*This is a re-post of a facebook note I wrote when I was in college.
If the man in front of you drops a one hundred dollar bill, you give it back to him. If you run over an old woman with your car, you stop and help, no matter if you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter. You may be wondering where I am going with this. These choices seem obvious enough right? Well, that’s what I thought, but I sat deeply troubled and my mouth probably agape in my Ethics class recently as I listened to my peers denying, nay mocking these moral conclusions. I was astonished as one boy dressed down another for foolishly thinking that instilling principles of integrity in our children is more important than helping them get ahead because, of course, it’s our animal instinct to get ahead. You can also probably imagine my indignation as the pompous guy next to me turned to me and condescendingly said, “I already know what you’re going to choose” as the class began to deliberate over the pros and cons of saving the last surviving book of Shakespeare or a woman from a burning building.
As I sat there, I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell them they were wrong. I wanted to tell them that you should save a person over a book. You should tell the truth even if it costs you. You should give the man his one hundred dollar bill that he dropped. I wanted to cry out, “Have you all gone mad?!” And then I realized…they had. Scripture tells us that “The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live and afterward they join the dead.” Ecclesiastes 9:3 “ They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:18 Truth that is so evident, so resoundingly obvious to me is as foolishness to them. It has been revealed to me, but it has not been revealed to them. I cannot reason with them because their reason, the very way their minds perceive and operate is fundamentally messed up and in complete opposition to truth.
Underlying all of our disagreements about lying, and stealing, and killing, are two irreconcilable world views. All of it, all the copies of Shakespeare, all the injured old women, all the moral dilemmas we face in life can be reduced down to a single question: God or no God? Why should you save a woman over a book? Because it’s right. Why is right? Because human life is sacred. Why is human life sacred? Because it was created and sanctified by God, the holy God, the living God, the just and righteous God who will one day call all of us to account for our deeds on this earth. I can perceive this truth and recognize it as truth because I have been saved by grace and “transformed by the renewing of my mind.” Romans 12:2
It is not so for them. They are literally incapable of perceiving truth or even the madness and folly of their own beliefs. They live their lives with an egoist mindset. Survival, getting ahead, self-preservation are the foundation of their world view. Without a God or consequences for life, I suppose I can see how this makes sense. Yet, I can’t help but wonder…what exactly do they think they are preserving themselves for? They strive to gain everything, but they will lose it all. They grasp this life and all this world has to offer with everything they have, but to what end? We all meet the same fate. We leave this world as we entered it, empty-handed, and helpless. It is so blatantly obvious that it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Do they not perceive it? No. They do not due to the hardening of their hearts, but to me, the truth that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake will find it” Matthew 10:39 has never been more clearly perceived or resonant in my heart and mind.
As I witness all of the debates on what they have the nerve to call “Ethics”, I am, first of all, stunned by their lack of morals, perhaps more than I really should be. Then, I am prideful and eager to debate, particularly with the aforementioned pompous boy next to me, because I know what the truth is. I can see what they cannot, but then that fades when another realization sets in as I listen to my fellow students continue to mock those of us who dare to suggest that perhaps Ethics are not just about what is best for yourself. Yes, I am upset that they make such a mockery of my morals, but then I see that it goes deeper than that. It is not just me being scoffed at. They not only mock my ethical system, but they mock the very heart of Jesus. To deny oneself, to lay down your life for others, they condemn as foolishness. In that instant, I see what is really happening. They are spitting in His face, laughing at Him as He takes up His cross, their cross, paying their price.
It is then that all the pride and indignation dissipates and I am humbled as I realize that this is who we are and that I am not exempt from it. I am counted among the redeemed, but by His grace alone. If He had not deemed to reveal Himself and His truth to me, I know that I would be right there among the scoffers. This is in all the hearts of men, not only to deny God, but to disdain all that He is “for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 We are lost and sinful before His grace finds us and not only are we not seeking it, we are in fact, totally resistant to it. We laugh at it.
Through this, I see even more clearly the wonder of God’s love for “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 What manner of love is this? It is a love that has redeemed me, healed me, cleansed me, saved me from my own madness when I did not want to be saved nor was I worth saving. This is the love I am to extend to those in my Ethics class, to everyone I am in contact with. How often, in my own selfishness and pride, I fail to do this. Yes, I am called to defend my faith and to defend it well, and I am called to speak boldly, but first and above all else, I am called to love as I have been loved for I was once as they: stubborn, hardened, and in complete opposition to God.
With this deeper understanding, the Gospel is more powerful, grace more amazing and Romans 5:8 suddenly says much, much more to me. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,…” while our hearts were still hardened towards Him, while we were still lost in the utter madness of our ways, while we still denied, mocked, even hated everything that God is, “Christ died for us.” Surely, this is the true madness, the madness of His love.