Threads of a Redeemed Heart
One of the cardinal distinctions of the Judeo-Christian worldview versus other worldviews is that no amount of moral capacity can get us back into a right relationship with God. Herein lies the difference between the moralizing religions and Jesus’s offer to us. Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive. __________ Taken from The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives by RAVI ZACHARIAS. Copyright © 2007 by Ravi Zacharias. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation. __________ Some years ago, I read an article in an in-flight magazine on the subject of ethics. It began with a provocative story undoubtedly designed to instantly gain the attention of the reader. It worked. The writer described a man aboard a plane who propositioned a woman sitting next to him for one million dollars. She glared at him but pursued the conversation and began to entertain the possibility of so easily becoming a millionaire. The pair set the time, terms, and conditions. Just before he left the plane, he sputtered, “I—I have to admit, ma’am, I have sort of, ah, led you into a lie. I, um, I really don’t have a million dollars. Would you consider the proposition for just—ah, say—ah, ten dollars?” On the verge of smacking him across the face for such an insult, she snapped back, “What do you think I am?” “That has already been established,” he replied. “Now we’re just haggling over the price.” I have to admit that when I read this little anecdote, I felt more disgusted with the man who did the propositioning than with the woman who was propositioned. I sensed something mean-spirited about the man who made the offer. He obviously had set her up for the kill. It seemed like one of those manufactured stories where you start with the endgame in view and move backward to the start. But as I reflected on the writer’s conclusion—namely, that everyone has his or her price—I questioned the assumption. While we all may have a price on some matters, I’m equally certain that there are other matters on which no price is right and no sum of money would cause one to budge. Would a man who truly loved his wife or his daughters sell them for a certain price? I think the answer is an overwhelming “absolutely not!” But then another thought entered my mind. What does one make of the charge that God himself has set up a scheme in human relations where the entire game is fixed? Perhaps Adam and Eve could not have resisted the wiles of the devil; perhaps sooner or later the fall would have ensued. Isn’t this the way it sometimes appears? First, it is, “Don’t look.” Then it is, “Don’t touch.” At least, that’s the way the skeptic frames the scheme. One form of desire or another would soon find the price match, and Adam or Eve would succumb. The garden may have changed, but the tantalizing trade-offs continue as we barter away our souls. This dreadful moral conflict rages within cultures and communities and within each human heart. What is this moral plan about anyway? How does God demand moral rectitude in the pattern he is weaving for you and me in the vast design of the universe, when it seems both impossible and artificial? The Systemic Difference The fundamental difference between a naturalist worldview and a religious worldview is the moral framework. While a naturalist may choose to be a moral person, no compelling rational reason exists why one should not be amoral. Reason simply does not dictate here. Pragmatism may, but reason alone doesn’t allow one to defend one way over another. Prominent Canadian atheist Kai Nielson said it well: We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that really rational persons unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.1Bertrand Russell admitted that he could not live as though ethical values were simply a matter of personal taste. That’s why he found his own views incredible. “I do not know the solution,” he concluded.2 Frederick Nietzsche also said as much: “I, too, have to end up worshipping at the altar where God’s name is truth.”3 While we cannot escape the moral “stranglehold” our moral bent puts us into, neither can naturalism explain either the inclination toward morality or the conclusion. So extreme a problem has this created for the naturalist that some have gone to great lengths to deduce even that there is no such thing as good or evil; all of us merely dance to our DNA. This sits very comfortably with them until they irresistibly raise the question of all the “evil” that religion has engendered. The debate gains rational grounds in the realm of religion, which is why it is critical to understand the similarities and foundational differences between various religions. In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment. In Hinduism, for example, every birth is considered a rebirth, and every rebirth is a means to pay for the previous life’s shortcomings. To make up for this obvious debit-and-credit approach, Hinduism established the caste system to justify its fatalistic belief. Karma is systemic to the Hindu belief. You cannot be a Hindu and dismiss the reality of karma. In Buddhism, while every birth is a rebirth, the intrinsic payback is impersonal because Buddhism has no essential self that exists or survives. Life is a force carried forward through reincarnations, and the day you learn there is no essential self and you quit desiring anything is the day that evil dies and suffering ends for you. The extinguishing of self and desire through a moral walk brings the ultimate victory over your imaginary individuality and your suffering. Karma is intrinsic to Buddhism as well, but there is a different doctrine of self at work. While in Hinduism every birth is a rebirth, in Buddhism every birth is a rebirth of an impersonal karma. Only the best of Buddhist scholars are even qualified to discuss these very intricate ideas. In Islam, the system of tithing, the tax system, the way women are clothed—all the way to the legal structure and the ultimate punishment reserved for apostasy—express the moral framework in which this religion operates. Even then, heaven is not assured (which, ironically, is sensuous in its experience). Only Allah makes the decision about whether an individual gets rewarded with heaven. In the early days of Israel’s formation, moral imperatives extended to every detail of life. Hundreds of laws covered everything from morals to diet to ceremony.In short, while moral rectitude differs in its details, it is, nevertheless, a factor in determining future blessing or retribution. For the most part, both theistic and pantheistic religions conveyed that idea. But for the later Hebrews and, in turn, the Christians, two realities make a crucial systemic and distinguishing difference. First and foremost, God is the author of moral boundaries, not man and not culture. Here, Islam and Judaism find a little common ground, at least as the basis. But there the superficial similarities end because the two differ drastically on the very possibility of ascribing attributes to God, the idea of fellowship with God, the entailments of violating his law, and the prescription for restoration. God is so transcendent in Islam that any analogical reference to him in human terms runs the risk of blasphemy. The book of Genesis, on the other hand, shows God in close fellowship with his human creation. It also gives numerous possibilities to the first creation, with just one restriction: no eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve violated that restriction, the second injunction took effect: they were not to eat the fruit from the tree of life. When you look carefully at those two boundaries, one following the other, you understand what is going on. Eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil basically gave humanity the power to redefine everything. God had given language, identification, and reality to humankind. He imparted to humans the power to name the animals. But essential to the created order was a moral framework that the creation was not to name or define. This was the prerogative of the Creator, not of the creation. I believe that this is what is at stake here. Does mankind have a right to define what is good and what is evil? Have you never heard this refrain in culture after culture: “What right does any culture have to dictate to another culture what is good?” Embedded in that charge is always another charge: “The evil things that have happened in your culture deny you the prerogative to dictate to anyone else.” Anyone living at the time and old enough to recall will never forget the outrage of some members of the media when President Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” or when President George W. Bush branded three nations as forming an “axis of evil.” Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, in the meantime, remained well within his own comfort zone when he pronounced the United States as a “satanic power,” according to the same members of the media. Such moralizing goes on, always with the same bottom line: “Who gives whom the right to pronounce the other evil?” I have heard this question countless times. The very word “morality” has become a lightning-rod theme. “Who is to say what is good? How audacious that anyone should lay claim to an absolute!” This lies at the core of our entire moral predicament, and it is truly fascinating, isn’t it? But we find an interesting twist here, because this selective denial of absolutes in morality does not carry over into the sciences. The Contradictory Approaches In his book Glimpsing the Face of God, Alister McGrath points out an obvious truth that most miss.4 He uses the illustration of chemical formulas. Every molecule of water has two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The formula H2O remains true, no matter what race of people or what gender analyzes it. Can one really say, “It’s not fair to oxygen that there are two atoms of hydrogen in water; so to be fair, there should be two atoms of oxygen as well”? You can give two atoms of oxygen, if you want to—but if you drink it, it will bleach your insides (if not worse), because that would make it hydrogen peroxide and not water. Naming and actual reality have a direct connection in physics, even as they do in morality and in metaphysics. So the question arises, Why do we readily accept the restrictive absolutes of chemical structures but refuse to carry these absolutes into our moral framework? The answer is obvious: we simply do not want anyone else to dictate our moral sensitivities; we wish to define them ourselves. This is at the heart of our rejecting of God’s first injunction. It has very little to do with the tree and everything to do with the seed of our rebellion, namely, autonomy. We wish to be a law unto ourselves. Of course, we also wish to have control over the tree of life. We desire perpetual and autonomous existence—in effect, wanting to play God. Even though we did not author creation, we wish to author morality and take the reins of life. Combine the two attitudes, and it boils down to this: we want to live forever on our own terms. In the first chapter of this book, I referred to the address I delivered at a prestigious university on the subject “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” A professor of medical ethics from another university had the next presentation. It didn’t take long to sense that we were poles apart in our starting point. After listening to her views (neither medical nor ethical, it seemed to me, but rather just moral autonomy masquerading as science), she paid me the ultimate compliment. She said, “I have never met anybody with whom I have disagreed more.” So I chose to agree with her on that point. During the question and answer time that followed, a few things emerged. The first was her confident but naive optimism that, with all the tools in our hands, we could shape our future in genetics and engineer whatever we want to. She spoke in very altruistic terms about everything from the elimination of disease to the utilization of human cloning. Her arrogance, pathetic in its ignorance, added insult to injury when she gave not one whit of objective basis for what her ethical standards would be with regard to all of this. When the organizers opened the floor to questions, one woman stood and said to me, “I was very offended by your comment that the heart of humanity is evil.” Between the professor, who placed the power to live or die in human hands, and the questioner, who denied the depravity of the human heart, we had the garden of Eden in front of our eyes all over again. In Adam and Eve’s defense, they, at least, felt ashamed after they had made the wrong choice. By contrast, our brilliant contemporaries have a chest-out, clenched-fist audacity and think that by shouting louder their arguments become truer. I recall that Malcolm Muggeridge once said that human depravity is at once the most empirically verifiable fact yet most staunchly resisted datum by our intellectuals. For them, H2O as the formula for water is indisputable; but in ethics, man is still the measure—without stating which man. This is the fundamental difference between a transcendent worldview and a humanistic one. But the question arises as to what makes the Christian framework unique. Here we see the second cardinal difference between the Judeo-Christian worldview and the others. It is simply this: no amount of moral capacity can get us back into a right relationship with God. The Christian faith, simply stated, reminds us that our fundamental problem is not moral; rather, our fundamental problem is spiritual. It is not just that we are immoral, but that a moral life alone cannot bridge what separates us from God. Herein lies the cardinal difference between the moralizing religions and Jesus’ offer to us. Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive. Worldviews Apart A brief glance at the basis of the laws that have come down to us through religious history gives us a clue. The Code of Hammurabi, originating in Eastern Mesopotamia, is one of the oldest legal codes we have, dating back to about 2500 BC. In addition to the preamble and the epilogue, it contains 282 prescriptions for conduct dealing with a wide range of situations. The last of the codes reads as follows: “If a slave say to his master, ‘I am not your slave,’ if they convict him, his master shall cut off his ear.” About a thousand years after this came the Laws of Manu, considered an arm of Vedic teaching. This codebook begins by telling us how ten sages went to the teacher Manu and asked him what laws should govern the four castes. The response came in 2,684 verses covering several chapters. A few centuries later emerged the teachings of the Buddha, who rejected the caste system and built his prescription for conduct on “the four noble truths”: 1. the fact of suffering 2. the cause of suffering 3. the cessation of suffering 4. the eightfold path that can end suffering About a millennium later came Muhammad in the sixth century after Christ. His instructions came in the “five pillars [or injunctions]” of Islam: the Creed; the Prayers; the Tithe; the Fast; and the Pilgrimage (some add Jihad as the sixth). All of these are prescribed in specific ways. The injunctions address every detail imaginable. The Hadith (a narrative record of the sayings and traditions of Muhammad) became the basis of the practices and customs of all Muslims. Approximately fourteen centuries before Christ (scholars debate the exact date), the Hebrew people received the Ten Commandments. An extraordinary first line gives the basis of the Ten Laws: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2 – 3). To miss this preamble is to miss the entire content of the Mosaic law. It provides the clue to each of the systems of law that have emerged through time. Here the Hebrew-Christian worldview stands distinct and definitively different. Redemption precedes morality, and not the other way around. While every moral law ever given to humanity provides a set of rules to abide by in order to avoid punishment or some other retribution, the moral law in the Bible hangs on the redemption of humanity provided by God. Something else emerges with stark difference. If you notice, the moral law in the other legal codes separates people (the Laws of Manu, the caste system, the Code of Hammurabi with the slave/owner distinction). In Islam, the violator is inferior to the obedient one. By contrast, in the Hebrew-Christian tradition, the law unifies people. No one is made righteous before God by keeping the law. It is only following redemption that we can truly understand the moral law for what it is—a mirror that indicts and calls the heart to seek God’s help. This makes moral reasoning the fruit of spiritual understanding and not the cause of it. The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with our worship of God, while the next six deal with our resulting responsibilities to our fellow human beings. These commandments base a moral imperative on our spiritual commitment, first toward God and second toward humanity. This logic is unbreakable. We see the various components come into place—the exclusivity and supremacy of one God; the sacredness of his very name; the entanglement of means as they become ends in themselves; the sanctity of time as God gives it to us. Taken in a single dimension, the Ten Commandments show us the transcending reality of God’s existence and his distance from us. We cannot truly live without understanding this distance and who God is. Within this framework we learn that God blesses and judges, that his judgments can last generations from the deed, that his love deserves our ultimate pursuit, that worship is both timely and timeless. The human condition in and of itself cannot touch this reality. Any life that does not see its need for redemption will not understand the truth about morality. A Universe Framed When you look at the first book of the Bible, you begin to see very quickly what God meant when he pronounced his creation “good.” God intended to create something good so that his creation would display his very creative power and his communion goal. Those twin realities framed the universe. Human beings are born creators. They fashion their tools, discover new ways of doing things, find shortcuts, and revel in their new inventions. This genius reflects the very character of God and the capacity imbued by him to humanity. But here one also comes up against a serious challenge. Do boundaries have to be drawn, and do man’s goals have to fit within those boundaries? Recently, while sitting in the departure area of an airport, I read an advertisement that boasted, “No boundaries: Just possibilities.” A tantalizing thought indeed. Are there really no boundaries to anything? If no boundaries exist for me, does it follow that no boundaries exist for everyone else? The most fascinating thing about the created order is that God set but one stipulation for humanity. Once humanity violated that single rule and took charge, however, hundreds of laws had to be passed, because each injunction could die the death of a thousand qualifications through constant exceptions to the rule.The bane of my life is flying. I have to get on a plane at least two or three times a week. The wordiness of what we are not allowed to do while on board always intrigues me. The passenger hears that to tamper with, disable, or destroy the smoke detector in the bathroom of an airplane is a criminal offense. But could someone really destroy or disable it without tampering with it? The answer is yes, if it could be done without touching the device. But then again, the whole idea of tampering with the smoke detector really deals with its effectiveness in detecting smoke, doesn’t it? Ah, but that’s where we get into technicalities in a court of law. This manipulation of wording and morality lies at the core of all autonomy. The moral law will always stand over and above and against a heart that seeks to be its own guide. One of my colleagues in ministry recently told me of a visit he had made to a mutual friend in Cape Town, South Africa. As they were enjoying the evening together, they heard a huge crash. It took them a few moments to locate its source, and when they went outside, they saw in the front of their driveway a car that had been literally smashed off its undercarriage. Someone hurtling along at a high rate of speed had missed a turn and had run headlong into the parked car. The driver, however, had managed to speed off. My friends noticed a huge puddle of water at the scene and deduced that the fleeing culprit must have damaged his radiator and could not have gone far. So they jumped into their car and drove a hundred yards to a street corner. As they rounded the corner, they saw a steaming vehicle on the side of the road, with two teenagers standing alongside, looking shaken and bewildered and at a loss for what to do. It turned out that they had taken their dad’s brand-new, high-priced vehicle without his knowledge. My friend Peter, a very successful businessman, as well as a very tenderhearted follower of Jesus Christ, pulled over next to the young men. Seeing them so shaken, Peter said, “May I pray with you and ask God to comfort you and see you through this ordeal?” The young men looked rather surprised but nodded their heads. Peter put his hands on their shoulders and prayed for them. No sooner had Peter said his “Amen” than one of the young fellows said, “If God loves me, why did he let this happen to me?” Imagine the series of duplicitous acts that preceded that question, and you see the human heart for what it is. Did God set this boy up, or did the boy set God up? You see, when you understand that God determines the moral framework and that any violation of it is to usurp God, you learn that it is not God who has stacked the deck; the issue is our own desire to take God’s place.What Place, Then, for Morality? While at a conference in another country, I was approached by a young woman, who asked if she could talk to me privately. Once we found a couple of chairs and sat down to talk, I learned that she was miles away from the land of her birth and had lived through some horrendous experiences. She had a beautiful mother, but her father, as she worded it, did not have the same admirable looks. Through an arranged marriage, they had begun their lives together, but the father always resented his wife’s looks and the many compliments given to her, while none ever came his way. His distorted thinking took him beyond jealousy to fears that some man might lure her away, and so he made his plan to snuff out any such possibility. One day, he returned home, and while talking to his wife in their bedroom, he reached into his bag, grabbed a bottle of acid, and flung the contents into her face. In one instant, he turned his wife’s face from beautiful to horrendously scarred. He then turned and fled from the house. At the point of our conversation, two decades had gone by since mother and daughter had last seen him. The young woman, now in her twenties, had been a little girl when this tragic event took place, and yet the bitterness in her heart remained as fresh as the day she saw her mother’s face turned from beauty to ugliness—so hideous that it forced the little one to cover her own face so she wouldn’t have to see what had been done. But the story did not end there. Just a few days before our conversation, the mother, who had raised the family on her own, had heard from the husband who had deserted her. He was dying of cancer and living alone. He wondered if she would take him back and care for him in this last stage of his illness. The audacious plea outraged this young woman. But the mother, a devout follower of Jesus Christ, pleaded with her children to let her take him back and care for him as he prepared to die. In this story, we see all the elements of the human fall and the power of a redeemed heart. Morality alone would dictate that he gets what he deserves. A redeemed heart says, “Let me bind his wounds because what needs attention is his soul.” Morality alone says, “There is nothing reasonable in the man’s request.” The redeemed heart says, “The reason by which we live is the heart of mercy that does not keep a ledger.” Morality says, “It’s all about whether you think it’s right or not.” The redeemed heart says, “What would God have me do in this situation?” Morality says, “Make your own judgments.” The redeemed heart says, “Don’t make a judgment unless you are willing to be judged by the same standard.” In short, morality is a double-edged sword. It cuts the very one who wields it, even as it seeks to mangle the other. I have often wondered if many who name the name of Jesus have missed this truth. I think, too, that in missing this, we miss the larger point often hidden in what appears to be the main point. When we stand before God, it would not surprise me to find out that the real point of the story of the prodigal son was really the older brother; that the real point of the good Samaritan was the priest and the Levite who went on their way; that the real point of the women arriving first at the tomb was that the disciples hadn’t; that the real point of the story of Job was the moralizing friends. Those who play by the rules sometimes think that this is all there is to it and that they merit their due reward. Yet God repeatedly points out that without the redemption of the heart, all moralizing is hollow. In the garden it was not we who were set up but we who tried to set God up by blaming him for the situation and then wishing to redefine everything. Had we obeyed everything, we still would have lost if we had errantly concluded that we deserved what the garden offered. What, then, of the moral law in the believer? How does this work out in my own life? What place does the moral law have? The threads are many, the pattern complex—but the analysis is simple. Your moral framework is critical in the respect you show for yourself and your fellow human beings. Think of it as the coinage of your life and your day-to-day living. But this coinage has no value if it is not based on the riches of God’s plan for your spiritual well-being. Morality is the fruit of your knowledge of God, conscious or otherwise. But it can never be the root of your claim before God. Morality can build pride as well as philanthropy; true spirituality will never submit to pride. Having said all that, morality is still the ground from within which the creative spirit of art and other disciplines may grow. But if they grow to exaggerate who we are, then it is morality for morality’s sake. If it sprouts toward heaven, it points others to God. The moral law also serves as a profound reminder that in God there is no contradiction. The moral law stands as a consistent, contradiction-free expression of God’s character. If I violate this law, I bring contradiction into my own life, and my life begins to fall apart. This is why a humble spirit, as it honors God, realizes how near and yet how far it is from God. Point Others to the Source C. S. Lewis has a remarkable little illustration in his book The Screwtape Letters. The senior devil is coaching the younger one on how to seduce a person who hangs between belief and disbelief in the Enemy (the Enemy here being God). So the younger one sets to work on keeping this man from turning to God. But in the end, after all the tricks and seductions, the individual is “lost to the Enemy.” When the defeated junior devil returns, the senior one laments and asks, “How did this happen? How did you let this one get away?” “I don’t know,” says the young imp. “But every morning he used to take a long walk, just to be quiet and reflective. And then, every evening he would read a good book. Somehow during those books and walks, the Enemy must have gotten his voice through to him.” “That’s where you made your mistake,” says the veteran. “You should have allowed him to take that walk purely for physical exercise. You should have had him read that book just so he could quote it to others. In allowing him to enjoy pure pleasures, you put him within the Enemy’s reach.”5 Lewis’s brilliant insight applies to morality as well. Pure morality points you to the purest one of all. When impure, it points you to yourself. The purer your habits, the closer to God you will come. Moralizing from impure motives takes you away from God. Let all goodness draw you nearer, and let all goodness flow from you to point others to the source of all goodness. God’s conditions in the garden of Eden were not a setup, any more than the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was a setup or that the long journey to Egypt was a setup. God wants us to understand our own hearts, and nothing shows this more than the stringent demands of a law that discloses we are not God — and neither had we better play God. Once we understand this and turn to him, we find out the truth of what the psalmist wrote: “To all perfection I see a limit, but [the Lord’s] commands are boundless” (Psalm 119:96). True fulfillment and the possibility of boundless enjoyment come when we do life God’s way. When we do it our way, we only enslave ourselves. Some time ago, I was speaking at the University of South Queensland in Australia. It was shortly after the death of one of Australia’s great entertainers, Steve Irwin. I was answering the question of whether there is meaning in suffering and evil from the Christian worldview; flanking me were a Muslim scholar and the local president of the Humanist Association. A question came from the floor about Steve Irwin’s destiny. What did these worldviews have to say about this? The humanist’s answer was hollow, ignoring the issue of what happened after death: “Nothing really, just to celebrate a life now gone.” That was it. The Muslim said that Steve’s good deeds would be measured against his bad deeds. That was it — a balance in hand with weights. It really was a clever answer that dodged the real question. So I asked him, “Are you saying that all of his good deeds would usher him to paradise?” He was quite taken aback by my question and stated that I was introducing a different issue. And so it is in his faith. In response, I noted that, based on the teachings of Jesus, morality was never a means of salvation for anyone. The moral threads of a life were intended to reflect and honor the God we served; they are not a means of entering heaven. Why does a man honor his vows? Why does a woman honor her vows? Is it to earn the love of their spouse, or is it to demonstrate the sacredness of their love? True love engenders a life that honors its commitment. That is the role of obedience to God’s moral precepts—putting hands and feet to belief, embodying the nature of what one’s ultimate commitment reflects—the very character of God. Jesus said to let our lives so shine before people that they would glorify God as a result (see Matthew 5:16) — this is the end result of a life that takes the moral commands seriously. So how does one pull together the strings in this whole business of morals? Whatever you do, whether it be at work or in marriage, through your language or your ambitions, in your thoughts or your intents, do all and think all to the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31) and by the rules he has put in place — rules that serve not to restrain us but to be the means for us to soar with the purpose for which he has designed all choices. Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. __________ 1 Kai Nielson, “Why Should I Be Moral?” American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984), 90. 2 Bertrand Russell, “A Letter to The Observer,” October 6, 1957. 3 Cited in Philip Novak, The Vision of Nietzsche (Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1996), 11. 4 See Alister McGrath, Glimpsing the Face of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 39 – 40. 5 See C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 63 – 67.
In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment.
“Who gives whom the right to pronounce the other evil?” I have heard this question countless times. The very word “morality” has become a lightning-rod theme. “Who is to say what is good? How audacious that anyone should lay claim to an absolute!” This lies at the core of our entire moral predicament.
The question arises as to what makes the Christian framework unique. Here we see the second cardinal difference between the Judeo-Christian worldview and the others. It is simply this: no amount of moral capacity can get us back into a right relationship with God. The Christian faith, simply stated, reminds us that our fundamental problem is not moral; rather, our fundamental problem is spiritual.
In this story, we see all the elements of the human fall and the power of a redeemed heart. Morality alone would dictate that he gets what he deserves. A redeemed heart says, “Let me bind his wounds because what needs attention is his soul.” Morality alone says, “There is nothing reasonable in the man’s request.” The redeemed heart says, “The reason by which we live is the heart of mercy that does not keep a ledger.”