Truth is Absolute
All men everywhere agree that truth is absolute. I used to think that some believe that truth is relative, but such is not the case. You can know that all believe truth to be absolute because all judge. People are incapable of not judging!
The moment a person says, “That is wrong,” or “He shouldn’t have done that, or That is not fair,” or any other moral pronouncement of any kind–even though he may never verbalize it–he argues that there is a standard of right and wrong that is applicable to other people. Judging means that I believe that there is a standard that governs not only my behavior but the behavior of others as well. This, by definition, is a belief in absolutes.
Paul closes Romans 1 with an interesting statement:
“Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:32).
I asked myself, How do people know the judgment of God? How can Paul be certain that all men in every age know that there is a judgment? He gives the answer in Romans 2.
Before looking at Paul’s answer, note that the debate in society is not whether truth is absolute or not, but rather who gets to define truth. Liberal universities such as Stanford or Dartmouth allow students to participate in fornication and homosexuality. But if these same students violate the school’s “political correctness” code, they will be expelled. Everyone believes that truth is absolute; the debate is over who gets to define the absolutes.
THE GOLDEN RULE
We all know the Golden Rule set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
We paraphrase it, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Paul states this rule negatively in Romans 2:1:
” Therefore, thou art inexcusable, 0 man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”
We define hypocrisy as the violation of the Golden Rule. Or, to put it another way, Paul defines hypocrisy in Romans 2:1; we are guilty when we condemn a person for that which we do.
As all people in all ages believe that truth is absolute, so too they agree with the Golden Rule. Even the most liberal of the media elite, whether it is the New York Times or the Washington Post, will condemn hypocrisy. Whether a judge nominated to uphold law as a justice of the Supreme Court while violating the law by not reporting FICA earning on domestic help or the governor of California arguing against illegal aliens while hiring one as domestic help, the media will instantly accuse such people of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not practicing what you preach.
The Golden Rule is the foundation of morality. It has its origin in man bearing the image of God. Paul says,
“When the Gentiles, who have the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15 RSV).
The presence of conscience implies the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and the gauge used by each individual to determine right and wrong is how they themselves wish to be treated.
The third and final foundation stone in ethics is accountability. The force of law is in accountability; if there is no accountability, people consider law negotiable. For example, if the highway patrol in your state goes on strike, how fast will people drive? The answer: “As fast as they want to drive.” The laws are still on the statute books and the signs are visible on the highway, but there are no consequences for violating the law, and thus drivers take the speed limits “under advisement.” Without accountability the Ten Commandments become the ten suggestions.
There are two tribunals that hold man accountable: the temporal and the eternal. Every man, as an expression of his depravity, believes that he can, in some measure, “beat the system.” In the temporal arena he may exceed the speed limit (the degree that he does so is determined by his comfort level), purposely misrepresent himself to others, be less than totally honest in a business transaction, etc.
For the unregenerate, his behavior is restrained by: (1) His conscience. But conscience is malleable. For example, a man’s conscience may tell him that it is wrong to murder, but if he can convince himself that the person is his enemy, his conscience allows him to take that person’s life. (2) His appetites. A man may decide not to rob a bank, not because he has no use for the money, but because his appetite for money does not drive him to the conclusion that he ought to rob the bank. (3) Society. All of us feel compelled to restrain our behavior on the basis of the laws, standards, mores, and codes of society. Our desire to belong and be accepted limits our behavior. For example, men restrain their anger because they perceive that it isn’t in their best interest to express it.
Having said this, most, if not all, believe that, within certain limits, they can beat the temporal system.” They are law-breakers in those areas in which they are reasonably certain they will not get caught. It may be padding an expense account, not being forthright with the IRS, embezzlement, immorality, etc. The brighter a person is, the easier it is for him to conclude that he can “beat the system.”
The second tribunal that holds people accountable is the eternal, the Judgment of God. There are eternal consequences for temporal behavior. This is the theme of Paul in Romans 2:1-16. We don’t have room to exegete his presentation in this forum but, as you study the passage, note that Paul is not addressing the means of justification but the principles of justice. The heart of his argument is Romans 2:6: “Who will render to every man according to his deeds.”
Many Christians, although they believe the Bible, are convinced that grace ameliorates judgment. This means that because of the death of Christ there is no eternal accountability for temporal behavior. If this is true, then in an eternal sense truth is relative. Then all the believer must do is “beat the temporal system,” for the eternal system he has already “beaten” when he accepted Christ. Remember, the force of law is accountability. If the grace of God has eliminated eternal judgment, then the commandments of God are optional. This, the theologian calls, antinomianism.
We have identified three foundation stones of ethics. Of the three, the first two are, by the logic of reason, irrefutable in the forum of academia. If words have meaning, and you agree to the rules of logic, then you have to agree that the first two are correct.
But the third foundation stone is different. People may agree that the force of law is in accountability while denying the existence of eternal accountability. Eternal accountability requires accepting the presupposition that there is an eternal, transcendent God to whom all must give an account. I cannot prove this but simply declare it. This is what Paul does in Romans 1-2. Returning to Romans 1:32, he says that men “know the judgment of God.” How can they know? By the fact that they themselves judge. Paul asserts that because God Is, men will be held accountable for their deeds and can be assured of this by virtue of their holding others accountable for their deeds. Again, it is the Golden Rule in application.
Because, in the temporal arena, the system is fairly easy to beat, the binding force of ethics is found in the eternal, for the eternal system is impossible to beat. As Paul notes in Romans 2:16,
“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
Men behave unethically because they deceive themselves into believing that they can escape accountability. In the United States we train people to believe that they can “beat the system.” Welfare, ADC, viewing character defects as disease, the preoccupation with victimhood, are all symptoms of this world view. I believe this is why we have such a large prison population; people trained to believe they can “beat the system” become careless, participating in such aberrant behavior that society is forced to incarcerate them. The problem feeds itself. Not only do people erroneously conclude that they are not accountable, they feel the need to act in an unethical manner in order to protect themselves from an unethical society.
Until men are willing to face the truth of Romans 1-2, unethical behavior in society will remain a pernicious problem. As de Tocqueville noted in the early days of our nation, the legislature is unable to enact, in a democratic society, enough laws to cover every eventuality. If there is no agreed-upon morality that shapes the ethos of a democracy, the system will fall.