I’m reading a book right now that has a young, idealistic guy determined to prove that he has what it takes to be an agent within an organization whose job it is to fight and bring to justice those who engage in illegal drug trafficking.
He often has to pose as a buyer and in the context of playing this role, he descends into a pit of depravity and moral darkness. And it’s not just due to the part that he must play, it’s also the manner in which reports are falsified and the culture within the agency that says the ends justify the means.
His story prompted a question in my mind: How does someone in that kind of position maintain a firm grasp on his morals? If a solid individual is capable of relinquishing his grip on the sense of right and wrong he grew up with, is it inevitable that a good person will be corrupted given the right set of circumstances?
I decided the answer to that question is “Yes.” A good person will be compromised if the only thing they have to default to when exposed to a consistent regimen of overtly wicked influences is the mere notion that says “people should play nice (see 1 Cor 15:33).”
On the other hand, that same person equipped with an Absolute that not only reinforces traditional moral boundaries, but provides that person with the power and the resolve to abide by them – now that person is capable of being honorable and moral regardless of the forces that seek to corrupt, weaken and destroy. And that Absolute is found in the Bible.
The Bible is relevant. I can rest assured that contained within those pages are guidelines that go beyond noble sentiments or preferred behaviors. Rather, I find the Absolutes that define right versus wrong.
The Bible is reliable. I can be confident that the Absolutes which are defined in Scripture apply to all people without exception. No one is exempt and however some may seem to escape justice or bend the rules a little bit believing that the ends justify the means, a day of reckoning will occur.
Both of these Truths are as significant as they are encouraging. The fact that we have access to a bottom line eliminates the subjectivity and moral relativism that inevitably leads to a sad and dark existence. Holding on to what is good and, more importantly, clinging to the Author of that which is good, results in a life characterized by Purpose, Peace and Power. Scripture is more than just a guide, it is God speaking, teaching and ultimately revealing that which is necessary in order to have a relationship with Him. That relationship gives you an advantage, it gives you an “edge” – the “edge” of God.
Getting On the Bus
You’re going to get on a bus that will take you to the airport. From there you’ll fly to Charlotte, North Carolina and then take another bus to Parris Island where you’ll begin your training in order to become a United States Marine. Just before boarding the bus en route to the airport, there is a representative from the Gideons handing out pocket New Testaments.
That’s the way it was for me as I began my journey to Boot Camp. It was two weeks after having graduated High School and now I was beginning the next chapter of my life. As I took the New Testament from the Gideon representative, I noticed how no one refused to take it. After all, how would that look – saying “No” to a guy who’s just trying to be nice? But I remember making a mental note of the cynicism that lurked beneath the cordial gestures of some of my counterparts as they stuffed their new Bible in their pocket. It was significant because before the end of Basic Training, many of those same cynics would be reading that same Bible in an effort to maintain an even disposition in the face of challenges that tested their psychological and physical limits.
What is it about a Bible that, in one moment, looks like the most inconsequential prop on the platform, and in the next moment, is positioned center stage and all eyes are on it? Why is it that some among my group of Marine recruits were sarcastic one minute and in the next were devouring even some of the most obscure passages, eagerly accepting the mysterious yet substantial crumbs of peace and strength as they proceeded from the pages of God’s Word?
Some will attempt to answer that question by insisting that in moments of duress, people will try anything and they’ll read into whatever they have available to them the help and assistance they’re needing. In other words: It’s all fiction, man. Reciting a Bible verse you learned as a kid at Vacation Bible School is no different than recalling a nursery rhyme that inspires memories of happier times.
Really? You want to try and convince me that the Bible is no more than a souvenir that you’ll refer back to when you want to think of your “happy place?”
In some ways, I get it. In many instances, Christianity has been handily reduced to a pathetic side show by those who are more interested in profit than they are Christ. And I’m not just talking about the obvious spectacles that portray godliness as sanitized smiles and dry cleaned wardrobes. I’m talking about anything that doesn’t accurately reflect the Reality and Power of God. But even when it’s veiled by the costumes and distracting theatrics, it’s still there and that is what has historically drawn people to the Bible, even when their guarded nature would tell them they’re wasting their time.
The Power of God
I like what Paul says in Romans:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
..and later to the folks at Corinth:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)
Do you remember that part in Scripture where a famished Jesus is being tempted by Satan to break His fast by turning some stones into bread? He quotes a passage out of Deuteronomy that was penned by Moses who was admonishing the Israelites not to forget the Lord. It’s in chapter 8. He starts off by reminding the Israelites how they had endured in the desert for forty years, living off of manna in order to teach them that life is not facilitated through nutrition as much as it is through the Power of God.
The Power of God.
That’s what people find in the Bible, even when they have to sort through all kinds of cultural and personal obstacles to get to it.
And while we all need it, I’m confident that one of the reasons the Gideons make a point of having someone there to hand out Bibles to servicemen as they’re making their way to Boot Camp is because the Power of God becomes even more critical when the lights of normalcy and ethical behavior are dimmed by the shadows of unrestrained evil. Not that Boot Camp is evil, although you can find it there from time to time depending on the way some respond to the rigors of training. The “unrestrained evil” I’m talking about is what some will encounter should they be deployed.
The Reality of “Evil”
George W. Bush was criticized for using that word when the “War on Terror” began. In the speech he gave in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he said:
Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could. (http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/bush.speech.text/ [http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2001-11-28/news/0111280366_1_evil-osama-bin-bin-laden])
When you get right down to it, there are two forces in the world: good and evil. And if you want to distill it down to something even more rudimentary, it’s God and Satan. Rarely do you see those lines more clearly drawn then in combat or in instances of violent crime.
Responding to those situations with nothing more than a traditional belief that people should be nice, can result in a disillusioned and troubled mindset. Confronted with a consistent visual diet of combatants or criminals that have no regard for human life accompanied by a total lack of forethought or remorse- the seemingly immutable can give way to that which is relative and it can become hard to know who’s right and what’s wrong.
Some will scowl when you assert the Bible as a solid and reliable resource to refer to when reaching out for a firm moral foundation that can be used to reinforce your resolve and evaluate your conscience, especially when confronted with the realities of war or law enforcement. But neither the pages of Scripture, nor the testimonies of grounded believers who have experienced those kinds of situations give that kind of mental disposition any credence.
The Bible is Relevant
First of all: Scripture relevant. The Bible provides clear and applicable Truths that readily apply to the fact that there is a right and there is a wrong.
John 17:17 has Jesus praying and at one point He says:
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (Jn 17:17 [)
He’s reiterating the fact that God’s Word is the singular Source and Authority when it comes to defining whether or not a particular thing is either good or evil.
Not opinion, not preference. Truth – the bottom line.
Psalm 19 does a great job as far as defining Scripture as the Ultimate Commentary on right and wrong. Beginning in verse 7 it says,
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, then honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. It consists of 22 parts that coincide with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is eight verses long and the beginning part of each section starts with that particular section’s letter.
It’s very laid out, very poetic and very significant in the way it celebrates and defines God’s Law as being perfect and the Definitive Resource to consider when attempting to discern the difference between good and evil.
In the second section, beginning in verse 9, he writes:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9,11)
He goes on in verse 89 and describes God’s Law as “eternal” and in verse 96, he refers to it as “boundless.” In verse 130 and 137, he says:
136Your statues are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.137Righteous are you, O Lord, and your laws are right. The statues you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. (Ps 119: 136-137)
Some will become somewhat indignant when presented with Old Testament Law, insisting that it has no contemporary application and they have what sounds like a logical argument when they point to some of the laws pertaining to the way in which you were to dress and eat.
While not all of the Old Testament Law can fit neatly into one particular category, there are nevertheless three broad categories of God’s Law: Moral, Civil and Ceremonial. The Civil Law was given specifically to Israel and intended to distinguish her from her pagan counterparts in the way she regulated her outward appearance and behavior. The Ceremonial Law pertained to the way in which you were to worship.
With the death and resurrection of Christ, God instituted an entirely new paradigm. While the Jews were, and are still, God’s chosen people, with the death and resurrection of Christ, it’s now not so much about Israel as much as it is about the church (see Psalm 147:18 and Matthew 21:42-43). Hence, the Civil Law has been retired in that God’s people are now distinguished by the Spirit of God in their hearts as opposed to a code designed to shape their outward behavior (see Jer 31:33-34). Likewise, the Ceremonial Law is outdated because we no longer require the repeated sacrifice of animals to atone for our sin, rather we have the “once and for all” sacrifice of Christ (see 1 Pet 3:18).
The Moral Law, however, is still applicable. While a sinful act may not be punished in the same way, the act in question is still considered a departure from that which is moral and good.
So, regardless of how circumstances or cultural trends may attempt to challenge God’s Final Say as far as what is right and wrong, it’s Scripture and Scripture alone that provides the Standard that we do well to abide by. And those that stand against the criminals and the tyrants can stand tall knowing that the standard they champion goes beyond “Truth, Justice and the America Way.” Rather, it is the Absolute upon which that standard is based.
The Bible is Reliable
Secondly, while God’s Word is relevant it’s also reliable. By that I mean you can rest assured that regardless of how removed Scripture may appear to be from a practical standpoint, the wicked are wrong and they will reap what they sow.
There are instances where evil individuals seem to operate above the law and any attempt to bring them to justice appears to be an exercise in futility. But you can rest assured that regardless of how they may escape an earthly form of justice, there’s no avoiding the accounting of your actions you will have to give to God on the day of Judgment.
You’ll hear that sentiment articulated by people whose moral stance has been so overshadowed by the empirical appearances of a situation, they’ll play the “God card” as a way to avoid having to legitimately defend the fact that Justice is inevitable . And that’s a shame because the fact that the wicked seem to prosper and “get away with murder” is a theme that’s substantially addressed in Scripture. God’s Word makes it clear that their prosperity is temporary at best and the judgment that is coming is as inescapable as it is dramatic.
Psalm 73 is written by Aspah, a Levite and a well known choir director (1 Chron 15:19; 25:1-2). During the first part of his song, he struggles with the way in which the wicked seem to prosper. He goes into great detail about how they’re arrogant and “put on violence like a garment” which is verse 6. That same verse is translated by “The Message” as “… they wear the latest fashions in violence.” These are vile individuals and Asaph is bothered by the fact that they seem to be wealthy and content.
But in verse 18, he sees the way in which they are viewed by God as people who will be judged and will be punished. Take a look:
12This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. 13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. 15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! 20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. (Psalm 73:12-20)
However normal or convenient wrongdoing may appear, it is a cancer that will prove lethal on the day of reckoning and that day will occur.
Proverbs 11:21 says:
Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered. (Prov 11:21 [see also Prov 12:7])
This applies to not only the military targets and the criminals that have to be opposed, but also to the ones in uniform who may be tempted from time to time to engage in cruelty and morally reprehensible acts insisting that the ends justify the means.
Understand I’m not referring to strategy or tactics as much as I’m referring to war crimes or the equivalent to war crimes in the context of law enforcement.
Aggressive policies are necessary in combat. The more ruthless your enemy, the more direct and effective your strategy needs to be. But there’s a difference between being effective and being dishonorable. The thing that distinguishes you from your enemy is not just your motive, but also your standard. Honor seeks to restore and not just destroy. Compassion extends grace to the enemy that’s willing to surrender and charity recognizes the difference between the ideal you’re fighting for and the father, the brother or the son you’re poised to destroy.
It is this collection of Biblically based standards that prevents a soldier from becoming the tyrant he wars against. It’s more than a code – again, it’s Truth (see Ex 23:4; Dt 20:10-12; Rom 12:20). And because it’s a holy command, it takes a hold of your soul, rather than just appealing to your conscience (see Psalm 51:16).
We will all answer for our actions:
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Rev 20:13-14)
Both those who stand against wickedness and those who perpetuate it – we all will be held up to the light of God’s Perfect Standard and be required to answer for what we did or did not do.
Revelation 20:13-14 says :
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Rev 20:13-14)
It’s not fiction, it is the Truth. My behavior and your behavior will one day be held up to the light of God’s Standard. No one will be able to measure up to that Standard and it will only be one’s previous acceptance of God’s grace that will result in a positive verdict. But however that grace is dispensed, the fact of the matter is that there is a Perfect, Moral Absolute and it will be the basis for the judgment that will occur on the day when the dead are judged.
The Conclusion of the Matter
So there you have it! There is a right and a wrong and regardless of how some will insist that they constitute an exception to the rule and they don’t have to abide by the moral Absolutes in Scripture, King Solomon articulated a great bottom line that very effectively refutes that sentiment when he said:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc 12:13-14 [see also 1 Samuel 16:7; Prov 24:8-12])
But the Bible is more than just a code. The Purpose of Scripture is not merely to reveal the difference between right and wrong. Rather, it is to bring to light the Reality of a relationship with God through Christ that is both possible and necessary.
While we’re capable of keeping up appearances to a certain degree, the authentic righteousness that truly resonates with God is an impossibility from a human standpoint. Our inclination to be tempted and corrupted is more than a mere vulnerability, it is a hopeless condition that prevents us from being able to enjoy all that God would otherwise make available to us (see Rom 6:23).
But the good news is that He has made a way that allows us to be transformed into a person that’s not only moral, rather they’re legitimately holy. It goes beyond how you act, instead His Power and Grace effects a change that completely alters who you are (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20).
That change translates to an honorable life on earth and, more importantly, a life beyond our obituary characterized by the kind of joy and peace you can’t even begin to put your mental arms around (see Lk 23:43; Jn 14:2; 2 Cor 12:3).
And that’s what makes the “edge” of God so significant. It’s not just about what we accomplish here on earth. It’s not just about being honorable. It’s about an eternal existence that makes our life here on earth pale in comparison.
That’s something to look forward to. It’s more than just a Resource that we have access to, it’s not merely an advantage over the forces that would otherwise compromise us. It’s an “edge.” The “edge” of God.