Saturday, May 10, 2008

Violence vs. Moral Truth

It's been interesting listening to the commentary from all fronts regarding the release of the new best-selling video game of all time, Grand Theft Auto IV. This latest release takes the game to a new level of graphical clarity, as well as a new level of death and destruction. For the first time, players can see the fear and the pain in the expressions on the faces of those they are running down and killing with their cars. Sounds like great fun for little Jimmy and Susie.

But my point is not about the appropriateness of Grand Theft Auto, but rather about the comments and reactions to its release that have been in the media. Most of the secular pundits are decrying the violence in the game and the effect this will have on the people playing the game. The term that keeps echoing over and over is violence. But this is just the latest round of this constant reaction we keep hearing against violence. When school or university shootings have occurred, the term most used to denounce them in the media is violence. When terrorists attack and set off bombs or other forms of mayhem, the violence of these attacks is condemned. When the US military goes on the offensive against the perpetrators of these acts, their response is referred to in terms of violence. When kids in the schoolyard get in fights and bully one another, it is referred to as violence. When domestic squabbles between husband and wife get ugly, it is described as domestic violence. When drive-by shootings occur on a daily basis in our largest cities, we are reminded of the violent nature of these acts. When heinous criminals are executed by the criminal justice system, the executions are referred to as violence. In short and in summary, we are given a constant message: we must stop the violence.

Now, I don't support violent behavior any more than anyone else. We live in an increasingly violent society. But all of these examples I've given have a moral aspect to them, don't they? The violence that is part of these situations has a moral component of either being motivated by evil, or being motivated by good, that is completely left out of the secular view. The focus become the violence itself, and not the moral rightness or wrongness behind the violent acts. Acts of violence done by terrorists and criminals and domestic abusers are morally wrong, evil and sinful. But by the same token, violent acts done by police in restraining crime, or the military in preserving justice and freedom, or by the state in punishing murderers, are motivated by moral rightness.

But our postmodern secular society is so unwilling, indeed unable, to see and refer to these or any other acts in moral terms. The concepts of evil and righteousness have been abandoned in our public discourse. In fact, those are moral categories that most of our society don't even hold to or believe exist. So when we cast off absolute moral judgements of what is right and good and what is wrong and evil, what are we left with? Only negotiable virtues or preferences. Only personal or preferred "values", as recently pointed out by Al Mohler. We lose the ability and the will to speak in moral terms, and in place of the language of right and wrong we get the kind of values-based drivel that we hear all the time. And in the case of acts of violence, since they are given no moral framework to be evaluated in, they are all equivalent based on the value judgments of the media and the secular elite.

But they forget that the reason we in fact do live in such a violent world is that we have set ourselves adrift from the moral moorings that are inherent in the world and in the nature of man. The moral absolutes that are a reflection of the character of God, that we all still retain in our consciences because we are created in His image, the moral standards revealed in His word and expressed personally in His Son. Even though we are fallen and depraved apart from Christ, we are as Paul says in Romans 2:14-15, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." But rather than respond to this innate understanding of moral categories, we instead suppress it. And the result is the same as expressed in Judges 21:25, where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This is precisely the situation we have today. In the place of thinking and speaking in categories of what is morally and absolutely right and wrong, we have loosed ourselves from these eternal and fixed points of truth and are left with nothing but negotiable and pragmatic values. Not what's right, but what seems best, what works best.

But how can secular values proponents make even these kind of judgments apart from some moral framework? Stating that one value, for example non-violence, is "best" is in itself a moral judgment. Even those who reject categorically absolute moral standards still have a sense of rightness and wrongness. It's built into the fabric of all of us, even those who suppress this knowledge of righteousness that God has built into us. I find it ironic that these secular cultural elites are attempting to build consensus on what values are best, for example avoiding violence. In doing so, they are guilty of the same thing they accuse Christians of doing - imposing their "values" on others. But doing so without a basis of moral truth is an exercise in futility.

We of all people as those who have trusted in the One who is Truth, Jesus Christ, are the only ones even remotely equipped to speak moral truth into this chaos. Indeed, when we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that's precisely what we're doing. The Gospel cuts to the heart of false value systems and exposes the realities of sin and righteousness, of good and evil. It shows us that the God who created us is infinitely righteous, and that we as fallen creatures are infinitely sinful. It speaks the truth of the justice that God demanded being satisfied in Christ on the cross, a horrific act of violence that was in fact the most morally right thing in eternal history. And it speaks of the restoration of personal righteousness for all who trust in Him. Which then gives us a basis for understanding real ethical and moral truth. Not founded on pragmatic values, but rather on eternal truths. We are the bearers of moral truth to a morally confused world. One morally confused and eternally lost person at a time.

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