Last week Tim Keller made the case that non-believers are able to find subjective meaning in life, but only a belief in God allows for one to believe that life has objective meaning.
This week he moved on to morals and ethics in an attempt to explain why the Christian worldview is best equipped to make the world a better place.
Sure, non-believers do good things — sometimes they are more moral and good than the Christians, he willingly admits.
The point is that non-belief only allows one to have moral feelings — and thus do good. Belief in God allows one to have a moral obligation. As an example, Keller points to the mistreatment of women in some countries in the Middle East. Who are we to say that it’s wrong and should be stopped, unless there’s some reliable higher power?
But luckily Keller makes the point that Christians err when they say that non-Christians cannot be good people (this unfortunate piece of theology was engrained in me and although it’s easily disproven by experience, it’s still easy to fear the unbelievers amongst us as if they’re incapable of good). He quotes John Calvin who says that God’s spirit is in everyone, thus no matter what a person believes they are able to be moral, and the only logical place those morals come from would be God.
I disagree a bit where Keller presents moral obligation as the Christian standard. Moral obligation is moralism. It’s what makes churches campaign against abortion and gay marriage, even if it’s also what made people object to slavery. Doing good things is, for the most part, a good thing — even though trying to good things can sometimes be hurtful because we’re only human and are sometimes wrong. I would say that the Christian standard is *not* moralism or moral obligation, but grace. Our mission here is not to right all the wrongs, but rather, to forgive the wrong-ers. If that makes sense.
In the Q&A portion, Keller was asked something about the morals in the Bible being out of date.
First, I think there are two different conversations on morality — first, whether there is a right and wrong that is bigger than humanity and outside of ourselves, and the second, whether Christian morals are any good.
I would agree with Keller that when we say slavery is for sure wrong that this is something that God places on our hearts and that we know to be true. Yet, the Bible itself is not clear on slavery. Or abortion or divorce or gay marriage.
So when this question was asked, Keller seemed to imply that humanity’s morals would ebb and flow over the years but God’s morals would stay the same so we must listen to what God says. Sure, except what God says isn’t always clear from human interpretation of the Bible — just look back to the slavery example.
Then Keller used one of my most-hated expressions from Christianity — that if the Bible is true then it should offend us. I’m not sure what Keller or the person who had asked the question was thinking of, but I was thinking of certain moral standards from the Bible that seem to be outdated. And I agree that the message of the Bible should offend us, but it is never the moral message of the Bible that should offend us, it is only grace that should offend us. You should never be offended via judgment — you should only be offended via grace.
When you really experience grace, it hurts. It’s hard to accept. You’re giving up what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose. Like the rich man who did not want to give away his possessions to be with Jesus, we grip onto things we’ve “earned” or “deserve” because there we have control — and letting go of those kind of mediocre things under our control is terrifying when you’re being offered something you know you don’t deserve which is belonging to and being at home with God.