modern liberal theology… I have said that people who argue irrationality to be the answer are always selective about where they will become irrational… Suddenly men who have been saying that they are arguing with great reason become irrationalists at this point… The other tension that is immediately set up when people give this answer is to spin off in the opposite direction, towards making everything irrational. As they spin off towards irrationality, they ask, where do I stop?” (pp. 28, 29). Schaeffer also reminds us, “The difference between Christian thinking and the non-Christian philosopher has always been at this point. The non-Christian philosopher has always said that man is normal now, but biblical Christianity says he is abnormal now” (p. 31).

The Bible’s Answer

“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). This is one reason why Genesis, and respecting the historical integrity and inspiration of Genesis is so essential. Jesus certainly took Genesis seriously and used it as an essential reference point (Matthew 19:8 “but from the beginning it has not been this way”). Schaeffer rightly observes, “Often I find evangelicals playing games with the first half of Genesis. But if you remove a true, historic, space-time fall, the answers are unfinished. It is not only that historic, biblical Christianity as it stands in the stream of history is gone, but every answer we possess in the area of morals in the area of man and his dilemma, is gone” (p. 35). Consider what we learn from taking Genesis seriously:

  • Man was created good, by a good and loving God (Genesis 1:26), and there is an answer for man’s cruelty (Ephesians 4:24ff), that does not shift the blame to God.
  • Man is now cruel, because man decided to rebel against his Creator (Genesis 3), and this rebellion was completely unreasonable.
  • Yet the good Creator immediately provided man with a path back to goodness (Genesis 3:15; 4:1ff).
  • Man has an eternal Creator, therefore man’s reference point for who he is and what is right and wrong will only be found in His Creator. “Plato was entirely right when he held that unless you have absolutes morals do not exist. Here is the complete answer to Plato’s dilemma; he spent his time trying to find a place to root his absolutes but he was never able to do so because his gods were not enough. But here is the infinite-personal God who has a character from which all evil is excluded (1 John 1:5; Titus 1:2), and so His character is the moral absolute of the universe” (p. 33).
  • We therefore have a real ground for fighting evil, including social evil and social injustices. “Modern man has no real basis for fighting evil, because he sees man as normal… But the Christian has – he can fight evil without fighting God. He has the solution… we can fight evil without fighting God, because God did not make things as they are now – as man in his cruelty has made them… These are abnormal, contrary to what God made, and so we can fight the evil without fighting God” (p. 32).
  • Finally we can fight evil or abhor evil (Romans 12:9), without abhorring ourselves or man in general. Seeing that evil is not inherently part of us, we can love people and see them for what they could become if they would only come back to their Creator.

Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ

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