When I was a teenager there was a book floating around in Christian circles about situational ethics with the title “It All Depends.”
I still remember the title because I think even in my youthful state I could not understand a philosophy that seemed to have no hard and fast rules. In my memory I have falsely added the intensifier “really to “all depends”, probably because my mind mocks the philosophy of situational ethics.
In short, this system of thought states that what is moral is decided not by law, but through a consideration of the entire circumstances at hand. The ultimate goal is to respond in love.
In principle this idea of doing the “loving” thing sounds good to me. I have grown a lot since my teen years and know that not everything is cut and dried or is as it seems.
In the recent days of political upheaval in the US. there have been calls for loving each other by our president and even sports stars like Lebron James. I see nothing wrong with that idea. As a believer in Jesus I see it as totally biblical. I even thought of it myself in trying to determine how we should respond to each other in the midst of all the chaos in our country.
But love is such an abstract idea. To have any foundation, it also needs to be combined with truth. Pastor John Piper says that truth and love support each other. “Truth aims at love” and “love aims at truth,” he writes.
As I noted in my last post, truth in American society seems to have been thrown out the window. We live in a nation in which emotion and personal beliefs rule the day.
Piper writes,”Truth shapes how we show love.” If we attempt to show love based only on how we feel and believe, the consequences may not truly be loving.
Because truth has been dispensed with, we are being governed in our decision making today but a gutted situational ethics. People just do what they seem to think is right.
We’ve seen the extremes of this with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Identity politics has reached even the majority. What has been deemed abominable in the last part of the 20th century, i.e., the putting down of people based on their color, is rising again.
On some college campuses the previously put upon African-American minority is also calling for a return to the bad old days of segregation, albeit for different reasons then those which motivated Jim Crow laws. These students just want to feel safe.
Both of these extremes are motivated by personal beliefs and emotion. A dose of truth serum is needed in the mix if we are to show true love. Piper writes that “truth shapes love.”
I am informed about the nature of truth by one of the foundations of Western civilization: The Ten Commandments. They are pretty straightforward. It’s difficult to quibble with “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not murder.”
I think I am on the right track here in my pursuit of genuine love. Piper tells me that John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote that we show God’s love when we keep His commands.
“So John tells us some truth will help us know if our acts are loving,” writes Piper. “One truth test of love is if we are keeping the commandments of God towards people.”
Even so, it is hard to apply such commands in our own relationships in today’s times. It helps to get some insight from people who have thought deeply about the meaning of these truths.
Currently a place I am finding such wisdom is in a book called “To Be a Christian.” Its a catechism produced by the Anglican Church.
In one section is provides some practical advice on how to keep the Ten Commandments and some ways we can violate them.
For example, it expands on the command to honor your father and mother by stating a principle that we should honor the aged and submit to our teachers, pastors and directors. The catechism also calls for respecting tradition and civil authorities.
I haven’t seen much respect given towards civil authorities in the news this week. In fact, what I have seen in the media is rioting, destruction of property and the killing of police officers.
Jesus expanded on the truth of what it means to murder. He said we break this commandment when we are angry with others. The catechism does say that there is a place for proper anger, but that for the most part that our anger is motivated by things that are not right.
If there is one adjective that can be used to describe a lot of Americans today, it is the term “angry.”
I would maintain that the only way we are ever going to love one another and thus heal our nation is by returning to God and His universal truth. Relying solely on situation ethics, sentiment, feelings, personal opinions and some undefined concept of love is not cutting it.