Summary: Morality is not just an arbitrary abstraction. God is hurt by what we do, and we ourselves are hurt by immoral behavior. But God in Christ can give us a new heart.
I am a part of a group of five ministers who get together about once a month as a support group. Our intent is simply to share what is going on in our lives and let the others comment with any wisdom they may have.
At the last meeting of the group, one of the members was talking about the way he was treated by the members of his church. He observed that the ones he had the hardest time with were the elderly ladies. Try as he might, he said, whatever he did always seemed to be misunderstood by the elderly women in the congregation. The men understood him; he felt good about the youth; he gloried in the young adults; but no matter what he said or did, somehow it seemed that the elderly women in the church took it wrong or got their feelings hurt.
As we tossed that one around a bit, one of the other members of the group, who is a professional counselor, suggested an answer. She said, "It sounds like you are trying to get your mother’ s approval. It’s not so much that you have a culture clash or a values conflict with elderly women. It’s that you are trying to get your mother’s approval. Maybe you never did get it when you were a child."
Well, that made for a very productive discussion. The pastor who had first presented this problem admitted that when he was a child, his mother had usually communicated to him only in snippy, irritated commands; that when he had been a teenager, she had made him feel like a little child; and that when he wanted to get married, she had communicated her disapproval of his marriage, his bride, the whole business. And he was still working on pleasing her or people who reminded him of her.
Yes, it is true, that what we do so often hurts somebody. And it may not always be our fault; but somebody does get hurt by so much of what we do. Most of us have some group to which we answer, some person or some group to which we feel responsible. A small child answers to his parents and a little later to his teacher, and there is nothing more important in all the world to little children than that they not hurt these important big folks. Has there ever been a first grade boy that did not have a crush on his teacher? Pleasing these people and not hurting them is important.
And teenagers have their peer groups and young adults their spouses and so on. Many of us, most of us, are driven in our behavior by making certain that we do not hurt those who mean something to us.
In fact, you can tell when a person’s behavior is turning sick when he or she no longer cares about what others feel. That’s called a sociopath -- a person who just doesn’t care at all what anybody feels or whether anybody gets hurt by what they do. Sociopaths tie up their victims with duct tape and execute them out on the streets because they do not care in the least if anybody else is hurt by what they do.
I submit to you that what many of us, when we make moral decisions, forget this. What I hear is, "What I do is nobody’s business but my own." I may not hear us saying, "I’ll just go out and take somebody’ s life", but I do hear us saying, ’’What I do is nobody’s business but my own". And there isn’t much difference. I may not hear any of us suggesting, "I don’t care what anybody else feels", but I do hear us saying, "What does it matter what I do as long as no one gets hurt."
And I want to answer that by insisting that when we drop off the deep end, somebody does get hurt, even if we don’t think so. I want to counter the question, ’’What does it matter what I do as long as nobody gets hurt?" by suggesting to you that there are some very jmportant somebodies who do get hurt by immoral and unthinking behavior.
Jeremiah, God’s prophet, stood in the middle of the city of Jerusalem about 609 BC, watching the people come and go and do their thing. Their king, Josiah, had restored the Temple and had rediscovered God’s law. Not only had he rebuilt the house of worship, but, more important, he had brought to light and personally pledged to keep the laws of life which God gave and which you and I know as the Ten Commandrnents. All of this excited Jeremiah.
But what Jeremiah saw as he stood there in the Temple square was a very disturbing business. He saw plenty of men and women going into the Temple to attend services and to offer sacrifices and to sing psalms, the whole bit -- but he also saw what they did on the outside of the Temple. He saw adultery and murder, he saw theft and idolatry, he watched them perjure themselves and cheat one another -- and he fairly exploded! Let me share his own words: