Tag Archives: Ethics

Why is the Incarnation Significant? – Part 2 – The Ultimate Example

The idea of following in the steps of Jesus captures the attention of mystics, sages, skeptics, and scholars alike.  If you or I were to ask the average person on the street what they thought about Jesus Christ, certainly they would almost universally say that they believed Him to be a good man or a great moral teacher.  But the perspective of humanity cuts off the man Jesus at His knees.  For, you see, to call Jesus a “good man” falls ever so short of what He really was.  Imagine that you were to have a conversation with Bono or Lady Gaga or Yo-Yo Ma in which you told them that you felt that they were a “good musician.”  Failure to use the superlative when interacting with one who deserves a superlative is not a compliment, it is an insult.  When dealing with the Jewish carpenter, we ought not to carry on with this thought of His being a good man.  We ought to refer to Him as “the good man.”  The historical record does not allow us to do any different.

And it is to this end that the incarnation moves.  All through the ages leading up to the incarnation, the dictates of God were preserved in the Law.  The psalmists and the prophets ascribed great value to the Law as it was critical to their direction and living.  The Law taught man what God expected, but Jesus Christ showed men how to live what God expected in action and in motive.  For those who follow after Christ, no greater responsibility, no greater joy exists than to walk as our Lord walked (1 John 2:6).

But I tend to think that there is more to this walking in the steps of Jesus than we often would like to admit.  For proof I offer the testimony of the Apostle Peter.  Not long after Peter’s great confession, Jesus starts talking about dying and Peter tells Him off.  Jesus fires back at Peter “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).  Jesus is calling Peter to walk like Him, and by this He means that Peter and all of His other disciples must take up crosses.  Peter heard Jesus explain that in the kingdom of God, loss=gain, losing=finding, gaining=forfeiting, and a cross=glory.  What a bizarre thought!  Finally, towards the end of his life, the Apostle Peter speaks to the churches of Asia and elaborates on this idea.  Peter told the Christians who were about to suffer the worst persecution they had ever known that they were called to follow in Christ’s steps (1 Peter 2:21).  By this Peter meant far more than just going around and doing good things.  Peter meant that they ought to be ready to follow in the example of the suffering of Jesus Christ.  Peter goes on to expand on the point that Jesus made to him those years ago.  He lays out the following paradigm:

Christ suffered and was glorified (1:11).

Christ suffered and will be glorified (5:1).

When we suffer rightly, God is glorified (4:16).

We share in Christ’s sufferings, but will also in His glory (4:13; 5:10).

Only in the plan of God can trial (1:7), death (1:21), slander (2:12), or defamation (4:14) lead to glory.  But this is the path that Jesus walked (Philippians 2:5-8, 9-11) and it is the path that we are called to walk.  The incarnation introduces the good man from Whom our entire ethical paradigm ought to be shaped, but further, Jesus Christ, in the incarnation, gives us a pattern for suffering.  Without the incarnation we would have no example of how to live morally even in times of intense suffering.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Existence of Morality

One of the oddities of the human animal is his sense of morality.  Right and wrong.  Moral compass.  Conscience.  Call it what you want, a sense of morality spans the breadth of humanity.  Over the past few centuries a number of philosophers have attempted to deny or question the existence of this moral sense.  I’ve decided to collect some thoughts (mostly distilled from a number of writers) on the matter.

1. Why does it bother me when someone wrongs me?  I can argue that there is no morality innate within humanity, but as soon as someone harms my wife, loots my home, or puts me out of work I feel that I have been wronged.  Simply put, if there is no right or wrong, why do I get offended when someone hits my vehicle with a shopping cart while I’m in the store and they don’t even bother leaving a note?

2. Why do I not do whatever I want when nobody is watching?  Think of a time in your life when you have done something good (or not done something bad) when no one was looking.  Maybe you found a wallet full of cash and sought out the owner to see that it was returned.  Why did you do that?  There were no public consequences that demanded that you return the wallet.  You did it because something told you that it was right.  Why?

3.  Why do I find certain things inherently evil?  9/11, the holocaust, human trafficking, racism, etc.  Why do these ideas conjure thoughts of anger and a desire that the perpetrators be punished?  Why does it seem unfair that Hitler was able to kill 10-11 million in the holocaust, but died quietly from a cyanide capsule in his teeth?  Why do our hearts cry out for justice beyond the grave for people like that?

4. Why do I experience guilt?  Do you remember when you told your first lie, cheated on your first test, or mistreated your parents?  Do you remember how it made you feel?  Why does it bother you when someone catches you in a lie?  Why do we even tell lies to begin with?  There seems, to me, to be no good biological reason for such a feeling, especially as it often contradicts what would naturally be in our best interests.

5. Why do I make moral judgments about seemingly minor issues?  Your Christian neighbor goes to church and dresses nice, but you can hear him yelling at his kids at night.  We see this and call him a hypocrite.  Your friend cheats on his spouse.  We see this and judge him as a cheater.  Interestingly enough, we avoid judging ourselves by the same standard.  When we play nice to the boss and then waste time on the clock, we don’t see ourselves as hypocrites.  We tell ourselves that we put in enough time this week, so a little personal time is okay.  When we cheat on our taxes, we don’t see ourselves as cheaters.  We tell ourselves that the government has plenty of money and that we deserve our hard-earned cash.

6. Why do I stand in the way of human progress for the sake of morality?  In other words, philosophers and intellectuals tell us that the human animal is all about survival of the fittest.  Anything that does not serve to advance our standing in the community, our personal possessions, our intellects, etc. does not make sense.  In fact, to stand in the way of such progress makes no sense according to this philosophical model.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road: why bother saving the whales (by the way…I’m not saying that this is wrong, I’m using it for the sake of argument)?  If everything is about survival of the fittest, then why not dominate the weaker species?  Why should the “1%” not dominate the “99%”?  If everything is about human progress, isn’t it right for the strong to take advantage of the weak?  Let’s take this a different direction.  Why do I do things that impede my own progress?  Why do I return the wallet when I need the cash?  Why do I give to feed the poor?  These actions only impede my progress and make no sense in a paradigm without morals.

I don’t think I can definitively prove spiritual concepts through rational means, but I would hope to demonstrate that my belief in a moral nature of man at least has some ground in the shared human experience.  As one great theologian of the last century put it, I cannot build anyone a bridge from unbelief to belief, but I can at least lay out the pylons for the bridge.  In my mind, the moral nature of man is one of such pylons.  Why is it so fantastical to imagine that the reason why we have this moral compass is that we were created by a God who has a moral law and that He implanted that law in our hearts?  Why is it absurd to think that the reason why we see so much wrong with the world is that humanity has rebelled against God, shaken their fist at their Creator, and have sought to obscure His moral law?  In my mind, these explanations make for more sense than the humanistic model, which gives me no compelling reason for human morality.